Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
9:45 A.M. EST
MS. MYERS: President Thomas, basking in the glow of a successful Gridiron. It was an event --
? Q: Hail to the Chief.
MS. MYERS: -- to be hailed by all. That's right, Hail to the Chief. A veritable who's who of the Washington power establishment at your beck and call.
I must say, though, I did like the J. Edgar Hoover line, as modeled by President Thomas.
Q: I had a better one which I didn't deliver.
MS. MYERS: Is that right?
Q: Let's hear it.
Q: I can't get it into the record. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Okay. (Laughter.) The President's schedule for today is unclear. He's in Little Rock now. He's went to the Y this morning; stopped and had coffee with a friend. He's getting his hair cut -- major news. Will spend the rest of the day at the hospital. And his travel plans will obviously depend on Mr. Rodham's condition, which remains critical but unchanged.
Q: How does he make a decision then?
MS. MYERS: Depending on how Mr. Rodham is throughout the day.
Q: So he may spend another night in Little Rock, or he may come home tonight?
MS. MYERS: He may come home tonight. But I think if there's any change in Mr. Rodham's condition, obviously that could change. I would say that the operating plan is that he'll come home sometime tonight.
Q: What about Chelsea? Is her spring break over or --
MS. MYERS: Yes, I believe it is, but I don't know what her plans are. I believe school started again for her today, but --
Q: What did he have to cancel today?
MS. MYERS: Mostly meetings and -- nothing major.
Q: Was he going to be involved in that health forum?
MS. MYERS: No. The Vice President, I believe, gave the opening remarks this morning.
Q: But had he originally planned to take part in it?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: Will there be any events today that we would cover that the Vice President will fill in on?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe so.
Q: So we'll have something to do.
Q: What's on for tomorrow? What is his --
MS. MYERS: Nothing firm now. We're going to wait and see how the President's day progresses. And we may or may not be able to put something on the schedule tomorrow.
Q: Is everything on track on the summit?
MS. MYERS: Everything's on track for the summit and for the timber conference on Friday.
Q: end of the week.
MS. MYERS: Yes, the end of the week looks -- will remain pretty much intact, which is there's a tentatively scheduled Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, if the President is in town, which we expect he will be. On Thursday, he'll speak to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Annapolis. And on Friday, he'll be in Portland; Saturday and Sunday in Vancouver.
Q: What's the Annapolis speech about?
MS. MYERS: Unclear at this point. There's a number of options.
Q: Will that be Q&A?
Q: Do you have anything -- schedule? When does he leave?
MS. MYERS: We're working it out. It's unclear at this point.
Q: This may have been clarified over the weekend, but what does -- do you have anything on the supposed statement on shifting the emphasis on Iraq, on not making the departure of Saddam Hussein any longer a requirement for lifting the sanctions?
MS. MYERS: Our position is that Iraq has to comply with all U.N. resolutions, including those of giving up weapons of mass destruction and stopping violence against his own people, ethnic minorities in Iraq. We don't believe that that can be achieved with Hussein in -- with Saddam in power. And therefore there's no practical difference. It is our position that Iraq must comply with all U.N. resolutions; and they're currently not complying with any U.N. resolutions.
Q: If there's no practical difference, what's the point of even making this point? Why bother drawing this distinction?
MS. MYERS: It's our position that Iraq has to comply with U.N. resolutions, period; and that we're going to continue to press for that, so there is no practical change.
Q: So is the story wrong that there will be a statement?
MS. MYERS: The U.N. will debate today whether or not to extend sanctions against Iraq. We'll participate in that debate. We don't expect any additional statement.
Q: Let me go back to my question originally. Why, if there's no practical difference and nothing has changed, what was the purpose of even making people aware that there was a distinction here between the position of the Bush administration and the Clinton administration?
MS. MYERS: Well, I'm not sure we made people aware that there was a difference. It is the position of our allies and it is our position that Iraq has to comply with all of the U.N. resolutions and that's our position.
Q: But were that to be done under Saddam Hussein, that would be okay?
MS. MYERS: It is inconceivable that Saddam Hussein could remain in power if he complied with all U.N. resolutions.
MS. MYERS: Because if he gives up his weapons of mass destruction -- I don't want to go too far on this -- but if he -- the U.N. resolutions would require him to give up his weapons of mass destruction, to cease repressing ethnic minorities in Iraq, and we don't believe that's possible.
Q: Why not? What do you mean, it's not possible? He isn't using atomic bomb against the Iraqi people every day, is he? What has that got to do with staying in power?
MS. MYERS: If he complies with the U.N. resolutions, it's unlikely that he'll remain in power.
Q: How do you say -- what do you -- on what do you base that?
MS. MYERS: The means he's used to maintain his power. And it is our position that he has to comply with U.N. resolutions. We don't believe he -- given his past history, he's shown no intention of doing so.
Q: But the point is you are no longer demanding that he be removed from power.
MS. MYERS: Our position is that Iraq must comply with U.N. resolutions.
Q: We didn't ask you that. We asked you -- answer his question. Is there any nuance -- is there a change here in terms of our policy?
MS. MYERS: Helen, our policy is that he has to comply with the U.N. resolutions. We don't believe there's any practical difference.
Q: But there is at least a difference in wording. You're not saying that Saddam must be removed from power.
MS. MYERS: We don't believe that Saddam -- that's the answer, Helen.
Q: That's a very repetitious answer --
MS. MYERS: Well, I'm sorry if you aren't satisfied, but that's the answer.
Q: Well, we're not, and it doesn't answer the question.
MS. MYERS: Well, I'm sorry --
Q: We don't know why you can't answer the question.
MS. MYERS: I have answered the question.
Q: You haven't.
MS. MYERS: I have. Any other questions?
Q: Can I change the subject?
MS. MYERS: Okay. (Laughter.)
Q: Is there a deal being made on the economic stimulus package with some of the moderate conservative Democrats that would somehow defer some of the spending, but allow the basic guts of it to go through?
MS. MYERS: Well, as you know, the President is opposed to the Breaux-Boren amendment. We're continuing to work with the Senate to get the stimulus package passed. And we're hopeful that will happen sometime this week.
Q: Intact -- I mean, do you want it intact --
MS. MYERS: We're pressing to get it passed intact, yes.
Q: There are reports in some foreign newspapers that the administration is considering linking aid to a Russian pledge to clean up the Russian environment, which is currently quite polluted; and that there's also some discussion of a meeting of the G-7 principals in mid-May, after the foreign ministers meeting.
MS. MYERS: At this point, we're moving forward with the meeting of the foreign and finance ministers probably sometime in mid-April. The details of the aid package are still being formulated, but I've not heard that linkage.
Q: The President was -- all along in saying that he supports Yeltsin and Yeltsin's course of calling for elections, because that was the democratic way. Do you support the elections as now structured by the Russian parliament?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that that debate is ongoing. And again we're not going to comment on --
Q: The debate's no longer ongoing; they've adjourned now. They set elections --
MS. MYERS: As of when?
Q: About two, three hours ago.
MS. MYERS: I'm just not going to comment on the day-today shifts internally in Russia. The President continues to support President Yeltsin as the --
Q: Well, he also supported the idea --
MS. MYERS: -- best chance for reform.
Q: he supported the idea of elections. Now, these elections are to ask people whether they support the economic reforms of President Yeltsin. Is that the kind of election that you would support?
MS. MYERS: Again, I'm not going to comment on the dayto -day, sort of happenings in Russia other than to say that the President continues to support President Yeltsin as the best chance for reform.
Q: Was he happy he wasn't impeached?
MS. MYERS: I think that's encouraging.
Q: Have they spoken?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: Dee Dee, there's a story in the Wall Street Journal that the administration is thinking of an extra billion dollars in aid in addition to the $700 million that's already been discussed.
MS. MYERS: Again, the details of the aid package are still being worked out, and we won't have any comment on that until it's final.
Q: Would that be in the Fiscal '94 foreign aid budget?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to comment on the details of a plan that has not been -- hasn't been decided yet.
Q: Dee Dee, will the aid package be announced to the American people before the President leaves to give it to President Yeltsin?
MS. MYERS: It's unclear, the details -- I think it's very unlikely that the specific details will be announced before Vancouver.
Q: Will he put out any further comments about Russia?
MS. MYERS: It's possible. I wouldn't rule it out, but there's nothing specific on the schedule as of right now.
Q: Will he consult with Congress before he --
MS. MYERS: He's been consulting with Congress and he'll continue to consult with Congress.
Q: Do they know what he's thinking of, right?
MS. MYERS: As you know, he met with members of the House on Thursday night and members of the Senate on Friday night. He'll continue to consult with them, as he has throughout this process, on the details of that package.
Q: Has it largely been finalized, what's in the package?
MS. MYERS: I think it's getting closer but the final decisions have not been made.
Q: Dee Dee, is there any chance the President will keep any kind of public schedule, make any public comments on any issues today in Little Rock?
MS. MYERS: I think that's highly unlikely. He may get popped with a question, but I don't expect him to make a statement of any kind.
Q: The Deputy Secretary of Defense, Mr. Perry, was making statements about U.S. participation in a peacekeeping force after an agreement is signed by all the parties in Bosnia, suggesting that U.S. ground forces might also be involved as part of such a peacekeeping force. Has the administration made that decision, that as part of a NATO contingent U.S. ground forces would participate in enforcing the peace agreement?
MS. MYERS: No specific details have been made about how we would participate in enforcement other than to say that if the parties reach an agreement that we would participate in the implementation of that agreement.
Q: How would you participate?
MS. MYERS: Well, that remains to be worked out through some combo of NATO and the U.N.
Q: Is it conceivable that U.S. ground forces would be excluded from such a peacekeeping operation if NATO participated?
MS. MYERS: I don't want to comment on the details of that other than to say that that's clearly been part of the U.S. policy, that if the sides reach an agreement that we would participate in the implementation of that agreement.
Q: And enforcing the agreement?
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q: Through a peacekeeping force?
MS. MYERS: Some kind of force, but the details of that are something that's being discussed but no decisions have been made.
Q: There was a report over the weekend that an agreement was imminent in Haiti. Can you confirm that, and what is the outlook?
MS. MYERS: I'm not sure what the status of that is. I'll have to get back to you on that.
Q: What can you say about this report that the administration is thinking of actually getting rid of Medicaid and folding it into --
MS. MYERS: The standard answer on the health plan. (Laughter.)
Q: Answer 42.
MS. MYERS: Yes. I think it's answer 41, Susan, I'll have to challenge you on that. (Laughter.) But there are a number of options on the table; we're looking at a variety of things; final decisions have not been made.
Q: A news magazine, I didn't see it but I've heard about it, that is saying that Hillary Clinton wants to change the protective agency from Secret Service to something else.
MS. MYERS: It's ludicrous. The Secret Service has done an outstanding job protecting the First Family.
Q: (inaudible) -- (laughter) --
MS. MYERS: NBC, I think.
Q: I'm trying to get -- on this. And the Secret Service has what?
MS. MYERS: The Secret Service has done an outstanding job protecting the First Family. And I think the President and First Lady are both satisfied with the professionalism and performance of the Secret Service.
Q: Where do you think this came from?
MS. MYERS: I have no idea. Believe me, I wish that I knew.
Q: Clinton said over the weekend that he thinks that the current policy on gays, as it exists right now about not asking questions, may be as far as we need to go. Is that an option that's open to the President? He's talked about being willing to listen to all options. Or does he feel this is just an interim step and that it must be taken farther?
MS. MYERS: I think the President's goal in this, obviously, is to remove the barrier for people serving based simply on status. Now, what he did is, in order to move the ball forward on this, was to set up -- to establish a process in order to review the options and the complications of lifting the ban. And I don't think he wants to prejudge the outcome of that process before it happens. But the most important thing is to lift the ban based solely on status.
Q: So you're not ruling that out?
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q: Is the President satisfied that the lineup in the hearings is going to give fair airing to the side of those who, like the President, do want to change the policy, or does he fear it's stacked against him?
MS. MYERS: Senator Nunn has said that he really wants the hearings to be an open process. We'll certainly take him at his word at that.
Q: Getting back to Helen's question about Secret Service. As you no doubt know, there are a lot of very bizarre rumors that are floating around.
MS. MYERS: Correct. Bizarre being the operative word.
Q: Is the White House -- bizarre rumors about the personal lives of the First Family -- is the White House doing anything to track down the source? It's a difficult thing to do, obviously -- the sources of these rumors like we've never seen about anybody whose lived -- long time.
MS. MYERS: No, and there are rumors about the sources of the rumors, so it's a complicated dynamic. But other than to say that they are ridiculous and to try to deny them when given the opportunity, which I must say has not been at every -- has not been every time they've reported. But I think it's ridiculous.
Q: Are the Clintons disturbed about this or do they just take it as part of the territory?
MS. MYERS: I think it's unfortunate. It does come with the territory. Unfortunately, I think every White House is subject to it's own particular breed of rumors. But I think these are particularly ridiculous and unfounded. It's too bad.
Q: You're not going to set up -- plumbers to find out --
MS. MYERS: We're not going to set up a what?
Q: The Plumbers.
MS. MYERS: Oh, plumbers. I think that we'll abstain from that option. We can rule that one out.
Q: Any plans for the President to call Yeltsin before Vancouver?
MS. MYERS: Nothing specifically set up right now.
Q: He hasn't done it yet?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: Is he in Little Rock -- is he actively working this story? Is he maybe talking to other leaders today -- the Russia story?
MS. MYERS: I think he plans to spend most of the day at the hospital. He may make some phone calls. I don't whether --there are no plans at this point for him to call any foreign leaders. But he may try to do some work while he's there. But primarily, I think he plans to spend the day at the hospital.
Q: Doesn't it stand to reason that he makes a speech to the ASNE on Thursday, that it would be a curtain raiser on the summit?
MS. MYERS: It depends on what's happening. But I think there's certainly a chance that that's what he'll talk about or that will be among the things that he talks about. I wouldn't rule that out.
Q: Some of the gay leaders who left here on Friday after that meeting, left with what they thought was an absolute guarantee that the President would not accept segregation by duty on gays in the military.
MS. MYERS: Well, I think -- there has been no change in the President's position which is that the presumption is against any kind of discrimination. However, he has created a process and he's not going to prejudge the conclusion of that process. I think that the meeting was productive on Friday in terms of allowing both sides to air their positions, but there has been no change in the President's position.
Q: Were there heavy warnings issued --
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: that he'd certainly better not?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think their position is fairly clear on this and what they'd like to see him do. But I think the President's position is that there's a process in place to look at this, to consider all the complications. He's committed to seeing that process go forward, and we'll continue to work with both sides to try to make sure that their positions and their concerns are fully aired and fully explored.
Q: Dee Dee, did the participants of the meeting want or suggest some positive sign from the White House before the march at the end of April so it doesn't turn into a demonstration into a protest?
MS. MYERS: Well, that was clearly one of the topics on the agenda; but I think that there was also at that meeting a sense that the group -- that both sides wanted to work together toward a broader agenda and that the -- when they talked about the march they talked about the issue of the gay ban, but they also talked about other things moving forward on AIDS policy and other issues where I think there is a lot of common ground.
Q: Has the White House decided what President's participation or the administration's participation will be in the march or prior to the march? Would he invite the leaders beforehand for a meeting or something like that?
MS. MYERS: No, it's unclear at this point.
Q: But something's under consideration?
MS. MYERS: Well, obviously they are talking to us about it. It was one of the topics on the agenda Friday.
Q: Has the White House ordered that the Mall be opened for the --
MS. MYERS: I'm not sure what the status of that is.
Q: Is the White House involved in that decision --
MS. MYERS: I know we're monitoring it. I'm not sure what our involvement is. I know that Alexis Herman and others have been talking to the groups about it.
Q? Any decision on the HIV Haitians at Guantanamo Bay?
MS. MYERS: No, we're reviewing the decision from Friday.
Q: AIDS czar this week?
MS. MYERS: We'll see. Don't know. Sometime soon.
Q: Has it been determined absolutely that will be a White House job not an HHS?
MS. MYERS: Pretty clearly, yes.
QQ: How about a Supreme Court justice?
MS. MYERS: You didn't hear? (Laughter.) It's Susan. No, nothing today.
Q: (inaudible) --
MS. MYERS: The President is taking his time.
Q: Is he interviewing anyone?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: Would you consider it unlikely that any kind of announcement would be made until the Court has finished hearing its cases for the term?
MS. MYERS: I don't -- I mean, I don't think there is any particular limits on the timing. I think the President will make a decision when he's ready and make an announcement at that time.
Q: (inaudible) --
MS. MYERS: That was the highlight of the Saturday night dinner.
Q: What else is coming --
Q: Are we going to have anything like George or anything today or is this --
Q: Anything like George. (Laughter.)
Q: Who is the press officer with --
MS. MYERS: Yes, George is going to brief at 12:30 p.m.
Q: Is there a press officer with the President?
MS. MYERS: Jeff Eller is with the President.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END10:05 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/272190