Press Briefing by George Stephanopoulos
The Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EDT
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has some major disasters to declare today in Oklahoma. (Laughter.) These are resulting from severe storms and tornadoes on April 24th, 1993. FEMA will provide assistance to individuals and families affected. In Oregon, resulting from an earthquake on March 25th, 1993, FEMA will provide public assistance to cities and towns affected. And in Iowa, resulting from severe storms and flooding on March 26th 1993, FEMA will provide assistance to individuals and families affected.
He's also approved expanded emergency aid for North Carolina and Alabama, following the March snowstorms in those states. And we will have a release for all of you.
Q: What about Hurricane Leon? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No FEMA declaration yet.
Q: Is the President concerned about the Budget Director's statements, and does that characterize the President's view of what his chances are on the passage of key elements of his proposal on the Hill?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I don't think so. Not at all. I think the President, first of all, is in a very upbeat mood. For anybody who saw the speech today would see that. And, obviously, on the passage of the President's economic and health care plans and his entire agenda for change, nobody ever said it was going to be easy. I don't think the President expects that when you go in for big changes, trying to reverse 12 years of neglect and abandonment by the federal government and bringing down the deficit, it's going to be easy. But we're not going under with any illusions, but we're moving forward.
Q: Has he spoken to Panetta, or has McLarty? Has anyone wood-shedded him?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, not at all. Mr. Panetta came to the senior staff meeting this morning, as he always does, and --
Q: What was said about that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: First of all, he walked in -- (laughter.)
Q: Then what happened?
Q: Then what happened?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And we all acknowledged his presence. (Laughter.)
Q: How? By booing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, no boos for --
Q: Was there joking about it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that we all understood what happened.
Q: What was that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I mean, I just don't think this is a very big deal.
Q: Well, would you explain it to us then?
Q: You mean someone spoke the truth?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Someone spoke the truth? Well, as you know, really, the announcement we were going to make today is that Mr. Panetta is going to be appointed Communications Director for the administration, and I'm taking over at OMB. (Laughter.)
Q: What do you think did happen?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that he was just giving his assessment of where we are. I think that in some ways the remarks were taken a bit out of context at times, and probably pumped up a little bit at other times. But he's just clearly -- if you take it issue by issue I can answer the questions, but he was noting that it is going to be a tough fight for the President's economic package, which it undoubtedly will be. There are a lot of people in the Congress who are wedded to the past, who are wedded to the status quo, who don't want the kind of changes the President is coming forward with.
Q: You're the one that insisted that the passage of the budget meant that basically the deal was done and that the budget resolutions are binding and that, therefore, that you needn't worry after that because the budget was passed.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The budget is passed and now we're moving forward with the next parts of the President's package. And we're going to fight hard for every --
Q: I know, but if the budget resolution is binding, then what are you worried about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, what we're worried about is making sure that we protect as many of the President's priorities as we can. As you know, the overall targets in the budget resolution are binding, but there are specific allocations by committee, and there obviously can be changes in the internals of different programs. And we're going to fight for every bit of the President's program we can get through this process.
Q: Is there anything that Panetta said that the President disagrees with?
Q: Foley and Panetta made a strategic argument yesterday that said that if you try to go simultaneously with health care and finishing the budget reconciliation process, you're going to run into a situation where all these taxes are going to be out there, people are going to lose track of which taxes are for what, and in the end the whole thing is going to come unraveled. Are you saying the President does not share that view expressed by Panetta and by Foley yesterday?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think what -- obviously, the House and the Senate can only deal with one huge piece of legislation at a time. And as the Speaker said this morning, clearly the House and the Senate will finish the reconciliation bill before taking up the health care legislation. That is indisputably true; it's what you must do. I mean, they both go through the Finance and the Ways Committees. You can't simply put them both through the same channel at the same time. And that's the direction we're headed in right now.
I think it is wrong, necessarily, to assume that we're going to have huge taxes for health care. I don't think that that is right. We haven't made any decisions yet. We don't have any announcements to make on that score yet. We do believe that we have to fight right now for the President's reconciliation package, we have to fight right now to get the budget done. We're trying to get it done as quickly as we possibly can, which is why -- and I think, again, the Senate and the House leaders indicated today that they are trying to move up consideration of the reconciliation bills and get them done in what we hope will be record time, as we did with the budget.
Q: Two things on what Panetta said. First, following up on what Tom said, he specifically suggested that you shouldn't announce the health care package until after reconciliation was done. Is that --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure that he suggested it. I mean, I saw the articles as well, and the words "urge" was never really in quotes, it was the words used by the reporters, not the words used by Panetta. What he said is that it would complicate the situation. That is true.
Q: Regardless of whether he specifically suggested it or not -- I don't want to argue about that --is that under consideration? Is the possibility of delaying the announcement until after reconciliation is done an open subject, or is that not --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we're going to stay on the track that we're committed to right now. We're going to do everything we possibly can to get health care done this year, because we think it's important to get it done this year.
Q: That includes making the announcement in May rather than waiting --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's the track we're on right now, sure.
Q: And the other thing is, the budget resolutions, as you know, are several billion dollars below the budget that you announced. A lot of people on the Appropriations Committee are saying that the only way to get down to the caps in the budget resolution is to eliminate large numbers of the President's new spending proposals, which is what Panetta was talking about yesterday. How do you plan to try to get over that problem of the fact that there just isn't enough money in the budget to cover the existing programs plus the new spending that you'd like?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think we've found that with over 200 budget cuts with the budget resolution so far we think that it's possible we can get more. I don't think that we accept as a self-evident proposition that that must come out of the President's investments. And we're going to fight for as much of the President's investments as we can get throughout the reconciliation process. And that's exactly what we're going to be discussing with the Appropriations Committees over the next several weeks, and as we go up to testify.
Q: Do you have additional spending cuts to propose to bring the budget into line with the resolution?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's what we'll be working with the committees on.
Q: What do you see as the political impact of this kind of downbeat analysis as we approach the magical 100 days mark coming from within the administration itself as opposed to from outsiders who generally share this view?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know that I accept your characterization of what he said. I mean, he says what we all know, that this is --
Q: Thought this was upbeat? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I didn't say that -- that change is tough. It's very hard to get the kind of changes that the President is calling for. But we're going to fight for them. We're realistic about the challenges we face, but we're also determined to face them down and to succeed.
Q: change is tough if you pursue them with the strategy that the President is pursuing them with.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Susan, do you want to come back?
Q: I forgot. Go on.
Q: He said change was tough it you pursue them with the present strategy.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, he said --
Q: What do you disagree with about what Panetta said? Anything? Does the President agree with what Panetta said? His assessment?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're optimistic. We think we're going to get this stuff done, and we're going to fight for it as hard as we can.
Q: So you disagree with what you have to accept is a downbeat --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I don't have to accept the characterizations that you put on what he said. I don't.
Q: No, but look point by point through his concerns about deficit reduction, his concerns about NAFTA, his concerns about health care --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's take them one by one. NAFTA. He said if NAFTA were sent up to the Congress today, it would not be passed. That is absolutely, positively true. We don't expect to send NAFTA up to Congress today because we have not completed the negotiation of the side agreements which are necessary for the passage of NAFTA because they're necessary to protect American workers in the American environment; point number one. What is point two?
Q: Russian aid.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Russian aid? Again, the President himself said that we cannot expect to go forward with -- that it would be difficult to go forward with the Russian aid program unless we're also moving forward on programs for American workers and the American agriculture and the American economy. And we intend, as the leaders in the Congress said today, to move forward with the new jobs package as soon as we can work one out, and we intend to fight for the American economy and the President's investment package. Again, we're not going to go forward, we just don't think it's possible to go forward unless we have -- we're also investing in the American economy, and that's exactly what the President intends to do.
Q: Are you suggesting there's no thought in the administration to delay the health care until June rather than May? That's not under consideration?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What I'm suggesting is that we're going to stay on the track that we've set forward right now.
Q: What do you mean by staying on the track?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Staying on the track. We are hoping to have some sort of announcement in May with probably the introduction, as the Speaker said today, consideration of the legislation in June, or after the reconciliation were done.
Q: Would you not send the legislation until June then? You'd hold it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure about when it would be finally drafted and when it would be ready, but we're still on the same track we've been on.
Q: Are you staying on the track because you feel that you can overcome the difficulties that Panetta talks about, or because you don't think they're serious enough to derail it -- either reconciliation or health care?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We obviously take all these concerns into account, and we're going to make sure that we work on a track, that we'll do everything we can to get the reconciliation bill passed this year and to get the health care bill passed this year. But we don't necessarily see them in opposition.
Q: Would you acknowledge that there is a division within the White House among those who think the President should focus exclusively on the economy and what he wants to do there, and those who want him to simultaneously pursue other -- his whole activist agenda and campaign finance reform and other issues --health care?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think everyone in the White House is committed to the President's agenda, the agenda that he ran on, the agenda that he's governing on. And that includes, one, turning the economy around; two, reforming this nation's health care system so we can provide security to the American people. It also includes the other parts of his agenda that he's laid out: campaign finance, national service. Those are the four big priorities he said he wanted to move forward on right away, and those are the four big priorities he is moving forward on right away.
Q: Are the agreed on the timing, George? Are they all agreed here on the timing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think there are a lot of discussions over the exact days when things should go forward. I mean, there's just no question about that. But I think we're all agreed to move forward on the reconciliation bill as quickly as we possibly can, and to move in short order, also, with health care. We believe it has to get done.
Q: On NAFTA again, Panetta's word was "dead," which has a distinctly different implication than "awaiting major surgery," which is what you're saying. (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would say what I just said. I mean, I think that we have no intention to send NAFTA up tomorrow. If it were sent up tomorrow, it would not pass.
Q: But, George, the issue isn't tomorrow, the issue is --
Q: this legislative session or ever. Are you committed to sending NAFTA up this spring or summer or fall?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're committed to sending NAFTA up when we negotiate good supplemental agreements with the Mexicans to protect American workers in the American environment.
Q: Are you avoiding moving on negotiating such agreements --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Absolutely not. And the U.S. Trade Ambassador is working very hard on that. And he's entering into negotiations with the Mexicans, and we hope we can conclude successful negotiations on the side agreements as quickly as possible.
Q: But don't you think that this headline has done a lot of damage to NAFTA, and what is the White House or the President going to do about it? Are you going to take additional steps to clarify that situation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't control The Washington Post headlines as much as I might like to, and there were, in fact, two different headlines in The Washington Post today. The first one --it actually got progressively worse during the day -- the first one was, The President Faces Battle, and then it was moved on to President In Trouble later in the day. So I don't think -- if we paid too much attention to headlines, we'd be going back and forth every 10 minutes.
Q: So is it fair to say that you disagree that Mr. Panetta's assessment is pessimistic? You don't accept that at all?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, I accept it. I think that he clearly pointed up the challenges that we face as we go forward on the big parts of our package. It's clear that we have those --
Q: And that the President agrees with his assessment of those challenges?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is optimistic by nature. He's upbeat about our chances and he's going to keep on fighting.
Q: George, usually when an official makes a statement like this publicly it's because he can't get the message across privately. Is that the case here? Has Panetta told the President the exact same thing in private?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I certainly am not going to talk about the President's private conversations with Mr. Panetta. But I would just say that I don't think that Mr. Panetta was trying to send any signal here that wasn't being sent anywhere else. I think that's pretty clear. He came to the staff meeting this morning and said, listen, I don't think that that was the right characterization of the way I was talking. I'm sorry for the way it turned out. I didn't mean it to turn out that way.
Q: George, with respect to Mr. Panetta's statement on NAFTA, why would he be making such an obvious statement if everybody knows that the administration has plans to conclude these side deals and send it up and the President has said from when he was a candidate that he was going to look for these side deals? So why would Leon make such an obvious statement?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I suppose he was asked a question.
Q: George, to follow up on my own question, during the transition I recall the President saying something like Panetta is going to be a good teacher for me. We were asking questions about Panetta disagreeing with the President as a campaigner. Has Panetta succeeded, or is he now trying to teach the President something on this matter as far as getting something through Congress?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know about that. I think the President talks to Leon Panetta every day. He's given a lot of good advice. He did yeoman's work in producing a budget resolution that passed the Congress in record time of record magnitude. And the President is very proud of the work of Mr. Panetta and he looks forward to continue to work with him.
Q: Is campaign finance reform going to happen this week?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not really sure. That came up a bit in the meeting this morning with the leaders. I think we're very close to a final agreement. There might be some additional consultations that are needed, but we're trying to move forward as quickly as we can.
Q: What is hanging it up, George, because it's one of your 100-day four pillars, if you will, and it's
Q: printed in the book.
Q: of course, it's already in the book.
Q: It's done. (Laughter.)
Q: What is holding it up? Are you also trying to have a --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't concede that it's held up yet because it's not.
Q: If you announced that it's going to happen today it would appear to be --
Q: Campaign finance reform -- you're not conceding --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Andrea wants to know what's going on with campaign finance reform.
Q: The answer is?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What did she say? The answer is we're working on it. I think we're very close to an announcement. Whether it's the end of this week or the beginning of next, I'm not sure which one it will be. But the only possible hold would be over some additional consultations that we might need and that would be the only reason to go --
Q: When is the meeting on Bosnia and which committees? We can't get any answers.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, it's not completely nailed down yet. We expect to have a meeting with some congressional leaders on Bosnia this afternoon. I'm not sure if it's going to be one or two meetings. We think it's going to be one.
Q: Is it foreign affairs, intelligence?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Foreign affairs -- probably be foreign affairs, defense, intelligence, maybe defense appropriations. I'm not sure of the exact list, but we're trying to finalize that right now.
Q: Do you consider this the official notification under War Powers?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I think this is the predecision consultation by the President with congressional leaders, as he said he would do. He's had continuous phone calls and things like that with congressional leaders and it came up in the meeting this morning. But he wants to broaden out the consultation before he makes a decision.
Q: Has he talked to any foreign leaders?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not today.
Q: Speaking of War Powers, no administration has ever acknowledged its constitutionality. It seems to me you had one letter on an earlier issue which said, as earlier administrations have, that you were making a notification consistent with, but not under the War Powers Act. What is the administration's position on the constitutionality of the War Powers Act?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we'll continue to make notifications when appropriate that are consistent with the War Powers Act. I don't want to get into it further at this point. I would check with counsel, but we will continue to notify consistent with the War Powers Act.
Q: So you're not accepting or not accepting its effect or constitutionality?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not right now.
Q: Why can't we assume that the "consistent with" language, which is the language both the Bush and the Reagan administration used --
Q: Sorry, I wasn't here that long. (Laughter) -- is not, in effect, saying the same exact thing which is you don't recognize the constitutionality of notifying under the provisions of?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we certainly intend to notify and consult under the provisions of War Powers. Consistent with the provisions of War Powers. And I thank you for pointing that out.
Q: What time is the Bosnia meeting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's not completely set yet. I believe it's like 3:00 p.m. or 4:00 p.m. but we just haven't finally nailed it down.
Q: Can you confirm that Christopher's going to Europe?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q: George, on Bosnia, Lord Owen said --
Q: Can you confirm he's not?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I can't comment.
Q: Is he going?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No decisions have been made.
Q: If he goes, when will he go? (Laughter.)
Q: If he goes, why would he go? Should he go, just hypothetically, would this be with a decision in hand or would this be in consultation to arrive at a decision?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I just can't comment on it until we have some decisions on whether or not he's going to go.
Q: Are you encouraged by what Douglas Hurd apparently said in Denmark over the weekend?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There was a question over whether or not Secretary Christopher is going to Europe. And I said I can't comment on it.
Q: Do you view the discussions in Denmark as a softening of the British and French opposition to air strikes?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that we've had continuous consultations with the British and French over a number of ways to go in Bosnia. We haven't had any specific consultations yet based on any decision that the President has made. But I think what you're seeing across Europe is an increasing sense of urgency over the situation in Bosnia. And we expect to work closely with our allies on our policy.
Q: You don't deny that they've told you that of the military options the one they prefer is air strikes.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I just can't speak to it.
Q: George, Lord Owen said that the U.S. ought to put up or shut up, in effect, and put ground troops in, that air strikes won't do any good unless there are ground troops, too. Is the President changing his position on ground troops?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has not changed his position on ground troops.
Q: George, I wanted to get back to your feeling that health care could be passed this year. A number of Senate Democrats who were in on this briefing on Saturday left after that briefing feeling that it is going to take much longer than just this year. And I was wondering what specific techniques you're going to try to use to try to consolidate some of the jurisdictional nightmares of health care reform, or the financing mechanism, the complexity to try to get something done this year.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sweet reason. (Laughter.) We're going to talk to them. Obviously when we have the package ready we will work out all the jurisdictional disputes, and we'll work out the different referrals and try and get as quick a consideration as we can -- in the House and the Senate.
Q: Is there any comment from the President about Yeltsin's call for what he called decisive measures in Bosnia, the call he made this morning one day after he talked to Mr. Clinton on the phone?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think what was encouraging about what President Yeltsin said is that he was willing to say to the Serbs that the aggression must stop as well.
Q: But was it a code word he was using to talk about air strikes?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I couldn't speak to that, I don't know.
Q: Did the President ask Mr. Yeltsin to make a statement like that in their phone conversation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q: Did he encourage him to make --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. Didn't come up.
Q: Did he discuss anything like that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Did not come up.
Q: Has he talked to Mitterrand?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q: Back on health care, you said you think it's wrong to necessarily assume that there's going to be a huge new tax for health care. Is that to say that the VAT is no longer on the table? Are you trying to push that aside or what?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I just think that it stands on it's own. I don't think that we can assume until a decision is made that any tax has been proposed.
Q: Do you have -- what the Speaker said today?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Which part?
Q: The part where he said that he came away from the meeting with the Clinton's believing that the VAT is dead for health care purposes.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's not exactly what he said.
Q: That's what he said on the drive this --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He didn't use the word dead.
Q: He said that is was very unlikely that anything --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's different from saying the VAT is dead.
Q: Very unlikely?
Q: said there will not be the kind of -- he also said there will not be the kind of broad taxes that have been discussed.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's fair to say that it's not at the top of the list. And I don't know that it ever was.
Q: George, in the conversation with Yeltsin, did the President discuss with him the prospects for getting additional Russian aid through Congress? And did he explain to him the sense that it can't be done until you get some sort of movement on it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, they didn't have an in-depth -- almost all of their discussion was about the election, the election results and Yeltsin expressing his thanks to the President and the American people for their support in his elections.
Q: And about Bosnia, too, I guess.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: George, on Russian aid, President Clinton from the very beginning made the argument that Russian aid was not an economic issue, it wasn't a jobs issue, it was a national security issue.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think -- to be fair.
Q: No, that stabilizing Russia was not something --was not charity, it was not unemployment, it was an issue that was involved with our own national security that will allow us to cut other places, particularly the defense budget.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's only one-half of his argument though, Tom. The second half of his argument was that by helping the Russian people invest in their economy we would also be increasing economic opportunities for the American people.
Q: Absolutely, no question about it. But why now? I have not heard anyone -- maybe I just haven't heard it. But I haven't heard anyone up there saying no jobs bill, no Russian aid. All I've heard is administration officials saying -- like Panetta and others -- oh, if we don't get our jobs bill through, now there'll be no aid for Russia. Why in the world would you introduce -- why would you link the two?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: First, I don't think -- I just don't agree with your assumption. I mean, go spend a day, first of all, up on the Hill and ask people the question. And I think you'll find out that it is very, very difficult to imagine passing a bill on aid to Russia at this point unless we are moving forward on our jobs bill or other kinds of investments for the American economy. I just think that that is a misreading of where Congress is.
Q: And you say the President is going to concede that argument --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, obviously the President has gone forward. He's introduced Russian aid, he's pushed the G-7 for an international package, he's come forward with a second bilateral package. He believes that aid to Russia is in the American national security interest, is in our economic interest. He will fight for it. At the same time, it is difficult to imagine that it can get through Congress in this current environment unless we're also moving forward on the President's jobs initiatives, economic initiatives, health care initiatives.
QQ: George, two quick things. On Bosnia, do you expect the announcement this week?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q: Not this week?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not ruling it out, but I'm --
Q: What did the President mean?
Q: Do you have anything on the President having met or going to meet with the Dalai Lama while he's in town?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, he had a brief meeting with the Dalai Lama earlier today, and they had a discussion over human rights concerns in China and Tibet.
Q: Why don't you tell us things that are on his schedule?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It was a brief stop-by when he came back. It was actually on the Vice President's schedule, and he walked by the office and went in and said hello to the Dalai Lama, and they spent about five minutes.
Q: There are parts of the world --
Q: Hello, Dalai. (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure.
Q: Can you tell us a little more about what the President had to say to the Dalai Lama about Tibet or anything the Dalai Lama might have asked for?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think he asked for anything in particular. He thanked him for his support for human rights in China. And the President just greeted him. But I don't think they had a much longer discussion than that.
Q: impact this meeting might have on relations with China, trade issues or other things?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the President's concerns about human rights in China are well-known and have been well expressed, and he will continue to express them.
Q: Speaking of China, George, last week Mitchell, as you know, and Pelosi introduced their legislation, and the White House's response was they were looking at the bill to determine whether or not they could endorse its conditionality clauses. Has the White House decided what it's going to do in that --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I mean, we have until June 1st to announce our policy on MFN, and obviously --
Q: This legislation is, if anything, less tough on -- is a little bit less tough than last year's legislation. Have the Chinese done anything that you could name that would make you -- and which the President endorses a candidate -- has the Chinese done anything that you can think of that would make the President not endorse legislation --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President continues to support the thrust of this legislation, continues to support the idea of conditionality and will continue to demand progress from China on human rights and other issues before he approves MFN. We're still reviewing the entire range of Chinese actions, entire range of conditions. And when we have an announcement we'll let you know, but he certainly supports the thrust of conditionality.
Q: George, is the President aware that some Democrats are very hurt because they haven't been called on to bring any advice or jobs where the third, fourth, fifth tier of jobs are still being filled by influential Republicans who are undermining the President's policies?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I didn't know that to be true. If it is, we'll get on top of it. I don't that that's anything that we want.
Q: Well, it is true in every department.
Q: Talking about holdovers, I think.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, I thought she was saying new appointments. We're trying to fill up the appointments as soon as -- (laughter).
Q: The Republicans are still there and many influential, good Democrats have not even been touched, not even been asked for advice.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're reaching out to ask as many Democrats and others as we can for advice on the personnel --
Q: These Republicans -- Republicans are taking actions and making policies by government today and hurting the President.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, if we come up upon an action where they're hurting the President, we'll certainly take action. But we're going to move forward very quickly, as quickly as we can on these personnel appointments. And we expect to be making more progress soon.
Q: The President told realtors that he thought a compelling case could still be made for investment incentives. Does that -- does he still believe that holds true for the capital gains cut proposal and investment tax credit proposal?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, I think so. The President believes that these proposals can make a difference, that they can provide for needed investments in the private economy.
Q: Is there any reason he didn't particularly fight those two, given that the didn't -- other provisions in his program?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not necessarily, no.
Q: When he talked about battle of ideas, was he referring to Democrats as well as Republicans -- Democrats like Rostenkowski, who disagreed on these particular tax provisions?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that he was referring specifically to Chairman Rostenkowski. In fact, I'm quite confident that he wasn't referring specifically to him. But he did say in the speech that he was elected to change the thinking of both parties. And there are going to be times when he disagrees with Republicans, times when he agrees with Republicans, times when agrees with Democrats, and times when he disagrees with Democrats on the Hill. That's all par for the course, and it's part of big change.
Q: Did someone write that speech? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Why do you ask?
Q: Was he -- he had a text?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He had a written text. I'm certain how closely it as followed. I think it was -- some parts it was and some it wasn't. I mean, he always uses the text as sort of a takeoff point.
Q: No, I know that, but in recent days he seems to be more --
Q: some would say rambling.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How about ebullient and upbeat. (Laughter.) No, it was -- he had a written text, but he does what he always does, which is work off notes and then say what's on his mind.
Q: George, knowing that sometimes the answers come -- that questions have to -- let me start on Panetta one time. Did the President talk to Panetta last night? Did Panetta try to reach the President last night?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, he had a meeting with Panetta at about 6:00 p.m. yesterday, but it was a fairly broad meeting, there were probably 15 people there.
Q: Sort of -- since the headlines have appeared, whatever, and that includes last night's from 10:00 p.m. on to the current moment when you came out here, had the President and Panetta had a conversation that you know of?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so.
Q: Has Panetta tried to reach the President?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure. I can't speak to the 10:00 p.m. to kind of midnight period. I just don't know. I don't think they've spoken, but I couldn't guarantee that they haven't. I'll just have to check.
Q: Has the reacted in your presence or that you know of --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, I mean, he just is not overly concerned by a one-day story.
Q: What was his reaction?
Q: What did he say?
Q: How about a two-day story? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that would be different. (Laughter.)
Q: What did he say?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He just shook his head and said --
Q: Goddamn Leon. (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. (Laughter.)
Q: Go ahead.
Q: Go ahead.
Q: He just shook his head --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know his exact words, but he just wasn't upset. He shook his head, he kind of had a small smile on his face and said -- you know, obviously he wished the story wouldn't have happened, but I don't know what the exact words. It wasn't a big deal.
Q: Is he troubled at all by the candor of a high administration official
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q: on the fate of his -- this didn't bother him?
Q: Was the Chief of Staff upset with Panetta?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Obviously, we talked about this at the staff meeting. And we all wanted to know exactly what happened. But Mr. Panetta came to the staff meeting this morning, explained what had happened, and we all accept his explanation.
Q: Which is what?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Exactly what I said before. He went through each of the issues. And when you go through each of the issues, they all make perfect sense. I think it was -- some things were kind of put into a slightly different cast for the article, including the headline set off in a direction that was not intended or expressed by the Budget Director. And so it just is not that big of a deal.
Q: Had he said anything to Clinton prior to when they met last night, that he'd done this interview and basically --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, because I don't think he thought -- this is just one of those things. I don't think he thought after his lunch yesterday that he was going to wake up this morning and see what he saw.
Q: He talked to at least two reporters who were working on the story last night at about 6:00 p.m. after his press secretary called and said we understand that you are doing a frontpage story about what Leon said. So he clearly knew yesterday that this was major story.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not meaning to suggest that this is something that later on he didn't have some indication. That is, I'm talking about when he went to the lunch, he just did not think it was a big deal, and he did not know that it was going to be as big a deal as it turned out to be.
Q: But later on, once he knew it was going to be a big deal, did he call anyone? Did he call you or anyone and say --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Our office certainly knew. I think Barry Toiv must have called Dee Dee at some point. And we certainly knew by last night that it was coming out. But there's only --
Q: George, do these views expressed in this article reflect that he has expressed here and to the President about the legislative circumstance on the --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't comment on his private advice to the President.
Q: I won't ask you to put it in those terms. Do they reflect views he expressed here at the White House and among the senior staff about what the situation is and some sense of urgency that he feels about working on the problem?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we all feel a sense of urgency about passing the President's program. I just can't speak to his comments in private meetings in the White House.
Q: Lloyd Bentsen, when asked about this today, said he found the comments "interesting," and did not take issue with them. Now, that -- it's hard to tell what that means, but there is -- (laughter) -- there is some suggestion here that perhaps there is some senior --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No headline there.
Q: former Capitol Hill hands who believe that the administration's program may be in somewhat more trouble than others here at the White House feel it is, and have been trying in one way or another to communicate that view. Is this consistent with that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We are constantly monitoring the status of the President's economic package, the status of his health care package on Capitol Hill. We understand the challenges that we face in passing these programs.
Q: Did McLarty speak to Panetta about his remarks since last night or today?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think they had a discussion this morning.
Q: Do you know what the tenor of the discussion was?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Just trying to find out what happened. Q: Was McLarty disappointed or express any kind of -- MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he was disappointed in the
Q: Was he disappointed in Mr. Panetta?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He understands what happened.
Q: There are two theories that keep coming back are, one, that Panetta did this deliberately knowing it would cause these headlines because he was unsuccessful at conveying --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that theory is wrong.
Q: What about the other theory that he did it deliberately in order to lower expectations?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think they're both wrong. (Laughter.)
Q: Why do you think the first is wrong?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Because I just -- I simply think that he was talking about the issues and that he clearly has opportunities to express, and he knows that he has opportunities to express his views in the White House, and he has no complaints over the ability to express his views in the White House. And he did not know that his comments were going to be taken the way they were taken. I mean, I think that is clear from anybody who's talked to him.
Q: George, will any other Cabinet members being having lunch with reporters --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure. (Laughter.)
Q: I think this goes to Panetta's record in the House. Republicans know him as a man who is king of pork.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: King of what?
Q: Pork -- P-O-R-K -- a man who believes in getting pork barrel messages in who's gotten several in for himself.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not Panetta, Sarah. No, he's --
Q: million dollars for a language center that was -- (inaudible) -- some doings like that, and I just wonder if Panetta had anything to do with the amount of pork that got into the jobs stimulus bill.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I couldn't find any.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:46 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by George Stephanopoulos Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269313