Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: On cue, as usual. A brief statement first. Today, July 20th, marks the fourth anniversary of the arrest and detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, the courageous Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Prize Laureate. The overwhelming mandate won by her party in the 1990 elections remains unfulfilled. This is a tragedy for Burma and a cause for outrage in the international community.
"Today, I renew my call to Burma's military rulers to release unconditionally Aung San Suu KYi and all of their prisoners of conscience, to respect the results of the 1990 elections, and to undertake genuine democratic reforms."
That is a statement from the President. We will release a little bit longer text after this fabulous event.
Q: When was his first call?
MS. MYERS: He has previously called on the Burmese to release all prisoners of conscience.
Q: Has he made that same call on China?
MS. MYERS: Always. All prisoners of conscience around the world.
Q: Let's try again on a question we had this morning. How does the President feel about enshrining his policy on gays in the military in law?
MS. MYERS: As Senator Nunn said this morning at the opening of the hearing, Congress is going to act on this one way or another. I think the President accepts that, and Senator Nunn also said that if there was consensus, it would be done in committee this week in the form of an amendment to the Defense appropriation bill. If not, it might happen on the floor next week.
So far, Senator Nunn seems to have indicated that his amendment will -- or the amendment that comes out of committee will include the President's new policy, which the President is willing to accept.
Q: Dee Dee, that seems to go farther than what you were saying this morning. You're saying he accepts that; this morning you were saying --
MS. MYERS: This morning I said he wouldn't accept -- he would fight any attempt by Congress to legislate an outright ban.
Q: I think you were also saying that he didn't think that it was necessary to put anything into law.
MS. MYERS: He obviously issued a policy directive, or Secretary Aspin issued a policy directive. Congress is going to take action on this; the President accepts that. We'll wait and see what Congress comes up with through the process.
Q: Does he think that's a good idea to codify it?
MS. MYERS: He accepts it.
Q: Dee Dee, isn't it more difficult to negotiate a budget agreement with this cloud hanging over Rostenkowski's head?
MS. MYERS: Rostenkowski has been a great ally of the President so far on this, and a great proponent of the President's budget package. We expect to continue to work with him and other members of Congress.
Q: How can you totally ignore the fact that the documents from the court, from the prosecutors indicate that he was, in fact, Congressman A, embezzling money from the federal government?
MS. MYERS: He's the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He's going to continue to operate in that capacity. We're going to continue to work with him. The President is having lunch with him, as you know, right now. We expect this process to go forward, and any other questions about the status of that investigation you'll have to take elsewhere.
Q: Do you feel you can work with anybody from the Ways and Means Committee if Rostenkowski were not around? If he had to step out under the rules of the House, would that affect the budget process, or is it not dependant on what may --
MS. MYERS: That is a hypothetical question, and as long as Rostenkowski is the Chairman, obviously the President will continue to work very closely with him.
Q: Is the process dependent on one or two people?
MS. MYERS: I don't think the process is necessarily dependent on any one or two people, but Chairman Rostenkowski continues to be a critical and key player in this process. The President is going to continue to work with him.
Q: Why did he have him in today? Is there some element that he wants to push?
MS. MYERS: It's just part of the -- as we move into the conference process, the President is meeting with a lot of people. As you know, yesterday he met with the Chairman of the Budget Committees; today it's the tax writing committees; tomorrow he'll meet with the Black Caucus and a number of other caucuses throughout the week.
Q: The President said last week words to the effect that regarding the conference he would give them running room to do what they needed to do, or words to that effect. Does his having this meeting today and his going to the Hill indicate that at this point he's going to take a more aggressive role in this than he had previously indicated?
MS. MYERS: No, I think it's his intention to meet with a variety of members of Congress, both House and Senate, to talk to them about both what he thinks is important, about what they think is important as we work -- I think this process is going to happen fairly quickly. I think the President is going to take quite an active role in it, and I think he's going to be out there aggressively both working with members of Congress and working -- and talking to the American people. I don't think that means he's going to dictate all of the elements of the plan, but he's going to be very actively involved.
Q: Well, now, at one point it was indicated here that a broad-based energy tax was one of the pillars upon which the President wanted the package to rest, that it was basically a principle. Am I correct in thinking that that has -- that stand on that issue, at least, has softened to where he has more flexibility than to have a broad-based energy tax?
MS. MYERS: I think that as Director Panetta said on Sunday and I said yesterday, I think the actual energy tax will probably be closer and we're moving closer to the Senate's number. The exact structure of that is something that has yet to be worked out. The President said just now at the pool op at lunch that he expected that there would be some kind of energy tax included in the plan.
Q: What is it -- setting that issue aside, what is it that he's going to be actively pushing for other than the $500 billion figure which both sides agree on anyway -- what other areas --
MS. MYERS: Because of the President's aggressive stand on that.
Q: Whatever. But the point is if that's taken care of by the fact that there's no disagreement on it, what is it he's going to be pushing for? What are the key principles he's pushing for?
MS. MYERS: The key principles will be that it has to be fair, that the bulk of revenue have to come from the people who did best in the 1980s from the wealthiest --
Q: But that's all taken care of in both bills, isn't it?
MS. MYERS: But it's a principle that has to be maintained, particularly if you start to tinker with the revenue pieces. The President would also like to see investments preserved that will create jobs, investments preserved that will invest in people, job training, things like EITC -- things that move people from welfare to work. He'll talk a little bit more about that this afternoon.
But $500 billion in deficit reduction. The plan has to be fair, it has to preserve some of his investments, and it has to protect Social Security.
Q: Would I be correct in thinking that the investments are an area where, because the Senate did less than the House, he'd be working harder in that area, or what? It's just not clear what he's doing.
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that the exact structure of the package is something that's still being negotiated. The President would like to see things like the earned income tax credit preserved. He'd like to see incentives for small businesses to invest. He'd like to see things that will invest in the work force and infrastructure that will help the economy grow in the long-term.
Q: Is he telling them that?
MS. MYERS: It is something that they're actively discussing. It's something he talked about with Sasser and Sabo yesterday; something he'll talk with Rostenkowski and Moynihan about; something that he'll talk with the caucuses about as they come through.
Q: Apart from those investments, so many of which were knocked out in the Senate, all this is vague.
MS. MYERS: It's part of an ongoing conversation. I mean, the President hasn't said publicly yet exactly which pieces will be -- and certainly Congress hasn't resolved exactly which pieces will be there. But I think --
Q: How do you know what it is this President stands for in this package that may be in disagreement in this conference if all you're talking about are these generalities?
MS. MYERS: I think it's very clear and will become clearer through this process what the President stands for.
Q: Dee Dee --
MS. MYERS: But -- let me finish answering his question -- $500 billion in deficit reduction I think is something that nobody thought six months ago was possible. It --
Q: Yes, but they're not in disagreement about that.
MS. MYERS: Yes, there isn't, but you say that people don't know what the President stands for. This President is going to push through a package that includes $500 billion in deficit reduction, tax increases on the wealthiest --
Q: I'm just talking about what is at issue in this conference.
MS. MYERS: And that's something that he's in the process of a whole series of meetings to work out the specific details on the size of any kind of a tax -- energy tax increase, and the specific size of particular investments. However, I think he's made it clear that things like the earned income tax credit, empowerment zones, incentives for small business are very important to him -- things that he'll fight to preserve.
Now, the exact size of those I think is something that he'll fight to preserve. Now, the exact size of those I think is something that has to be worked out. There's over 500 people that have to vote on this, and the President wants to hear from them. But I think he's going to fight very hard to maintain the broad outlines of this package, including the investments that are important to him.
Q: Senator Sasser yesterday said it's conceivable that you could have a $485-billion package and that would still be the largest deficit reduction in history, and you could do that without an energy tax if you raised the revenue through other means. And one of the areas he suggested was changing the threshold, perhaps increasing the threshold or actually lowering the threshold for Social Security possibly, or even reducing the threshold for the billionaire surtax down to $200,000 as one other option. Is the administration willing to consider a package that is lower than $500 billion, that would still be the largest in history and not contain an energy tax as long as it meets your enterprise zone, your EITC and your other expensing provisions?
MS. MYERS: As for the $500 billion, that is the target. That is something that the President has talked about all along. Now, if it was a few billion below or a few billion above, I think that would be acceptable. The House version was just shy of $500 billion; that was acceptable to the President. The Senate version was a little bit above that.
In terms of what the President said today was that it's hard to make -- there are other ways to raise revenue. The President selected in his original package the BTU tax because he thought that that was fair. At this point, there's a billion different ways you can reach those goals. I think the President's been clear in how he thinks the best way to proceed is. That's why he proposed an energy tax and hasn't changed his position on that.
Q: He said it's hard, but not impossible.
MS. MYERS: It is -- that's clear. There are a lot of ways to skin a cat.
Q: By your calculations, how much of an increase in the gas tax would it take to get the revenue necessary for the investments that he's supposedly going to stick by?
MS. MYERS: I can't speak to the specific numbers. The Senate, as you know, proposed $22 billion or $23 billion total over five years. I think we've made it clear that we're moving more toward that number than toward the $72-billion Btu tax originally proposed by the President. I think that through the process, both the House and Senate identified additional spending cuts that made it less necessary to raise as much revenue through an energy tax. I think we're looking toward a smaller tax than was passed in the House and proposed by the President, but we haven't settled on a specific number.
Q: Is there a cap on the gas tax, then? Do the conferees know the President will not accept a gas tax above this level for the reason that he initially gave for not wanting a gas tax at all?
MS. MYERS: I think everybody would prefer to see fewer taxes in this package, including the President. I mean, one of the things that he's talked about throughout this process is you have to have at least as many spending cuts as you do new revenues, new taxes. I don't think anybody's going to quibble with you can find a way to put this package together with fewer taxes. But in order to preserve the President's investments, in order to do the things that he thinks are necessary to turn the economy around in the long run, you do have to find some new revenue. And the question is how much; that's what this week is about.
Q: Dee Dee, yesterday the President fired FBI Director Sessions because he was accused of misusing an amount of government funds. Rostenkowski is accused of misusing in a criminal investigation, although he hasn't been charged. But the same -- roughly --
MS. MYERS: But it's kind of a big leap there between accused and charged and convicted.
Q: No, no, there isn't because there were never any formal legal charges filed against Sessions. Rostenkowski has been named in a grand jury investigation. He's been identified, let's say as Congressman A. Don't you see a little bit of a contradiction between firing Sessions for misusing government money and saying Rosti's fine?
MS. MYERS: It's not my place to determine the guilt or innocence. Judge Sessions was investigated by the Office of Professional Responsibility within the Justice Department. But the overriding reason for his dismissal -- the primary reason was both those charges and the fact that he had become ineffective in his role for a number of reasons. I think that both the President and Attorney General Reno made that very clear yesterday.
Q: Dee Dee, what does the President say to Senate Democrats, like his friend Senator Pryor, who are concerned that with the smaller energy tax, it's politically not worth it to fight for that at this point, and they're interested in maybe finding a way to jettison it entirely. What does he say to them when they make that argument?
MS. MYERS: Well, as you know, he thinks very, very highly of Senator Pryor and certainly is willing to listen to any ideas the Senator has. But as of this point, the President has not changed his position.
Q: What is your position on going back to 36 percent corporate rate -- some needed revenue in lieu of something else.
MS. MYERS: Again, the specific details of the package are still being worked out and I'm not going to comment on the specifics.
Q: Dee Dee, for the first time in a long time, the President doesn't have any real headaches on his desk. He's cleared out the FBI -- (laughter) --
MS. MYERS: You guys are so bored, it's --
Q: He's cleared out the gay issue for now and so on. One, has the President remarked upon this transition? And secondly, how does this new state of affairs affect the efforts in the weeks ahead to get the reconciliation and other measures through?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think, you know as president you have to deal with the number of issues -- a variety of issues that come across your desk. I think the President has done so effectively in the last several weeks. And I think everybody is grateful that we've been able to clear the decks in order to focus like a laser beam on the economy and on the conference process. (Laughter.)
Q: Does he remark upon this, Dee Dee?
Q: What's the status of the vacation?
MS. MYERS: No, not in any kind of specific way.
MS. MYERS: The question is vacation. No specific plans yet, although the latter half of August is still the target date.
Q: Dee Dee, back on Sessions for a second. With the new nominee that the President presented -- he had that nominee in place the day after Sessions was fired -- this, in the case of past nominees when there's been an opening, there's been weeks of agonizing decision-making, etc, etc. Has the problems that those nominations created, is that one of the reasons why a nominee was chosen so quickly here with the cut down of that sort of public agonizing and leaking and so on?
MS. MYERS: No, I think that, obviously Judge Sessions' problems were well-known. It was not something that happened overnight as with Justice White's retirement, for example, which is something that nobody had expected. It happened very early in the President's term. I think the President clearly anticipated that he may have to replace the FBI Director; he had thought about it; he found what he thought was a very strong candidate; had a very good interview with him; and chose him. So I think --
Q: But it's reasonable to say that he waited to fire Sessions until he had a potential nominee to replace him.
MS. MYERS: I think that he knew that it was possible that he'd have to replace the FBI Director and had some time to think about it. And moved forward with the process of replacing him and happened to find somebody early in the process who met his criteria, who he thought was a superb choice.
Q: When did he start the search for a possible replacement?
MS. MYERS: Oh, I don't know what the exact date was. It was something that's been thought about for awhile.
Q: You mean for weeks, and weeks, and weeks, and weeks we were told that the President was simply waiting for Janet Reno's report.
MS. MYERS: I think that's true.
Q: It wasn't delivered till the last minute. So when -- at what point did he decide he might have to replace the FBI Director if hadn't been given any evidence one way or the other?
MS. MYERS: From the time that President Clinton took office there was always the possibility based on an OPD report -- OPR report that already existed that there were some problems and that this was certainly within the realm of possibility that he would have to appoint a new FBI director. So, it was something that was on the table. I don't know what the exact date was, when a list was presented to the President for the first time, but it's certainly something that's been thought about and within the reasonable range of possibility for sometime.
Q: It sounds like he might have been prejudging a little bit, given that Sessions all along maintained his innocence.
MS. MYERS: I don't think so. I think it's prudent to prepare in a situation like that where there's a clear possibility that you might have to make a replacement.
Q: What's the trip to Waldorf about tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: It's small business. The President's going to hook up -- he's going to a place called Nick's Restaurant somewhere in -- Nick's Restaurant, and he's going to hook up -- it is in -- do you know what town it's in -- it's somewhere in Maryland, reasonably close. We'll have more details on it later.
Q: What is he going to do out there?
MR. JONES: Waldorf is the destination.
MS. MYERS: Oh, Waldorf, Maryland?
Q: What time does he go and how does he go?
Q: That's a topless bar.
MS. MYERS: He's probably driving. The event starts at 10:15 a.m.
Q: What's the event?
Q: People dance nightly at Nick's. Are you sure that's the right place?
Q: He's driving?
MS. MYERS: No, I'm never sure.
MS. MYERS: Probably. But that could change. To Waldorf, Maryland, for an event where he's going to hook up telephonically with several small businesses to talk about incentives for small business included in --
Q: Is that videographied?
MS. MYERS: I don't think so.
Q: Or just by audio?
MS. MYERS: Just straight audio.
Q: Is he going to eat there?
MS. MYERS: Probably. (Laughter.)
Q: Usually does.
Q: How many changes of clothes will he be having in the trunk?
MS. MYERS: He might have one in case he spills coffee on his shirt, which has happened. He then comes back here for a CEO lunch with the Chairman of Small Businesses.
Q: Is that from the ridiculous to the sublime, or the other way around?
MS. MYERS: That's from the excellent to the superb.
Q: And then he'll eat again.
MS. MYERS: And then he'll eat lunch. (Laughter.) He has -- don't get me started. Tomorrow morning he has the Black Caucus at 8:30 a.m.
Q: For breakfast?
MS. MYERS: For breakfast. (Laughter.) Then he has a small business event, then the CEO lunch, and then the Conservative Democratic Forum at 5:30 p.m.
Q: For tea.
MS. MYERS: For tea. (Laughter.)
Q: How about Monday's trip?
MS. MYERS: Monday the President will travel to Chicago for a conference on -- let me get the proper name of the event.
Q: It's jobs.
MS. MYERS: It's a jobs conference sponsored by Secretary Reich.
Q: How early is this going to occur?
MS. MYERS: It's a discussion -- it's called the Workplace Conference in Chicago. The President's part starts at 11:00 a.m. Central, so we leave here in the morning. And he'll stay in Chicago, he'll do some local press, he'll host a panel which I'm sure you all will be very excited about. And then he will attend a DNC fundraiser in the evening. And then we'll return back.
Q: What's it about?
MS. MYERS: It's a panel to talk about -- he'll give remarks, and then he'll host a panel, talking about the workplace -- the changing workplace.
Q: It's called a jobs workplace conference? Conference on jobs?
MS. MYERS: Yes. Conference on the workplace. Organized by Secretary Reich.
Q: Is it a return that night, Dee Dee?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q: To create jobs, or --
MS. MYERS: To -- yes, it's about job creation in the changing global environment. I think -- Secretary Reich sponsors it.
Q: Senator Sasser yesterday also said that he didn't think it would really make sense for the President to sell the package, at least full court press, until the conference report is completed in about a week and a half. So is that your strategy that once the conference report is done in that window of a week between the vote and the conference report for the President to really go out and do full court press on the plan?
MS. MYERS: I think the President is going to be very aggressively talking about the features of his economic plan, starting this afternoon when he goes to the Hill where he will address conferees and staffs of the relevant committees. Tomorrow he's doing a small business event. On Thursday, he'll be doing a high tech event. On Friday he'll do another jobs event. I think what he's going to do is continue to talk about the benefits of his economic plan -- what -- how the country will change should his plan be enacted. I think that that will clearly be stepped up once the package is completed and the House and Senate get ready to vote.
Q: How long is this lunch scheduled for?
MS. MYERS: Today?
MS. MYERS: It's scheduled for 90 minutes.
Q: So are they likely to drive back to the Hill with him or are they likely --
MS. MYERS: Unless they have other business that they need to get back for it's possible.
Q: What time is he going to the Hill?
MS. MYERS: At 2:30 p.m. -- the Cannon Caucus --
Q: Is that open?
MS. MYERS: It's pool, but I'm not sure if it's the -- just the Hill pool or if our pool is going to be allowed in. We're trying to let them in.
Q: He will speak on camera?
MS. MYERS: Yes. The whole thing will be -- his remarks will be open to the pool, I'm just not sure what pool.
Q: What is the status of a NAFTA czar?
MS. MYERS: It's something that's in the works and I expect to have an announcement soon, although I'm not sure it will happen this week.
Q: That didn't have anything to do with Chicago on Monday and a prominent citizenship?
MS. MYERS: No. He's going to Chicago for the jobs conference.
Q: I'm speaking of Daley. Is he in the running for that?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to comment on who may or may not be in the running for it, other than to say we should have an announcement on it soon.
Q: Can I get your reaction to the demonstration that's outside here, the arrest of the people that are opposed to the President's position?
MS. MYERS: This is the first I've heard about it. There's a demonstration --
Q: The gay and lesbian --
MS. MYERS: You mean, there's a -- out in front of the White House, a demonstration? (Laughter.)
Q: Visible from your window, Dee Dee.
Q: Good slogans, Dee Dee.
MS. MYERS: I'm too dedicated to look out my window. People were arrested?
Q: Yes, they're sitting out on the sidewalk and they're being taken away, one by one. Gays and lesbians.
MS. MYERS: I expect that there will be a number of demonstrations. I think that comes with the territory.
Q: Is the President aware of the demonstrations overnight in Los Angeles?
MS. MYERS: He follows the news pretty carefully. I would expect that he's seen it.
Q: Dee Dee, is the coverage tomorrow in Maryland -- is all of it open or is some of it pool, do you know, for those of us thinking about going?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. We'll have more details on the specific arrangements.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:30 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269244