Press Briefing by George Stephanopoulos
The Briefing Room
2:02 P.M. EST
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good afternoon. The President's had a good day of meetings on Capitol Hill and with the governors.
Q: Is he there?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he's on his way back; if not, he's about to be on his way back. There's was a real good attendance at the Senate lunch among the Senate Democrats. And he had a very good meeting with the leadership earlier in the morning. So he feels good today.
Q: -- on the record?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: On the record.
Q: -- on the welfare reform.
Q: Welfare reform. We could start with it.
Q: Yes, I'm going to start on that, too. Why is it that the President would spend so much time on studying welfare reform over these past ten years? He now comes into office, he still needs to appoint a task force and a working group and spend another six months studying it before he comes up with a plan to reform the welfare system?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he wants to make sure he gets it right, and he wants to make sure that as President he's leading in the most responsible way. And that means getting all of the best and most current advice from governors, from state agencies, from interest groups, from people who are working on the ground with welfare reform from the Senate and the House, people who are involved in welfare reform. It's important to be up to date, it's important to get the policy right and that's exactly what the President is doing.
Q: Does that mean that the campaign promises, which talked about a two-year program and jobs, public sector jobs for those who couldn't get jobs, are invalid or inoperative?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all. The President said this morning that he is committed to getting welfare reform. And he outlined it in concepts consistent with what he said in the campaign and what he's worked on for the last decade and more as Governor of Arkansas. But these are the goals that he's committed to, that's exactly what the working group is designed to address, and that's what he's going to do.
Q: And where would he get the money for this? Because there are varying estimates as to how much it would cost going up to billions and billions of dollars for the public sector jobs.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're working on the budget right now. And we're also -- one of the issues the working group will look into is exactly what the costs are, how to get it started. That's the kind of questions the working group is looking into.
Q: Didn't he have all of these answers in the campaign? He gave several major speeches, including one on September 9th in Georgia.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He did, and he's still committed to the goals he set forward in the campaign. As you know, the budget has changed since the campaign. We've got a $50- to $60-billion higher deficit. We have to look at all the numbers and review the current situation.
Q: George, the working group is going to fine-tune the ways to implement what the President has already said his program is. Or are we going to see any changes in the major components of the program?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I wouldn't rule out changes, but a working group is tasked to come up with a plan consistent with the plans the President has put forward, and that's what they'll do.
Q: Well, how much latitude do they have? Does he have any specific ideas in the welfare area that he believes are the specific way to go?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's what he said several times in the campaign: You have to give people the tools they need to get off welfare. You have to give them education, training, child care, transportation help so that they can do what they need to do to get off welfare. At the same time, he believes that a strict work requirement also helps that process. Those are the goals the working group is working on.
Q: Can you confirm Democratic sources that say the President will propose $31-billion short-term economic stimulus, split roughly half between spending and tax --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President hasn't made any final decisions yet on the amount of the program. I think that he is working on and looking at a stimulus program. I think it will be divided between a spending investment program on jobs in the short term and will also include private sector incentives, like an investment tax credit, as he talked about during the campaign. But the President hasn't made any final decisions on numbers.
Q: Were congressional leaders told, in a meeting on the Hill last night, that the numbers they were looking at, roughly $31 billion?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As far as I know, no firm numbers were given.
Q: Were unfirm numbers given about it? And was there any kind of feedback from the congressional leaders or from the governors who -- met with and also talk about similar numbers here yesterday?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know that any specific, hard numbers were given, but I think that --
Q: How about soft numbers?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There have been a lot of conceptual discussions within the ballpark mentioned, but no firm number has been reached yet. And the President -- and I should add -- is looking for the best advice he can from governors, from members of Congress on this.
Q: Aside from numbers, you said he's made no firm decisions about the numbers; how about the content? When you say it's split roughly in half, what does that mean -- between what and what?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As I said, he wants to have investment in jobs -- as he said during the campaign, infrastructure, other programs that will get a jump start to the economy now; so maybe some early childhood programs, things like that. At the same time, he wants to have some private sector incentives as well. But I don't have any further details than that.
Q: George, why is it that Governor Campbell came out yesterday from the meeting with the President talking about a $30- billion program, stimulus program, and now's there a report that last night at the meeting with the Democrats, another $31 billion, according to AP -- where is this number coming from if it isn't a final, firm decision? Is it a working number?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President hasn't made any final firm decisions. There are some ideas around about how big the stimulus package should be. And there have been some discussions about that. But the President has not made a final decision yet.
Q: Is that not a rough estimate that's being used, $30-$31 billion?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would say that it's probably in the ballpark, but it's not hard.
Q: What is the target in terms of jobs created? What are you aiming for here?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we'd like to get as many jobs as we can as quickly as we can. I think a good solid stimulus package can probably get 200,000-500,000 jobs.
Q: In what time frame?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, we hope within a year.
Q: Two hundred thousand to 500,000 jobs?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: The Surface Transportation Act hasn't. Are you disappointed that the very kind of program you're discussing hasn't produced any jobs --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We want to get as many jobs as we can. There have been some issues with the Surface Transportation Act. Not all the money has gone through the pipeline.
Q: George, is the 8 million number no longer in effect -- the 8 million you talked about during the campaign?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The 8 million number?
Q: You talked about 8 million jobs.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, that's over -- that's for his entire package, and that's over the course of his term.
Q: Over four years.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: Are you still -- that's still your --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I mean, that's still our goal, absolutely.
Q: George, on the welfare reform, does the President endorse all of the aspects of the New Jersey plan?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the President said several times that he believes that states should have the right to experiment. And that's one of the things he talked about at the DGA this morning.
Q: But all the different elements of the plan, particularly not giving additional benefits to families who have children after they start --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has said that he believes states should have the right to experiment, and that's all -- that's all I can say at this point.
Q: You're not -- it's not coming down either way, then, on that particular --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's saying that New Jersey should have the right to experiment. He is not necessarily endorsing every specific element of the plan.
Q: Right, but I'm just saying, is he agreeing to disagree with them, or does he approve of that particular element of their welfare program?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have an answer on that. I just know that he approves of New Jersey experimenting.
Q: Is the State of the Union going to be the whole kitchen sink -- domestic, foreign, all the programs -- or is just going to be focused on --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think as he's addressed the Congress, the President expects to focus on his agenda for the country, on his legislative agenda, on the priorities that he has set out for economic growth and jobs, for health care, for national service and for political reform.
Q: Where does he stand on that? I mean, has he reached any decisions at all?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's working on it every single day. He had good discussions with the Congress today. He'll be meeting with his economic team this afternoon, and will continue to be in meetings with his economic team through this week.
Q: Very quickly on the Palestinians, I know what the State Department said, but there seems to be a lack of concern that the Hamas deportees have rejected the compromise. Is the White House concerned about that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We believe this process is consistent with the objectives of 799. We want it to work. And we also would urge all the parties to work as hard as they can to reinvigorate the entire Middle East peace process. And that's the goal that we seek right now.
Q: So you proceed with the peace talks even if the Palestinians decide to stay up --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We hope that all the parties proceed with vigor.
Q: Does the President have a problem selling an economic stimulus plan, a need for new spending, at a time when the economy is rebounding so much on its own, and the new figures today show?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the new figures today are welcome news; there's no question about that. But it still hasn't been translated into job growth. And we need to have long-term job growth. We need to create jobs in this economy. We need an economy where incomes are growing. And as I said, all these numbers have not yet translated into job growth. That's the primary focus of the stimulus package.
Q: George, does the $30-billion rough ballpark estimate of the economic --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well qualified. (Laughter.)
Q: Does that ballpark figure guarantee that in the short term there will be an increase in the budget deficit?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not necessarily. There's room accommodated in the budget agreement, within the caps for some stimulus. I don't know exactly how much there is, and I'm not sure if there will be any significant short-term increase. But as I said, the President is committed over the long run to reducing the deficit so we can have growth in the long term as well.
Q: But, you are looking at asking Congress for a declaration of an emergency, right?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that would probably be necessary if you had a stimulus package.
Q: Back to welfare. Bruce Reed says you're going to send your proposals for welfare reform shortly after the proposals for health care reform. And he noted that they both go to the same committees in Congress. Moynihan says in his statement he wants to get welfare reform done this year. Aren't you running a risk of overloading the circuits up there?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to do the best we can not to overload the circuits of the Congress. But one of the things we've learned since the election and since the Inauguration is that Congress is ready to go to work. And they're glad to have a President, the majority in Congress, a President of their own party. And there's a strong cooperation across the aisles, as the President discovered in his meeting with the bipartisan leadership last week. And we know that Congress is ready to work and wants to get a lot of action.
Q: Why talk about welfare reform now at all, when there's not going to be any action on it until probably at least this summer? Is there a political motivation behind this? Is there an attempt to show that you all are moving on the things that you said you'd move on?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President is committed to moving on the things he worked on in the campaign. There's no question about that. But you also have to do the work it takes to prepare a proposal that will pass the Congress and do some real good out in the country.
Q: Did he talk about this in the caucus, about welfare reform, or was he mainly talking about his economic program today on the Hill?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The bulk of the discussion this morning, especially in the first leadership meeting, was on the family leave bill before the Congress today, was on campaign finance and political reform, and it was on his economic package. As you know, they spent much of last week's meeting talking about health care. But they focused this morning on those three issues.
Q: And what about in the caucus in the policy luncheon?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: In the policy lunch, I wasn't there for the whole thing. He ended up spending a lot of time with individual senators and going up and meeting all of them individually. But I think they're focusing on those big issues.
Q: And did anyone reiterate to him that cost of living increases on Social Security recipients is absolutely a non-starter?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't divulge the substance of the private discussions, but there was a good discussion about the economic package, about political reform and campaign finance.
Q: For instance, did Senator Sasser reiterate some of the things he said in the op-ed page today, or did Senator Moynihan reiterate some of the things he said on the Brinkley program?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not that I know of.
Q: George, is the President going to -- two things -- first of all, is the President going to meet with John Major? Do you have a date for --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes. I believe he's going to meet with John Major on February 24th.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: Are they going to Camp David or anything like that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know. It's going to be a working visit. I don't believe it's going to be at Camp David.
Q: And State Dinner, or -- you say a working visit?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They're working out all the details.
Q: Secondly, is the President and Mrs. Clinton going to enforce a no smoking policy in the White House?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe they are, yes.
Q: Is that throughout the White House? I mean, how extensive is it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's everywhere.
Q: Outside too?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if you can ban it outside. (Laughter.)
Q: What does that mean? Does that mean no cigarette or cigar smoking in any of the -- any offices, any --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think they've always had it in their offices, and I believe we have a no-smoking policy in our office, yes.
Q: So, throughout the entire West Wing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: East Wing as well?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would assume so. Of course, yes.
Q: And at state dinners?
Q: State Dining Room?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think there's no smoking in the White House. I think that speaks for itself.
Q: How soon does this go into effect?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I guess immediately, yes.
Q: George, can you talk a little bit about this partnership that he's obviously trying to forge with the governors -- what specifically you see -- how you specifically see that helping you in dealing with Congress and the other issues you're working on?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President understands what the governors have been through for the last 12 years and he wants to work with them on a range of issues that we need a partnership on if we're going to make this government work. Especially on health care. He also is very eager to work with them on welfare reform, and I think one of the things we heard from the governors over the last two days is that they're ready to commit to him on support for his economic growth and jobs package.
Q: Does that translate in any way with your dealings with Congress?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the more support you can get in the country for the President's economic program, the better support you'll have in Congress; no question.
Q: Of all of the options that have floated out there, very few have to do with middle income tax relief. Can you describe the kinds of things you're looking at to give the middle class a break?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, during the campaign the President spoke of a children's tax credit, and he also did talk about a rate cut.
Q: Is the rate cut still a possibility?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has not made any final decisions yet on any portion of the program.
Q: But are these all options that are still on the table?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has not made any decisions, and he continues --
Q: Well, some options are not on the table. Is the COLA cap still on the table?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has not made any decisions, and I'm not going to get into on and off the table. The President has not made any decisions.
Q: But you've said -- on other occasions you've said that something is unlikely -- no decisions have been made, that this is unlikely. Is the COLA cap less likely now than it was a few days ago?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the President has heard an awful lot about this, but he has not made any decisions yet. Let me just also emphasize, the President is not eager to move forward on any proposals that will have any kind of an undue impact on people. There's no question about that. But he also has said that in the end his package will be fair. And he remains committed to that.
Q: George, does that discussion include thinking that you could use tax increases from higher rates specifically going from 31 percent to 36 percent to offset some of the costs on the stimulus program short-term?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that it would necessarily offset -- the President has said several times that he believes that the wealthiest Americans have to do more to pay their fair share, and should be contributing to this economic package.
Q: Senator Sasser suggests that they should do even more than what the President suggested in the campaign. Do you agree with what Senator Sasser --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the President hasn't made any decisions yet. But he has talked about in the campaign increasing the top rate from 31 percent to 36 percent.
Q: Before we get away from taxes, there's a story going around Wall Street today that the investment tax credit you just mentioned that the President favors, it would not be effective until 1994, no retroactivity. Is that correct?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's incorrect. As you know, when Secretary Bentsen was a senator, he, along with Chairman Rostenkowski back in December sent a statement saying that any investment tax credit should be retroactive, I believe, to December 3rd -- either December 2nd or December 3rd -- I think it's December 3rd -- and the President agrees with their judgment.
Q: Last year?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: Secretary Bentsen floated the idea of a broad-based energy tax. Now, Senator Dole, Senator Krueger, Senators Bennett Johnston -- they're all talking about an oil import fee. Is that on the table, off the table, in the range?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has not made any decisions, and he is willing to look at any proposals that people want to put forward for consideration in the plan.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's willing to consider any suggestions.
Q: Back on middle class tax relief for a minute. Without talking about specific decisions -- I mean, he said during the campaign he would protect people who made $80,000 or less from tax increases. Is that still a commitment of his?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is committed to having a fair package. He believes that in the 1980s middle class got hit especially hard, and that they did bear the brunt of tax increases, and the reductions in government benefits, while the wealthy generally got off the hook. He is looking to increase taxes on the wealthy, and he wants to make sure he has a fair package.
Q: Since the election he's been talking about sacrifice. Is he talking about for everybody, including the middle class?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is going to have to contribute to the success of this economic program; there's no question about that. But he has not made any final decisions on the details.
Q: -- trade again with the EC and the United States. What are we doing to ensure that fast track authority on GATT negotiations is underway, because we're almost upon this March 1 deadline for any sort of a GATT proposal to -- to the U.S. Congress. What are doing to ensure that --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if there's been any firm proposal yet, but Ambassador Kantor is working at that right now, and I would refer any specific questions to him.
Q: On fast-track authority, would you want to see that extended?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No decision has been made.
Q: How would you characterize the level of the President's commitment to getting a GATT agreement before this authority expires?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the President wants to do everything he can to get a good GATT agreement as soon as possible.
Q: Well, he's declined so far to meet with any of the foreign officials who are involved in the talks, obviously preferring to keep the so-called laser focus as best we could on the domestic economy. What concrete steps does he plan to take in furtherance of this desire to do everything you can, as you describe it, to see that a GATT agreement is reached?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have anything specific, but he remains committed to it. As you know, he is spending the bulk of his time now working with his economic team, working with the Congress to develop his economic plan to present to the Congress in February.
Q: On welfare reform, what would define success -- the reduction of AFDC caseloads, just getting the plan in place? What is the measure of success?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think you have to take each step on its own. First of all, we'd like to develop a good plan; secondly, get it through the Congress. And in the end, if you have a plan that is moving people from welfare to work and into productive jobs, then that's a good plan.
Q: Is the President committed to fully funding the family support act of 1988 -- the one he complimented so much this morning?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He'll have his budget sent up in March, but he has not made any firm funding decisions yet, but he does support the act.
Q: What do you mean by a plan, though? Is his notion of welfare reform individual experiments, waivers so that states can try things, or is his notion a national plan which would include the two-year training and the mandatory job --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The current system does allow for both. I think that he would like a national plan that follows the concepts he's laid out in the campaign and that he talked about today. But that doesn't preclude the possibility of states experimenting, because he believes that that's also vital to getting new ideas and to real success.
Q: The main ingredients are: two years of training, and then a job for those who can work?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes. Absolutely.
Q: George, if you let the states experiment too much with welfare reform, don't you essentially run the risk of people moving from one state to another because they get better welfare benefits in State X than they get in State Y?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, no, if you have good experimentation in the states and the states are able to learn from each other, hopefully you'd have success across the country and would avoid just the problem you point out.
Q: George, please -- is there some limit to how can spend government funds on travel and facilities and lobbying against the President's plan on the ban on gays? There's a meeting coming up between a Republican Senator, Phil Gramm, and House Democrats at Fort Hood this week which draws all the branches of services together and all ranks -- generals and enlisted men; and they're not going to talk about constituency matter, they're just talking about the ban on gays.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know about that specific meeting that Senator Gramm is having --
Q: -- because they've been keeping it secret. But isn't there some --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President's committed to spending government money in the most appropriate way in keeping it down. But I don't know anything about this specific meeting.
Q: -- talking about -- I'm talking about their spending your government's money on lobbying against the President's proposal.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll look into it.
Q: George, will the President's welfare proposal also include a standard across-the-board -- each state eligibility standards and also benefit standards, too; or can the states still choose --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's one of the things that the working group is going to look at.
Q: Is the President going somewhere tomorrow?
Q: On the exemption question of who would be exempted to the work requirement -- is one of the things this working group going to do is add new exemptions to the ones that already exist on the family --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure about that. I mean, I think that is obviously something to look at, but I don't know that's a precondition or something that we can say right now will definitely happen.
Q: Are you satisfied -- I think it's now -- one of the things that it is, is mothers with children under three. Do you guys think that's strict enough, or do you want it to be more strict?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's one of the things we're going to look at.
Q: Does the administration think it's necessary to change the Delaney Clause?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Excuse me, I didn't hear.
Q: Do you need to change the Delaney Clause?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that no decision has been made yet over at the EPA. I know that they were required by the court order to produce that list. And Administrator Browner is going to be working with the Congress as we discussed this. But she has not made any final decisions.
Q: Any travel plans tomorrow?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not that I know of, not yet.
Q: What is his plan tomorrow?
Q: Next week?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President will meet with Congress. He'll be bringing in a delegation of congressional leaders to talk about campaign finance into the White House. And he may have other meetings with his economic team. That's all I have right now.
Q: Will the President be speaking on campaign finance reform tomorrow?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know about that, but he's going to be meeting with relevant members of Congress.
Q: George, what's the President's thinking and the thinking of his advisors on the economic prospects for the next 12 months? There's a school of thought among economists that with all the good indicators of late that you could leave the economy on auto pilot essentially. From what you said, that's obviously not the thinking here. Is the President concerned that there are still tens and tens of thousands of layoffs in the pipelines, and therefore he needs a fairly robust short-term stimulus package? Is that what's guiding him?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President's biggest concern has always been jobs and the lack of good job growth in this economy right now, and that's precisely why he's working on this economic package and why he's going to put forward an economic package to increase jobs.
Q: -- narrow this down a second. He is then concerned that there's still a lot of layoffs --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No question. Even as you look at these good economic numbers today, it hasn't translated into job growth; and that's what we need and that's what we need presidential action for.
Q: But, George, isn't unemployment both at the beginning and the end of a recession always the lagging indicator?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think one of the concerns over this recession and anemic recovery is that unemployment has stayed pretty high all the way through; it's never really jumped up. Never --
Q: Never got that high, and never got that low.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know about you, Brit, but I think seven percent unemployment is pretty high, and it's not acceptable.
Q: Does the President believe, based on some study that's been done, that the rate of job growth is lagging behind other recoveries?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There's no question that the rate of job growth is lagging behind.
Q: In terms of the time that it has taken for it to come back or what?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Just that there's been -- we've had for years now an unacceptably high level of unemployment. It just doesn't get any better. And the President's going to develop an economic program to attack that.
Q: Can I follow on that? What is accept -- I mean, there's sort of an economic rule that total unemployment may be something less than zero -- sometimes some people thought maybe total unemployment is three percent unemployment rate or a five percent unemployment rate. Do we want to see this -- from seven to -- if we get seven to five does that show that --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Any movement in that direction would be welcome, would be good news. And that's exactly what the President's trying to do. But I'm not going to get into defining numbers beyond that?
Q: George, is the President having a better week this week than last week, and if so why? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the President had a good week last week. I mean, anybody that heard his comments at the Governor's Association last night thinks that he definitely thought so, and I think you did. We've made progress on our economic plan; we've made progress on our health plan. He's now come forward with good meetings with the governors to help develop health care and welfare reform proposals. He had a very good morning on the Hill today, and I think what he sees there is a real commitment to his economic program to moving forward on his priorities and a real sense of team work. So he feels good.
Q: Feeling better than last week, is the question.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's getting better every day.
Q: -- surprised by the reviews this first week?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As I said, he thinks that he's gotten off to a good start. He is happy with the progress he's made. He's looking forward to more work with Congress and with the governors and others on his economic plans.
Q: But that's not what the reviews said. The reviews said he got off to a stumbling start. Was he surprised by that? Did he --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not necessarily -- I mean, he's learned not to pay too much attention to the ups and downs of daily news coverage, and he just moves forward.
Q: Well, you mean he has not been concerned at all with the shortness of his honeymoon?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not terribly. He's just working.
Q: Come on. He has to reflect some feeling on this subject. (Laughter.)
Q: Is he miserable? (Laughter.)
Q: Don't flack every answer. Was he shocked at the amount -- the response to some of his first --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President shrugs off a lot of this stuff, and he is just not too concerned with what talking heads say every day. He's just moving forward.
Q: This question is from the head office. (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you taking any responsibility away from --
Q: Is the President concerned about potential disarray at the Justice Department without an attorney general in place?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, he feels that Mr. Gerson is doing a good job. And they're all working well, and he's working hard on picking his attorney general, hopes to have someone soon.
Q: This week?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know.
Q: Can we go back to the economic plan for a minute? I think you said that the target for this would be 200,000 to 500,000 jobs, is that right?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You asked -- I mean there was a question about this thing is what are the estimates. I mean, those are some estimates about what a stimulus plan might be able to create. We want to create as many as we can. I cannot sit here and tell you exactly how many jobs a stimulus plan is going to create. These are the kinds of estimates that economic firms have done of a stimulus package, and these are the kinds of goal we would shoot for.
Q: But 500,000 jobs you think would guarantee that the recovery continued on and that -- I mean, that's -- that would be acceptable?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I mean, every new job is helpful, there's no question about that. We're trying to get as many as we can, consistent with our goals and this is -- but I cannot guarantee you how many jobs will come from the stimulus package.
Q: George, generally gas costs are less in real terms than it did 30 years ago. Why is still reluctance to do anything about gas taxes in any significant way?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President -- I mean, this is something that has been discussed an awful long time. I think there is no question that gas taxes, as the President has said in the past, tend to have a disproportionate impact on the middle class. And he would want to make sure that we would try to do something to make sure that any package we have is fair.
Q: You could do offsets to the lower end of the income scale.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's something that he's mentioned in the past.
Q: But he's ruled out any kind of significant gas tax increase?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would refer you to what he said in the campaign.
Q: Yes, just one last minor, mechanical thing. I don't know how long you're going to keep up this practice of top five minutes of the briefing being for broadcast stuff, but for those of us who are of that ilk, I'd note that when they cut your sound in the middle of an answer it makes a cut that's absolutely irresistible.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good point. We'll make sure it doesn't happen.
Q: What is the status of your review on FBI Director Sessions?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's still going on.
Q: What is the status of your search for an attorney general?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's still going on. The President is working on it. He's talking to a lot of advisors; and he has talked to candidates, as you know, but he hasn't made any decision yet.
Q: Has the President reviewed the White House Counsel's opinion on the California case for regarding gays in the military?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not yet.
Q: Do you know when he will?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have a firm date, no.
Q: Is the President doing any interviews on the attorney general job today?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know. I don't think so, but I don't know.
Q: Any yesterday?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not that I know of.
Q: George, we were told this morning the President may do an event tomorrow or, I guess, now on Thursday in Washington but outside the White House. What's the purpose of that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I'm not sure. He hasn't made any final decisions on leaving the White House, yet. But he leaves the White House periodically; he left it today.
Q: What are you looking at in terms of event?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Nothing decided yet.
Q: When will it be decided, pray tell?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Later today, I hope.
Q: Anything on a trip out of Washington next week?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, not yet.
Q: George, the gay soldier who was beat yesterday by three marines at Camp Lejeune has apparently said he would like to meet with the President about it. Has there been any contact made?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not that I know of, no.
Q: Would that be acceptable, would that be -- would he be amenable to that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I haven't asked him. And we have not had any contact. The President deplores what happened the other night and especially the kind of excuses that people used as they were doing this. At the same time, it would note that there was also some acts of heroism, or at least people came to the aid of the soldier, which is something the President welcomes and applauds. But we have not heard anything from the soldier.
Q: This person is a soldier?
Q: He's not a soldier.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm sorry --
Q: He's not a soldier.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Thanks.
END 2:30 P.M. EST
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/269281