Bill Clinton photo

Press Briefing by George Stephanopoulos

January 27, 1993

The Briefing Room

12:45 P.M. EST

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is going to meet this afternoon at 2:00 p.m. with leaders in the Congress on the economic committees, including the Appropriations, Ways and Means, Finance, Budget and other members of the congressional leadership.

Q: Bipartisan?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No -- House and Senate Democratic chairmen.

Q: Photo op?


Any questions?

Q: Is the topic of that meeting going to be strictly the economy, or are they going to talk about --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, I think -- they want to have the opportunity to discuss what -- the President's thinking on the economy. He wants to hear what they're thinking as he prepares for his address to Congress on the 17th.

Q: George, is the President surprised by the outpouring of opposition, phone calls on the Hill from military rankand -file to his intention to put gays in the military? Can you give us a reading on the phone calls coming into the White House?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that the President understood when he made this decision that it was likely to be a controversial decision. And there have been a fair amount of phone calls here in the White House as well -- I don't know if I have the exact numbers -- but I would just point out that there is general support for the principle the President is defending, which is that individuals who want to serve their country should not be prevented from serving their country simply on the basis of their status and their private lives.

Q: As a follow-up, does the President plan to broaden the policy, broaden this discussion, including subjects such as sexual harassment, the Tailhook incident, to make it more palatable?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think the President's concerned about sexual harassment in general; we'll have strict guidelines on that. He believes there must be a strict code of conduct in the military. And he would make not exceptions to that policy.

Q: George, speaking of the economy, is the NAFTA free trade agreement an integral part of President Clinton's plan to revitalize the economy? And when will he order the initiation of the negotiation of the supplementary agreement still pending?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have a date yet, but he does believe that we can have a good NAFTA if we make sure that we have the right protections in environment and labor standards.

Q: Why was the announcement delayed today, and what is the White House doing in this -- delay on the announcement of the gays in the military policy? What's happening in this --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We want to have the opportunity for more consultations with the Hill and the military. And there have been consultations throughout the day by Secretary Aspin, by members of the White House staff. I believe the President has also spoken with a few members of Congress as well; and we'll have more discussions. But we just needed a little more time for consultation.

Q: Do you think that consultation will result in a change in the President's expected announcement tomorrow?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I mean, the announcement hasn't been made, so I don't know what we're changing from. But I think the President intends to keep his commitment, and he will keep his commitment. But he also wants to make sure that we have the proper consultations with the military and the Congress.

Q: When you say he's going to keep his commitment, could you just explain the principle that he plans to keep? What is his basic intent?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He believes that individuals should not be prevented from serving their country solely on the basis of their status. There should not be discrimination solely on the basis of status.

Q: So what is the purpose of consultations? He's not going to change his view based on the complaints by the Joint Chiefs and various members of Congress.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think that one of the things all of us have learned, and the President was aware of, that there are real questions on the best way to implement this policy over the long run: How to do this throughout the services. And those are the kinds of things that we're consulting on, and we intend to keep consulting on.

Q: Is he considering lifting the ban but keeping it in terms of combat?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, that's one of the details I think we have to get into in the future. I have nothing to say on that right now.

Q: And can you tell us whether this was discussed with Bob Kerrey during their run this morning?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I assume that this is one of the issues that they discussed, but beyond that I'm not sure.

Q: George, did the Senator speak with Senator Nunn? And could you tell us the names of the other members of Congress with whom he discussed this issue today?

Q: The President.

Q: Did the President speak with Senator Nunn?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he has spoken to Senator Nunn in the last 24 hours. I don't know the exact time. And he clearly spoke with Senator Kerrey this morning. I don't know beyond that.

Q: But when he spoke with Senator Nunn, did he -- what was the thrust of this conversation? Was he trying to get Senator Nunn to accept some sort of compromise on this?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that they were just talking through their positions and the different concerns that Senator Nunn had -- the different questions that he had over the policy. And those consultations are continuing throughout the day today.

Q: Do you still expect Senator Nunn to make a speech?


Q: Why didn't you consult with the Congress before this period on this policy?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There was consultation with the Congress throughout the transition period, and there was consultation with the military. I believe that John Holum had over 40 meetings with different representatives of the military during the transition period. I don't know the exact number, but I believe that's what he had. So we've tried to have full consultation throughout this transition process.

Q: Since you're talking about it being based on status, stopping questioning about an individual's status when they enlist and stopping the efforts to get people discharged from the military if they're found out, is that enough, at least for the time being, for him to feel he's fulfilled his campaign pledge?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that the President wants to make sure that we don't have discrimination on the basis -- that is clearly -- those are clearly steps in the right direction.

Q: But that's not enough? I mean, do you have to do more than that?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll have a full announcement, I think, within the next day or two, and that's all I can say right now.

Q: George, are you putting a lot of stock in the hopeful compromise by Congressman Foley -- the code of conduct? Do you think changing the code of conduct and making it more strict for everyone across-the-board will bring more Senators --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that is very likely to be part of the eventual policy. The President has always said that he believes there has to be strict codes of conduct.

Q: George, was it a political mistake to go ahead with hot button social issues like abortion and gays in the military before an economic plan actually was presented?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: First of all, I would say that we're very happy that the President was able to sign the executive orders overturning the gag rule and other issues relating to health and choice last week. And I think that it's made a real difference in the lives of a lot of people over the last week.

As far as this commitment goes, the President made a commitment in the campaign and he intends to keep it. But I would also remind you that this is something that we would have faced a vote on in the Senate regardless. People who oppose this policy feel very strongly. They were going to force a vote. We were just trying to proceed with our commitment in the best manner possible.

Q: Isn't it a problem for you politically not to come out with an economic plan first, which is apparently the basis of what President Clinton ran on, and then --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President's been working on his economic plan every day. He had meetings yesterday with the Congressional leaders. He'll have more meetings today. His Cabinet officials are working around-the-clock to prepare this economic plan. And it's important that we get it right. But he will continue to work on it and I think that we'll have a solid announcement on the 17th.

Q: On the gays in the military issue, how important is Nunn? If you all get Nunn on board to whatever you all propose, do you believe you can then get it through Congress?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President has great respect for Senator Nunn. As you know, he carries great respect throughout the Senate and the House. That would obviously be helpful. And that is why we're working with Senator Nunn and this consultation process.

Q: There are two examples now where the White House seems to at have at least read the public sentiment -- Zoe Baird and now this. Who in the White House is doing --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if I agree with that. The President understood that this was going to be a controversial decision. He also believes that he's doing the right thing.

Q: Isn't it time for the President to shift his image around? We have thousands of people being laid off -- tens of thousands in the defense industry, we have our troops over in the Persian Gulf still engaged in conflict over there. Is this the time for the President to be picking a fight with the military chiefs of this country, and should he be turning this around and showing that he is a strong Commander-In-Chief and going on with the business at hand, with the economy?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is going on with the business at and the economy, and developing this program to create growth and jobs. He has meetings on the economy every single day with his Cabinet officials, with his economic adviser Bob Rubin, with the congressional leaders. He is working together to put together a growth package that will increase incomes and increase jobs in the long term for the United States. He is also working with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the most appropriate way to fulfill his campaign commitment.

Q: George, what do you hope to get from Senator Nunn, I mean, in a real sense? Do you expect him to drop his opposition? Do you expect him just to stand aside? What are you trying to get him to do?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that we just want to make sure that we work with him so that there's full consultation and a real discussion of his concerns, and we're able to develop a process to make sure that all that consultation can take place.

Q: I understand the talking back and forth, but what do you want him to do? Do you want him just to say it's okay now, I won't oppose lifting the ban?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think again, we just want to make sure that we have an orderly process for consideration of these questions.

Q: What political fallout do you see from a spring filled with hearings on this issue while you're working on your economic plan?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think during the spring you're going to have a spring filled with action on the economy and health care, and that's what we're going to be committed to -- be committed to passing a strong economic program and getting our health care reform package ready for introduction and eventual package. That is why the President appointed his Health Care Task Force two days ago with Mrs. Clinton in charge. That's why he met with congressional leaders. And we expect that to be the focus of our activity, and it will be.

Q: Any reaction to the layoffs announced yesterday by Boeing, Pratt & Whitney and Sears? Will that be one more thing causing the economic leaders to --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it's troubling news. I mean, one of the problems with the economy not only over the last several months, but over the last several years is that we've had sluggish job growth. We haven't been creating the jobs that you need to create to keep our economy competitive. And that's what the President's economic program is designed to address.

Q: George, speaking of jobs, what is the situation on the attorney general -- expect an announcement? Has the President interviewed any candidates?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that the President's interviewed any candidates, and we don't have a timetable yet. But he is working on it.

Q: Do you expect something this week, or has the situation with gays in the military interfered with that?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that that's interfered at all, but the President -- I don't know exactly when he's going to be ready to make the announcement.

Q: On that topic, George, on several other announcements that he made during the transition, the President announced not only a cabinet secretary, but also a deputy or an under secretary. When he does the attorney general nomination, would you expect a similar sort of package, or is he planning only to do the attorney general?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know. I wouldn't rule it out.

Q: What about Sessions' job -- the job that he may need to fill? Is he -- on that? Has he finished reviewing the rebuttal?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Counsel is still reviewing the rebuttal, and as you know, there is still a continuing investigation going on in the Justice Department. They've just received some new information from Director Sessions over the last couple of days, and they're continuing that review.

Q: Can you explain to us what the continuing review is at the Justice Department? Is that simply responding to the Director's response to their report, or it there something new happening?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I believe that there was some information on his mortgage payment. So they needed more information on -- they just received it over the last 24 or 48 hours and they're continuing to investigate that.

Q: George, is the President --

Q: George, on a different topic, how much money has been talked about to give to the Ukraine to help dismantle the weapons under the START Agreement, and is it the $175 million that the Bush Administration had talked about?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have a set number right now, but you can go to State for further details.

Q: George, will the President be convening his National Security Council tomorrow to -- for the first time?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if it will be tomorrow but I expect it sometime soon.

Q: George, is it true that Prince Bandar has been able to see the President but Turgut Ozal, who was here and has been trying to, has not?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not that I know of. I don't know that he's had a meeting with the President.

Q: Bad news. So you don't know about a Bandar meeting.


Q: What about Ozal? I gather he has been trying to see the President and has so far been unsuccessful.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the President has not met with any foreign leader that I know of recently.

Q: Ozal is in town this week. Will he be seeing him this week?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not that I know of, but I can check.

Q: Is there any reason why -- why would he not see Ozal, who's been a fairly central figure there as an ally?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He has. He's been working on the economy and several other issues, and I believe he also made a commitment that the next foreign leader he would see would be Prime Minister Mulroney.

Q: Is there a date on Mulroney yet?

Q: You said that you didn't know -- did you say you didn't know whether the President had met with any candidates or that the President has not met with any candidates?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't believe he's met with any candidates.

Q: And on the meeting this afternoon with the economic leaders, is this something -- when you say consultation, do you mean they are getting together and talking back and forth about the things that they would like see in the State of the Union speech? Is he soliciting opinions?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he wants to hear their thoughts on the state of the economy right now, the kinds of programs they would like to see in the economic package and just hear their views on it.

Q: Prioritizing for the speech or just for the --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I wouldn't limit it to the speech. He wants to get their views on the economy.

Q: In light of the generally negative --

Q: On that topic, will there be any presentation to the congressional leaders by Mr. Rubin of tentative decisions that are going to --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I think it's just a general discussion.

Q: George, in light of the generally negative reaction on many -- from many quarters to the concept of a gasoline tax or a broader -- more broadly based energy tax, is that still a live option? And I have a follow-up on that.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, right now we're considering all our options.

Q: That is still a live option?


Q: Does the President believe that a revenue package has to be part of his larger package?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think the President believes that everything has to be looked at right now, but he's made no final decisions beyond that.

Q: George, will the President attend Thurgood Marshall's funeral?


Q: George, in the guard shack at the Northwest Gate, there's sketch on the wall of the suspect in the CIA shootings. It would seem to, you know, suggest some concern. In view of that, why is the President jogging, out jogging twice in the streets of Washington?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well the President has his Secret Service detail and we feel that he can be fully protected.

Q: -- the streets of Washington, Pennsylvania -- look out Pennsylvania Avenue, 17th Street --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He enjoys running down Pennsylvania Avenue and he enjoys running down the Mall and he feels perfectly safe.

Q: George, do you consider that a secure area?


Q: George, can you explain why it seems that the new administration neglected to consult with two important members of the Senate? Moynihan complained publicly that nobody had called him; and Nunn said a couple days ago that he wasn't part of any strategy. It seems that you haven't really gotten these people on board early enough. Why was that?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that there were meetings with Senator Nunn. I believe that Secretary Aspin has met with him. But we're always looking to do as much as we can. And we'll take their suggestions. The President has spoken with Senator Moynihan. And we expect real close consultation.

Q: He's spoken with him now, but why did he wait so long to do that?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that there were some other discussions over time, but sometimes you might miss a trick here or there, but we're trying to do the best we can.

Q: George, having to do with the Justice Department again, is the White House interested in naming a special prosecutor to investigate what has been called Iraqgate, the financing the of arms sales to Iraq through the BNL --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has said he supports extending the special prosecutor law, and that would be a subject the attorney general would surely take into advisement.

Q: George, could you tell me, do you think the Republicans can be blocked from putting an amendment on the military ban onto other legislation, for example, family leave next week? And if you can't block it, will that be an embarrassment if that vote comes up?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not necessarily if a vote comes up. I mean, the President -- the Senate rules are relatively flexible. As you know, it's tough to keep any senator from putting an amendment that he wishes to have considered on the floor. But we are working with the Senate now to come up with an acceptable solution.

Q: During the campaign, the President said the world community should take a much tougher stand on Bosnia. Does the President still intend to go after the Serbs if the abuses of human rights, et cetera, persist?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if I'd use your language, but the President is very concerned by the abuses of human rights in Serbia and Bosnia. He's concerned about ethnic cleansing. He wants to make sure that we enforce the no-fly zone. And his advisers and he are reviewing all of his options right now.

Q: George, the Bosnian community is circulating word that the NSC is meeting today, in fact, on their question. And they're asking for American weapons. Is the NSC meeting, in fact, today? And what's the President's --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't believe there is an NSC meeting today.

Q: What's the President's position on supplying weapons to these forces against the Serbs?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is reviewing -- and his staff are reviewing all their options right now.

Q: If the ban on gays in the military is put on a bill, the family leave bill or another piece of legislation the President supports, will he veto it?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, that's a hypothetical. Let's wait and see what happens. We're working on a solution right now. And the President is a strong supporter of the family leave bill.

Q: The trade issue -- another trade issue. Is the administration planning to impose duties on countries that dump steel in the United States? There have been some reports to that.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Commerce Department had an announcement at noon today, announcing preliminary determinations in a number of steel cases. These are preliminary. It's been a nonpolitical process that I think has been going on since last November, last June actually, but that's just preliminary. And there will be further determinations later in the year. The Secretary of Commerce has also made an announcement on this.

Q: George, what is the President's thinking on gay couples in the military? Would they be eligible for the same privileges that heterosexual couples enjoy -- vis a vis, housing and so forth?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President's concern is making sure that people aren't discriminated against solely on the basis of their status. And he has not endorsed anything beyond that.

Q: Has he thought through how the mechanics of that --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's one of the issues that has to be discussed during the consultation process, during the review.

Q: George, why did he agree to it during the campaign without thinking through all of these other problems that have now been brought up by the Joint Chiefs and others concerned about military lifestyle?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Those are all questions about how to fulfill his commitment. It's proper to consult with the military authorities once you've made that determination. And that's exactly what he intends to do.

Q: But someone suggested he should have considered these practical problems prior to making his commitment.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He did consider fully all of the issues, but now is the time to do the consultation, not that he is in office.

Q: So, he doesn't think that these practical problems are in any way an obstacle to fulfilling his commitment?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, the President wants to fulfill his commitment, but he also wants to work with the military and the Congress in working out these details.

Q: George, let me follow that, if I may. You continue to call the details, and you really have refused for several days now to get into the details of what the President will propose. But it's also --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it's not appropriate to get into those details before the President makes the announcement.

Q: It is also a question of the measure of how completely the President is committed to ending discrimination against gays in the military. You have said that he will end discrimination based on status. Are you willing to stand here and give us a commitment that the President will end discrimination against gays in the military totally, that they will be able to practice their lifestyles in the military?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I am not willing to say that right now. I am willing to stand by the President's commitment, which is to end discrimination solely on the basis of status. Questions of conduct are a separate issue.

Q: Do you expect the President to make any changes in his plan or strategy because of this day's delay? Is he negotiating, is he going to change his announcement?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the announcement -- she was asking if there was any change in the announcement based on these consultations. The President has a commitment to ending discrimination based on status. He intends to fulfill that commitment. He has been consulting with the leaders on how best to make that approach, and how best to work after the announcement is made on the details of that, and that's what he intends to do.

Q: So what he was going to announce today, he is still --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, there is no announcement. When there is an announcement, that is his policy. I mean, he is consulting to figure out the best way to fulfill his commitment.

Q: Is it possible with the announcement that there would be a delay even in the initial steps that the administration was prepared to take, in terms of stopping, asking people about their sexual orientation and expelling people from the military who are found to be homosexual? Is it possible that that would not happen immediately as envisioned, but rather would wait for six months as this process goes on?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, we'll have the announcement tomorrow.

Q: You can't rule that out?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't want to rule it in or out.

Q: Is Johnetta Cole continuing to advise the administration on policy and appointments -- any area, particularly education?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe the cluster groups are no longer operative. I think she's back at Spelman.

Q: But she doesn't have any continuing role with the administration that you know of?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No formal official role. Not that I know of.

Q: -- any formal adviser, do you know?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: She's friends with Mrs. Clinton and with the President. They certainly respect her and respect her judgment, but she has no official position.

Q: Who, George?


Q: -- make the announcement tomorrow, George?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I'm not certain when it will be tomorrow, what time or what the manner will be, but I expect that we will have an announcement by tomorrow.

Q: George, Senator Nunn's statement this afternoon -- was there any consultation or discussion with the White House and him on what he would he say? And can we expect it to perhaps dovetail perfectly with whatever it is the President will be announcing tomorrow?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure of that. I know there have been discussions with Senator Nunn. I don't know if it's specifically about his statement this afternoon.

Q: What kinds of discussions?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As I said, the President has spoken with Senator Nunn. I believe that Secretary Aspin has spoken also with Senator Nunn and perhaps -- and others have been in contact with his staff.

Q: But the White House has not reviewed his speech or his remarks?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not that I know of, no.

Q: George, does the President plans to meet with members of the Armed Services Committee today?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's very possible. I don't know if it's been finally scheduled yet.

Q: Would that be here at the White House?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Probably, yes.

Q: Would it include only Democratic members of the Committee?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would imagine so, but I don't think it's been finally set yet.

Q: Why only Democrats?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he just wants to work with his Democratic members and talk through their concerns.

Q: George, what is the possibility of --

Q: Photo op? When is he going to that?


Q: -- the President coming down to make the announcement on the --


Q: What is the possibility the President coming down to the Briefing Room to make the announcement on the gays in the military? The past practice had been used by former presidents to come down on issues such as this.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know the details of how he will make that announcement, but we should have it within the next day or two.

Q: Could we go back to the Armed Services meeting? Is this a likely meeting? Has it taken place already?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I don't think it's taken place yet, no.

Q: What time is it tentatively scheduled --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There is no set time yet.

Q: But is gays the topic of that meeting?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I assume they would talk about other issues, but clearly this is on their minds.

Q: Did they ask for it?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not that I know -- this is something the President wants to do.

Q: Of all -- he made a lot of promises during the campaign. Of all the promises that he made, why this one now? Is there something about this particular pledge that caused him to do it in the very first weeks of his administration?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As I said, I think this is an issue we would have faced on the Senate Floor regardless of what presidential action he took at this time. But he does believe in the commitment that he's made. He stands by his commitment not to discriminate against individuals solely on the basis of status, and that's why he's moving ahead.

Q: Then was this a political calculation to take the hit while you're as popular as perhaps you will be?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the President knew that this was going to be controversial, but he felt it was important to move forward.

Q: Is he feeling now that he --

Q: Does the President have any thoughts about why this is so controversial? Is it just because -- aversions to changing a tradition; a reaction to a President without military experience; or is it just homophobes?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I'm not exactly sure. I'm sure there's lots of different strands of opposition to this policy. But the President believes -- and I think that there's strong public support for the principle that people shouldn't be discriminated against simply for their status.

Q: -- will the underlying -- will one of the underlying principles in the order be that there is a difference between who you are and what you do? And how would that transmit --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it is important to draw a line between status and conduct, yes.

Q: Is that something that would be --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know how it would be worked out in the final policy, but it is something the President clearly envisions.

Q: On February 17th, will he be presenting legislative proposals on the economic package?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if we'll have the budget or the legislative plan. In fact, I don't expect that the budget will be presented. But clearly the outlines of the President's strategy --

Q: What about the short-term stimulus package? Will you have a legislative proposal on that?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I'm not positive that we would have the actual bill, but we would clearly outline the policy.

Q: On that -- obviously one of the biggest things the government spends money on right now is health care. The health care plan won't be finished for -- until several months after February 17th. How is he planning to coordinate --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think you have to make some assumptions about the economic impact of the health care plan, even though you don't have the final plan ready.

Q: So will he necessarily have to make some preliminary decisions about which way he's going to go on health care by February 17th in order to make those decisions?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he's already made some preliminary decisions of the direction he'd like to go in. Again, that is something -- you would have to figure out what you would assume various savings to be and which programs you would have to look at to get those savings. But beyond that, I don't know.

Q: Just one other thing. The President during the campaign had suggested that you could have some substantial savings in the near term from health care. More recently, he's talked about savings in the longer term -- five to eight years. Is it now his position that whatever savings might be achieved in terms of the budget over the next four years in order to meet the deficit reduction goal he's set would have to come from reductions in existing programs, rather than from overall reforms?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's more likely. Clearly, the bulk of health care savings will come in the long term through these reforms. But there are also some near-term reforms to get some savings as well.

Q: George, do you have any reaction to Chairman Greenspan's testimony today before Congress?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President wants to work closely with Chairman Greenspan. I think they share the same goals. They share the goals of getting growth in this economy, increasing jobs. I think the President shares Chairman Greenspan's judgment that we've had some sluggish job growth over the past several months and years, and is something we have to address. And that's what he intends to do.

Q: George, you talked about distinguishing between status and conduct. Does the President see this issue of gays in the military as a civil rights issue? Is that an accurate characterization?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it's important to protect individual rights and the rights of an individual to serve his or her country.

Q: But would it be in the category of civil rights?


Q: Is that the only right protecting, George, the right of the individual to serve his or her country? Is he not also committed to the right of a person to sexual preference?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is committed to the right of a person to serve their country regardless of their sexual preference.

Q: George, on the distinction between status and conduct, does the President believe not only that people who are homosexual have a right to serve their country, but that they have some right to, in proper circumstances, behind closed doors, however you draw those distinctions, to engage in whatever kind of sexual conduct they want to engage in? Currently, the Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits sodomy, which has a broad definition. Does the President believe that at least some forms of conduct ought to be protected?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think I should get into that at this time. He'll have his announcement in the future.

Q: George, on Bosnia --

Q: Just one other question along those lines. Does the President believe that whatever rules of conduct there should be, should be neutral in terms of sexual preference? In other rules, whatever rules of conduct there are should apply equally to homosexual service members and heterosexual service members; or does the President envision a separate code of conduct for homosexual service members?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Clearly, there should be strict codes of conduct. How exactly they would be applied, I'm not sure yet and we'll be working on that.

Q: Is that, then, leaving open the possibility that there would be one code of conduct governing heterosexuals and a separate, stricter code of conduct for homosexuals? Or are you talking about a strict code of conduct that would govern all service members?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I wouldn't want to rule -- I wouldn't rule that in or out at this point.

Q: George, on Bosnia, the administration has expressed concern about oil getting through the embargo. Is the United States contemplating a naval action to try to better enforce that embargo?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We've been in touch with Romania and Bulgaria. And they have the authority under the U.N. Security Council resolutions to enforce that embargo. I would add though that if -- we would regard any action by Serbia to sabotage or blow up these ships in any way as an act of environmental terrorism and a war crime.

Q: And would that be something that wouldn't -- do you envision that the United States would end up joining that naval blockade?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, right now we believe that Bulgaria and Romania have the authority under the U.N. Security Council resolutions to enforce that.

Q: Did you advise Romania and Bulgaria to use force to stop these ships or --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We've just been in touch with them about these violations, and we believe they have the authority.

Q: You've asked them to be tougher?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I can't get into the exact instructions.

Q: Is this as well as lifting the arms of arms embargo part of the NSC's considerations?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Everything is being considered.

Q: George, two questions, one of them a clarification. So far you've said announcement of the President's policy on gays in the military within the next couple of days, in the near future, tomorrow, within the next day or so --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have the exact timing. I believe it will be by tomorrow.

Q: By tomorrow, but that's not sure.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's not definite. It will get done when we're ready, but I believe it will be by tomorrow.

Q: Okay, second thing, on an entirely different subject. The Israeli Prime Minister has said that he expects the United States to veto any sanctions in the U.N. Security Council against Israel over deportees. Will you do it?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We've been intensifying contacts with all parties involved in this issue. And we are also in close consultation with Israel. We've asked that any action be delayed until the Supreme Court has the chance to act and until the parties have a further opportunity to try and work this issue out.

Q: George, what are your plans for the Camp David retreat this weekend? And also a technical issue, is it being called a State of the Union Address or is it an Address before a Joint Session of Congress?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's an Address before the Joint Session of Congress. I think the State of the Union becomes shorthand.

This weekend the President wants to meet with his Cabinet members to get an assessment of just their plans for the first 100 days, to talk to them about what's going on in their departments and to build a real team approach to running this administration.

Q: -- and is there any photo op available?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure about the photo op. I expect they'll overnight Saturday.

QQ: -- the Palestinians -- the deportees for a minute. If the United States is willing to ask for a delay on this in order to let the peace process work itself, out doesn't it open itself up to criticism that it's not willing to ask for delays on sanctions against other nations?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so. We want to make sure that the parties have a chance to work this out. They are working on that. We've intensified our contacts with all parties to further that effort and we feel that's the best course.

Q: George, concerning Haiti --

Q: -- possibility before -- you said you weren't ruling it in or out; that there might not be an immediate move to stop expulsions or stop questioning the people about their sexual orientations. If there were to be a delay in doing that, would that be consistent, do you think, with the President's campaign promise?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President will fulfill his pledge. And, again, I can't characterize a hypothetical situation like that, but I believe he will have an announcement that fulfills his pledge.

Q: George, concerning Haiti?

Q: George, may I just follow up on -- you weren't trying to open up the possibility --


Q: -- when he makes his announcement, it will be to say I'm postponing any decision?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not trying to -- I'm trying not to characterize in any way. He will have the -- (laughter).

Q: George, concerning Haiti. Jesse Jackson, went to Haiti on a private visit. Jesse Jackson just came back. Has President Clinton received a report on Mr. Jackson's trip to Haiti?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think he has.

Q: George, is Connie Garamendi at the White House today to meet with the President and is she on the consideration for Peace Corps Director?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not that I know of. I don't believe that there -- I don't know that she's had a meeting scheduled with him.

Q: Are they guests at the White House tonight, overnight?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll have to check. I just don't know.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:20 P.M. EST

William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by George Stephanopoulos Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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