Press Briefing by George Stephanopoulos
The Briefing Room
11:40 A.M. EST
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, the President is speaking to the National League of Cities later this afternoon. And now we'll take any questions.
Q: He's seeing Nixon at what time?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: At 6:30 p.m.
Q: At 6:30 p.m.?
Q: Is it a dinner?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I think it's just a meeting.
Q: Will we be getting a briefing afterwards?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I doubt it.
Q: Any picture or any coverage of that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q: Why, are you ashamed of it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all. The President is looking forward to meeting with him.
Q: Well, why isn't there a picture? A former President coming to the White House.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They're having a private meeting in the Residence.
Q: Considering the fragile nature of the economy in California, how does the President propose to support base closings, which could lead to massive layoffs there and in South Carolina and Connecticut, and other areas where the economy still has not picked up?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as you know, the President is quite concerned with the economic situation in California and that's why he believes so strongly that we must move quickly on his stimulus and investment package, which will provide great benefits to the state of California. He also wants to move quickly on a defense conversation package and release the funds that his predecessors have never released so that we can have money for training and the revitalization of communities that are affected by the defense cuts.
Q: How will the stimulus package have any effect on defense conversions?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I said the stimulus package and defense conversion. The stimulus package will create summer jobs, it will provide money for Head Start, it will provide muchneeded funding for roads and bridges that will create jobs both in California and the rest of the country. It also has private sector incentives, including the investment tax credit, which we hope will provide a much needed infusion of capital into the California economy and the rest of the country.
Q: Well, specifically, what are the President's defense conversion plans?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has provided money in his budget for defense conversion. There's also money that he's looking forward to releasing as quickly as possible for retraining and revitalization. And he'll be having an announcement on that later this week.
Q: Does he think California should be exempted from the base closings, given the high unemployment in that state?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President believes we must do everything we can to make sure we have the investments we need in California. But, again, he -- no decisions have been made on the base closings yet. As you know, the Secretary of Defense makes the recommendations to the base closing commission later this week, and nothing is presented to the President until July 1st.
Q: George, the story off the Hill in The Washington Post this morning is that House Democrats on the Budget Committee there are eyeing the stimulus package for further cuts. Is the President willing to go along with some compromise on that if it is the collective will of those House Democrats, or does he feel the stimulus thing has to come as a piece?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is meeting with members of the House Budget Committee today and he'll be meeting with members of the Senate Budget Committee tomorrow, as you know. He believes the stimulus package is vitally important both in the shortterm to help make sure this recovery stays alive and to help make sure that we do what we can to create jobs in what so far has been a jobless recovery. He believes that we need these investments now. At the same time, he is working with the Budget Committees for quick passage of the resolutions and we're looking forward to that.
Q: Well, is it more important to have a psychological impact of some stimulus rather than have necessarily the whole package?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President believes it's important to pass his initiatives as quickly as possible, and he believes that we need a stimulus package now to ensure that this recovery stays on track.
Q: Do you need the whole thing, though?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has sent up a good proposal to the Congress and he hopes they consider it expeditiously.
Q: George, what about these proposals to cut $50 billion over the next five years -- $3 billion or $4 billion over Fiscal '94, as a means to get the compromise budget resolution through?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as you know, we're continuing the discussions with the Budget Committees today and the President has always said that he is open to the possibility of more spending cuts and that he wants to review them. We will continue to work with them and will work with them through the markups and House passage.
Q: George, do you have any further elaboration on the President's statements Friday regarding the World Trade Center? Did he mean to imply that he might take action against any groups or countries if they're found responsible for this act?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I mean, the President's first statement is that we must wait until the investigation is done, and we intend to do that. The investigation is continuing, it is not yet completed. And I think that we can't go much beyond that until the investigation is done.
Obviously, as the President stated, if we are clear on who is responsible and what exactly happened, he will consider taking the appropriate action.
Q: George, you haven't really been responsive to the question about compromise on the economic stimulus package. Is the President wedded to the $30 billion figure, or is there room for maneuver on that, is there room for a deal with the Hill?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President believes we should pass the stimulus package as quickly as possible.
Q: The $30 billion?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he has sent up a package that is now being considered by the Congress. He wants them to move on it quickly.
Q: But is there room for maneuver? Is there room for compromise?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Congress always acts on the President's proposals, and I'm certain that they will look at this over the next several weeks. Right now, we would like the Congress to take a look at this package and to pass it as quickly as possible.
Q: George, do you want an up or down vote then on your stimulus package in some what way, or are you willing to see that adjusted beforehand?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Congress sets the own rules on how they're going to vote for the packages. If they have some suggestions, obviously, we're willing to take a look at them. But the President has sent up his proposal, and he wants it to be acted on quickly.
Q: Tell us more about the Nixon meeting -- who arranged it, and what's the purpose.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, the President spoke with President Nixon last week. He called President Nixon, and they talked for, I believe, about 40 minutes --
Q: Why did he call him?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Because he believes, as you know, President Nixon had returned from Russia. He went on a trip last month, I believe. And the President wanted to find out from him his impressions of the state of the Russian economy and his specific ideas on what the U.S. and its allies might do to help Russia at this time.
Q: Was he asked to call him by Strauss and Dole?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, I don't know about that, but the President was very gratified by the conversation.
Q: And he invited Nixon to come here?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: Is this the first time they've met?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it is, yes. I think they've talked in the past, but I think this is the first time they've met in person. I couldn't swear to it, and I'll doublecheck, but I think it is.
Q: Is it over dinner?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so.
Q: Doesn't he think it's odd that he keeps consulting Republican past Presidents?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all. He's willing to talk to Republicans and Democrats alike if they have good ideas.
Q: They nearly all are Republicans now. (Laughter.)
Q: George, why is he meeting the former President if they've already spoken? What's the purpose --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So that they can have a more indepth conversation on the situation in Russia.
Q: That's the purpose, is Russia?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: And is it a dinner?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q: Is he prepping for the summit to get his ideas?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's looking forward to former President Nixon's ideas on the summit, yes.
Q: Will the First Lady be meeting with President Nixon?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not that I know of.
Q: Over the weekend, U.N. officials seem to suggest that U.N. troops might ultimately be used not just in peacekeeping in Bosnia, but to also remove Serbs from areas in which -- that they now control, were that not to be the case under the map. Is it the President's view that that's an appropriate role for U.S. ground troops?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We had no discussions at all on anything beyond what we've said in the past, which is that we would contemplate the use of U.S. force to enforce an agreement that is already made. We are not going to get involved, we have had no discussions on using U.S. troops in any kind of peacemaking mission.
Q: Well, what's the interpretation then of enforce if enforcing would involve physically removing the Serbs from one area to another in order for this peace agreement to hold?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, we haven't had any discussions about that at all. We believe that we want to use the troops if they're needed to enforce an agreement that has already been reached by all sides. And we're just doing everything we can now to make sure that we put the maximum pressure on all sides to come to the negotiating table and reach an agreement. And, frankly, we're quite hopeful that when President Izetbegovic returns later this week we will be closer to an agreement.
Q: You said you'd be looking into ways to increase pressure on Serbia and ethnic Serbs in Bosnia. Come up with any specifics?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes. In fact, our teams had productive discussions with the other CSCE states including, along with Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, the Ukraine, Croatia, Albania, and Macedonia. And they agreed to join us in pressing for better controls over transshipments, increased technical support for neighboring states --
Q: Can you slow down please?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure. Increased technical support for neighboring states, expansion of the sanctions, assistance missions, more stringent implementation of financial sanctions, and punishment for any violators. So we did get agreements from both teams with the CSCE SAMs groups, and they've reported back over the weekend.
Q: Can you give us some details about the financial sanctions?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, this is all the detail I have at this time.
Q: George, can I follow on that? Why would you expect these relatively sort of fine-tuning type measures to be more effective than the more major steps that have already been taken?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We believe we have had some success with these sanctions. I would just also give you an update -- we have more on the Maria that was captured in the Seychelles and the deflagging of the Dimitrakis by Malta. Many other nations are indicating that they support these actions now, and we believe that the more cooperation we have from our allies, the better chance we'll have of actually tightening the sanctions and increasing pressure on Serbia.
I should just -- let me give you this further report on the Maria. Authorities in the Seychelles are investigating the captain and the crew for any contraventions to domestic law and sanctions violations, and soldiers are now unloading the ship's cargo of arms and ammunition. The Dimitrakis is presently in Cairo, where Egyptian authorities are conducting investigations of sanctions violations. Both of these are Greek-owned and the government in Greece is actively pursuing the investigations as well.
Q: Two questions, totally unrelated. One, can you enlighten us on Friday's trip?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We don't have the final details yet, but we believe the President is going to be out visiting the U.S. Theodore Roosevelt, which is leaving on Thursday for the Mediterranean.
Q: So this is not an economic trip? This is on another subject?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He is -- we will, hopefully, have announcements on defense conversion by the end of the week, but he also wants to take the opportunity to meet the troops.
Q: Is he going to be Norfolk --
Q: Where is the ship?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Friday, I'm sorry. It's leaving Thursday and the President will be hooking up with it Friday.
Q: Off where?
Q: Off of Norfolk?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: Is he going to take a -- is he taking a helicopter or a --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have the details yet of how he's getting out there.
Q: At Norfolk?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, off Norfolk.
Q: Why doesn't he go a day early before it leaves?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It will be taking off from Norfolk.
Q: So it will be a very short trip.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: A day trip.
Q: Then there's no travel on Saturday?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: None. (Laughter.) To the great delight of the press corps, obviously. And the staff. And the staff.
Q: George, the second one's perhaps more whimsical, but do these ties or anything else have anything to do with furthering the President's comments on MTV about doing for the Beatles what he did for Fleetwood Mac?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think that these ties are authorized by the President, but we'll have to check. (Laughter.)
Q: Where is this ship --
Q: done anything in furtherance of that idea?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Nothing yet, no.
Q: The ship is going where?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Heading towards the Mediterranean. It's a normal deployment.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't believe so.
Q: So he goes down to Norfolk and then, what, is choppered out to the ship?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe so, yes. I don't know exactly how he gets out there. I believe that's it.
Q: What ship is it again?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Theodore Roosevelt.
Q: Is he making any remarks in Norfolk?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he'll speak on the ship, on board.
Q: As it sails --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes. Excuse me?
Q: Are you taking the press corps out to the ship?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll try.
Q: On the defense conversion, there are a couple different elements or more. Is he talking about helping communities that suffer when a base is closed nearby, or is he talking about communities that suffer when a defense industry goes under? Or is he talking about defense workers who work for Lockheed or some other defense company who are laid off because of reduced contracts?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: All of the above. I mean, I think the President wants to have a comprehensive defense conversion program that works both for workers and the communities that are served by military facilities and defense contractors.
Q: So are you saying that if you work for General Dynamics or Lockheed, and you're laid off, he wants money available to help those workers?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't get into the specifics now of every specific case, but he wants to make sure that the program does address all three of those instances. I can't get into the specifics beyond that.
Q: Would that be Pentagon money or would that be money coming from other --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You could have money from the Pentagon, but also there have been other economic development funds in the past that have been used for this purpose.
Q: Pentagon money has never been used to help defense workers who have been laid off.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right, but there have been other -- the President has proposed many training programs, as you know, which could be used for the retraining of workers who worked in the defense industry or on military bases.
Q: So that wouldn't be Pentagon money then?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not necessarily.
Q: Is there any legislation? Is there any proposal? I mean, where do we find --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, the President will have a proposal at the end of the week. And there is money that has been appropriated in the past through the Pentagon but has never been spent. And we're also going to be looking at ways to free that up.
Q: Do you know how much?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have that. We'll have that later in the week.
Q: But that's not been for defense workers. There's never been any money --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right, that is exactly right. That's for the communities. But there has been money for defense workers, either through the Department of Labor and other economic development funds.
Q: On Friday, will he make a foreign policy speech?
Q: On the upcoming Reno hearings, has Reno been briefed on the Harold Ford situation? Do you expect it to come up in the hearings? And what's she going to say?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I don't know. I can't speak for either the senators or the attorney general-designee, so I think we'll have to wait for the hearings.
Q: Well, that's a safe assumption that's going to come up, though, isn't it? And it's also a safe assumption, is it not, that you've talked to her about this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The only question I would say is, if the question comes up, as you know, the President's position on this is clear. He has put -- sent out a letter to the House Republicans who questioned him on this. And also the Acting Attorney General, Stu Gerson, has said quite clearly, he made this decision on his own; no political considerations whatsoever.
Q: On base closings given the current number of proposals for closings, aren't they very heavily tilted toward California? And doesn't that give the White House some concern?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We have not seen any -- the Defense Secretary has not yet completed the list that he is sending to the base closing commission. And the President won't receive that until July 1st, so I don't know that I can comment on any of the specifics that may or may not have been reported in the newspaper. But the President is, as he said last week, concerned about the California economy. He's going to be doing what he can to make sure we have the appropriate investments in California.
Q: On that subject, George, is the money you're talking about in the defense conversion, is that the $1.7 billion from which Clinton ordered $550 million released now?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's part of the proposal.
Q: Is there more than the $1.7 billion?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know, in this fiscal year, necessarily, but the President wants to have a comprehensive program over many years.
Q: Can we see a list of what that $550 million will be used for? We haven't heard anything more about it since he spoke about it in Santa Monica.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I hope we'll have an announcement by the end of the week.
Q: That will be part of the substance of that amount?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe so, yes.
Q: the pot of money we're talking about, though?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That is part of it.
Q: But that's money that's been designated to be used in communities that have been adversely affected by base closings, not by defense industry shutdowns.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, but there are other ways you can also look at proposals that would help the defense industry in different ways that we can invest in those communities as well.
Q: That's not part of that $1.7 billion?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not necessarily, no.
Q: That's going to be discussed on Friday?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would imagine so -- it would be discussed by Friday.
Q: Will defense policy and foreign policy also be --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know if there's any formal remarks planned by the President.
Q: What is his reason for wanting to visit the carrier?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he wants to see the troops off, and also just get a good sense of the work on the ship.
Q: Has he ever been on an aircraft carrier before in his life?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know.
Q: Where is this carrier going?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Mediterranean.
Q: Does the President get seasick?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not that I know of.
Q: We'll find out. (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, we'll find out.
Q: Has he ever been aboard a naval vessel before?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I'm not certain. I'll have to get back to you.
Q: On health care -- what are the outlines of what is expected? Are they expected to propose legislation by the end of the 100 days or are they expected to propose ways to pay for whatever program she's talking about? What is supposed to --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President said that we expect her to have a legislative proposal.
Q: ways to pay for whatever programs she's talking about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Obviously that would have to be part of the legislative proposal.
Q: On the Nixon meeting, with the President be alone with Mr. Nixon --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe so.
Q: I wanted to ask you something about the airdrops. Has the White House been able to gauge how effective they've been, how much is getting to the --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We believe we have had some success, and I think General Morillon report also indicates that a lot of the food now is getting through to the Bosnians. At the same time, we think that we've now dropped over 200 tons of food in the drop zones and we believe it's getting through, yes.
Q: Just another question about the money for defense conversion. During the campaign he said that every dollar that we reduce the defense budget by should go to help displaced workers. Is that what you're still planning on, or are you talking about all sorts of programs that might end up --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that was research.
Q: Oh, I thought he had said every dollar by which we reduce the defense budget should go to help --
Q: He did say that.
Q: people who are displaced.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I could go back to the exact words, but we are going to have significant funds dedicated towards defense conversion and for helping and retraining the workers.
Q: In terms of the total amount, you're talking about a specific pot of money for defense conversion, not just money that is in other programs like retraining and --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right, that would also help reinvigorate the economy and help all the workers who are displaced, yes.
Q: A while back you said that there would be something on bank -- maybe an initiative or --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Credit crunch. That's Wednesday.
Q: Bank lending reform?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Wednesday.
Q: I apologize if you've already answered this question, but the Wall Street Journal had an item Friday about a private fundraising -- effort to raise private funds to help sell the health care package. They suggested that Robert Rubin and others at the White House were involved in soliciting funds. Do you know anything about this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not a thing about it. I'll check into it. No.
Q: In reference to deeper cuts -- the possibility of deeper cuts in the economic package. Are you saying that the President -- if Sabo is likely and able to get enough votes to support that, deeper cuts from the Democrats, will the President support that before they vote on his stimulus package and his economic package, or will he have to --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think that will be part of the budget resolution as passed by the House. One of the things that we're encouraged by from what we're hearing from the Congress right now is that the President's package has remained largely intact. And you hear that from members from across the political spectrum. And we feel very optimistic --
Q: get enough support for deeper cuts right now.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll certainly consider that, again, as long as the basic integrity of the President's package is maintained, and we believe that it will be.
Q: Bosnia again. You said that you had gotten more cooperation on financial sanctions. Does that in any way involve freezing Serbian assets?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I can't get into any of the specifics.
Q: Do you know if Serbian assets have been -- they have not been frozen, right?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't believe they have been.
Q: Do you know why not?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't. I would have to get back to you.
Q: Is that under consideration?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if there have been any specific discussions on that.
Q: How could that not -- that couldn't have possibly been overlooked --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know that it's been overlooked, but I have not had any reports on discussions about freezing Serbian sanctions.
Q: George, one other question on base closings. When the President in July sits down and looks at this, should a state's economic situation be factored in at all when he's deciding whether a base should be closed? Does it matter whether California --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think I should get into the President's decision-making process until the recommendations are presented to the President which won't be until July 1st.
Q: I'm just talking about the criterion. Would it be simply whether the base has outlived its usefulness or should a state's economy be --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Obviously, that's the first criterion and that's what the base closing commission is designed to do and it will follow the guidelines as set forth. The President is concerned about the whole state of the economy; when he looks at any decision he's going to take the economic impact into consideration. But he will not be facing that decision until July.
Q: But will he be taking that --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Every decision the President makes takes economic conditions into consideration.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:04 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/269284