Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
1:19 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: No, announcements, so --
Q: Can you tell us why Mr. Cutler asked the Justice Department to research this legal precedence for suing the President, a sitting President?
MS. MYERS: Well, as you know, you cannot sue the President for things that happened while he's President. There's no precedent for a President being sued as President for something that occurred before he became President. And Mr. Cutler simply asked the Justice Department to look into it.
Q: Does the White House believe that the President is not liable for a lawsuit for acts he allegedly committed before he was President?
MS. MYERS: The White House has asked the Justice Department to look into that, and we're waiting for their response.
Q: Can you just clarify the question, which is why it was -- since the President was being sued in his capacity as citizen about events that happened when he was not President, why is it proper, if it is, of the government's lawyers to be researching the question since the President was not sued as President but as citizen Clinton?
MS. MYERS: Because, as Mr. Cutler said, there are institutional implications for this. Certainly this will affect not just this President but future presidents. There are institutional concerns that affect the presidency, public questions. And that is why Mr. Cutler has asked the Department of Justice to look into it.
Q: Can you explain what those institutional issues are, please?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think they are -- they involve the fact that these issues will affect not just this President but future Presidents. And they do affect his -- the President as President because that's his job.
Q: Is this a question of --
Q: The U.S. Catholic Conference has written a letter to Warren Christopher urging that religious freedom and other human rights abuses be considered before renewing MFN.
Q: Wait a minute. Can we finish with the other question?
Q: We only have five minutes on camera. Has the President taken this into consideration? Will the President take these issues into consideration when deciding on MFN?
MS. MYERS: Well, the President issued an executive order last year that laid out specific criteria, human rights criteria for renewal of MFN. We're currently reviewing the situation in China. They've made progress in some areas. I think there are some other areas that we're still looking at and we'll make a determination based on the facts.
Q: There are several people who are now reporting today that prison labor is still used for exports and there is some new evidence of that, whereas, people traveling with the Secretary of State have indicated that prison labor is not being used.
MS. MYERS: Well, there is a memo of understanding between the United States and Chinese government on the issue. Certainly we'll look into any specific allegations of prison labor being used for products that are imported into the United States.
Q: Is it your understanding that they are living up to that letter of understanding?
MS. MYERS: Well, that's one of the things we'll be looking at. I mean, we do have a memo of understanding with them. We'll be certainly reviewing progress and making sure that they are living up to it.
Q: Back on the question of the request to Justice, is it your understanding that this concerns not whether the President can be sued but when; whether he can be sued while sitting or whether it has to be put off until afterward?
MS. MYERS: I think the Justice Department is looking at the issue broadly. And we'll just have to wait to hear back from them. We don't have any response from them yet.
Q: You mean there is some question of whether he can be sued?
Q: Does that mean he'll make the response public?
MS. MYERS: That's -- again, that's something the Justice Department is looking at. Mr. Cutler asked them to look into issues pursuant to this --
Q: Did he do this by letter?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if it was by letter or if he spoke to somebody in person. But I can take that.
Q: Did we understand you right this morning when you indicated that obviously it would be made public, whatever the ruling was?
MS. MYERS: No, I was asking a question, which got reported as a comment. So I think I was unclear about what the question was when I said that.
Q: But what is the answer?
MS. MYERS: The answer is we're waiting to hear back from the Justice Department. We have further comment at this point.
Q: Will you make it public?
MS. MYERS: Again, it's premature to say at this point. The request has gone to the Justice Department. They're going to look into the issue. And we have nothing else to say about it at this point.
Q: But what could possibly be the reason for not making that public?
MS. MYERS: Again, the Justice Department is looking into this. I just have nothing else to say about it at this point.
Q: But you seemed this morning to ridicule the idea that it would not be made public. I mean, what would be the reason for not making it public one way or other?
MS. MYERS: You are welcome to call Mr. Cutler if you want additional information. That is all we have to say about it at this point.
Q: With Rostenkowski's statements that he expects no votes before Memorial Day, does that concern the White House in any way about the possibility of getting health care this year?
MS. MYERS: No, we're still -- hope and expect that health care will be passed this year. As you know, Senator Kennedy began the Chairman's Mark today in the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. Work is ongoing in the other committees. They're making good progress. This is a difficult issue and will certainly take some time. But I think our view is that the congressional committees are making good progress and we expect a bill to get done this year.
There was nothing ever sacred about the Memorial Day. It was a good goal, but certainly nothing sacred about that date.
Q: Do you think that progress has slowed, or slower than you expected?
MS. MYERS: I think in some areas it's been slow, in other areas it has not. It is -- again, it's a very complex issue. I think there's been certainly some encouraging developments over the last few weeks. Senator Kennedy's mark is certainly very close to the President's. I think Senator Breaux's comments and the work of the Finance Committee are encouraging. So there's been good progress. It's difficult because the issue is complicated. But we're still hopeful and expectant the bill will get done this year.
Q: Dee Dee, one more follow on China, please --
MS. MYERS: Wendell, and then we'll go over there.
Q: I wonder if I might get a couple of comments. The first involves whether the Justice Department is looking at the suit as a distraction. Is it the contention of the President's aides that a lawsuit opens him to distraction and impairs him from doing his job?
MS. MYERS: There are questions regarding this that have yet to be answered. The Justice Department is looking into it, and I have no further comment.
Q: Is it too late this year to separate out the human rights from the MFN on China, as some have suggested? Go ahead with MFN and have a separate committee to --
MS. MYERS: The President signed an executive order last year which laid out specific criteria for renewal of MFN. We're reviewing China's progress pursuant to that executive order, and the President will have a decision by June 3rd.
Q: So there's no way to --
MS. MYERS: There's no way to take back the executive order the President signed last year.
Q: Now that he's had a chance to look into the North Korea question and Secretary Perry, do the comments of Secretary Perry expressing grave concern about perhaps this coming to head in the next couple of weeks represent what the thinking is of the administration at this point?
MS. MYERS: Well, certainly this is something that we've been concerned about, something that we've followed very closely. As you know, a team of IAEA inspectors has arrived in North Korea. They're beginning their inspections process now, and we're waiting to hear back from them.
Clearly, it's been our view that if the North Koreans did something such as breaking the continuity of safeguards, we would then have to take it to the U.N. Security Council. We're waiting to hear back from the IAEA inspectors about exactly what the situation is on the ground.
But obviously this is something that we take very seriously. We're watching it very closely, and we're waiting to hear back from the IAEA about what is in fact happening on the ground.
Q: Dee Dee, the tone was much more serious than the administration has been letting on recently. I mean, is there an imminent -- is something going to happen?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think what Perry was referring to was the process of -- particularly with the exchange of fuel rods -- that is something that technically could lead to reprocessing of fuel. We don't know whether they're doing that. That's why we're waiting to hear back from the IAEA inspectors. But certainly that is something we're concerned about, something that we're expecting the IAEA to look into, and something that they'll report back to us on. It is a very serious question. And it's up to the North Koreans now -- their actions will determine how serious the situation is, and their actions will determine what steps we take next.
Q: Dee Dee, what Perry seems to be saying, though, is he's saying, look, if they don't let the inspectors in, we're going to ask for sanctions. They've said they consider sanctions an act of war. We take that really seriously. I mean, he seems to be trying -- this isn't the first time he's said that -- to prepare the American public for a potential crisis in North Korea. Now, are you trying to do the same thing? Are you trying to say, we're just taking this step by step and nothing to be worried about?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think certainly the situation is a serious one. We have been saying all along that we take this seriously, this is one of the most important strategic questions we face right now. I think, again, before we make a determination about what next policy steps and where the situation stands we want to hear back from the IAEA. It is a fact that if they proceed with some of the things we've asked them not to proceed with, which is removing the fuel rods in such a way that it would make it impossible for the IAEA to guarantee the continuity of safeguards, that would represent a very serious situation. But I think at this point we're going to wait to hear back from the IAEA. I think Dr. Perry was certainly underscoring what we all believe, which is that this is a very serious situation.
Q: Andrea -- (laughter.)
Q: Big slip.
Q: Whoa! (Laughter.)
Q: This morning you didn't have anything from the meeting with the Appropriations subcommittee chairmen last night. Maybe Andrea has something on it -- I don't know. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: She was in the meeting, so --
Q: I thought she called the meeting.
MS. MYERS: That's right. That wouldn't be a problem for anybody else in the room, would it? No, the President met last night with the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and the 12 subcommittee chairs to discuss his investment priorities. It was a good meeting. They discussed everything from education, job training, defense, the space station came up. And the President urged the members to fund his investment priorities to the best of their ability.
Q: The President's priorities?
MS. MYERS: Absolutely.
Q: Commodities, bonds?
MS. MYERS: It's in the President's budget. I'm happy to get those for you and break them down in great and painful specificity if you would like.
Q: You said to get the funds to the best of their ability. What does that mean?
MS. MYERS: The President would like to see -- in an ideal world the President would like to see all of his investments funded.
Q: It's not an ideal world. You know that as well as anybody.
MS. MYERS: I think that's up to the members of Congress to decide how much they can, in fact, fund. But the President, I think, made clear what his priorities were, that he'd like to see his investments funded, and Congress I think will take it from here.
Q: What were the -- you said they talked about the space station --
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to get into the specifics other than to say the President included funding for the space station in his budget and asked the members again to fund it.
Q: Has the United States and its NATO allies accepted the notion that Russia should get some sort of special partnership with NATO after it joins the PFP?
MS. MYERS: I've seen a news account to that effect, but am trying to track it down. We can't find any specific proposal to that effect. I think that Defense Minister Grachev is expected to present a proposal to NATO with respect to Partnership for Peace. But I don't know of any specific special thing that was offered to the Russians. I can take it and see if we get more information as the day goes on. At this point, I know nothing.
Q: Do you also accept the explanation that the U.N. denied the strike at Tuzla yesterday because events had just gotten too far, wasn't time enough to deal with the Serb tank?
MS. MYERS: The UNPROFOR commander on the ground did not request close air support. General Rose did not request it.
Q: Not General Rose, but his --
MS. MYERS: The request never went, as far as we can tell, from General Rose to Mr. Akashi.
Q: In other words, because it didn't go through General Rose but went directly from the Danish commander there, is that the problem?
Q: I thought you solved that problem.
Q: We're not back to that again, are we?
MS. MYERS: Which --
Q: I thought Akashi --
MS. MYERS: Akashi -- I mean, the request never went -- General Rose never made a request for a close air support. Now, I know that the Danish commander on the ground said that he had made a request, but that's something for UNPROFOR to work out through their chain of command. It is up to the commanders on the ground -- the top commander there is General Rose -- to make the request, and that never happened.
Q: Going back to MFN. Since the President's leaving, I think, on June the 1st for his trip --
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q: would you think that maybe we'd get a decision before he goes?
MS. MYERS: We'll have to see. I mean, the deadline is June 3rd. I expect we'll have a decision before that, but we don't have a hard date at this point.
Q: Is there anything on the letter that -- wrote to the President about some statements of the Surgeon General?
MS. MYERS: I don't. I can take that and see if we have anything on it.
Q: Nancy Pelosi has suggested with regards to MFN, targeting products made by the People's Liberation Army, which not only includes military targets but toys and other things. Is the President receptive to that sort of targeting?
MS. MYERS: Again, not final decisions have been made. At this point we're reviewing the situation, reviewing progress that's been made. And the President will have an announcement, a final decision and an announcement soon -- within the next two weeks.
Q: How would you regulate that? How will you figure out what is produced by --
MS. MYERS: Certainly those are among the questions that would have to be evaluated. I think at this point we're not prepared to comment on whether that's going to happen. The President has not made a final decision. I think we're looking at a wide variety of evidence on China's cooperation and compliance with the President's executive order.
Q: Has he been briefed on this at all? I mean, has he sat down with his advisers and talked in any --
MS. MYERS: He's had a number of conversations about it, and he'll have certainly have a number more in the coming days. He hasn't had a lot of formal meetings yet.
Q: By conversation do you mean just the morning meeting with Tony, or has he actually had a meeting on his schedule, China, to go over how far the progress has --
MS. MYERS: He has had periodic meetings specifically on China. He has had regular meetings on a number of topics where China has come up. And there will be -- over the course of the next week to two weeks additional meetings where they will go through this, I'm sure, great detail.
Q: Was Fiske here any time in the last couple weeks?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I can take that.
Q: Please do.
Q: On the Dominican Republic, they had presidential elections on Monday, and there have been some rumors of irregularities. The Dominicans have become important because of the border with Haiti. Can you tell us what you know about the voting in the Dominican Republic, and when is Mr. Gray going to visit the area?
MS. MYERS: The first question, there are election monitors down there who will make an assessment of that and make a report on it. So we'll wait to hear back from them. I think former Congressman Solarz said that it was too soon for him to say for sure whether there had been irregularities. And I think we'll wait to hear for additional data.
Ambassador Gray has spent the last couple of days at the State Department. And yesterday he spent a lot of time on the Hill. Today he's actually gone to his son's graduation. We are in the process -- or he is in the process of working out a time for a meeting with President Aristide. We're hopeful that will happen by the end of the week.
Q: Here in Washington?
MS. MYERS: I would expect.
Q: Did he ever get a response?
MS. MYERS: He has not spoken to him.
Q: How about that trip to the region?
MS. MYERS: But we expect that he'll meet with him sometime soon, hopefully by the end of the week.
Q: And the trip to the region?
MS. MYERS: Nothing planned yet.
Q: What can you tell us about the meeting he's having tomorrow morning with the foreign policy and military people?
MS. MYERS: The foreign policy meeting is just part of his regular ongoing series of meetings. It's part of his weekly -- almost always on Thursdays he has a foreign policy meeting. And it's usually to discuss longer-range issues. The other meeting is the CINCs, the commanders from different areas around the world. They won't all be here, but many of them will, and they'll meet with the President to discuss what's happening.
Q: How many of them?
MS. MYERS: We didn't have a final head count yesterday and I haven't checked again today.
Q: So will the foreign policy, regular foreign policy meeting expand into -- with the CINCs or are those two separate meetings?
MS. MYERS: Two separate meetings, although there will be some overlap, clearly, I'm sure.
Q: What is the agenda then for that meeting with the CINCs?
MS. MYERS: To discuss issues of importance around the world.
Q: Agenda-wise, are there certain, in order, certain things he wants to talk about, certain --
MS. MYERS: I haven't seen the agenda for this particular meeting, but generally, it's an opportunity for them to talk about hot spots, things that are happening around the world, for them to discuss broadly what the President's objectives are. And more specifically, what --
Q: Has he met with --
MS. MYERS: Yes, he has. At least once and maybe more than once. But there was a meeting probably six months ago in the Cabinet Room, and I think we did a photo at the top of it.
Q: What about tomorrow, what's the coverage?
MS. MYERS: I'm sure we'll do a pool at the top.
Q: Can we have a readout at the end somehow?
MS. MYERS: Yes. The President will have -- tomorrow will have a press conference. I don't know if we'll have a formal readout. We may put out a statement; I'll have to check.
Q: These meetings are held every week?
MS. MYERS: Almost every week, yes. You know that. Sometimes they're small meetings and I usually talk about them -- I don't usually announce them formally because we don't do readouts from them. But sometimes they're smaller meetings which usually happen in the Oval Office, and sometimes they're expanded meetings which happen in the Cabinet Room or someplace else in the West Wing.
Q: Is there a press conference with the Indian Prime Minister tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q: What is the time?
MS. MYERS: Let's see -- 1:36 p.m., because we're always so precise here in the Clinton White House. Pretty much driven by the schedule of these briefings. There's an 11:30 a.m. -- generally the same schedule that we always do. At 11:30 a.m. he will meet -- the two will meet in the Oval Office. There will be a pool spray for that meeting. Then they'll continue to meet in the Oval Office. Then they will go back to the Old Family Dining Room for a 12:25 p.m. lunch, followed by a -- it is 1:36 p.m. press availability in the East Room. And that will last --
Q: Is that what it says?
MS. MYERS: Yes. (Laughter.)
Q: Is that a typo?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: Is WHCA making a small joke or -- (laughter.)
MS. MYERS: It's clockwork.
Q: Is there a late show in New Delhi? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: It's just -- that allows us to give you, I think, a one-minute warning. That would actually probably be 1:37 p.m., so you might want to make that adjustment in your schedules.
Q: Dee Dee, you have said that Gray will not negotiate when he goes to Haiti. Can you be helpful on what he will actually do? Is there an ultimatum, or just what will that be?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I think the message is, the military leaders must step down. They must step down or leave the country. We are going to continue to enforce sanctions. We're going to work with the Dominicans to tighten that border.
Certainly, Ambassador Gray will be senior advisor to the President on Haiti. He will be working very closely with members of Congress, and he will be working with others down in Haiti to make it clear to the military that they must step down.
Q: The administration has criticized the Chafee bill in the past for containing an individual mandate. But a few moments ago, you had kind words for both the Kennedy and Breaux proposals. Does that mean that the administration would look favorably on an individual requirement, as long as it's applicable only to small employers?
MS. MYERS: I think our objective is to get to universal coverage. It will be up to Congress to work out the details of that. Both the Chafee -- I mean the Breaux plan and the Kennedy plan include shared responsibility, where employers and employees share in providing for health care. I think both the Chafee -- I mean, the Breaux and the Kennedy bills have slightly different configuration for companies with fewer than -- 10 or fewer employees, which is a small percent of overall businesses. But the important thing is that one, they both emphasize shared responsibility and, two, they both get to universal coverage.
Q: Dee Dee, in terms of universal coverage, there's been a certain amount of pressure to maybe redefine what that means; that maybe you can get to 91 or 92 percent without a mandate. Why not do that? I know you've talked about the universal coverage can be phased in, but what specifically does the President mean by universal coverage?
MS. MYERS: Well, we're certainly not going to define it as a percentage. I mean, universal coverage is a system that will allow all people to have guaranteed private health insurance. Now, it's up to Congress to work out a specific plan. And we'll have to evaluate those as they come in. But the President wants to see a system that will guarantee private insurance to every American. And we're not going to get into specifically it saying -- naming a percentage that might or might not be acceptable at this point.
Q: Well, wait a minute -- all is 100 percent, right? I mean, every is 100 percent.
Q: Every American might mean less than 100 percent?
MS. MYERS: Every is 100 percent.
Q: What about affordability? Is that going to be harder?
MS. MYERS: What about portability or affordability?
Q: No, affordability.
MS. MYERS: Affordability.
Q: Isn't that part of the equation? You can't have full coverage if you make it so expensive that people can't buy it.
MS. MYERS: Sure, that's why there are subsidies for small businesses and low-wage businesses and other things. And that's why we believe that the responsibility should be shared between employers and employees so that people can afford it.
Q: When you talk about universal coverage you're not saying available to everybody, you're saying everybody has it.
MS. MYERS: That's guaranteed private insurance for every American.
Q: For every American.
MS. MYERS: Available to everybody is something that's included in other plans, but not ours.
Q: Guaranteed doesn't mean they have it, it just means that they can get it.
MS. MYERS: No, it's not about accessibility, it's about guaranteeing private insurance to everybody. I mean, there's two -- those are two separate concepts.
Q: Whether they want it or not.
Q: What if they don't want it?
Q: But does everybody mean 100 percent?
MS. MYERS: We're not going to define it -- everybody, means everybody, and we're not going to put a number on it.
Q: Do you have a target date for introducing welfare reform?
MS. MYERS: No. We had hoped to do it sometime this spring, which I believe goes until June 22nd.
Q: I thought it was supposed to be in May.
MS. MYERS: We had said -- we had hoped to get it into May, but it may slip into June.
Q: But not beyond the end of June?
MS. MYERS: I leave it there.
Q: As they say in the song, it's a long, long way from May to September.
Q: What's the question?
MS. MYERS: When will welfare reform be introduced. And the answer is, soon.
Q: Yesterday Gearan and Lloyd Cutler said they would take a question for us, the question being the net worth of the Clinton family, since what they produced yesterday was a range. Do you now have that answer?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I'll double-check that. I don't know that they'll be more specific than the range. But I'll check, and if we have an answer we'll post it.
Q: Normally, when a question is taken, there's at least a response posted -- posted as a non-response.
MS. MYERS: I will get right to Mr. Gearan and Mr. Cutler and get to the bottom of this.
Q: What's the Saturday event?
MS. MYERS: Let's see if we have it finalized. I think we're going to have to wait one more day before we -- actually, maybe by the end today we'll know for sure what's happening on Saturday. I don't have it yet.
Q: The UCLA commencement speech --
MS. MYERS: It's actually a convocation. And I think I've said commencement, and I apologize for that. It is a convocation, not a commencement. The commencement is in June.
Q: Does he have some particular message?
MS. MYERS: Yes. I think it will build on the community and responsibility themes that he's been talking about in previous speeches this week. The first UCLA convocation was in 1919, and that was in the aftermath of World War I, at a time in which the President has in the past said that some wrong decisions were made, and those led to the consequences, and in fact, ultimately to another world war. In the aftermath of World War II, difficult decisions were made that led to peace and stability in Europe and other places around the world. We're at a time of change again where we have to come together and make some difficult choices. And so I think he'll talk a bit about that as well.
Q: What's the agenda for tomorrow's meeting with Prime Minister of India?
MS. MYERS: Regional and security issues, economic issues, bilateral issues.
Q: Especially nonproliferation?
MS. MYERS: Certainly, nonproliferation will be an issue, a major security issue between the two countries.
Q: How about the expansion of the members of the U.N. Security Council?
MS. MYERS: I don't know whether that's on the agenda. We can try to get you a little more details on that.
Q: One more on China. Is it too late to take into consideration the position of the allies, or has that also been ruled out?
MS. MYERS: The President laid out very specific criteria in his executive order. That is the criteria he will use in making a decision.
Q: Has the decision been made on how to fund the GATT tariffs that are going to be lost?
MS. MYERS: No, not yet. We're looking at a wide variety of options at this point. We'll work with Congress on it, but no final decisions have been made.
Q: Anything tomorrow besides Rao?
MS. MYERS: Just the meetings in the morning, foreign policy meetings, CINCs, and then Rao. That's --
Q: He's not going anyplace tonight, is he?
MS. MYERS: I don't think so. A little personal agenda here. No, he's scheduled to spend the evening in the Residence, and then tomorrow afternoon he has just office time after the meeting with the Prime Minister.
Q: How about tomorrow night?
Q: Is he going to reschedule lunch with the Vice President?
MS. MYERS: No. Anybody else have their pool questions?
Oh, absolutely -- there will be two next week.
Q: Was that this evening in the Residence?
MS. MYERS: Yes. This evening --
Q: Wendell has pool --
MS. MYERS: You can always tell who the pool is when you answer questions like that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:45 P.M. EDT
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/269702