Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
9:49 A.M. EST
MS. MYERS: Today's press conference will begin at 1:02 p.m. for you broadcast folks. We are going to work really hard to start it right at 1:02 p.m.
Q: That means he starts the walk or he opens his mouth, or what?
Q: That's Central time or Eastern time?
MS. MYERS: Well, that's a good question. I would like to have him at the podium ready to start speaking at 1:02 p.m.
Q: Have you told the President this?
MS. MYERS: Yes, and we will continue to reinforce that. I think it might be interesting to start a pool to see exactly when he might arrive. No, we will try very hard to have him standing at the podium at 1:02 p.m., which means he'll start the walk 30 seconds before that.
Q: Will there be an opening statement, Dee Dee?
MS. MYERS: Very brief opening statement.
Q: Foreign or domestic?
MS. MYERS: Domestic.
Q: Geared toward the Senate vote or --
MS. MYERS: Yes, geared toward the economic plan generally.
Q: The Russian Foreign Minister said that he's going to ask that the summit be moved to Moscow?
MS. MYERS: We haven't received any formal request yet. Obviously, we're moving forward with plans to hold the summit in Vancouver on the 3rd and 4th.
Q: How about an informal request?
MS. MYERS: No. We haven't receive any request yet at all. As you know, Kozyrev's --
Q: And how will you respond if you do?
MS. MYERS: Well, we'll wait and see. I mean, obviously we'll consider it. Kozyrev is meeting with Christopher this morning. The Russian Foreign Minister will meet with the President tomorrow. The summit is certainly among the topics that will be discussed. And we'll wait and see what comes out of that meeting.
Q: Will the President be telephoning, or has he already telephoned Mr. Yeltsin?
MS. MYERS: He has not contacted Yeltsin since sending him condolences upon his mother's death. He has not phoned him. And as of right now, there are no plans to do so.
Q: Didn't he say in Little Rock he would call?
MS. MYERS: There's nothing scheduled. He didn't have a particular timetable.
Q: Is there any concern here that moving the summit to Moscow would be seen as a very strong endorsement of Yeltsin, of one side in this dispute in that country and be seen as interference in Russian internal affairs?
MS. MYERS: Well, obviously we haven't received a formal request yet and haven't had any conversations about moving the summit at this time. If there's a formal request, we'll take a look at it. But as of right now, we're still moving forward with plans to hold the summit in Vancouver, and we hope and expect that President Yeltsin will attend.
Q: What are the concerns, though, on this? I mean, there must be --
MS. MYERS: We haven't received a formal request, so we haven't began discussions about it. I don't think it's appropriate to say.
Q: You haven't begun to think about what the reservations or ramifications --
MS. MYERS: At this point, we're moving forward with plans for Vancouver.
Q: Is there any consideration of canceling the President's stop in Portland, Oregon --
MS. MYERS: No. The Forest Conference is still on schedule for Friday.
Q: Has the U.S. in any way encouraged Yeltsin to make this request to move --
MS. MYERS: No. Again, we're moving forward with plans to hold the summit in Vancouver. We're continuing to put together the final details of the schedule for that. There's been no change in that, and we're continuing to work with our Russian counterparts to work that out.
Q: How long will the news conference last?
MS. MYERS: Thirty-plus minutes. At least a half an hour. We'll see what happens.
Q: Thirty minutes minus the length of the opening statement.
MS. MYERS: The opening statement will be very brief.
Q: Dee Dee, when you say you haven't received a formal request from the Russians to change the summit venue, you have the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia saying they would like it moved; that this would be a show support for Yeltsin. By saying here that you're continuing to move forward with plans for Vancouver, are you trying to pour cold Soviet idea of shifting?
MS. MYERS: No, I'm just making clear that we haven't received a request through normal diplomatic channels. The only thing that we have are sort of spotty news accounts of that statement, and so we're continuing to move forward until we hear in some kind of a formal fashion that we should consider something else.
Q: You're not trying to send any signals here?
MS. MYERS: No. We just want to make it very clear that we're committed to the summit and we're moving forward with plans for Vancouver.
Q: President's schedule, would it be possible to move the summit to Moscow on the dates that were originally scheduled?
MS. MYERS: Again, we haven't even had any discussions about that yet. As I keep saying, we haven't received a formal request. Obviously we're going to Portland on the 2nd. We'll be in Vancouver on the 3rd and 4th, and we're moving forward with plans to lock that down.
Q: Have there been any discussions about shortening the summit so that Yeltsin is not out of the country for longer than one day?
MS. MYERS: No. And again we haven't received any requests to do that. I think President Yeltsin is the best judge about what's in his interest. And we'll certainly continue to work with the Russians to nail down the final details of the summit. But at this point, it is still on schedule for Vancouver on the 3rd and 4th.
Q: What's the condition of Mr. Rodham?
MS. MYERS: He's still in very serious condition.
Q: He was in critical last night.
MS. MYERS: I mean critical. There's been no change as of this morning.
Q: Any plans for the President to go back?
MS. MYERS: Not at this point, but obviously that could change on a moment's notice.
Q: Dee Dee, if Yeltsin is so weak that it requires moving the site of the summit, is it worth holding at all?
MS. MYERS: Well, that is a purely hypothetical. At this point there have been no requests from President Yeltsin to move the summit. We're committed to going forward with the summit in Vancouver as scheduled.
Q: Dee Dee, I understand that you're going ahead with plans for Vancouver; you've received no formal request. Granted all of that, in general terms do you have any qualms about the idea of a summit in Moscow?
MS. MYERS: Well, again if there is a request we'll take a look at it.
Q: I know, but, I mean, the site itself; holding a summit this early in Moscow in general terms, does that bother you?
MS. MYERS: Other than to say we'll take a look at it I have no further comment on Moscow.
Q: You're making it sound like your people are unprepared, that there is no plan B if they ask for a change in venue or --
MS. MYERS: I'm making it very clear that we're prepared to move forward with the summit as scheduled. We continue to support President Yeltsin, and we're working with our Russian counterparts now to nail down the final details of the first summit between the two presidents. We're looking forward to the meeting. We think it'll be a good and productive meeting. And we have no intention right now of moving off of those plans.
Q: But obviously with only two weeks between now and then, if you're not at least preparing contingencies, there is no possibility.
MS. MYERS: We aren't preparing contingencies because we haven't been requested to do so.
Q: Is Pickering still in India, and if so, what is the status of his nomination? Where is the paperwork right now?
MS. MYERS: We expect to have meetings on that this week. I'm not sure where he is physically. That's a -- I can get back to you on that.
Q: But the paperwork has not gone to the Hill yet.
MS. MYERS: It has not gone to the Hill yet. We expect meetings on that, and we hope to move forward with that fairly quickly.
Q: What do you mean?
Q: Are you reconsidering the nomination, given the ethics issue that had been raised by --
MS. MYERS: No, we're just working out the details.
Q: You don't see that as an obstacle to his eventually being --
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: What are these meetings?
MS. MYERS: Just working -- there's a lot of background work that has to be done.
Q: Like what?
MS. MYERS: There's a lengthy background check that goes into any confirmation process. As you know, that's very time consuming on a number of --
Q: This man has been U.N. Ambassador. He's been --
MS. MYERS: I understand.
Q: ambassador to several countries.
MS. MYERS: I understand. But we are putting together the required background --
Q: Did something happen in the last year that --
MS. MYERS: -- and we're optimistic that he will be confirmed.
Q: What about in the interim? I know you have a wonderful DCM, but --
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q: We've heard that over and over. But you don't have someone at the ambassador rank.
MS. MYERS: No. As you know, we inherited a vacancy in that position and we're doing our best to fill it.
Q: But -- you have a problem.
MS. MYERS: I don't know that we have a problem. We have a vacancy, and we're doing our best to fill it. The President has announced his attention --
Q: These obstacles don't usually appear for a --
MS. MYERS: That is not true. They often appear in this --
Q: Not on a veteran diplomat.
MS. MYERS: Obstacles often appear. It's a very complicated confirmation process, as you know. And as I said, we expect that Ambassador Pickering will be confirmed.
Q: Has the White House looked at this issue that --the charge by a subordinate was already -- alleged ethical lapses by both -- and is the White House satisfied that this is not an obstacle to his proceeding with the nomination?
MS. MYERS: Again, we are proceeding with the nomination. We expect to meet on it this week. We expect to send it up to the Hill soon, and we're optimistic that he'll be confirmed as soon as possible.
Q: Dee Dee, when you say we're expecting to meet on it this week, who is going to be meeting on it?
MS. MYERS: The people who prepare the confirmations. I'm not sure if the FBI will be involved in that part of the routine background check. It's being organized at this point by the White House Counsel's office, I believe. But let me get back to you on exactly what the details of that are.
Q: You are referring to White House staff?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q: Dee Dee, I've got to say I'm afraid I don't understand. And I don't understand why the confirmation process is so difficult in the case of someone who only last year went through the confirmation process to become Ambassador to India, and three years before that went through the confirmation process to become Ambassador to the United Nations, is a veteran diplomat in the Foreign Service. I don't understand what you're looking for, or what different -- why you need a new background check. Is there something that has come up that changes --
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to comment on the specifics of the process at this point, other than to say we're moving forward with it; we're meeting on it this week; we expect it to go up to the Hill soon; and we're optimistic that he'll be confirmed in due speed.
Q: Does he have to go through every one of the steps that someone new to the process would have to go through?
MS. MYERS: I'm not sure exactly how that works with veteran ambassadors. I do know that we're proceeding with this; and again, we will get it done as quickly as we can.
Q: Is there a problem on an ethical lapse?
MS. MYERS: We are working on it right now, and we're optimistic that Ambassador Pickering will be confirmed.
Q: Since Saturday, the President has been studiously avoiding personally speaking about the situation in Russia. Why schedule the news conference then for today? Why has he decided to speak personally about the situation?
MS. MYERS: I think if you look at -- he put out a statement on Saturday that made very clear his support for President Yeltsin and the reformers in Russia. On Sunday and Monday he was in Little Rock on personal business. He didn't feel that it was appropriate at that time. He was there, as you know, to visit his ailing father-in-law. He's back, and he will hold a full-blown news conference today to answer questions about the situation in Russia and anything else that you all might have on your minds.
Q: Is there some kind of a strategy behind when the President provides a sound and video bite, and when he does, and especially on an issue like this?
MS. MYERS: No. He was asked some general questions about it yesterday. Due to his personal situation, he wasn't available to the press in any formal way.
Q: But he could have been if he had wanted to.
MS. MYERS: But he chose not to because of the circumstances under which he found himself in Little Rock. He thought it was appropriate and reasonable that he would spend time with his family at this hard time in their personal lives, and that was the focus of his trip. He's back and is holding a news conference today to talk about this and a number of things. I wouldn't read too much into the timing of his comments. I think that Secretary Christopher and other administration spokespeople have made very clear the administration's position on the situation in Russia.
Q: Do you have any comment on the reports that Sessions is out and that the Massachusetts judge is in?
MS. MYERS: No change at this point. Attorney General Reno is continuing to review that, and we hope to have a decision on it soon.
Q: Is it true that you're waiting for the Waco standoff to be over before you present any decision?
MS. MYERS: No, she's still in the review process.
Q: talked to people in the White House about the job?
MS. MYERS: I can't comment on that.
Q: There's a report that the White House --- you're not denying that.
MS. MYERS: I'm not confirming it. I'm not denying it. I'm simply not -- as is our custom, not commenting on names being floated during the personnel process.
QQ: Why would the White House need to Janet Reno at this point since she comes into it so late in the game?
MS. MYERS: The President felt it was important to allow the Attorney General, his Attorney General, to review both the Justice Department's report and Director Sessions's response to that report, and to make a judicious and informed decision about it. As you know, the White House Counsel's office has also looked at it and has not yet reported to the President.
Q: He's wait for Janet Reno's recommendation?
MS. MYERS: Correct. He wants the Justice Department, the Attorney General, to have a chance to look at it.
Q: If he's waiting for Janet Reno's recommendation, why are people in the White House interviewing other candidates?
MS. MYERS: I'm not confirming or denying that other candidates have been interviewed. I'm saying that the Attorney General's going to review the reports, and as soon as we have a decision we'll let you guys know.
Q: How long does it take to read a report?
MS. MYERS: I think -- the Attorney General has only had, I believe, six working days, which is not an unreasonable amount of time.
Q: Dee Dee, have you received the Japanese proposal that had the G-7 ministerial on Tokyo on the 13th and 14th?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that we've received a formal proposal on that yet. As you know, we support going forward with a meeting of foreign ministers and finance ministers in April. But I don't know about any formal proposals. I'll have to look into that.
Q: Dee Dee, was the decision not to appeal the court ruling on OSHA regulations a deliberate decision or was it just that it fell through the cracks because there was so much else happening and not enough people to look at it? I mean, was that a policy choice or was that just not enough time to get --
MS. MYERS: I saw the report on that. I don't know the specifics, and I'll take that question.
Q: Dee Dee, can I just clarify what you were saying about -- back on Sessions. The White House Counsel's office, are they through looking at it or are they still reviewing it?
MS. MYERS: The White House Counsel's office, I believe that they've had a chance to look at it, waiting for the Attorney General to look at it; and then the Attorney General will report to the President on it.
Q: So the Counsel's office hasn't made any recommendation --
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: and doesn't plan to?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if they plan to. I know that the President's waiting to hear back from the Attorney General. I'm sure they'll weigh into the process.
Q: Dee Dee, why doesn't the President order the Pentagon to release the Tailhook report?
MS. MYERS: He hasn't done so yet.
Q: I know. Why doesn't he? MS. MYERS: It'll be released in due course, I suppose. Q: But doesn't the long lapse of time -- people
perhaps think that there's been a -- that the President is interested in a cover-up here?
MS. MYERS: Absolutely not. The President -- interested in anything but the cover-up. The Pentagon has the report, they're moving forward with it.
Q: Well, they're not. They're sitting on it.
Q: It's finished.
Q: They say they are holding it until there's a Secretary of the Navy nominated and confirmed.
MS. MYERS: I think there is -- that's a reasonable position. The President -- the report will come out. I think otherwise it will become an issue in the confirmation process.
Q: Does the President have a nominee for the Secretary of the Navy?
MS. MYERS: It's coming.
Q: Why is that reasonable to hold that until there's a Secretary of the Navy? What difference would that make?
MS. MYERS: It's an issue of whether it becomes an issue in the confirmation process. A new Secretary of the Navy would become a referendum on the report.
Q: Why shouldn't it be an issue in the confirmation process?
MS. MYERS: So, we'll have a Secretary of the Navy soon and the Pentagon has the report.
Q: On a another note, do you have any reaction to the Constitutional Court in Russia's ruling -- the Zorkin ruling on --
MS. MYERS: No, we're not going to comment on the internal twists and turns in this process.
Q: Does it help your case?
Q: Which process are we talking about?
MS. MYERS: The Constitutional Court's ruling in Russia today.
Q: Does it help Yeltsin or hurt him from -- I mean, how are you proceeding with that -- under what --
MS. MYERS: Our position has not changed. We continue to support President Yeltsin and the other reformers; believe that President Yeltsin has outlined a course around the impasse, which is the referendum on the 25th of April. And beyond that, I think there will be a lot of twists and turns as the Russians work through this internally, and we're not going to comment on each of those.
Q: What's your position on meeting with a president who's being impeached?
MS. MYERS: There is -- we haven't scheduled any meetings with any presidents who are being impeached.
Q: Yet. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: We'll see. We'll see.
Q: So obviously they're willing to do it.
Q: Is Christopher going to prep the President before the news conference on his meeting with the Russian --
MS. MYERS: I think he will certainly report to the President on his meeting with the Prime Minister -- I mean, Foreign Minister Kozyrev.
Q: Do you why that photo op was cancelled this morning?
MS. MYERS: Which photo op?
Q: The meeting with Christopher and Kozyrev.
MS. MYERS: No, I don't. You'll have to check with State.
Q: The meeting was, in fact, was held as expected?
MS. MYERS: I believe so. As far as I know they were meeting this morning. Foreign Minister Kozyrev arrived late last night.
Q: How is the President preparing for his press conference? We've had presidents who have done a variety of different things to prepare. What is his practice?
MS. MYERS: I think he'll -- normally, what he does is he'll -- he receive briefings daily on foreign intelligence issues. He'll talk with this foreign policy advisers and get the latest upto -the-date, up-to-the-minute situation in Russia. I think he'll go through a few other issues and make sure he's current on what's happening on a number of things. Perhaps the selection of a new FBI director, some of the things that have come up here this morning might come up, but normally it's sort of an informal process.
Q: Will he meet with his aides and have them actually ask him questions and practice responses?
MS. MYERS: We'll probably do some kind of a meeting just to talk about things that are likely to come up today.
Q: Do you have our names up there on a list or --
MS. MYERS: I don't think that we'll have names with photos out there. No picture books exist.
Q: not rehearsing --
Q: He's not going to the theatre is he?
MS. MYERS: No, no.
Q: The President did meet last week --
MS. MYERS: He does this all the time, are you kidding? He's used to it.
Q: The Russian judge was here and met with the President. When was that, last week?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I don't remember what day. Was that Friday?
Q: Can we get a White House photo of Zorkin's meeting with the President?
MS. MYERS: I'll check and see if there are any that exist.
Q: Will there going to be a photo op tomorrow of the President and Kozyrev?
MS. MYERS: I believe so.
Q: You're not going to cancel that one, are you?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I don't know what happened at State. I don't know why they -- you'll have to check with them, but I believe that we always normally do photos at the top of these kinds of meetings, and I think our plans are to go forward with it.
Q: I think what they did was they put off the photo until after the news conference so as not to upstage the President. I think that was the latest explanation.
MS. MYERS: They're very polite over at State.
Q: The President's meeting with governors today. What is on the agenda for that meeting?
MS. MYERS: The economic plan. It's a group of governors that are here to express their continued support for the plan.
Q: Is the Health Care Task Force planning to have its first open meeting on the 29th?
MS. MYERS: That's tentatively scheduled.
Q: Is the President doing anything to lobby for his Social Security tax that seems endangered in the Senate?
MS. MYERS: We'll continue to watch it. I mean, they'll be debating it this afternoon, and the President may make some phone calls to different members of the Senate as he did throughout the House process.
Q: Has he had anyone in?
MS. MYERS: Not yet, although I believe he's meeting with Senator Byrd this morning.
Q: Gee, I wonder what they'll talk about.
Q: Photo op?
MS. MYERS: No photo op, but I imagine you guys might try to catch him on the way out.
Q: Do you know what time that is?
MS. MYERS: I believe it's 10:15 a.m.
Q: last how long, Dee Dee?
MS. MYERS: Fifteen minutes.
Q: Is it still the White House preference to put all these things in one giant bill, as Senator Byrd does not want?
MS. MYERS: The health care and the economic plan? Well, I think that there are some real obstacles to that, and I --
Q: Senator Byrd.
MS. MYERS: That would be one. (Laughter.)
Q: Is the President trying to persuade Senator Byrd to waive the Byrd amendment on this?
MS. MYERS: Today's meeting focuses on what's happening now -- the resolution and the stimulus package. I think the Senate rules are fairly difficult and attaching health care to the reconciliation package would be very difficult.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END10:10 A.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/272177