Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
2:00 P.M. EST
MS. MYERS: This is going to be a brief briefing, a micro-briefing. It's a brief briefing. The only schedule change is that Saturday the President will do the radio address here from the Oval Office. I know, that's a heartbreaker. And that is the major announcement for this afternoon. So, if there are no more questions --
Q: Is it still going to be crime?
MS. MYERS: Yeah.
Q: Dee Dee, was the President -- did he have any response to the sort of comments that have been made by ethics watchers about two of his top officials going back into private sector jobs where the companies do some lobbying of the government?
MS. MYERS: I think the President believes that we need ethics laws -- very strict ethics laws -- to keep people from inappropriately influencing government. I don't think anybody ever expected that people wouldn't move back and forth between the public and private sector. It is a citizen democracy. That's the way our government works is people move from the government to the private sector. What the laws are meant to stop is inappropriate influence once people go from the public sector back into the private sector. When President Clinton came in, he signed an executive order to strengthen existing regulations. He's done that. Every member of his staff -- including Howard Paster and Roy Neel -- will abide by that, and the President feels very comfortable with that.
Q: Are you confident that the American people will understand the distinction?
MS. MYERS: I think so. The American people -- this is a citizen government. I think the American people know that. They expect that. What they want to do is be assured that people won't use their influence inappropriately. They won't use their government jobs to enrich themselves once they go back to the private sector.
That's not to say that the experience that you gain in the private sector isn't applicable to the public sector, nor is the experience that you gain in the public sector not applicable to the private sector. Certainly, there are skills that people who work in government -- people like Roy Neel, who has been here for 17 years -- who have been dedicated public servants have picked up a lot of skills that make them attractive in the private sector. Roy's moving on now after many, many years of dedicated service.
Howard, as you know, comes from the private sector. He spent a very helpful year in government this year. He did a terrific job, and now he's going back to the company that he came from. But he's not lobbying, he's going to be running that company as chairman and chief executive officer. And he's going to be abiding by the stricter ethics laws that the President signed into law when he took office.
Q: But to return to yesterday's question, why is supervising lobbyists different from lobbying itself?
MS. MYERS: Because he's not going to be contacting anybody in behalf of his company. He's going to be running that company. People like Howard Paster have a lot of skills, a lot of experience that make them attractive. I don't think anybody would suggest that you can't leave government and go back to the private sector. That's an unrealistic expectation.
Q: No, but he's going with an actual lobbying firm.
MS. MYERS: No, it's not a lobbying firm. It is a public relations firm that does less than five percent of its business as lobbying. And I think Howard's job is not, again, to contact anybody on behalf of anybody. He'll be running the corporation.
Q: When you say lobbying, you're talking about lobbying Congress, aren't you?
MS. MYERS: Or contacting people in the executive branch. Let me just remind you that --
Q: Are you telling me that less than five percent of Hill & Knowlton's business involves lobbying fitting that definition or simply lobbying Congress?
MS. MYERS: Most of their business -- the vast majority of their business is public relations. That's according to Hill & Knowlton. I don't know how they define it.
Q: I know, but public relations -- I know, but wouldn't legally --
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to get into definitions of what kind of business. That is -- they have 55 offices in 27 countries around the world. I mean, clearly the bulk of their business is not contacting the federal government in Washington.
Q: But their business is influencing policy, isn't it?
MS. MYERS: You'll have to check with them about their business. Howard's job will be running that company as the chief executive officer, as chairman and CEO.
Q: The U.S. -- Association, on the other hand, is specifically, primarily and solely, in fact, a lobbying group.
MS. MYERS: But again, neither Howard nor Roy will be lobbying. That is not their jobs. They will be abiding by very strict rules that say you cannot contact anybody, anywhere in the executive branch of the government for a year. You cannot contact anybody in the executive office of the President for five years. And you can never contact anybody with a relation to a specific project that you may have worked on while you were in the government. That is a very tough standard, one that the President expects all of his staff to adhere to, and he certainly feels confident that Roy and Howard will do that.
Q: What are the penalties for doing so?
MS. MYERS: The penalties for not doing so are, I think, they are a combination of -- there are civil penalties for breaking those rules.
Q: Dee Dee, can we assume it is acceptable under Clinton policy to negotiate with a private company for a new job while you are still on the White House staff?
MS. MYERS: I think that people who leave here who need a continuous stream of income will certainly be free to look elsewhere for jobs once they decide to leave.
Q: So, that's a yes, you can negotiate with an outside group while you're still --
MS. MYERS: When you make a decision to leave, you can certainly look for another job. I think that that's certainly a legitimate function.
Q: Was that the case with Roy Neel -- that he decided to leave and then started looking?
MS. MYERS: I don't know what the exact cause and effect was, but I think -- again, it is not -- what we're looking for here is a reasonable standard. People who sign on to work for the government, one, don't have to take vows that they are never going to leave. Certainly, at some point, everybody is going to leave government, either at the end of the President's term or sometime in the middle of the President's term. I think what's important is that once they do leave government that they adhere to a standard, they do not use their influence inappropriately, that they abide by all the existing laws and the code that the President signed an executive order to create when he became President.
I think that certainly Roy and Howard are going to adhere to that very high standard, and I think the President feels good about that.
Q: Dee Dee, job shopping while you are on the job here is not a conflict of interest?
MS. MYERS: I think people are bound by the ethics rules. I think people here are going to adhere to, and the President is going to do everything he can to make sure people adhere to the highest standard of conduct. But people who come here aren't going to necessarily stay forever. That's not part of the deal. You don't have to stay in this job the rest of your life.
Q: There's no requirement, for instance, that you recuse yourself of issues while you are job shopping?
MS. MYERS: I think that, certainly, people will be wary of those kinds of things and hopefully, if there's any questions they will seek guidance from Counsel's office. That's one of the things the Counsel's office is here to do. And when people leave or are thinking about leaving, the Counsel's office is there to sit down with them, to talk through with them what the restrictions on their activities will be after they leave and to guide them through the process. That's part of the reason that the Counsel's office exists.
Q: Dee Dee, as long as you've got these job changes in the works, is the President using this as an opportunity to look at restructuring the White House staff to -- changing the way things function to try and make things run more smoothly, any restructuring as long as you're --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think there have been, as you know, a number of changes throughout the first 10 months, the first year. Obviously with a new deputy chief of staff, there will continue to be some changes. At some point, we'll hire a new head of congressional liaison, and I think we'll continue to make some changes to try to make the office work better throughout the administration. I don't think there's any dramatic changes coming. But I think, you know, Phil Leder certainly has a very varied background in management experience and executive experience. I think they'll be very useful. And so he may have some suggestions about how to streamline things or how to make things work better.
Q: Dee Dee, has the President spoken to Dr. Elders?
MS. MYERS: He hasn't.
Q: Has anyone in the White House spoken to him?
MS. MYERS: Dr. Elders. I think clearly the President disagrees with Dr. Elders' statement on legalizing drugs. He's adamantly opposed to it and is not even interested in studying it, which is what we said yesterday. But -- and, I think he appointed her knowing she's outspoken and that occasionally she has said things that he disagrees with. Nonetheless, he thinks she's very effective. He thinks she's doing an excellent job raising issues that need to be raised, and he stands behind her. But he has not spoken to her.
Q: A lot of Republicans are calling for her resignation.
MS. MYERS: The President stands by her. He thinks she's doing a terrific job.
Q: Does President Clinton have a woodshed? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: Can you give us an update on Korea? Has there been any further consultation with both the South Koreans, the Japanese, the Chinese and the North Koreans?
MS. MYERS: Consultations are ongoing. There's no real change. We are continuing to talk with the South Koreans and with other countries in the region -- Japan and China. And we expect to have some kind of an answer soon, but no specific deadline.
Q: Have you specifically talked to North Korea?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: Does the President plan on calling the prime minister of -- Prime Minister Hosokawa?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe that's planned, but I suppose that could change.
MS. MYERS: Hosokawa.
Q: How's the President's back and did you find out what he's doing about it?
MS. MYERS: I didn't. His back is somewhat better today, but I didn't ask him specifically if he'd seen a doctor?
Q: Did he meet with Mickey Kantor?
MS. MYERS: He saw Mickey this morning -- had a chance to talk with him at the NAFTA signing. Mickey did not come back to the White House, and I think will return to Europe at the appropriate time.
Q: Did the President call the D.A. in Nassau County, New York to ask him questions about the gun that was used in the shooting up there and what can you tell us about that?
MS. MYERS: The President didn't call him directly, and I think the President commented on this to the pool. He was planning to when he came out of Blair House. But I think that we're certainly interested in the circumstances around that. It's tragic. I think it underscores the need to do something about violence and about guns. The gun in question, I believe, the magazine, which was a 15- round magazine would have been covered under a -- under the Feinstein amendment banning assault weapons. And I think it underscores the need for a crime bill including a ban on assault weapons early next year, and the President is going to continue to push for that.
Q: Who in the White House talked to the people in Nassau County? Did someone from the --
MS. MYERS: I don 't know. Bruce Reed was sort of coordinating the specifics. I don't know if he talked to the D.A.'s office or not.
MS. MYERS: Where is the President on this idea of licensing gun owners?
MS. MYERS: He thinks it's an interesting proposal. It was something that, I think, he heard Mayors Giuliani and Riordan -- or Mayor-elect Giuliani and Mayor Riordan -- talking about on NBC recently. And I think he thinks it's an interesting idea. He's asked the Attorney General to take a look at it. I think he's interested in considering a number of options to take additional steps about drugs, I mean, about guns and crime.
Q: So, at this point, he's not pushing it, he's just interested?
MS. MYERS: No, he thinks it's an interesting idea along the lines of licensing cars and drivers.
Q: Since you brought it up, isn't it the case that under the Feinstein amendment that he would have only been able to shoot ten people at a time instead of fifteen.
MS. MYERS: Well, yeah, I think the limit is ten rounds per magazine under the Feinstein amendment.
Q: Why not just put a limit on the number of people you can shoot. (Laughter.)
Q: Sort of like hunting people
MS. MYERS: I'll hold my tongue right here.
Q: So wouldn't have had to reload twice instead of just once.
MS. MYERS: It was when he was reloading that --
Q: But the bottom line is that it really wouldn't have made that much --
MS. MYERS: -- it depends on who you are.
Q: But you threw that out as if it would have made some big difference.
MS. MYERS: All I'm saying is that these kinds of laws do have an impact on real -- in real situations in -- we don't know enough about the perpetrator to know whether or not the Brady bill would have flagged him.
Q: Did he speak to Rudy Giuliani about this particular issue yesterday? About licensing?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q: And he simply told him what you're telling us, that--
MS. MYERS: Correct. That he thinks it's an interesting idea. It's something that Giuliani's interested and they talked about.
Q: Does the administration view this national identification card idea that the Bradys are proposing today with Schumer in the same way as you explained the reaction of the national license idea?
MS. MYERS: The only national identification card that the President has sort of looked at in any detail is the health security card, which isn't really a national identification card. Other than that, he hasn't really looked at any kind of national identification card. I don't know whether he'd be interested in looking at it. But at this point, hasn't done so.
Q: On the Middle East, Dee Dee, has the President kept in touch with Secretary Christopher on the possibility of the date, December 13, being delayed?
MS. MYERS: He's been kept up to date on it. I don't believe he's talked to Secretary Christopher in the last few days, but he's certainly been briefed by his National Security advisors about the situation in the Middle East.
Q: And Russia also -- the quote on Sunday?
MS. MYERS: Sure. Absolutely. Thank you. END 2:20 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/269271