Press Briefing by George Stephanopoulos
The Briefing Room
12:41 P.M. EDT
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to be having a presidential statement on sanctions against Haiti later this afternoon. And there will be a background briefing here at 2:30 p.m. by an official from the State Department and Treasury Department.
Q: Is it paper or are we going to see the President?
Q: You said presidential statement.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll have a paper, the statement, and then we'll do a background briefing.
Q: Is that an attempt to try to placate the Congressional Black Caucus?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all, Andrea. Nice try, but, yes, I think the President three or four days ago said that we would be having a statement on Haiti later this week, and this is that statement.
Q? Well, what is the President's view about those who feel that he has let them down and that he abandoned their principles in this case?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think he President spoke to that last night. He was standing up for his principles and what he believed in. When it came down to the final decision, he felt that he simply could not go forward with a divisive fight, a fight that would polarize the Senate, a fight that would not help lead to progress in civil rights over writings that he could not in good conscience defend.
Q: Let me follow on that. She says that he misinterpreted her writings; and the Attorney General said this morning that she read the writings and no difficulty with them.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think that the President and Professor Guinier went over that last night. They met for an hour and 15 minutes. They had an extended discussion. I don't know how deeply they went into the writings, but I know they did discuss the writings, and they simply have a disagreement here. I don't know that it serves any useful purpose to go back over that ground. We're going to look forward. But if there is a disagreement, that is a disagreement the President feels in his heart. He read the writings. He read the University of Michigan Law Review. And there's simply a difference of opinion.
Q: Has the President spoken with, or has anybody on the senior staff spoken with any of the civil rights leaders or members of the Congressional Black Caucus since the decision to withdraw her nomination, and can you tell us about that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, the President has spoken with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and I'm certain that that will continue today and over the weekend. I also believe that there have been meetings at a staff level and phone calls with members of various civil rights groups. I believe there's a meeting this afternoon, and if I can get a list on that, we'll put it out. I don't --
Q: Who will meet --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Staff will meet with various members of civil rights groups. And, again, if I can get a list, I'll put it out.
Q: put it out?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think so.
Q: Staff only?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe so, yes.
Q: Tell us who in the civil rights, or in the Black Caucus that he spoke to.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I know he spoke to the Chairman, Kweisi Mfume, last night. And I know that he is planning or may have already spoken to some members today. I don't know who else he's spoken to since then.
Q: Did he anticipate, having made that decision, the kind of reaction that he got from them?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that, unfortunately, there were tough politics involved in this issue. But the President felt that he had to go forward with what he believed was right, and that's what he did.
Q: George, can you just give us a little blow-by-blow -- first of all, why the decision was made last night instead of the day before when we were getting so many indications that it had been made? And what was the role of David Gergen? If you could just kind of take us step by step --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that more than anything else the President wanted to make sure that he was as fair as he possibly could be to Professor Guinier. It was a very difficult decision for him. It was a very painful decision for him. He knows that in many ways she was, unfortunately, put through an ordeal through no fault of her own. But he wanted to make sure yesterday that he was completely confident in his decision. And as you know, he spent much of yesterday morning reading her writings. He read the University of Michigan Law Review article. He read some other items. And he wanted to talk to some people during the day. David Gergen was around. He was part of the meetings, but he didn't say all that much, but he was around in part of the meetings.
Q: Is there any reason he couldn't have done that the day before? I mean, did he want to wait for her to go on Nightline? I mean, what was the -- why did it take so long?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, again, I think that the President spoke to that yesterday. He wanted to make sure before there was any final decision that he had a complete understanding. The situation was evolving and he just felt that yesterday morning he wanted to get a full understanding before he made a final decision.
Q: Was there a staff failure in not getting those briefs to him earlier?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I think it was unfortunate -- at the beginning the President said himself that had he read the writings beforehand, he probably -- he would not have nominated her. I think that the President may have not been adequately briefed. That's too bad. But he takes responsibility for it.
Q: George, you said you want to look forward. Can you tell us specifically what is it that the President's going to be doing to try to focus on different things? Is he going to go certain places, do certain things in the next three, four, five, six, seven days to placate the liberals who are upset, the moderates who want to be reassured, and so forth?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President is going to, first of all, do what he can again to continue to make progress on his economic plan. He's going to continue to work with members of the Senate and the House. As I said, he's going to be speaking with members of the Congressional Black Caucus both today and over the weekend, and I would expect that he'll be meeting with them when the Congress returns next week. I think he'll continue to try to make progress on appointing a Supreme Court nominee sometime in the near future. And he'll just be focusing on getting the economic plan passed.
Q: A follow-up on the Supreme Court nominee. Is he going to be influenced by concern voiced over the dropping of this nomination on what he does on the Supreme Court nominee? In other words, might that result in a different person being named?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so. He's going to pick the person who he thinks can best serve on the Court.
Q: When will that come?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Soon.
Q: George, will there be any staff changes as a result of this latest nomination problem?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so. I think that, as you know, Mack McLarty has said that there will be sometime in the near future some reorganization of some kind, and he'll announce that when he can. But I don't think there's anything directly tied to this.
Q: Will that involve Mr. Nussbaum? Will he stay in that position?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I can't comment on any of the changes, but not to my knowledge.
Q: George, can you tell us if the President has talked to Bernie Nussbaum about how to vet candidates for these sorts of positions in the future?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know that he's had any direct conversation in the last day or so. But, obviously, this is something we want to pay a lot of attention to. We want to make sure that we have a complete vet, that we catch every conceivable problem and see every conceivable outcome.
Q: George, did the President watch Lani Guinier's news conference on television this morning?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so.
Q: What is your reaction to what she basically had to say, that she still feels that she was hung out to dry?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I think the President feels very badly about this. He feels very sorry for Lani Guinier. He thinks she's a woman of outstanding character, outstanding intellect who's had an outstanding career in the fields of civil rights as a civil rights attorney. He feels badly about what's happened. It was a very painful decision for him.
Q: The Attorney General and the President clearly disagree on the impact of her writings. And the Attorney General also said this morning that she has been -- that these things had been flagged to her and she's read them to her satisfaction and felt there was no problem with them. One at a time -- has the President and the Attorney General talked about their differences over interpretation of Ms. Guinier's writings? And, secondarily, who was the person in the White House who she said flagged her about the provocative nature of the writings?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Number one, I don't think so. They did have a good conversation last night and during the day yesterday.
Q: discuss their disagreements about this --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think what the Attorney General told the President is that she supported his decision and she felt it was time to move on.
On the second question, I don't know who had the contact at the Justice Department. I can try and find out, but I don't know.
Q: George, this is the third time that this has happened involving a Justice Department nominee. What are you guys learning about the vetting process and what needs to be systematically done to make sure that this sort of thing doesn't happen again?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know that you can necessarily take different events and say the exact same thing happened because it didn't. I think that obviously this is very complicated and we live in a time when there are an awful lot of attention paid to nominations like this, and you have to try and think of every conceivable political substantive problem that might arise. Generally, we've done a very good job with that. I mean, I think --
Q: The exact same thing did happen in this respect, and that's that in both cases -- in all three cases --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I didn't get to finish my sentence.
Q: there were items that somebody in the White House knew about and alerted somebody about and still no action was taken.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I resist making any exact comparisons. I mean, these are different cases. What I was trying to say is that, generally, we've had a lot of appointments and, generally, the vetting process has worked. Our nominees have gotten through with good speed, at a faster pace than our two predecessors, President's Reagan and Bush, and we've generally avoided serious problems. These things do happen in the course of making a lot of nominations where you have wholesale change in government. There are going to be problems that arise. You can't catch everything. You can't have perfection. Obviously, we would like to do better. We will do better.
Q: George, a month ago, a conservative group said that they were going to go after Guinier, they were going to try to defeat her. They knew about the University of Michigan Law Review article. They knew about some of the other -- quote, unquote -- "controversial things" she had written about. Are you saying that in the last month that the President was not told about the writings and there was no communication with him on that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: First of all, to take it in two parts. Number one, I think the President still strongly disagrees with the mischaracterizations of Professor Guinier's work by a lot of those conservative groups. They took things out of context. They made charges that are simply not true. To my knowledge, Professor Guinier's explicitly rejected the notion of quotas. And they go forward and try and make charges about quotas. I think that was wrong; I think the President thinks it was wrong.
I think the President also did speak to it a couple of weeks ago. I mean, he believed that this job is essentially the job to enforce the civil rights laws and that Lani Guinier could and should be judged largely on the character of her work as a civil rights attorney and her overall career. Unfortunately, the focus of the nomination became her writings and that the President believed would be very divisive, would be very polarizing and it was not something that he could, if that was going to be the basis of the nomination, not something that he could in good conscience defend.
Q: Can I follow up on that?
Q: If she doesn't believe in quotas, can you summarize what she does believe in?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think it's for me to summarize what Professor Guinier believes in. The President has expressed his view. The President has made his decision.
Q: What did he read that he didn't agree with?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President spoke to that last night. He said her views in the University of Michigan Law Review article on proportional interest representation could lead to kind of sweeping remedies that he just couldn't support. But he spoke to that last night.
Q: Isn't that quotas, though?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, it's not quotas.
Q: Can you define why not?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it's not about quotas at all. It's about setting up different procedures in legislatures on minority voting.
Q: George, on that issue, why is Jesse Jackson not right then in that the President has made perhaps --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's quite a lead-in. I can't wait for the second half. (Laughter.)
Q: in choosing the architect of Reaganomics as one of his senior advisors, and yet has decided to cut loose Ms. Guinier for an academic writing when her commitment would be to enforce Congress's civil rights law anyway?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What the President said was that he -- that this fight would be polarizing, would be divisive, would tear the Senate apart in a debate over ideas that he could not defend. That is why he chose not to go forward.
Q: But her job would be to enforce civil rights laws passed by Congress.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes. I mean, it would, and it also would -- she also would be in charge of day-to-day enforcement of the civil rights laws. That involves dozens of decisions every day which would -- which could have an effect in state and local jurisdictions. And he felt that he just could not go forward with the nomination.
Q: But, George, in a political sense, I guess the question is, why didn't the President or his advisors see the train coming? I mean, if this is going to be a big fight, a huge fight, divisive, why didn't they see that coming?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's something that built up over time. I mean, Professor Guinier did go forward and meet with the senators. It appeared that the opposition did not lessen, and it also appeared that the writings were becoming the focus of the debate.
Q: Why couldn't you let the Senate debate that? That's what advise and consent is all about. There was some suggestion that the administration was trying to let some of the Democrats off the hook on this so that they wouldn't have to vote against Lani Guinier. How do you respond to that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What the President was trying to do was to avoid, as I've said before and as he said last night, a divisive, polarizing battle which would not serve the purpose of bringing people together, which would not serve the interests which he expounded in his campaign of healing racial divisions, instead it would tear people apart. That was a fight he felt he could not go forward with in good conscience.
Q: Well, how will this heal racial divisions?
Q: Does avoiding that battle improve the chances for the budget reconciliation bill in the Senate?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know about that. I do know that the President is going to do everything he can in the coming days and weeks to make sure that we get a consensus behind that plan, that we get a majority behind that plan and we get it passed as quickly as possible.
Q: If you had had the battle, would that have created problems potentially for the budget reconciliation battle?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I suppose that's possible. I suppose it would have been -- it could have been a diversion. But the President is going to focus on the economic plan.
Q: George, a couple of weeks ago out in the Rose Garden press conference, the President said that, when Brit raised the question about her writings, he said that the Attorney General and the President would set civil rights policy for the country, implying that he didn't have to necessarily agree with every last speck of her writings. What happened to that notion that since policy would be set by General Reno and the President it wasn't necessarily that important that they --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think it became clear that that wasn't the basis upon which the Senate debate would take place. And the Senate debate was going to be about Lani Guinier's writings and about -- and that's what it was going to focus on.
Q: It was clear that the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee didn't feel as though he could, in good conscience, defend her writings, either. Did you all ever take a head count or try and find a Democratic rabbi for Ms. Guinier in the Judiciary Committee?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as you know Professor Guinier did meet with several members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and several other senators. Obviously, we're in contact with members of the Senate every day and the President did have discussions with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and other senators. I don't think there was a formal head count in that sense at all, but there was serious consultation.
Q: George, here in this case as in the jobs stimulus package you kind of let your adversaries define the debate, you didn't define the debate. How do you go forward from here and go on the offensive in cases like this to let your issues be the battleground that the President spoke about last night?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think that's what we're going to try to do every day and we're going to try and bring it back to the important issues that he got elected on, bring it back to reviving this nation's economy, bring it back to getting our health care plan through, bringing it back to the issues that elected the President, the issues the American people expect him to focus on.
I mean, in that regard, one of the things the President was pleased to note this morning was the lowering of the unemployment rate for the first time, I believe, in 18 months, the first time that it was below seven percent. Obviously, this is something we take great heart in and we're going to continue to focus on the economy.
Q: George, do you concede that you failed to define the debate in your terms that were favorable to you?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, again, I think that part of the problem was that in the end there was a disagreement over the nature of the writings and that was inescapable.
Q: You defined this whole dispute a little while ago as a question of her confirmability, in essence. The dispute over the writings was going to make her unconfirmable in the Senate. How then -- do you disagree with that characterization?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, I guess I do disagree with that characterization. In the end the President also could not -- I mean, the President had substantive disagreements in principle over those writings.
Q: As I understand it, but the way you said it just a few minutes ago when you were asked about consultations and head counting, you said there was a basic question of whether -- that you had obviously consulted with members of the Senate, as the President said he would do, and obviously you did not get good messages back from them about this, which helped to reinforce what the President's ultimate decision was. But assuming for a case that that's so, how could Vice President Gore say there was no politics in this decision?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think that in the end the final decision was about the writings. There's no question about that. I mean, that's why the President chose to withdraw the nomination. He felt that he could not move forward defending writings which he did not believe in. As he said last night, and he said it very, very clearly, if this were an attack on her character, if this were an attack on her legal career, he would move forward even if there were only one senator supporting it. That is not what this was about. In the end he felt that he could not go forward because her writings were not writings that he could defend through this debate.
Q: George, can you explain why when she went to the Hill --
Q: Wasn't there even one senator on the Judiciary Committee who you knew you could count on?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have a head count in the Senate.
Q: George, can you explain why when she went to make her calls, she went by herself without anyone from the White House staff accompanying her, according to reports from the Hill?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that that's true. I mean, I would defer to Ricki, but I think that she had a team as all conferees have a team.
Q: The reports we're getting from the Hill is that she did not have a team, she went by herself.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I just don't think that's true. I can get more information for you later.
Q: Was anyone from the White House with her?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: First of all, I know that Ricki worked very closely on this whole --
MS. SEIDMAN: Howard Paster accompanied her on the meetings --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: She said Howard Paster also accompanied her on meetings.
Q: Can you take that question and check?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure, absolutely.
Q: We were told he did not.
Q: George, the First Lady yesterday told labor groups that she expects to have a December 24th signing of the health plan. How is that possible given that the earliest you're going to get it up there is the end of this month?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think that -- hopefully, we will have quick consideration by the congressional committees. And we'll be able to just push hard throughout the fall.
Q: Do you really think that's realistic?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure, it is.
Q: What's your message to the civil rights leaders that you're reaching out to? And what was the President telling those members of the Black Caucus that he talked to who accused him of cowardice and --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, what he said, first of all, is that we have a disagreement over principle. I'm sorry about that, but that's the way it is. I hope you'll understand. I hope you'll also know that I remain committed to civil rights, committed to the strong enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and the other civil rights laws, committed to making progress. And I'm committed to getting a nominee now as we move forward who's committed to those same goals. And I look forward to working with you. I understand your strong feelings about this. You're going to have to understand mine, and let's move forward.
Q: George, is he going to consult any of those civil rights groups for a name or names for the next nominee?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm certain there will be consultations.
Q: Were they consulted on Lani Guinier, or did that just come from his own acquaintance with her?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think, clearly, the President's acquaintance with her and her work had a lot to do with the nomination. But I also believe that they were consulted and were obviously very pleased with the original nomination.
Q: A quick economics question, to give you a break. With the job figures out, does this mean that -- a few extra jobs now, does the administration plan to modify or maintain its view of the jobless recovery?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, obviously, we're pleased by the drop in the unemployment rate. We want to continue -- we want to see that continue. We want to see the unemployment rate continue to go down, and that's -- we're going to continue to push for the President's economic package.
Q: Does that change your view that there is a jobless recovery?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the only thing we've seen this month is improvement. And we hope to see more in the coming months.
Q: George, may I follow up on the economy for a second? Secretary Bentsen this morning suggested in an interview on CNN -- (laughter) --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: By whom?
Q: he suggested that you might be willing to reconsider the increase in the income tax rate so it wouldn't be retroactive to January 1st, '93, but would be active January 1st, '94, depending on the state of the economy. Is that now open to consideration, as Secretary Bentsen has suggested?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I didn't see the interview, so I don't think I should comment on that directly. What the President has said is that as we move through the Senate we expect to have fewer taxes and more spending cuts. The exact composition of that at this time I don't know, but we're going to continue to look at a variety of options.
Q: Do you know why he --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, the explanation is just some technical problems, but I don't have anything more on that.
Q: He also suggested in a Wall Street Journal interview that maybe you're willing to cut the Btu tax by 25 to 33 percent as part of a compromise with the senators.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As I say to answer again, I think that we're looking at fewer taxes and more spending cuts. The exact composition I don't know.
Q: George, just to follow up on the economic question. I realize that you all are pleased about the drop in the unemployment rate, but there's also some renewed speculation that the Federal Reserve may be forced to raise interest rates. Would the administration oppose that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Obviously, we're always -- we're watching that closely and we share the same goals of promoting growth while restraining inflation. But I'm not going to comment directly.
Q: George, it sounds like the next potential crisis coming at you, the next train coming in your direction -- (laughter) --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Thanks for the warning.
Q: is the Congressional Black Caucus has said they might exact revenge for what Clinton did on this nomination and thus vote against the economic package when it comes up for final approval. I have a couple of question on that. One, does he think that that is an appropriate or even patriotic stance to take, to use revenge to get the budget package, $500 billion or whatever it is.
Q: It's certainly not patriotic. (Laughter.)
Q: What is he doing to convince them not to do that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President's talking to members of the Black Caucus and he continues to believe that his economic package is in the best interest of the country. And he's going to continue to reach out support from every quarter, Democrats and Republicans alike. And we're going to do everything we can to get support. The President is sensitive to their concerns, and he's going to talk to them about it and listen to what they have to say.
Q: To follow up on that idea, it seems in the last week the President has been whipsawed from one side to the other in dealing with Congress. If he's not trying to beg for votes from conservatives and moderates and making promises about -- on the energy tax or whatever, now he's trying to placate the Congressional Black Caucus. Why hasn't he been able to show more leadership in dealing with these --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's upside down. The President showed leadership last week in the House when he stood before and asked members of the House for a very tough vote on a package to reduce the deficit. One of the toughest votes in a generation and he got it passed. He stood up for what he believed in and it worked.
I think he did the same thing this week and this was a very painful decision for him. It was a very difficult decision for him, but in the end he had to stand up for what he believed in, despite the political consequences either way. He had to say, this is what I think is right, this is what I must do. And that's what he did.
Q: George, so many senators were opposed to Lani's nomination. Have any of those who were opposed to her called the President to congratulate him and express support for the decision, to say, hey, we'll work with it --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know about calling the President. It's my understanding that Senator Mitchell put out a statement last night. I believe that Senator Breaux is putting out a statement today. I think others are probably doing that as well.
Q: What is your response to Republican senators who say that Professor Guinier deserved her day, deserved her hearing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The same response I gave here.
Q: I'm sorry, I don't see the relationship.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The relationship --
Q: Do you feel that they're not being honest in that or what?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I think that the President felt that this would be a divisive battle, one that he would -- that he did not think it was in the best interest of civil rights or the best interest of the country. That's why he chose not to go forward.
Q: George, when is the first meetings going to be taking place with senators on the budget bill? Is there going to be anything this weekend or Monday, Tuesday?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know about any formal meetings this weekend. I mean, obviously, the President and other members of the staff have been talking to senators straight through this process. That will continue. I don't know of any scheduled meetings at this time.
Q: How about the meeting with Boren? Has anything been set up yet?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q: Okay. Let me follow up on specifics. Is the President or the White House prepared to come to the table with its ideas for additional spending cuts, anticipating that this is where we're going to end up or are you waiting for members to come to you?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we're going to just work with the Senate and work with the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Mr. Moynihan; and other members of the Senate Finance Committee; and the majority leader, Senator Mitchell; and continue to work with them on the best package. But those consultations are continuing now.
Q: What did Secretary Bentsen mean when he was talking about a new mechanism to collect Medicare from the elderly?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know. I didn't see the statement.
Q: The President was supposed to take a trip early next week; it's been canceled. The question is does he plan to spend more time here trying to get things in order at least in the foreseeable future, or does he plan to travel as much as ever?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Before we weren't traveling enough. I think that he'll probably travel, I mean, just continue to have a mix, come out every week or two. This week -- next week he's going to be focusing on the reconciliation plan. He's got a lot of work to do and he's going to stay here and focus on it.
Q: George, it's not clear from what you said or what the President said last night that he was specifically warned about the problems with Guinier's writings. Was he ever specifically warned by anybody in the White House staff that there might be a problem here?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What he was told was that there -- just that some people thought there might be a controversy with the writings, but that it shouldn't be a big deal, not worry about it. And obviously, the briefing could have been more full, but the President takes responsibility for that.
Q: Was that prior to nomination?
Q: When did that take place?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know.
Q: Was that prior to nomination -- that conversation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What?
Q: Prior to her nomination or after her nomination that he was warned about possible controversy?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it was at the time.
Q: George, have any other nominees or appointments been judged on the basis of their writings? Is this the first one? Have any -- has the President gone over past writings of any other appointments?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not to my knowledge. I think it would obviously come into play with the Supreme Court at some level. I mean, this is similar with Judge Bork. I don't think -- but I couldn't swear, I mean, there are so many appointments, I couldn't speak to every single one.
Q: Whose job is that to send up a red flag about controversial writing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think that, obviously the vetting process is supposed to be sensitive to all the different concerns. I mean, it's something that we're striving for. In this case, it didn't work adequately, but we're going to move forward.
Q: Whose job is it to send up that flare? Is that the Personnel Office? Is that the Counsel's Office? Is that somebody else? Whose responsibility was it here?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Counsel's Office is responsible -- has overall responsibility for the vetting.
Q: And who warned the President?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know what the nature of the conversations were. I don't know who was there at the time.
Q: he characterizes it as unfortunate. But is the President -- I mean, isn't he a little upset with the way the staff handled this whole thing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is sorry about this whole thing.
Q: George, it's been written that maybe one of the reasons that he didn't get a strong warning is because the President and the First Lady are good friends with Ms. Guinier. Do you think that was indeed a factor in why they didn't warn him more strongly about these writings?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't really know. And I would -- the President made a statement last night. I don't know that it serves much more purpose to go back over that. It's hard to reconstruct the events exactly or what was in people's minds exactly. But for whatever reason, the process didn't work as well as it could have worked and we're going to do better.
Q: George, after the nomination, whose job was it to see the train coming and then whose job was it to tell the President that there was a serious problem here and he should reconsider?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know that this kind of finger-pointing is going to serve any purpose. What we do know is that in this case it didn't work as well as it could have worked.
Q: going on --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as you know, Mack is doing a review -- is planning on announcing an overall -- some changes in the staff structure to make it work better over time. We're looking to strengthen. We've had a lot of people stretched very thin for the past several months.
Q: This has nothing to do with --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. I just said -- we know overall we can be doing a better job, and we're going to continue to try to improve that.
Q: George, you were asked a question about Jesse Jackson earlier. I'd like to hear a little bit more of your response. What the Reverend was saying late last night -- and it's the quote that's used in the paper this morning and he amplified on it further there -- was the implication of a double standard. He was suggesting that Lani Guinier was being judged on the basis of her past writings and statements. And his question was, if that's the case, then why is David Gergen being hired at the White House at all? Would you address the issue of --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, you have to look at the President's reasoning for not going forward. In this case, those writings were becoming the focus of a divisive, polarizing debate in the Senate. They were not -- and that debate would not serve a constructive purpose. It would not advance the cause of civil rights. It would not help bring people together. The President felt that he can -- that that debate, under those circumstances, would not be helpful, would not be good for the country. And that's why he chose not to go forward.
Q: coincidentally --
Q: May I follow up?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure.
Q: threaten the economic program?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What I said was that it would not help the cause of civil rights, it would be polarizing, it would be divisive. It would not be helpful in any way.
Q: Why would that be the case? Why wouldn't the public be served by an open public discussion about race?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: In this case, it would have been a discussion focused on ideas that in the end he could not defend. That's why the President could not go forward.
Q: George -- excuse me -- could I just follow up on my original question?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure.
Q: Would you agree or disagree then with the other part of Reverend Jackson's statement last night in which he suggested that it would seem to him that Mr. Clinton would feel closer to the writings and ideas of Lani Guinier than he would to those of David Gergen?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I'm not going to get into that kind of a comparison. I'm just not going to do that. What I would say is that in this case, which is the case the President had to deal with this week, he felt he could not go forward.
Q: George, could you tell us what Gergen's been doing on his first day and a half?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He hasn't really officially started yet. He's sort of getting the lay of the land.
Q: Meeting with staff to get --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he has been meeting with staffers, sure.
Q: Where is his office going to be?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think that's been settled yet.
Q: In the hallway, in the corridor? Is he going to have a telephone? (Laughter.)
Q: Are you going to stay in your office?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know what the final decisions are yet.
Q: George, are you going to continue briefing for a while yet?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know. (Laughter.)
Q: He means like next week, not today.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I know what he means. (Laughter.)
Q: On scaling back the Btu tax, one of the CEOs at the luncheon on Wednesday, said that the President gave a very clear message that even though he would want that energy tax broad-based domestically, that internationally, he feels there should be some protection granted. Along that line, he was given the clear impression that the President was willing to support the exemption from the Btu tax for energy intensive exports.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're in consultations with the Senate on all this right now. We've made some decisions; we'll let you know.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:16 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/269331