Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
12:36 P.M. EST
Q: That little bit of over $4 billion or $5 billion, a little bit -- $2 billion is nothing to sneeze over.
MS. MYERS: No, the supplemental is $6.6 billion. And then if you add the $900 million that we've already spent in contingencies is $7.5 billion. But I said simply that it would be above --
Q: You said a little bit.
MS. MYERS: Well, a billion here -- (laughter) -- okay, I thought that just there may be some passing interest in tonight's speech, so I would go through a little bit what you guys can expect just in terms of where he is in the process. The President met briefly with aides yesterday and then took the draft home with him to the Residence last night where he worked on it. He brought it back this morning. Those changes were worked into the existing draft. The President got back together with the speech team about 10:30 a.m. this morning, and as of the time we walked in here, he was still working on it with them.
I think he'll take a break midday, and then resume working on it this afternoon.
Q: What were the change? What were the areas?
MS. MYERS: I think he's just working through some of the lines. What were the areas of changes? I think that there have been a number of changes, and the draft has gone through a number of revisions. Let me just give you a little bit on the substance about what you can expect.
In tone, I think you can expect characteristically optimistic. I think the President will proclaim that the State of the Union is basically sound -- surprise. He'll begin by saying that, together with the American people and with the Congress that we made good progress last year, it was an impressive beginning, but that much remains to be done, that not everybody has benefited from the effects of the progress, and that we need to continue to work hard to continue to make progress in the coming year. I think he'll specifically point out some of the accomplishments, from reducing the budget deficit, cutting taxes for millions of low-income Americans, passing NAFTA, making college more affordable for all Americans, passing the Brady Bill, a number of other things that you've heard before.
In order to make sure that the impact of the changes are felt by everybody as this proceeds, he'll outline a plan of action to create more and better jobs in the coming year, guarantee health security for all, reward work, promote democracy abroad, and begin to
take on the issues of crime and violence, or continue to take them on, actually.
The President's first priority in this plan of action is continued economic renewal, which means reducing the deficit by making additional budget cuts, changing some of our spending priorities, cutting the size of government. He'll also talk about the importance of opening foreign markets to American products and services through initiatives like NAFTA and the GATT.
I think the President will also say that we need to continue to prepare our people through education and training, to seize opportunities that are presenting themselves in the changing world. This includes tougher standards for our schools, essentially Goals 2000, a national apprenticeship program and a system of reemployment rather than unemployment to deal with changing circumstances.
The President, as you have heard many times, also believes that we need to change welfare as we know it, and he'll talk about that. He'll also say that we need to work on -- we can't have comprehensive welfare reform without health care reform, and that we need to do both, and to do both this year.
He'll emphasize that there is, in fact, he believes a health care crisis in this country, and he'll talk at some length about his plan for addressing that, including and particularly emphasizing that what his solution provides is guaranteed private insurance for every American and a comprehensive package of benefits that can never be taken away.
He'll talk about foreign policy, of course, pointing out that if we're going to renew America at home, we must also renew our leadership abroad, and that in the wake of the Cold War we have a unique opportunity to include both our security and the security of other countries. He'll say that we'll continue to fight the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, expand market democracies around the world, and maintain the best fighting force on earth. I think he'll emphasize that we'll continue to support reform in Russia and work to bring the emerging democracies in Europe into the NATO framework through expanding economic opportunity and other things. I think he'll talk about crime. I think he'll emphasize his support for a crime bill this year that includes 100,000 more officers on the streets, more prisons for violent offenders, boot camps for first-time offenders, and a ban on assault weapons.
I think, finally, he will talk a little bit about values, about the need for us to take responsibility for our families, our communities and our country. Overall, I think it's a good speech, it'll probably run between 45 and 50 minutes. It could go somewhat longer. The word count as of this morning was somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 words. Again, there are a number of line edits taking place, so we won't have a final count or a final text, I'm afraid until shortly before air time.
Q: Will he be specific about budget cuts? You said - that he would talk about the need for more budget cuts. Does he have a figure and is it --
MS. MYERS: He'll have some figures which I'll leave for the speech. I wouldn't look for specific -- too much detail. I mean, again, this is more a thematic speech. But I think he'll touch on some of the goals and the achievements in the coming budget.
Q: This is the President that fought tooth and nail against Penny-Kasich, and now he's saying that he wants more budget cuts? Doesn't he have an obligation to tell people how many?
MS. MYERS: Of course, and we'll do that through the budget process. The budget, as you know, is due at the beginning of next month, and we'll certainly have a lot more to say about that as the process goes forward. But I think he will talk a little bit about both the amount of cuts that we achieved last year, which I believe was $255 billion --
Q: Yes, questions.
MR. LEAVY: Yes, we'll do that. We'll turn them back on.
MS. MYERS: Okay, lights back on.
Q: Is this plan of action a new jobs -- new series of jobs programs? Will this be new money, or just --
MS. MYERS: No, no. It's an overall comprehensive plan that includes all the initiatives that I just talked through. I think basically the President is striving for economic renewal, both at home, renewed leadership abroad and I think a whole series of initiatives that will achieve that objective.
Q: Does he plan to answer, specifically, some of his critics, and could you tell us if he plans to refer to his own troubles with Whitewater at all or any of the things --
MS. MYERS: No, this is not an address to his critics. It's a report to the American people on the progress that he's made in the previous year. They elected him, and I think this is an opportunity for the President to stand before them and tell them what progress we've made and where we're going in the coming year.
Q: And the Whitewater question?
MS. MYERS: -- don't expect that to be addressed, no.
Q: As the economy picks up steam, it's just a natural phenomena that there are increased wage and price pressures. Will Clinton, in this address continue to closely link his economic strategy with a low interest rate environment, and will Greenspan be sitting next to Hillary this time?
MS. MYERS: Don't have any final info for you on who will be sitting with Mrs. Clinton tonight. Certainly, he will make reference to the fact that as a result of last year's budget plan and economic forces that interest rates remain at almost record lows, and he'll talk a little bit about some of the other economic factors, from increased home purchases to things like that, that have resulted from both, I think -- well, we take some credit for the economic plan and the disciplined deficit reduction that have had a positive impact on the market, so --
Q: But is the tie between -- I mean, last year he really tied himself -- I mean, the whole progress was tied to the fact that we had lower than expected interest rates, and so I mean, are we --
MS. MYERS: He makes a reference to that. I think that the disciplined deficit reduction program and the budget that was introduced last year with the tight spending caps which we're living under this year have had an impact on the economy. And I think that the business community and most economists give the President some credit for that. So, yes, he'll mention that in his speech as part of the overall economic health of the country and part of the continued -- part of the reason that we're going to continue on the path that we started on last year.
Q: On the foreign policy side, is he going to discuss any more about Bosnia and his feelings about intervention?
MS. MYERS: No, this isn't an opportunity to expound on that.
Q: On crime, will he back the policy -- three felonies and life?
MS. MYERS: There's been a lot reported on that. I think it's best for me to leave that to the President tonight.
Q: On health care --
Q: But you're not contradicting what one of your colleagues said on the --
MS. MYERS: I would not contradict a senior policy advisor to the President.
Q: On health care, does he signal any new direction or emphasis, or any ideas on where he's going to compromise with all of the different other plans that are out there?
MS. MYERS: It's more of an opportunity for him to restate the goals and the needs for comprehensive health care reform to underline why he thinks this is so important and how his plan will address the crisis in this country.
Q: Will he respond to those who say there is no crisis?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I think he'll underscore the fact that he believes there is a crisis.
Q: Dee Dee, can you address the rather dramatic contrast between coming up with $7.5 billion for California in a matter of days and the difficulty the administration's had coming up with more significant assistance to Russia during their transformation process?
MS. MYERS: I think, as Director Panetta pointed out, that we have --
Q: the electoral votes as well? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: That this -- (laughter) -- the senior advisor to the President from NBC just answered that question. As Director Panetta pointed out, we do have in this country a tradition of taking care of disasters and supporting different regions of the country when they're struck by disasters, and there is, I think, precedent that allows us to spend that money outside the budget caps in case of a legitimate emergency.
Q: As Leon pointed out, you're still not ready with your welfare package. Is it a safe assumption that since you have health care, your health care plan is ready, that you're going to push this first and not wait for welfare, that you're not going to push them together, even though you want both of them done this year?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that certainly we are going to move ahead with health care right away in this legislative session. As you know, the President met yesterday with Speaker Foley and Majority Leader Mitchell to begin discussing the best strategy to move forward wit health care reform. He'll meet with other committee chairs and people in Congress as the week and the weeks progress.
I think we're in the process of finalizing a welfare reform plan. The President expects to have a comprehensive welfare reform program introduced sometime soon, and we'll push forward with that this year as well. And I think that one of the things the President will say is that you can't achieve welfare reform without health care reform -- that the two are inexorably linked, and that he expects to push forward with both this year.
As to the specific sequencing and timing, that's something that we'll work with Congress on.
Q: Do you have a little bit more precise time estimate as to when you folks may be ready to crank in welfare reform?
MS. MYERS: No, not yet. But soon.
Q: Tell me a little bit more about this plan of action. I didn't quite get it. Is it a new plan of training or what is it?
MS. MYERS: No. It is the series of initiatives on the economy from -- on education, on foreign policy, on crime, on health care, on welfare -- that define what it is this President wants to achieve in the country. And that is what he outlines --
Q: That's overall --
MS. MYERS: Right, overall.
Q: These are all previously announced --
MS. MYERS: Yes, these are all -- but together, these are previously announced initiatives or previously announced goals that together constitute a plan of action that I think will explain to the American people where the President wants to take the country.
Q: Will you get tough on Japan in this speech, given the fact that we've got talks going on across the White House. Will he talk about the possibility of redefining?
MS. MYERS: No. I mean, I think he makes the point that it's important to open foreign markets to American services and products, but I wouldn't look for anything more specific than that.
Q: Who will be responsible for putting the right text in the TelePrompTer? (Laughter.) Which White House official?
Q: Al Gore.
MS. MYERS: As you can image, I think David Dreyer has a particularly parochial interest in that issue. But I think that a new system has been worked out and we're hopeful. We have our fingers crossed.
Q: What is the new system?
MS. MYERS: It's fairly technical and I'm not sure I understand all of it, but it used to be that you could store things in the memories of the TelePrompTer. And one of the things that was stored in the memory of the TelePrompTer in September was the February 17th speech, and they were using it to check the screens to make sure that it was working. The TelePrompTer has nothing in its memory now so when -- there's only one document -- whatever is on the disk that is given to the TelePrompTer operator is the only thing that will ever be able to appear on the screen.
Q: Does anybody see any irony in the idea of a speech that is 5,000 to 6,000 words and expected to run 45 to 50 minutes and is going to be largely thematic?
MS. MYERS: Well, it's --
Q: It's characteristically optimistic.
MS. MYERS: It is characteristically optimistic and we'll have some themes running -- it is, what I guess I mean by that is that don't look for a 10-point plan, don't look for an announcement of a comprehensive welfare reform package, but I think --
Q: Because there isn't time, no doubt.
MS. MYERS: There isn't time. (Laughter.) We couldn't get to everything.
Q: Is he going to rehearse in the theatre?
MS. MYERS: Yes, he'll spend some time, I think, working through it. But I think his speech will be quite specific, and again it will include this plan of action which outlines a number of initiatives that he will move forward on this year. I think it will be a good speech, but I think you're going to really enjoy it.
Q: The theme of his values speech in Memphis was that government can't do it alone. Are you going to have all these programs drawn out and then say that same message, that government can't do it all?
MS. MYERS: I think the President will talk some about what government can do and then certainly make the point that government can't do it all. That if we're going to restore our families and bring our communities back together, people have to take responsibility. And that is something that he will touch on.
Q: Are there people anecdotes in the speech or in the galleries?
MS. MYERS: As of -- there were one or two in the last draft and I suspect that those will stay, so there will be one or two.
Q: Can you tell us where they're from?
Q: With people present?
MS. MYERS: Yes. I don't know whether the people will be present. I don't think so.
Q: Will you be able to tell us later this afternoon?
Q: You said he would not mention Bosnia or Japan? Any foreign country he mentions in the speech, maybe Russia?
MS. MYERS: Yes, he'll mention Russia and some other countries. It's just not an opportunity for him to redefine the policy on Bosnia.
Q: What's the ratio of foreign to domestic in the length of the speech?
MS. MYERS: I didn't count the pages.
Q: I know, but what would you estimate?
MS. MYERS: There's a fairly sizable passage on foreign policy and then it's also included in some of the other --
Q: Is it 25 percent foreign?
MS. MYERS: Probably. Maybe not quick the --
Q: Isn't it an attempt to report -- on his trip?
MS. MYERS: I didn't count the pages. It might not be quite that much, but there is a sizable --
Q: What was --
MS. MYERS: I hate to get into characterizing it because there are references to opening markets and it passes on the economy and that's, as you know, a primary objective of our foreign policy. And then there's a passage in the speech which, who knows what it's going to look like in six hours from now, but primarily dedicated to foreign policy that's quite lengthy.
Q: And is that in the nature of a report on his trip?
MS. MYERS: He touches on that about NATO and about what the objectives were of that trip. But he also talks about what it is that U.S. foreign policy is sort of seeking to achieve.
Q: Middle East?
MS. MYERS: Yes, a little bit.
Q: And in the context of Russia, does he deal with the setbacks to reform in recent days?
MS. MYERS: I think he'll reemphasize -- again, we're talking about the text here, and so there's plenty of opportunity for expansion upon the 5,000-6,000 word text. But he'll talk little bit about a little bit about our continued support for economic reform. But I don't think he'll get too -- again, this is not an opportunity to give a speech on Russia, specifically.
Q: Dee Dee, would preview Thursday for us?
MS. MYERS: Sure. Thursday the only --
Q: What about Wednesday?
MS. MYERS: Oh, yeah, let's do Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Tomorrow he's going to go to Kramer Junior High School, 17th and Q, Southeast. It's an inner city junior high school that has been adopted by the Secret Service, the Presidential protection detail here at the White House as a gift to the President and First Lady for Christmas. They decided to give community service in the form of adopting this school. And so the agents are --
Q: What are they going to do, guard it?
MS. MYERS: No. (Laughter.) But they'll be working with the students and I think giving presentations in class and perhaps field trips and other things to help those kids see an alternative career.
Q: You guys are so --
MS. MYERS: You are. It's shameful.
Q: This was a gift to the Clintons?
MS. MYERS: Correct. That they would adopt this school as opposed to giving them an, I don't know, an attache case or something.
Q: like voting.
MS. MYERS: Yes, exactly. (Laughter.)
Q: What time is that?
MS. MYERS: That's at 12:30 p.m. and it will be open press.
Q: Is he going to discuss the state of the union with them?
MS. MYERS: I think he will re-emphasize some of the themes of the State of the Union, about where the country is going and why these junior high school students -- seventh, eighth and ninth graders -- should care. That's the only open event, he'll have other private meetings and such tomorrow.
On Thursday at 10:30 a.m., he will go to an event at the GM plant in Baltimore; that is also open press. He'll helicopter up and then helicopter back.
Q: Afternoon or morning?
MS. MYERS: That's 10:30 a.m. in the morning. He wanted to make sure he got back in time for his weekly lunch with the Vice President. Wouldn't want to miss that.
Then he'll have some briefings and meetings in the office. At 7:00 p.m. he'll depart by helicopter for Piney Point for the House retreat.
Q: What time?
MS. MYERS: He leaves here at 7:00 p.m. and he returns at -- he's scheduled to return at 10:00 p.m.
Q: What's the GM plant subject?
MS. MYERS: The GM plant subject will be economic. I think it will focus on a lot of the economic themes, both worker training, lifetime learning, state of the economy, etc.
Q: What are the travel plans for both elements of that day?
MS. MYERS: It's pool and I'm not sure --
Dave, do you guys know? They'll be bused up?
MR. SELDIN: We'll have a bus to Baltimore, and Piney Point will be just the pool.
MS. MYERS: Is that -- are they going to be bused up?
MR. SELDIN: No, they'll be helicoptered up.
MS. MYERS: Okay.
Q: And the bus to Baltimore --
MS. MYERS: No, it's closed. Piney Point -- there will be buses to take the press to the GM plant event, which is open. So anybody who wants to will be able to take the bus to Baltimore. And the Piney Point event is pooled, so we will chopper the pool up with the President; but there is no coverage of that at all -- it's protective only.
Q: What time do we depart for Baltimore?
MS. MYERS: The press will depart probably around 8:00 a.m., because it's like an hour drive.
Q: Hey, let's start early. MGM -- (laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Right, it is the MGM bus service with no toilets and no heat.
Okay, finally, Friday at 2:00 p.m. he will meet with the mayors who are here for the National Conference of Mayors meeting. That is in the East Room; it is at 3:00 p.m. It's expanded pool -- I mean 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., I'm sorry. And that's the only, again, the only open event for Friday. Saturday he will do the radio address live and he's down for the rest of the day -- may go out that evening. Sunday he's down all day and then in the evening he has the closed National Governors Association dinner here.
Q: What about the Super Bowl? Will he be watching it?
MS. MYERS: They did watch the Super Bowl partly last year. We had Governor Richards -- the same teams last year -- and Governor Cuomo. So --
Q: Isn't the President -- he's a big Dallas fan.
MS. MYERS: He has been a Dallas fan for a number of years.
Q: Super Bowl --
MS. MYERS: I ain't getting into that one.
Q: Is he going to be --
MS. MYERS: It's true, it's the Arkansas connection.
Q: Dee Dee is he going to be interviewed during halftime or anything like that?
MS. MYERS: CNN Live, I believe. Just kidding. No. (Laughter.)
Q: Is the dinner open for coverage?
MS. MYERS: I don't -- let me see if it's on here. I don't think so. I think that's --
Q: It is.
Q: I want to know if he's doing an interview.
MS. MYERS: Yeah, he's doing a post-roundtable. Press unclear on the dinner. I think we did a photo of some part of it last year.
Q: What about watching the Super Bowl?
MS. MYERS: We did a photo of that last year, as well. I don't know if we let you guys in, or at least the White House photo let you in?
Q: Dee Dee, back to the speech, is he going to mention specifically APEC or hemispheric free trade or any of those newer initiatives?
MS. MYERS: Probably, but very briefly.
Q: There will be a text a few minutes before?
MS. MYERS: That's our -- that's generally how it operates. As he's standing, walking to the podium, we're frantically handing out almost-final versions.
Q: Oh, that close.
MS. MYERS: Yeah, I think if we can do it, we'd love to. And I think the speech was in pretty good form this morning, but it's -- yeah, it's a crapshoot.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:55 P.M. EST
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/269746