Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
1:26 P.M. EST
MS. MYERS: The schedule for the rest of the week is still coming together. Tomorrow, the President will continue to do meetings on NAFTA. In addition, he will speak to a group in the OEOB, I believe, tomorrow around midday, and that will be the only public event on NAFTA.
Wednesday is still coming together. Thursday will be all veterans events. There will be a breakfast here in the morning, he'll make probably one or two stops, including a trip to Martinsburg, West Virginia to visit a V.A. hospital there. And on Friday, Prime Minister Rabin is here. They'll have a regular working schedule, including statements in the East Room. And there will probably be a NAFTA event.
The rest of -- I think Wednesday and Friday are still coming together, somewhat, and we'll have it for you as soon as we can.
Q: Why the focus now all of a sudden on organized labor and attacking them?
MS. MYERS: That's not the focus. The focus is on working to convince both members of Congress and the American people that this is in their interest, that NAFTA will create jobs and raise the standard of living on both sides of the border. That's what the President is spending his time today doing. He met with members today. He's having a dinner with members of Congress at the White House tonight. He'll continue to do that all week, including personal phone calls. Members of the Cabinet will continue to talk, both with members of Congress and the travel to talk about NAFTA. A full-court press is on as we get into the last nine or so days before the vote. But, certainly, the focus is on convincing people that this is the right policy and the right direction for the United States to move.
Q: The comments coming from the President, coming from the Secretary of the Treasury and from congresspeople leaving here today, have -- there's been a lot of focus on organized labor as the bad guy.
MS. MYERS: I think there's a lot of questions about organized labor, and I think what the Secretary said was that he doesn't doubt their motives, he thinks that they're sincere, but he thinks that they're wrong. I think that's been, certainly, the President's position. A number of members who support NAFTA disagree. We'll continue to work with labor on a number of issues as we have, but on this issue we just disagree.
Q: Dee Dee, does the President still have full confidence in his foreign policy team? And what can you tell us about reports that Tony Lake offered to resign? And does the President have any interest in taking him or anyone else up on the resignation?
MS. MYERS: No. The President has full confidence in his foreign policy team and in his entire Cabinet. And that's all I have to say about it.
Q: Just to follow up, what about Mr. Lake in particular?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to comment on that, other than to say the President has full confidence in his foreign policy team. He, I think, made the point yesterday quite well that on the big issues, in particular, he believes his team has done some important and extraordinary things. I think success with Russia, focusing on the economic elements of our foreign policy, nonproliferation, certainly the Middle East peace process there is going well. There are a number of areas where the foreign policy team and the President have had great success, and he expects that to continue.
Q: You grant that there have been calls for the resignations, that there is a story that he has been asked by Christopher to focus a little bit more on foreign policy, at least a meeting an hour a week and so forth. Is this true? And how does he feel about these calls?
MS. MYERS: I -- there certainly have been news accounts.
Q: And also, did he call Christopher and Aspin after his broadcast yesterday?
MS. MYERS: He's spoken to Secretary Christopher about a number of things not related to Meet the Press. Actually --
Q: Did he assure them of their place in the Cabinet?
MS. MYERS: I don't think it was necessary. Secretary Christopher actually called him to say he thought he did an excellent job on Meet the Press. And they spoke. I think the President -- of course, the President spends a lot of time dealing with foreign policy. That's not going to change. I think he will continue to focus on that. There may be a few more meetings from time to time on foreign policy. He consults regularly with Secretary Christopher, Secretary Aspin, Tony Lake and others. We'll certainly continue to do that. But he has full confidence in his team.
Q: But do you deny that Christopher asked for more time for the advisors to see the President?
MS. MYERS: I think the President's interested in spending time with his advisors and I think that there will be additional time for them to sit down and talk, but not perhaps in any kind of particularly formal once-a-week type of schedule.
Q: Dee Dee, why is the President surprised by organized labor's vigorous campaign on this issue?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that he's surprised. One of the things that the President has said is that he doesn't think that a yes vote on NAFTA should be used as a campaign issue against anybody. I think by inference that a no vote ought not to be used to target members, either.
Q: But did he feel that he had a commitment from them -- a personal commitment not to do this?
MS. MYERS: I think that he feels very strongly that NAFTA should be passed and I think that he has a disagreement -- I don't think that that's the issue. I think that he has a strong disagreement with labor on this issue. They're campaigning vigorously for their side, he's going to continue to campaign vigorously for his side. And for the next nine days I think it's going to be a pretty intense conversation.
Q: Dee Dee, if they're all wrong, why can't he get one labor -- or if he's right on this, why can't he get one labor group, main labor group to come on to his side?
MS. MYERS: I think there are some locals around the country that support and I don't know if we have the names of local unions that support NAFTA. But then there's a lot of individual members who support NAFTA and there were members of unions that were here. For example, on NAFTA Products Day there were people from labor businesses that were here supporting NAFTA. There are a lot of working people -- members of labor unions -- who have a lot to gain from NAFTA. Right now we export about 1,000 cars a year. If NAFTA passes, in the first year alone we expect it will be 60,000 cars a year. That means jobs.
The President believes NAFTA will create jobs. He thinks it's in the interest of working people. I think there are a lot of individual workers who support the agreement, and we hope that it will pass.
Q: Dee Dee, how is the Vice President getting ready for tomorrow night's debate?
MS. MYERS: He's reading, sort of buffing up on NAFTA. He's pretty familiar with all of its elements, and talking with members of his staff -- nothing too formal.
Q: Who's doing -- with David Letterman?
MS. MYERS: No. David Letterman will be here for the NAFTA briefing. No, he's -- no formal -- no one's playing Perot, nothing like that.
Q: Bentsen said that he's talking about GATT and foreign policy and leadership of America. But you, yourselves, have said that this has become a very kind of gut-level emotional issue and it seems that that's the kind of argument that you've been having trouble making. What do you tell a textile worker or a citrus worker or somebody in an industry that's threatened about why this is good for them? Those are the people who are fueling the calls and letters to Congress. What do you say to those people about why this is good?
MS. MYERS: Well there's been a lot of protections built into NAFTA to guard industries like citrus and sugar. Some of them are contained in implementing legislation, others are contained in the side agreements. It is the best interest of this country. The agreement will create more jobs and there's a worker retraining program that will help to focus on people who are dislocated, because there will be some dislocations. There will be some people who are adversely affected by NAFTA. I think that's something that we've tried to deal with all along throughout this process. But in the long-term -- and there will be specific programs to address some of their concerns, to help them train for jobs in a changing environment. Nonetheless, it is in the best long-term interest and it is in the interest of most Americans, the vast majority of Americans, to see this agreement pass.
Q: Is there anything new that this administration can tell members of Congress to sway support for NAFTA? And if not, how are you going to get the votes?
MS. MYERS: I think that as people become more and more familiar with it, including members, it is easier and easier to convince them to support it. I think that's one of the things the President has found. And I think he's making a number of compelling arguments, including the one Secretary Bentsen talked about. It's important domestically; it's important in terms of our engagement in the world and our role as an economic leader.
Q: How many did he talk to so far today?
MS. MYERS: Not that many so far today. These are small meetings and the dinner tonight will be a little bit larger.
Q: How many?
MS. MYERS: I think it's about 15. Can we release a list of the dinner? We'll post it later.
Q: Are they undecideds tonight?
MS. MYERS: Yes, these are all undecideds.
Q: Republicans and Democrats?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I believe so.
Q: Two questions, related. Did the President speak with Secretary Aspin after the show yesterday?
MS. MYERS: No. Secretary Christopher called the President.
Q: I understand, but --
MS. MYERS: He did not speak with Aspin.
Q: But that was -- in answer to the question about he called Christopher -- and I thought I might ask the other one. And can you tell us which of the critics he might have felt were not unfair? He said some of the criticisms were fair -- or unfair, rather. Which ones were not?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to get into --
Q: Is there any criticism that he accepts on the foreign policy team?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to get into that.
Q: Yesterday, the President again very firmly said that North Korea cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear bomb. In connection with the North Korean threat, is the President considering beefing up the U.S. military presence in South Korea?
MS. MYERS: I'll have to take that question, whether there are any specifics -- I don't know of any specific plans to add additional troops. We're certainly discussing team spirit exercises with the South Koreans. I'll look into it and see if there's any more for you on that. I don't believe there is.
Q: Because there have been recent reports, as you know, that the North Koreans have moved larger numbers of their troops closer to the South Korean border, and I'm just wondering to what extent serious thought is being given to strengthening the U.S. military presence there.
MS. MYERS: Yes. I'll take that question. But obviously, this is something that -- we're concerned about the entire situation and we'll continue to work with our allies to put pressure on the North Koreans to live up to their international obligations.
Q: Can you explain why it is that the President can't say that Christopher and Aspin are secure in their jobs?
MS. MYERS: I think he did say it. He --
Q: No, he specifically said he didn't want to answer that question and then he said it's a personnel matter.
MS. MYERS: Right. The President has full confidence in his entire Cabinet. He's not going to sit there and go through on a person-by-person basis. He has full confidence in his Cabinet, including his foreign policy team, period.
Q: Does he expect to make any changes in the composition of his foreign policy team?
MS. MYERS: I expect at some point during this administration there will be changes.
Q: Sooner rather than later?
Q: Anytime soon?
MS. MYERS: He has full confidence in his foreign policy team.
Q: But that's not --
Q: He wouldn't say that on the air yesterday.
MS. MYERS: I think you guys are misinterpreting a little bit. He, I think, didn't want to get into personnel and I think he was a little disappointed that it was interpreted differently than he meant it. And --
Q: How did he mean it?
MS. MYERS: What he meant was he didn't want to get dragged into personnel discussions. It's something that he's tried to avoid -- something he tried to avoid as Governor of Arkansas; something he's tried --
Q: Well, he could have said I full confidence, and he didn't say that.
MS. MYERS: I think that he tried not to get drawn into a personnel discussion. But he does have full confidence. And, again, I think he was disappointed that it was interpreted as otherwise.
Q: A follow-up on Leo's question. Is the United States considering a deal with North Korea that we would recognize them in exchange for a resumption of an IAEA monitor?
MS. MYERS: No. We expect them to live up to their international obligations as is. We have a number of concerns with North Korea, particularly nuclear and nonproliferation issues. And we expect them to live up to their international obligations. We're not talking about any deals.
Q: You're not talking about recognition?
MS. MYERS: No, we're not talking about any deals. But we do expect them to live up to their obligations.
Q: What about -- you mentioned team spirit. Are you considering suspending that?
MS. MYERS: We're in dialogue now with the South Koreans about that, and I'll check and see if there's any more on it. I don't think there is.
Q: What about economic sanctions on North Korea? You said that if the inspection program was not resumed that would be the next step.
MS. MYERS: Right, that's something that we're looking at.
Q: It has not been, so at --
MS. MYERS: It's something that we're looking at and discussing with our allies in the region and with China -- China and Japan.
Q: How about Somalia and the troops? Are they still going to patrol the streets in view of the Aideed warning?
MS. MYERS: When the President announced the mission of the troops in Somalia, there were a number of things protecting U.S. forces, keeping open the lines of communication and the lines of supply. That remains the mission, and the U.S. forces there will continue to fulfill that mission. We're in dialogue now with the Somali leaders of the factions to discuss ways to make sure that that happens, that the supply lines, the roads, the communications lines are open. And we'll continue to pursue that.
Q: Will the soldiers walk -- wait.
MS. MYERS: We're going to continue to fulfill our mission there in keeping those supply lines open now. We're talking with them about it, and we're hopeful that we can get this -- so this can continue to be resolved.
Q: Are we retreating on the policy from last week --
MS. MYERS: Absolutely not.
Q: that was announced that they will take over the streets again?
MS. MYERS: They will keep the supply lines open, the communication lines open. That's the mission, and we expect that they will do that.
Q: Dee Dee, the President has said on a number of occasions, most recently yesterday, that one of the reasons the Rangers took so many casualties was that they didn't want to leave the field of battle without their dead. Does he feel that was ill advised?
MS. MYERS: That is the Ranger ethic, and I think something that -- an ethic that he finds admirable.
Q: He doesn't think it was lack of armored support or any problem with the --
MS. MYERS: I think that that's something that the Rangers have acknowledged, is that they went back to protect the body of a Ranger pilot who was downed. There were a number of factors, and I don't think the President wants to get into second-guessing the decisions of the commanders on the ground.
I think what he meant to do yesterday was to express his gratitude and admiration to the soldiers who fought there, and certainly those who lost their lives.
Q: Dee Dee, has the President talked to any labor leaders today, or has anybody else -- Mack or any other senior officials?
MS. MYERS: The President hasn't. I don't know whether Mack or others have. There's, as you know, constant dialogue between the White House and members of organized labor on various issues. I don't know whether anybody has talked directly.
Q: And how about yesterday? Did he call anyone at the AFL --
MS. MYERS: No, the President didn't. I imagine there were other discussions going on yesterday, though -- both ways.
Q: Dee Dee, two questions on the debate. One is, can you tell us who the lead aides are in the debate prep for --
MS. MYERS: Well, Jack Quinn is the Vice President's Chief of Staff.
Q: And is Rahm Emanuel --
MS. MYERS: No, I don't think Rahm has been spending much time on it today. He may spend some time if the Vice President asks him to. But it's something that's being handled by the Office of the Vice President, and Jack Quinn is the lead person.
Q: Exactly what do you hope to accomplish, are your highest hopes tomorrow night?
MS. MYERS: I think tomorrow we hope to talk about the facts. This is the case of the facts vs. fear. The Vice President's, I think, going to talk about the issues about what the country has to gain, and I think try to hold some of the arguments of the other side accountable.
Q: Is the President going to watch?
MS. MYERS: I think he probably will.
Q: Don't you think it's kind of hard to -- sometimes people had trouble getting Perot to be specific.
MS. MYERS: I think it'll be an interesting exchange. Perot -- he's the master of the one-liner, he's great at the quip. But 90 minutes is a lengthy forum. There will be calls from listeners, as well as questions from Larry King.
Q: Is George Stephanopoulos going to call in?
MS. MYERS: Not if Ross Perot's lucky. (Laughter.)
Q: What's the worst thing that could happen?
Q: What about Tipper?
MS. MYERS: Tipper. Yes, probably. (Laughter.)
Q: What's the worst that could happen?
MS. MYERS: I'll leave that for your very vivid imaginations. (Laughter.)
Q: Are you really reducing this to one-liners? I mean, what the debate is going to be like, you know, like, who can top --
MS. MYERS: That's not -- I don't think that's the Vice President's objective. I think what he wants to do is talk about the facts, about how NAFTA is going to benefit the American people, how it's going to create jobs. But I'm sure there will be some moments where that's more difficult than others.
Q: I'm curious about the Vice President's decision not to engage in the traditional debate prep, which is to have a debate against somebody playing an opponent. Why is he not doing that, and are he and Jack just sort of sitting around and shooting the bull about NAFTA all day long, or what's he exactly doing?
MS. MYERS: I think it's sort of informal. First of all, this is not a formal debate. I think the atmosphere is intentionally somewhat less formal. It's being called a debate but really it's a conversation with Larry King and questions from listeners that we hope will provide an opportunity to talk in plain English about what NAFTA means for the American people, and how it will affect people's lives. We're hopeful that that's what will happen. The Vice President is very familiar with the subject matter. We're talking about one issue which he knows backwards and forwards. I think that he just wants to make sure that he knows the specifics, going over them one more time, talking a little bit about what some of the arguments on the other side have been, I think what some of the misinformation that's been put out is.
But this isn't a formal debate that could cover 90 subjects, it's an hour and a half on Larry King to talk about NAFTA.
Q: Is he reviewing tapes or transcripts of Perot on NAFTA?
MS. MYERS: I don't know the answer to that. I think he'll probably review some transcripts or at least take a look at the arguments that Perot has made. But I don't think -- there won't be anybody playing Perot, playing Larry King.
Q: Has he read Perot's book?
MS. MYERS: I think he's familiar with -- I don't know if he's read the book, but he's familiar with a lot of the points in the book. And he may be briefing, sort of buffing up on that as well.
Q: Well, Perot said he could bring some spinmeisters with him to help him, and some speechwriters, and quips.
MS. MYERS: I'll just leave that one alone.
Q: In 1984, Ronald Reagan was perceived to have soundly lost a presidential debate by being too informed on the issue. How concerned are you that the Vice President may be too informed in this confrontation?
MS. MYERS: Again, I think that we want this to be an opportunity to talk about the facts. But I think the Vice President intends to talk about it in language that was relevant to people, that will talk -- that will help them understand how it's going to affect their lives.
Q: Dee Dee, can I ask you about the choice of the format? CNN is available to those who have cable. I don't know, maybe Wolf can tell us the percentage,
Q: but I don't think it's the majority of Americans. Are you concerned that a lot of people aren't going to have the opportunity to even tune in and hear what the Vice President has to say?
MS. MYERS: Well I think a lot of homes do get CNN. Certainly you pick a venue whenever you're doing a news program. The President did Meet the Press yesterday. You choose your --
Q: That's not my point --
MS. MYERS: Yeah, I'm not sure the networks were interested in carrying -- I don't know, we didn't check with them -- but I'm not sure a prime-time NAFTA debate was something that they were going to blow an hour out of their shows on sweeps week for anyway.
Q: Is the President contemplating an address -- televised address to the nation in the next few days on that?
MS. MYERS: I think that's unlikely. But we will, as you guys may have seen, we're doing CBS Eye to Eye with Connie Chung, the crew's around here this week. We did NBC yesterday. We're looking for a number of opportunities to talk directly to the American people directly about this, but I would steer you away from the Oval Office or anything.
Q: How about us?
MS. MYERS: We talk to you guys all the time.
Q: Dee Dee, the Kerrey Commission that was established last week -- is everything on the table as far as -- including Social Security? And what do you have in mind when you talk about meeting to reform the tax system?
MS. MYERS: Well I think the members of the Kerrey Commission will be appointed sometime in the next two weeks -- I think they asked for a little extra time. And I think once the members of the commission are in place, there will be a little more discussion about their specific mission. But I think they're going to look at the entitlement system across the board.
Q: What about tax reform?
MS. MYERS: I'm not sure specifically what that mean. Certainly, things like EITC and things that are compatible with entitlements are important.
Q: The President now has made a special point not once but twice in recent days that the idea of the NAFTA debate came from the Vice President. Is this kind of preparing a little alibi in case this thing doesn't get the desired results? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: No, I think it's a simple statement of fact. The Vice -- the President's enthusiastic about it. I think he looks forward to it. The Vice President wanted to do it and the President supported him in that.
Q: But the President hasn't accompanied that comment of his by saying that he thinks the debate is a grand, marvelous idea. Has his endorsement of the idea been a little bit on the tepid side?
MS. MYERS: I'm not sure that anybody has really looked for the President's endorsement of the idea. The event is going forward tomorrow night. The President thinks the Vice President's going to do a good job and he looks forward to it.
Q: He has full confidence in his Vice President?
MS. MYERS: He has full confidence in the Vice President. (Laughter.)
Q: Right up there with the foreign policy advisors.
Q: Why didn't he say that yesterday? (Laughter.)
Q: Dee Dee, Does the President's straightforward criticism now of organized labor leaders for putting out misinformation and for, in fact, threatening members, does that apply to House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt and Democratic Whip David Bonior who are putting out -- information?
MS. MYERS: Well I'm not sure what the President said about misinformation. I thin his comments stand for themselves. There's a disagreement here between labor and the President and some of the members of Congress. We disagree on this and we'll work together on other issues -- simple as that.
Q: Is the President considering a position in the administration for Mayor Dinkins and perhaps in the diplomatic corps?
MS. MYERS: I don't know, I'll have to take that. I don't know whether there have been any conversations with Mayor Dinkins.
Q: Labor was very angry about these attacks. Is there any worry that this could escalate into alienating a very important constituency?
MS. MYERS: I think, again, there's disagreement on this issue, but were going to work very closely with labor on other issues where there is a common agenda, like health care reform. And I think the President has worked closely with labor over the last ten months and over the last ten years, certainly, as governor of Arkansas, and I don't expect that that will change.
Q: Dee Dee, is Clifford Ward on the way out as Deputy Secretary of State?
Q: Full confidence.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END1:49 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/269158