Press Briefing by George Stephanopoulos
The Briefing Room
3:35 P.M. EST
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello, welcome back.
Q: Were we being punished for something, George, today?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Admonished?
Q: Were we being punished for something today? Is that what that was all about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: This is a good, full day. If you have an follow-up questions, let me know.
Q: George, the House has now joined the Senate in voting down the lifting of ban on people with HIV positive -- and syphilis and such. Will the President accept this and not attempt to accomplish by executive order, or what do you say to that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll have to see what comes out of the conference committee. But the President is a strong supporter of the NIH bill, and the Congress has spoken on this issue. We obviously have to take those views very seriously. But I don't know that we're going to hold the NIH bill hostage to any particular policy.
Q: What are you going to do -- is there anything, I should say, is there anything the U.S. can do to help prop up Yeltsin's position, or is he a goner? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all. Such a way with words.
Q: Make news, George, say yes. (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all. As you know, the situation over there --
Q: What is the feeling here?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As Secretary of State Christopher said earlier today, the situation in Russia is very dynamic and very fluid. We're obviously following it with close concern. And we're following the developments every minute of every day. We continue to watch it very closely. But the President has spoken out quite strongly in the last few days of the need to support President Yeltsin in his efforts to reform the Soviet Union. And that's the process we want to continue to support.
Q: George, how are you following it? How is the administration keeping in touch with Yeltsin or his people, or are you just following press reports on --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, we've also been getting reports from our people in Russia, and we've been in contact through normal diplomatic channels.
Q: Is there concern that if Yeltsin fails, democratic and economic fails in the Soviet -- or Russia, I'm sorry?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right now, President Yeltsin is the democratically-elected President of Russia. He is a reformer. He is seriously interested in reform. He has been working very hard to get the kinds of political and economic reforms that we believe are necessary, and we continue to support him.
Q: But you've got to be planning for contingencies. What kind of "what if" scenarios are going on right now, here?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's hard to get into any specifics on that. As the Secretary of State said, the situation is very dynamic. It is changing, it is fluid, and we're going to just continue to monitor it.
Q: Is it fair to say that the Clinton administration has all its eggs in Yeltsin's basket, or have you been reaching out to others within the Russian government?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: President Clinton continues to support President Yeltsin in his efforts for reform. He has spoken out very strongly on this issue. He continues to seek G-7 action as early as possible on this issue, and we will continue to work for that.
Q: So that's no? Is that a no to the question about whether you're reaching out to --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that I need to accept your formulation of the question. I will just say that we are supporting President Yeltsin in his efforts at democratic reform.
Q: George, are you doing anything in particular to help him out during this time? When you say that you're continuing to seek G-7 action, could you elaborate on that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President wrote each of his G-7 colleagues earlier this week to urge that the G-7 sherpas and finance deputies take advantage of the meeting in Hong Kong this weekend to hold a special meeting on Russia, and he suggested that the G-7 invite the Russian government to send a representative to that meeting. And we continue, as the President said earlier in the week, also to seek further action before July.
Q: When the President talked to President Bush, did the two of them share any information about how long he could continue to support Russian leaders after their popularity fades? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not to my knowledge. I mean, they did have a good conversation, I believe for about 20 minutes. I don't know how specific they got to the situation in Russia. I do know that they discussed it.
Q: Do you know if President Bush urged him to continue his support of Yeltsin?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know what President Bush said exactly to President Clinton on that score. I do know that they discussed the issue in general terms.
Q: Where will this meeting be held? The G-7? Hong Kong?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's an already-scheduled meeting of the finance deputies --
Q: In late --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, no, it's this Saturday.
Q: The suggestion is that Russia send a representative to the Hong Kong meeting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: Has Yeltsin accepted?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe that the Russians will send a representative this weekend, yes.
Q: How about the allies? Did they all accept it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes. I think that the meeting will go forward this weekend.
Q: Has there been any change as a result of the letter that the President had sent?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Clearly, the Russians will be -- if the representative shows up and if the meeting is held, they will focus on Russia and have a chance to begin an intensive dialogue on the issue of Russia. So certainly it be a focus in the meeting.
Q: Has President Yeltsin asked the U.S. to actually support him if he imposes, let's say, emergency presidential powers?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know that I can comment on specific requests of that kind, but not to my knowledge.
Q: Have you been in touch with President Yeltsin? Has the President or anyone, ambassador or anyone spoken with him directly?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that there's been any direct discussion with President Yeltsin, no.
Q: When was the last time he talked to him or somebody talked to him?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'd have to double-check. I think it's the last time we told you, and I think it was a few weeks ago, but I'm not positive. Let me get back to you with an exact date.
Q: And the Japanese acquiesced to this sending of a Russian --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: The early G-7 meeting that Mitterrand and Clinton talked about, or would there be another meeting before July?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think what we're looking for is a process, a G-7 process straight through to July and beyond to focus on the importance of helping Russia. This is one step in that process.
Q: So there could be additional meetings at some levels -- finance minister or foreign minister -- before July?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's possible, yes.
Q: Who will represent the United States in Hong Kong?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe there are two or three representatives. I know the Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Joan Spiro, I believe, a representative from Treasury -- it's probably Larry Summers, but let me get the exact people to you.
Q: Let me also follow up. Does the United States have an ambassador in Moscow right now?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe so --
Q: We have a charge, but Pickering has not yet been confirmed.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, Pickering has not yet been confirmed, no.
Q: George, what sorts of G-7 actions are you looking for? Are you talking about debt relief? Are you talking about somehow accelerating --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think we want to begin the dialogue this weekend with Russia and to get a sense of what the exact needs are and what is possible. I don't think I should comment on any specifics until the meeting takes place.
Q: George, the fact, though, that you are speeding up the process, encouraging this weekend meeting, doesn't that suggest there's a real sense of urgency in the White House?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has said this is a serious situation. And he has said that he wants and thinks it would be useful for the G-7 to act expeditiously on this matter.
Q: George, with your aides or sources, intelligence in Moscow, have there been any other leaders or politicians emerging as potential leaders besides Yeltsin that you've heard about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the situation is very fluid. It continues to change every day. But we are supporting President Yeltsin in his effort at reform.
Q: Is the volatility of the past 24 hours, 48 hours, is that affecting what you're trying to put into the summit agenda?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, I don't believe so. I mean, we're going to continue to monitor the situation. And we will continue to develop our approach up until the time it's announced on April 3rd and 4th.
Q: Does it give you a sense of urgency in terms of pushing things into it, these, quote, innovative ideas that you've been talking about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we've always been for them. The President wants to move forward as quickly as possible with these ideas.
Q: So nothing's changed in terms of --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The situation is very fluid.
Q: Is there any consideration of moving up the date of the summit meeting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q: George, at what point -- or is the administration wary at all of being accused of interfering in the internal affairs in Russia?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all. President Yeltsin is the democratically-elected President of Russia. He is the head of state.
Q: On another subject. Janet Reno, when will she be confirmed? I mean, I'm sorry, when will she be sworn in?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe she will probably be sworn in either today or over the weekend. But we'll probably have an official ceremony later next week, sure.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: Just as private?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, this will probably be a private --
Q: No pictures, no photo ops, no -- she's your success story.
Q: Will you let us know she's sworn in?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll certainly let you know when she's sworn in, yes.
Q: Does that mean the automatic departure of Stuart Gerson?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: She will be attorney general when she's confirmed.
Q: So he goes away?
Q: Are you sending a car? (Laughter.)
Q: Is Alice Rivlin speaking for the administration when she says that a pay increase for federal workers is unfair?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has put forward his package, and he believes that it's a balanced package, and it's the best package we can achieve at this time. Obviously, we want to look at every element of the package, and we'll look for any evidence or criticisms that people have. But we believe that it is a balanced package, and we want to continue to move forward with it.
Q: So who is Alice Rivlin speaking for?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, she was expressing an opinion. I don't know the sequence of questioning, but we believe it is a balanced package.
Q: She says there's no question that a freeze is unfair. Does the President believe that federal workers are being asked to shoulder more of a burden than average Americans, and does he think that's fair to them?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President believes he has a fair package. And we will continue to seek passage of that package as quickly as possible.
Q: Would it be fair to say she's not -- the administration as a whole and the President does not share her views?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're obviously sensitive to the concerns of federal workers and we'll listen to what they have to say, but the President believes we have a fair and balanced package.
Q: Has the President talked to Alice Rivlin about her comments today?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not to my knowledge.
Q: Is there any talk of scaling back the size of the stimulus package to get it through the Senate?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President wants his package passed as quickly as possible and in as full a manner as is possible. Right now, as you see, at a time when we have military reductions, at a time when we still are not creating enough jobs in this recovery is not the time to slow down or diminish investments. We would like to move forward as quickly as possible with the package as the President has proposed.
Q: It sounds like you open a door there. You said you want it as quickly as possible and as full of form as possible.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He wants his package passed -- now. (Laughter.)
Q: So he's not willing to compromise on the amount?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the President wants his package passed.
Q: Would you be willing to look at some kind of modest scale-back in the size of the short-term stimulus?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think right now he wants to go forward with the package that he's proposed.
Q: George, on another subject, the shooting of the abortion doctor, Dr. Gunn, is there any White House reaction to that? And did the President actually telephone the family?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if he's had the chance. We have received numbers -- I don't know if he's had the chance to telephone the family yet, but I can read a statement from him:
"I was saddened and angered by the fatal shooting in Pensacola yesterday of Dr. David Gunn. The violence against clinics must stop. As a nation committed to rule of law, we cannot allow violent vigilantes to restrict the rights of American women. No person seeking medical care and no physician providing that care should have to endure harassment, threats and intimidation."
Q: George, does Janet Reno get to name her own subordinates that she wants, or will she have to fit in some of those holdover Republicans that you seem to like? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that we will have a new and full team going into the Justice Department very soon.
Q: What are you going to do with Webb Hubbell after Janet Reno goes in?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that the President has made any further announcements yet on Justice Department positions.
Q: Could he still be "liaison," quote, unquote, or would he be out of a job --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's entirely possible.
Q: George, to go back to the stimulus, you said now is not the time to diminish --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Investments or scale back investments.
Q: Are you talking about the long-term investment package or the short-term?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Both. Both.
Q: Because as I understand it, the Senate Budget Committee is talking about phasing the long-term investments in more slowly. Is the administration opposed to that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to continue to fight for our investment package. Obviously, in the long term, we can look at the possibility of some sort of phase-in if they are phased in at this point. But the President wants to move forward on the stimulus as quickly as possible.
Q: George, tomorrow when Aspin releases his base closing list, is the President going to continue to take a hands-off position until July, or can we expect him to make some kind of comment as to how he views that list?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President doesn't have the opportunity until July. But he will be moving quickly as he did today to assure communities that we will put conversion programs in place and that we will do our best to manage the kind of changes that are dealt with in these base closings. We have to be sensitive to the economic impact.
Q: Can I just follow up for a second, please? How will the President tomorrow view the list? Aspin is his own man. Our we to assume when Aspin releases the list that it satisfies --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It goes to the base closing commission.
Q: So the President will again --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President receives the list from the base closing commission on July 1st.
Q: And he has nothing to say about the adequacy or inadequacy of the list until July?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That is when he comments on the list, when it comes from the base closing commission.
Q: Does that go through the White House before it goes to the commission?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, it does not.
Q: I believe it does. I believe the White House has input on the list before the Secretary submits it the commission. Am I wrong on that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe you're wrong on that.
Q: None whatsoever?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: None.
Q: No input whatsoever. They'll review no -- no opportunity to review the list?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, it goes from the Defense Department to the base commission.
Q: The process for the base closing commission was set up to take politics and log rolling out of the process of closing these bases. What is the President's philosophy in approaching this? Does he feel that there are circumstances in which changes should be made by him, i.e., economic -- a lot of places making economic arguments? Or does he feel that the system should work as it was intended?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the base closing commission is supposed to take economic impact into consideration as they prepare the list. And the President obviously strongly agrees with the need to take economic considerations -- economic impact into consideration as these closings are made.
Q: Does he feel that he should have a final process of change if the base closings --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President receives the recommendations from the commission, and he has the opportunity to give recommendations back to the commission, but not until July 1st.
Q: George, he met with California legislators yesterday who apparently spent some time sharing with him their concerns about the bases that will be closed that would affect California disproportionately. Would he be then having meetings like that with people, say, from Texas or Florida or other places where base closing would affect their populations?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I'm sure the President is going to reach out to communities who have questions about base closing, who have questions about the range of economic problems that they face.
Q: And how does that factor into what his decisionmaking process is after July 1st?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Clearly, economic considerations have to be taken into account.
Q: The Governors of New York and California have sent a letter to Clinton asking that states be allowed to set up state programs that make applications for this defense conversion program and that they then act as a clearinghouse for firms in the state as a way to simplify it for defense firms in a particular state so they get one stop shopping in a state office and don't have to negotiate all these different initiatives on the federal level. Do you know if there's any -- do you have any sense of whether the federal government will --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not familiar with that specific letter, but I think it sounds like an interesting idea that we would certainly want to review. Whatever can make the process more quickly and in a more simple manner would be helpful, but I don't know about that specific request.
Q: It was supposed to come today.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll be looking for it.
Q: George, a couple of follow-up questions on the initiative the President announced today. A number of us had a question about how the $19.5 billion compares with and overlaps with the $17 billion technology initiative that the President announced in California. I just assumed you don't know the number of the top of your head but if you can get back to us.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, I'd like to have Gene talk to you, but what we tried to do here is figure out the pot of money the defense firms would be available -- I mean would have the opportunity to bid for. And we estimate it about 50 percent. But I'll have Gene make sure of that.
Q: The President says he wants to spend this $19.5 billion and he's also said he's willing to accept $65 billion or more in cuts over the next five years. Can we assume that that $20 billion is not among the cuts he would accept?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President -- all the investment initiatives that he has come forward on are things that he intends to fight for through this process. Yes, he believes these investments are critically important.
Q: But if it's only $20 billion over five years and he's got to find -- he agrees to a deal with Congress where he's got to find $60 billion to $90 billion more, how is that held harmless? How are his priorities --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he's going to continue to fight for his investments throughout the appropriations process. This is just the beginning of the process.
Q: Does the fire wall in the budget agreement caused problems here, George? Does it come into play with --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe it's actually -- the fire wall no longer exists.
Q: And so where does the $20 billion come from?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The $20 billion comes from a variety of different pots. There's some defense money and there's some technology money, other money that will be going through Commerce and Labor, Department of Energy.
Q: Is it roughly 50 percent defense money as we've been led to believe?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have the specific ratio.
Q: George, the technology component of the $19.5 billion, according to one of the charts that Gene released this morning, has about $9 billion, or about half, coming from various technology-related programs. Can we assume that $9 billion, part of the $19.5 billion defense conversion program is part of the other technology money that was announced in Silicon Valley?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe you probably can, but I'd want to double-check on the exact numbers.
Q: That's the overlap, that $9 billion.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, there probably is some overlap, but I can't swear that it's that specific $9 billion.
Q: The revolving loans and grants that communities would get if they're affected by defense industry cutbacks, could you clarify what that money could be used for? Is it technical assistance or economic development money?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's both, depending on whether it's coming out of -- Labor will be for worker training and other kinds of assistance. Department of Commerce would have different kinds of community impact aid.
Q: Since we won't be around tomorrow, can you run us through -- first of all, is there anything else on the schedule tomorrow besides the trip to the Roosevelt?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not to my knowledge, no.
Q: What the weekend looks like?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the President will be working Saturday. He'll have the radio address and a few other meetings. I don't have the specific rundown of those meetings yet. He'll probably take Sunday off.
Q: Economic stuff or --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm just not sure yet. We'll have more on that tomorrow.
Q: What is he going to be -- I still don't have a clear idea of what tomorrow's event is designed to do, prove, show.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President's fulfilling his responsibility as Commander-in-Chief as several other Presidents have gone on missions like this, trips like this to see troops as they go off on their mission.
Q: Did you find out if he was ever on a carrier before?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think he has been.
Q: It's just then to show the flag as Commander-inChief ?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And talk to the troops who are going off on an important mission.
Q: The cynics in this room might be curious at the timing --
Q: In this room? (Laughter.)
Q: of him landing about a half an hour before the base closing lists comes out and those who are going being incommunicado for about four or five hours.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I doubt you'll be incommunicado.
Q: Yes, we have one phone among us all.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There are cell phones.
Q: Not a hundred miles off the coast --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You can try. (Laughter.)
Q: When is the President going to announce the South Florida rehabilitation program?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're working on that now. I hope we'll have it within this week, maybe even sooner. But I'm just --
Q: Over the weekend?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Possible.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's not set yet.
Q: I don't know if you were asked this already but have you heard that Kerry, Biden and Bradley were coming up to meet with the President today. Is that correct?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, it is. I think they were focusing on campaign finance.
Q: And when is the meeting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It might be happening right now or it might have just finished.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
Q: Are you going to close Camp David? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you.
END 3:56 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/269287