Press Briefing by George Stephanopoulos
The Briefing Room
11:32 A.M. EDT
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Everybody's dressing so springlike these days. It's fantastic. It is spring.
I have nothing to announce. I'll just take some questions, if anybody has any.
Q: The President said in the Rose Garden that he saw no risk in proceeding ahead with health care on this current schedule. Is that the assessment, that there's no risk here whatsoever?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the President said he wants to go forward, and he thinks that we can go forward and get both his economic and his health care plans without any risk. He believes that moving forward on these programs, they reinforce each other, and that's what we're going to do.
Q: So there's absolutely no question at this point that health care will be unveiled mid-May, legislation probably presented in June, and that that and reconciliation will move forward together?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we're on track.
Q: But there's no concern that the reinforcing could be in terms of reinforcing people's negative opinions about taxes?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I think that we think that the President's health care program is going to be a very positive program that's going to be well-received by the American people, because it's going to provide security for the American people.
Q: George, how does the President feel about Aspin's decision on women in the military? Does he support it fully?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, Secretary Aspin would make an announcement later today. But the President has talked to Secretary Aspin about this issue and he fully supports the directives that the Secretary will issue today.
Q: Does he feel that is consistent with his position on gays in the military? Is this part of his philosophy, that there should be no restrictions on people because of gender or any other --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think there's any tie between the issues. What the President believes is that the women are now serving in the military. Women should have the opportunity to serve in broader positions than they now serve in, and he supports the decision by the Secretary to move forward. It's also an important issue for the readiness of the Arms Forces. This is going to insure that we have the best trained forces out there.
Q: And how was the decision reached? Did it come up through the Cabinet level? Was the President involved in the decision-making?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President met with Secretary Aspin I believe sometime last week, where the Secretary reviewed the issue with him and the President said go forward.
Q: Is Brown in line to be FBI Director if there's a vacancy?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Who?
Q: Lee Brown.
Q: Ron Brown. (Laughter.)
Q: Les Brown.
Q: James Brown. (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President -- Helen, I think we're getting way ahead of ourselves. He just announced the man who is to be drug czar today, and he's looking forward to --
Q: Has he been considered at all for FBI Director?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is thrilled that Lee Brown accepted the appointment of drug czar and he knows that he will do a good job.
Q: What does making him Cabinet-level mean? Is he going -- because Bush did the same thing with his drug czar, but he didn't sit in on Cabinet meetings. Is Brown going to actually sit in on Cabinet meetings?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: Full Cabinet?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure.
Q: At the table, or behind the table? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right at the table. We're putting a new leaf in the table.
Q: Cabinet never meets. So what's the real effect -- (laughter and applause.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We just can't win. (Laughter.) When it meets, he will be there and he will participate.
Q: Senator Biden said he expects the President will probably make a decision within a week on Bosnia. Is that the timetable that you think the President --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think he's likely to make a decision before the end of this work week.
Q: Before the end of this work week?
Q: Then what happens? Does he send Christopher over to try and sell it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again --
Q: He's not going to announce it right away, or is he?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I think he'll make a decision before the end of the week.
Q: So then you have the decision in the leaks and the announcement -- (laughter).
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You know this town, Brit. (Laughter.)
Q: We've been told all along that it wasn't coming this week.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That was a question about an announcement. He asked about a decision.
Q: Before Saturday he'll make a decision on what to do?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure. Before the end of this week. I mean, he works seven days.
Q: The Christopher would take this to Europe?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I expect that there will be full consultation with our allies once the President makes a decision.
Q: Will his decision be announced or consultations first?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's most likely that the President will have consultations before any final announcement.
Q: Biden also said that there's less objection among the members of Congress to lifting the arms embargo because for those who really don't want to do something military, it's a less painful choice and it doesn't involve as much engagement. Is that the sense that you have, that there's more consensus behind lifting the arms embargo than there is behind air strikes?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have a strong sense of exactly where the Congress is right now. I think there is a general consensus for strengthened action, as the President has said that he will fight for in the coming days. Beyond that, I don't think I can speak to that at this point. The President began his consultations yesterday. He was very pleased with the meeting and thought that he got a lot of good information from the members of Congress, some of whom had visited Bosnia and the region recently. But beyond that I can't comment on it.
Q: How do you describe the process that he's going through? He taking information -- what is he doing with it? How does it affect his decision-making?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as you know, the President has been dealing with this issue for quite some time. He's had a full review. The National Security Council's done a full review. They have asked for the recommendations and advice from all the relevant Cabinet secretaries, from the Secretary of Defense, from Madeleine Albright, our Ambassador of the United Nations, obviously, from the Secretary of State and from the National Security staff itself. They have synthesized the options. They have presented a range of options to the President, and they have also talked through those options with him.
He has followed that up with discussions with members of Congress. As you know, he has also met with or spoken with other world leaders, including Prime Minister Major and President Mitterrand of France. And he will continue those consultations in the coming days and weeks.
Q: George, General McPeak this morning, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, said this morning that we could carry out -- the United States Air Force, anyway, could carry out a limited bombing campaign against the Bosnian Serbs. And what he said at very little risk to ourselves, meaning our aircraft. Their anti-aircraft technology is pretty primitive. He claims they could take out some bridges, some artillery emplacements without losing many or any airplanes. Does that represent the kind of advise, military advise that the President is getting from the chiefs, or is this an Air Force Chief of Staff free-lancing his own opinions about his service's capabilities?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I just can't characterize the private advice given to the President from the Joint Chiefs, but I wouldn't dispute at all what General McPeak says.
Q: Given that polls show the American people, the majority of them not in favor of military action, is it considered an impediment or something he is, at this point, discounted and will do what he thinks is right?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Obviously, one of the lessons we've learned is that if the President is going to take action, particularly military action overseas, it's better to have the support of the American people. And the President understands that and the President, once he makes a decision will do what he can to rally the American people behind that decision.
I can't comment directly on those polls because I'm not certain that's exactly right. I don't know what the questions are and I think that there are actually -- a majority of Americans who support stronger action in Bosnia, even though there might be a majority against, for instance, sending in ground troops, which the President has already said he doesn't want to do.
Q: So then you don't view it, really, as -- you don't see an impediment in public opinion at this point to a stronger action?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, once the President makes a decision he'll communicate that decision to the American people and do what he can to get the support of the American people for that decision.
Q: When President Bush made his last trip he went to West Point and he laid out the Bush doctrine, which was basically guidelines for when intervention is prudent and necessary. And when Secretary Christopher went to the Hill yesterday he basically repeated the same guidelines. Have you all consulted with Eagleburger, Baker, those kind of people about this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think there have been consultations. President Bush did lay out clear and consistent guidelines, and it's something -- as you know, Secretary Christopher gave similar statements yesterday and we have no quarrel with that. But we've obviously -- we've talked to our predecessors.
Q: So is this a seamless web in terms of the Bosnia policy?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think you're talking about apples and oranges. There are two separate things. There's one -- principles on military intervention and other specific policy. And, clearly, there are differences between the Bush and the Clinton policy on Bosnia, but the principles that were set forward, similar to ones set forward by General Colin Powell, are ones that we support.
Q: George, as the President goes through his decisionmaking policy on Bosnia, you've told us and he's told us that he doesn't want the U.S. to act alone, he wants us to act in concert with our European allies. But if there's a principle involved of bringing ethnic cleansing to an end and he heard the pleas last week from Elie Wiesel, why would it be required that the allies sign on board United States' efforts to stop that kind of atrocity?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that one of the principles also involved is you have to have a reasonable chance of success in a policy. And obviously the chances of success are increased if we have the support of our European allies. I would also point out that our European allies are involved a this point. They have troops on the ground in Bosnia, so they clearly have a say.
Q: What makes the President more optimistic now that he can get them on board? This isn't really consultation anymore, is it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure, it is.
Q: I mean, he's tried to reach Mitterrand for two days and he won't pick up the phone. I mean, it's really --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you know that, Helen?
Q: How do I know that? Because we were told that he was trying to reach him for two days running. You said, yes, he's going to talk to Mitterrand--
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They spoke last week and there might have been an exchange of phone calls, but I'm certain they're going to speak again very soon. The important point is that the President is consulting with our allies and he is --
Q: But consulting -- he's run up against a brick wall, up to now.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, that's just not true.
Q: You mean, they are bending now?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I mean that he is consulting and he is -- when he makes a decision he will continue those consultations.
Q: Well, he will still not take unilateral action if they don't go along?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What the President said is, he believes that the policy should be multilateral and he believes that it will be.
Q: But what makes him believe that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's an optimist. (Laughter.)
Q: Can I ask you a question, please? Why is the administration proposing a reduction in the business meal and entertainment tax deduction from 80 percent to 50 percent, since there are several people who do say that it would be counterproductive, costing thousands of lower-wage service jobs?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that what we call a loaded question? (Laughter.)
Q: Inquiring minds want to know.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's based on a simple principle. If a worker going into an office to work as an assistant to an executive has to pay for his or her own lunch without any tax break, without any deduction for that lunch, why should executives get a special tax break paid for by all of us for a three-martini lunch in an expensive restaurant? It just doesn't make sense.
Q: It creates jobs. (Laughter.)
Q: Is this both a fiscal and social policy?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure. It raises money and it also is more fair.
Q: What about the waiters who are earning just a few bucks an hour who won't be serving the people --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that when this was first reduced from 100 percent to 80 percent, a lot of the studies showed that it had no effect on jobs at all.
Q: George, he's had a chance now to talk with members of Congress and, obviously, the Alliance and members of the administration. Where do you think the consensus is emerging on policy toward Bosnia? Are there some options that have greater agreement than others?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't get into the specific options. I believe that there is a general consensus for stronger action. Beyond that, I don't think that we have a clear sense yet. But the President will make a decision and we'll go back to Congress and try and get support.
Q: Can you be a little more specific about stronger action? There's all sorts of options out there.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I know. I can't.
Q: George, let me just get the timetable straight. He makes his decision before the end of this week. He then consults with the allies in Europe, and then he makes his announcement to the American people what he's going to do?
Q: And it remains secret until that point, right?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President will make a decision -- the decision is not going to be finalized until he does consult with the allies. But, clearly, he's going to make a decision on what he's going to present to the allies in trying to get multilateral action for it.
Q: And then after the consultations, he'll come back and do an Oval Office address or whatever he's going to do to rally the American public behind his policies?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Once there's a final announcement that's ready to go, sure.
Q: But it happens in that order -- he consults with the leaders after he's made his decision, or before, or both?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's been consulting straight through. But I think there will be an intensified consultation after he's made his decision.
Q: Will he have another news conference tomorrow on his 100th day? Tomorrow is his 100th day, right?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I guess tomorrow is the 100th day, yes. It's the actual 100th day, yes.
Q: Gee, you hadn't noticed.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How about that. (Laughter.)
Q: Will he have a news conference tomorrow?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Another one -- you get one every day. Maybe, I don't know.
Q: You can knock out a lot of nasty pieces that way. (Laughter.)
Q: That's one of avoiding nasty pieces.
Q: George, is it certain that Secretary Christopher is going to Europe?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Excuse me?
Q: Is it certain that Secretary Christopher is going to Europe?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, we haven't made any announcement on that.
Q: Do you know any more than yesterday?
Q: Dealing with NAFTA, a lot of Cabinet secretaries came out yesterday more or less reputing partly or wholely what Mr. Panetta said.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, that's not what they did.
Q: Okay, they came out and said it's not dead.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right, and Mr. Panetta never said it was dead either. He said if it were sent up today, which it wasn't, it would unlikely pass the Congress. That is still true.
Q: Like Franco is still dead. (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But the President is in the middle of negotiations on the side agreements. When we finish -- complete those negotiations, we will present the agreement to the Congress and we expect it will pass.
Q: On campaign finance reform, Monday was the day, Wednesday was the day, now it's next week we're told. People from the administration up on Capitol Hill, we understand. Who are they meeting with to try to work on this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think there's probably general consultations. I know that a lot of members of the Senate wanted to have some consultations with Republicans before the final announcement. I think that Mack McLarty's up on the Hill today talking to a large group of Democrats. I'm not sure exactly who's in the meeting.
Q: So are the Democrats concerned or the Republicans? The Republicans have said they would stand against portions of your package. Were you also concerned about some in your own party?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We want to make sure that we have full consultation before we make any announcement. But we're not concerned.
Q: Any comment on the story in the New York Times to the effect that the administration's trade policy is rife with division and is therefore basically stuck, paralyzed?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it's clearly not paralyzed. The President made -- set out the administration's trade policy in his speech at American University. And we've been moving forward on negotiations with NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. The President had good discussions with Prime Minister Miyazawa, I believe, almost two weeks --
Q: had discussions?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure. Almost two weeks ago. And we've also been moving forward on GATT and a number of other trade issues. And there's no paralysis at all. We're moving forward.
Q: What about the disagreements within the administration, reported there?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Can't comment on it.
Q: You're not -- well, you would if they weren't happening, wouldn't you?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, not necessarily.
Q: Let me follow up on campaign finance. Some of the Democrats who are interested in these consultations are saying that this is just a courtesy, that there is no movement to change the package now, to address any of the Republican concerns. What's your response to that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Our response is that we're looking for the strongest reform package we can get. And we're interested in getting the support of anybody who's willing to sign onto a strong package of reform.
Q: What's the benefit of consulting after the package is almost completed, as opposed to consulting with them in the past three months?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We are consulting with them before any decisions are made. We will continue to consult with them and we hope to get their support. If they choose not to support it, that's their decision. But we're going to go forward with a real package of real reform.
Q: Is it possible that anything that they say will change the package at this point?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure.
Q: It is possible?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure.
Q: Has the President had any time to pay attention to the Middle East peace talks? Does he have any suggestions for the parties?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No specific suggestions. He's pleased that the parties have come to Washington for the talks, and he hopes that they will go well.
Q: And has he changed his mind about meeting with any of them?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There are no meetings planned at this point.
Q: On drug policy, Secretary Aspin was at the announcement today and the military has, in the past, been pretty reluctant to get involved in drug interdiction and other -- I'm curious to know why he was there and what role?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the military does have a role on interdiction. They have radar planes off the coast, and they've been involved in some of our foreign efforts, including I think in Bolivia in the past. There have been large-scale assistance by the U.S. military. So they clearly have a role.
Q: But it's been fairly -- I mean, they haven't gotten involved. I mean, you're not using military planes to shoot down drug dealers --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, but we've used military planes to track drug dealers. I just disagree.
Q: I was just curious to know what role you anticipate the Defense Department and the State Department having in the drug war, seeing as the President wants to move more toward treatment and education from --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think what the President said is, he doesn't see it as an either/or situation. We need to move forward on enforcement, on interdiction and, clearly, doing what we can to control the supply overseas, while simultaneously beefing up our efforts at treatment and prevention and education here at home.
Q: Do you envision expanding the military role?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not necessarily. I don't want to speak to that at all, but the military clearly does have a role, and it will continue.
Q: But their presence there didn't mean any --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It meant that they have a role to play in the drug war, and they will continue to play it.
Q: What does the President think is the U.S. national interest that would justify U.S. military intervention in Bosnia, and how would he try to sell that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I think that when the President has an announcement to make along those lines, he will make it and he will justify it.
Q: When the President said he intended to make drug treatment an important part of the health care plan, did that mean that you intend to include drug treatment as part of your core benefits package that would be guaranteed under coverage?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I can't comment on what's going to be in or out of the health care package, except to stand by what the President says which it will be an important part. We just have not made any final decisions on the comprehensive benefits package or any other portion of the health care program.
QQ: The budget this year pretty much just follows George Bush's model. And the President's talking about wanting to move the focus towards treatment. Dee Dee said this morning that was because you didn't have a drug czar in place. Now that you've got one, do you anticipate any changes in your budget or a supplemental to that budget to change the outcome?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. I think the President also pointed out that there has been a 10 percent increase, I believe, in treatment and that's clearly going in the direction that we want to go in. I mean, we can't achieve all of our goals overnight, but the President is clearly setting the direction that he wants to go in.
Q: But in terms of the way you allocate the money. People on the Hill have been pretty disappointed in what they see as not living up to the campaign promise on drugs. And I'm wondering if you're going to change the allocation of money now that you have someone in place.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I expect that as the President's budget makes it through the reconciliation process it's conceivable that there will be changes. But I would just again point out that the President has increased funding for treatment and prevention in his budget. He is setting new directions and we're going to continue to do that as best we can.
Q: George, do you have any foreign leaders programmed for the next few weeks, this month?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure, there are for the next few weeks and when we have a whole list we'll let it out. I don't know of any more this week.
Q: George, why did it take until day 99 of your administration to come up with a drug czar? What was the cause of the delay if it was such a high priority?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it was a high priority and we were working on it. We made sure we had a thorough review process. And what we're pleased with is that we've gotten the best person for the job, someone who's gotten a significant background in law enforcement, someone who's studied the problems of criminology, someone who also understands the very real issues around treatment and prevention. The President is happy. If it took a few extra days to get Lee Brown, it was worth it.
Q: goes up to the Hill?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure.
Q: Do you consider -- does the administration consider air strikes something that need to be done in the surprise mode?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think there's going to be any surprises.
QQ: In other words, are you saying that if there's a --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm saying the President hasn't made a decision
Q: In other words, are you saying that if there is a decision so I can't comment on anything he hasn't --
Q: But there would be an announcement -- for tactical reasons you wouldn't do something by surprise without announcing it first?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't get into that.
Q: Did the President sign the executive order that he promised banning discrimination against gays throughout the government?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He hasn't done it yet; it's under review. We don't have a specific timetable right now.
Q: Is it on hold until the situation with the Pentagon is settled?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, not necessarily. We just don't have a timetable.
Q: Are any of the options that the President's considering in Bosnia that would not require additional U.N. action?
Q: Stumped the band. (Laughter.)
Q: Times up. (Laughter.)
Q: Oh, come on. You were so close. (Laughter.)
Q: It's a trick question.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Can't comment. (Laughter.)
Q: The State Department said that there's already U.N. legal authority for any military action that would involve protecting or expanding humanitarian relief.
Q: Is that the White House interpretation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's a different question.
Q: Well, let's take that part of it then. For military action that would involve protecting humanitarian relief that would be --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I simply cannot comment on decisions that he hasn't made. I can't get into that.
Q: The reason I'm asking is because it has to do with the timing of any actions that were taken. If this involves a decision, you know, consultation and the President announces it and then we have to go to the U.N. and have weeks more of discussions, that's one thing.
Q: That way we've got a chance of getting a weekend off. (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I certainly am not contradicting anything that Secretary Christopher said. At the same time, we have consistently not commented in any way that would tip off the conceivable presidential decision, and I just can't start doing that now. And if I answer that question it starts to cut of some things; might not cut off others and I just can't do it.
Q: A follow-up question on timing. I understand why the President wants to consult with Congress and with the allies. But things are very dire on the ground for some people in Bosnia. And my question is, is there a sense of urgency about this that you have noted in the White House and could you give us --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There's an absolute sense of urgency. That's why the President's been pressing for these meetings. That's why he's been pressing for a decision. That's why he's been pressing for the best advice from his Cabinet officials, from the Pentagon, from the State Department. That's why he called a meeting with the responsible members of Congress yesterday. And that's why he will continue to move forward and make a decision quite soon.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:45 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/269314