Press Briefing by George Stephanopoulos
The Briefing Room
1:04 P.M. EDT
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good afternoon.
Q: Could we do this on the lawn?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That would be nice. Let's go out to the cherry blossoms. We'll do like the President.
Q: Is the stimulus package dead?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Absolutely not.
Q: Can you tell us more about the Dole talks? You said it was a good visit, but no compromise.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes. The President had a good talk with Senator Dole last night. I think that as we said before, there were no specific compromises on either side, although it was a very good discussion about the jobs package and about other issues as well. As you know, the President first called Senator Dole I believe Tuesday night to talk about the Russian aid package. They did not speak -- Senator Dole called him back Wednesday morning -- when the President was out. Instead he spoke with Tony Lake, and at the close of that conversation, indicated that he wanted to speak to the President about the jobs and stimulus package. They finally talked about that yesterday afternoon.
At the close of that discussion they said that they would have another talk last night, which they did, when the Senator was up in New Hampshire. And although there were no specific compromises made on either side, they did say that they would continue to have some discussions. And that's where we are.
Q: Well, who is giving in? Where is it standing --are both making concessions?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that it's at that phase. No compromise has been made. As the President has said consistently, he intends to come forward with an adjusted package. He believes in the package, but he believes that if it's going to take adjustments to get the minority to release it, he's willing to make those adjustments.
Q: On the subject of a VAT --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, boy.
Q: Can we stay on this for one more minute?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure.
Q: We have a problem with the five minutes --
Q: I know no decisions have been made, but what would lead the health group to believe that a VAT might be necessary?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sorry, Andrea, I'm not going to go down that road. No decisions have been made. As the President said this morning, a number of groups, a number of members of Congress, a number of other organizations have recommended that this be looked at. The working group is looking at it, but no decisions have been made.
Q: To follow, have they done that directly through him? Have labor and business groups been in touch with the President about it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not to my knowledge, although there's a lot of people who have public decisions in support of the VAT. But the President has not made a decision.
Q: At the meetings that he's had with his own task force advisers, have they discussed the funding issue and what the possible options would be?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think that that has been presented for a decision, no.
Q: Not for a decision, but has it been discussed as an option?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, there are a lot of levels of briefing. I do not believe that the VAT has been presented to the President as, okay, this is something for you to decide on.
Q: You're not saying he didn't know it was being considered, though, are you?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, he said it's being considered.
Q: He knew that.
Q: But has he discussed that with his advisers? That's what I'm asking.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has said it's being considered. I do not know what level of discussion there has been over the VAT. It is something the working groups are looking at. I don't even know that it's --
Q: But he didn't say he was considering, did he, at this stage?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, he is not. I think we're getting into something of a metaphysical debate right here. What is considered --
Q: Well, he is the one who said, I haven't reviewed it.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That is true. That is what I just repeated.
Q: George, is there any concern here that as a result of the definite statement he made in February and the promise that if it were to be considered he'd let us know, and having it trickle out the way it did, that there may now be the development of a credibility gap on this issue and others?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so. I mean, it is now public knowledge that this is being considered.
Q: Is he or you at all embarrassed about the absolute statements that were made from this platform to the effect that it was off the table and was not being considered, and then to have it come out not from you people, but --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, wait a second. It came out from the administration. What are you talking about?
Q: What I'm saying is, though, that the President said he would let us know.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right.
Q: You people then said -- you said, I believe, that it's not going to be on the program.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: On March 25th.
Q: On March 25th.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Circumstances change.
Q: Well, I understand. But we have to find that out by rooting around in the fine print of an interview
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Rooting around -- I know you did do a very good job there to read the USA Today article. But this is -- (laughter) -- the Deputy Director of the OMB and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. I mean, that is common anytime you guys write a story that has an unattributed quote from somebody in the Clinton administration, the headline is -- I'll look at it right here, and AP story -- "Clinton wants more money for spying."
Q: What about his remark that if it were being considered, he'd tell us about it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And the administration's concerned, and he'd let you know.
Q: And did he?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes. Absolutely. What did he say this morning?
Q: It had to be dragged out of you here yesterday.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It didn't have to be dragged out of me. We had the Deputy Director of the OMB, we had the Secretary of Health of Human Services say it was being considered. That is his administration. That is his administration policy.
Q: Were these authorized trial balloons, or were they orchestrated leaks? I mean, what was the --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They were asked questions, they answered the questions.
Q: You're saying here that it didn't have to be dragged out, that you more or less made it clear yesterday you were considering it.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Absolutely. I was very clear. Painfully clear.
Q: Was there a particular political strategy in making it clear the administration is considering a new tax increase on tax day?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, it was just this issue is being considered. They were asked if it was being considered; they answered that it was being considered.
Q: George, The New York Times --
Q: Why do it yesterday?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They were asked.
Q: The New York Times reports today that Secretary Reich and the chief economist at the Labor Department used apples and oranges numbers in order to portray last month's unemployment figures in a way that was supportive of the President's job stimulus bill, but which turned out to be totally false.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if it was totally false, but I think -- (laughter) -- the chief economist at the Labor Department did grant that it was an inappropriate mixing, and they say that.
Q: The question is, is the President concerned about behavior that amounts to corrupting government data? And what's he doing about it, if so?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The chief economist has said that a mistake was made, it won't happen again, and that's the end of the matter.
Q: Isn't that the same information that goes to the President?
Q: If I could go back to the stimulus package --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There's two separate pieces of information. I think that's where the confusion was.
Q: When did you all first learn about this mistake that was made?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I read the article this morning.
Q: And as far as you know, is the President aware of it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think so.
Q: And was he aware of it before he read about it in The New York Times?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know. Not to my knowledge.
Q: Did you ever hear about it before this morning? Anything?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I didn't.
Q: Wasn't the President given an erroneous spin on this for his own purpose? For his speeches, for his arguments?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well again, I'm not sure. Both statements are true. What the Labor Department has granted is that mixing them in one sentence, essentially, was misleading. They said it was a mistake. They said they wouldn't do it again.
Q: Did they drop it -- is this something that you choose to spin or make an issue of?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Whenever fewer people are out of work, we're gratified. But that doesn't take away from the need to get this jobs package going.
Q: If I could go back to the stimulus package for a minute. You said that the President plans to come forward with an amendment. Is the timetable still what it was -- that the amendment would be laid down on Monday and voted on on Tuesday, or did he, in the conversation with Dole, talk about the possibility of putting that off for a few more days to give more time for the discussion?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think at this point there's no changes in the schedule at all. I don't know that they discussed the timing like that.
Q: Do you believe that you're closer or getting closer this week than you were last week?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I believe that we're going to pass a jobs package. The President is prepared to make adjustments in order to get that to happen. I don't know where the votes are on cloture at this particular time. I don't know what's going to happen until we have a vote. But the President believes deeply in this jobs package and wants to get it done.
Q: Has there been any indication that this situation has changed?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to continue to work on it. We'll know when the votes are taken.
Q: George, last week you said that there are -- or various people in the administration were saying that you couldn't go through Dole, you were going to have to try and go around him because he was immovable on this subject of a compromise, or at least the compromise he wanted was not anything like the one that you could accept. This week you're talking to him. Is that because you've realized that the peeling off effort wasn't going to work?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's because Senator Dole wanted to talk to the President about the stimulus package.
Q: He initiated the conversation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: Secretary Reich this morning said that, in fact, the President is not willing to compromise on this bill at all. You say he's making --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that that's exactly what he said. I think he said he didn't have any indication that there was any compromises yet or that there would be a compromise, and the President doesn't want to compromise. And the President doesn't want to compromise. But if he has to make adjustments to get it through, he will.
Q: Officials here yesterday said that Panetta was working on a series of adjustments that might be made public before the actual vote.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's possible.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure exactly when that will happen, but I think that it's very possible that we'll come forward with some sort of a different package, or Senate Democrats will come forward with some sort of a different package in order to get it passed.
Q: As we understood his conversations with Dole, the first one was some discussion of this and I'll get back to you tonight with some details or some adjustments, or whatever the phrase is. Did he offer him some details or some adjustments?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's a question of how detailed. I mean, I think they had a general discussion about the package last night, subsequent to their conversation yesterday afternoon. I believe that there will be follow-up discussions today in the Senate, not necessarily between the President and Senator Dole. And let me just reiterate, neither side has made specific compromises at this date. When we have something we'll let you know. And I'm not suggesting that Senator Dole has accepted anything that we've talked about or that we've offered anything in a hard way.
Q: What are the follow-up discussions if not the President and Dole?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think Senator Mitchell is going to talk to Senator Dole.
Q: Is that a threat? (Laughter.)
Q: Did the President say to Senator Dole, all right, how about this number as an overall size, or did Dole say to the President, I can go as high as this? Did they talk numbers?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think it was a negotiation in that respect. It was more of a discussion about their positions.
Q: Did they discuss actual numbers?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm just not sure. I know they talked about the basic outlines of the packages. I think they talked about the programs they cared about. I don't know if they got to the level of this many x-billion dollars.
Q: Does Dole have to sign off before there is a package?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, of course not.
Q: Did the White House have anything to do with the protesters who showed up in New Hampshire today where Senator Dole was speaking? Was that in any way organized by --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not to my knowledge, no.
Q: And has the President been in touch with Senators Kohl or Feingold?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think he's talked to them, no.
Q: George, is the President considering the more palatable fact of having a national sales tax instead of having the haves having to continuously pay for the have-nots? And is he going to scrap his proposed tax on the privileged few, with the haves having to pay for the have-nots?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President believes deeply that the tax rates on upper income Americans, as he presented in his budget, should go up. And I think for the second half of your question, I'll refer you to my briefing from yesterday.
Q: George, on the subject of accuracy in information, you suggested the other day that the stimulus package included money that would solve the water problem in Milwaukee. Apparently that is not true. It's actually waste water money.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's waste water money for Wisconsin, and some could go to Milwaukee.
Q: But it would not affect the drinking water problem because it's waste water money, right?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It would affect the water treatment overall.
Q: But the implication from your statement the other day was that it would help fix this disease problem in Milwaukee now. Would you agree that's not the case?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure of the specifics. I know that it goes to the overall water treatment in Wisconsin.
Q: A leftover question from this morning, which was, when did the President find out that the task force was deliberating on a VAT?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure exactly when. I just don't know. I assume it came up over the last -- certainly between the time that we had commented on in the past and two days ago.
Q: So sometime since March 25th?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's right. I don't know the exact date.
Q: George, the President this morning mentioned that some labor and business groups are for the VAT tax. Apparently, the National Association of Manufacturers talks about perhaps the VAT tax being okay if it replaces the BTU tax. So does the President feel that perhaps this might be in place of some other tax he's proposed, or is this totally in addition to the other taxes he's already proposed?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we've said all we have to say about the VAT at this point. I mean, there's just no -- this is being considered by the health care working groups, and that is all. The President hasn't made any further decisions beyond that.
Q: But it would be to finance health care, it wouldn't be to replace some other tax that finances -- it wouldn't replace the income tax, for instance?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There have been no discussions on that.
Q: In terms of getting a VAT tax through Congress, Senator Dole's press release today said VAT -- on tax day. Do you think -- does it have a chance of getting through Congress? Would it have a chance?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I have no idea.
Q: Is that a consideration whether you all put it forward?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That would become a consideration if the President were to decide to do it. It's not in consideration now.
Q: You said at the beginning of the briefing that circumstances had changed and that had caused the VAT to now be under consideration.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, what the President referred to this morning. These groups came forward and said this is something that has to be considered.
Q: Those are the circumstances that have changed? That's the only difference between now and when he emphatically ruled it out that groups have asked it to be considered?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's what he said.
Q: Is that true?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: Was there, in fact, some understanding that sin taxes would not produce enough money for the health care benefits?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not going to get into the deliberations.
Q: But, George --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. What the consideration is, as the President said, groups came forward and said this is something you ought to consider. The working groups are looking at it.
Q: Is that the only thing that's changed since his prior statement and your prior statement on the VAT?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: Can you explain how those groups -- how that information got to him that groups wanted it? Was it just reading the newspaper or did groups make presentations?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the groups -- as you know, the health care task force has met with dozens of groups.
Q: But this is the President's knowledge that these groups had come forward.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he was referring to what was coming to the working groups. Obviously, there have also been published positions in the newspapers.
Q: Have certain groups briefed him on the group's presentations to them?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if they've briefed him -- I mean, how detailed the briefings have been. I know that the working groups decided to look into this after being pressed by these groups.
Q: What kind of arguments did the groups make that were persuasive enough that the President would change the position that he had enunciated previously?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know, it's just they've had longstanding positions that this would be a good way to finance health care.
Q: The President wasn't aware of those longstanding positions?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He may have been at some level. Obviously, he's been a governor for a long time and he knows the basic arguments for and against a VAT tax.
Q: What we're trying to figure out here -- you're telling us that the only change, the only thing that affected this change in the President's attitude toward the VAT between February and now --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President's attitude hasn't necessarily changed. I mean, he has not made a decision.
Q: I know, but the President said that it was off the table. So did you. And you're saying that the only thing that's changed is the positions of these groups, except you're also describing them as longstanding positions. I don't see the change. If these groups haven't had any change in their position that's been made to the President --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, they've made the presentations to the health care task force.
Q: There's no relationship at all between the fact that sin taxes that he had said -- suggested in February that he favored will not produce enough revenue to finance --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think he ever suggested that they would produce all the revenue.
Q: Well, he suggested that he thought that those were appropriate ways to finance health care.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He did say that. I don't know that he said anything to refute that.
Q: But, in fact, has the task force discovered that there wouldn't be enough revenue from those taxes to finance the kind of core benefits --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't think that the task force ever suggested that there would.
Q: George, if he advocated a VAT tax, would that break his promise not to raise taxes on the middle class to pay for his programs?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't comment on a hypothetical situation.
Q: But does that promise -- would that promise not to raise taxes on the middle class to pay for the programs prevent him from seeking a VAT tax?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has made no decisions on the VAT tax. When he does, we'll tell you and we'll explain the implications then.
Q: Which specific groups can you cite -- business, labor or otherwise -- whose recommendations to the health care task force has prompted this consideration?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have the specific. I just don't have that.
Q: George, can you tell us to what extend these other alternatives, for instance, the employer tax or the sin taxes or other financing options are also still on the table and what these options are?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, as members of the task force and representatives of the working groups have said, they are looking at a wide variety of options. I think that Ira Magaziner said that there are 20 different options under consideration. But I'm not going to comment --
Q: What's the scope --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm just not going to comment on them, no.
Q: What's the scope of the need? How much are you talking about that has to be produced by one or a combination of the --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's what the health care task force is looking at.
Q: Since there's not going to be any briefing on the Miyazawa visit, two questions: One, generally what does the President hope to use that meeting for, but more specifically, is his task complicated by the Japanese anger over the Vancouver note and the remark about market access at the press conference?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Vancouver note?
Q: Does no mean yes.
Q: Yes and no.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I don't know. I saw the Prime Minister's press conference where he was asked the question about that note and he gave a very gracious and complete answer when he was asked the question. The questions of trade are something that certainly will be discussed between the Prime Minister and the President. There is obviously a trade imbalance between Japan and the U.S. that we want to do something about.
Q: Also in those comments the Prime Minister made he suggested that the United States should come down heavy on him in terms of trade. Are you going to oblige?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the President will state our views on trade very clearly and our views on the trade deficit very clearly. I don't necessarily want to agree with your characterization of the Prime Minister's comments.
Q: that we need specific export targets, specific numerical targets -- is that what he's going to discuss with Miyazawa?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They're going to have a broad discussion of a wide range of trade issues. I don't want to get into those specifics until after the meeting.
Q: That's the crux of the issue, right? Whether or not -- does the President believe that without specific numerical targets, it is really, as he said in his press conference, sort of hopeless that this is going to change very much?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President believes that we must have pressure on Japan to turn the trade imbalance around. I do not want to get into the specifics of how that would be done.
Q: But does the President believe that their stimulus package announced yesterday will rectify the imbalance?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think, first, the President wants to get a full briefing on the stimulus package from Prime Minister Miyazawa himself, and then he'll make the comment on it.
Q: How about the Russian aid package? There seems to be some confusion about how the U.S. views that, Secretary Christopher saying -- or Bentsen saying the Japanese may need to do more, the Japanese saying that that's not what they heard?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, we're going to continue to work with all our allies in the G-7, and we're going to continue to press for help for Russian reform, Russian democratic reform. And I think that, so far, we had a very good announcement out of Tokyo and we're going to continue to work with our allies for bilateral packages.
Q: Do you think the Japanese need to do more?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to continue to work with all our allies to do as much as we can.
Q: Secretary Christopher was asked today on the Today Show this morning what he thought of Margaret Thatcher's comments on the Bosnia policy. And he said, "It's a rather emotional response."
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Over an emotional issue.
Q: Right -- to an emotional problem. Does the White House condone that kind of remark?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that Secretary Christopher's remarks speaks for itself. The President believes also that this is a deeply troubling situation that we're trying to find answers for.
Q: But that specific -- "rather emotional response" -- specific term?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, it speaks for itself.
Q: In connection with that, doesn't it seem that with the numbers of people who are being killed at this very moment, is it good American policy to put off some decisions that might be made now to help Boris Yeltsin win a referendum?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: For example?
Q: To take stronger action, to take military action -- air strikes, anything that can be done?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President believes that what must be done now is to push harder for sanctions. He is also -- as you know, the administration has been discussing lifting the arms embargo. He believes those are the appropriate ways to increase pressure at this time.
Q: What is your response to the critics who would say that the U.S. is now stymied by trying to help Boris Yeltsin retain the presidency?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They're wrong. We're pressing hard for the Serbs to come to the negotiating table. We're pressing hard for increased sanctions, and we're talking to our allies about the arms embargo.
Q: You were putting great store in Vance and Owen getting people to agree to that. Now, Vance and Owen have both said that military force to some extent would be acceptable. Does that change your thinking?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Clearly, we're going to listen to whatever people who have put so much time into a situation have to say. But at this point, the President is moving forward on sanctions and talking about the arms embargo.
Q: A follow-up on a Dee Dee comment this morning. She said she would be able to provide some administration officials who could document the effect the sanctions are having in Bosnia. Are you going to be able to do that, or do you have anything --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think that's what she said.
Q: That's exactly what she said.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think that's true. But what she said -- we would look into the situation of what kind of evidence can be provided in Bosnia. Obviously, if there are connections between the Bosnian Serbs and the Serbs in Belgrade and we are tightening the screws on the Serbs in Belgrade, that will have an effect over time. I do not know day by day, minute by minute, what kind of help is being given between the two and what the exact effect has been. But, clearly, we are slowing the shipment of goods into Belgrade. We are having an effect on the Serbs there. What kind of effect that will eventually have on the Bosnian Serbs I don't know. But one thing I would say is if it were having no effect at all, I don't know why they'd be fighting it so much.
Q: Are the First Lady's tax returns going to be released?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think there's a joint tax return. And it will be probably later today.
Q: Is the President considering signing an executive order banning discrimination against homosexuals in the federal work force as part of the gay rights march here next week?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think there's any proposal for that at this time, not that I know of.
Q: It's something that the President promised during the campaign that he would do.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I have not seen any -- I don't think it's anything that's on his plate right now.
Q: Is he meeting with gay rights leaders at any point on this issue?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know about on this issue. I assume that he'll meet with representatives of the gay and lesbian community sometime soon, as he meets with representatives of lots of different groups and communities.
Q: Do you know if that's scheduled --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's probably going to be tomorrow.
Q: Probably going to be tomorrow? (Laughter.)
Q: It's a good thing you asked.
Q: Who's probably going to be there? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know.
Q: How long --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know. That's all I know.
Q: Do you know if it's at 3:00 p.m. tomorrow? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know what time it is. I don't even know for sure if it's going to be tomorrow.
Q: Environmental groups have asked him to make a major speech next week of some kind. Is that going to happen, do you know?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if they've asked, but I think the President has always planned, as he did last year, to give a speech on Earth Day and I expect that he will. If it's not exactly on Earth Day, it might be a day before or something like that.
Q: Is he planning to sign or announce the signing of the biodiversity treaty in connection with Earth Day?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know the specific timing of something like that, but it's certainly something under discussion and something we've been working on.
Q: Campaign finance reform?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're working on it.
Q: Do you think it will be next week?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm just not sure.
Q: The biodiversity treaty is something you're working on? I missed the question.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, something we're working on. He asked if it was ready to be signed, and I said I didn't know anything about that but it's something we've certainly been working on.
Q: Do you know what organizations might be represented in this meeting with the gay and lesbian groups?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't.
Q: Do you know if he is going to reconsider being out of town on the day of the march?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's got to be at the Senate meeting in Jamestown, and I believe he's also going to be giving a speech to the American Association of Newspaper Publishers in Boston on Sunday, as he did last year.
Q: Would you have told us if she had not pressed you on the question?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: On what?
Q: On the gays.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: When we went through the President's schedule for the day, certainly.
Q? George, what day is the publisher's speech? Is that Sunday?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's a Sunday.
Q: And Saturday he'll be in Jamestown?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: So you're just going to be in Jamestown for one day?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I'm not sure. I don't know how long the Senate thing goes. It might go overnight. I just don't know.
Q: You would have made the gay meeting public, right?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm certain if we had the meeting -- I don't know about open to the press, but we would have told you about it.
Q: I mean, because it is, as far as I can tell, the first time in history a President has met in the Oval Office with --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I didn't say it was going to be in the Oval Office. (Laughter.) But I didn't -- I'm not say that it's not, but I didn't say that it was. (Laughter.)
Q: at the White House in the Bush administration gay officials were invited to a bill signing ceremony and the White House had to repudiate having done that. So I just wanted to make sure --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President wouldn't do anything like that.
Q: Certainly not.
Q: What marching orders did the President give to General Vessey?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They had a very good discussion for about half an hour today. He wanted -- the most important thing was he had a full accounting for American POWs and MIAs. He will obviously look into the circumstances surrounding this new document. The President stressed that he wanted the fullest possible accounting and said that only when we have that can we even consider any changes in our policy towards Vietnam. He'll be looking at Vietnam's response to the questions raised by the document and he'll also look into investigations on discrepancy cases, increased efforts on remains, implementing trilateral investigations -- and access to military archives.
And Ambassador Toon also briefed the President on the activities of the joint commission and on the document.
Q: Vietnam says it's a fake. What is the DOD analysis at this stage?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's not completed yet, and it's also the first thing that General Vessey will bring up with the Vietnamese.
Q: A number of Defense officials have been saying that they think that the 600 or so prisoners referred to are, in fact, non-Americans that the Vietnamese had captured who they referred to as Americans from time to time. Do people --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We don't have any final determination. We're going to wait for the complete review; when we have it, we'll make a judgment.
Q: I know you don't have any final determination, but given all of the intense public interest in this, do you think that that's a likely possibility?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I just don't want to characterize it in any way until the review is complete.
Q: George, was there a topic scheduled for the speech in Boston?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q: Is the President going to have a press conference tomorrow with Miyazawa?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think so, but I'm not positive. Yes, I expect, yes.
Q: Was Toon in with Vessey?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: He was in on the meeting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: What was the question?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Was Ambassador Toon in with Vessey, and the answer is yes.
Q: Do you have any response to The Wall Street Journal report this morning the President's distressed about some of his press clippings and that perhaps he's distressed with you about that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. Well, I do have a response. I think the article was highly misleading to the extent that it implied that the President has had restricted access to the press. I would point out that he's answered 358 questions on 77 occasions, more than any of his predecessors. I would also point out it also --
Q: How many questions?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Three hundred fifty-eight, on 77 occasions.
Q: How many were while he was jogging?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, no, that's actually a very good question, Andrea. And I would point out further that the article also implied that these questions were only answered at tightly controlled photo opportunities, which is just patently false. He's had 13 press conferences in either the East Room, the Oval Office or the Roosevelt Room or the Briefing Room, in addition to questions taken at photo opportunities, and that is only the --
Q: Oval Office press conference -- when was that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's answered questions in the -- East Room. He's had five in the East Room, he's had one in the Oval Office, he's had one in the Rose Garden, he's had one or two in the Roosevelt Room. And this is just to the White House, Washington Press Corps. In addition to that, he's had 17 interviews with local television anchors. He's met with the editorial board of The Portland Oregonian. He's had an hour-long interview with Dan Rather. He's had interviews with local press from California, Florida and Connecticut --
Q: Can you address the question of the attitude? The article implies that he doesn't --
Q: Why doesn't he like us? (Laughter.)
Q: Did you really get blamed for that Post story?
Q: The story is that you -- are you held responsible for it.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think I'm going to comment about this.
Q: Are you denying that the President has shown displeasure publicly?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I am not commenting on the discussions between the President and myself.
Q: Did the President write that letter to Chris Webber?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What?
Q: The letter to the University of Michigan basketball player?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, yes.
Q: That is an authentic letter?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: Since the President first talked about the VAT in February, he said at the time that he thought there probably should be exceptions made in basic necessities such as food and clothing. Does he still hold that position given the impact it could have?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I just can't comment on a proposal he hasn't made.
Q: George, does the President have some agenda for this meeting with the gay leaders tomorrow?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think it will just a general meeting on the wide range of issues that they care about including AIDS and other issues -- civil rights.
Q: The military issue?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm certain it will come up.
Q: Is he using this event to name the AIDS --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so.
Q: George, what specifically is the President doing to prepare for tomorrow's meeting with the Prime Minister Miyazawa?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's had briefing memos. He's had general discussions with members of the Treasury Department, the Trade Representative and others.
Q: report yet?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if he has the report referred to in The Times, but Ambassador Kantor was here to brief him today.
Q: He was?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: Does he intend to use any of these instances that --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know that the report's been presented. But obviously, the President will press hard in any case where he thinks that a violation has occurred.
Q: In terms of the Wall Street Journal, the thrust was that there's a real schism here -- a hostility. Do you think he feels that way?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all. As I said on the record in the article, I think the President likes reporters. Again, I think that the thrust of the article was still misleading. The thrust of the article was that in some way, some attitude which the President may or may not have is affecting access when, in fact, he has the most open, accessible administration than have any in recent history.
Q: Can we come up to your office? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: If you're invited.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:34 P.M. EDT
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/269302