Press Briefing by Director of Communications Mark Gearan
1:42 P.M. EDT
MR. GEARAN: We can just go quickly here about some things -- other things that folks might want to cover and sum up some schedule items that may be outstanding for those of you that might have some questions about scheduling items we might be able to take care of.
The President returned from the Hill having completed what we felt was a very good session on the Hill. The reception in the caucus was enthusiastic. We feel at this point that we're gaining momentum now in our effort to secure passage of the President's economic package. When we were on the Hill four members of Congress that had previously voted against the bill have now announced their support for it, which we appreciate.
When the President went before the caucus he stated quite clearly to them that he needs their help, he wants their vote. He summarized a bit from his speech last night and answered questions to members of the Democratic Caucus.
So our review of last night was that we went a long way to explaining and communicating more about the plan -- what's in it and what's not in it. And we believe to a considerable extent to explaining to the vast majority of the American people some aspects of the plan that heretofore have been less than understood.
Q: Do you have any phone reaction on that? Any way of estimating public reaction?
MR. GEARAN: I don't know the answer to that. The comment line, you mean, here? I don't know the answer to that.
Q: Mark, Senator DeConcini was in the little signing ceremony and left it seemed right afterwards. Why did the President not use that as an opportunity to take him aside and look him in the eye and ask him for his vote? It seems almost to be a matter of the President's personal style that this is the kind of thing that he simply is reluctant to do. Is that a fair characterization? Or if not, how would you explain it?
MR. GEARAN: No. No, every -- in fact, when the President went before the Democratic Caucus this morning, the first words out of his mouth were, I need your help and I want your vote.
Q: I understand -- he said that last night on television as well. But I'm talking about these one to one sessions that other Presidents have seemed more comfortable with. Is it that he's uncomfortable doing that or what?
MR. GEARAN: Two things, Brit, I think. Number one, I don't think anyone leaves the Oval Office or a phone conversation with the President not understanding both the importance of the package for the economy, for the American people, and for this administration, in his very clear intent that he's asking for their support.
The real question, I think, that you're getting to is the important measure of effectiveness in what we've accomplished here in our tenure in the first six or seven months in the administration. I think when you review family and medical leave, motor voter, efforts that we've made on the Hill, national service, standing up for Yeltsin, the Russian aid package, the other summits, the question becomes --
Q: Mark, I'm not disputing any of that. I'm just trying to ask you about the question of technique and why this President doesn't choose to apply that particular technique. I don't mean to disparage any of his achievements or anything like that. I'm just asking that question.
MR. GEARAN: I would never take it that way. (Laughter.) But I think the real question is the technique, frankly, being effectiveness. That's what I was trying to answer -- what is the effectiveness of his technique. And I think the objective measure of analysis would have to be, okay, how effective have we been.
Q: Did he ask DeConcini for his help?
MR. GEARAN: I don't think any member of the Senate is left with a sense that we do not want their vote. It would mean a great deal. We think this is the right plan, the plan will work, and indeed that we'd be very appreciative of it.
Q: Has he talked to Bob Kerrey today?
MR. GEARAN: He's talked to a whole range of people over the course of the past week in support of that plan.
Q: What can you tell us -- what calls he's making, what private efforts he's making?
MR. GEARAN: Well, I think I should leave it at that it is a full court press on the part of the President, the Vice President, members of the administration. I don't think there are many stones left unturned that we are not trying to do through personal phone calls, through meetings in some instances starting way back to go through the merits of the plan.
Q: The Secretary of Treasury said he expects to win. He said it will be a close vote, but we think we'll win. So you expect that you will get either DeConcini or not lose Kerrey or pick up Nunn? I mean, what is your --
MR. GEARAN: I'll let you go through the math on your own. But I think what we take our cues from our own folks that are working the Hill as well as the Majority Leader, is that we do expect to win. We are working very hard. We take nothing for granted. Having said all of that, the President's address last night we believe was very helpful in that regard to members of Congress that are still thinking about the plan. I think when they listen to their constituents and to listen to the President's remarks about, again, what's in this plan and what's not, they will be comforted by that, and, indeed, enthused about it when you look at who has to pay the burden in the plan. So we're encouraged. We're taking nothing for granted, and we're working very hard.
Q: the polls. The overnight polls show that he didn't seem to make a dent -- didn't turn it around. And specifically, why do you think, after all the work you've done and the amount of times the President has repeated over and over again what this plan will do, the majority of Americans think their taxes are going to go up?
MR. GEARAN: Two things. I think you need to be cautious about polls that are done within an hour of the President's address. You may want to -- some of the research that is done by the Democratic committee that Stan Greenberg has worked on might be illustrative of more in depth and a larger sample that takes a little bit more time. And, indeed, what we have observed is good support for the President's plan.
The difficulty, of course, that we have had is to do as good a job as we can in explaining, as I've said, what's in the plan and what's not. There has been a fair amount of information out there that has been less than accurate. Our job -- I think we've done a better job as an administration in recent weeks in trying to coordinate that, both internally here in the White House and externally to the Congress and to members on the Hill.
Q: Mark, when the President said repeatedly last night -- at least on two occasions -- that no family with income of less than $180,000 a year will have an increase in income taxes, was he forgetting about the increase in the taxable portion of Social Security benefits that would result in a tax increase for people whose incomes may be no more than $35,000 a year?
MR. GEARAN: Is that how the numbers work out? I'm not aware that that's the case.
Q: Is it an effort to fudge over that point --
MR. GEARAN: No.
Q: is the point of the question.
MR. GEARAN: I'm not sure I understand the question. But I think that the President was making the point is that, again, a lot of our responsibility is to explain what's in the plan and what's not. The point he was trying to very much make and what is an accurate one and what members on the Hill have been doing is that if you're a family making less than $180,000 for your income tax purposes, you don't have to worry. That message we have been needing to get out in a more amplified way than we have in the past.
Q: I understand the point. Except the tax rate won't go up for people like that, but that the amount of taxes they pay -- if they taxable portion of Social Security benefits increases, then they're going to end up paying more taxes, even if their income is no more than $35,000.
MR. GEARAN: That is not correct. We can take the question and get you more. But that is not my understanding at all.
Q: Then I misunderstand it.
MR. GEARAN: You're saying --
Q: Social Security recipients are going to be taxed on a greater portion of their income than is now the case. And that applies to people in much lower income brackets than $180,000. I think we can agree on that, can we not? So I think Mark's question, if I understood him properly is, did the President, in saying nobody under $180,000 will feel this -- did he mistake -- what was the reason for that? It's apparently not correct.
MR. GEARAN: Let me take the question. We'll have to -- I'll respond to you. That's --
Q: (inaudible) --
MR. GEARAN: Yes. That's a fair point, David. Working families under $180,000 -- that's what he said. That's the text of the -- we'll provide something in detail on the --
Q: He said no one, is what he said.
MR. GEARAN: But I think he said working families. I think David's point is --
Q: On this issue of technique for getting votes, and you said that the technique is effectiveness, would it be fair to say that this is -- your strategy is somewhat subliminal arm twisting, where you get someone in the Oval Office, you issue an executive order, you're sending out all these positive subtle signals, and therefore the effect will be that you'll get the vote?
MR. GEARAN: I'm not aware that it's subliminal.
Q: Neither are we.
MR. GEARAN: We're trying to do everything we can --
Q: Have you tried subliminal?
MR. GEARAN: Maybe -- that might be -- in the next -- hours we'll try subliminal --
Q: Can you tell us where the President is going on Monday?
MR. GEARAN: The President will be traveling on Monday. Where he will being going we'll announce once that's been finalized.
Q: Is there anything new on Foster?
MR. GEARAN: No, there's nothing --
Q: Are the investigations still going on?
MR. GEARAN: There is nothing new from yesterday.
Q: Have you seen the autopsy report which apparently is finished?
MR. GEARAN: I have not. I'd have to refer you to the Park Police.
Q: Is there travel on Tuesday or Wednesday?
MR. GEARAN: Tuesday or Wednesday we expect him to be in Washington.
MR. GEARAN: Which weekend?
Q: Just Monday --
MR. GEARAN: This weekend he'll be here, most likely.
Q: And he travels Monday and then he's here Tuesday and Wednesday, and then goes out Thursday?
MR. GEARAN: Right.
Q: Doesn't he go out Wednesday? He doesn't go out Wednesday?
MR. GEARAN: Possibly out -- this is just for guidance purposes. Possibly out on Wednesday night.
Q: For Denver?
Q: In other words, we could leave early?
MR. GEARAN: You can leave any time you want. (Laughter.)
Q: what's your hurry?
MR. GEARAN: The bus -- leaves at 2:00, be under it. (Laughter.) What's that?
Q: Are you expecting the House to vote tomorrow and the Senate Friday or will it go into the weekend?
MR. GEARAN: My understanding is your schedule is accurate.
Q: The White House said yesterday that the President's blind trust was prepared by private counsel with some assistance of a specialized nature from the White House Counsel's Office, Mr. Foster. But no one will say, apparently, who the President's private counsel are. Can you tell me why that is?
MR. GEARAN: Who the President's --
Q: Why is it the White House won't say whose the President's lawyer is?
MR. GEARAN: Well, because that's subject to attorneyclient privilege.
Q: Well, that's entirely up to the President.
Q: unwilling to divulge the name of his private attorney?
MR. GEARAN: Well, I'm not prepared to discuss it right now, other than that would be attorney-client privilege to discuss that.
Q: Is he aware that --
Q: I mean, here's, I think, the issue that needs addressing, Mark --
Q: It's a matter of public record.
MR. GEARAN: Then why is there a question?
Q: my understanding when the blind trust is being prepared that Vince Foster was doing it in conjunction with Ricki and everybody. The first I ever heard of a private attorney has been now. Many people are happy to divulge the names of their private attorneys. And I understand you're not prepared to do that right now, but it seems like it would be reasonable to take the question and ask the President if he can just tell us who's his private lawyer who did this work setting up the blind trust --
Q: Obviously, attorney-client privilege only applies to the substance of dealings with your lawyer. I can imagine specialized circumstances under which you might want a client to identify a lawyer, but why would the President of the United States want to keep secret who his lawyer is?
Q: You might also throw in that to the best of our knowledge we've known the names of the outside counsel of all previous recent presidents. This has never been a secret.
MR. GEARAN: Why don't I leave it at that, and I'll have to report back to you.
Q: Do you expect a swearing-in of Justice Ginsburg?
MR. GEARAN: I would suspect it would be Tuesday.
Q: can't hear you back here.
MR. GEARAN: The question was the swearing in of Judge Ginsburg. And I would tell you at this point for planning purposes for our scheduling conversation here, I would suspect it would be Tuesday.
Q: And action on Elders before the recess?
Q: Mark, there's been a longstanding request -- so we can hear back here. Do you know what's happening with that?
MR. GEARAN: There's been a longstanding --
Q: Longstanding request to mike the room so we can hear the questions so we don't have to keep on asking you what the question is. Do you know what's happening with that?
MR. GEARAN: I'm informed that they're trying to figure out how to do it.
Let me answer Helen's question in terms of Dr. Elders. We are very proud of Dr. Elders as our nominee. She distinguished herself at her hearings before the Senate committee. Attempts to gag her effectively in the opening days of the hearings by delaying the hearing, I think proved embarrassing to those who tried it. Our hope is that this confirmation could proceed as soon as possible based on the merits of her background as a physician, her distinction at the hearings. We see of no reason why this would not proceed with the kind of haste and speed that the Senate has accomplished with others, that we're grateful for. We believe it's important to have a Surgeon General in place as quickly as we possibly can. And we urge the Senate. And we're aware of the important efforts of Senator Kennedy in this regard to advance her confirmation.
Q: Mark, the President said this morning that he saw no reason why this town should flail around for another 60 or 90 days by delaying action on the budget or -- a budget. Aside from flailing around, is there any other contingency planning going on in this White House as to what happens if the package does go down? For instance, would you ask Congress to stay in session, forego the August recess?
MR. GEARAN: No, every ounce of energy in the White House is being spent to securing passage of the plan.
Q: You have absolutely no contingency plan for the alternative outcome?
MR. GEARAN: We believe we're going to win.
Q: But my question is whether you have any contingency planning in case you do not win.
MR. GEARAN: No. We're going to win.
Q: Mark, you're the second administration official to say today, never mind the other polls you're seeing -- our polls say --
MR. GEARAN: So we're consistent -- (laughter) --
Q: Are your polls -- do you have a majority of people in your poll saying that they think this plan will turn around the economy or that Congress should pass this plan?
MR. GEARAN: I would refer you to Stan Greenberg who does the Democratic Committee polling.
Q: But you referred to the polling, you characterized it as positive.
MR. GEARAN: True. And the answer is yes. And for amplification of it, Stan can give you the --
Q: You do have a majority of Americans saying that this plan will turn around the economy, or a majority of Americans saying that Congress should pass --
MR. GEARAN: I don't want to go -- I'm not prepared to go through the exact numbers. I can tell you we feel very positive of the response to the President's plan last night; that the, in terms of the President's approval, and in terms of those who heard and listened to the plan, that they felt that this was the right plan for the country. And Stan can go through the little numbers for you, is I think is how we should leave it.
Q: Mark, are you talking to any of the Republicans hoping to win them over?
MR. GEARAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Are you talking to any Republicans hoping to win them over?
MR. GEARAN: Not at this point.
Q: Mark, you said that even the record -- on the issue of attorney-client privilege, I believe last Friday a question was put to Dee Dee whether or not attorney-client privilege is waivable by the client. And I wondered what the answer was to that question. I don't recall it being posted.
MR. GEARAN: I'm embarrassed as a law school graduate, I can't answer that question. But we can check that out.
Q: Will you post the answer to --
MR. GEARAN: And the question being, the legal question of whether attorney -- Ruth, what's the --
Q: He's a nonlaw school graduate and he knows the answer.
Q: The answer is: of course.
Q: Yes. Yes. Yes.
MR. GEARAN: I don't know the answer.
Q: It's entirely up to the client.
Q: Well, it only applies anyway where you have some other -- somebody has a legal ability to get at the information. A reporter's question, you don't need attorney-client privilege, you can use go to hell if you want to. (Laughter.)
MR. GEARAN: We've thought of that. (Laughter.)
Q: Is that next? Is that the fallback position?
MR. GEARAN: But we restrained.
Q: Contingency plan?
MR. GEARAN: That is our contingency plan.
Q: couldn't hear it --
MR. GEARAN: You don't want to hear his comment. It's not worth repeating to the back of the room. We can wrap this up pretty soon, I think. (Laughter.)
Q: Where do you stand in your search for --
MR. GEARAN: Five feet, seven.
Q: a replacement nominee for Lani Guinier?
MR. GEARAN: The Attorney General, since then, has been visiting on this issue. We'll have to post the exact status of her conversations. I'd refer you to Justice for a readout on where they're at in terms of that whole process.
Q: The President is not getting any -- is not seeking or receiving any --
MR. GEARAN: No, no. No, that's not true. Through the Counsel's Office working in tandem with the Attorney General where they are at in those conversations -- I just don't know the answer to that question.
Q: Do you know the Black Caucus has been active in making recommendations or in any part of the procedures?
MR. GEARAN: I don't know the answer to that. We'll have to get that to you.
Why don't we, before we leave, there's an important matter of state that the Press Secretary will be called forward to speak to.
MS. MYERS: No, you can do it -- lead in the --
MR. GEARAN: I've been informed that today is Helen Thomas's birthday. And in our continuing effort to embarrass members of the press, we invite you to join with Dee Dee Myers in singing Happy Birthday to --
Q: Please don't. (Laughter.)
MR. GEARAN: For those of you in the back of the room, Helen said --
MR. GEARAN: The gift is wrapped in UPI paper.
Q: Open it.
Q: Yugoslavia, Bosnia -- (laughter) -- thank you.
Q: They want you to open it.
Q: We want you to open it.
Q: I don't dare.
MR. GEARAN: Helen, could you say thank you so we could get out of here?
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END2:05 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Director of Communications Mark Gearan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269163