Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
1:16 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: Just one quick schedule addition. The President will go to Aberdeen, Maryland on Sunday morning, to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, to a chapel for a prayer service. It's an active AmeriCorps program on an active military base there, and we'll have more details of exactly the timing tomorrow, but that will be the first AmeriCorps event.
Q: Dee Dee, former Vice President Quayle said this morning that the President is simply planning an invasion of Haiti because it's in his political interest to do so and because he's being pressured by the Congressional Black Caucus. What is your response to that, and what is your response to reports that there is very little support in Congress from Dave Boren, from Dave Skaggs, from lots of Democrats who think this is the wrong move?
MS. MYERS: Well, first of all, there has been a consistent and longstanding U.S. policy towards Haiti, consistent through Democratic and Republican administrations insisting on democracy there, working both to see the Duvaliers leave there in the 1980s --
Q: But not a debating --
MS. MYERS: Well, I'm just pointing out there's a consistent policy that is in support of democracy and free elections in Haiti. That is something that goes back over the course of several administrations, including the one in which former Vice President Quayle served. You might remember at that time, Secretary of State Jim Baker said that the coup would not be allowed to stand. This again is longstanding U.S. policy. The President will continue to consult with members of Congress on this, to work closely with members of Congress, as he has throughout his administration. This is an issue that he's worked very hard on, and something that he started on very early.
But as we have said and consistently said, we are going to insist on the restoration of democracy and the return of President Aristide. Patience is wearing thin, the coup leaders' days are numbered, as Secretary Christopher said yesterday, and those coup leaders will leave one way or another. It's up to them now to decide how.
Q: Is he trying to do this to increase his standing in the public opinions polls, as Dan Quayle said?
MS. MYERS: That's ridiculous. The President has consistently said what our interests are in the region. Haiti is a close neighbor, we're very concerned about human rights abuses there, we're very concerned about seeing democracy in the Western Hemisphere. All countries there but two are operating with democracies; the two who don't have democracies are Cuba and Haiti. And we've consistently said we're going to insist on the restoration of democracy in Haiti.
We've seen a dramatic increase in human rights abuses there. This is something that the President's very concerned about. We've consistently said -- we've worked hard and closely, and exhausted a number of options. We began with the Governors Island Accord, we worked to negotiate with the coup leaders. They broke every promise that they made. Now we're telling them that they have to go; their days are numbered.
Q: Does the President think he has backing? I don't think that the American people are yet convinced that this is the right way to go. Or, are you? Do you have any showing on that?
MS. MYERS: Well, first of all, we are moving toward the end game in this policy. As you know, the President yesterday met with his top national security advisors and reviewed the status of planning. That planning is ongoing and the President obviously will be very much involved in this, as he has been throughout. We'll continue to work with Congress, there will be -- congressional consultations will be ongoing.
Certainly, when members come back next week, it's something that we'll be discussing with them. It's something that we've discussed with them over the course of this administration. We'll continue to work to build continued support for the President's policies.
Q: They won't have veto power over the President's policies?
MS. MYERS: Well, that's not how our system is set up. But it is important to the President that he work with Congress, which is why he's done that throughout this policy, not just on Haiti, but across the board on foreign policy. He believes that there ought to be outreach on both sides of the aisle, to Republicans as well as Democrats, and that's something that he'll continue to do.
Q: Does the President plan to make some kind of speech to the American people or to communicate with them?
MS. MYERS: I think the President will continue to try to communicate with the American people. Again, no decisions have been made. There were no decisions taken in yesterday's meeting, but our patience is wearing out and the patience of the international community is wearing out. The President will continue to make sure that the American people know what our interests in the regions are, as he has throughout this process, and he'll continue to keep them apprised of his plans.
Q: Will the President proceed with any of his planning in the absence of strong public support and strong support from Congress?
MS. MYERS: Well, the President's going to continue again to talk to the American people, to keep them abreast of what he's doing and to work with Congress. He's laid out what he thinks our interests are in the regions, he'll continue to talk about that.
He's laid out what our interests are in Haiti. And we're going to continue to move forward based on two things; one, consistent with our broad foreign policy objectives, which include a democracy, the protection of human rights, particularly in our hemisphere, as well as longstanding U.S. policy, which also has been very committed to establishing democracy and free elections in places like Haiti.
Q: But he is committed to -- your administration has said American forces will be in Haiti one way or the other? Would he proceed with that in the absence of strong support from Congress?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, we'll continue to work with Congress. Now, international -- a multinational force will be in there one way or another; this is consistent with international policy, with a U.N. resolution which does two things. The first thing it does is, it establishes a multinational force, led by the U.S., the function of which is to create a permissive environment. That would happen whether or not the coup leaders left voluntarily or involuntarily.
In other words, you could have a situation where the coup leaders leave voluntarily but there are still armed attaches and others, a multinational force led by the U.S. might go in at that point to create more permissive and more peaceful and orderly environment in advance of peacekeepers who would then come in also -- that's also outlined under U.N. resolution 940.
Q: Where is the President on the proposals that he set a deadline and send an emissary to Haiti to deliver that message?
MS. MYERS: Well, as you know, we've sent one very clear and consistent message to the coup leaders. They have to go. International patience is running thin. One way or another, they will leave power. I think that's been very clear. At this point we've set no deadline to the Haitian government. Obviously we'll continue to watch the situation closely. I don't think we're going to talk much about timing as this moves forward. The coup leaders there know what they have to do. They know that international patience is running thin. They know that one way or another they're going to have to leave power, and it's up to them now to decide how.
Q: Is patience running thin enough to do it before the congressional elections? Some have suggested, of course, waiting.
MS. MYERS: Well, I don't think that's a factor in this process. The President's going to make a decision based on what he thinks are the factors in Haiti. Again, human rights abuses have been continually increasing. That's something that we're concerned about. It's something the President has been concerned about since the very beginning of this administration. We have an interest in seeing democracy restored in Haiti. And the President's going to make decisions based on what he feels are the best interests of the American people.
Q: Could you confirm that William Gray and John Shalikashvili met President Aristide yesterday?
MS. MYERS: They did.
Q: And what was that meeting about exactly?
MS. MYERS: The ongoing situation in Haiti.
Q: What about the Korean meeting, Dee Dee? Do you have a read on that yet?
MS. MYERS: The September 10th meeting?
Q: No, the meeting today --
MS. MYERS: Oh, I'm sorry, it was -- I don't on the one with Foreign Minister Han. I'm sorry, I'll get back to you on that.
Q: Dee Dee, I have a question on Cuba. The talks have been interrupted -- went back to Havana? Is there any change in the U.S. position -- you will only speak on immigration, nothing else?
MS. MYERS: That's correct. No, there's been no change. As you know, the talks broke up -- or, I think, took a brief recess yesterday so that the members of the Cuban delegation could consult with their government in Havana. We're hopeful that those will resume soon -- possibly as soon as tomorrow. I think as soon as we can confirm that, we will. Sometime maybe later today we'll have a better sense.
Q: But no talk --
MS. MYERS: No, no change in the U.S. position. These talks are about migration issues only. We've made proposals; they've made counterproposals. They're now consulting with their government about our latest proposal. And as soon as we have confirmation about when the talks will resume, we'll let you know.
Q: I just wondered in trying to sort out where you're going on Haiti, you have said that it's time for them to go; that the United States is not going to stand for this any longer. They don't seem to be going; there's no indication that they're going. If there is an invasion, and what are you waiting for if you decide that there's nothing else can be done?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think at this point we're still -- we've pursued a very, I think, carefully calibrated policy that started with negotiations -- the Governors Island Accord -- which gave them every opportunity. And President Aristide lived up to all of his commitments under Governors Island. The coup leaders failed to live up to their commitments. At that point we imposed sanctions, which we're continuing to give time to work. There's no question that they've increased pressure on the coup leaders --
Q: So you're still giving the sanctions time to work, is what you're saying?
MS. MYERS: That's right. Our patience is not inexhaustible here. They know time is running out. It's up to them now. The ball is in their court. They can decide how to leave. But one way or another they're going to have to leave.
Q: Dee Dee, has the senior staff been told yet to expect personnel changes at that level? And if so, have they been told what changes to expect and timing?
MS. MYERS: No. Leon Panetta has said that no final decisions have been made. No announcements will come this week. He has not made final recommendations to the President. He's still working on that. As soon as we have a sense of when we have an announcement, we'll let you know.
Q: Can you sense any apprehension among your colleagues at the senior staff level?
MS. MYERS: Absolutely not.
Q: There are already reports of some of the changes. Are you fairly confident you will remain in your position?
MS. MYERS: I'm sorry, what? I was being distracted by people here in the front.
Q: There are already reports of some of the changes. Are you fairly confident you will remain in your position?
MS. MYERS: I think everybody who works here serves at the pleasure of the President -- from the most senior person down to the most junior person. That's a fact of life here in the White House. And I think each of us feels that we are here to serve to the President as long as he feels that it's useful. And those are decisions that only he can make. I think certainly Leon Panetta, who's the Chief of Staff will make recommendations to the President. But ultimately, I think it's up to the President. I will serve as long as the President feels that it's productive. And should he change his mind, I, of course, will respect that.
Q: Does the President think it was appropriate for the Justice Department to switch gears on this suit in New Jersey involving a woman who was fired ostensibly for affirmative action reasons?
MS. MYERS: Well, that's something that, of course, we followed. That is something that Deval Patrick has been working on. I quite frankly don't know what the President's view of that is. Let me take it. I'm just not sure.
Q: Has Gerry Adams --
Q: What about on term limits? The President supports the Justice Department's memorandum opposing term limits?
MS. MYERS: The President has generally said over the course of the last 10 years that he has some real reservations about term limits. Again, I don't know specifically with reference to the DOJ memo. But his position on this is something that he's talked about at great length over the course of the last several years. He does have some problems with term limits and believes that voters should have the opportunity to elect their leaders. But I will take it and see if we have anything more on that.
Q: Dee Dee, when Congress comes back next week and you kick it in until the break for the elections, what will the President be doing right away to try and put some energy back into the move for health care reform? Does he have something set up next week? Is he bringing people to the White House? Going there? Is there anything that you can tell us about trying to rejumpstart the health care debate?
Q: Reading the task force documents?
MS. MYERS: Andrea's been busy reading the task force documents. Certainly, this is something that there have been ongoing discussions at a staff level between the Mitchell-Chafee-Breaux and other staffs in the Senate. I think the President is waiting to see what the outcome of the Senate process is. Obviously, he saw Senator Mitchell earlier this week briefly. They didn't have a specific meeting on health care, but I think as Senator Mitchell told you all, and told the President, he's still optimistic that something can be accomplished this year. The President's view is, he wants to give the Senate process a chance to run its course.
He's still hopeful and believes that we can get something done this year. The Senate comes back briefly next week and then goes out again and then comes back. The President will do everything he can to facilitate health care as well as a number of other things.
As you know, the President will go to New Orleans tomorrow and address the National Baptist Convention. And then he'll have the Radio Address on Saturday. He'll go to Aberdeen in Maryland on Sunday. On Monday we'll kick off the AmeriCorps project here. On Tuesday, the President will sign the crime bill, and on Wednesday we'll do a Reinventing Government event. So I think over the course of the next week or so, you can look for the President to not only talk about legislative initiatives that are important to him and some of the successes that we've seen in the previous year, but also to tie those to the values that he's talked about throughout his presidency -- work and making work pay, family and the importance of strengthening families and communities -- how we can come together as a nation around the values that we share, how we can strengthen our communities.
So I think in the next week, that's what you should look for. At the same time, the President will be pushing his legislative agenda, which will include lobbying reform, campaign finance reform, finishing GATT, the Clean Drinking Water Act Superfund and a number of -- telecommunications reform. There's a number of legislative initiatives that we'll continue to pursue. And then, of course, there will be a lot on the foreign policy front, including the state visit of President Yeltsin. This month, -- President Mandela I believe is early next month, so that's kind of looking ahead to the next couple of weeks.
Q: Has Gerry Adams asked for a visa?
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of. He hadn't as of yesterday.
Q: News conference next week?
MS. MYERS: Certainly wouldn't rule it out. It's not scheduled right now, but again, the President said he'd like to do --
MS. MYERS: -- a news conference next week. There's no plans to, but I don't think we have everything in place for next week yet.
Q: And what will he do to start persuading Congress about his Haiti policy?
MS. MYERS: I think you can expect that there will be -- once Congress comes back, there will be consultations on a number of issues, including Haiti.
Q: Does he have a leadership meeting scheduled?
MS. MYERS: Nothing scheduled. I don't know if it will happen next week or we'll wait until everybody comes back the following week. But certainly there will be an ongoing dialogue with members of Congress, as there has been on this issue, beginning perhaps even before the members come back.
Q: I'm curious about the timing of the President's talking about values and strengthening the family and communities. Is it related in any way to blunt any impact of Dan Quayle's speech today?
MS. MYERS: No, absolutely not. His speech is at 3:30 p.m.? Is that right?
Q: Yes, but --
MS. MYERS: Is CNN carrying it live?
Q: I'm just curious -- (laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I'm just pointing out that the President has said in the past that there were many things that Vice President Quayle said two years ago that the President supports. These are themes that you know the President has been talking about not only during his presidency, but during his campaign for the presidency and during his tenure as Governor of Arkansas.
These are themes he'll continue to talk about. But I think in the wake of the passage of the Crime Bill, for example, the President thinks that's an incredibly important -- not only because of the specific programs, but as an expression of our national will to do something about this problem. Nonetheless, the President doesn't believe that legislation can solve all of our problems. And unless we take additional steps, that we come together to reward work and strengthen families and build our communities, that we'll never be able to solve problems like crime or improve our schools, or solve many of the other problems that this country faces.
So those are things that he'll continue to talk about, and I think he's talked very much about legislation, he's had a very aggressive legislative agenda over the previous 18 or so months, 19 months, and that's an important focus of his presidency, but there's more. And I think certainly talking about values and bringing people together on those values will continue to be something that he talks about.
Q: The president and administration seem to be going to great lengths to celebrate what you've done over the first 19 months rather than --
MS. MYERS: It's a lot.
Q: Wait a minute -- rather than calling the public and Congress to action on areas that you're still finding frustrating. Why have you shifted the focus now as we head into the fall campaign?
MS. MYERS: We haven't shifted the focus. I think it's important to do two things: one, you have to continue to press new initiatives. And certainly this President has done that more aggressively than any president I think any of us can remember. At the same time, you have to talk about what it is you've accomplished so that people know.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I remember waking up on Friday morning after the Crime Bill passed and reading headlines about health care. I don't know that all the American people know exactly what happened with the Crime Bill, and that's one reason why it's important for the President to talk about his accomplishments.
You can expect over the course of the next two months to hear a lot about the economy, about the fact that we've created 4.2 million new jobs, that inflation is low, that economic growth is steady, that there's more consumer confidence than there's been in a long time, and all the fundamentals are very sound.
I think you can expect that we're going to talk a lot about the crime bill and about the accomplishments of this administration, as well as about the things that we need to continue to work together to do.
But if the President and the people who are running don't talk about what they've done, nobody else will.
Q: Has the White House been notified about charges pending against Billy Dale, and will you comment on the --
MS. MYERS: No, it's something that's being handled by the Justice Department. I don't know whether there's any way that the Counsel's Office or anything is notified. I don't think so, but I can check. It's obviously something that we have no involvement in. I've read the same news accounts as everybody else, but beyond that we have no involvement and no comment.
Q: Dee Dee, have you heard anything further about these reports of the President visiting China and where they came from or --
MS. MYERS: No. When President Clinton and President Jiang met in Seattle a year ago -- almost a year ago -- President Jiang said -- sort of invited President Clinton to come, and the President said he's like to do that at the appropriate time in our relationship. There was no formal request coming or invitation that came out of Secretary Brown's visit or anything else. I think our position is the same -- at the appropriate in our relationship, that would be a good thing. But there's no plans at this point for a meeting or a trip.
Q: Any formal discussions or --
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: Is it not the appropriate time yet?
MS. MYERS: Well, there's been no invitation. And I think --
Q: Well, the appropriate time connotes more than just an invitation.
MS. MYERS: Well, I think -- I don't know. If an invitation were forthcoming, we'd certainly evaluate it, but there hasn't been one so -- nothing specific. There's been a broad invitation and there's been a broad suggestion that that would be a good thing.
Q: When I speak of appropriate time, is the administration satisfied with the current human rights record in China?
MS. MYERS: Well, we're going to continue to press China to do more on human rights; there's no question about that. We've made that very clear. And it's one of the things that Secretary Brown talked about on his trip. Assistant Secretary Shattuck was there as well. We'll continue to do what we can to facilitate improved human rights in China. At the same we'll pursue strengthened economic relations. But there's been no specific invitation other than the discussion a year ago in Seattle.
Q: Would his trip to APEC, for example, be an appropriate time for him to --
MS. MYERS: No. I mean, the parameters of that trip are already set. That trip is --
Q: So it can't happen then?
MS. MYERS: There's no plans for it to happen then.
Q: No plans.
Q: Does the President feel that China has made the progress on human rights that he said they hadn't made at the time he disconnected it from Most Favored Nation status?
MS. MYERS: Well, I don't think all the problems have been solved since the beginning of June.
Q: So they haven't reached that level of achievement.
MS. MYERS: Well, I mean, it's, again, I don't think all the problems have been solved in the last three months. We're going to continue to press them -- pressure them -- to do more to improve human rights. At the same time we're going to pursue our economic relationship with them. I think that was one of the things that the President made clear, and one of the ways that we expect to improve the human rights record in China is to reach out to them through economic policy, through investment, through opening of information and reaching out to the Chinese people. But that's not all. And we're going to do everything we can to press them to improve their human rights record. I don't think that we think all the problems have been solved, but we are making some progress.
Q: Is the President concerned that he seems to have no support for his foreign policy in terms of Haiti, granted the Republican opposition is louder? But also Pell and -- who else today -- Lee Hamilton wrote in The Post they really want the President to broaden the talks with Cuba and to get off the dime on this immigration alone business. And is he influenced at all? Is he concerned at all that the leaders -- his own leaders -- are opposing his policy?
MS. MYERS: I think that the President will continue to work with members of Congress. There will be many who support him on a number of issues. Not everyone will agree with him on every position that he takes, including members of his own party -- including members of his own party. But the President has made it very clear what his policy is toward Cuba and what his policy is toward Haiti. And we'll continue to pursue those policies.
At the same time we'll continue to work with Congress to reach out to members --
Q: The policies are status quo?
MS. MYERS: I don't think the policies are status quo. This is -- I mean, certainly the policy towards Cuba is part of a longstanding commitment by the United States government to democracy in Cuba and to improvement of -- I mean, democracy in Haiti and improvement in human rights in Haiti and the transition towards fair and free elections in Haiti. Certainly those are broad policy goals that this administration shares. If you want to call that status quo, so be it. But the United States government stands for democracy and free elections.
Q: But will the President be able to defend the loss of any American lives in Haiti?
MS. MYERS: I think the American government has long been on the side of democracy -- free and fair elections and human rights around the world. And I think that's something that we'll continue to stand up for around the world.
Q: Dee Dee, you said that you haven't really shifted focus on your domestic policy agenda, yet when the crime bill was in trouble, the White House lobbied intensively as it did with NAFTA. On health care reform it seems like the administration now is being very passive and just putting the ball in the Senate court. And are you just resigning yourself to taking whatever you get or just --
MS. MYERS: That's not at all -- that's not at all what we're doing. I mean, we're not resigning ourselves towards anything. We have done more, worked harder, pressed more for health care reform and progress on health care than any administration in the history of the universe.
Q: (inaudible) --
MS. MYERS: At the same time we've made tremendous progress. We wouldn't have bills in the House and the Senate if this President hadn't worked aggressively to do that.
Now, the particular point we find ourselves in is that there are negotiations going on in the Senate. That is the legislative process. The Senate is the appropriate body and the Congress generally is the appropriate body to make and draft legislation at this point in the process. We're going to let that process work. But the White House is fully -- remains fully engaged, as it has throughout this process. And the President will do whatever he sees fit to get this done.
Q: He doesn't -- at all by time constraints?
MS. MYERS: What's that?
Q: I mean, with an election coming up in a month, you're not concerned at all about --
MS. MYERS: Two months.
Q: two months.
MS. MYERS: No one said this was going to be easy. No one said that there was any guarantees of how this process would unfold. But this President has by no means given up on health care reform this year. Congress is not in session right now. There are discussions going on between Senators Mitchell's and Chafee's office. That's the appropriate place for action to proceed, and we're going to let that go ahead.
Q: Do you feel that up to today, is the President still committed to vetoing anything short of universal coverage?
MS. MYERS: There's been no change in the President's position.
Q: Does he feel at all that the momentum may have slipped -- the fact that health care wasn't done before the quasicongressional August break --
MS. MYERS: I don't think there's any particular deadline that guarantees success or guarantees failure. There's no way to be sure. The legislative process has a way of -- has a rhythm all of its own sometimes. But I think -- I would just remind everybody that this President has been told time and again that his legislative initiatives were dead, only to see them like Lazarus come back. So we're not willing to give up. The President certainly doesn't give us easily, as you know.
Q: Dee Dee, the President would not answer that question on veto anymore -- the question has been put to him on whether he would veto anything short.
MS. MYERS: All I can tell is there's been no change. We're committed to trying to get something done this year. The President hasn't given up.
Q: Can you give us some details about that meeting this morning between Tony Lake and the South Korean --
MS. MYERS: I was asked that question. I had to take it, because I don't have any.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:41 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/269716