Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
2:05 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: A brief statement here on the President's meeting with the Vice Premier of China. President Clinton met today in the Oval Office with Chinese Vice Premier Zou Jiahua. The meeting, which lasted 40 minutes, provided both sides with an opportunity to exchange views on the current state of U.S.-China relations. President Clinton told the Vice Premier that the United States wants to see a strong, stable and prosperous China. The President emphasized that he wants to strengthen our bilateral relationship, but to accomplish that goal, there needs to be progress on human rights as called for in last year's executive order.
Q: Do you have any response to some of the proposals that are now circulating on the Hill regarding health care for a phase-in of employer mandates -- if universal coverage is not reached by certain a point through other means?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, the President sent his original package up to the Hill. The health care proposal is now with the congressional committees, and they're working through the details. The President has made very clear what his bottom line is -- and that is a health care reform proposal that includes universal coverage. That is the bottom line.
Q: If it is phased in gradually, if it is triggered, let's say, an employer mandate that comes down the road if there isn't --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think it's impossible to prejudge what Congress may produce. Again, I think the President will look at it. His bottom line is universal coverage. In the end, any kind of health care reform has to include guaranteed private insurance for every American. That is the standard by which it will be judged.
Q: Universal coverage by when?
MS. MYERS: Well, he hasn't -- there isn't a specific date on it. I think we'll have to look at what comes out of the congressional committees and, ultimately, what's voted out of both houses.
Q: You're flexible about when that universal coverage would be achieved?
MS. MYERS: Well, the President's plan had universal coverage in it by 1997. He feels it was important to get to universal coverage quickly in order to control costs. We'll have to see what Congress produces.
Q: Dee Dee, any response to the GAO report on the travel office here?
MS. MYERS: I think just -- we just received it this morning, and are still in the process of reviewing it. I think it is basically consistent with the findings of the internal review, which was issued back in July. I think, particularly, it says that the FBI did not feel pressured, and that we did not contact the IRS with reference to that. We'll have a statement on it later, and Mark will be available to take questions --
Q: He will take questions on it?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q: But they say in the report, in two different places, at least, as far as I've read in it, that you've not implemented the very improvements that you said that you purged --
MS. MYERS: -- as quickly as they might have liked. But I think, again, we'll have a statement on it once we've had a chance to review it a little more thoroughly. We'll put out a formal written statement, and then Mark will take questions.
Q: Dee Dee, what does the White House and the President makes of the reports of Pentagon brass using the choppers as sort of a private taxi service or all-purpose taxi service around town, to Andrews, and so forth at an alleged cost of $3,000 or so a trip?
MS. MYERS: DOD is reviewing that. I think, generally, and you can check with them -- generally, their policy is that if there is time for them to use ground transportation they do that. But they're reviewing it, I think, in light of the story.
Q: Well, I know, but what is the opinion of it here is what I --
MS. MYERS: I think that it's -- the President believes it's good that DOD review it.
Q: Well, is he dismayed by it or is he --
MS. MYERS: I think we'll let DOD review it and see what they have to say.
Q: What does the President think about the situation in Rwanda? The slaughter seems to be getting worse with no end in sight. Is the United States doing anything about this?
MS. MYERS: Obviously, the situation in Rwanda is tragic. There's a humanitarian crisis there, not to mention the tens of thousands of people that have been killed in the inter-ethnic fighting. We're doing -- the United States is doing a number of things. Assistant Secretary of State for Humanitarian, John Shattuck, and Ambassador Rawson will be returning to the region -- I believe they leave tomorrow night. I'll have to double-check that. There they'll meet with regional leaders, including the President of the OAU and others to try to reinvigorate talks toward some kind of a settlement there.
The President taped a statement on Saturday, which was aired in Rwanda. I think it calls on all sides to make peace. And finally, we've had direct contact through our diplomatic channels with the rebels and the government forces there urging them to continue negotiations. They're supposed to start again tomorrow in Arusha, which we will continue to encourage.
At the same time, we'll be providing additional humanitarian assistance. We're working with the U.N. now to try to address the growing humanitarian crisis there.
Q: How much assistance is the United States prepared to provide?
MS. MYERS: I think the ballpark of $15 million.
Q: $15 million?
MS. MYERS: One, five.
Q: That sounds like such a --
MS. MYERS: That's part of a multinational package. And as the situation develops, we'll continue to look at the needs there, again, working with the U.N.
Q: Are there any other steps being considered? I'm not casting aspersions on the new steps, but this situation seems so dire. Are there any other more dramatic measures being considered --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think it's something that's being discussed at the U.N. now, and looking at what can be done. It is a desperate situation. And it's difficult to address on a number of levels. But, again, we are doing what we can to provide additional humanitarian assistance and continue working with the U.N. and to try to reach some kind of a settlement that will stop the violence.
Q: I have a question, if I can catch you while the tape is still rolling on the crime event of today. I want to know if the President agrees with the -- police chief that guns meant to kill people, the ownership of, should be restricted to police and military.
MS. MYERS: I think that's one of the things that the President has said, that assault weapons, and particularly the 19 identified, have no sporting purpose.
Q: But he specified guns meant to kill people, which could be defense weapons. Does the President believe that those should be -- the ownership of those should be restricted --
MS. MYERS: I think -- stick to assault weapons. Assault weapons and the 19 that are established on this bill are defined -- the President believes those are weapons designed to kill people. And I think Secretary Bentsen made a very good point over the weekend, and I don't know if he made it again today, that even ducks have sort of more protection. If you're duck hunting, you can only have three rounds in your weapon; if you're not, you can load it up with as many as you can get in your clip.
Q: but if I could ask you one more time, the President has supported sporting guns, guns meant to shoot animals, and he has criticized assault weapons. There's guns in the middle. Does he believe, as the -- police chief does, that guns meant to kill people should be --
MS. MYERS: I think the President has made his view clear. He believes that assault weapons are guns meant to kill people. And he believes they should be restricted -- should be banned, not just restricted, but banned.
Q: On that topic, have you made any measurable progress on the effort to get votes for the assault weapons ban? And what are your -- what's your feeling for your chances of winning on that?
MS. MYERS: It's an uphill fight. We still need to find in the neighborhood of 20 votes. The President will meet with a group of members of Congress today who are supporting the assault weapons ban, who will go out and lobby the colleagues in its behalf. And he is hopeful that we'll get the votes we need. It is a difficult issue, though.
Q: Is there some sense that -- a lot of people think you're likely to lose on this somehow. In some ways, are you working for the longer term, like you're prepared to lose now, but you're going to take up the fight again later?
MS. MYERS: Well, as you know, the President feels strongly about this. It's something that he's talked about since Senator Feinstein first proposed the ban. It's something that he's consistently lobbied members for. It's something that he believes should be included in the final version of the crime bill.
He'll continue to lobby for it. It's an uphill fight. It was something that passed the Senate. It's a more difficult battle in the House. I think he'll do all he can to get it passed. If you look over the course of the last week, he's done a number of events -- as have members of the Cabinet and members of the staff here -- to try to get that ban passed.
I think it's too soon to predict. It's clearly a difficult and uphill struggle.
Q: A follow-up, Dee Dee, on that -- Schumer's obviously saying a little more optimistic than that. They're saying it's almost too close of a call now. Can you say, from last week to this week, that you've made some clear-cut progress?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think we did make some progress. Congresswoman Molinari switched from a no to a yes today; they had a press conference up in New York. Obviously, that's encouraging.
I think, certainly, Congressman Schumer's in a better position to count votes. But I think we believe -- the President believes that this is an uphill struggle, and that there's still a lot of votes that need to be converted if we're going to get it passed.
Q: Why this particular issue? What has set him off on this? -- known somebody who was --
MS. MYERS: No, I think that there are a number of measures in the crime bill that he supported and felt strongly about. Most of those have been included in both the House and Senate versions.
Q: this is the only one that he's taken --
MS. MYERS: No, this is one -- I think 100,000 police officers was something that was -- significant increase in the amount of police officers was something that was included in both bans. Three strikes and you're out -- I mean, both the House and Senate versions. Three strikes and you're out was included in both versions. Those are things that will be included in anything that comes out of a conference report in some form.
The ban on assault weapons, however, passed the Senate, but has not passed the House. And so I think, given that it's one of the three or four things he outlined as a priority throughout this debate, and it's the one thing that's in jeopardy, he's certainly made a, I think, a concerted effort to see if he can't help get it passed.
Q: Dee Dee, is the White House considering military action in Haiti if the sanctions don't work?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think we've always said we didn't find it useful to rule out any options. At this point, as you know, we're going to the U.N. this week for a continued discussion on the expanded sanctions. We hope to have a vote on that sometime this week; hopefully early in the week, we'll be pushing for it.
And that's where we stand now. However, we're not in a position to rule anything out.
Q: Same question in Rwanda -- have you ruled out using a direct U.S. intervention in Rwanda?
MS. MYERS: Again, I think we're working with the U.N. and looking at a number of steps there. Again, I'm not going to start ruling things in and out. But again, what we're looking there is humanitarian assistance and working with the U.N. and OAU to stop the violence and help all the refugees and others.
Q: Has you asked the OAU to send in African troops?
MS. MYERS: No, we're at this point discussing with the U.N. And I think any kind of contact with the OAU would come from the U.N.
Q: comment on the South African elections and the -- now that they're over, probably election of Mandela?
MS. MYERS: Obviously, the President is very encouraged by the results. The elections took place in a largely peaceful atmosphere. Literally, millions of South Africans went to the polls for the first time. I think later this week we'll have an announcement about additional aid to South Africa, and the President will announce his delegation to the inaugural. But I think we'll wait until the votes are finally counted before we make that announcement.
Q: Just to follow up on Rwanda. Is the U.S. only pursuing options to help Rwanda through the United Nations, or is the U.S. independently pursuing options where the United States would be some kind of broker of some kind of peace that doesn't go through the --
MS. MYERS: Assistant Secretary of State Shattuck and Ambassador Rossen will be there, as will personnel from our embassy in Tanzania will go down to make an assessment of what's happening along the border there, where there's been a tremendous influx of refugees. And there are literally hundreds of thousands, I think, of people on both sides of the border. Based on what they find, I think we'll continue to explore our options, which -- I wouldn't rule out some kind of unilateral -- not unilateral step, but some kind of American initiative. At this point we're working largely through the U.N., although we do have those U.S. personnel going.
Q: What did the President tell the Chinese Vice Premier that China needs to do if MFN is to renewed --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think the President said that the would like to see continued progress in the U.S.-Chinese relationship, but pointed out that there are human rights concerns based on the executive order he signed last year. They did discuss it.
Q: specific violations that you can tell us about?
MS. MYERS: I think that -- no. And I don't want to get into too much detail, but I think that the conversation was largely general.
MS. MYERS: Business-like.
Q: cameras or a pool in to take a look at this --
MS. MYERS: We'll release a White House photo today.
Q: Will you also release a White House photo of the meeting with the Dalai Lama?
MS. MYERS: We can do that if you're interested. We'll take a look and see what we have on that.
Was it drive-by or was it a drop-by? (Laughter.)
Q: Did they discuss -- nuclear tests?
MS. MYERS: No.
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: question was --
MS. MYERS: Did they discuss nuclear testing, and the answer was no.
Q: Does the U.S. have concerns about that? I mean, Japan has warned China against going ahead with -- nuclear tests.
MS. MYERS: We've had concerns in the past and we've expressed those. I don't know what the exact state is, and I'll have to check. But in the past, we've expressed our concerns to them. They are not a member of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We're observing, obviously, the test ban now. And yes, we have concerns about Chinese nuclear testing.
Q: Did they discuss Tibet?
MS. MYERS: I think generally, and it's clear to the Chinese that the President expects progress on the human rights and the conditions that he outlined in MFN.
Q: And it does include Tibet?
MS. MYERS: Yes, that was one of the five criteria.
Q: And North Korea -- did they discuss that?
MS. MYERS: I don't know.
Q: At the CNN event in Atlanta tomorrow night, what is the President's objective? Is there a particular message or focal point that he's going to be --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think it's an opportunity for him. He'll open up with some general remarks about foreign policy and then take questions from foreign correspondents from around the world -- or, is it international correspondents from around the world? (Laughter.) I think it's an opportunity for the President to talk about foreign policy, about American objectives abroad.
Q: Or is that international policy? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: That's right. (Laughter.) To talk about his international policy and an opportunity for him to take questions about the situation on the ground in a number of countries around the globe. So I think it'll be an interesting session. The opening remarks will probably go between 20 and 30 minutes, followed by an hour-plus of questions. The whole show is 90 --
Q: Twenty or 30 minutes?
MS. MYERS: That was the original proposal.
Q: Dee Dee, they're trying to get some people to watch here. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: You all should be happy, the rest of the network correspondents. It was --
MS. MYERS: Ratings, ratings, ratings.
MS. MYERS: How about the schedule for the rest of the week? Hey.
Q: Dee Dee, is he doing anything tonight?
MS. MYERS: Is he doing anything tonight? No more travel. Again, tonight he's meeting with a group of members of about a dozen members to talk about the assault weapons ban.
Q: Photo op?
MS. MYERS: No photo, closed, 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Q: Will you put a list out?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
MS. MYERS: Yes, these are all supporters. It's bipartisan, mostly Democrats, but there are a few Republicans.
Q: Why would he be meeting with supporters?
MS. MYERS: Because this is part of Congressman Schumer's whip operation. These are the people that are going to go out and help convince their colleagues that this is the important thing to do.
So tomorrow, he's here in the morning -- a series of meetings. Then he leaves at 10:20 a.m.
Q: What kind of meetings in the morning?
MS. MYERS: Just staff -- the usual -- intelligence, security briefings, scheduling meeting. He'll leave at 10:40 a.m., fly to Andrews, fly to Atlanta. And then he'll go the CNN Center, where he'll be greeted by Ted Turner and Jane Fonda, as well as Tom Johnson. Then he will attend a rally at the CNN Center, which will focus on jobs and economic issues -- that's 1:10 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Then he'll meet with some CNN folks and tour their studio. He'll go from there to the Carter Center, where he will meet with Governor Miller and then with former President Carter. There will be a photo op following the meeting with President Carter. That's at 5:10 p.m. in the Pavilion D Gardens at the Carter Center. Then he'll have some downtime, followed by the CNN World Report Contributors Conference from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., returning to the White House, scheduled to get here at about 11:15 p.m.
Q: at the Carter Center, right?
MS. MYERS: Yes, correct.
On Wednesday he a couple of meetings in the morning, then small business of the year announcement at 11:30 a.m. At 1:00 p.m. on the South Lawn he will sign the School to Work bill with Secretaries Riley and Reich.
Q: 1:00 p.m., did you say?
MS. MYERS: 1:00 p.m. Then in the evening he will drop by a fundraiser for Governor Ann Richards here in Washington at the Washington Court Hotel.
MS. MYERS: Unclear. It will either be closed or there will be an open for -- a pool for remarks.
Q: And if I could ask, is the small business of the year announcement a health care event?
MS. MYERS: These are health care-related businesses, yes.
Q: you invented --
MS. MYERS: Well, no -- (laughter) -- we're not against inventing awards, but this is something that's been, I think, going on for sometime. We did it last year, and I believe previous presidents have done it annually.
Q: small business health care award?
MS. MYERS: No, no, small business award. This year the focus is on health care businesses. But it's an annual small business of the year.
Q: What kind of businesses are these?
MS. MYERS: I don't have the list, but --
Q: They're all in the health care --
Q: provide health care for their employees --
MS. MYERS: There is a health care component to it. I think they're in the health care field.
Q: One other housekeeping. The pass -- the people work for the White House passes, is that all completed, finished? Where is that?
MS. MYERS: Everybody who was owing their paperwork has turned it in. That happened several weeks ago. The process of actually issuing the permanent passes was greatly sped up. We haven't checked on it, I think, in the last two weeks. The last time we checked I think it was about 75 percent of people had their permanent passes. And they were being completed at a pretty quick pace.
Q: Do you have yours?
MS. MYERS: I don't. I think my --
Q: You finished your paperwork, but you don't have your pass yet.
MS. MYERS: I finished my paperwork, and I believe that my FBI background check has been completed.
Q: You're safe?
MS. MYERS: If I'm not here tomorrow, you'll know why.
Okay, and then Thursday --
Q: Has Mack's been completed?
MS. MYERS: Mack's was completed quite awhile ago, yes. He received his hard pass, I think, a couple months ago.
On Thursday there will be a women's health care event at 11:00 a.m. Unclear where that will be. It will be open press. He will then drop by a Cinco de Mayo event at the Mexican Cultural Institute sometime in the evening.
On Friday, he'll have a breakfast in the Old Family Dining Room on health care, but that will be closed.
Q: Who are the guests?
MS. MYERS: Don't know yet.
He has an event with the Lake Superior Hockey Team.
Q: NCAA --
MS. MYERS: NCAA championship, Wisconsin didn't win this year?
And then he will have a meeting with the Prime Minister of Malaysia sometime in the late afternoon. That's it. And then Saturday, radio address, and I don't know if there's anything else on the schedule yet or not.
Q: Dee Dee, do you have any idea about commencement addresses this year?
MS. MYERS: He'll make at least two. He'll address the Naval Academy, I believe, it's May 28, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.
Q: Is he going to talk about cheating?
MS. MYERS: I don't think that will be the main topic of his remarks, no. That's, I think -- whatever that Saturday is, I think it's the 28th. And then June 13th at Gallaudet. And we'll probably do one more.
Q: When is that --
MS. MYERS: June 13th.
Q: Is he doing any -- today?
MS. MYERS: He does have a meeting today. I said earlier that he didn't, but he does -- this afternoon.
Q: On what?
MS. MYERS: Lloyd Cutler and the usual working group.
Q: Is he giving a commencement speech at Oxford --
MS. MYERS: It's not a commencement speech, but he is giving a speech.
Q: Is he getting a degree?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I think he is.
Q: Where is this --
MS. MYERS: Oxford. There will be three main speeches on that trip -- Oxford, Portsmouth -- no, one at the cemetery and one to the European -- French -- what is it? National Assembly.
Q: Once the House votes on the assault weapons ban, do you expect him to come out and say something about it somewhere live and --
MS. MYERS: I think it'll depend on what happens and when it is. I mean, I certainly wouldn't rule that out. That would be -- it's scheduled for Thursday if it goes forward as planned.
Q: Do you expect an announcement on the Supreme Court nominee as early as this week?
MS. MYERS: Sure, I wouldn't rule that out.
Q? Do you think it's likely?
MS. MYERS: I can't characterize it. I think it's just too hard to say.
Q: Dee Dee, since the President called this vote on the assault weapons a "lay-down, no-brainer," could you see him campaigning for somebody who opposed the assault ban?
MS. MYERS: I don't think he's going to issue any --
Oh, it has? The women's health event -- the President was scheduled for Thursday is apparently not scheduled for Thursday.
Q: Canceled --
MS. MYERS: Postponed, rescheduled, scheduling difficulties.
Q: So he's not doing anything all day Thursday, except a Cinco de Mayo party?
Q: Yes, what else has he got?
Q: So is that Supreme Court day or --
MS. MYERS: No, I wouldn't go that far.
MS. MYERS: It might be. Who knows?
Somebody asked me --
Q: Yes, no retribution --
MS. MYERS: I don't think that there's any litmus tests about, you know, it would depend on a number of --
END 2:30 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/269581