Press Briefing by George Stephanopoulos
The Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EDT
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can just take questions today. I have no announcements to make.
Q: There's a tie.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There is a real tie. It's a Picasso tie.
Q: Does that run on double a's or nine volts? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What are you going to come up with tomorrow now?
Q: George, can -- speak up. I can't hear you over his tie. (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You wasted two in one day. Why don't you come on up here? Go ahead. Five minutes is clicking. You had better go ahead.
Q: The President said on Friday he's think of -- considering previously unacceptable options. Over the weekend, we were told he was considering some of these. Where does that stand right now? And is planning on making anymore phone calls to world leaders?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as you know, he spoke with Prime Minister Major yesterday for about 50 minutes, and they discussed the sanctions resolution and other options. He will be speaking, I believe, with Francois Mitterrand today. They will speak early this afternoon. And those consultations will continue through the week. We'll continue to look at all our options, and I believe, as you know as well, the National Security Council principals have also met over the weekend. We'll continue to consult with our allies, and when we have something we'll let you know.
Q: How about a blockade, which Major apparently is talking about today?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, we're looking at a number of options. We're reviewing everything.
Q: Is that top --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't get into ranking, where certain ideas lie on the list, except to say that the President is considering -- he's in serious discussions with our allies now, and we're going to be looking at what we can do.
Q: Senator Dole says there's enough money in the relevant accounts to do a lot to cover your jobs program this summer, and, therefore, no emergency there. Is that true?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's money that's already allocated for other projects. The emergency here is that we need to get funding for the programs the President has laid out. We need funding for summer jobs; it's not there. We need funding for immunization; it's not there.
Q: no summer? Did you say --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not no money, but none for the additional summer jobs the President wants to create. And the proposal he had would create 700,000 new jobs this summer --
Q: How many can you cover out what's there now?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have that. I know that ours was going to be 700,000 additional on top of the money already appropriated. And the President believes that these jobs are important.
Q: What about immunization? Dole also claims that there's enough money in the immunization account to do most of what you seek to do.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the President's program would make sure we could get the immunizations done this summer. The money currently obligated does not do that.
Q: Does the President or anybody in the White House have any input into the operation in Waco?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Attorney General informed the President yesterday that they were planning on going ahead with this kind of an operation. But it's a decision by the Attorney General and the FBI.
Q: George, since the Attorney General works for the President, isn't it fair to say that it's a presidential decision not to stop it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President was clearly informed of --
Q: apparently gave approval to do it, or he could have stopped it.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he didn't stop it. No, he didn't stop it. The Attorney General informed --
Q: So in not stopping it, he approved it.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We can get into a philosophical or semantic discussion, but --
Q: Well, he assumes responsibility --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Certainly he is responsible, but it's the Attorney General and the FBI have operational control over this. But clearly he was informed.
Q: Did she ask him for authorization?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, she informed him. She said this is what the FBI would like to do.
Q: But why, George -- Dee Dee didn't know this morning -- why is it FBI and Justice as opposed to ATF --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That was -- a special agent was put in charge -- I think it was within 24 hours of the original incident. That's not common practice. And the FBI has been --
Q: It's not a reflection on the agency?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not in the least. The FBI has been in control of this since the very beginning.
Q: Why did the President think this was the right time to go ahead?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The FBI laid out -- I mean, the Attorney General for the FBI laid out the arguments. And I can't get into all of the details of the argument. It wouldn't be appropriate to do that while the situation is still going on. But the Attorney General laid out the argument and the President made no objection.
Q: Has he received any reports today?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he's been -- we've been receiving periodic updates from the FBI.
Q: How closely is he following it, though, along those same lines? Is this something he's following the news accounts? Is someone there calling him from the Justice Department every hour or two hours or what?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, he's received periodic reports during the day. I don't know how many he's received. Clearly, CNN is also giving it blanket coverage. But the President has received reports from the Justice Department this morning.
Q: Shakey coverage. (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Wolf, what do you have to say to that?
Q: Bob Dole said yesterday that the Bush administration made a mistake in not acting sooner on the Bosnia situation, presumably along the lines you were advocating during the campaign. What does the President think about that? Does he think that we missed our chance on that one, or is he -- does feel that the Bush administration blew this one?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I don't think it serves any purpose to go back over the history of all this except to say that it's a tragic situation that the President was handed when he took office. And he's been working since he took office to come up with, first of all, a diplomatic solution in doing what he can to stop Serbian aggression, to get some sort of agreement.
Q: Does he believe it was beyond reasonable action at that point when he was handed that tragic situation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It was clearly a tragic situation -- very deep difficulty. But he's going to do what he can to rectify it.
Q: George, back to Senator Dole and his many comments yesterday. One of the things he said was that the administration couldn't spend the money for the jobs program this summer if it got all that. Are you --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's simply not true. We're prepared and the Labor Department has put in place plans for the summer jobs program. As you know, Secretary Cisneros has also held a series of workshops around the country on implementation of this package if it were passed. We're ready to go.
Q: George, can I ask you about Haiti?
Q: Before Haiti, can we get back to Waco for one second? We were just told the Waco -- the building, the compound is now on fire. Have you heard about that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: This just in.
Q: You've got to move faster. (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, what is just in is that CNN is now showing live footage of -- (laughter) -- of the building on the Koresh compound. It's unclear what this is. I have no independent information on this, as you know. It's just reported. I will try and get something and get it back to you.
Q: Can I ask about Haiti?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure.
Q: The situation in Haiti seems to be going back and forth. It seemed a few days ago that a solution was imminent. Now it seems to have gone by the wayside again. Mr. Caputo met with Mr. Christopher. What has the White House --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, obviously, we had hoped that there could have been quicker progress on this, but we have not given up hope for a resolution. Secretary Christopher did meet with Mr. Caputo over the weekend. Mr. Caputo's here in the United States still consulting. Now, we will continue to follow it and we have not given up hope on a diplomatic solution at all.
Q: How about Mr. Pezzullo? Is he still --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think he's in Haiti right now but he's still working on it obviously.
Q: George, a follow on that. Trade press in the Pentagon is reporting that the administration has asked the Joint Staff to develop a plan which would include a brigade strength military force that would enter Haiti presumably as a nation assistance -- part of a nation assistance program. Is such a plan going forward?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know about that specific recommendation, but as we've said in the past, we are prepared to help assist the professionalization of the Haitian military after an agreement.
Q: Under what conditions would that happen? Would American ground forces be deployed --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Once we have an agreement in place, and we want it to be multilateral.
Q: Going back to Bosnia in your statement that the President is considering all his options and consulting on options with the Europeans, to what end? Are you planning an action of some sort no matter what happens, or are you planning a response to whatever happens next or doesn't happen from the Serbians?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we don't do anything no matter what, but I mean --
Q: Are you looking to implement something in the absence of any particular provocation from the Serbs now? Have they crossed a line that you're just looking for an appropriate response? Or are you just trying to figure out what you'll do next after the evacuations are done or whatever?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What we're looking to do is to do what we can to stop the aggression and to get an agreement. I mean, I think that we will continue to press for that. It is not yet clear that the situation is resolved in any way.
Q: What are you responding to, perhaps, is what I --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we've been responding --
Q: options to respond to what specific thing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The fighting. First of all, to the fighting, but also to the fact that no agreement is in place between the Bosnians and the Serbs. That -- something they have agreed to in any way. We need to do what we can to force that.
Q: Under what circumstances would the United States take unilateral action?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't get into that. We're now talking to our allies. We are consulting inside the government as well on appropriate actions to take. And right now, we just have nothing to say, and I can't get into some kind of hypothetical, openended argument.
Q: Is it your desire to wait until after the Russian referendum?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's our desire to announce something as soon as we can, as soon as we have a policy that's feasible.
Q: George when you discuss options, you're talking about military options, right?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That would certainly -- it would include military options.
Q: I mean, wouldn't that have to be almost at this point the primary focus?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There's a range of things we're looking at right now. Among those are military options.
Q: The Russian envoy to Yugoslavia says that we have had a militarization of our thinking, the U.S., and that the President is being very hasty in his judgments now. What is your response?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has been taking appropriate action throughout this crisis. We've worked with the U.N. to toughen sanctions, we've worked to get enforcement of the nofly zone. We've worked on a new sanctions resolution, and now we're consulting with our allies on a range of other options. We believe that that's what's appropriate, and we hope it will work.
Q: George, Dee Dee from this platform this morning said the President would take no unilateral actions, that it was all multinational. Your answer on this last question: I can't get into unilateral actions by the U.S. -- can you --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the preference for the President has always been to work with our allies, to work in a multilateral basis. I would imagine that any action would be multilateral. But I was asked a very open-ended question of all kind, in any place, would we ever take any sort of unilateral action, and I can't rule that out in all conceivable circumstances. But obviously the President's preference is to take multilateral action. And that's why we're consulting with our allies now.
Q: Do you have any deadline for the jobs package, the summer related program? How long can you take the filibuster before the money isn't going to -- you won't be able to start up some of the summer programs?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have a specific date. I think that we're still well within the comfort zone. But as -- the votes are scheduled for tomorrow.
Q: George, two questions. Is the President prepared to make anymore concessions on his stimulus, the shrinking stimulus program and try to get it through? How long are you guys willing to string this thing out?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: A vote is scheduled for tomorrow. And we hope that we're going to have the votes to go forward tomorrow. We're consulting now. I know that Senators Mitchell and Dole are meeting this afternoon. There will be other contacts with Senators through the day, and we'll have to see what happens. But the President has laid a good offer on the table. We hope that the Senators will consider it.
Q: George, in his speech this morning, the President had some pretty strong words for Republicans about this package. Is there any reason to believe that this is going to do any good at this point? Doesn't this just turn up the heat for no particular reason?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it won't be for no particular reason if it passes. We believe it will provide a lot of good benefits.
Q: Do you have any evidence that using this sort of rhetoric at this point is going to benefit you?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is calling it like he sees it. He believes this is an important package. He believes it will provide real benefits to the American people this summer. He believes that it is paid for, and it clearly is through his budget. It does come in under the '93 caps. And he also pointed out again, quite rightly, that these kinds of emergency appropriations have been approved time and time again by those who now say that it's not possible to go forward. And they're just -- he's just pointing that out.
Q: George, when the President's been asked in recent days about Bosnia, he invariably answers that he inherited a difficult situation; he was dealt a poor hand. I don't remember other post-war presidents, they also inherited difficult foreign policy situations, moaning and groaning about what their predecessors passed onto them. Why does he do that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's not.
Q: What's the point of saying that he inherited a poor situation then?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's a statement of fact.
Q: Can you just clarify about what involvement the President had or noninvolvement the President had in the decision on Waco? I mean, you said that Janet Reno informed him that this is what we would like to do. Now, did he say do it, or did he say I can't take any responsibility for this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Of course, the President takes responsibility for what's done in his government. But it is under the operational control of the Justice Department. She informed him of their plans. He raised no objections.
Q: Did he give a go-ahead for the action?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know how much clearer I could be. I mean, she gave --
Q: Are you saying that because he left the operational control to the departments --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's the authority. That is -- they have the authority to do it.
Q: It would have then, therefore, required him to overrule it if he wanted to change it.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Absolutely.
Q: Which did not do --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you, Brit. Yes, I mean, that's exactly right. I don't understand where the confusion is.
Q: Brit -- on that? (Laughter.)
Q: Having ceded operational control, he therefore --he always retained the option of overruling them or not?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President obviously has --would retain that authority. The Justice Department has the authority to carry out these operations. They informed the President of this. Had he raised objections, I'm certain that that may have had an effect on the decision. But the Justice Department clearly has the authority.
Q: Is he following it that closely -- is he following it that closely that he would have had any objections? I mean, it seems to me if the Attorney General --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's following the situation closely. The Attorney General gave her best judgment and her best recommendation and the President did not raise an objection.
Q: So, he's relying totally on the judgment of Janet Reno and her department?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he's clearly relying on the judgment of the FBI and the Attorney General, and he's combining that with his own judgment as the options are presented to him.
Q: George, maybe objections is too strong a word. Did he have any questions about the way it was going to be carried out, the operation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I was not in on the conversation. I don't know how detailed the discussion was or what kind of questions were raised, but the Attorney General laid out a plan and she said she would like to go forward. And, again, the President just had no objections.
Q: Well, did he give a rationale for --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure.
Q: What was the rationale for force rather than just to wait?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the situation's going on right now. I would refer those questions to the Justice Department.
Q: Have there been any previous calls from the Attorney General in which an option was laid out and then rejected by the President?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure but I don't think so.
Q: George, change of subject. The President made a campaign commitment to get CO2 levels down to 1990 levels by the year 2000. There's a story in The New York Times that Secretary Bentsen and Secretary O'Leary are now very hesitant about moving forward on that campaign commitment, and I was wondering if the President intends to make good on that commitment and when?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President's going to be talking -- on Wednesday he's going to give a speech on the environment. I'm not certain if those decisions will be included in the speech but I read the same story. We have not heard anything from Secretary Bentsen or O'Leary; the President hadn't heard anything directly but we're clearly going to look into it and the National Economic Council is looking into it along with Katie McGinty and the environmental group.
Q: Where will that speech be?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think it's been finally set yet.
Q: Are you saying The New York Times is telling you something that the administration --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. Well, there are often things reported in the newspaper according to sources that may or may not be true. I just think that we're looking into it and working on it.
Q: I just want to clarify. Two days before a speech about the environment -- this is all brand new to you about --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. Two days before a speech on the environment, an unidentified source is quoted in The New York Times. That doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the speech or the decisions that are to be made.
Q: George, Republicans are citing comments by Secretary Reich that there may be several emergencies. And they're saying one of the reasons they should reject the emergency stimulus package is that this is just going to be one in a series -- reduce the deficit. Can you reject that completely?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I guess I don't know what the Republicans are referring to. What statements are they referring to?
Q: testimony of Secretary Reich said that there may be several emergencies in the future that would require further deficit stimulus spending.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I suppose that is possible. I mean, the President has no plans at this time for another kind of jobs package to go forward. I don't know exactly what you're referring to. I have not seen the testimony that the Republicans are reacting to.
Q: Until the budget act is changed by the reconciliation, you've got these caps. Is there any other spending measures in the pipeline or being planned to be offered that would require the use of the emergency provision because it would breach the caps or would necessarily require that because of the budget act as it now stands?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if there's anything in Secretary Reich's jurisdiction that would have anything to do with that, no.
Q: Anything in any jurisdiction you can think of?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I can't foresee all conceivable situations that might lead to an emergency. I mean, by definition if there is some sort of an emergency that has to be dealt with, you just don't know of any --
Q: You just don't know of any at this time, is that --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Exactly.
Q: What is the coverage for the Saturday --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: For Saturday? Pool.
Q: closed --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, I guess the Senate events are closed.
Q: All the events are closed? There's no speeches, nothing?
Q: Lloyd Cutler says the Senate's filibuster rule was unconstitutional. Does the President agree?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think -- I'd have to go talk to the Counsel about that article. I haven't analyzed it in depth and I haven't spoken with the President about it. But, clearly, the filibuster's a long-established tradition, and we'll take a look at what Mr. Cutler has to say.
Q: I'm confused about what is and what isn't emergency spending in the $16.4 billion, or $3 billion. How much of this is emergency spending as compared to spending spending?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: All of it has been declared an emergency.
Q: This is just an informational -- I'm not trying to get off -- why, if it falls under the caps, as you say, is it emergency spending?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It falls under the caps. We're saying that you can increase the deficit this year, but then it's paid for over time. It doesn't -- the money still has to be obligated and authorized.
Q: So that provision that you're not following is offsetting it in the same year you're spending it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Exactly.
Q: George, the President had some fairly brief remarks about the dollar versus the yen last Friday that really knocked the dollar down considerably over the weekend. Did he intend to make a major policy statement?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I think he was just pointing out the results of his discussions with Mr. Miyazawa. And again, I don't know that this was necessarily a major policy, but he was just telling his view on the matter.
Q: Are you linking, then, the dollar remark to discussions that he had with Mr. Miyazawa?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I assume it came up in their discussions, yes.
Q: I just wanted to make sure I understood your answer, your last answer on Haiti. Are you saying that there are no conditions under which American ground forces would be deployed there prior to a multilateral agreement?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Prior to an agreement in Haiti.
Q: An agreement to return Aristide to power?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, an agreement worked out through the U.N. and the OAS.
Q: What would the agreement --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That is likely to -- we hope that that is going to be the result of returning President Aristide to power. That's always been our objective.
Q: You're leaving open the possibility that troops then could be deployed under a different kind of agreement that didn't return him to power.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I'm -- what I'm talking about is an agreement under the framework of Mr. Caputo's work in the U.N. and the OAS. And that clearly has the objective of returning President Aristide to power.
Q: And then the nation assistance program follows that, it doesn't precede it.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Exactly.
Q: George has the President chosen Lee Brown as his drug czar?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No decisions yet.
Q? George, I understand there's a letter that is going out from the President to members of Congress from western states about mining reform. Do you know anything about that? Can you release it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Is this Bennett Johnston's letter? I thought -- I think we already released it last week.
Q: Is the President's meeting with health care advisers tomorrow, is this just a general overview of all the elements? Will the President start making decisions?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, it's been -- there have been a series of meetings over the last couple of weeks. They'll continue for sometime, but it's not a final meeting of any sort.
Q: Has any kind of target date been set yet for release, or are you still looking at late May?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, mid to late May.
Q: Both Senator Dole and Mitchell expressed strong doubts about a VAT or any kind of broadbased general tax increase. Does that affect the President's decision-making on how to pay for the health care bill?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President always takes what Senators Mitchell and Dole to say very seriously.
Q: George, who else will the President talk to about Bosnia -- any specific --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have any specifics right now.
Q: Will we get a readout on the Mitterrand conversation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm sure we'll be able to say something, sure.
Q: Has he talked to any Republican senators about the stimulus package in the last 24 hours?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he probably has. I mean, he may have spoken a little bit to Senator Cohen this morning. He was up here.
Q: I mean other than somebody who happened to be on the lawn because their local team was getting an award. Did he call Arlen Specter or Jeffords or --
Q: Al D'Amato?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I know there have been some contacts with Howard Paster. I don't know if the President has spoken to anybody else.
Q: Has anybody -- any other Senators come --
Q: Couldn't we assume that what's going on is a political dance and not an effort to get the votes --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q: he's not talking to any --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all. I mean, we still have another day to go and we're working very hard to get the votes. We're doing everything we can. The President's been the one who puts --
Q: directly to the people --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, we've been in constant contact with the Republican senators.
Q: Is Mitchell going to report back here in person?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They may talk on the phone. I don't know if he's going to come back.
Q: He said in his speech up at the Hilton that if he doesn't get this, he'll try something else. Are there any backup proposals in the works for a new stimulus --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right now we're going forward with the President's package.
Q: George, is it still the strategy to target these Republican senators and convince them between now and tomorrow to --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to try and convince everybody we can to vote for it.
Q: What are you doing if the President isn't calling the Republican senators?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Our staff has been in contact with Republican Senators. As I said, the President did speak --
Q: What do you say to them you call these guys up? It is paid for, you're wrong? What did he say? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't divulge that.
Q: Shame on you?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We talk about the benefits of the package. We make sure they understand the benefits of the package. We make sure they understand how it's paid for.
Q: Do you make sure they understand what's --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think so.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:33 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/269304