Press Briefing by George Stephanopoulos
The Briefing Room
1:05 P.M. EDT
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I was going to ask Brit to do it, but I couldn't. (Laughter.)
President Clinton has invited his Majesty King Hussein I of Jordan to meet in Washington on June 18th. The two leaders are expected to discuss the Middle East peace process, developments in the region and U.S.-Jordanian bilateral relations.
Q: State visit or a working visit?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's a working visit.
Q: George, on the economic package that the House is going to vote on tomorrow, could you walk through where the President is ready to go on these so-called entitlement limits? How far is he willing to go on that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the discussions are still going on on the Hill, so I can't comment on the specifics, but as I said yesterday that I think that the approach is something that's generally acceptable to the President. We hope they'll work something out today. My understanding is -- I called just before I got here -- the meetings are still going on, so I don't want to comment further.
Q: George, the President has said again today that all he had done or one of the things that happened is that the press has been saved 25 percent for the same service. Where does he get these ideas?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, what I think what he was referring to there is that last weekend we were able to have about a 25 percent reduction in the travel costs for --
Q: For the same service, he said. You know it wasn't the same service; we know it wasn't the same service. How come he doesn't know that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think the same travel service. I think --
Q: George --
Q: George, Earth to George.
Q: Not true.
Q: You had mechanical -- you had a plane with no hot food, you had a whole series of things that we all know about. Not the same service. Why does he keep saying that?
Q: Is he ill-staffed or ill-informed?
Q: What's the reason for that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, he's well aware of what happened.
Q: Well, does he believe it's the same or --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the fuel line is obviously something we regret and it's something that does occasionally happen with airplanes. We were able to get everybody there. It took a little late but we got everybody there before the event, and we were happy about that. Sometimes the flights -- believe me, we were happy about that. (Laughter.) A lot happier than I was at 7:00 a.m. that morning. Sometimes there's hot food, sometimes there's cold food and it's something we're watching.
Q: I know, but why does he keep saying it's the same when you know it's not the same, everybody knows it's not the same except apparently him?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know exactly what he was referring to, but we think that we're going to be able to provide good service at a good price.
Q: George, the Democrats in the House are talking about maybe having about 158, 160 solid votes. That's a long way from what you need at the moment. What is the down side to the President going on television tonight, explaining his case to the public and fighting as hard as he can for this that appears to be an absolutely thing that he win?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is fighting as hard as he can for this package. As you know, he's been meeting with members of Congress over the last several days. He met with members of the Black Caucus this morning, was on the phone all morning. Probably had about a dozen phone calls this morning. He's going to go right back to it this afternoon, and he's going to keep on working on the votes right up until the time tomorrow. I think that he will speak to the nation at some point over the next couple weeks, or before the Senate vote. But he thinks it's best right now to spend his time working with the House and we'll continue to do that.
Q: Does he think he has effectively made his case to the public, the public understands what this is about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the President wants to make sure that the public understands what this is about. As he said this morning, this is a package that's going to bring down the deficit, a package where 75 percent of the new taxes go to people earning over $100,000 a year, the top six percent. A package with 200 specific budget cuts that has real spending cuts along with a very modest tax increase for most Americans, and most of the tax is being paid by the richest Americans.
Q: Are you sure it will pass?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
Q: George, is it accurate to say that the President doesn't want to finish making a deal on the entitlement cap issue until the day of the votes because he knows one deal will -- if he does it too soon, one deal will lead to six other deals he'll have to make on the other --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so. I mean, these discussions have been going on this morning. I think the meeting just started around 11:00 a.m. And I think that we hope we will get a deal fairly soon and lock up -- lock up some more votes, and then move on to a victory tomorrow. We're trying to get it done as quickly as we can.
Q: And is the general direction of which you approve a direction in which entitlement caps -- I mean, in which more enforcement of entitlement spending would be part of the deal, but nothing that would force the President or force specific cuts?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it would clearly force an annual review and have various options for how to reach --
Q: But not federal action of some sort?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I think that's part of the discussions right now. I think the approach we're talking about is an annual review with a variety of options.
Q: George, along the line of Brit's question of where does he get this stuff -- he said this morning that all the evidence shows the more people learn about his package, the more they support it, but it would seem from all the polls that we see that just the opposite is the case.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think that's necessarily true. I don't think that people have learned or are well aware of all the specific benefits of the package. I don't think that people generally know that there's a massive increase for the earned income tax credit, which is making sure the people who work will not be in poverty. I don't think the people generally know, even though we've said it, that most of the taxes -- 75 percent of the taxes in this program -- will fall on the wealthiest Americans. There's a perception that most of it will not fall on the wealthiest --
Q: How can you argue that he's made a case then?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he's got to make his case and he is continuing to make his case, and we will continue to make that case every single day.
Q: You've only got one day.
Q: Why don't people know, though? I mean, if you've had this out there for some months now. There's more Democrats in this town than there are Republicans now.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, but there are also a lot -- probably, I don't know the exact number, I know that 80,000 is probably too high, but there's probably tens of thousands of lobbyists in this town spending tens of millions of dollars trying to defeat it.
Q: They may be lobbying up on the Hill, but we're talking about the Americans throughout the country.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And they're lobbying out in the country and they're spending money and they're creating studies, and they're going to the grass roots, and they're trying to do everything they can to protect their special interests. And we're out to defeat that.
Q: George, Ross Perot has had some very harsh comments to make about the President in an interview with David Frost; among other things, saying he's not qualified for the most difficult job in the world, he's still doing things the Arkansas way. How do you deal with this? And do you view him as an irritant, as a gadfly? Do you take him seriously? How does the White House view it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think Ross Perot has something new to say every week. I think that the President's out here focused on his job and trying to get this economic program passed, and that's what he's going to continue to work on.
Q: But, again, what kind of a factor do you see him as, again, as an irritant to you? What?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that he can say what he's going to say. We're going to keep on doing our job.
Q: George, can I ask about the incident involving the State Department official yesterday who spoke to reporters, enunciating what Secretary Christopher had to clarify. Dee Dee said this morning he doesn't speak for the administration. Now, you know as well as I do he's the Under Secretary of State for Policy. Is what he's saying just wrong? And why does he not know what the policy is?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think, first of all, the President and the Secretary of State have said on numerous occasions and numerous settings the foreign policy of the United States, and they are the chief spokesmen for the United States on these matters. And the President has said time and time again that we stand ready to defend our interests, we will continue to defend those interests and we are leaders. This was a background briefing. I was not at the briefing; I can't speak for the whole briefing. Clearly, the Secretary of State is the lead spokesman. He most recently articulated those views on Nightline last night. He spoke about them again this morning, and he stated them very clearly.
Q: But if Under Secretary X doesn't know what the policy is, why do you keep him in the administration?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't think there's any suggestion that he doesn't know what the policy -- that he doesn't know what the policy is. I wouldn't necessarily say that his comments were taken in the way that he meant them. But the Secretary of State clearly speaks for the administration.
Q: Well, his descriptions of what happened in Bosnia are exactly parallel to what happened in Bosnia. I mean, was he simply being more honest than other administration officials have been?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We've said time and time again that we expected and want and demanded a multilateral effort in the Bosnian situation, and that's exactly what we've got. The Secretary of State has worked with the other foreign ministers. That's what we saw on Saturday in the coordination of the joint action plan. And we're going to continue to work with them.
Q: Well, what is wrong about the view that economic issues are predominant and that foreign policy should take a back seat?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know that -- now we're into second- and third-hand characterizations of what somebody said at a background briefing; I don't know that that's particularly fair to him. What the President has said time and time again is that foreign and domestic policy are intertwined, and you can't do one without the other and you can't lead abroad unless you have a strong economy at home. And he has focused on both, on making sure that we have the economic underpinnings to have a leadership role in the world, and that's why we're working on the budget today.
Q: Was the President asked about this briefing -- has the President spoken to the Secretary, and are there any further ramifications?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think the President has spoken to the Secretary, no.
Q: During the campaign --
Q: Could you answer the second part of the question?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What was the second part?
Q: Are there any further ramifications -- i.e., is he going to be disciplined, fired, told not to speak to the press? (Laughter.)
Q: Put on administrative leave.
Q: Made to ride on the charter? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Plenty of -- Brit, were you even on the trip Saturday? I didn't think so. (Laughter.)
Q: I'm just doing my job here, George.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Me too. I'm sorry. I don't believe so, but you can ask the State Department.
Q: But Dee Dee's language in particular this morning was as strong denunciation of someone serving in the senior level of government as I've seen on the record. It suggests that he doesn't speak for the administration, that he was off the reservation.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Those comments did not reflect the view of the administration as set forth by the Secretary of State. There's a difference between condemning a person --
Q: So what do you do about it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What you do is you talk to them, you find out what happened, and that's exactly what we've done.
Q: Well, what happened?
Q: During the campaign, George Bush was hammered for spending -- quote -- "too much time on foreign policy." And the inference then was that more direction would be put on domestic policy than foreign policy. So when somebody reads this account from a senior State Department official, it sort of has the ring of fact or truth to it, does it not?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I mean, I think if you look at what the President's done, the President has been active in both foreign and domestic policy. The State Department is working on getting the Middle East Peace Talks started again. He's had a successful summit with Boris Yeltsin and the Russians. He's been working on Bosnia, he's been working on Haiti. The President can, must and will lead in foreign policy; that's his job as Commander-In-Chief and as the President of the world's only remaining superpower.
At the same time, we are in a new world. We are in a world where economic strength matters, where economic strength is the underpinning of our foreign policy. And the President, from the very beginning of his campaign, said that we cannot lead in that world unless we have a strong economy at home. He continues to believe that. He believes that strongly. He believes it deeply, and he believes that we will not be able to play that kind of role unless we get our own house in order. But they go hand-in-hand.
Q: George, on foreign policy, yesterday both the State Department and the White House issued statements strongly opposing the coup d'etat in Guatemala. What is the administration then prepared to do about the situation in Guatemala?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, I think that there's been someone dispatched from the Organization of American States and we're reviewing that with our allies right now. I'll have to look at the specifics on what we have -- just give me one second.
As you know, our military assistance had already been suspended to Guatemala. But we're going to do a comprehensive review of our bilateral economic assistance and, as well, look at the issue of support in international lending institutions.
Q: George, but whatever happens with the OAS and having the experience with what happened in Peru already, what further steps is the administration willing to take on this particular --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's what we're talking about with our allies right now. We are, first of all, having a convocation of the OAS. Secondly, we are reviewing our assistance to Guatemala and determining what actions we should take.
Q: How much is that bilateral --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that in FY 1992 we provided about $47 million in development and food aid; $20 million of it was for economic support and $10.5 million of it is still in the pipeline. There was also a small amount for military training, not military assistance, and it's $400,000, of which $270,000 was disbursed.
Q: George, can I have a follow up on that one please?
Q: Okay, it has to with Guatemala. The news just came out that Serrano yesterday cancelled the Congress and the Supreme Court. Now he has imposed strict press censorship. My question is, the media says that Assistant Secretary of State Aronson spoke to Mr. Serrano. We are four months and a few days into the administration; how come Mr. Watson hasn't assumed his Assistant Secretary of State for InterAmerican Affairs?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would have to refer you to State. I don't know where he is in the hearing process at this time. I would refer you to the State Department.
Q: Is there a new approach on Haiti that was discussed with the Black Caucus this morning?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, certainly, we're working on Haiti. As you know, we were disappointed by some of the news reports coming out of Haiti this weekend, but we're going to continue to have Ambassador Pezzullo keep at his efforts. And, obviously, if these don't work out, we're considering a whole range of other measures including tougher sanctions that we can take.
Q: Do you have a Supreme Court justice today or tomorrow or the next day?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. I don't think so, no.
Q: This week at all?
Q: George, what about next week?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: She said the next day.
Q: Oh, I'm sorry.
Q: The House Republicans are releasing a list of spending cuts today that they said would obviate the need for any kind of energy tax. Is the President open to eliminating the Btu tax in exchange for other --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President thinks he's got the best plan. I mean, the House Republicans often issue drafts and then you find out that nobody really supports what they're coming forward with. And I think that that's something we faced throughout this process. The President has the only plan that's balanced, has the only plan that really gets the deficit down, has the only plan that has the appropriate amount of taxation on the wealthy. The President's got the only plan that can pass, and we're committed to it.
Q: Does the President still want Lani Guinier as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights or is there some thought of yanking her nomination?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: She's still going forward and he still supports her.
Q: On the King Hussein meeting, does this mean the President is going to now propose some bridging proposals or get more actively involved in these talks?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it is just a working visit. I mean, no new proposals at this time.
Q: On the entitlements compromise, the Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus expressed concern that there not be any changes in the entitlement baseline in this compromise being worked out. Is it the administration's position that anything that is done on entitlements with respect to baseline projections have adjustments in it for inflation and for changes in population --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, that's the general approach we've been going forward with, but I don't want to get too deeply into the specifics while the negotiations are going forward.
Q: To change the subject, what was the urgency on Saturday that the President couldn't wait for the offer of a makeup person? And what does he normally do to provide for his makeup for a TV interview?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Normally the -- (laughter) -- he's got this special contract, you know.
Q: He does --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, he doesn't. (Laughter.)
Q: I thought you said before that he did, that the personal services contract covered makeup --
Q: It does cover makeup, doesn't it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It may cover things -- this is mostly for the First Lady. I mean, I don't think -- usually on makeup -- if I can get to the facts -- (Laughter.) In most cases when the President is on the road, the makeup is generally provided, it's my understanding that it is generally provided by the local stations who are doing the interviews. That is the general practice as far as I know. And when it's here, we generally make other arrangements. But it's usually worked through the stations.
Q: Through a makeup artist, though?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: What happened Saturday? What was so urgent? She supposedly offered to get a makeup artist and apparently was told they couldn't wait.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know exactly what happened in all the intervening minutes when this went on. All I can say is that apologize for what happened and that's that.
Q: What does he use besides pancake makeup? That's a serious question.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You know something? I don't know.
Q: George, the President is said to be furious at the handling by staff of the travel situation and the haircut situation. How angry has he been, and who has he called on to -- (laughter.) Has he called you in? Has he called McLarty in? I mean, what has he told you all?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President spoke to that yesterday. He had discussions with Mack and he wants to just make sure that we find out exactly what happened. Mack is taking charge on that and Mack is going to find out exactly what happened and figure out all of the actions around this incident, and he's going to have a review to bring back. But I think that it's easy to make too much about how people characterize what he does or doesn't say.
Q: Are you saying he wasn't angry? He just had -- I mean, it sounds --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Obviously, he's concerned by it and he wants it to be dealt with. And that's exactly what Mack is doing.
Q: Did he read anybody the riot act, or was there any dressing down or expression of presidential approval beyond simply the easy-going expressions he had yesterday about naming Mack to do this? I mean, did the President actually light into anybody or express his anger in any way?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President spoke to that yesterday. And right now -- what he's worried about right now and what he's focused on now is getting this economic plan passed.
Q: Wait a minute. I don't know what you mean when you say he spoke to that yesterday. He didn't speak to that yesterday.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure he did.
Q: He didn't say whether he'd gotten angry at anybody yesterday. That isn't the question he answered yesterday.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. What he answered was is what happened on the issue and who he's talked to about it, and that's what he said. He said he and Mack have had a discussion --
Q: Is that all there was to it -- no expressions of anger, are you saying? Are you saying there's been no expressions of anger on the President's part about this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm saying that the President is focused on his economic plan, and that's what he's worried about.
Q: Oh, George!
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's what I'm telling you.
Q: I know, but that's not an answer to the question, and we all know the --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The answer to the question is, as I first said in the first answer was that, obviously, he's concerned about this, and obviously he's not happy with the way that this all went.
Q: I know, but there are people reading newspapers through the news box windows that are concerned about it. I'm talking about whether he's angry about what's happened. (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I said he wasn't happy about what happened, and he wished it could be done better.
Q: Has he felt that it has affected his popularity in the country?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know about that. I mean, it's just that -- again, we're focused on getting our work done here.
Q: I know, but isn't it showing up --
Q: As we speak right now, the UltrAir people who used to fly us all around, are having a press conference. They feel in the last week or so with what's going on that they have been slandered and their integrity has been impugned. Are they owed an apology?
Q: There also being audited.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I haven't seen what they're -- anything about their press conference, but I don't know --
Q: They have told one of our reporters earlier today that they feel like they've been slandered in all of this.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How?
Q: Impugned that perhaps there were kickbacks involved or that -- and now the IRS is sicced on them.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, as I said yesterday, we had absolutely nothing to do with that, number one. And, as far as I know, there was never anything from this podium about kickbacks or anything like that.
Q: The Vice President has said that his performance review had absolutely nothing to do with initiating the initial review and audit of the Travel Office. Is the White House still claiming that this was all an outgrowth of the performance review?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it was an outgrowth of, as we said several times, several different -- there have been a lot of --a number of different entities working -- looking at the Travel Office at various times, whether it was the transition or the beginning of the administration or later in the month of April and May. It is my understanding -- I mean, he may have had no personal involvement. It is my understanding that all of the different White House departments were having staff look at them as part of the national performance review, and I think that they were supposed to report sometime in May. But, again, this was not -- yes, this was not something that he was personally directing, personally involved in, personally sent people in. But they were -- David Watkins was making sure that every department did -- was going to produce a report for the national performance review, and that was part of this. I mean, that was just a part of it.
Q: And was the President and the First Lady aware of the comments of the Thomasons this morning? Are they familiar with what they said about being under attack? And I think Mrs. Thomason said now I know how Bebe Rebozo and Burt Lance felt. (Laughter.) And that she wouldn't have been interested in the travel contract because they make so much money, this would have been like a lemonade stand. And is that -- (laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I haven't talked to them about it.
Q: Are you aware of that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q: You haven't talked to them --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I said I haven't talked to them about it.
Q: Can we assume that the White House is not part of their public relations efforts -- last night, two shows this morning.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They are private citizens.
Q: That wasn't the question.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. We didn't talk to them. I mean, we're not --
Q: And you're not having any discussions with them about go on TV and make the case?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, this is not part of our strategy, no.
Q: Mr. Thomason said he doesn't have a real White House pass, that he only has a temporary 30-day pass. Can you clear up what kind of pass he has?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the residence passes are all -- all of our passes have to be renewed. I think some are 30 days and some are 60 days.
Q: I'm sorry. That's a new one on me.
Q: He said he was writing the history of the Inauguration.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, our passes have to be renewed -- I mean, mine is running out very soon. (Laughter.) The pass. Uh, it's out.
Q: George, what's the time line on the McLarty review? Has he talked to anyone yet in the Travel Office -- of the Travel Office people who were dismissed and suspended? Who is he going to talk to? Was there any kind of time frame on this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have the hard time frame. He's going to -- he's waiting for -- Mr. Panetta is going to work out some guidelines along I think with Mark Gearan on his staff. I just don't have a hard time line on how long it's going to take.
Q: Is he going to talk to everyone involved in the thing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think there will be a complete review. They're going through the guidelines now of exactly what he's going to go through.
Q: How long can you keep these people on full salary before you do something with them not working?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll get it -- we're going to get it done as quickly as we can.
Q: Why are the passes such short-term? I mean, isn't that a waste of taxpayers' money to have to keep doing that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll get all the specifics on the passes. That might have just been the beginning. I just know that we do have to get renewals.
Q: George, you seem to have been apologizing all week for one thing or another. You started out with the haircut and we talked about FBI and the makeup today. Is there any consideration being given by the President for the fact there may be some lack of judgment or lack of coordination on the part of the White House staff?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think, as I said, the week didn't go as we had planned. On this specific incident having to do with the Travel Office, the White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty is going to do a review. And he'll report to the President.
Q: Foley yesterday pretty much blamed this whole flap on the flack you've taken on Republicans and critics of the economic plan who are trying to divert attention and derail the plan. Does the White House blame Republicans or someone out there for what has happened?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I think -- we've answered all the questions quite clearly. The Speaker has a point of view and I think there's probably something to that. It's certainly being stoked along. But we've answered all the questions.
Q: Senator Biden said yesterday that he thought this was the result of an amateur hour at the White House. Can I ask you directly what was asked in the back -- is there going to be some kind of change in the staff at the White House?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, again, there's nothing planned right now.
Q: Is it possible? Are people looking at the possibility of bringing in someone new or of changing around --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think, as we've said several times in the past, this is something you always look at and always review. And throughout administrations there are often changes at different times. But there's just nothing planned.
Q: Do you think you need an old Washington Democratic hand in the White House, a new person?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we have a lot of good experience in the White House, people who have served for an awful long time. And obviously, not everything has gone as we planned, but we're going to continue to work on it.
Q: George, I'm curious about two things out of the President's photo op. For one thing, apparently just before the cameras went in there, he was overheard referring to himself as a punching bag. Have you heard him express sentiments along these lines? Is he particularly irritated over the questions on the Travel Office and other things that are coming to him?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he's not happy with the way it's all played out.
Q: And secondly, the President, when the cameras were on, said that he had received, referring to himself personally, a number of press complaints that they were being gauged by the Travel Office. Can you supply any sort of documentation or indication as to who it was that was complaining to the President about the Travel Office?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think what he was probably referring to -- I don't know about -- I know that when the President was at the press dinner, the head of the White House Correspondents Association did bring up in a very public forum the concerns of the White House correspondents that they were being priced out of the market. People weren't being able to go on trips. George Condon gave a speech at the White House Correspondents Association dinner. That was very public and the President heard it and it had an effect on him.
Q: But any one of a number of discussions on the subject on the increase of the cost in presidential travel over the course of recent years, but the President's statement was of press complaints that they were being gauged by the Travel Office, which is different from simply complaining about the increased cost of presidential travel.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he was referring -- he referred to it in the past -- he was referring to what he heard at the White House Correspondents Association dinner. I don't know about anything beyond that.
Q: He said a lot of people -- he made it sound like, the poor devil, he was just besieged with reporters telling him how they've been gauged and he didn't -- the idea this could be one guy's speech at one dinner was not --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, there have also been public reports. I mean, I know that several of the news organizations in this room have filed complaints and filed addresses about the cost of travel.
Q: Who have they filed complaints with?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Washington Post has done it.
Q: Yes, we have.
Q: What I'm trying to get at is the President specifically said that there were complaints of people being gauged by the Travel Office, not complaining about the increase of cost of president travel -- the phones --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I haven't seen those specific -- what he was referring to was the overall cost of travel and how that was pricing a lot of press organizations out of the market, which is, as my understanding, is a real, legitimate concern of many of the news organizations in this room.
Q: George, on the Lani Guinier nomination, has the administration made an assessment on whether she, in fact, can be confirmed by the Senate? And if it's going to be a difficult fight, is the administration prepared to use a lot of political capital to win her confirmation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, she's starting her meetings right now, as far as I know, with the Judiciary Committee and other senators and we're moving forward.
Q? So you're prepared to use --
Q: That sounds like a pretty lukewarm endorsement. Is it meant to be?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. The process is just starting. The President has nominated her, we support her, and she is meeting with the Senate now.
Q: One hundred percent? A thousand percent?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President supports his nominee.
Q: If it requires a lot of effort to get her confirmed, a big fight and a lot --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's a hypothetical. We're moving forward right now.
Q: On Memorial Day the President is going to visit Arlington Cemetery and the Vietnam Memorial. How many of those postcards did arrive at the White House and how much consideration did the President give to the feelings of those veterans before deciding to visit those sites?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know the exact number. I know it probably wasn't as much as was generally reported. The President --
Q: We heard it was --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure if it was that many. I can try to get an exact number, but I don't have it. I mean, obviously the President is the President of all the people. He believes that it's important to pay his respects at the Vietnam Memorial along with his visit to the Arlington Memorial Cemetery on Memorial Day, and that's exactly what he's going to do .
Q: What is he reaction to the feelings of those vets who said it would be hypocritical of him to go?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he just strongly disagrees. He is the President of all the people. He believes it's important to show his respect for the veterans who served in that war along with the veterans who served in all our wars. And that's exactly why he's going to go.
Q: Does he understand where they're coming from, George?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has a deep understanding of all the issues surrounding that conflict and all the issues surrounding the memory of that conflict and what we can do to heal it.
Q: And his participation or lack therein of?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, his participation is appropriate for the President and it's appropriate --
Q: I'm talking about the war itself. What their concern is about his showing up at the Memorial on Monday?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has spoken to that and he will continue to speak to that at the Memorial on Monday.
Q: Is the White House running into trouble in its consultations with Congress over extending MFN?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so. I think we'll have an announcement on it pretty soon.
Q: What is pretty soon -- tomorrow, the next day?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think it will be today or tomorrow, but sometime after that.
Q: So in other words, you've decided -- I mean, my understanding is that you wanted to make these announcement while Congress is here. And so now you're not going to do it --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, frankly, it's just a function of a lot of the other things happening on the Hill. We're finishing up the consultations. We hope to have it very, very soon. But we think the consultations are going quite well.
Q: What is the administration's view of what's happening in Tibet?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Obviously, it's something that we're concerned about. And the President has always said that one of the reasons we have to -- we have to condition MFN to China on progress in human rights and trade and nonproliferation. This is something we're watching --
Q: Does seeing this before your very eyes give you some second thoughts about making this conditional as a part and you know making this something that we would look at next year?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President is balancing all those concerns and we are making sure that we have the toughest conditions that have every been imposed.
Q: Members of the Black Caucus said that they got the impression from the President and from Sandy Berger at the breakfast this morning that there was going to be some movement on Haiti very soon. What did the President or Sandy Berger tell them about that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as I answered before, I think that one of the things that we're looking at as we continue our diplomatic efforts is also reviewing other actions that we could take including tougher sanctions.
Q: On this MFN, doesn't the number of Chinese immigrants or those people escaping illegally say something about what's going on in China's human rights policy?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I mean, obviously, it's something we're concerned about. The President is deeply concerned about the human rights situation in China. It's one of the reasons he's moving forward with his policy.
Q: An appropriations bill came out of committee on the House side, and $2 million in requested funds for White House staffing and phone improvement and so forth was quietly taken out last night. Did the White House request that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe we probably did. We probably thought it was better to move forward in consultation with the Appropriations Committee with the rest of the bill right now.
Q: Was that because of what's been going on lately with the Travel Office or --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There had been some concerns raised and we had some concerns of our own and we wanted to make sure that it went through.
Q: What were those concerns?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We wanted to make sure that we got the bulk of this money through as quickly as we could without any distractions.
Q: Do you feel that this money would be a lightening rod for criticism in light of what's happened around here the past week? Is that what you're saying?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's probably reasonable to assume that.
Q: What was it for?
Q: Why would it be -- what was this money for?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it was --
Q: How much was it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have the numbers in front of me.
Q: Two million?
Q: raise the staff before you decrease the staff?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's the general operating funds. I mean, there's a lot -- I don't have all the specifics on what exactly it pays for.
Q: Computer and telephone money?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know.
Q: Come on, what was the money --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, no, it was the general money for White House operations that we had talked about in the past. I mean, I think it was -- a lot of it was making up for the shortfall from before. We had to have some staffing money and some other --
Q: Is it mostly staffing money, George?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know about mostly. I know that staffing money is included.
Q: And this would bring about how many jobs, do you know roughly?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have that. I just don't have that.
Q: What's the impact of not having it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Nothing immediately.
Q: George, do you know or can you find out whether or not this money included your request for the new phone system?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can find out. I just don't know.
Q: which I understand is some -- the bid is somewhere in the $6 million range.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We can find out.
Q: According to the Hill, the phone system was --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Approved.
Q: No, there was phone money in this money that was pulled out.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can find out.
Q: How much was this --
Q: Is this the LBJ switchboard?
Q: You said it was $2 million? It can't be that much.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure of that figure.
Q: apparently cut but not eliminated the honeybee subsidy. Is the President going to go along with any money for the honeybee subsidy?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think they've eliminated it.
Q: Right. Is he going to go along with leaving any money in there? This is the only program in the campaign he could name that he wanted to eliminate. Is he going to allow --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: -- for the Agriculture Committee to come up to hit their spending reduction target, and I expect that they will.
Q: Did either Susan Thomases or Mrs. Clinton play any role in the whole Travel Office situation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Susan Thomases, I don't believe played any role. I don't know what role Mrs. Clinton played. I don't think it was anything --
Q: Wait a minute, wait a minute, you don't think it was anything what?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I just don't know. I'll take the question.
Q: Which staff members were on the plane with the President at LAX? Was Bruce Lindsey along on that trip?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think so.
Q: Who else?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We can release a manifest. I don't know exactly who was on it at the time.
Q: The whole manifest?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The staff manifest.
Q: You seem less certain about passing the budget. Yesterday you seemed more confident -- is there some sort of a reassessment?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I mean, I think we're working hard and I think it looks good.
Q: Do you predict victory, George?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't predict, but I think we're going to do okay.
Q: On the budget, although you're ruling out an Oval Office address, might the President do some sort of opening statement at this town meeting tomorrow?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure. Sure.
Q: What's he doing the rest of the afternoon?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Mostly he's going to be on the phone.
Q: Working on the compromise or twisting individual arms?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he's just mostly talking to different House members trying to rally the votes.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:39 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/269328