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Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers

December 22, 1994

The Briefing Room

12:13 P.M. EST

MS. MYERS: (Applause.) Where have you guys been for the last two years? (Laughter.) This is the best crowd ever.

Q: You haven't briefed in two years. (Laughter.)

MS. MYERS: That's right.

Q: Give the people what they want -- (laughter.)

MS. MYERS: Oooh. I'm going to miss you, McKee. I'm going to miss you.

Well, this is an impressive turnout here for my final briefing, and so I prepared a couple of things that I thought you would -- I just didn't think it would be appropriate for me to leave without going through those Clinton accomplishments one more time. (Laughter.)

Q: No, no --

MS. MYERS: I know. And you know what, it's my last day, so you have to sit and listen to them. And that's the beauty of one final briefing. So I'm just going to go through the top 10 accomplishments for 1994.

Number 10, President Clinton signed a comprehensive child immunization plan, which is a down payment on our children's health care. He signed the Interstate Banking bill -- that's inter, not intra. Something that I know all of you were excited about. He delivered $9.5 billion in federal aid for California earthquake relief -- a little --

Q: Is that number eight?

MS. MYERS: That would be number eight -- that's correct. (Laughter.) He created nine empowerment zones to increase economic opportunities to depressed urban and rural areas. Restored democracy in Haiti.

Q: Where is he?

MS. MYERS: Did I mention the Interstate Banking bill? (Laughter.)

Q: Democracy is just above --

MS. MYERS: Okay, we got the Interstate Banking bill. Then we have the Elementary and Secondary School Act to help improve America's schools.

Q: What number was that?

MS. MYERS: That would have been number five. Number four, responded quickly and firmly to Iraqi aggression; ensured weapons of mass destruction are no longer pointed at children in the United States; and reinvigorated the Middle East peace process. Just another day's work.

Q: What has he done for us lately?

MS. MYERS: Number three, opened more opportunities for international trade, making events like and words like GATT, NAFTA, APEC, and Summit of the Americas things everybody is talking about. You can't go out without hearing people talking about GATT. (Laughter.)

Then there's that Interstate Banking bill. (Laughter.) I know that Brit was really concerned about that. He also -- number two, he signed a $30-billion anticrime bill that's both tough and smart. Not just tough. (Laughter.) And, of course, that includes a ban on 19 different types of assault weapons, making our streets safer.

Q: How would you describe that bill again?

MS. MYERS: That was both tough and smart. (Laughter.)

And finally, the number one accomplishment of 1994, President Clinton created 5.2 million new jobs. Economic growth is chugging along, and we're decreasing the deficit for the third year in a row since --

Q: Truman.

MS. MYERS: -- Harry Truman was President. (Applause.)

Now, I'm -- I'm happy to go over any of those again if you missed them -- the Interstate Banking bill.

No, I've got one more list here since here. Now, this is a much more personal one. These are the top 10 things I personally will not miss. (Laughter.) Number 10, Helen Thomas.

MS. THOMAS: I thought I'd be at the top of the list! (Laughter.)

MS. MYERS: Stay tuned.

Number nine -- all of you will share in this one -- Air Force One food. (Laughter.)

Number eight, twenty-four hour a day paging, late night phone calls and those early morning baggage calls.

Seven, the soft, quiet and reflective questioning of Sarah McClendon.

Number six, the fact that my busy social calendar has made it often difficult to get back to the President and to all of you, busy returning those phone calls.

Number five, bureau chiefs, editors and especially headline writers.

Number four, the ongoing and breathtaking attention span of certain network correspondents who can simultaneously question and do crossword puzzles. (Laughter.)

Q: What did you say? (Laughter.)

MS. MYERS: Number three -- it's uncanny, doing too many things at once.

Q: Was that five across? (Laughter.)

MS. MYERS: We occasionally did have to answer a few of those puzzles here.

Number three is that daily crush to make it to my briefing on time so as not to miss the opening. (Laughter.) It gets very crowded around here.

Number two, did I mention Helen Thomas? (Laughter.) "Is it Glickman?" (Laughter.)

MS. THOMAS: Is it? (Laughter.)

MS. MYERS: And finally, the number one thing that I will not miss -- All of this. (Laughter.)

So -- that's only half true. All right, that's it; those are my lists for the morning.

Q: What about the book?

MS. MYERS: What about it?

Q: Are you writing one?

Q: The Gingrich book.

MS. MYERS: Yes -- I wish I had known I didn't have to leave to cash in. (Laughter and applause.)

Q: Ooooh!

MS. MYERS: It's a good thing it's my last day, huh? (Laughter.)

Q: It would be either way. (Laughter.)

Q: on the Hill?

Q: They let you come out here?

MS. MYERS: I know; it was a big mistake. I think it raises some questions. And I think Congressman Bonior is going to say more about it later in terms of how the House is going to approach it. But I do think it raises some interesting questions; it's obviously a very large amount of money. I think both the timing -- particularly the timing of it is very interesting. I know he's received advances in the book in the past, but for much less fees. So I think it's something that the House will look into.

Q: How does that compare with the President's legal defense fund? He is soliciting -- or contributions are being solicited on his behalf directly from lobbyists, people who have a vested interest in the government.

MS. MYERS: I don't think there's any correlation at all between Congressman Gingrich's book contract and -- I fail to see the connection.

Q: You're alleging that perhaps the --

Q: You think the President's is much worse, you mean?

Q: You're alleging that perhaps the Speaker of the House might do something untoward in gratitude for this book advance -- why not the same standard be applied to the President?

MS. MYERS: Well, I think, certainly the President's account, as you know, is limited to contributions of $500; each of those is disclosed, and I think the purpose of it is very clear. I think there are questions -- we've answered -- questions have been raised in the past, Mike, about that, and the President has answered them or we've answered them on his behalf in detail. And I think it is fair to ask that Congressman Gingrich do the same thing. I think $4 million is a very large book advance, if that is in fact true, as has been reported. And I think questions should be asked, and I expect that all of you will have a good time asking them.

Q: The Vice President got a $100,000 book advance --

MS. MYERS: That's correct.

Q: and made several hundred thousand dollars off a book. Is he not, maybe to a lesser amount, also --

MS. MYERS: Well, first of all, he -- first of all, the Vice President, who was then in the United States Senate, didn't sign the contract until the Senate Ethics Committee had reviewed it. The terms of that were fully disclosed. I think all the profits -- I think certainly there's a long tradition of people who write books as people who hold public office disclose the profits on that and receive royalties for sales of the book. I think that's a slightly different case than an advance. In the Vice President's case, he did receive a $100,000 advance, but again, it wasn't until after the Senate Ethics Committee had reviewed the terms of the contract, and all the details of that were fully disclosed.

And my point -- and I want to be clear about this -- is that questions -- there are a number of questions that this raises that should be answered. I'm not drawing any conclusions; I'll leave that for all of you. But I do think there are important questions that this raises, and I'm sure all of you will ask them.

Q: Have you discussed this with the President, and are you reflecting his skepticism about this contract as well?

MS. MYERS: I have not discussed this with the President, and I don't know what his thoughts are on this book.

Q: Could you take the question?

MS. MYERS: Sure. (The President enters the Briefing Room.) (Laughter.) I'll get back to you on that. (Laughter.) (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: I thought I should come in and get you out of hot water, since that's what you've been doing for me for years. (Laughter.)

What I want to know is, why didn't our Hearts games make this list?

MS. MYERS: That's the things I will not miss.

THE PRESIDENT: Oh. (Laughter.)

MS. MYERS: Because that would be on my top 10 list of things I will miss.

Q: Do you have a list, Mr. President?


Q: Favorite questions?

THE PRESIDENT: Favorite questions? No, I -- Dee Dee is my best Hearts partner. That's a trauma I'm trying to deal with here at Christmastime.

No, I have nothing to say about this business work. I just wanted to come in here and say in front of all you how very grateful I am for everything Dee Dee has done for me since long before I became President, starting in our campaign. I reminded her of the first trip we took together was on a little bitty airplane, and I fell asleep, which was some sort of omen about how helpful I would be in answering difficult questions.

And we've had a wonderful professional relationship; we've had a good personal friendship. I think she is one of the best people I have ever had the privilege of working with. And I'm really going to miss her. And I'm especially going to miss the card games. And Air Force One food is not all that bad. (Laughter.)

Q: Who is going to replace her?

THE PRESIDENT: No one is going to replace her. (Applause.)

And I want you all to -- I'm going to cut you some slack. We don't have to talk anything serious today, this is Christmas season. And I wish you all a very merry Christmas. I hope you have a wonderful holiday. I hope you get some rest. And consistent with this entirely fiscally and otherwise responsible moment in our history, within those limits, I hope you have a little fun at Christmastime. (Laughter.) And I hope you come back full of energy and bright-eyed and everything, because it's going to be a very interesting year next year. (Laughter.) And I am really looking forward to it, more every day. (Laughter.)

Q: Are you going to spend some more time with us in these kinds of informal Q&A sessions?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. (Laughter.) Sure.

Q: Do you have an attitude about the Gingrich book?

Q: When you came in, we were just asking Dee Dee about that.

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I made $36,000 a year for 12 years and was glad of it. I don't even know how to think in these terms. (Laughter.)

Thank you very much. Merry Christmas. (Applause.)

Q: What about Dave Leavy? (Laughter.)

Q: He didn't know you. (Laughter.)

Q: Never heard of the guy. (Laughter.)

Q: Was that a senior administration --

MS. MYERS: That was -- you can refer to him as a senior administration official. (Laughter.)

Thank you, guys. That was great.

Q: Now here are Laura Tyson and Robert Reich. (Laughter.)

MS. MYERS: That's right. I know you're all going to miss that. I can just write down the good economic news quote and distribute it, and that way you won't have to find anyone to ask.

Do you want to know holiday schedule?

Q: Yes.

MS. MYERS: There's not a whole lot to report. As you know, the President is scheduled to be down tomorrow. I would just point out that nothing is firm, but Congressman Richardson returns from Korea tomorrow afternoon. And I expect the President will be in touch with him one way or another. So just leave that flexibility on your schedules. He may just do it by phone.

Now, Christmas Eve, generally the Clintons attend services on Christmas Eve. They haven't made any firm plans, but just historically, they've tended to do that. They will spend the 24th through the 30th here in Washington. They'll have some family in town. I think they just plan to relax, although I wouldn't rule out some kind of an event during the week next week.

On the 31st, the President and First Lady and Chelsea will leave for Hilton Head. They'll spend the 31st and the 1st there and return to D.C. on the 1st. And then on the 2nd -- this is tentative, but I'm going to tell you anyway for your vacation planning purposes -- they're likely to go to Arkansas for the 2nd, the 3rd; may have an event down there the morning of the 4th and then come back here on the 4th, which is the first day of Congress. That's the likely event.

Q: That would be on the 4th -- the school event?


Q: You said about Bill Richardson -- what about Bobby Hall?

MS. MYERS: I think Congressman Richardson said that he had some productive meetings while in North Korea. He was given indication that Chief Warrant Officer Hall would be released soon, but nothing specific. I think Congressman Richardson is hopeful that that will be by Christmas. We certainly urge the North Koreans to release him by Christmas. And we're hopeful, but we have no guarantees.

Q: Has there been any direct contact to the President outside of the Richardson avenue?

MS. MYERS: No. There have been meetings, as you know, in Pyongyang. There were meetings in Panmunjon, and there's been some contact through our channel in New York.

Q: One more. Is the President satisfied with that state of affairs?

MS. MYERS: Well, I think he'll be satisfied when Chief Warrant Officer Hall is returned safely. I think certainly he regrets the incident. It was unnecessary, I think, in our view. And we're hopeful that the North Koreans will return Chief Warrant Officer Hall shortly.

Q: What about White House personnel announcements? The President has certainly indicated he would have a Secretary of Agriculture to announce by the first of the year?

MS. MYERS: I think you can expect that, that there will be a new Secretary of Agriculture by the end of the year. I don't know that it will be tomorrow; it may happen next week.

Q: Has he made a decision?

MS. MYERS: Once I say that, you guys will put something in the newspaper. (Laughter.) I hate that. Unlike today, where there was nothing in there.

Q: Sounds like all this down time is not going to be down.

MS. MYERS: Well, no. I think he expects to take quite a bit of it down. But -- what was the question? (Laughter.)

Q: Has he made a decision?

MS. MYERS: Oh, has he made a decision -- I think we're close; he's close.

Q: Dee Dee, as the first woman to hold this position, could you talk a little bit about some of the barriers you faced and what advice you might want to pass on to others who follow you?

MS. MYERS: Sure. I think a number of you have heard my spiel on this over the last couple of days. But I do think that there -- that this is still -- Washington is still, and politics and government generally are still very much dominated by men. And I think that's changing, which I think is, obviously, a good thing. But this year in the 103rd Congress there are no women chairing committees on Capitol Hill, although there are more women being elected.

I think there have been increasingly women in positions of power in this administration. The Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors is a woman, and the Attorney General is a women, and there a number of other women serving in important Cabinet posts and in important senior posts in this administration. But I think things change slowly, but I think they do change. And I think that is certainly a good thing.

I think there will always be obstacles to anyone who is the first anything; they are not insurmountable. I think you have to look at them as challenges and, hopefully, it will make it easier for not only women, but all different kinds of people in this country to do things that haven't been done before.

Q: Do you think you got a fair chance?

MS MYERS: I think I did get a fair chance. I don't think those two things are incompatible. I think there can be sort of unusual challenges or can be additional barriers or hurdles that you have to clear. But I think certainly -- I think I've gotten a fair chance. And I think I've been -- I think, by and large, most of you -- all of you actually -- have treated me fairly. I think you've -- I think you are professionals who work hard every day to do a job that you think is important -- that is important. I think you're here to keep government accountable. And I think that this nation owes you a debt of gratitude for doing that. I don't always like it; the President and people who work and serve in this building don't always like it; but it is important.

And for those of us on this side, I think, we thank you for your professionalism and your dedication. And I hope and expect that we could continue to improve this relationship -- not just between this press office and all of you, but between the people who serve in government and the people who cover government.

Q: Are you joining our profession?

MS. MYERS: I don't have any immediate plans to do that, no.

Q: What were the obstacles that you faced as the first woman?

MY MYERS: I think women have a tougher time --

Q: David Gergen. (Laughter.)

MS. MYERS: Ah, the peanut gallery. I will miss -- that I will miss. (Laughter.)

Q: You can have Knoller. (Laughter.)

MS. MYERS: Knoller, definitely. All I did here for two years was play straight woman to his jokes. (Laughter.)

Q: Could he repeat the joke?

MS. MYERS: (Laughter.) No, I can't, it's Knoller's.

MR. KNOLLER: She was asked what obstacles that she faced in the job, and I said, David Gergen. (Laughter.)

Q: What about Dave Leavy? (Laughter.)

MS. MYERS: I think David Gergen did an excellent job. (Laughter.)

Q: What about Dave Leavy? (Laughter.)

MS. MYERS: Obviously. That goes without saying.

I think it is always more difficult -- or often more difficult, not always, for women to have the same authority and the same credibility that men have. Again, I think that's changing, but I think there are still obstacles. And I think it will be some time before the first time a woman is appointed to a job or if a woman served in a particular job, that her gender is not mentioned. When that happens, I think that will be a positive step for all of us.

Q: Do you think that was an obstacle that you faced on the inside in the White House, or just on the outside with public and press?

MS. MYERS: I think it's a perception. I think that there's always a perception -- and I think some perspective with some distance and maybe all of us will have a little more time to reflect on all this. But I think it is a challenge in an environment that has traditionally been dominated by men. And I think that that certainly extends beyond the walls of the White House.

I think I was treated fairly and certainly had great relationships here. I'm very grateful for the opportunity that I've had. I think certainly there were some challenges that I faced for a lot of reasons. But I think, by and large, this has been, for me, an extraordinary opportunity. I will never forget it. I don't think you can ever imagine when you're going through your life that you'll end up someplace like this, and have a chance to see the things that I've been fortunate enough to see. And I am forever grateful, and forever grateful to Bill Clinton. And I will miss him most of all.

Q: Dee Dee, tell us about your future plans.

Q: What's the hardest thing about speaking for the government itself -- the United States or the President?

MS. MYERS: Well, the hardest thing I think is trying to be careful every single day to not -- to speak accurately and to reflect accurately the views of the President and the administration. And I think I have the same challenge that all you have, which is the absolute breadth of information that we all deal with. I think the story changes, the slide changes so quickly as we go from day to day that you really have to work to be an instant expert on things. And I think it's certainly a challenge for me, and a challenge for all of you in covering those things accurately and having the information that you need to do that.

Q: What do you plan to do for an encore?

MS. MYERS: The first thing I'm going to do is take some time off. And then I will come back to Washington and make a decision. I feel very fortunate that I have a number of options -- a number of things that I'm very much looking forward to, but I am going to take a little time first and relax.

Q: Have you not agreed to be an occasional contributor to a national magazine?

MS. MYERS: I have not -- although I've had a lot of interesting offers.

Q: Speaking of the slide changing -- if we could get back on Gingrich for a second -- (laughter.)

MS. MYERS: I think that's going to be happening here a lot for next couple of years.

Q: The implied criticism of the Gingrich book deal being coordinated with people on the Hill, such as Dave Bonior -- and what specifically is it about the Gingrich book deal that most raises suspicions? That is, is it the Murdock connection with Fox and the NBC lawsuit against --

MS. MYERS: Well, I think two things. One, of course, we talk to people on Capitol Hill, particularly the congressional -- Democratic congressional leadership. That's an ongoing discussion. I think they have concerns, as do we -- or questions. I don't know if -- it's maybe too soon to say that we have concerns, but certainly, there are questions. And again, I think Congressman Bonior, as a member of the House Leadership, will have more to say about that today. I think that it does raise questions, and I don't want to draw any conclusions. I think that's why we need to raise the questions, ask the questions and evaluate the answers before we can draw any conclusions. But I think a $4-million advance for a member who is soon to be Speaker raises questions.

Q: Dee Dee, do you include legal questions in that? Would you define it as legal questions for the Speaker?

MS. MYERS: I don't need -- I don't think I have to categorize them. I think there are a number of different questions; I don't know whether there are legal obstacles to it or not. I think that remains to be seen.

Q: Dee Dee, the man who was involved in the knifewielding accident in front of the White House died last night. Now we hear the family is going to sue the Park Police because of the excessive force. Can you tell us what the President feels about the whole event, and the security around the White House?

MS. MYERS: Well, I think I would just point out once again that this is an event that happened outside the White House grounds. I think it has been largely described as a dispute between a homeless man who lived in Lafayette Park and the Park Service Police, who are vested with the authority to police that park. I don't think it had anything to do with the White House or with the President. Certainly no one here was in danger at any time.

I think whenever -- I think it was an unfortunate incident. I think, certainly, people here regret that it came to the use of force and that the man died. And I think everyone extends their sympathies to his family.

On the other hand, I think police have a very -- law enforcement at all levels have a very difficult task in this environment of trying to protect citizens -- and there were a number of people on the sidewalk, they pass by there all the time. And I think the randomness of violence in our society makes the job of law enforcement very difficult. So I'm certainly not going to stand here and second-guess the decision of a law enforcement officer made in a very difficult time, and neither is the President or anybody here.

Q: How about all the other events, Dee Dee, all the shootings and threats --

MS. MYERS: Well, first of all, as you know, there is a comprehensive review underway about security measures both to protect the White House and to protect the President and his family. I believe the results of that are due back sometime in January. It's being headed by Under Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement Ron Noble.

The President feels that the Secret Service does an outstanding job of protecting him and his family. He feels safe both here at the White House and in his travels around the city and around the country -- as safe as any American can feel at a time when random violence affects all of our lives. And I think the fact that a shooting can happen as easily here on Pennsylvania Avenue as on any street corner in America only reenforces that point.

Q: But it's happening more so now.

MS. MYERS: It seems to be, and I think the randomness of violence has raised concerns. If you look at the statistics, violent crimes may actually be decreasing, but people do not have an increased sense of safety. And I think that's one of the reasons the President fought so hard to pass the ban on assault weapons --getting guns, particularly those that are designed to do nothing but kill massive amounts of people, off the streets. And I think that's certainly, on a personal note, one of the battles I will remember most clearly. That was a battle no one thought the President could win. He worked his heart out, and as you know, it was a very dramatic afternoon as we won that by one or two votes.

Q: Getting back to the Gingrich thing, the fact that HarperCollins is owned by a company that's owned by Rupert Murdoch and that he has various legal battles underway with other networks and all sorts of political ramifications -- does that have any impact on your raising questions about the ethical --

MS. MYERS: I think there are certainly -- those are all among the questions that I'm sure will get raised in this process. I think there are a number of questions that need to be answered, and I'm, again, confident that all of you will work very hard to raise those questions and, hopefully, get answers to them. I'm not drawing any conclusions, but I do think there are a number of questions that need to be answered.

Q: One more thing, if you don't mind. The Los Angeles mayor is very critical of the administration for not getting an empowerment zone. Do you have any reaction?

MS. MYERS: As the President and others said yesterday, we went through a process and received a huge number of applications for empowerment zones. There was a board created to review those. They were granted on the basis of merit. While Los Angeles didn't get one of the empowerment zones, they did get -- they were awarded a supplemental zone and will receive $125 million in federal investment. And I think certainly this administration and particularly this President will continue to work with Los Angeles and those throughout California to make sure that we invest in that state -- kind of a personal thing -- and that we continue to help California with its economic recovery.

Q: Any thoughts on Jimmy Carter's latest Bosnia initiative?

MS. MYERS: I think at this point it certainly appears that it may have helped, and I think that's certainly good news. The cease-fire is due to take effect tomorrow and then discussions will begin about a country-wide cessation of hostilities. As you know, President Carter -- the agreement worked out by President Carter is they would try to reach that by January 1st. And then I think the Contact Group can resume its efforts to sit down at the negotiating table with the parties and work toward a negotiated settlement, which is the only solution.

I think we'll have to wait and see what happens. I think we do have questions about the Bosnian Serb intentions. But it appears that President Carter may have helped to move the Bosnian Serbs closer to returning to the table, and I think that's certainly a good thing and we're grateful.

Q: Dee Dee, thank you for all of your help through the years. We wish you the best in your new career. Merry Christmas.

MS. MYERS: Thank you, Helen. Thank you. Thank you all. (Applause.)

END 12:40 P.M. EST

William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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