Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
9:17 A.M. EST
Q: The President had a very successful meeting?
MS. MYERS: Yes. We always start with those. No, there's been another addition to the President's schedule. He spent the morning in his usual staff security and intelligence briefings. At 10:30 a.m. he's going to go over to the OMB offices in the New Executive Building and talk there to OMB employees about some of his goals; and followed by -- he'll go back to the Oval Office after that for lunch and some work time. He'll meet with economic advisors at 2:00 p.m. At 3:30 p.m. there's a group of congressional leaders coming to talk about campaign finance reform, and then that's it for public --or major meetings. He'll spend some more time in the Oval Office before going back to the Residence for a private evening.
Q: And we have coverage of OMB and campaign finance but not economic, is that correct?
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q: Who are the congressional leaders that are coming over?
MS. MYERS: It's Boren, Levin, Graham, Glenn, Ford, Mitchell on the Senate side --
Q: Could you go slower.
MS. MYERS: I'm sorry -- Senators Boren, Levin, Bob Graham, Glenn, Ford and Mitchell. And on the House side it's Foley, Gephardt, Bonior, Fazio, Gejdenson, Rose and Swift.
Q: Does the President have a new campaign reform plan?
MS. MYERS: No, but he's working with congressional leaders and others to develop one. As you know, he talked about campaign finance reform and political reform throughout the campaign and is committed to following up on that.
Q: Dee Dee, does the President believe that any new campaign reform legislation should go into effect before or after the '94 elections?
MS. MYERS: Well, he's looking at that now. I think it's something he wants to move on quickly. Needs to work with Congress, but I think he's looking at moving on it more quickly than that.
Q: That's before --
MS. MYERS: Hopefully.
Q: There are two stories today that the President may lift the ban on the PATCO, the air controllers; and also that the administration, I guess Woolsey testified to this, will give intelligence data to business to make them more competitive -- spy data.
MS. MYERS: Right. On the first question, it's something -- PATCO -- it's something the President is looking at. Again, no decisions have been made on that. On the second, I think again it was something that Woolsey said was being looked at. There have been no decisions made on that. I believe it's something that other countries do, and it's something that I think Woolsey wants to look at. But no decisions have been made on that, either.
Q: What would be the justification for looking at PATCO?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that that sort of set the tone for a relationship between the federal government and labor in the 1980s.
Q: But didn't -- I mean, PATCO -- those guys broke the law.
MS. MYERS: Well, I just think it's something that became a symbol of the relationship between the federal government and labor unions during the 1980s. I think the President is committed to changing the tenor of that relationship. But no final decisions have been made.
Q: He's committed to changing the tenor by excusing illegal activity?
MS. MYERS: No, I don't think anybody wants to excuse illegal activity. But again, I think he's looking at it.
Q: Why resurrect that ghost from 10 years ago? I mean, where does that come from?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I'll have to get back to you on the genesis of it.
Q: Wouldn't national security be breached if you gave intelligence information to business?
MS. MYERS: Again, no final decisions have been made on that, but --
Q: Wouldn't it have -- I mean, wouldn't there be incredible problems?
MS. MYERS: Those are concerns that would have to be looked at and taken into consideration.
Q: Why are you even considering this?
MS. MYERS: It is something, again, that other countries do, or are alleged to do. And I just think that Woolsey raised it as something that -- I think one of Woolsey's points is that the entire intelligence community and their objectives is changing in the post-Cold War world, and that the objectives and sort of direction of the intelligence community is different; and he's looking at how to use intelligence information. I mean, he said it used to be -- slayed a dragon, but now there's 1,000 snakes out and there were serpents out in the field. A very interesting analogy, but I think an appropriate one. And I think the entire mission of the intelligence community is changing, and I think that's one of the things that Woolsey's looking at.
Q: Dee Dee, when do you expect to make a decision on the PATCO and on the --
MS. MYERS: I don't think there's any time line on it.
Q: But is it weeks, months, years?
MS. MYERS: Again, there's just no time line on it.
Q: Dee Dee, for those of us who just heard about this PATCO thing in the last three minutes, where is this story coming from?
MS. MYERS: It's coming from The Washington Post. And I don't know where The Post got it. I think that's unclear.
Q: Does the President expect any trouble in his appointees on the HUD sub-cabinet in terms of sexual preference?
MS. MYERS: Don't expect any. I mean, Supervisor Achtenberg is a very accomplished person, particularly in the area of sort of housing and civil rights enforcement, which she has a very broad background in. She's well regarded in San Francisco, in California and someone that the President thinks highly of.
Q: So it didn't enter her into -- that was not a consideration?
MS. MYERS: Was not a consideration. Her job performance and resume were what was considered, and I think that she is an outstanding candidate.
Q: Dee Dee, can you bring us up to date on the decisionmaking on the Bosnian policy?
MS. MYERS: The President obviously gets his briefings every single day. The national security staff is meeting regularly. They're considering a wide variety of options right now and will be making decisions sometime soon.
Q: Is there any sense of urgency, given the appeal by the new negotiators?
MS. MYERS: I think the negotiators obviously briefed Secretary Christopher earlier this week. He listened carefully to their presentation. The situation there is grave, and I think obviously something that the national security staff is looking at and keeping the President apprised of.
Q: Has Christopher relayed that to the President -- information to the President?
MS. MYERS: The President receives regular briefings and updates from national security staff. I don't know if he's spoken directly to Christopher. I believe he has, but --
Q: Yes, but has he had an update, an argument session on the pros and cons of sending U.S. forces to be part of a peacekeeping process?
MS. MYERS: I think that's part of the ongoing conversation and something that --
Q: That's probably the biggest part, so --
MS. MYERS: Well, there's a lot of things that have to be considered. It's a very complicated situation. And there are just a number of things that have to be considered.
Q: Can you give us any sense that the U.S. is close to a decision; I mean, because the U.N. action is going to depend on what the U.S. decides to do?
MS. MYERS: Again, it's something that they're looking at carefully, meeting on regularly and considering their options on. But I don't want to commit them to a timetable.
Q: Dee Dee, with regard to the economic stimulus proposal, the President and a lot of his deputies have continually talked about linking the economic stimulus with deficit reduction. Does that mean that they would be part of the same legislative package? Because there was the suggestion in the Post this morning that it was going to be -- that the stimulus was going to be somehow separated in terms of legislation from the deficit?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that the package, when it's unveiled, has three broad goals, which we talk about all the time: economic growth and job creation, deficit reduction, and fairness. I don't expect that on the 17th that all of the legislation will be drafted. It will probably take several pieces of legislation. And so exactly how that gets worked out will be something that will happen on the Hill, but I don't expect it will be a single piece of legislation.
Q: First of all, anything new on attorney general or any new timetable?
MS. MYERS: No, no new timetable. Again, he's working on it, and we should have an announcement soon.
Q: Anything new on Mulroney for Friday?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I have a few details on the Mulroney meeting. They'll meet in the Oval Office at 11:30 a.m. It is a working meeting -- a working visit as opposed to a state visit. They'll meet in the Oval Office at 11:30 a.m., then they'll go to the Residence at 12:15 p.m. for lunch, a working lunch, and then following lunch they'll do -- probably walk out onto the -- out of the Diplomatic Room on the South Lawn to meet with reporters.
Q: Working on what, Dee Dee?
MS. MYERS: A number of bilateral issues, including trade. I'm sure NAFTA will come up.
Q: Sometime after 1:00 p.m.?
MS. MYERS: Yes, roughly 1:00 p.m. or 1:30 p.m.
Q: Anything new for next week -- travel plans?
MS. MYERS: No, not yet.
Q: And also there's a report that Hillary is going to be in Pennsylvania next week for a health summit with Senator Wofford. Do you know anything about that?
MS. MYERS: I don't. I'll check -- or we can check with the First Lady's press office.
Q: How about the off-campus event that you talked about yesterday, Dee Dee? Is the EOB a satellite campus, by the way? Does that count as a --
MS. MYERS: Yes, it's extension campus. He's going there today, and we'll see what happens later this week.
Q: So it's still a possibility then?
MS. MYERS: I wouldn't rule it out.
Q: What's the purpose of the visit to OMB today?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think, one, he wants to talk to federal employees; particularly there's a lot of people there who worked in the previous administration who are now working in this administration. He wants to let them know that they're welcome. I think he wants to underscore his commitment to an honest budget, to sort of talking straight and to working toward real debt reduction, and his commitment to eliminating the waste in government first, starting there, before going to the American people with asking them to contribute to overall debt reduction.
Q: And how about the meeting this afternoon on the economy?
MS. MYERS: It's just part of the ongoing series of meetings on the economic plan.
Q: Who will be in that meeting?
MS. MYERS: I know that Bob Rubin will be there, and I'm not sure who else. I think this is a smaller group today.
Q: Be a photo op?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: As part of a housekeeping thing, is it possible after this shakedown -- that you could sort of give us a week ahead? Granted that other things will be added, maybe even day by day, but we'd have some way to project how the week goes.
MS. MYERS: It's something we can try to do. I don't know how much information we'll be able to give you reliably. But we can try to do that at the end of the week is just try to look forward a little bit. And I think the other thing that we talked about yesterday, after the meeting with the correspondents, was at the end of the day to come down and try to give you a better sense of what's happening the following day. Things do tend to get added at the end of the day, which we can deal with in the morning briefing. But we can try to give you better guidance at around 5:00 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. about what's coming the following day.
Q: What are the ground rules for George's briefing later today?
MS. MYERS: The decision made was that the first five minutes would be sound and camera and the rest of it will be on the record but off camera.
Q: Now, if George comes out and makes an announcement and eats up a minute and a half, does that count on our time? (Laughter.) That's not a trivial question for those of us who could use this --
MS. MYERS: I believe that it does. I mean, the policy will be five minutes. And what we'll try to do is not cut off the sound in the middle of any questions, which I know happened yesterday. So if there's some line of questioning -- I mean, we'll try to use a little judgment in doing this as opposed to just cutting it off at the end of five minutes -- use a little judgment if there's something that's obviously the news of the day where he's making comments, and we'll try to let it go a little longer. But we'll try to say five minutes. And I think the other thing is if somebody, particularly TV and radio people, need something that they didn't get that George said at a briefing later, I think we can try to go back and have him do that or have somebody else do that for camera. As opposed to just a briefing, do it as a one-on-one.
Q: What's the reason now for his briefing being available for cameras only for five minutes on a day when the President doesn't have another news conference or a speech covered?
MS. MYERS: I think that the goal is to just have it to be a more of a two-way conversation. I think that there's -- the objective here is to make this -- sort of an honest exchange of information as opposed to something that's more combative. (Laughter.)
Q: Does this plan --
Q: -- close to the truth, Dee Dee. (Laughter.)
Q: You might want to step back and reassess this.
Q: Is this plan for things that broadcasters need that hear in the briefing, it sounds like your envisioning a system where we're going to line up and we're going to start -- one after the other.
MS. MYERS: That's not -- Q: Do a television interview, do a radio interview -- MS. MYERS: No, that's not -- I mean, we're hoping not to
have to do that. But I think on certain days there may be a story that somebody is working on that comes up later in the briefing. I mean, I don't think that we want to go redo the briefing for everybody afterwards. But I know that there are days when a particular reporter is working on something that does come up at the end of the briefing that they need for a story that they are doing that day. That's what we're trying to provide access for.
Q: Dee Dee, if there is a major announcement of some sort outside of the briefing --
MS. MYERS: No, and I think there may be times when we open the whole thing up for cameras if it's a -- certainly there may be times when that happens. I know there were times when Marlin would do his entire briefing on camera for one reason or another. I think that they were rare with him, but I think we're flexible on this, I think, but the general policy on a day-to-day basis will be five minutes and then it'll just be off camera for the rest.
Q: Just for the record, Dee Dee -- just for the record -- why was the decision made not to allow the entire White House briefing to be on camera available live so the whole American public can witness the White House --
Q: And provide CNN with -- (laughter).
MS. MYERS: Sonya Live lobbied us really hard. (Laughter.) She's not quite as famous as Wolf Blitzer, the star of Murphy Brown live. (Laughter.)
Q: Is it because you don't think the White House image came across too well?
MS. MYERS: No, I think there were times when the White House won the exchanges with the press corps and times when the press corps won the exchanges with the White House; but I think that our intention here and throughout this administration is going to be an honest exchange of information as possible. We really want it to be a thoughtful conversation when that's possible. There are a lot of policy initiatives that the President's going to undertake, and we really want you to know what he's doing. And I think our objective here is just to make this a little bit lower key exchange of information, an opportunity for us to tell you what's going on; for you to ask questions and us to have a two-way conversation about it. I think that there's a feeling among a lot of people that having them on-camera and live made it a more combative atmosphere. That's not our intention.
Q: Who were these people? I mean, did the White House get calls on it?
MS. MYERS: I think there are people within -- I don't want to name any names -- but there's people within this room and there's certainly people outside of this room who watched the briefings who thought that they were unnecessarily combative and that that's not -- I don't think that's your goal, and I know that's not our goal. I think we all want to report what happens here accurately.
Q: Why do you think that's necessarily the fault of television when, a, the place was packed because it was the first week of a new administration and, b, you had two major controversies erupt?
MS. MYERS: I think that there's a general sense that that is so.
Q: That sort of combativeness is going to happen anytime you have a major --
MS. MYERS: And hat may be true, but I think that, again, the goal is an honest exchange of information; and I think that that goal is best served by five minutes on camera and the rest of it on the record but not on camera.
Q: -- less honest with cameras?
Q: -- what you're trying to do is restrict the flow of bad information --
MS. MYERS: I think people who have done this a long time perhaps believe that it is a more thoughtful exchange when it's not entirely on camera.
Q: You've said you want an honest exchange. Do you feel a spokesman has to be less honest?
MS. MYERS: I'm not talking entirely about the spokesman. I think that there's a feeling that reporters are -- that the tenor of the briefing changes when it's on camera and live.
Q: You mean posturing? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I would never want to accuse the White House Press Corps of posturing, but it has been suggested.
Q: How about the podium posturing?
MS. MYERS: That's impossible. That would not happen.
Q: -- we'd get up and walk out.
Q: Are the State Department and the Pentagon briefings continue to be on camera?
MS. MYERS: They set their own policies. I believe the policies are that the State Department on camera but not live and at the Pentagon it's not on camera. Is that correct? I think --
Q: The Pentagon is on camera.
MS. MYERS: The Pentagon is on camera. Yes, but I think we're going to maintain that policy here. The other thing I think we're going to try to do is something I know that they did in the previous White House and they definitely do at State and at the Pentagon, which is to try to have one topic at a time. And I think George will try to start doing that today. And the tradition has been that if somebody wants to change the topic, they either ask new question or can I change the subject. I think that everybody -- it's easier to read the transcripts, and I think it allows for more follow-through on particular topics.
Q: Can we avoid that though the first five minutes, because people may need George to say something on different subjects in the first five minutes.
MS. MYERS: I think that's fair. And then once the lights go off then the one-subject rule will take effect.
Q: Is the President going to the prayer breakfast tomorrow morning?
Q: Dee Dee, would you address the suggestion that what you're trying to do is limit the amount of bad news that the American people see you dealing with?
MS. MYERS: No, again, I think some days the Press Corps wins the exchange and some days the White House wins the exchange. I mean, it is not, it is not -- we've gotten a lot of calls that suggested, you know, that the Press Corps was a pretty -- it was a pretty rambunctious exercise. I think, again, that our objective here is --
Q: We've gotten some calls, too --
MS. MYERS: I'm sure you have both ways.
Q: -- on the press -- person.
MS. MYERS: I'm sure. And so have we about it, but that's not our objective here.
Q: George's statement in the briefing the other day, the first time you did this, when somebody asked him why he had cut it back to five minutes, George said that the President had talked that morning and you all thought that that was enough. And what it sounds like you're trying to do is to manipulate things in such a way so that you get your PR message out but don't have to face in a public forum any sort of questioning.
MS. MYERS: That's not the objective at all. I mean, I think we face public questioning every single day. We do this three times a day. I think we try very hard to answer your questions every day on any topic. I mean, there are no ground rules for that, but I think that in order to -- when we do five minutes on camera, I think, people have an opportunity to ask questions. If that's not enough, we're willing to do things afterwards. I think the objective of this briefing is to allow both sides to ask questions and to get answers to those questions.
Q: Can we just look at another subject here quickly. There's a report on the wires about a letter apparently by Bill Clinton through a man named Clyde Pettit to the Vietnamese which was sent or taken by Pettit six months before -- or six weeks before Mr. Clinton was inaugurated about normalizing relationships or improving relationships between the United States and Vietnam. Do you know anything about this letter? And could you get some information --
MS. MYERS: No. Clyde Pettit?
Q: Clyde Pettit. Yes --
MS. MYERS: Okay, I have to go to another meeting.
Q: What did you say about the National Prayer Breakfast?
Q: Is he going to it?
MS. MYERS: Yes, he is going tomorrow morning.
Q: What time?
MS. MYERS: I believe it starts at 7:00 a.m., but I don't think he'll be going until later. It's usually -- they last a couple hours -- 7:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
Q: Are you still saying that the February 17th address is not a State of the Union address?
MS. MYERS: It is an address to a joint session of Congress, correct.
Q: About tomorrow, does that change your morning briefing when he goes to --
MS. MYERS: Yes, it may. If he's -- depending on what the coverage is, we'll take a look at the schedule and announce on that later.
Q: Do you think you'll be leaving after 7:00 a.m. --
MS. MYERS: Yes, I think it will be later than 7:00 a.m., but I'll get back you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 9:36 A.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/269224