Press Briefing by George Stephanopoulos
The Briefing Room
12:47 P.M. EDT
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good afternoon. As you know, Gene and Bruce will be available for a background briefing after my briefing. I'm prepared to take questions.
Q: George, can you tell us when all these bad economic numbers start becoming the President's problem and stop becoming -- stop being Bush's problems, if you understand the thrust of what I mean?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think I do. (Laughter.) I'm trying. Clearly, the economic performance in the first quarter is not up to snuff. And I think that what we're facing is a legacy of 12 years of not investing in our people and their futures, 12 years of increasing deficits every single year. And the President is making strides to reverse that. He's looking to invest in our people and to bring the deficit down with real spending cuts, and by increasing taxes on the wealthy. He is looking to turn around the economic course of the last 12 years. We're starting and we're going to continue to move forward. And if the President's economic plan is passed, things will look up.
Q: What about the question?
Q: So it's not Clinton's problem yet?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think -- I did answer the question. I think that we're clearly trying to turn the corner.
Q: When, in political terms, does it cease being a legacy of the previous administration and become Bill Clinton's problem?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, Bill Clinton is addressing the problems right now.
Q: I understand that. I didn't ask you that and neither did he. The only question is, in political terms, when does it stop being somebody else's leftover problem and become yours?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think that's for the pundits and the political writers to decide. What we're concerned about is coming up with solutions, and that's what we're working on.
Q: Can you explain why you took credit for the bump in growth for the last quarter while Bush was still President, but don't want to take responsibility for the slide while Clinton is President?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think -- first of all, let's look at what's happened exactly. There are certain actions in the economy that are directly tied to what the President has done. There was an increase in consumer confidence after the election. That increase in consumer confidence led to more spending and led to higher economic growth numbers in the fourth quarter. There has also been a great reaction in the bond market to the President's economic proposals, which have brought interest rates down, probably pumped about $100 billion into the economy, and led to lower home mortgage rates, lower car loan rates, and lower interest rates for the American people in general. Those are real benefits that are being provided to the American people because of the President's economic program.
We will take credit for what we do. At the same time, we're going to continue to fight for more investments in jobs; we're going to continue to fight for real spending cuts to bring the deficit down.
Q: Consumer confidence is going down. To what do you attribute that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know the exact reasons. I'm not an economist. I can just say that we're disappointed that consumer confidence is going down and we're going to do what we can to address that loss of confidence and make the American people know that we're addressing the real problems in this economy.
Q: Do you think it has anything to do with the President's continual harping on how bad things are?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so at all. I don't think that's what the President does. The President is harping on solutions and harping on the direction we must move forward in if we're going to turn this economy around.
Q: George, how hard do you think it's going to be to sell the American people on the idea of peacekeeping troops for Bosnia should this peace agreement hold up?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I think that we don't know what's going to happen yet in Bosnia. I think that peacekeeping is a different matter. And peacekeeping through the U.N. is something that the American people have supported in the past. Peacekeeping is something the American people supported in Somalia. And thankfully, it looks like we've had a very successful mission.
Q: What about the open-ended nature of this? It doesn't seem to conform with your notion of you need to know when you get out before you make a commitment.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think we know what the nature of this is until there's a decision.
Q: On Bosnia, there were a lot of reports this morning of assaults on new communities and new fighting there. How do we assess this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think one of the things that Secretary Christopher said this weekend is that we can't judge the situation simply by signatures on a peace plan. We have to judge the situation by what's happening on the ground. And we're not going to be satisfied until there is a cessation of hostilities, until humanitarian aid can go through.
Q: Well, we see what's happening on the ground. Do we judge what happened this morning and overnight as the peace agreement being a sham and we're now looking more towards the military strikes as our options?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We want the hostilities on the ground to stop. We are going to continue to press for the hostilities on the ground to stop.
Q: Well, do we think the hostilities have stopped. What do we think's going on there?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's clear that when shelling continues, the hostilities haven't stopped.
Q: What are you going to do about it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to continue to press for the Serbians to stop the shelling. We're going to continue to press for a real peace agreement. We're going to continue to press for humanitarian aid to go through, and we're going to watch that.
Q: George, the best-case scenario, as I understand it now, is a real peace agreement which would require peacekeeping forces. So you're not really going too far out on a limb if you'll tell us: Would you seek War Powers authorization before committing a peacekeeping force?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't get into any hypotheticals about a course the President may or may not take, except to repeat what we've said in the past. And that is, if congressional authorization is warranted, the President will certainly seek it.
Q: But isn't that the direction you want?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I think that we have to wait and see what happens in Europe. We have to wait and see what happens in Bosnia. We have to wait and see what happens with the Serbian parliament. We have to wait and see what happens in the U.N.
Q: George, given the reluctance of the British and French to enter into any kind of military intervention in Bosnia, at least, that appears to be the message that Christopher --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the French Foreign Minister said today that nothing has been excluded.
Q: Nothing has been excluded, but even the indications from Christopher's people on the trip are that there appears to be more emphasis now on the Vance-Owen peacekeeping plan than there was on possible military intervention. I mean, are you being forced in that direction?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all. Clearly, the signature on the Vance-Owen plan this Sunday was a change that we have to take into account. The Bosnian Serb parliament is meeting tomorrow. We'll have to wait and see what happens there. But the consultations that Christopher's engaged in are on a wide range of options, and as -- again, I would just go back to what the French Foreign Minister said today -- nothing has been excluded.
Q: Throughout this whole situation, has the President ever spoken by phone or in person with Cyrus Vance?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I just don't know. I don't think so, but I don't know. I'm pretty sure it's not in person.
Q: George, every day goes by, the Europeans say no, we don't want to lift the arms embargo, because we have troops there and we don't want you to bomb because we have troops there. Why not just tell these people, look, friends, this fire is on your doorstep, okay, you do with it what you want and stay out of our lives? I mean, I don't quite understand why we are running around, chasing to put out this fire.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You heard about a staff shakeup? (Laughter.) I would just go back to the objectives that Secretary Christopher laid out in his statement on Saturday. We have an objective to stop the killing, to stop the ethnic cleansing, and we also want to do what we can to prevent a wider war in the Balkans. That is why America is involved.
Q: But why America as opposed to having the overwhelming duty go to those near by?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, we're consulting with the Europeans. This will be --
Q: I understand that. The question was, why do we have to be the leader and take the primary role here instead of them?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: America is the world's only remaining superpower. We have responsibilities. We feel that America has a responsibility to lead when outrages like ethnic cleansing are going on, and we feel we have to do what we can to prevent a wider war in the Balkans. Everybody's a critic today. (Laughter.)
Q: To go back to Ann's question -- would you care to condemn the actions that the Serbs have taken since the signing of the peace treaty?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Certainly, we condemn all acts of aggression at this time. But we feel that we have to move forward for a peace agreement.
Q: What acts of aggression are occurring besides Serbian acts of aggression?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Any acts of aggression which occur we are against.
Q: Would you care to say something that indicates not just we're against war, but we think the Serbs thus far are not living up to their word and have done unacceptable --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's clear that America expects more than a signature a peace agreement, we expect the aggression to stop, and we'll continue to say that.
Q: Why are we waiting for this Wednesday parliamentary vote since -- if, on the ground the war is continuing and no difference is occurring there, what difference do we think this vote will make?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I'm not certain that the vote will make a difference, but we certainly have to get to that step. You can't have ratification of the agreement unless the Bosnian Serb parliament does vote.
Q: Why do we think it's an agreement?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's our point. We think that you need more than words; you need deeds, and we're going to continue to watch for them.
Q: George, have you responded yet to Congressman Durbin's letter?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think we've had a formal response yet, no.
Q: Are you going to today or tomorrow, do you know?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that it will be today, but I expect we'll get a response.
Q: George, in terms of what the so-called "parliament" may decide tomorrow, is it better from our vantage point for them to reject the agreement, to, in effect, show their hand so that we can proceed with the options that Christopher's outlining in Europe, or just merely have a kind of a nominal phony ratification, but the war continues to -- (laughter.)
Q: Go ahead.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to do whatever we can to stop the aggression, to stop the ethnic cleansing, and to implement a real peace agreement.
Q: Do you have any concern, though, that if there is a mere formality tomorrow by the Bosnian Serb parliament in ratifying this thing without changes on the ground, that the --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We've always expressed --
Q: allies may peel off from you?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We have continually said that we expect more than words, more than signatures, more than paper ratification. We expect the deeds to match the words.
Q: I know what you've said, but aren't the Europeans giving you a different message, that they would be satisfied with mere ratification to --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all. I think that's just completely wrong.
Q: George, how is it that we are sending Christopher to Europe to try to get the allies to do something that the American public, according to almost -- well, every public poll, is not itself willing to go along with?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't think that that's a foregone conclusion. The American people have supported peacekeeping. The American people do stand against aggression. And, clearly, if U.S. action is warranted, the President will go to the American people, explain the objectives, explain our interests, and explain the means we're going to use to achieve them.
Q: Would you say then that the American public is not nervous about this, is not skeptical, and the polls are --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I think that the --
Q: that show that there's two-to-one opposition to armed involvement over there?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that it's always right to be cautious when you're thinking of any kind of military activity of any sort. And the American people are right to ask questions, and we're going to answer them.
Q: Is the President worried that the Christopher mission could be counterproductive in the sense that it could -- that the opposition shown by the Europeans could, in fact, lead the Serbs to more reject the peace plan?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all. I think what we're seeing in the trip is consensus towards a common approach. We will continue to work for that, and until the mission is complete, I don't think you can reach that conclusion.
Q: Let's be serious. How can your threats of military action be credible when the Europeans, in fact, are opposed to it? What kind of credibility do you have?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: All I can say -- I mean, the French, again, just earlier today, the French Foreign Minister said nothing is excluded. Nothing.
Q: You show just one part of what he said. He said on Sunday and again yesterday that the plan, the American plan was not acceptable because the French have troops on the ground
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yesterday -- and he met with Warren Christopher and he said that nothing is excluded.
Q: But that doesn't mean that everything is included. (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think nothing is excluded stands on its own. It means nothing is excluded.
Q: We all recognize the diplomatic nuance of that, though. That doesn't mean they're signing on to anything either.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's quite clear. We're not -- the consultations aren't completed yet. But they are saying that everything is on the table.
Q: I guess you all need to be polite, you know, mainly.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's your conclusion.
Q: What's the difference between the situation in Bosnia today and the situation in Lebanon several years ago where we put peacekeeping troops in and lost 256 Marines, pulled out and the situation went on until it gradually petered out?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think they are different places, a different time, and clearly the situations are very different. At the same time, we are aware of the difficulties involved in this operation, and at the same time, we believe that the interests of America are involved. We believe we have an interest in stopping ethnic cleansing and stopping the fighting. And we --
Q: There was ethnic cleansing going on there at that time. We saw that as a potential flashpoint for World War III because it was in the Middle East where the United States and the Soviet Union have different clients.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And we still are involved in the Middle East in trying to foster real peace, and that's why the President has called the representatives of the different Middle Eastern countries to Washington to try and foster a peace. We're going to act for peace when we feel it's necessary.
Q: When is he bringing them to the White House, by the way?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know about that.
Q: But it seems to be pretty much the same parallel 10 years later. Again --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I just don't buy the analogy.
Q: George, you say we're a superpower and therefore we have responsibilities. What responsibility do we have as a superpower to go over there and meddle in a war that we could never decide -- we could never make those people love each other any more than they do now. They hate each other. Why is that our responsibility? It's just because we are big and have been somewhat successful and right now we're in a very bad way ourselves? Why are we responsible for doing that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We have a responsibility that when people --
Q: Why? What is our responsibility?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Our responsibility is -- we have a humanitarian concern in the interest of the people who are being massacred.
Q: We don't have anything like that. (Laughter.)
Q: and make sure that he's got his priorities straight. Has his staff let him down?
Q: Here we go.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think that everybody's always looking for ways to do better and different things that you can improve. At the same time, I think the President is generally pleased with the direction of these first few months of the administration, pleased that we've been able to make progress on the economic package, pleased that we've been able to make progress on his other important initiatives. But that's not to say that we haven't made mistakes or we haven't -- we couldn't do better, and we will.
Q: What type of person is he looking for to come aboard?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Helen. (Laughter.)
Q: Anybody else if they're not available? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Seen Mack's office lately? (Laughter.)
Q: The Enforcer, you mean? (Laughter.) Does he still have confidence in Mack?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, absolutely. And I think he has confidence in the whole staff. That's not to rule out the possibility of some adjustments. One of the things the President pointed out is that most chiefs of staff have traditionally had two or even three senior people to help out at the top levels. And I think that Mack has been well served by Mark Gearan, but he's only had one deputy. So it's possible that we would look at other adjustments.
Q: I'm a little confused about that. I don't remember George Bush having two deputies, at least at the same time.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Andrew Card and Ron Kaufman.
Q: No, Kaufman was not a deputy --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And the other times was when he had Henson Moore and Clayton Yeutter.
Q: That was under that hapless -- (laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So it's just to point out that there were -- there are precedents to have senior people. And even if you --
Q: Well, those guys add up to how many? (Laughter.)
Q: You're not going to use the same Skinner model, are you?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know what model we're going to --
Q: The last time anyone had three around here was Don Regan and they were called "the blind mice." (Laughter.)
Q: Does that mean, George, that -- I mean, there's a story that you're being considered to be moved out of the communications and on to the strategic planning because you're tougher and more brilliant -- (laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Did you guys hear about that twohour special on CNN tomorrow night with the President? (Laughter.)
Q: knock this story down. (Laughter.)
Q: Go ahead, George.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Flattery won't get me to answer the question. (Laughter.)
Q: Are they thinking of moving you out of the communications --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I have no idea on anything like that. At the same time , the President has spoken to it, said that we might be considering some small adjustments, but there's nothing dramatic planned at this time.
Q: He didn't say small.
Q: He said a five-week review.
Q: When did the President speak to you and say he's considering small adjustments?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He said -- no, he said it to the world earlier today.
Q: I meant to you internally.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know -- he said that there had been some process going on for five weeks. He had been talking to Mack>
Q: You didn't know that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not really.
Q: Therein lies the problem --
Q: It could be more than just a new deputy chief of staff?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It could be more, it could be less. Just no decisions have been made.
Q: What, would you name a half a deputy chief of staff? (Laughter.)
Q: is that what all this is about?
Q: The President launched into a very long offensive after the call on empowerment zones today. Assuming you hire a new deputy and support personnel, does this break your 25 percent staff reduction?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know. We -- as he said, the President expects to meet the 25 percent staff reduction by the start of the fiscal year, and we aren't changing that at this time.
Q: This time, meaning prior to --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Meaning that we haven't had any changes at all. The President hasn't made any decisions.
Q: Following up on the news weekly reports again, does this mean -- this enforcer idea, is this to enforce congressional people or to enforce Clinton? It seems like Clinton might be the one that needs a little bit of discipline, or am I wrong about that? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes. (Laughter.)
Q: What's missing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Excuse me?
Q: What do you guys need? It seems you've got everything in place. What's the missing sort of structural thing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President just said we could -- we always are looking for ways to come up with greater focus and just ways to improve the way we do business. And we'll never stop looking at that kind of review, those kinds of adjustments.
Q: I was thinking again after reading this morning's telephone call on enterprise zones, is the President on focus, or is it the --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think this morning's telephone call was very focused. Coming up with a program to help I think this morning's telephone call was very focused, coming up with a program to help rebuild inner cities.
Q: But if you say we're always looking for ways to come up with greater focus, as you, over the last five weeks have reassessed and evaluated the way you work, what are the examples of where you haven't been focused enough? What was your diagnosis of the focus problem?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think there's no question we could have done a better job with the President's jobs program; we've said that, and we didn't.
Q: The Defense Department apparently is backing the renewal of nuclear tests and there are some complaints from some allies. Do you favor that? Does the President now favor that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President had some discussions with the Russians and with Boris Yeltsin in Vancouver about starting negotiations on a multilateral comprehensive test ban. I don't know about the specific tests, but until a ban is in place, I think that would certainly be appropriate. But I'd have to take the question on the specific tests.
Q: There's White House testimony the Department of Defense supports the resumption of nuclear testing at the earliest possible time in order to make sure that the U.S. nuclear program is safe, secure, reliable and effective.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that would be pending a multilateral agreement, which we don't have right now, but the President will continue to press for.
Q: You have 20 people dealing with Congress. I mean, if the problem is from stimulus, why do you need someone else? Is there a problem with existing people in the White House?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know -- the President has not made any decisions yet. I don't know what kind of a fix, if any, we're looking for. But, clearly, the President did say that one of the things we could do is find ways to have greater focus and greater coordination, and we'll continue to look for that.
Q: Is he thinking about replacing anyone, or bringing someone --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not to my knowledge.
Q: or bringing someone over someone to do --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know.
Q: George, can I get back to the economy for a second?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure.
Q: At the photo op, the President was asked what, if anything, he might do to try to address the downturn of the indicators. He talked about the best possibility for an economic program this year is deficit reduction and keeping the interest rate down. It seems that he was talking about the stimulus; he just brushed it off in past tense -- it would have been the perfect opportunity for him again to say we need summer jobs, we need blah, blah, blah, and he didn't. And I was wondering if that means that it's completely bagged now --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I don't think so. We're going to look to fight for all our investments over the next several weeks as the President's budget is finally considered. But we're looking at the big picture as well, and we feel we need to do what we can to make sure that the broad outlines of the President's program are passed, and they are passed quickly. And that means we're going to have real spending cuts. It means we're going to continue to fight for the President's investments, continue to fight for the revenue package to bring the deficit down.
Q: Is this your example of new focus that you're trying to soft-pedal a revival of the stimulus package until you get the budget done so that you can focus energies on that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The budget is the bulk of the President's economic package; it always was and it still is. And this budget -- we must get it passed quickly, and we intend to do that.
Q: There are reports that the White House is shopping around a new version of the stimulus package and -- new, only in the sense that it's got some of the elements of the old, but it includes offsets; in other words, it would be paid for in this budget cycle.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We have been consulting with Congress on different ways to get the investments through.
Q: Have you concluded what you're going to do with that, and at what point --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q: Have you made the conclusion that you will have a supplemental that does this, though?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think there are supplementals that are moving through the Congress, and it's possible that something like this could be added to them.
Q: At what point do you think you're going to say what's in it and what your cutting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: When we're ready.
Q: George, does the President have a man or anyone at the Capitol who is watching the items being put into these bills that are not on the budget that are extraneous and shouldn't be there? Does he have anyone -- I refer to $200 million being given to the U.S. Army to study breast cancer. We have very few breast cancer patients among men. It's alright to study breast cancer, but --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There are women in the U.S. Army, though.
Q: Why do they give it to the U.S. Army? They don't want it -- $200 million.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Office of Management and Budget does review all of the spending programs, but I --
Q: $200 million in the Senate that is being given to the Army when the Amy doesn't want it and really is not in that field.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President does support breast cancer research. I don't know about this specific --
Q: They're giving the money to the Army because they'd already given so much money to the health research --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll check into it.
Q: where they could use a little more money, so the army was a little off the money and they gave it to the Army and the army doesn't want it.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll check into it.
Q: Can we take another stab at the chronology here on Bosnia? The Secretary is due back at the end of the week to make his report.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: Meanwhile the Serb parliament will have voted, we presume, and you will have several more days to see what they're doing on the ground. And then what happens? Does some sort of action take place as early as next week, or are you waiting more?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: First of all, you also have the U.N. vote if the Serb parliament acts, which would authorize the Secretary General to look into the idea of implementation, plans of a peacekeeping agreement. Once that were concluded, there would then be another U.N. vote --
Q: Is this a process that is going to take hours, days, weeks?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think days, at least days.
Q: The President said at one point, we won't go it alone. Does that apply to any military option that's being considered?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think -- yes, the President wants to go in a multilateral fashion and we expect that we will.
Q: And air attacks would require participation by other nations?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't get into the logistical details, except we're going to have a multilateral approach.
Q: The President opposed the war in Vietnam. How is this different in terms of moral imperatives? Can you define the difference between --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not going to get into comparisons. I can just say that what we have in this war is a clear humanitarian concern for the lives that are being lost, for the ethnic cleansing that is going on and a clear American interest in preventing a wider war in the Balkans.
Q: How did the President's so-called joke and the facts associated with it regarding Senator Dole get so botched up?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not really sure, except to say that it was a joke and the President engaged in a little bit of hyperbole. But it was a joke, and our statements stand.
Q: George, is he going to apologize to either the Senator or Rush Limbaugh for the jokes?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know. Again, the President has said -- we've put out a statement that said we regret any misunderstanding about Senator Dole's joke. As for the joke about Rush Limbaugh, the President meant to be funny, and it wasn't.
Q: Has the President spoken to Senator Dole about the matter, or sent him a note or anything like that? Any personal communication?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so.
Q: I'd like to come back to War Powers just for a second. Last December 10th, Bush proposed sending troops to Somalia. They pulled out today, they took down the flag and left. The House will debate the question of whether to authorize that mission next week. Is that workable for a President to do? (Laughter.) The Senate passed it in February, the House has not, and they've scheduled debate next week.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that true?
Q: Yes, sir. How can you function? How can the President function with that kind of oversight?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: All I would say is -- President Bush did say he would act consistent with the War Powers Act, and that this was a successful mission. We believe it was a successful mission, so it did not affect the function. I wasn't aware of the House vote next week.
Q: For the pay --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's different.
Q: George, has the President accepted any commencement invitations? Can you tell us where and when if he has?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if there's any final acceptance. I believe it's the year for West Point, for the President to address West Point. So I believe he's doing that; but we don't have any final --
Q: Nothing else beyond that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think there will be others; we just don't have any final decisions yet.
Q: George, in answering my question, you only commented on the sequence of events if the Serbs ratify the peace agreement and take steps on the ground. What if they don't do one or both of those things? Secretary Christopher comes back Friday or Saturday. When does stronger action happen?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, we'll engage in consultations, we'll discuss with Secretary Christopher and our allies, and we'll make a decision then.
Q: What's the status of efforts in Haiti, George?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I know that Ambassador Pezzulo is still working along with the U.N. Rep Caputo, but I don't have any hard update today. I can try and --
Q: We haven't had one it seems for several weeks. I wonder if you can give us --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure. I would guess something -- yes.
Q: George, you said earlier, if I'm correct, that you don't know anything about the delegation to the Middle East peace talks coming to the White House next week. Is it ruled out, or what's the status?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I wouldn't rule it out, but I don't know that it's planned.
Q: George, both you and the President emphasized spending cuts today. Is there a shift in the strategy now here at the White House, and is it as a result of recent polls which show not only the public losing confidence in the economy, that they're losing confidence in the President's ability to handle the economy?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if there's a shift. The President from the very start insisted on spending cuts, insisted on implementing the spending cuts, insisted on not implementing the tax increases without the spending cuts. If you remember his State of the Union address, he focused on spending cuts and then he went out on the road and for several days and weeks talked about the importance of making sure that we have spending cuts, that we reinvent government before we ask the people for more contributions. And that's exactly what we're doing, that's the heart of the President's budget, and that's what we'll continue to do.
Q: Is there a renewed emphasis then on spending cuts in light of the recent polls?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think there's a continued emphasis.
Q: You talked about the President going out and selling his package. Is he going to take to the road more to try to recapture some of whatever it is he had during the campaign?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm sure he'll be leaving the White House. Sure.
Q: George, you're talking about spending cuts. Is there some concern that with the economy going downhill that it will be harder to pass some of these tax rises? And is there any thought of reconsidering some of them?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, we think that the economy will benefit if the President's package is passed. We think by bringing the deficit down, by holding interest rates down, the American economy can turn around, and we'll continue to fight for the President's package.
Q: When you said the bulk of the President's economic program is the budget, why didn't you give equal weight to health care reform? The President has always emphasized in the past how important and vital it is to reform health care in order to reduce the deficit.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President believes that health care reform is central to turning this economy around as well, and it's one of our top two priorities and we'll continue to fight for it.
Q: George, the urban enterprise announcement today seems like a major initiative
by the President, yet it wasn't accompanied by the usual kind of speech before a mayors' group or a trip to an urban center or something like that. Why the low-key approach?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's hardly low-key when you're hooked up with six major cities across the country to announce the President's package with two -- at least two mayors, a governor, and several representatives of community groups who will benefit from this presentation. I just --
Q: But usually there's some setting that provides the pictures for newspapers and television and some --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know. Go talk to the -- there were certainly pictures today from the Oval Office. But I would also suggest that you go talk to the media in Los Angeles and Chicago and Frankfurt and New York and all the other cities -- Baltimore -- that were included in the President's call.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:20 P.M. EDT
End forwarded message
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/269317