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Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers

August 15, 1994

The Briefing Room

2:45 P.M. EDT

MS. MYERS: No announcements today. The President is spending the day -- as you know, he did his event on Social Security and on crime. He'll spend a good part of the day on the phone working on the crime bill.

Other than that -- Andrea?

Q: Panetta indicated that there might be some room for compromise. Is there room for compromise on, for instance, the assault weapons ban? Mr. Stokes said that that is not negotiable. Is that the President's position as well?

MS. MYERS: Well, I think the President has made his position clear. He wants to see his principles protected, which include 100,000 police officers on the street, additional money for prevention, three strikes and you're out as the law of the land, and the ban on assault weapons. Now, I certainly don't want to rule out any reasonable compromises. At the same time, I wouldn't rule out that the bill would pass as it is. At this point, we're in discussions. The President is very committed to getting this bill passed.

Q: Did the people who spoke at the White House --

Q: You didn't try to answer that, I don't think. Do you -- is he standing firm or not on the assault weapons?

MS. MYERS: I just said he expects to see the assault weapons ban in the bill.

Q: As is?

Q: Well, I don't know what he expects. We want to know is he standing firm on that, that's not negotiable.

MS. MYERS: He has said assault weapons ban will be in the bill, period.

Q: As it is or changed?

MS. MYERS: I'm not going to negotiate from this podium unless somebody can produce eight votes. But at the same time --

Q: using that word suggests that negotiations are underway, which could lead to some change in it at least. Is that not -- that's possible, correct?

MS. MYERS: I think that the Chief of Staff Leon Panetta said today that he wouldn't rule out any reasonable compromises. I'm certainly not going to rule out any reasonable compromises. At the same time, the President is standing by those four principles. He expects to see a bill that includes 100,000 police officers on the street, three strikes and you're out as the law of the land, a ban on deadly assault weapons, and money for prevention.

Q: Did the President have any principles that are not subject to being changed in some way? I mean, you say he's standing by the principle, but you won't rule out a reasonable compromise. I don't understand.

MS. MYERS: I think you do understand.

Q: I don't either.

Q: Were the questions that were asked today -- the persons who spoke today, did they write their own speeches, or did the White House work with them to coordinate their remarks?

MS. MYERS: Generally, those individuals write their own remarks. Sometimes the White House sees them in advance. I simply don't know in this case if we saw them in advance. Certainly, Mark Klaas is somebody who has speaking all over the country, and I think he's made those same kinds of remarks. Mr. Sposato has been here in the past as well; he's also spoken out on this consistently. And I think, again, his remarks were consistent with what he's been saying over the course of the last year.

Q: They each spoke about a very specific area of the President's plan, and then, of course, we had the head of the Chiefs of Police making a nonnegotiable standpoint. And the question is, how carefully and to what extent did the White House work with these people on their remarks. Could you get that for us?

MS. MYERS: Sure. Let me just say that I think certainly we would stand ready to help these individuals. But their stories speak for themselves. These are people who all have an experience out there that in some way could have perhaps been changed had the crime bill been passed, had these measures been in place.

Q: Right, but it's a pretty simple question, did the White House work with them on their remarks, or not.

MS. MYERS: I'm happy to take it.

Q: More directly, on the question of compromise, are you willing to give up part of the crime prevention monies if that's the price of getting the bill through?

MS. MYERS: Again, I am not going to negotiate from this podium. I don't think that's appropriate. The President is going to continue to fight, publicly to talk about this. Again, I think what he did today was underscore the importance of this bill to the American people. The American people want this bill passed. They want to see more cops on the street; they want to see additional money for prevention; they want three strikes and you're out as the law of the land. And the President is going to fight as hard as he can to see that that happens.

At the same time, members of Congress have to work out the schedule for the vote and the specific forum that the bill will go back to vote in. I think the President is going to, again, fight very hard to keep the bill and to keep the provisions in the bill that he thinks are important.

Q: Would he fight for the LeMar University grant for Jack Brook's district?

MS. MYERS: That's not one of the principles. (Laughter.)

Q: Who paid for these three individuals to come to the White House today?

MS. MYERS: The White House did.

Q: Has the President reached the point now where he knows he has to make revisions in order to sell it?

MS. MYERS: No, I don't think that that's clear. I think the President feels very strongly about this bill. I think he's going to continue to try to turn up the heat on members of Congress who voted against this bill, particularly those who did so for partisan reasons. At the same time, I think he's going to work very hard for a bipartisan solution. This bill had bipartisan support throughout the process; had bipartisan support when it came out of the House; it had bipartisan support in the conference. But when it came down to the vote on the rule, there was a partisan, I think, objective to stopping it.

Now, I think the President certainly has made a point out of that over the course of the last few days. At this point, what's important is moving forward and getting the bill done and getting it for the American people.

Q: If the President wants to find an answer, why has he declined to meet with Dole and Gingrich and company?

MS. MYERS: Because, first of all, there have been a number of meetings with the leadership, both --

Q: Since Friday. They asked for a meeting Friday and they asked for a meeting on Saturday.

MS. MYERS: They met on Saturday, as you know. Not with the President, but the bipartisan leaders met on Saturday, and if they had a specific proposal for the President they could have passed it on to him following that meeting. They did not. I think the President has made clear what he would like to see in this bill. It's up to the members of Congress to work it out. There have been a number of meetings on this throughout the process, and quite frankly, it was partisan procedural maneuver that blocked this bill and not any substantive objection.

Q: Since the vote, they're asking for talk. And since they stopped it, presumably, and are being blamed for stopping it, they say they've got an answer. Why won't the President talk to them?

MS. MYERS: Well, then they should have sent that answer to the meeting on Saturday, which they did not.

Q: What is the White House telling congressional leaders in terms of timing of action on the crime bill, particularly as it relates to the schedule of votes on the health care bill? You haven't got too much time left on the Hill. Do you want this thing finished this week, the crime bill, so that you can free the House to take up health care after that?

MS. MYERS: Sure, I think it's our view, the President's view, that he'd like to see this finished as quickly as possible. Speaker Foley indicated this morning that he thinks a vote is possible and it will likely happen this week. The President would certainly like to see it happen, again, as quickly as possible.

As for health care, I think the House is still waiting for CBO to report back on the specifics of the bill. And in the Senate I think it's the Republican leadership, again, that's blocking further progress. If they'd just let a vote go forward, we could get on with it.

Q: What about the House timing on health care? Because in addition to waiting for CBO scoring reports, there's also a growing sentiment in the Democratic caucus to really put this off until after Labor Day to find out what the Senate will do in the meantime on health care. What does the President, what does the White House say to House Democrats with regard to health care and timing?

MS. MYERS: Well, the President has made it very clear that he'd like to see both the House and the Senate act as quickly as possible on this. The leadership -- and he'd like to see them stay in to deal with health care and with crime.

The leadership, certainly Majority Leader Mitchell, has made it clear that he's going to keep the Senate in six days a week until this gets done. And the House is still trying to work out its schedule; that's something for them to resolve. But again, I think they're waiting on CBO. And as soon as CBO produces some accounting of various plans, they can move forward.

Q: Would the President want the House, once CBO weighs in, to do the same thing as the Senate, to stay in for six days a week?

MS. MYERS: The President has urged them to stay in to deal with this. And it's up to the House leadership now to figure out exactly how to move forward, but I think the President has made clear that he'd like to see them stay in. He's willing to stay here. He'd like to see the House and Senate stay in to deal with this.

Q: Dee Dee, on health care, can you tell us what went into the decision to abandon the commitment to guaranteed private insurance?

MS. MYERS: There's been no decision to abandon that.

Q: Well, Dee Dee, the President has endorsed the Gephardt bill. That's 50 percent, roughly, Medicare. Obviously, if that were to pass and he were to accept it, that would be the end of that. He's publicly endorsed it, so how can there not have been -- I mean, is it willy-nilly?

MS. MYERS: The priority in that plan is still -- and the presumption in that plan is still to move people into private programs. Failing that, there's a fallback of public programs in order to make sure that people have insurance.

That's the top priority, is guaranteeing benefits for everybody. But the presumption is still -- and this is a question that was posed to the President at his press conference last week and one that he answered -- that the presumption is toward private.

Q: But, excuse me, does not the Gephardt bill inevitably result in a large expansion of public insurance?

MS. MYERS: The Gephardt bill creates an opportunity for people who would not otherwise have insurance to have it through the public sector. But it also creates opportunities for people who are currently on -- receiving public insurance to move into the private sector, and certainly that the presumption is to move in that direction.

Q: Well, it certainly can't be said to be guaranteed private insurance, can it?

MS. MYERS: But it is -- it guarantees benefits for everybody, and again, the presumption is on private and it tries to move people in that direction.

Q: Does it guarantee presumption in favor of private insurance? Is that the principle involved here?

MS. MYERS: I think the principle is benefits for everybody that can't be taken away.

Q: Dee Dee, will the President be meeting with any of the 58 Democrats who voted against the crime bill?

MS. MYERS: I certainly wouldn't rule it out. The President is going to seek votes from the Democrats who voted against the bill, from members of the Black Caucus who voted against the bill and from Republicans who voted against the rule, actually.

Q: Will he be meeting today?

MS. MYERS: None scheduled, but I certainly wouldn't rule out that people will be coming up here.

Q: Today?

MS. MYERS: Yes. I think over the course of the next several days if we think -- I don't know of anybody coming up today. Most members are out of town.

Q: Did he meet with Foley and Mitchell on this today?

MS. MYERS: He did not. It was Mr. Panetta met with Foley and Mitchell as part of their regularly scheduled meetings to talk about crime, health care and other issues.

Q: In that meeting did Mr. Foley indicate to the White House when he thinks he will bring up the crime? You said earlier likely this week. Did he give a specific day, or what has to happen first?

MS. MYERS: I don't know if he made a commitment to a specific day. They did talk about a number of issues. And I think Foley has said publicly that he's shooting for Thursday.

Q: You said he's calling members today. Can you give us a ballpark how many, and are all these members who voted against the rule?

MS. MYERS: I don't think we're going to get into specifics. Generally, he is going to call people who he hopes to persuade to vote for the rule.

Q: Is it in the range of a dozen or two dozen?

MS. MYERS: I think it will depend on how many he can get a hold of. He has a list of a number that he hopes are persuadable, and he'll work through that as quickly as he can.

Q: Will the President stay in Washington as long as Congress does?

MS. MYERS: We'll see. I think he's certainly going to stay in as long as he feels is necessary. I mean, we'll see.

Q: If they stay here, working six days a week, might he go to Martha's Vineyard?

MS. MYERS: I think we'll just have to wait and see. I don't think any final decisions on that have been made.

Q: Since the President is obviously not taking any questions from reporters through the course of the day as he used to, when will the next news conference be, and is there a time when we can look forward to maybe asking him some of these questions ourselves?

MS. MYERS: No news conference is scheduled, but he said he hopes to have more, and I think you can expect that there will be another news conference relatively soon. But, again, nothing is scheduled.

Q: Could we put in a request for one?

MS. MYERS: Sure.

Q: I mean, I know nothing is scheduled, but it's now clear that he is not going to take questions as he used to on a -- at least on an infrequent basis. That makes it a little harder to understand exactly where he's coming from, other than in the set speeches that he wants to make. The members who are opposing him are answering questions and talking to reporters. It's a little different --

Q: I think the President has taken a number of opportunities to answer reporters' questions. In fact, recent press conference -- he took questions the other night after the crime bill failed, and there will continually be opportunities to ask him questions.

Again, I don't have a date for you on a press conference. I understand you'd like to have one, and he will have another one soon.

Q: Does the White House think that Roger Altman still has credibility with Congress? And does the President have an opinion on whether or not he should resign?

MS. MYERS: I think there's been no change in the President's opinion on this, and I think as others have said, this is something that Mr. Altman will have to decide for himself.

Q: What was the question?

Q: The question was whether or not Mr. Altman still had credibility with Congress, and whether or not the White HOuse wants him to resign.

MS. MYERS: And I said there's been no change in the President's position on that.

Q: Can I follow on that? Has he talked to anyone here about -- well, has he submitted a resignation?

MS. MYERS: Not that I know of, no.

Q: Is he here, Dee Dee? Is he back?

MS. MYERS: Is Roger Altman here in Washington? I don't know. You can check his office at the Treasury Department. He's not here in the White House that I know of.

Q: Can we get the answer to the earlier question --has he spoken to anyone here about resigning?

MS. MYERS: I don't know. I don't know whether he's spoken to anybody.

Q: Can you take that?

MS. MYERS: Sure.

Q: Has his successor been picked?

MS. MYERS: There is no vacancy.

Q: Dee Dee, there was a wire report that Vice President Gore might be going to Tennessee to campaign for Cooper, the Senate Democratic nominee, even though he's been critical of the administration on health care and was one of the 58 Democrats in the House who voted against the crime bill rule. Is that true, or is the White House going to be campaigning, even as the President criticizes the people who voted against it?

MS. MYERS: The Vice President, I believe -- you'll have to double-check his schedule, but I believe he is going to Tennessee this week to campaign for Congressman Cooper.

Q: What kind of message does that send as you attempt to turn around some of these either Democratic votes or possibly Republican votes, if you're going to go out campaigning for the people who voted against you on the crime bill?

MS. MYERS: I think it sends a message that as a senator and a representative from Tennessee, that the Vice President has a long relationship with Representative Cooper, and that this White House would like to see a strong majority in the Senate on order to try get things done.

Q: Can I follow up on that? Dee Dee, as far as this crime bill is concerned and the vote on the rule, that's been framed as a very important one for the President, for his presidency, and I'm guessing that the President's going to make that argument as he talks to these 58. Do you think, or does the President and the White House think that there should be some kind of strictures against those who are unwilling to go along with the President next time this comes up?

MS. MYERS: That's not the President's concern. The President's concern at this point is getting the crime bill passed. He's going to do everything he can to see that that happens. He's spoken out on it every day since the Republicans blocked the passage of the rule last Thursday. He's going to continue to do that to work very hard, to work the phones. The Vice President's in the Midwest today. He'll be fighting for the crime bill. The First Lady is going to give a speech on it. Members of the Cabinet, including Secretary Bentsen and the Attorney General will be making calls and doing interviews on this.

I think you can see a full-scale effort from this administration to get the crime bill passed. And that's the President's primary concern. The primary concern is doing what he believes is in the best interest of the American people.

Q: believe that there should be any penalty --

MS. MYERS: He believes he should spend his energy doing everything he can to get the crime bill passed.

Q: Does he believe there should be punishment, though, of people like committee chairmen, two committee chairmen who voted against --

MS. MYERS: That's for the House to decide. The President believes he should fight for the passage of the crime bill, and that's exactly what he's going to do.

Q: Any more schedule for this week?

MS. MYERS: Not much.

Q: Travel?

MS. MYERS: Nothing scheduled.

Q: What days --

MS. MYERS: Tuesday, tomorrow, he'll have a bill-signing -- H.R. 868.

Q: Will there be policemen there? (Laughter.)

Q: We don't do bill numbers.

MS. MYERS: Sometime tomorrow, he'll likely sign H.R. 868. That is the only public event on the schedule. And then on Wednesday he's scheduled to sign the General Aviation Revitalization Act. That will be -- number on the General Aviation Revitalization -- (laughter) -- that will be sometime on Wednesday afternoon. And on Thursday, I believe the U.S. Soccer Team will be here.

Q: Is it crime-related?

MS. MYERS: It's a crime they didn't win the World Cup. (Laughter.) On Friday, no public events currently scheduled. And I think you can expect him to continue to work very hard at the crime bill. I think you can expect there will be members of Congress through here; he'll work the phones, as will other administration officials. And I certainly wouldn't rule out that we would add an event if that, if we decide that that's necessary.

Q: Since Friday is his birthday, what about a news conference -- full-scale news conference?

MS. MYERS: Yes. I'll be sure to suggest that to him right away. (Laughter.)

Q: Are there any plans for his birthday?

Q: I think you mentioned that the President has a list of people to call, people that he considers to be persuadable. How many names are on that list? And how does it break down partywise ?

MS. MYERS: Well, I don't think we're going to release the specific number of names. I think the list will change, sort of, as time goes forward. But I think you can expect that it will include, over the course of the next several days, Republicans as well as Democrats, and probably members of the Black Caucus as well as the other Democrats who voted against the bill.

Q: When you mentioned also that you didn't want to rule out any reasonable compromises, can you give us any idea what kind of issues fall in the realm of reasonable compromises?

MS. MYERS: Again, I don't think -- I'm certainly not going to stand here and negotiate a deal on the crime bill. I don't think that's appropriate or makes any sense at all.

Q: We're not going to negotiate back, so all we need to know is what some of the issues are that you think are --

MS. MYERS: Well, I don't think there are answers to all of those questions, and I think that's what the next couple of days will be about. I mean, obviously, the President needs to pick up eight additional votes in order to get this bill passed. He's going to do everything he can to get those votes and to get this rule passed so that he can bring the bill to the floor of both Houses where there's no question it will pass with large majorities.

Q: But, Dee Dee, what did he offer back, for example, to the members of the Black Caucus who voted against --

MS. MYERS: See, you're asking me to negotiate from this podium, which I've said I'm not going to do.

Q: I'm just asking for some hint of what may be --

MS. MYERS: That's just not for me to do.

Q: Some ancient history -- correct me if I'm wrong. Has anything ever happened to the military official, head of the military office. Is he still in place here?

MS. MYERS: He is. And again, I think Leon Panetta has said that he's reevaluating the staff and will make decisions in the context of that overall review.

Q: Have there been any internal changes to the staff that have not been announced or changes of reporting or anything like that?

MS. MYERS: I think there have been, certainly have been a number of procedural changes internally in the way, I think, business is done. I think that Mr. Panetta has moved quickly to try to increase accountability and clarify lines of authority. And I think people have felt the positive benefits of those changes. And I think that as time continues, he'll continue to make adjustments as he sees necessary.

Q: Is Chad being forced out? (Laughter.)

MS. MYERS: I can't comment on that.

Q: Is Jimmy Hoffa buried in the Rose Garden?

MS. MYERS: Isn't he in the pool? (Laughter.)

Q: Any statement on the capture of Carlos the Jackal?

MS. MYERS: Certainly, the United States government is grateful to Sudan for their help in arranging this, and to the French government for their work on this. It's something that the international community has been pursuing for nearly 20 years, and I think is obviously a positive step. And it does prove that when the international community works together, terrorists can be apprehended and caught, and that's important.

Q: Did the United States help in any way?

MS. MYERS: There's been an ongoing effort, I think, international effort for nearly 20 years. Certainly the U.S. has participated in that, and because of pending cases in France, we can't comment beyond that.

Q: But in the location of him, was the United States involved in that?

MS. MYERS: Again, because of pending cases in France, we can't comment on the specific details.

Q: Dee Dee, are you aware of any Syrian cooperation?

MS. MYERS: I'm not. I just don't know one way or another.

Q: Can you explain what you mean by pending cases in France?

MS. MYERS: There are some outstanding cases in France that I think restrict our ability to comment.

Q: Was the U.S. informed before it was made public?

MS. MYERS: I don't know how we were informed.

Q: Can you be more specific?

MS. MYERS: No, I can't.

Q: Dee Dee, the Fed is considering another increase in interest rates, as we understand, in a meeting today. Does the White House have any objection to that?

MS. MYERS: Well, the Fed is independent, but we continue to see positive economic signs within the economy -- steady growth with low to moderate inflation. We don't see any inflationary pressures building up within the economy.

Q: Dee Dee, some of the Republicans have been making great fuss over the removal of the sexual predator provision, or the watering down, and of a rape provision. Can you tell us, would the White House support having those provisions --

MS. MYERS: Again, I'm not going to get into negotiating the specific details. I just don't think that's appropriate.

Q: just to make it a stronger bill, just on principle?

MS. MYERS: I think on principle we would not object to anything that would make it a stronger bill. (Laughter.)

Q: Are you saying that you're against any increase in the Fed because of the --

MS. MYERS: No, I'm most specifically not saying that.

Q: How did I miss Carlos the Jackal being caught?

END 3:10 P.M. EDT

William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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