Bill Clinton photo

Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

March 26, 1996

The Briefing Room

1:19 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Hello, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Why are you all here? Not news that you're seeking, I assume.

Q: Questions?

Q: Thank you.

MR. MCCURRY: No, because I have two things that I do want to tell you. One of them is actually a fairly important piece of news. The United States military is about to get its first female Three Star. The President is delighted to announce that he is nominating Major General Carol A. Mutter, United States Marine Corps, for appointment to the grade of Lt. General. Her assignment will be Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

She's got a very impressive 28-year record in the commissioned service; has impressive leadership and extensive experience in managing policy and planning for Marine Corps manpower. Manpower seems a particularly inappropriate word -- personpower, under the circumstances. But the Pentagon will be doing more about this nomination over there this afternoon. I call that to your attention. We'll have a statement from the President -- actually, from me -- to that effect.

Next, I wanted to walk through a little bit since tomorrow the President will give what I describe as a major speech that provides a report card on the efforts of America's schools, teachers, parents, and students to meet the high quality standards that we will need if we're going to effectively compete in this increasingly competitive global economy in the 21st century. It's a process of reform and revitalization of public education that has gone on for a long time in this country. It was assisted noticeably and importantly in 1989, when the President, as then cochair of the National Governors Association Task Force on Education, participated in President Bush's Education Summit in Charlottesville.

Tomorrow, with the added and important new element of support from the private sector -- and specifically, those CEOs that have been brought together by IBM chief executive officer Lou Gerstner, an important contribution by the private sector to these discussions -- the nation's governors, with the assistance of the President will address that subject tomorrow in New York.

The President will challenge the education community and Americans about specific things we can do together to improve education and schools for the 21st century. He'll specifically talk about standards. He'll address how we can improve standards for students, teachers and for schools. He'll have some specific ideas, and I hope some newsworthy ideas on how we might precisely do that.

He will then also continue a theme that he has stressed often this past year, going back to the State of the Union address: the importance of bringing technology into the classroom and how technology enhances the environment for learning that many of our students see today. He'll link those directly to the kinds of skills, the kinds of backgrounds we need to have a very competitive work force, highly educated, and we hope a higher wage earning work force in the 21st century.

That's tomorrow. I think the schedule -- you all know we leave fairly early in the morning. I'm going to try to provide the Secretary of Education to those of you who are on the pool so you get a little bit of a preview. Secretary Riley is up in New York today, so he'll have the benefit of some of the preliminary discussions by the governors.

Q: Are you going on that trip?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. And Mr. Panetta will be as well.

Q: What kind of grade would you give the earlier education summit, or at least the results of it?

MR. MCCURRY: I think there's no question that the applicability of standards, how you develop them and then how you apply them locally and how you structure those standards is something that needs further discussion. So on that area I think the grade is incomplete. And so many things -- so many other efforts launched by the governors -- there have been a great deal of success in issues related to curricula, to standards, to teacher performance. A lot of things have positively changed the environment for education in America's classrooms. But there's a lot more work that needs to be done, and that's exactly why the President hopes that this conference will bring a boost of momentum and enthusiasm to the effort to address the need to improve American schools.

Q: Does he have a specific remedy for the problem of trying to get localities to accept standards that may be set nationally?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he'll talk about that and talk about the fact that standard-setting is really something that has to involve everybody. It starts at the personal level with parents who take responsibility. It includes what we can do to ask more and demand more of teachers in schools at the local level. But it also can be informed by the expert evaluation that is done at the national level. The President will link all those together and say that what we have to do is demand better performance and have some criteria for better performance and not automatically assume that you just keep moving through the system without demonstrating some proficiency and competency.

Q: Mike, one of the complaints that some of the business participants have is that over the past seven years since the Charlottesville meeting, students graduating from college and other higher education have not been properly prepared for the business world. Is the President going to have any ideas along those lines? And why does he think that that area has not improved in the seven years?

MR. MCCURRY: The President is certainly aware of that. We can't continue to move forward and improve our economy if we have a work force that lacks the basic educational skills necessary to succeed; specifically, the ability to think clearly, to write clearly and to articulate opinions. And increasingly, the technological proficiency needed to succeed in the workplace is something of great concern, too. So all of those things the President will address, but that specific concern, you'll hear the President have a specific idea about it tomorrow.

Q: Mike, is the President going to modify in any way his insistence that there be national standards, or how they should --

MR. MCCURRY: He will address that subject and the question of standards, as I indicated.

Q: Well, the main vehicle that the President has used in his administration to advance the objectives has been Goals 2000, and Republicans on the Hill for the last year or so have been hammering this and have tried to kill it. Also, Governor Wilson and his administration in California, I believe have refused to accept Goals 2000 money. Is the President tomorrow going to try and build some support for Goals 2000, and if Governor Wilson is there, is he going to try and change his mind?

MR. MCCURRY: He'll certainly talk about Goals 2000. He'll talk about the way in which that is the way at the local level and empowering states to innovate that we do address the question of performance and standards in a way that really does take things to a local level where people can do that process of evaluation that's critical. So he will address it. I don't think he's going to get into a mud-wrestling contest with Governor Wilson, but he is going to certainly engage those Republican governors who believe that the federal government ought to cut its responsibilities and ought not to invest.

This constant theme of the President's in our dialogue with this Congress is that we have to make these necessary investments in education if we're going to reap the dividend and the benefit in the 21st century of a better-educated work force. There's no question about that. That gets established in studies, and the question is, do we have the commitment and the willingness to put that kind of effort into innovation at the local level.

Q: If I can just follow up on Goals 2000. Is the money for that also one of the hangups in the '96 appropriations discussion?

MR. MCCURRY: It's been one of the areas that's been back and forth in the discussions, yes.

Q: And the President wants the money if he's going to sign the bill?

MR. MCCURRY: We've got a budget request. We understand what the reality is of getting the full budget request, but we want to see that commitment to education and to the future of America's students.

Q: Does the President have an opinion on whether the school year should be expanded so that it's more comparable with those in Europe and Asia?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen anything that would indicate that's a subject he intends to address tomorrow.

Q: Where do we stand on the budget now? And, I missed part of the morning, but would the President go for a three-week extension CR? I mean, where actually do we stand?

MR. MCCURRY: We keep working with this Congress, hoping that we will do something other than a hodge-podge of ad hoc measures. We would like to see resolution of these funding questions for the current fiscal year. We're now well into this fiscal year and, frankly, this Congress hasn't done too well in providing any certainty of financing for those agencies that are no longer -- do not yet have their regular appropriations bills.

Our goal is to try to work through those issues and see if we can resolve them. Only under very extreme circumstances would we have to drop back and take some type of extender. But Mr. Panetta is on the Hill now; he's having discussions with Democrats -- Democratic House Caucus, and then he'll be talking to others during the course of the next couple of days.

Q: Mike, we've got sort of a standoff in Jordan, Montana, with a heavily-armed group. I gather there's some forbearance for quite some time by federal officials out there. Now, two arrests. In view of the history, is the White House being kept up to date and has the President expressed any interest or given any orders as to how this matter should be handled?

MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is the White House has been in contact with the Justice Department, is following that and we are monitoring that. I don't know for a fact whether or not the President has been updated on that, but that normally would occur by Mr. Panetta.

Q: Do you have an update as of --

MR. MCCURRY: I do not have anything further. I understand that they've been providing regular updates both locally through Justice Department personnel and it's also been addressed here at the Justice Department.

Q: Any policy direction been given or practice direction been given from the White House on this matter?

MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check, Brit. I don't know the answer to that.

Q: Would you?

MR. MCCURRY: I will, yes.

Q: Has the President heard from Mayor Daley on the possibility of shortening the Democratic National Convention? What does the President think of that?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has not talked to either Mayor Daley or Bill Daley about it directly. I think there have been some here at the White House that have had discussions with them. This is an idea, by the way, that has percolated in our party for a long time. I think a lot of people recognize that the traditional format of the convention is one that needs evaluation, particularly at a time when there are so many different ways in which Americans can encounter news about major political events.

Now, that said, this White House does believe that the national political party conventions are about the only time in the life of our country now where the American people have a real, close association with the work of the party as an institution. Given the importance of political parties in our political life, the President believes that that's a moment that we ought to not only celebrate the achievements of individual parties and articulate the programs and platforms of those parties. But we also ought to try to encourage Americans to pay closer attention to how those institutions function in our political culture.

Now, at the same time, we understand why the Mayor and city officials would be concerned about whether or not the traditional format of the convention would sustain enthusiasm and excitement. I don't think it's any surprise what's going to happen in Chicago. I think we all know who's going to get nominated in Chicago, and four days doesn't make for much suspense, of course. But we'll work on it.

Q: So the President is open to the question, or --

MR. MCCURRY: We'll work with the party and come up with a convention format and convention program schedule that both meets the needs of the Democratic Party and, hopefully, meets the needs of the standard bearer for that party in the coming election.

Q: When do you think you would know that?

MR. MCCURRY: You should really direct those questions to the Democratic National Committee, because they'll be responsible, working with the convention staff.

Q: Is the President seriously considering a three-day convention?

MR. MCCURRY: I am not aware that there's a serious discussion of that involving the President, but the DNC can tell you more about the convention program.

Q: Who were Chris and Charlene Barshevsky meeting with about China over here today, and were any decisions made?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again.

Q: Christopher and Barshefsky were here to meet on China with somebody today. Were any decisions made on that subject?

MR. MCCURRY: Not to my -- I'm not aware of any meeting between Secretary Christopher and Ms. Barshefsky here at the White House today. There will be discussions ongoing over the next several days about China, and those -- I don't expect any announcements or pronouncements today on that subject.

Q: Has the President videotaped yet his responses for the court --

MR. MCCURRY: No. There's been a discussion about when that might occur, and there is some discussion of dates underway.

Q: Why is Christopher here if he's not --

MR. MCCURRY: He's not here right now, to my knowledge.

Q: Well, has he been here this morning?

MR. MCCURRY: He will be coming over later this afternoon, I think, for a discussion with the President's foreign policy advisors on China. And as I indicated, there will be subsequent conversations this week. But I don't know of any conversation with Ms. Barshefsky, which is what I was asked.

Q: Is she taking part in the meeting this afternoon?

MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea.

Q: But there is a meeting --

MR. MCCURRY: There is a discussion with the President's foreign policy advisors later this afternoon about China, and there will be a series of discussions as we evaluate the transaction involving China and Pakistan that we've been talking about a lot here over the past weeks. But I don't expect any conclusions or determinations to be announced as a result of that discussion today, and I expect before that gets close to resolution, the President will be involved in that discussion.

Q: Mike, I realize tomorrow he's traveling up to New York as the President. But I wanted to ask you how important the President views his education initiatives in his reelection campaign?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, look, how often have you heard me here talk about the importance of budget priorities and federal priorities that address the need to invest in the future of our economy. That is central when you talk about the subject of education.

Our principal dispute with this Congress has been not only of, in the President's views, failing to meet the commitment that we have to our nation's elderly, but they are not making sufficient investments in the future of our economy, neither in the protection of the natural resources in the environment that's critical for America to flourish.

So it has been a central objective of this President to make sure that we both make the commitment of resources necessary to see education flourish in this country, but we also improve the quality of education in America. And the President has been across this country, whether it's advocating disciplinary changes that will allow kids to maybe have an environment that includes some discipline like school uniforms, or whether it's talking about what we can do with teachers to improve the quality of life, or whether we talk about trying to get gangs out of school settings --

Q: What are the CEOs talking about? I mean, what is their complaint -- I mean, what is their --

MR. MCCURRY: They're -- look, they are looking at the needs they will have in the 21st century economy for a highly-skilled, highly-educated work force. And they're very concerned that the public schools in this country are not producing that type of student.

Q: This is in training for computers, that type of thing, but not in --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, for just the basic literacy skills in some cases necessary for success on the job. And that has to be a very high priority, and the President tomorrow will talk about how fundamentally important that is not only for the life of the kids, but for the life of our nation as we think about the needs of our economy in the next century.

Q: We're talking about two different things when you talk about, first, investments and then all those things that you ticked off there were more bully pulpit items.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there is a combination of challenges to what people can do. I mean, not everything involves spending money. The President will suggest tomorrow that it be a good idea for parents to take the time to turn off the TV and read a book to kids and that we all have a part to play in this. It doesn't involve -- not everything about the solution involves a new federal program.

Q: Can you tell us why the President thinks the nation's pension plans, retirement plans need some reforming?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, what we need, what we've already done, what this President has already done is acted to protect the pension network that preserves the retirement income security of Americans when they leave the work place.

We've already, as you recall, taken significant steps to make sure that when an employee has been promised a pension that the funding is there by the employer to make good on that promise. We've also done things to make it easier for employers to restitute funds that they should be paying into pension funds for their workers, for example, 401K programs in which employers ought to be restituting funds back into these funds. The Labor Department has declared a couple of moratoria so that employers can make good on those promises.

But there's a larger issue here, too, which is if you work at a medium- or large-sized employer in this society, it's most likely that you've got coverage under a pension or welfare benefit program. Increasingly, if you work for a small employer -- and that's where the job-generating sector of the economy has been humming along nicely -- it's less likely that you're going to have that type of pension coverage.

So we are looking at ways in which you can expand pension protections for people who work for smaller-size employers and small businesses. One way you can do that is to encourage the formation of these programs like 401K that provide a defined contribution for employees when they retire and which retain some aspects of portability when you move from job to job. So we're looking at ways we can expand pension coverage and protect that pension coverage that already does exist.

Q: Is the President planning on submitting legislation?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has already done some things that I just described that enhance those protections, and we are looking at ways to simplify the ability of small employers to provide that type of pension coverage. The Secretary of Labor has been talking about that, and I think plans to talk about that in the future as well.

Q: In the area of Social Security, a presidential advisory group yesterday recommended investing part of Social Security in the private system. What is the White House view on that, given the argument --

MR. MCCURRY: That arises from some recommendations from the Advisory Council on Social Security. The ideas were discussed in testimony on the Hill yesterday, and there was maybe a somewhat surprising degree of interest in the idea. The White House will examine that testimony carefully. I don't believe that we have commented yet on aspects of the Advisory Council report itself, but I would suggest that it is addressing a long-term problem, and people have to understand that in the short-term, Social Security is more than adequately funded, that funds themselves are in surplus, and we're talking about a problem that is an out-year problem in the first quarter of the next century.

But there are ideas that are beginning to percolate, and we certainly will study those ideas with interest.

Q: Well, a month ago, you specifically rejected the work of this Social Security Council.

MR. MCCURRY: I said that we were not interested in plans to privatize Social Security. The discussion of what portion of funds ought to be invested in private instruments as a separate question, and we will study that idea. The question I got several months ago was about privatizing Social Security.

Q: The minimum wage bill is back up on the Senate floor. Is the White House making any concerted effort to see --

MR. MCCURRY: We are. We've had extensive contacts with senators. The increase in the minimum wage is a very high priority with this President, and we are continuing their encouraged support for that increase in the Senate.

Q: Mike, there's a report out today on the progress on the motor voter law that is -- about how many millions of Americans have been added to the voter registration rolls. Does the administration see this as a done deal now that it ought to silence the critics, or is it still uphill in some states to convince state officials to go along?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to ask people who have studied that report. I think as a general proposition, you know that this President strongly supported the motor voter legislation because we believed it would ease the transition into participation in our political process by those who had previously, for whatever reason, not participated or had been excluded. We are satisfied that there has been an increase in a lot of states that have implemented these laws. Voter registration has now become as simple as or as easy as getting a driver's license; in fact, easier than that in many states, and it has had a noticeable increase in the registration rolls.

We, frankly, would like to also see increasing rates of participation. It's not only important to register to vote, it's important to actually go out and pull the lever, too, and there would be a lot of effort this year, I think, to encourage voter participation in a nonpartisan sense, encouraging all those who are registered to vote.

Q: Mike, the late-term abortion measure is apparently headed for final action in the House tomorrow, with wording, from what I understand added in the Senate about cases involving saving the life of the mother. Does that at all affect the President's stand?

MR. MCCURRY: The President's views are still those that he set forth in his letter on that subject.

Q: Do you have anything -- can give us an update on what the President is doing today on his day off? And is he going to play golf, or not?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. He has apparently got a bag full of books and some office work that he was taking over to the residence with him so I think he was, shall we say, "hanging" over in the residence today. I don't know what his plans are.

Q: Isn't he taking a lot of time off?

Q: Do you have any information about --

MR. MCCURRY: No, we've been working a lot of weekends when some of you weren't here.

Q: Do you have any information about what the President might do around Muskie's funeral?

MR. MCCURRY: No, we have not heard any further word from the family on arrangements.

Q: Mike, back to the education question just a second. You described it as a central objective of the administration. Is it also the central issue of this campaign, vis-a-vis, Bob Dole?

MR. MCCURRY: No. The future of America and how we best involve private citizens and challenge them working with government to address problems in our community is a broad-based area of discussion in which there are two competing visions of change. It involves not only views on the education, but also how differently we would manage an economic strategy for our future. It involves a range of differences in philosophy between the two parties and between the two likely candidates.

But it is an important area of difference because, frankly, there are some differences in how this problem gets approached. And this President has got what is almost a career-long avid interest in the question of how we can make schools perform better, dating back even before his service as governor. And that's something that I think he will intend to talk about a lot because it's a source of real concern to the American people.

Q: Mike, in planning the Chicago convention, is some consideration being given to a repeat of the Clinton-Gore bus tour at the end of it?

MR. MCCURRY: That's -- we are weeks, months away from that.

Q: Do you have anything, any comments on the Federal Reserve Board action or inaction today?


Q: Mike, how do you see the state of play, with this meeting happening here on China, between China and Taiwan right now? Has there been a rapprochement, or could things still heat up and --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the meeting today doesn't directly involve some of the tensions we've seen in the Straits. It's related to a different issue, which is under Section 825 of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Prevention Act. There are certain issues that arise related to a transaction that has caused us concern, and that we've had an active dialogue with the People's Republic about, indeed with the government of Pakistan about. That's a separate issue.

In general, our assessment of the tensions between China remains the same that I stated yesterday, that we are encouraged by the diminution of rhetorical excess in the discussion of that issue and encouraged by offers from both sides that they have a peaceful dialogue aimed at resolving their differences.

Q: Mike, will Mr. Einhorn attend this meeting this afternoon?

MR. MCCURRY: He is not, to my knowledge, attending the meeting this afternoon, but he has prepared a good summary of his discussions that are available to the participants.

Q: Could you give us a list of who is attending the meeting?

MR. MCCURRY: It's the national policy advisors, senior advisors to the President, the ones who normally meet on such occasions.

Q: Has the administration actually made a determination on whether there was a nonproliferation violation?

MR. MCCURRY: No, that's -- as I indicated, that would be a key subject of discussion. It's been what we have been evaluating and I don't expect any announcement related to that subject today.

Q: Will the administration send anyone to Taiwan for the inauguration of President Li?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check and see, but we have got a policy related to our unofficial relations with Taiwan that is very specific on the nature of context between officials of our government and representatives of the Taiwanese authorities, and there's nothing that would indicate that level of representation.

Q: Is the President not participating in this foreign policy review?

MR. MCCURRY: This is a discussion by the President's foreign policy advisors, and they'll have some discussions and some evaluation of information in coming days and present some recommendations and options to the President at some future date.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:45 P.M. EST

William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Mike McCurry Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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