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Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers

August 29, 1994

Edgartown School

Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard

2:07 P.M. EDT

MS. MYERS: I think it's amazing how I always have this effect on a room -- I come in and you guys snap to order.

Okay, a major announcement here today. The President today established by executive order Presidential Emergency Board Number 225, to investigate and make recommendations for the settlement of the current dispute between Sioux Line Railroad Company and certain of its employees represented by the United Transportation Union.

Q: Can you slow down with that, please?

MS. MYERS: Yes. Filing break, okay. We'll come back in 10 minutes. (Laughter.)

The board is effective today, August 29th, 1994. A railroad strike would have an immediate and adverse effect on the public. Consistent with its statutory responsibilities, the National Mediation Board has notified the President that the situation threatens substantially to interrupt interstate commerce to a degree such as to deprive a section of the country of essential transportation service. Consequently, the President evoked the emergency board procedures of the Railway Labor Act, which provides that the board will report its findings and recommendations for settlement to the President.

Q: Why did the President choose to use these procedures and not something like the 80-day cooling-off period in the Taft-Hartley Law?

MS. MYERS: Well, this, in effect, is a cooling-off period established by the Railway Labor Act --

Q: Wait, Labor Act is different --

MS. MYERS: Right. There has been a -- Sioux Railway is the 9th largest rail carrier in the nation. They've been on strike for about 45 days and they have been talking about broadening that strike. The National Mediation Board recommended to the President that in order to avert the broadening of that strike that he put into effect these procedures, which would, in effect, establish the presidential emergency board. That board has 30 days to report its findings to the President. And then it is up to the parties to decide whether or not to accept the recommendations of the board.

At the end of -- they have 30 days to make a decision. If one or both parties reject the recommendations of the board, then, in effect, they go back to the status quo --they can strike or labor can impose a contract, or Congress can take action.

Q: This is a mediation attempt that would be made --

MS. MYERS: It is, in effect, a cooling-off period. It is an attempt to allow the board to make recommendations, which, again, the parties then have 30 days to accept or reject.

Q: If they don't go back to work --

MS. MYERS: They do. They do go back to work. So --

Q: As of when?

MS. MYERS: Well, the order is issued effectively -- the head of the National Mediation Board, Ernest Debester, will notify the parties today. And I don't know how long it will take them to actually go back to work.

Q: Do you have paper on this?

MS. MYERS: We'll have a copy of the executive order which the President signed and the very important statement which I just read, and we'll distribute that in just a few minutes.

Q: What would it mean if they broaden the strike -- if it spread to other railroads?

MS. MYERS: Correct. They were talking to other -- they operate primarily in the Midwest. I think they have hubs in Kansas City and Chicago, but all the connecter railways would be affected. And if they broadened the strike it could -- the National Mediation Board determined that it could affect interstate commerce.

This is a big story for you, Jeff. It's going to lead your paper tomorrow. (Laughter.)

Okay, any other questions?

Q: Why did it take so long?

MS. MYERS: Actually, this is something that the President talked about yesterday and a little bit today just to make sure that this didn't broaden and have an adverse impact on commerce.

Q: What is the President doing today? Did he bring a moving in or --

MS. MYERS: He and Mrs. Clinton have just been relaxing this morning. I think they slept in and it's a rainy day; I think they've been reading and just spending time together. They haven't been doing a whole lot of anything this morning, so it's nice.

Q: What do they think, they're on vacation? (Laughter.)

Q: Plans for the rest of the day?

MS. MYERS: They don't have any -- this evening they'll attend a dinner at the home of Rose and William Styron.

Q: Do what?

MS. MYERS: Attend a dinner at the Styrons.

Q: Any other guests?

MS. MYERS: I'm sure there are, but I don't have a list. It's the Styrons who are making -- I'm sure all of you are welcome to call the Styrons if you would like to be invited. Mrs. Styron I'm sure would be happy to speak to you.

You guys are just like loaded with energy today.

Q: What's your reaction to the tobacco group's rally last night in which they burned an effigy of Mrs. Clinton?

MS. MYERS: The question was, what do we think of the FACA group's rally last night where they burned in effigy, a little doll I guess, of Mrs. Clinton. I think it's unfortunate. I think one of the things that the President and First Lady have been trying to do is -- surely something the President has talked about -- is cooling down the rhetoric and having a substantive conversation in order to move the country forward.

We've been working to settle the FACA suit specifically. As you know, we've agreed to make the documents of the working group public. That should happen sometime in the next couple of weeks. I think we announced a few days ago that it will be within 21 days. We're working on that. And certainly, in the meantime, the President and First Lady continue to believe that health care reform is necessary and important, and they'll continue to work toward that.

Q: Has the President had any conversation with either his staff or with Congress about what sort of consensus health plan he might be willing to accept?

MS. MYERS: Well, not since he left Washington. As you know, he met with Senator Mitchell on Friday and Senator Mitchell assured him that he would continue to work over the break with Senator Chafee's staff and others toward health care reform legislation. And the President said that he -- given the chance to let that process continue, he's not going to prejudge the outcome. He certainly continues to hope that there will be some kind of health care reform legislation that will be completed this year, and he's not going to speculate about the outcome of the Senate process.

Q: Speaking of Senator Mitchell, is he going to go up to Bath on Monday, as the newspapers up in Maine are reporting?

MS. MYERS: It is certainly under discussion and I think it's possible, but I don't think the final decisions have been made. It would be a day trip to Bath on Labor Day, to Bath Ironworks in Maine.

Q: Is that the only Labor Day site that's under discussion, or are there other possibilities?

MS. MYERS: I think that's the focus of discussions at this point.

Q: On health care, has the President decided that if the best Congress can do is just have some modest reforms in insurance practices and some subsidies for low income that he would support that, he wouldn't veto it?

MS. MYERS: No, at this point what the President has decided, he's going to let the Senate process go forward. He's still hopeful, as is Senator Mitchell, that some kind of health reform will be accomplished this year. And he will, I think, make a decision based on the outcome of that process. And up to then, I think he doesn't have much to say about it, and he'll just wait and see what that produces.

Q: But he has come to the conclusion that a broad health care reform package --

MS. MYERS: He has not. He has not come to that conclusion. He has not made a conclusion of that. It's Senator Mitchell has told the President and has said publicly that he's still hopeful that some kind of reform legislation can get completed this year. And so what the President is doing is waiting to see what the process produces, headed by Senator Mitchell, Senator Chafee, Senator Breaux and others. And I think he's not going to prejudge the outcome of that.

Q: a day yet for the U.S.-Cuba meetings?

MS. MYERS: No. Sometime next week, but they haven't given us a -- they have not -- we have not worked out a firm date with them.

Q: This week.

MS. MYERS: I'm sorry, this week. I'm sorry. It's Monday. I was thinking it was Sunday.

Q: Do you know who's going to represent the United States?

MS. MYERS: I do. It's the same person who has represented us in the past -- it's Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, who's name is Michael Skol. And, again, we expect that sometime next week.

Q: This week, Monday, right?

MS. MYERS: This week.

Q: Monday.

MS. MYERS: Today's Monday -- Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, something like that. Sometime later this week.

Q: Can you describe what our goal is in those talks -- to widen legal immigration, to get them to take back some more Cuban who want to go back --

MS. MYERS: Well, essentially, it's to facilitate safe, orderly legal immigration. And I think that will take into account both the current illegal immigration situation that we've seen as well as the legal immigration, the parameters of legal immigration, which have been in place for sometime.

Q: asking people to go back?

MS. MYERS: There are people -- well, there are over 200 Cubans at Guantanamo who have asked to be returned to Cuba. And as we have said, we will seek to facilitate that. So we will certainly talk about ways to facilitate returning those who are at Guantanamo or in the U.S. who would like to go back.

Q: Do you know anything else about the President's schedule for the rest of the vacation, other than the talk of a Labor Day trip and what he's planning to do the rest of his time here, and if it's going to be directly back on Wednesday or if he may go off to New Hampshire or something?

MS. MYERS: The President and Mrs. Clinton have made very few plans for the duration of their vacation. I think they would like just like to take it one day at a time. I think the President looks forward to just relaxing and spending time with his family, probably playing some more golf, possibly seeing some friends in the evening. As you can imagine, they've had a number of invitations. But at this point, I think they're taking it one day at a time and don't have any particular plans for the rest of the week. I'm sure as the week goes on they'll probably accept some invitations.

Q: There are no plans to leave here other than the Monday day trip, correct?

MS. MYERS: Correct. The Monday day trip is under discussion, and then they're return to Washington sometime that week after Labor Day.

Q: Dee Dee, is the President planning on attending any of these political fundraisers?

MS. MYERS: He's not. He didn't -- as you know, he didn't attend the one for Governor Cuomo or for gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Brown. And there's one more I know about, Hamilton Fish, but he doesn't have plans to attend.

Q: Why is that?

MS. MYERS: He's on vacation. I think he's just trying to relax and enjoy himself.

Q: Any specific color on what he did today?

MS. MYERS: He's been -- he hasn't even gone running. He's just been spending time with Mrs. Clinton reading. Very low-key morning.

Q: Do you know what he's reading? Do you know what the title of the movie was that was brought up today?

MS. MYERS: I don't. I think the movie -- Chelsea and her friend have been, I think, watching some movies. I don't know whether the President has seen any. And he's got a number of books, and I don't know which of those he's currently reading. So I'll see if I can get a list for you later in the week.

Q: Dee Dee, what does the President think of the modification in Cuba's enforcement of trying to get those people who are trying to leave Cuba not to take children with them on rickety boats?

MS. MYERS: Well, I think certainly we've been doing what we can to discourage people from taking to the seas in unseaworthy boats. It's dangerous, particularly, for children. And I think that's an appropriate step. The Cuban government ought -- we urge them not to encourage people to leave by boat. And certainly protecting the lives and well-being of being of children and others is an important step.

Q: Does the U.S. see this as a signal of some kind from Havana?

MS. MYERS: I don't know if it's a signal, but it's certainly, we think, the right thing to do to try to keep people from risking their lives. At the same time we've, as you know, we asked and the Cubans agreed to another round of migration talks, which we hope will again facilitate safe and orderly and legal migration.

Q: Speaking of signals, how does the President feel about the Chinese expression of their general contempt for our notion of human rights by jailing a dissident on the eve of Secretary Brown's visit?

MS. MYERS: You offered an interesting categorization of that. When the President signed MFN, he made clear that we would continue to pursue human rights. And that's one of the things Secretary Brown will talk with the Chinese about on his trip -- both about economic issues, but also about our concerns about human rights.

And we will continue to press for human rights on a number of fronts, including the development of principles for American businesses who do business in China, which will be voluntary, but nonetheless something that we're pursuing, as well as increasing broadcast through USIA and other steps. Certainly we're concerned about the human rights situation in China. The President made clear that he would continue to take steps to pursue improvement of those while also pursuing an economic relationship, which we think will help open that country to the west and to information that will help move them forward.

Q: Well, yes, but one could get the impression that they're putting their thumb in his eye by doing this just as we come to talk about those things.

MS. MYERS: Certainly that's one of the things Secretary Brown is going to talk to on this trip. They're going to talk about economic issues as well as human rights issues. And the Secretary has a number of meetings with high-level Chinese officials where this will certainly be a topic of discussion.

Q: Any reaction to the Bosnian Serbs apparent rejection of the peace plan?

MS. MYERS: Well, I don't think we have any final results from that yet, but there is a process in place, which we are pursuing. The Serbs have continued to, I think, say that they're going to enforce the arms embargo which we're -- against the Bosnian Serbs which we're continuing to watch. And we have a number of steps in place which we will carry out should the Bosnian Serbs continue to reject the Contact Group's peace proposal, including additional sanctions at the U.N., which is something that we're continuing to consult about.

Q: Dee Dee, there are some reports from Ireland that there might be tomorrow an announcement of a cease-fire, which some describe as the most significant in 20 years by the IRA. Has the President been briefed about this? And if so, has he directed any action be taken in response to this?

MS. MYERS: I'll have to take that. I don't know if that was part of his briefing. And I don't know if we have plans to take additional steps, but I'll take it.

Q: Is he being briefed every morning?

MS. MYERS: He has. Will Itoh is here from the National Security Council, and he's given him his briefings both in writing and verbally every morning since he's been here.

Q: possibility of a Haiti invasion being delayed at all because of the Cuban refugees?

MS. MYERS: In fact, we're continuing to move forward with the Haiti policy, as we have. As you know, John Deutch and Strobe Talbott are in the region today. They're in Jamaica discussing the multinational force pursuant to U.N. resolution 960, which allows for the creation of a multinational force to restore democracy by any means necessary. From Jamaica they'll go to the Dominican Republic where they'll meet there with the multinational observer group, which is in place or getting in place to enforce sanctions along the Dominican-Haitian border. And so our plans on Haiti go forward. And the will of international community has not changed in regards to Haiti.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 2:40 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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