Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
5:02 P.M. EST
MS. MYERS: -- (in progress) -- we're not currently planning to do an op. That's all I have to report.
Q: How long --
MS. MYERS: However long it takes. I would assume it would go at least an hour.
Q: Are you going to -- come in this way, or are you going to sneak him in the back?
MS. MYERS: We're going to sneak him through the underground passage. No, I don't know which way they're coming in. I assume they'll come into the front, as have all the other congressional members who have met with the President today.
Q: More importantly, which way will they go out?
Q: -- Aspen and Christopher.
MS. MYERS: Oh, did they --
Q: -- Southwest Gate.
MS. MYERS: Most of them -- most of the members have come in through the front, and I haven't consulted them about their planned routes of entry.
Q: What's the goal? Can you make them available at stakeout afterwards, so that's --
MS. MYERS: I suppose that's up to them. I think we'll have to wait and see what the results of the meeting are, but --
Q: What is the goal, Dee Dee, of the meeting?
MS. MYERS: The goal is to continue to consult on lifting the ban on gays in the military.
Q: Do you have a reaction to Nunn's speech today? He did not seem to back off at all from his opposition to your plan.
MS. MYERS: Well, I think he -- but he did say that he intended to hold hearings, that he was committed to holding hearings. He promised Senator Moynihan that he would hold hearings before the controversy; that he said those hearings would certainly have the ability to change his mind; that he was not against stopping, asking the question about whether or not people are gay on military applications; and that I think the implication is that he's willing to go forward with the process and to work in consultation with the administration to get the questions answered. He raised a lot of, I think, important questions, and I think the process will be about trying to answer those questions.
Q: Well, it sounded like he was asking you not to do anything until he holds those hearings.
MS. MYERS: Well, part of what -- the President's obviously going to announce his policy on this soon. The policy will create a framework for continued consultation. I think there are a lot of very serious questions that need to be answered. And I think what the President wants to do is make sure that people, both military and congressional leaders and others, have a chance to input into the process and address those questions.
Q: Also, other senators, like Senator Cohen, got on the floor and said they were anxious to vote on amendments that would pretty much reverse President Clinton's order on lifting the ban on gays and attaching those to whatever piece of legislation comes along. What's -- has the President reacted to that? What's your reaction?
MS. MYERS: No, I mean, obviously we're trying to avoid any kind of battle on this in Congress. I think that's why we spent today -- the President spent today and Secretary Aspin spent the day in consultation with members to make sure they know that their concerns will be addressed and they'll continued to be addressed throughout this process. There are a lot of serious questions that need to be answered. The President recognizes that.
Q: Do you still expect to go ahead with this tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: I think it should happen by tomorrow, yes.
Q: Can you give us any idea of what time tomorrow -- a.m., p.m.?
MS. MYERS: No final decision has been made on when or how.
Q: -- he's going to Marshall's funeral tomorrow, is he not, which is at 11:00 a.m.?
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q: So that pretty much --
MS. MYERS: I believe that's at 11:00 a.m., right?
Q: That ties up the morning, does it not?
MS. MYERS: Of -- well, 11:00 a.m. I think we'll just have to wait and see. I mean, I think we'll wait and see what happens at the meeting at 6:00 p.m. and make a decision following that meeting.
Q: Were Republicans asked to come to this meeting or were they not asked to come --
MS. MYERS: No, I don't believe so, just Democrats.
Q: Do you know why that was, or --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think he wants to continue to work with Democratic leaders on it.
Q: Does he not want to work with Republicans leaders on it?
MS. MYERS: No, but I think for this particular meeting he wants to meet with the Democrats on the committee. And Senator Nunn will be there as well.
Q: Dee Dee, you said that the announcement would create a framework for continued consultations. But will the end result be foreordain?
MS. MYERS: Well, the President is committed to lifting the ban on gays in the military, on the basis of orientation. And I think he's been very clear about that. The question is -- what he's said all along is he wants to continue to work with military and congressional leaders to do that in a way that is not disruptive and that continues to protect morale and integrity issues that are unique to the military.
Q: Some folks on Capitol Hill say that that's the problem, that if the result is foreordain, then that starts the fight, that there will be a floor amendment and you've got an early showdown on this issue --
MS. MYERS: Well, we're working with people on the Hill, with members of Congress, to try to avoid that. But the President has made his position clear. He intends to move forward with lifting the ban.
Q: Is he going to tell them, is he going to inform the Democrats in the Senate Armed Services Committee, in tonight's meeting, that he's going to make an announcement tomorrow, and what will be in it? Will he go into detail about what he will say tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: I think it'll be a two-way conversation. I don't know whether they'll work out specific details of when and how the announcement will be made. I assume it will come up.
Q: Is this a notification meeting?
MS. MYERS: It's part of a two-way conversation. I mean, I think that it is -- the President has made it very clear what his intention is in this. But he wants to work with Congress. I think he's gone -- he's really taken -- made a great effort today to reach out to them and to continue to consult with the members, to invite them here this afternoon to have one final conversation on this before he says anything about what his policy is.
Q: How did he make a great effort to reach out?
MS. MYERS: I think there have been numerable conversations between the White House, Secretary Aspin and members of Congress, both today and yesterday, phone calls. This is the second meeting with congressional leaders. There have been meetings on other topics, but there's been a lot of contact back and forth on this.
Q: Did he make any modifications to his policy?
MS. MYERS: I think that there's been a lot of input into this. And I don't know of any specific modifications. I'm not saying that there aren't any, I just don't know of any specific modifications. But I think that there will be plenty of time to continue to have input into this.
Q: Are you still looking at the two-step plan that's been widely discussed?
MS. MYERS: The President will announce his policy, but I would say that's not far off.
Q: Dee Dee, let me ask you this question. What Sam Nunn, at least the way I heard him say it, he's asking the White House not to do anything yet; let there be this cooling-off period for him to hold hearings; and then some months down the road when they can answer these questions systematically, then the White House can do what it wants to do; and then those members of Congress, if they want to seek legislation, they can do what they want to do. Will the President do anything tomorrow that changes the status quo on how the U.S. military deals with homosexuals?
MS. MYERS: Without announcing the President's policy for him, and without putting words in Senator Nunn's mouth, I think the Senator said -- and I don't have a transcript in front of me, so I will refer you back to that -- but I think he said he wouldn't have any problem if the military stopped asking questions about status.
Q: Dee Dee, all this concern about status and orientation, minus conduct, is the President not really saying it? And you all have declined to address the issue of conduct, at least from the podium, leaving that for tomorrow or later. But it is presumed the President will not deal with that until later -- that will be a part of the overhaul of the military's code of conduct. Is it not somewhat less than ending discrimination against gays in the service to say the ban is dropped based on status, what you say -- what a person declares his sex -- his or her sexual preference to be -- we're still thinking about conduct and homosexual and heterosexual conduct may in fact be treated differently?
MS. MYERS: But I don't think any of those decisions have been made yet. I think that's what -- those are among the complicated and difficult decisions that have to be made. I think there's always been a code of conduct. I think they call it Standards of Behavior in the military that are different than those in civilian life. And there are a lot of things that, I think Senator Nunn pointed out, that there are standards of behavior in the military that are very specific. And how you go about integrating homosexuals into the military and creating a standard of conduct or what have you that is workable is a complicated question, and I think one that will be addressed in the coming weeks and months.
Q: Then let me follow that by asking if the President has made a personal decision -- whether or not it's a part of policy he'll lay out tomorrow -- about whether homosexual conduct should be treated differently in the military.
MS. MYERS: I think that that is part of what has to be explored. I think the President wants to continue to work with people to address their concerns and to look at all sides of the issue before he makes a decision on that.
Q: Do you know whether he knows himself personally, though?
MS. MYERS: No, I think he's -- I think that that's part of what this process will be about -- is addressing complicated questions like that.
Q: Dee Dee, you've said that this would be a -- the announcement will include a framework for continued consultations and then you said the two-step plan is not far off. Would you describe tomorrow as -- tomorrow's policy as a first step, a preliminary step, something like that?
MS. MYERS: He'll outline his policy -- it will not be -- I think it's the beginning rather than the -- I don't want to overcharacterize, but I would say that it -- it's not -- it will not be -- it will not answer every single question. It is not intended to answer every single question about conduct and behavior. There needs to be additional consultation, and I think it will take more time for all the questions to be worked out.
Q: But it will do something or will it just be a framework for consultation?
MS. MYERS: I think you'll have to wait -- it will -- he will take some action tomorrow.
Q: -- from what you said that the President does not have very many answers to all these questions, that a lot remains to be worked out. Why is he then going ahead with even step one at this point? Why not wait until he can answer the question?
MS. MYERS: Well, because that's what the process is about, answering the questions. You have to start before you can end. And I think tomorrow -- I mean, what he said he would do is to action with this quickly and to move toward ending the ban on gays in the military based simply on orientation. That's what he will do, and you'll have to wait and see what the details of his policy are, but I don't think anyone should expect that all the questions will be answered tomorrow.
Q: The military is currently processing several people for discharge because they have been identified as homosexuals. Will the action tomorrow address that question -- what happens to those pending cases?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I'll have to get back to you on that.
Q: Dee Dee, has some question, ethical question, been raised about members of the administration attending tonight's Congressional dinner?
MS. MYERS: I think that we're all going through a process of ethics orientation right now. As you know, the President is very committed to high standards. And all new staff members are required to go to an ethics orientation. In fact, I'm late to mine now, but I think there was some question about interpretation of that, and I think it's being reevaluated.
Q: You mean that -- will members of the administration be allowed to go to the dinner tonight? I mean --
MS. MYERS: I think so, yes. I think so.
Q: Is he going to the dinner tonight?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe so.
Q: Is he going -- for those of us who are designated poolers, is he going anywhere tonight?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe he has any travel plans tonight, but I always leave that caveat open. No, obviously we'll put a lid on as soon as we can.
Q: There's a pretty widespread rumor that Roberta Achtenberg is going to be appointed to a position at HUD. Is that true?
MS. MYERS: I can't comment on that until an announcement might be ready.
Q: There have been suggestions by some that the President does not fully understand the feelings of the military on this issue -- on the gay issue -- because he did not serve in the military. Would the President disagree; and is that relevant?
MS. MYERS: I think he would disagree. I think he's had a number of conversations with people, starting with Colin Powell, several days after the election. He's talked to a number of people throughout this process as have members of the staff. I think he's well aware of people's feelings, and I think he's sensitive to them. But I also think he believes that it's never easy to make progress on civil rights issues; that this was going to be difficult; he knew it would be difficult when he made the decision to overturn the ban. And he's still committed to moving forward with it.
Q: Dee Dee, what's he planning on doing tomorrow besides the Marshall funeral and maybe action on this?
MS. MYERS: He'll have -- I don't believe he has any other public events on his schedule.
Q: What issues is he going to be working on? Attorney general or --
MS. MYERS: I'm sure he'll spend some time on Attorney General. He'll spend some time on domestic policies, some time on economic policy. He's spending --
Q: National Security Council?
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of.
Q: And you would expect him to have no sort of public meetings with the possible attorney general candidates, is that correct?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I don't know of any that are on his schedule right now.
Q: Any news conferences scheduled in the near future?
MS. MYERS: Nothing scheduled, but we'll have one soon.
Q: This week?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. Probably not.
Q: Ronald Reagan used to say that, too. (Laughter.)
Q: Would say that the Joint Chiefs at this particular -- would you say at this particular point that the Joint Chiefs are happy or satisfied, let's put it that way, with the two-step process?
MS. MYERS: I don't want to characterize their opinion about this process, but I do think that they had a good meeting with the President; they felt that he listened to them; that they had a meaningful exchange; and that they'll continue to be consulted in this process. So I think that they're satisfied with the level of communication. And I think that they'll be consulted throughout this process.
Q: Who's idea was it to make it this sort of process or was that. I mean, did this come from the military, this two-tracked approach, or --
MS. MYERS: I think there have been a number of people who have contributed to this. And I think they've -- the President has taken opinions from every -- ultimately, it's his decision. But he has entertained advice and counsel from a number of people in Congress, in private life, in the military on this.
Q: Dee Dee, how much has the content of his announcement on gays in the military changed as a result of all of this consultation in recent days with the military and the Congress?
MS. MYERS: I think that certainly he hesitated or waited to make final decisions on things because he wanted to make sure the people had a chance to input, and his goal is still the same. I think that there will -- again this is the beginning of the process in some ways and there will continue to be ample avenue for consultation. This isn't something that he's going to do without looking carefully at the implications in terms of the military's ability to do its job and to carry out its function.
Q: I'm trying to get to how much influence or impact on him all this consultation has had.
MS. MYERS: Again, he withheld making final decisions until he had a chance to talk with a number of people, both in the military, in Congress, in other places.
Q: So it changed the timing, but did -- can you say whether it changed the content --
MS. MYERS: Not without -- because we never said what the content was. He didn't make final decisions on it. And so it has had impact on him, of course. I mean, that's what this process is about.
Q: But just to make sure on terminology, you and George keep using the term "status" when referring to this. I assume when you're using the word "status", you mean sexual preference, sexual orientation?
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q: Dee Dee, are you now guiding us away from the widespread reports today and over the past few days that he is going to announce this two-step plan that --
MS. MYERS: No, I think we're just trying not to announce the plan before the President has a chance to announce the plan.
Q: So you're not guiding us away from the idea that this plan is going to include the halt to asking recruits about their sexual preferences and stopping any legal proceedings against those who are in the process of being kicked out?
MS. MYERS: I would not guide you away from that. I would only say that the President will announce his plan tomorrow.
Q: But then what has materially changed here to -- I mean, in the process of getting this input and this guidance and this consultation, this is what we've expected him to do all along, granted --
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q: -- may be slightly different at the margins, but where's the result of all this input?
MS. MYERS: Well, there's a process that will begin and I think is important for people to know -- members of Congress and others -- that they will be thoroughly consulted throughout the process, that this isn't something that's going to be ordained upon them, that it's something that they'll be expected to participate in, that their concerns will be addressed, that their questions will be answered. I think certainly the Joint Chiefs had a lot of questions that need to be answered in this process. Senator Nunn raised a lot of questions that he has and said he would hold hearings on it. All of those opinions will be considered. And I think that the consultation, in addition to sort of listening to how they think this should be handled, was to reassure them that they will be -- the President expects to work with them throughout this process.
Q: You mean, in the implementation of an executive order, but not in the short-term steps that he plans to take?
MS. MYERS: Well, there's not -- he has made up his mind about the issue itself. He believes that the ban should be overturned against gays serving in the military on the basis of status. He was not open to changing his mind on that. That's something he'd given a great deal of thought to before, had talked to a number of people about before, and made a decision on and talked about throughout the campaign. Now, once you go -- then you talk about how you implement it in a way that recognizes the issues that are particular to the military. That's a complicated question. It's something that he will continue to work on.
Q: Has the administration done anything on this that you regret? Any mistakes you've made in handling this issue since the election?
MS. MYERS: No, I think he's gone forward in as forthright a manner as possible. It's certainly taken up a -- as he pointed out, a lot of your time and attention, but I think he feels like he's moving forward, working with the people he needs to work with. And he's committed to this.
Q: Flawlessly handled in terms of who you consulted with and the timing of when you consulted with everybody?
MS. MYERS: You know, the consultation process has been ongoing. I think George pointed out today that John Holum has spent more than 40 hours in meetings with Congress just during the transition. Certainly there's been a lot of contact -- phone calls and meetings -- in the last couple of days. I think there's been an enormous amount of consultation. And it's certainly our intention to continue that. It's not always perfect. As hard as you try, there are a lot of members and a lot of people who have thoughts and strong feelings about this. And so it's not always possible, I think, to do as good a job as you start out to. But I think the President feels he's reached out, he's worked very hard to do that. And he is moving forward with this as well as could be hoped.
Q: Dee Dee, will your policy change deal at all with this whole issue of security clearances where the questions about sexual preference are a lot more penetrating than they are merely when you go through the recruiting process?
MS. MYERS: I don't know the answer to that.
Q: Dee Dee, do you know how your calls are running on this?
MS. MYERS: I don't have specific numbers on it. We're receiving quite a few calls on it.
MS. MYERS: I would say that they're not all in favor. (Laughter.) There's -- certainly, this is controversial, and there's some opposition and some organized opposition to it, as there are on issues of this nature.
Q: Is Stan Greenberg or anyone else polling for the White House on this issue?
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of. There's been a lot of independent polling -- I mean, non -- your guys polling on it.
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of.
Q: And are you keeping track of the phone calls?
MS. MYERS: I don't know what procedure's been set up for that yet. There's some. I mean, there's some tracking, but I don't know how we're -- exactly how that works yet.
Q: Dee Dee, during his first meeting with members of Congress after the election, the President said that Pennsylvania Avenue would once again be a two-way street. Here you have Democrats in Congress saying this is the wrong fight at the wrong time. And yet you said just a moment ago that Clinton is not open to changing his mind on the basic issue. How is that -- how does that make Pennsylvania Avenue a two-way street?
MS. MYERS: I think it is a two-way street. I think members have had enormous ability to input, not only on this issue, but today he had members in of the House and Senate budget committees in to talk about his economic plan. He's talked to them about a variety of other issues. As you know, yesterday he had a meeting with the leadership on health care. He's already established a process where he'll meet with bipartisan leadership every other week -- or actually every week -- to discuss a wide range of issues.
I think that Congress feels like the communication between the White House and the Hill has been excellent so far. And I think members have been very impressed by the President's commitment and breadth of knowledge. I think there's a lot of people on the Hill, a lot of members who believe that this is the right thing to do, and there are some who disagree with that. I don't think you'll ever get consensus on timing on controversial issues. That's not possible. But in terms of general approach, I think the President's getting very high marks for his communication with Congress.
Q: Isn't this only a case of the President welcoming input as long as it's on doing things his way and doing the things that he wants?
MS. MYERS: On the broad question of this particular issue -- civil rights issue -- the President has made a decision. A civil rights decision changing those kinds of policies are difficult. They do not lend themselves to unanimity. That's a fact of life. But, in general, I think there are broad areas of consultation on everything from health care to economic policy. I think there's been a tremendous amount of exchange of information in the last week since the President was inaugurated, and I think that will continue. And I think that they're not going to agree -- Congress and the President are not going to agree on every single element of every single issue. But I think the American people believe that people should not be excluded from serving their country on the basis of their sexual orientation; and I think there's a lot of people in Congress who feel that way; and the President certainly feels that way. And so he's moving forward with a policy that not everybody agrees with. But he believes it's the right thing to do.
Q: Will members of Congress -- dealing with the President -- in the course of the next four years encounter other subjects on which the President has already made up his mind and is not open to change --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think he's made up his --
Q: -- discussion on how to implement his wishes.
MS. MYERS: Health care reform is certainly an issue that's like that. He's made up his mind that he's for health care reform. He's going to push a broad health care reform package. Now, there's going to be a lot of opportunity for input on that as there was yesterday. Most of yesterday's meeting with the bipartisan leaders focused on health care issues. I think you're going to see a lot of consultation. Not everybody's going to agree with the final package, but there will be a lot of opportunity for input, and I think that people at the end of the process will feel like they've been broadly consulted. And I think that's what Congress hopes for and that's what they'll -- that's what they're going to get. The President's committed to it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 5:20 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/269159