Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
2:20 P.M. EST
MS. MYERS: Okay, a quick update on NAFTA. I know none of you are interested in this, so -- this issue. Over the weekend we continued to pick up votes. On Saturday we picked up Reps. Goodling, Hayes, Jefferson, and Ford. On Sunday, we picked up Reps. Cantwell, Shepherd, Tanner, Camp, and Klug. And today so far, we've picked up Reps. Meehan, Roukema, Skelton, Mineta, Combest, Fish, and Mazzoli.
Q: How much does that make since the weekend?
MS. MYERS: That's a total of, I believe, 15 names I just read over the weekend and today. We expect at least one more today, I think. Earlier today, as you know, the President met with 400 small business leaders representing 33 states. He'll continue to meet with individual members of Congress this afternoon and make phone calls. It's going well, but it's tough. The President commented earlier that it's -- as more and more members commit, there are fewer and fewer members to pick off. It gets tougher and tougher.
Q: God, there's an insight. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Right.
Tomorrow on this, the President will meet with governors. There are a number of governors in town for the NGA Executive Board meeting. There will be 15 here speaking in favor of NAFTA on behalf of their fellow governors, most of whom support NAFTA.
Q: Mario Cuomo?
MS. MYERS: Governor Cuomo is not one of the governors who support NAFTA. And then, the Vice President, as well as other Cabinet members and other pro-NAFTA forces, will spend the next few days I think working very hard, calling members and urging to support NAFTA. As you know, the President had a number of members here -- roughly 40 -- last night, and one of the things they reported in their conversations with the President was that there's been a sea change out in their districts. That over the course of the last week, public opinion has shifted and there's a much and growing amount of support for the North American Free Trade Agreement, which is obviously very important.
Q: To what do you attribute that sea change, Ms. Myers? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I am so glad you asked. I think that the President's efforts have obviously had an impact. He's worked very hard over the last couple of weeks. I think -- certainly, the Vice President's debate with Ross Perot last week helped elevate the profile of NAFTA and got people interested in it in a way that they had not previously been interested in it. But, certainly, I think the President and others have made a very compelling argument that this is in the country's best interest, it will create jobs, raise living standards.
Q: Do you, in fact, have any empirical evidence of this sea change?
MS. MYERS: It's largely anecdotal at this point. (Laughter.) It's what we're hearing back from the same members who, previous weekends, said that the sentiment in their districts was heavily against NAFTA. This is what the members of Congress and others are reporting back to us. Cabinet members, as they have traveled over the course of the last week, have found that to be so.
Q: Could you maybe cite one member of Congress who we could talk to about this sea change in his district?
MS. MYERS: I will take that and get back to you. I did not get a specific list of names, but I think I can probably find some.
Q: How many votes do you have?
MS. MYERS: Not enough as of right now, but we're working on it.
Q: How short are you?
MS. MYERS: We're not going to get into the numbers game.
Q: You just got into the numbers game. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: No, I gave you a specific list of members who had come out over the last three days, but in terms of totals we've, for obvious reasons, have stayed out of that.
Q: But Kantor said a dozen yesterday.
MS. MYERS: A dozen short?
MS. MYERS: Then I will leave you to Mr. Kantor's words.
Q: Ross Perot had a big rally in Seattle. He's going to have another one today. And these are well-attended and very enthusiastic rallies. So what evidence do you have that he is not still having an impact and that labor is not having an --
MS. MYERS: I would never say that he's not having an impact nor that labor is not having an impact. Clearly, they are, and have had an impact throughout this debate, which is why the Vice President chose to debate Ross Perot in the first place. Nobody suggests that this battle is over at this point. I think we're going to be fighting very hard down to the last minute. And as Mickey Kantor said yesterday, we expect a Clinton landslide. It's going to be 218 votes, maybe 219. But that's all we need to win, and what we're shooting for at this point.
I think a lot of evidence we have at this point is anecdotal. It's what people are telling us as they traveled their districts over the weekend. And a lot of people said as members left last Wednesday night to go home for the long weekend, that this was a potentially troublesome predicament for the administration because people would hear back a lot of opposition to NAFTA. Clearly, there's still some various district by district, but a lot of members are saying that there is a big difference, that the phone calls in their districts are running pro-NAFTA for the first time over the last few days, and obviously we're grateful for that.
Q: Does the President risk offending partisans in his own party by suggesting that he would protect Republicans on this issue who voted in favor of NAFTA?
MS. MYERS: No, I think the President has said all along that he doesn't think a yes vote or a no vote on NAFTA should be used as a campaign issue against either Democrats or Republicans next year, and that is something he firmly believes.
Q: Can you explain how that goes? Will he campaign for Republicans? Will he not campaign for Democrats who criticize Republicans?
MS. MYERS: No. He never suggested that he would campaign for a particular candidate, only that he would make clear that he didn't think that that issue should be used against them.
Q: So if a Republican votes for NAFTA and a Democrat who criticized or didn't vote for it, could Clinton still support that Democratic candidate?
MS. MYERS: I think he'll look at the overall record of any individual candidate, but I think what he has said is he'd be willing to say that he doesn't think that that is a legitimate issue, that it ought not to be used against Republicans, even if he was supporting the Democrats. He would say that was not an issue he thought should be used against that candidate's opponent.
Q: Would he continue to support a Democratic candidate who was using in a prominent or not in a prominent way the NAFTA issue against a Republican incumbent who voted --
MS. MYERS: I think the only thing he said is that he would make clear that he didn't think the NAFTA vote should be used as an issue in the race.
Q: So he would still campaign?
MS. MYERS: But he'll certainly look at the overall record of any individual candidate --
Q: So he would still campaign? You won't rule out him campaigning for Democrats who will use NAFTA against --
MS. MYERS: I wouldn't rule it out, but I think I would make clear that the President would state that he doesn't think that should be an issue. He said that to this point, and I think he'll say that next year. Democrats and Republicans, it works on both sides.
Q: Are you concerned that some of this talk of the Clinton presidency itself being on the line Wednesday has gotten a little bit out of hand, specifically referring to Bradley's comments yesterday that the President is a gonner for reelection if he loses?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I think perhaps some of that is a little bit overstated. But I think the President has said repeatedly he thinks that this is a very important issue and it will send a signal to the rest of the world, either that this country is willing to move forward to promote free trade and job growth throughout the country, or that we're turning inward, which the President said today has, in the past, been a bad deal for Americans. When we've looked inward and shut our borders off, it has generally been a bad deal for America, and as President, in an age where we're moving into a new era in history, the President feels very strongly that it would be a detriment to his ability to pursue some of his most important objectives, which are creating more free trade, creating economic growth and job creation throughout the world.
Q: In general, though, do you accept the idea that the stakes are as high as some are making it out to be, that we will lose all kinds of trade leverage, that the President will lose leverage in Congress to pass his agenda, that sort of thing?
MS. MYERS: I think perhaps some of the reports have been overstated, but the President certainly feels this is an important vote that sends an important signal. I don't think it should be looked at as a sure sign of either reelection or not reelection in 1996.
Q: Dee Dee, is there any kind of move today on Canadian wheat in order to win some votes? Do you know anything about durum wheat?
MS. MYERS: I don't know what the status of that is. I can take the question and see if there is anything to report on it.
Q: See if there's any kind of --
Q: Makes good pasta.
MS. MYERS: Excellent for pasta.
Q: Who is the President actually meeting with today?
MS. MYERS: We're not going to release specific names of members today.
Q: Is he meeting one-on-one or in small groups?
MS. MYERS: Mostly one-on-one.
Q: Roughly how many?
MS. MYERS: I think probably by the end of the day there will be maybe eight or 10, depending.
MS. MYERS: Mostly one-on-one, yes.
Q: Are they all at the President's request?
Q: Back on the letter business --
MS. MYERS: No, not necessarily.
Q: Not necessarily --
MS. MYERS: At the President's request.
Q: Lane Kirkland said today that Clinton was abdicating his leadership of the Democratic Party by offering this kind of letter of protection to Republicans against Democrats who use it. I wonder if --
MS. MYERS: Well, I would just urge Mr. Kirkland to look at the letter before he makes such a statement. I think the President's letter will reflect what I just outlined, which is certainly not any kind of protection in a broad sense for Republicans on issues in which the President disagrees, but certainly the reiteration that he doesn't think NAFTA can be used as an issue.
Q: Has he sent it?
Q: Is the letter out?
Q: Can we see it?
MS. MYERS: No, no. There is a letter that he is sending to the leadership, Republican leadership, to Leader Michel which just basically characterizes those sentiments.
Q: Can we get a copy of it?
Q: Has it gone? Is it going today?
MS. MYERS: It's supposed to go today. I don't know if it's gone yet.
Q: Dee Dee, as a general rule, the Republicans who are currently in the House ran, shall we say, well ahead of the President in their districts and it's kind of hard to imagine that a letter from the President would help them very much. Is there any member of Congress who actually asked for this?
MS. MYERS: I think the leadership has asked for it.
Q: Did Michel ask for it, or Gingrich?
MS. MYERS: And I believe Rep. Gingrich, as well, has suggested that they thought this would helpful. I'll double-check on that, and I think the letter was supposed to be ready at some point today -- it may already be done -- and see if we can't release that for you.
Q: Dee Dee, why shouldn't this be used as an issue in the campaign?
MS. MYERS: Because the President believes that this is an issues that is of great importance to the future of the country, and for many members it should be a vote of confidence and opposition groups should not use it as leverage to try to force members to vote for or against NAFTA.
Q: Does the President reserve the right to single out issues wherever he feels like it should not be an issue in the campaign, or is this a one-of-a-kind thing?
MS. MYERS: Sure, he reserves the right, of course. And people can agree or not agree with that. But in this case he's made clear that he will personally take the position that this should not be used as an issue. And if it is used as an issue, I think he's made clear that he'll point out that he thinks that that's not a legitimate issue.
Q: Dee Dee, is this letter designed to hold Republicans or get new Republicans?
MS. MYERS: Hopefully it will do both.
Q: Are you afraid that you'll lose some of the 106 he says you have on the GOP side at this point?
MS. MYERS: Well, we hope to hang on to all of them and pick up more.
Q: Do you have any sign that some are wavering?
MS. MYERS: No, but I don't think we're going to count any of those votes until they're actually cast. Certainly we'll do everything we can to hold on to them.
Q: Are you planning -- is the President planning to meet again with Michel and Gingrich to discuss kind of the mechanics of the vote, how people go two by two --
MS. MYERS: I don't think there's been a meeting scheduled for that, but if they're back, we'll certainly let you know. They were, as you know, in here at the end of last week -- very productive meeting. And there's certainly been a lot of contact back and forth between the Republican leaders and Democratic leaders who are working in support of NAFTA about the floor strategy for Wednesday.
Q: Are you concerned at all about this somewhat significant number of Democrats supposedly that are promising their vote to both sides?
MS. MYERS: I don't -- I mean, we certainly are working hard to get our votes lined up. Republicans are working hard to get their votes lined up. The votes don't quite match, and I'm not sure we know exactly why that is. But we think we have a pretty good sense of where our votes are and where we need to go to get the remaining votes.
Q: In this climate of sea change, are you seeing votes changing? Are these 15 votes that you've picked up today, were they just undecided, or has anybody changed their vote?
MS. MYERS: Well, a couple people have changed their votes. We announced a couple of people last week and we certainly picked up some people who are concerned to be leaning no, or who were genuinely undecided.
Q: Some of those 15 today?
MS. MYERS: Sure.
MS. MYERS: I'll have to get from you exactly where they were. I think Maria Cantwell was certainly somebody who was a solid undecided, perhaps leaning no. I'm not sure -- I mean, Marty Meehan was somebody who was solidly undecided. Ike Skelton is somebody who has been --
Q: No, he was leaning yes for a long time.
Q: Skelton was undecided.
MS. MYERS: Skelton was genuinely undecided. I think Meehan was in the undecided column of both camps -- except for The Boston Globe's tally.
Q: So going into the final hours of this vote, is the pressure on the anti-negative -- on the anti-NAFTA forces to change their votes? Is the momentum in your --
MS. MYERS: There are still a number of undecideds. I mean, we're willing to take any no vote that wants to switch to a yes. But there a are a lot of undecideds and we're certainly working very hard across the board.
Q: Dee Dee, do you think one of the battles that you all had to fight here was just to get the public's attention on NAFTA at all? In other words, do you think if the public would pay attention to it, then you could start swaying a few -- but you had to have it first?
MS. MYERS: I think the President always believed that if you could make -- if you could debate the merits of the pact, that that would certainly bode well for the yes side, and if you could get the public's attention and get them to focus on it, that that was a good thing. The more they knew about it, the more they tended to support it some of the public opinion polls have shown. And the more they know about who supports it, who's for it and who's against it, that also has a significant impact on public opinion.
So I think elevating NAFTA has been a significant boost to the President and to the yes side. But it has been difficult, and I think that's one of the things the Perot-Gore debate did, was to launch -- to move it from sort of an obscure second-tier issue in the public's mind to something that's on the front pages of the paper and leading the evening news.
Q: Is Armacost getting the deputy's job?
MS. MYERS: We'll have an announcement when we have an announcement.
Q: Is that imminent?
MS. MYERS: I think the -- certainly a desire to move as quickly as possible on that and fill --
MS. MYERS: Is Armacost in line for the number two job at State, and the answer is that we don't have an announcement on that, but we hope to soon. And I don't have a specific time line on it, but I think everybody wants to move quickly.
Q: Is the President participating in this National Security Council meeting today on North Korea?
MS. MYERS: He's not scheduled to, no.
Q: Is the President inclined to accept North Korea's assurances for these limited inspections as a price for cancelling the military exercises in the spring?
MS. MYERS: There's been no decision on Team Spirit yet. Our position on North Korea and nuclear inspections has not changed. We expect them to live up to their international obligations and we're working to try to make that happen.
Q: Well, is there a big meeting today to make the decision?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if it's a full National Security Council meeting -- it is. And it's -- it's a full National Security Council meeting and it certainly will be discussed.
Q: Does the President have any opinion on the discrepancy of the number of Russians killed by the Yeltsin forces recently and what's now reported? What Yeltsin reports and what is now being reported?
MS. MYERS: In terms of the Russians killed in the recent coup attempt -- and what's the question about it?
Q: If there is a discrepancy between what Yeltsin says, which is approximately 150-200 people, and the possibility of 1,500 people being killed.
MS. MYERS: So the question is, what does the President think of that?
Q: Where does he think the numbers are?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that we have a position on the numbers. We've seen the reports. But the President's position on Yeltsin hasn't changed; he continues to support him.
Q: Getting back to North Korea for a second, were you saying that no decision has been made on Team Spirit? Does that mean you're considering cancelling Team Spirit in March?
MS. MYERS: It means that no decision has been made. That's an issue that has been open for some time. We're looking at a number of things. Certainly, we would like to resolve the nuclear situation in North Korea. We'd like them to open their facilities to inspection. That's something that we've insisted upon all along.
Q: And if they do, will Team Spirit be cancelled?
MS. MYERS: When we have an announcement on that, we'll have an announcement on it.
Q: Do you think you'll have an announcement today?
MS. MYERS: I don't think so.
Q: Did the President ask Christopher to fire Tarnoff, as reported in one of the news magazines?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: When can we expect the administration's health care bill to be introduced?
MS. MYERS: As soon as we work out some of the technical discrepancies.
Q: But before Thanksgiving?
MS. MYERS: I don't think we have a hard time line on it. It's as quickly as we can get it done. We're working with Congress. As you know, there's a lot of territorial -- not territorial issues, but issues of what piece goes to what committee. There's also a lot of technical questions -- actually a few outstanding technical questions that we're working through, and we'd like to introduce it as quickly as possible. But I don't know if it'll happen before Thanksgiving. That would be nice.
Q: Is the President thinking about going up to the Hill tomorrow to address the Democratic Caucus or any other group on NAFTA?
MS. MYERS: I don't think so. There's a number of things under discussion.
Q: Is it likely he'll do some sort last hurrah kind of thing? There was talk about Larry King, about --
MS. MYERS: Yes, it's possible. We're considering a number of things for tomorrow as sort of a final day.
Q: Including tomorrow night?
MS. MYERS: A number of things are on the table. Tomorrow night is probably less likely than something during the day.
Q: He probably wouldn't have --
MS. MYERS: No. But I think a number of things are still kind of on the table. But I think something like tomorrow night prime time probably won't happen.
Q: How about telling us about Seattle and also Thanksgiving in terms of logistics. Do you know when he's going to leave and so forth or --
MS. MYERS: For Seattle?
Q: what the general planning is?
MS. MYERS: Generally, I don't have a -- let me see how much detail I have in this schedule. We will leave sometime midday on Thursday, and we'll probably do something on Thursday morning depending on what happens on NAFTA.
Q: If something happens on NAFTA Wednesday night, don't you think he might do something Wednesday night?
MS. MYERS: Yes, depending on what time it is. I mean, they're saying -- they, the Congress, are saying that it's going to happen sometime late afternoon, which means, what, midnight? (Laughter.)
Q: Foley announced the vote is at 8:00 p.m.
Q: Look who's calling the kettle black.
MS. MYERS: Oh, 8:00 p.m. No, no. I am not exonerating this Executive Branch from running late. (Laughter.)
Q: If Foley is correct and there's an 8:00 p.m. vote --
MS. MYERS: Seven o'clock p.m. --
Q: When they say they're going to vote, they vote.
MS. MYERS: Yes, I think the sort of operating procedure from the budget vote would apply if it's early enough that we can do something, early enough -- there's no specific definition, but it tended to be before 11:00 p.m. as a ballpark, the President would have a statement after the vote. Certainly -- I lost the schedule.
Let me give you what I know about --
Q: Is he going to inspect the fires --
MS. MYERS: Unclear. Basically, we will leave Thursday around noontime, go to Seattle, do some kind of an event on arrival there -- sort of a public event --
Q: Arrival like at 5:30 p.m.?
MS. MYERS: It will actually be earlier than that --sort of early afternoon. It's only two hours on the clock to get there. Then he'll have two bilaterals on Thursday with Canada and Thailand.
On Friday morning he'll give what is the major address of the APEC, which is considered -- it's the third in a series of speeches; the first one having been in Tokyo, the second one having been in Seoul. This will be Friday morning early, like 9:30 a.m. Then he'll have bilateral with Japan and China, followed by --
Q: Japan and China before 6:00 p.m. East Coast time?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q: Thailand and Canada are Thursday afternoon?
MS. MYERS: The specific times -- wheels down in Seattle in 2:20 Pacific Time.
Events the following day: The speech is about 9:30 a.m. Bilateral with Hosokawa is at 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. The bilateral with President Jiang of China is 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. So that ends at 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Then that evening he has the working dinner with the leaders of the other countries.
On Saturday, all of the leaders will go over to Blake Island where they'll have a sort of informal meeting in the morning. There will be no tables, it will be sort of chairs and simultaneous translation. So they -- no, they won't sit around the table.
Q: Photo op? Is there a photo op at the top?
MS. MYERS: There will be probably a couple of photo ops, and then there will be press statement where they will announce the economic vision statement sometime around noon time, followed by a working lunch. The session will end and everybody will basically - - there will be a boat ride back across the Sound and then everybody will leave. The President will fly down to San Francisco for the Feinstein fundraiser.
Q: There's no press conference?
MS. MYERS: Yes, it's noon time when they release the economic vision statement.
Q: Is that open press, or is that limited --
MS. MYERS: I don't know if it's going to be -- I think it will probably be some kind of expanded pool.
Q: So Saturday night, then they --
MS. MYERS: Saturday night we do the Feinstein fundraiser. And from there, it's unclear. We'll either come back to Washington red eye, in which case we'll probably leave most of the press in Seattle and fly out of Seattle red eye and just take the pool to San Francisco. Or we may add another stop in California. And we'll have -- probably have a decision on that by tomorrow.
Q: The press thing at noon on Saturday, will that be just with the President, or with the President and some of the other leaders?
MS. MYERS: All the leaders will be there. The President will speak on behalf of the group, but they'll all be there.
Q: And that's the declaration, that's not Q&A?
MS. MYERS: No, I think the President will take some questions, but that's where they'll release the economic vision statement, which they'll discuss in the morning and probably continue to do some work in the afternoon at the working lunch. But the vision statement will be done.
Q: Is there way to get back from there? Do you know the logistics at all for the pools?
MS. MYERS: I don't. I think we're still working on that.
Q: Is there reaction to the release of an American by Iraq this morning?
MS. MYERS: Is there any --
Q: Any reaction by the White House?
MS. MYERS: No, there's been nothing to indicate a chance of attitude by Iraq, and we expect them to comply with all the U.N. resolutions. Obviously, we're happy for the family of the individual and grateful to Senator Boren for his ability to make that happen.
Q: Is the President going to meet with the family of the Japanese exchange student who was killed? When is that going to happen?
MS. MYERS: Yes, probably tomorrow afternoon -- late afternoon, 3:00 p.m., 3:30 p.m.
Q: In the Oval Office?
MS. MYERS: I believe so. I don't have all the details on it yet, but I expect them to be here. He spoke to them from Tokyo during the G-7. They told them at that time they'd be here during this period. And he said he would like to see them, but needed to work it out, and I think we've been able to work it out.
Q: Is it the parents or --
MS. MYERS: Yes, the parents of Yoshi Hatori.
Q: Will the technical corrections to the President's health care bill go forward as a separate document, or will it be incorporated in the bill that was submitted on October 27th?
MS. MYERS: I believe the objective is to incorporate the changes into the bill, which is why the bill has yet to be introduced. I'll double-check that.
Q: Dee Dee, has the President written to President Assad of Syria regarding Middle East peace, possibly sending Christopher? And if so, is this an -- of the Rabin meeting?
MS. MYERS: I don't have anything for you on that. I'll take it and see if there's anything more. Christopher is going to the Middle East, which was announced by the State Department today.
Q: Dee Dee, the Vice President said this morning there had been a meeting on the 25th Amendment regarding procedures for succession in the case of an emergency. Do you know when that meeting was?
MS. MYERS: Lorraine Voles is working on that and will be happy to provide answers later. (Laughter.)
Q: What was the question?
MS. MYERS: Am I right?
MS. VOLES: You're right.
MS. MYERS: It was a question about the 25th Amendment and some procedures regarding succession in the event of the unspeakable. Yes, and -- right. And there was, according to the Vice President this morning, a meeting on it. Lorraine is following up on that.
Q: When did the Vice President say this?
MS. MYERS: He did the Sperling Breakfast this morning.
Q: Did he dare speak at the Sperling Breakfast?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q: On Wednesday during the roll call, will you have some of your more prominent supporters, like Foley, Richardson or Matsui, have some power of attorney to make last-minute deals?
MS. MYERS: I think that we will certainly be engaged in activity up until the last minute.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:45 P.M. EST
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/269265