Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
1:46 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: Following up on a couple of things from this morning -- first of all, President Clinton will meet with President Carlos Menem of Argentina at the White House on Friday, June 24th, to discuss a broad range of bilateral and international issues with a view toward continuing the close collaboration between the United States and Argentina. The two Presidents last met at the White House in June of '93.
There was also great interest in the menu at tonight's Congressional picnic. It is hard-shell crabs.
Q: What time will they meet?
MS. MYERS: It's in the morning before the President leaves. I don't have a specific time, but it will be -- we leave at about -- a little before 10:00 a.m.
Q: What's the date of the Menem meeting?
MS. MYERS: It's Friday, tomorrow, June 24th. And the President will leave here shortly before 10:00 a.m., so the meeting will be probably in the 9:00 a.m. hour.
Q: Is Blake Levine still invited to the Oval Office for the radio address tomorrow morning?
MS. MYERS: He is expected to attend, yes.
Q: Will the President do anything special with him?
MS. MYERS: No. He's been invited to the Saturday radio address with a number of other people, which is our Saturday tradition here. And I'm sure he'll come.
Q: Will the President give him an autograph, though, knowing that the kid's going to turn around --
MS. MYERS: The President doesn't sign autographs at the radio address, as a practice, standard practice.
Q: Well, will he sign a photo with the two of them together which the kid can then turn around and sell --
MS. MYERS: I don't think he'll have a photo of the two of them together.
Q: Wait a minute, I missed a stitch here. Can you help us out?
MS. MYERS: Tomorrow -- Saturday.
Q: Has something happened here?
Q: What, the kid said he was going to --
MS. MYERS: I will leave it to you all to follow up on some news accounts today.
Q: That's fair enough.
Q: Did you say that categorically the kid will not get an autograph of the President?
MS. MYERS: He'll come to the radio address on Saturday. It's not the President's practice to sign autographs at that session.
Q: We have a new poll out today that shows that 41 percent only of Americans approve of the way the President is handling health care reform; 50 percent of them disapprove of it. What do you think is the problem?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think if you ask people specifically do they support universal coverage, overwhelmingly they do; if they support an employer-based system, the system that we currently have, overwhelmingly they do; if they think the Congress should act now to produce some kind of comprehensive health care reform, overwhelmingly they support that.
So I think they certainly support elements of the President's plan. The President is going to continue to fight very hard to get universal health care passed this year.
Q: Well, why do you think they don't seem to have confidence in the way he is leading the fight on this?
MS. MYERS: I think millions and millions of dollars have been spent providing misinformation about the President's plan. That's unfortunate. The President, the First Lady, members of the Cabinet and others in the administration have worked hard to try to counter that, to put out correct information, to work with Congress to pass elements of the President's package. I think things are moving in the right direction in Congress. We're encouraged by discussions that are happening. We're a long way from getting it done, but the President remains confident that he will get a bill on his desk this year that will provide guaranteed private insurance for every American.
Q: Senator Dole accused the President of throwing in the towel on North Korea. And Senator McCain today said that the President would become a co-conspirator with Kim Il Sung if they continue to reprocess. What is your reaction to those Republican criticisms?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think it's unfortunate. The message we got from North Korea yesterday was encouraging. As the President said, it was a bit of good news. The North Koreans agreed to freeze their nuclear program during a third round of talks. There will be nuclear inspectors there on the ground in North Korea to assure that they meet those commitments. We're moving forward now in planning for a third round of high level discussions with the North Korea, with an eye toward resolving the outstanding nuclear issues between the United States, the rest of the international community, and North Korea.
Certainly, we're going to make sure that we verify along the way. We look forward to that dialogue. We hope that it happens.
Q: Dee Dee, Senator Dole and the other Senate Republicans in the Senate sent a letter to the President today asking him to join them in repudiating remarks by some in his own party that they say used terms like "fire-breathing," "Christian radical right," and they cheapen our democracy through religious bigotry. Is he going to join them?
MS. MYERS: I'm unaware of the letter. I haven't seen it yet. I mean, certainly the President supports very strongly the principle of religious freedom. But beyond that I haven't seen the letter, so I can't comment.
Q: Dee Dee, what do you make of The New York Times report that the Russians have been secretly working on chemical weapons? Chernomyrdin didn't know anything about it, but --
MS. MYERS: We're following up on that. We signed a memorandum of understanding on this. They were -- in which they agreed to provide us with information. We don't believe they provided all the information that they set forward -- that we need for that MOU. And the memorandum also provides for us to ask for additional information should we think what we receive is insufficient. We're in the process of discussing that with them now.
Q: Do we think they're hiding something?
MS. MYERS: We're in the process -- we want more information, and so we're following up. We're not going to draw any conclusions until we have all the information we think we need.
Q: Dee Dee, the crime bill seems to be stalled at the moment, or at least it was when I left the office. Do you guys have anything to say about that?
MS. MYERS: As you know, the President met earlier this week with House and Senate leaders to discuss the crime bill. He's certainly been working very hard. I think 95 percent of that has been resolved between the Houses, which is substantial progress. There are a few stumbling blocks, which as I understand it are being worked out among the members of the Congress right now.
Q: Well, they say it's --
MS. MYERS: Well, it's not up to me, it's up to the members of Congress to decide what the stumbling blocks are. I think certainly there are a couple of outstanding issues which they're addressing. I think the President hopes that they reach agreement soon and pass a crime bill and send it to his desk.
Q: Some of them suggested that it's up to him at this point to come up with a solution to the whole racial justice issue and remaining stumbling blocks, that it won't happen among them.
MS. MYERS: He discussed it on Friday. I think they're aware of his position. We've certainly worked hard on this crime bill and we'll continue to do that. But I think the ball is now with the members of Congress who are working out some of the final details. And I just don't have any more on it at this point.
Q: Their meeting yesterday fell apart because they couldn't reach a conclusion and said it won't happen without him.
MS. MYERS: I think there are discussions going on, on the Hill today, and again the President will remain engaged in this and would like to see something passed.
Q: What is he doing today besides -- he did some ambassadors fairly early this morning that wasn't on his schedule.
MS. MYERS: It wasn't on the public schedule.
Q: Another question on the racial justice issue. What is the President's position on the racial justice issue?
MS. MYERS: He hasn't taken one.
Q: Why doesn't he have a position on the racial justice issue?
MS. MYERS: Throughout the discussion of this crime bill, he's laid out specifically what it was he wanted to see in that bill -- 100,000 new police officers on the street, things for people to say yes to as well as to say no to. Three strikes and you're out proposal with specific language. All of those things, all of the provisions that he laid out have been included in the bill. Those are the things he fought for, those are the things that have been included. There are other things that members of Congress have added and other things that they've taken out. He has not taken -- he did not take a position on every item that came up throughout this debate.
Q: So why can't we assume from that then that the President wouldn't object if the racial justice provision -- a racial justice provision was dropped from the final version?
MS. MYERS: What he's always said is that he wanted certain things included in the crime bill. If they sent him a bill that included those things that, he was likely to sign it, barring anything unforeseen. And that's what he still hopes will happen.
Q: Given that that's one of the obstacles then, isn't it fair to say the President would prefer if it were just dropped from the crime bill?
MS. MYERS: I don't think that's -- the President has always said it's something for the members of Congress to work out.
Q? But if they can't work it out, he's not going to get a bill before the July 4th recess --
MS. MYERS: We're hopeful that they'll work it out. We've made very good progress on this bill. As you know, the crime bill's gotten further; it's been stalled for seven years. We've made more progress in this year than in any previous years. We're continuing to move forward on it. Members of Congress are working through these details. And as soon as there's something -- decision one way or another, I think we'll let you know.
Q: There was a time when the administration was working on language in the racial justice act that they thought the Senate would approve of. Is that process still going on, or have you all stopped trying to --
MS. MYERS: Again, discussions are still going on. As of this point, it's something that's being discussed on the Hill, and I just don't have anything to add.
Q: But is the administration participating in the discussions in an active way, trying to come up with something?
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of today. I think that's going on strictly between members of the House. Again, we've been involved in a lot of aspects of the bill. The President spoke with members of the leadership on this two days ago. But I think -- and we'll continue to press for a resolution to this.
Q: Does he have any reaction to the appropriators cutting in half some of his cherished programs, such as national service and Head Start?
MS. MYERS: The President will continue to fight for his investments throughout the process, as he did last year. I think last year -- I don't remember what the exact figure was, but we got somewhere around 60 percent of the President's proposed investments, which was a victory. We have to fight very hard ever year to keep in those investments, and we'll do that.
Q: What is the President doing today?
Q: What's his position on the federal pay raise, Dee Dee?
MS. MYERS: Today, the President met this morning with his foreign policy team on G-7. Then he met with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin. Then he received credentials from a number of ambassadors, which is diplomatic procedure. He will have lunch with the Vice President. He meets with Governor Lawton Chiles of Florida who is in town. He has some time in his office to take care of some work.
Q: The Chiles meeting is on what topic?
MS. MYERS: Health care -- Florida health care issue.
Q: Not Haiti?
MS. MYERS: It's not scheduled for that purpose. Governor Chiles may raise something about it, but that is not the scheduled purpose.
Q: Were you able to find out what issue that Florida is seeking a waiver on?
MS. MYERS: I can. Nobody asked me to, but I certainly can if you want to give me a call.
And then he'll meet at 6:10 p.m. tonight with California State Treasurer Kathleen Brown, who is the Democratic nominee for governor.
Q: No picture?
MS. MYERS: And it will be a local pool, which is something that we do periodically.
Q: With us?
MS. MYERS: No, from California.
Q: She's a national figure.
Q: Did he set a dated for the summit?
Q: California media only?
MS. MYERS: Yes, but they generally provide footage to the networks as well.
Q: Did he talk about a date for the Yeltsin summit with the Russian Prime Minister?
MS. MYERS: Did they discuss that? No, they didn't.
Q: What did they discuss?
MS. MYERS: They talked mostly about issues covered by the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission -- the space station. They signed some major agreements today, and I think many of you attended the Gore-Chernomyrdin press conference. They signed agreements on the space station, on the $10-billion oil project, on the agreement to cease the production of plutonium, which are all excellent accomplishments.
The President said he was pleased about Russia's continued economic reform. There was great concern about that when we were in Russia earlier this year and certainly at the end of last year. Russians continue to try to follow the path of reform,and the President said he was pleased about that.
He also congratulated the Prime Minister on his visit to the Holocaust Museum today, and his meetings with Jewish leaders to assuage some of the fears about resurgent anti-Semitism in Russia. And then they talked some about G-7.
Q: Did the President bring up this idea of chemical weapons?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe that it came up.
Q: Has the White House figured out what to do about this Africa conference?
MS. MYERS: We're moving forward with it. The conference will be Sunday and Monday here at the White House. Let me give you a few of the agenda details.
Q: This Sunday?
MS. MYERS: This Sunday -- correct.
Q: Do you have concerns about the fact that it's being disavowed by --
Q: What is this?
Q: people even in the State Department?
MS. MYERS: No, actually. The question is, the White House conference on Africa, which will be Sunday, June 26th -- this Sunday -- and Monday. It will begin at about 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon with remarks by National Security Advisor Tony Lake; Assistant Secretary of State George Moose; and U.S. AID Administrator Brian Atwood. Then they'll have --
Q: Is that all open to coverage?
MS. MYERS: You know, I'm not sure what all the coverage plans are. I don't think that is all open to coverage. It's in OEOB 450.
Q: Could you let us know?
MS. MYERS: Sure. We'll put out a broader agenda with some more --
Q: We don't have any coverage guidelines here on what's going on.
MS. MYERS: Right. Some elements of this -- some of this will be probably open to coverage and some of it won't. Let me just tell you a couple of things that will be happening.
On Sunday evening, the Secretary of State will host a dinner at the State Department. On Monday, they'll have a number of other sessions; the Vice President will host a lunch and give remarks; the President will address the group at about 3:20 p.m. on Monday. And then there will be a reception at the conclusion in the Indian Treaty Room. I would expect that the President's remarks will be open; the Vice President's remarks may be open.
Q: Will the President do anything on Sunday?
MS. MYERS: No. Just Monday.
Q: Can I follow on the issue of Cynthia McKinney and others from the Hill are very critical that they were belatedly, that this thing has just not been handled properly.
MS. MYERS: Well, we regret any problems that have been caused by the late invitations or the changing invitations. I think the agenda for the conference has developed quickly as issues facing Africa have changed and shifted somewhat over the course of the last couple of weeks. Certainly this will include a broad variety of people, and I think the list of attendees grew as word of the conference spread and people wanted to participate.
It will include some members of Congress -- we're still working on the final list -- academics, others with some expertise, people from other aspects of the government, the State Department, U.S. AID and other agencies that deal with Africa -- issues that will deal specifically with six issue areas, which are U.S. relations, promoting sustainable development, addressing international conflicts, supporting the process of democratization, addressing Africa's global dimensions, bilateral trade and investment and developing an American constituency for Africa. So those are the issues that we will discuss.
Q: Are you trying to persuade members of Congress not to boycott the conference? Is there any kind of effort --
MS. MYERS: We would certainly welcome their participation. I don't know what the final list is; I think that's something that's still being worked on. But, certainly, we would welcome their participation in this.
Q: Dee Dee, one question on this. Were you planning to announce this thing before it came up yesterday with Randall Robinson's letter? Was there any plan to announce that as an event that would occur?
MS. MYERS: Sure, I think we were going to -- planned to announce it. I don't think we had any specific plans. The details were still being worked out, so it was a little premature. I think there were a number of people here who knew that it was in the planning phases.
Q: My other question is, is the President's reaction to Senate action cutting the federal employee pay raise and restoring only half of the money he had asked for additional spending --
MS. MYERS: I don't know that he has any reaction. I'm unaware of his reaction to cutting the pay raise.
Q: Will this affect pay raises here at the White House if this doesn't get -- the rest of it doesn't go in?
MS. MYERS: I don't know how that works. I can certainly take that question and find out.
Q: Could you find out what the $3 million -- how that $3 million was to have been broken down here, and what half of it lost will mean?
MS. MYERS: Sure.
Q: Dee Dee, could you tell us the genesis of this Africa conference?
MS. MYERS: I think it was an opportunity to bring in people who have experience on Africa issues to discuss with them a series of issues which was then narrowed to the six that I just outlined. I think it was just an opportunity, given the importance of Africa in the eyes of the President and this administration, and looking to build better relations with them, to promote economic development, democratization and other important issues. It's been something that's been discussed for a while. I think it was just a desire to really focus on Africa issues and to reach out.
Q: Whose idea was it, do you recall?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I think it's something that's been discussed for a while.
Q: Dee Dee, if it's been discussed for so long and there are issues of clearly important -- importance in Africa, Rwanda and Somalia, why the last-minute scrambling around for invitations and getting it together?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, I think we regret that it may appear that way. I think, again, the issues have changed somewhat over the course of the last few weeks as African issues have shifted. There's been a lot of demand for participation, and we've tried hard to accommodate people who want to come and to produce an agenda that we think is both relevant and useful.
Q: Dee Dee, there was a report today in The Wall Street Journal saying that Fiske had contacted the White House and told officials here that no one was going to be prosecuted in the first phase of his investigation. Is that an accurate report?
MS. MYERS: I'll have to take that question. I don't know.
Q: Has the President decided yet whether he is, indeed, going to launch a legal defense fund?
MS. MYERS: No, he has not. No update on that.
Q: Do you have anything coming out of the White House Counsel's Office?
Q: Has he gotten a recommendation on that from --
MS. MYERS: Not that I know. No, I don't believe he has.
Q: Has he gotten a set of options or anything from which to pick?
MS. MYERS: No. The Counsel's Office was still working through the details. And the President has not been briefed on that.
Q: If he were to decide today, would you feel compelled to let us know, now that the issue's been raised? I mean, would you let us know if your guidance changes through the course of the afternoon?
MS. MYERS: Sure.
Q: Do we have anything coming out of the Counsel's Office today?
MS. MYERS: Yes, as a matter of fact. We received a letter late last night, which I was going to put out --
MS. MYERS: After this briefing. (Laughter.)
Q: 7:00 p.m.
MS. MYERS: Helen and I -- I plant questions with her occasionally.
MS. MYERS: Noooo.
Well, it's not -- it's not Fiske -- it's not unrelated, but the White House Counsel's Office received a letter last night from Chairman Riegle and Ranking Minority Member D'Amato, requesting documents related to the matters of the upcoming Senate hearings, which is the three issues -- communications between officials of the White House, the Department of Treasury, or the Resolution Trust Corporation relating to Whitewater or the Madison Guarantee Savings and Loan Association; second issue is the Park Service police investigation into the death of Vince Foster; and the third issue is the way in which White House officials handled documents in the office of Vince Foster at the time of his death.
In addition to sort of a general letter requesting those documents from the White House, the same letter essentially was sent to 12 individuals here, I think, generally just to be specific and cover bases on that.
Q: Could you tell us those individuals?
MS. MYERS: I would be happy --
Q: Are they subpoenaed to testify?
MS. MYERS: No, this is not a subpoena. It's just a letter requesting documents.
Q: Twelve people?
MS. MYERS: There's 12 -- Bruce Lindsey -- most of whom are very familiar to you -- Bruce Lindsey; George Stephanopoulos; Thomas F. McLarty III; Harold Ickes; Mark Gearan; John Podesta; Cliff Sloan, Steve Neuwirth, both of whom work in the Counsel's Office; Betsy Pond, who works in the Counsel's Office -- she was Bernie Nussbaum's secretary -- Patsy Thomasson; Maggie Williams and Lisa Caputo. Joel Klein will be handling the collection of those documents. The request is that they be turned over, I think, beginning sometime in early July.
Q: And that will be fully cooperated with?
MS. MYERS: We will cooperate, sure.
Q: And this is -- have you checked to make sure that it will not matter whether Mr. Fiske has any objection to the cooperation on this? I mean, what's the --
MS. MYERS: I don't know if we've checked that. I'll take that.
Q: Is this a blanket request?
MS. MYERS: There was one letter that went to the -- well, it's all documents relating to the three questions, three categories outlined. And one went to the White House generally and then one to each of the 12.
Q: I just want to make clear, though -- you're saying that you will definitely cooperate, not that you'll cooperate pending the guidance of Fiske.
MS. MYERS: We intend to cooperate. I just don't know if there's been any contact with Fiske about that.
Q: Is there any issue --
Q: Did they say when the hearings will be? Is that --
MS. MYERS: No, I don't think that decision has been made.
Q: Will you make public the letter?
MS. MYERS: Yes. I'll release it with this little statement from the Counsel.
Q: What committee is this?
MS. MYERS: Banking. Senate Banking.
Q: Is there any intention to not testify on any part of any of these staff members?
MS. MYERS: Our intention at this point is to comply. We haven't received any requests from the Senate for any members of this staff to testify, but certainly it's our intention to comply.
Q: Did Mr. Nussbaum also get a similar letter?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I believe letters are going to other agencies in the government. I don't know about individuals outside the White House.
Q: Since you're releasing all this information voluntarily, is there any consideration about releasing it publicly?
MS. MYERS: We have no intention of releasing it publicly. We're cooperating with the hearings, but at this point we have no intentions of releasing it publicly.
Q: On Senator D'Amato -- has the First Lady had any reaction to his good fortune in making a killing on that first day's stock offering? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: None that she has shared with me.
Q: Are they going to get together and compare notes? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Yeah. (Laughter.)
Q: Dee Dee, so all 12 of these individuals retained copies of any documents they may have given Fiske. In other words, this request for all these --
MS. MYERS: All the documents were copied. Yes, sure, anything that was turned over to Fiske was. One of the things that we've said in the process was that we were gathering documents, cataloguing them and copying them.
Q: Not the President or Mrs. Clinton, though --they're not getting letters?
MS. MYERS: They were not specifically -- they did not receive letters specifically identified to them.
Q: So all the documents that were made available to Fiske will now be made available to the committee?
MS. MYERS: On those three areas, yes.
Q: When do you think they'll go over?
MS. MYERS: I think the date that they asked for was July 1st. I think we'll work with the committees to get them to them in due time.
Q: Will everything go through Joel to the Hill?
MS. MYERS: Yes, Joel will be the collection point. He'll collect them and work with members of the staff to produce whatever they have.
Q: This only arrived last night?
MS. MYERS: Late last night, yes.
Q: They don't give you much time, do they? Does the White House have a park police report on the death of Foster? I mean, they're asking for a report on his death?
MS. MYERS: No, they're asking for any documents that individual staff members might have pertaining to it.
Q: Doesn't the White House have the park police report?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if somebody has it or not. To tell you the truth, I don't know. I just don't know.
Q: What about the House side, did they ask for anything?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: Do you have anything from the NSC today?
MS. MYERS: Well, I had that riveting announcement about Menem.
Q: Do you have any 5:45 p.m. news conferences with the President?
MS. MYERS: No, nothing scheduled.
Q: How soon will we get this letter?
MS. MYERS: Oh, give us 20 minutes and we'll have it out.
Q: Good thing you asked.
Q: Monday travel to New York --
MS. MYERS: Let me go to the --
Q: What about Joel Klein --
MS. MYERS: Is that what's happening, Helen? Hang on, let me give -- the schedule for Monday. Monday, the President -- let me give you the whole schedule for Monday.
Saturday -- the only weekend event on the schedule is the radio address. Monday, the President will have a briefing on G- 7. He will make remarks to the Conference on Africa, and then he leaves at about 4:20 p.m. from here, flies to Kennedy Airport, then to Manhattan, where he will attend a fundraiser at the St. Regis Hotel. And it is the DNC Presidential Dinner. There's two events. There's a presidential dinner, and then a reception, which is at the Sheraton New York. He comes back here, gets back about midnight.
Q: Are they open events?
MS. MYERS: Generally, those are open pool for remarks. And I'm pretty sure that's what the -- I need to confirm that, but generally that's our practice -- pool remarks. And I think that may mean we're only taking a pool with us. So you might want to think about that.
On Tuesday --
Q: That's the day of the news conference?
MS. MYERS: There's no public events on the schedule at this time on Tuesday. You know, next week's schedule is a little thin here. (Laughter.) I'm sure we'll add all kinds of riveting events.
Q: Is he leaving room for health care and crime negotiations?
MS. MYERS: He is spending some time on preparing for the G-7 trip. There are briefings on his schedule, which is normal. Other than that, I have no interesting new events to tell you about. He is planning to take the Fourth of July weekend to stay down. He will -- at this point has no schedule for the weekend.
Q: What about tomorrow? What's the gist of his trip tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: The gist of his trip tomorrow -- he'll talk about a couple things. The Menem meeting is actually at 9:15 a.m., according to this schedule -- tomorrow. We go to St. Louis at noon. He'll make a speech at Union Station, and then he will tour Fox Park Neighborhood. And this will be a summer of safety event in conjunction with the National Service Program. The remarks -- his remarks at Union Station will focus on summer of safety as well as crime generally. And then that evening he attends a fundraiser for Congressman Gephardt and comes back here around midnight.
Q: Was an event added after the fundraiser was set up?
MS. MYERS: Gee, I'm just not aware of exact sequence of scheduling these events.
Q: Has the Jordanian debt been forgiven?
MS. MYERS: You know, I meant to get an answer to that, and I don't have one.
Okay, I think we've exhausted this. It was great, though.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:11 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/269706