Press Briefing by George Stephanopoulos
The Briefing Room
1:43 P.M. EDT
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President will be working his way back soon. (Laughter.)
Q: Is he running late?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's right. Is he running a few minutes late? Yes, he is. (Laughter.) So I'll just take some questions.
Q: George, what is the game plan for reviving some of the elements of the ill-fated jobs stimulus package?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we're going to be consulting with congressional leaders right now and over the next several days in trying to figure out the best way to get the President's initiatives passed as quickly as possible. I mean, there are a number of options, but I don't think we have a specific announcement to make until after we have some consultations with those in Congress. But the President wants to move forward on summer jobs. He wants to move forward on investments in highways and mass transit. He wants to move forward on immunization and all the other important initiatives contained in his package. He's only sorry that it's not ready to be signed into law right now.
Q: George, Dee Dee told us this morning that in assessing the alternative that the Republicans offered which had some of the things in it, that the President had wanted -- that you all made the decision that you would prefer to have nothing rather than --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's sort of standing this whole issue on its head. I mean, even if you look at the paper this morning and see what Senator Jeffords said, he said that these Republicans offers were made with the full expectation that they'd never be accepted. The President went the extra mile. The President agreed to pay for some of the program. The President scaled down his package. And the Republicans were just interested in winning a political victory, not in helping the people who will be helped by the President's bill this summer.
I think it was very instructive, for instance, that Senator Dole this morning said that, now, all of a sudden, a lot of our members think paying for it is secondary. The bottom line is not to have it at all. That is in direct contradiction to probably no less than a dozen statements by Senator Dole over the past month where he said -- for instance, "We just have a basic difference. We think they ought to be paid for." April 2nd, 1993, in the Congressional Record. "So I think it's just a fundamental difference in parties in this debate. We believe we ought to pay for them." April 3rd, Congressional Record. "If this bill is necessary, then Democrats should be willing to pay for it." April 5th, Congressional Record.
On and on and on. Again and again, Senator Dole threw up concerns, that when these concerns were met, he still walked away. They weren't serious about negotiating a bill that was going to create jobs this summer. They wanted to score a political victory. That's unfortunate for the American people. It's unfortunate for the kids who would have jobs this summer. It's unfortunate for the kids who would have been immunized this summer. It's unfortunate for the people who would have been put to work building roads and highways and mass transit. But the President's going to keep on fighting. And if the Republicans are going to keep on playing politics, so be it, but we're going to try and work to do what's right for the American people.
Q: Why would you all consider it to be better to go through the fight lined up where you are now with nothing and having to start from scratch to go after summer jobs, transportation, immunization and so on, rather than at least taking whatever you get from the Republicans --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There was no serious Republican offer. There was nothing of any substance that they offered whatsoever. Yesterday the President agreed to pay for part of the program, agreed to reduce the spending. The Republicans rejected it out of hand. There was no serious Republican offer.
Q: The President said yesterday that he a lot to learn about this town. What are the lessons?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think that one of the lessons you learn is there are an awful lot of people who are wedded to the status quo and simply won't do anything to change; a lot of people who are more interested in scoring political victories than in putting people to work; a lot of people who are wedded to the ways of the past. And he understood that going in. I think that he's been surprised at the vehemence with which some people are wedded to those ways of the past, the way that some people are wedded to gridlock. But he's just going to keep on fighting.
Q: George, does he need to sit down at some point with Dole and just see if they can find some kind of common ground? There's been some criticism from both sides that he just really hasn't tried to deal in the Republicans. This is coming from some Democrats on the Hill as well as Republicans.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, I mean, I think that there's no question, we have certainly tried to work with the Republicans. I mean, there have been dozen of meetings with House and Senate Republicans over the Health Care Task Force and the formulation of the health care plan. The President, as you know, made visits to the Republican conference in the House. And he visited with all the Republicans senators as well. He has also paid courtesy calls on Senator Dole. And we're going to continue to look for ways to work with the Republicans who really want to get things done. And I think that's where the question has to be.
We're willing to be bipartisan to get action. We're willing to reach out. The President wants to reach out because he knows he was elected to get action. I mean, the question is going to have to be, though, are the Republicans serious about that kind of cooperation. If they are, if the President is and we're willing to do that. He went the extra mile in this package to come up with some sort of compromise. Unfortunately, he was rejected.
Q: But so much of the problem here is that Republicans thought they were really cut out. The bill was taken up in the Senate, managed by Robert Byrd under kind of a straight jacket process in which the Republicans couldn't even offer their compromise. Isn't there some thought that maybe you made some mistake in being so rigid and you might want to take a different look at how to deal with Republicans at this point?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think we're going to continue to reassess every day. And we hope that we're going to have Republican help on the President's national service bill. And we're going to reach out and look for that. We hope we're going to have Republican help, the support of good Republicans who want to do something about health care reform. And we're going to reach out and look for that. We hope we're going to have Republican help and we're going to look for Republican help on campaign finance reform. We want to work together to get something done. There's absolutely no question about that. And to do that everybody's going to have to try to do their best to put politics aside and get down to the business of governing.
Q: Well, do you think that because of the setback, that they have found your Achilles' heel? Health care has not been mentioned all day today. You seem to think -- you and everyone else -- that you're in jeopardy now on the plan.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, I don't think so at all. It hasn't even been introduced, Helen.
Q: No, what I mean is you are raising these warning signs.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, what we're pointing out is that we want to work with the Republicans and we have been working with Republicans for several weeks, even months now, on the health care plan and we expect that to continue.
Q: Do you expect more cooperation as a result?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think we certainly hope so. We think health care is important for the American people, we think providing the kind of security that the President's health care plan will provide is important, and we think Republicans are as interested in providing that security as Democrats.
Q: But do you think that they were simply playing politics and had no motivation other than that in trying to kill the bill?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think if you look at the contradictory statements of Senator Dole, if you look at the statement of Senator Jeffords who said that the Republican offer wasn't offered in a way that was meant to be accepted, I think it raises questions about the motivation of the Republicans yesterday. But, you know, it's time to move beyond that and really get something done and that's what we're looking to do. And we hope that on issues like health care we're going to get the kind of cooperation we need, and we're willing to keep on talking and keep on consulting to get that cooperation.
Q: How far do you expect to get if you continue to stop just short of calling Dole a jerk -- (laughter) -- or suggesting he keeps turning things around on you? That tactic didn't seem to work the first time around.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the President was working with Senator Dole from the beginning. The President is committed to meeting the substantive objections raised by the Republicans and working with Republicans and that's something we did. The Republicans said that they had an interest in reducing the scope of the bill and they had an interest in paying for it. The President made offers that reduced the scope of the bill and that paid for it.
Q: Well, they were --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm just saying that the President went the extra mile. Unfortunately, we didn't get the package yesterday. We're going to keep on fighting for it.
Q: George, why would the President have authorized a plan to use an irritant CS gas against women and children that he had favored banning in wartime? What's the rationale for that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Under the chemical weapons treaty that you cited there is a specific exemption for law enforcement activities. I mean, this is, in fact, that this kind of use of this gas is contemplated under the very treaty that bans it for wartime. This is a specific prohibition.
Q: law enforcement if it was for some reason unacceptable in war? What's the rationale for having it in one and not the other?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's just that there are certain kinds of gases that are appropriate for law enforcement. This was just a general treaty that bans it for international incidents, but it is fully permitted under the treaty.
Q: Has any the evidence come out from the investigation in Waco that some of the people may have died from other causes unrelated to the fire?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we've all seen some evidence that many people inside the compound may have been shot on their way out, or at least some evidence pointing in that direction. I can't get into the details of the investigation or what is coming out. I think that that is something you should -- it would be better to go to Justice. But obviously, we've read those same reports.
Q: Do you mean to say many people had been shot?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think there was three, at least three and they're looking for more.
Q: Can I get back to this, please? Does the President favor that exemption?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The exemption is part of the treaty and we have no plans to change the treaty at this time.
Q: George, was the President aware of that limitation at the time the Attorney General spoke to him about using it? Or did she discuss using that chemical at Waco?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: She discussed using tear gas. The President did say that she discussed that. And I would just point out that this gas is safe and is relatively harmless. There is an exemption within the treaty for the use of this kind of gas.
Q: How is it that a civilian agency like the FBI could be allowed to have the authority to use a chemical that the military themselves would not use? And is the President aware that this is not tear gas, but is an irritant that completely incapacitates the individual, whether it be children or women or men, and they wouldn't know which door to go out of because they would have their eyes completely shut and be in trauma at the time it was being used? Is the President aware that this would be the effect of that gas?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President was told that the gas would be used. I don't know if he was told the specific type, but he was assured by the relevant law enforcement agencies that this was safe and that it would have its intended effect. I am not an expert on the gas, but I think I would refer you to the FBI and the Defense Department for specific questions.
Q: Why would an agency of the government that works with civilians of our country and not against an enemy of our country be allowed to use a gas that the military will not use? A chemical, I should say, not a gas.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There are general global international prohibitions on the use of chemicals in warfare, though all of those treaties contain exemptions for law enforcement. They are not intended to reach towards law enforcement. That is not a judgment of any kind on the safety of the gases used; it is a judgment on the use of chemicals in warfare. That's what the treaty is designed to prohibit.
Q: On the stimulus plan again -- some of the things that you've pointed out as things that the President learned, the lessons that he learned from all this, seemed to be more in the nature of observations. What has he learned? Has he learned, for example, that Senate Republicans or their solidarity is more than he expected? Did he underestimate the level of Senate Republican solidarity? What did he learn?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think one of the things that he learned is clearly the special problems posed by the Senate filibuster; there's no question about it. Anytime that you can have a minority that blocks action the majority seeks, you have to figure out creative ways to circumvent that. And that's something we're certainly going to take into consideration.
Q: On the omnibus bill, is his tax proposal now in trouble? You have Rostenkowski coming out very strongly against the ITC.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think what the Chairman was doing was giving his judgment that it would be difficult -- that there was some difficulty with the ITC in these committees. The President believes that it is important for investment. But obviously, we're going to continue to listen to the members of Congress and the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and hear what they have to say. But the President believes it would be important, and we could help create jobs through the investment tax credit. If there are certain adjustments they want to talk about, we're certainly ready to listen, but he wants to go with the general direction he's set out.
Q: He will ask the Chairman then to continue to work towards getting the ITC?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll continue to work with the Chairman, absolutely.
Q: George, along the same lines, it's not just Rostenkowski, but also Moynihan -- two Democrats and the chairmen of the two most important committees that this is going to come through. Given that he's already seen Republican solidarity, if two prominent Democratic committee chairmen tell him this is a bad idea, might it be time to say, okay, I've heard you, I'm not going to do it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What it's time to do is to continue to listen and continue to know the exact nature of their concerns and to see if something can be worked out. And that's exactly what we're doing.
Q: As we all begin to assess the first 100 days, how concerned are you that the events of this week, Waco and the stimulus and so forth, will overshadow any accomplishments by the President so far in his tenure?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think when people take a step back and realize what the President has accomplished and has set out to accomplish in the first 100 days, they'll see that it's a very good start. He set out to reverse course from 12 years of Reaganomics and that's exactly what he's done with his budget that reduces the deficit and increases investment. He set major changes through signing the Family Medical Leave Act. He has made progress on reversing the course of our defense budgets over the last 12 years. He's also made progress on reorganizing the government and cutting back waste in government with executive orders that cut the White House staff by 25 percent, that set the direction to cut 100,000 federal workers, that lowered administrative costs by three percent. These are all big changes.
He's also going to be announcing next week the introduction of his campaign finance reform proposals and his national service proposals, the major items that he was elected to accomplish. That's exactly what he's doing, it's a good start. Obviously, we have a long way to go. We're only about 90 something days in to the administration. We're going to keep on working and we think that the American people will put everything in perspective.
Q: Are you having the press conference tomorrow to erase the negative publicity -- try to erase the negative --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Actually, the press conference --he decided to do the press conference late last week and we just weren't able to announce it before then.
Q: Well, will he have any announcements in the press conference tomorrow?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I suppose it's possible, but I don't know that there is any.
Q: And can you tell us -- you said next week campaign finance reform and national service -- do you have days?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not yet. We should have -- I hope we'll have them by tomorrow.
Q: George, is he going to leave for Jamestown Saturday morning or Friday night?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Don't know yet.
Q: Why, does he have something on tomorrow night?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, he just hasn't decided when he wants to leave.
Q: George, on China MFN, Senator Mitchell and Senator Boxer have introduced a bill that would put conditions on China MFN and the conditions would be based on their human rights abuses. What does the President think of that? Does he favor it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as you know, the President has supported the notion of giving MFN to China if they meet conditions on human rights. We haven't had a complete review of the new Mitchell-Pelosi bill yet this morning. And we'll certainly take a look at it, and we'll certainly work with the Congress as we develop our own policy on Most Favored Nation status to China. But the general approach of conditioning MFN to progress towards human rights and democracy is something the President is consistently supporting.
Q: Can I take you back to Waco for a second? Tuesday in the Rose Garden the President said there was only one minor tactical difference between the military's recommendations to the FBI in the plan. He said both the military and the FBI regarded this as minor. Can you tell us what that difference was and did it relate to the tear gas?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'd have to take the question. I'm just not sure.
Q: I just wanted to be clear on that. How much about that did the President know in advance of the event? Just to be clear, I mean, was he told that they would use some type of gas, was assured it was safe, or did they not get that much into that detail?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know they got into that much detail. I think the President answered that question on Tuesday. He said he was told they would use tear gas, and think that that was generally the nature of the discussion. If there's more, we'll let you know. But I don't know that there was any great detail on that.
Q: Was he given assurances at that time that it would not be lethal or not be harmful to these people?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I would assume -- I certainly would assume, yes. I mean, the intention, as the Attorney General has stated, was to try and increase the pressure so everybody could leave. So clearly that was all contemplated.
Q: George, back on China just for a quick second. Has the President got a position yet on what progress, if any, China has been making as far as its human rights record is concerned?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's going to review the policy now. I think that we want to continue to press, and we'll certainly have an announcement for the June 1st deadline. I think that there has been some minor progress; I don't have the specifics. But much more needs to be done. And the President will be taking into account congressional -- what Congress has found and the congressional recommendations as he develops his own policy.
Q: Do you think that minor progress so far is enough to warrant --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the President will have an announcement on MFN later.
Q: To finish that up, what or who is handling the process of examining that --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The National Security Advisor.
Q: George, if you could just refresh my memory, on the national service proposals he's going to make next week -- I remember he gave that whole big speech at Rutgers on national service --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He'll be introducing the legislation.
Q: But specifically, the only thing he's going to do is introduce specific legislation, but the plan is the plan he outlined at Rutgers?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He had the general approach at Rutgers, and this is going to be the actual introduction of the legislation.
Q: Did he talk to some leaders today, Democrat leaders?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think he had any conversations this morning. Not yet, no.
Q: George, is the administration increasing the pressure on the Haitian government individually? Was it still letting --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're clearly still working through --
Q: Are you increasing the pressure?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We are putting the full force of our support behind Mr. Caputo and hoping that that will work with the Haitians. We also, as you know, have our special representatives in Haiti, as well as they've gone back and forth. And we're going to continue to do everything we can to get an agreement.
Q: George, do you know what day the tax bill will be sent up and whether it will be made available here as well as anyplace else?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have the date, but we'll try and give it as wide availability as we can.
Q: Will you make the text of it available?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q: George, are these announcements next week going to be made here in town, or do you look for them to go on the road, especially on the national service?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's possible to go on the road. We don't have the final plans yet.
Q: If I can go back to the ITC again, George. You've been saying he's learned lessons from this battle. Would one of those lessons be that when the Democratic leaders tell you your proposal is in trouble, you ought to rethink it? I'm just puzzled that, in the wake of what happened, that he would -- that you'd be saying, well, we're going to still try and push it through.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think what I said is that we would talk to them about their concerns. And we intend to continue to talk to them about their concerns, and we certainly will take that into account as we're trying to get the President's program through. But he does believe that this is an important proposal and it's a proposal that can create jobs. Obviously, there are some concerns on the part of Chairman Rostenkowski and we're going to talk to him about that.
Q: Is one possible scenario putting these things -- or submitting them to Congress one by one, stand alone in making each pitch individually -- say, summer jobs first?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I guess that's a possible scenario. We just haven't worked out the exact approach yet. That is one possibility. But we're going to look at a lot of different options.
Q: Are you considering working with Congress to raise the spending caps in the reconciliation bill so that some of the spending could be done in '94 and '95? The stimulus spending.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to have to look at all of that as the reconciliation process starts. But I just don't want to prejudge that at this time and say it's something we're going to do.
Q: George, is the administration thinking of naming a new ambassador to Mexico? The Washington Post is reporting this morning that there's consideration of leaving Ambassador Negroponte in place until Congress votes on the Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I can't comment every day on those reports, but the President will be reviewing all the ambassadorial appointments, and when he has an announcement we'll let you know.
Q: The status of the Bosnia policy review at this point?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The review continues. We're going to continue to consult with our allies as well as an internal review. The President has nothing to announce yet today. When we do, we'll tell you.
Q: Do you think you will on the 26th?
Q: Any indication of when the end period of that would be?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I just don't have a hard timetable, no.
Q: George, was there some flap yesterday at Arlington Cemetery that somehow annoyed the Bulgarians? Do you know anything about that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, I heard something about it, but my information is that it was worked out, and I believe the Bulgarians participated in the event today.
Q: George, what is the status of the enterprise zones and the community development banks proposal?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They're being worked on by the National Economic Council and Domestic Policy Council of the President. I believe that they are very close to submitting recommendations, and I think we'll have announcements relatively soon. I just don't have a date.
Q: Would you think maybe next week?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I doubt next week.
Q: Has he met with Janet Reno?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He hasn't met, but he's talked with her. He hasn't had a face-to-face meeting.
Q: Any prediscussions before her appearance on the Hill today?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q: George, do you have a topic on the speech Sunday in Boston?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not yet. We'll probably let you know tomorrow.
Q: George, what reaction, if any, does the President have to Elie Wiesel's personal comment to him that we must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country when he's talking about Bosnia and tying it in with this whole --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know the specific reactions to the comment, but I know that the President believes we must do something to stop the aggression and stop the bloodshed in Bosnia. That's what his policy is designed to do. That's what he's been working on for several months with the imposition of the no-fly zone, with the continued work on U.N. sanctions and with the review he's going under right now. That is clearly the President's goal.
Q: Did he talk to him to try to explain that to him afterwards?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if they had a meeting. I don't know even if the President's back yet, although I guess he's back.
Q? Will the tailhook study be released tomorrow?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Excuse me?
Q: The tailhook review, will that be released tomorrow?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You'd have to go to the Pentagon. I believe they are awful close and it could be tomorrow but I don't have a final word.
Q: They said this morning it might be tomorrow.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Have to double-check.
Q: Has the President ever looked into that personally? I mean, has he had any briefings on the tailhook investigation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's had general conversations with Secretary Aspin from time to time. I don't know how detailed they've gotten but we're looking forward to seeing the report.
Q: Are they still having the health care reform plan by mid-May despite all the obstacles?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think so.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:07 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/269311