Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
2:14 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. And I apologize profusely at the outset for my tardiness. I wish I had an excuse like the dog ate my homework, but --
Q: What was the excuse?
Q: Maybe you'll have some answers. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I'm a slow learner, and I was trying to assemble all the facts, so I could --
Q: What did you know and when did you know it?
MR. MCCURRY: Let me do a couple things. First, a personnel announcement that we already posted in the Al Kamen bulletin board. But you probably know the President has named John L. Hilley, who is currently the chief counsel to Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, as Assistant to the President and Director of Legislative Affairs, replacing the honorable and impressive Pat Griffin.
That new appointment will take effect February 1st when Pat departs his current assignment. We've got a statement with some appropriate biographical information and very strong words of praise for Mr. Hilley accompanying the very nice sentiments we expressed yesterday on behalf of Pat Griffin, who we'll be sad to see go, just as we are happy to see Mr. Hilley arrive. He's no stranger here since he's been suffering through the budget negotiations with everybody else. And you've seen him here in the Briefing Room from time to time as well.
How about the President's foreign policy meeting -- any interest?
MR. MCCURRY: Talked about Bosnia, the Middle East and the United Nations.
Q: Mike, did he talk about Japan?
MR. MCCURRY: No. We do have a statement on Prime Minister Murayama's decision. I shared some of that with you earlier, but I can do that in a minute.
Let me just -- I actually would like to do a little bit of a review of this. From time to time the President and his senior foreign policy advisors get together and they take a long-range view of issues that they are managing daily. But sometimes it's useful to step back and take a broader look at where things are. They did that today on the subject of Bosnia because General Shalikashvili was present and had just returned from his trip to the theater to watch our deployment there.
He gave a very impressive report on the progress that U.S. forces are making as part of the international force now in Bosnia. He also reported to the President that compliance with terms of the Dayton accords has been very encouraging to date. And he also reported on the morale and the spirit and the performance of our troops there, and obviously, it's been splendid.
Secretary Christopher, who had just been down at the Wye Plantation yesterday, gave a review of the current status of the Syrian-Israeli talks, reflected on what he sees as the commitment of both parties to address the very difficult issues that are embedded in their dialogue, and he reviewed what he thinks the effort is that they are undertaking to bridge some of those differences in their discussions. And lastly, this is what I'd like to take a little more time on -- Ambassador Albright talked a little bit about the United Nations and United Nations funding. You will recall that the President, when he has spoken at the General Assembly, has made the point that administrative reform at the United Nations is one of our country's highest foreign policy priorities. And Ambassador Albright gave an encouraging report on some of the steps that are being taken at the U.N. to reform their internal management procedures and also simultaneously to reduce the costs of U.N. operations to both U.S. taxpayers and to people around the world.
This coming year, the biennial two-year budget of the United Nations for the first time in history will not have any growth. We were successful in reducing by some $200 million the size of the proposed budget for the United Nations from $2.8 billion down to $2.6 billion, and they've undertaken a series of other administrative reforms that the United Nations have adopted and strengthened a new U.N. Office of Internal Oversight. They've extended the Inspector General concept, which works effectively in our government to protect taxpayers to reduce waste. They've now adopted that and incorporated that within the United Nations.
They're also doing things like paperwork reduction; a moratorium on scheduling global summits; a 10-percent reduction in headquarter staff -- reducing the U.N.'s public affairs office -- flacks out of work. (Laughter.) A freeze on salaries, and also eliminating overlapping functions. They also have been reviewing U.N. peacekeeping functions consistent with a lot of the review that we've done within our government, with an eye towards reducing expenditures.
And the moral of this story, Helen, is that we've been able to achieve these reforms and use our own considerable influence at the United Nations, both to get them to reform, and, I might add, to gain support in the United Nations for U.S. foreign policy positions. One thing that was reported today is that the percentage of votes in the General Assembly in which other countries joined the U.S. position is now about 50 percent -- the highest level it's been since the 1970s.
So at a time -- as many will recall, at a time when the General Assembly used to routinely take positions that were contrary to U.S. foreign policy interests, they have now increasingly shared the perspective of the United States and the world.
Q: -- think that has anything to do with the Cold War?
MR. MCCURRY: Our leverage -- I think it's got a lot to do with the --
Our leverage depends in part on the timely payment of our bills. And we owe, by various ways of accounting, close to a billion dollars to the United Nations now because we have not been paying our bills --
Q: Why not?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, in some cases we have dispute with them, in other cases because the funding has not been appropriated. And this Congress -- or this administration is now working with Congress. We've had very productive conversations in the House of Representatives. We look forward to productive conversations in the Senate that perhaps could address the significant problem of arrears and demonstrate to the Congress that we are bringing fiscal prudence and discipline into the management of U.N. affairs so that they will feel more comfortable about paying the bills that we owe and that we've committed to pay.
Q: How much in arrears do we agree that --
MR. MCCURRY: It's in the neighborhood of $750 billion --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, $750 million. That's the amount for peacekeeping operations, which is the most significant arrearage, and then there's approximately another $200 million, $250 million in accumulated debt for other regular U.N. activities.
And I think of that, we have been looking to try to get some agreement to erase up to three-quarters of that. But if you're interested in any of that, you might want to contact further Ambassador Albright's staff up in New York. But I think it's an important issue, and I just wanted to draw it to your attention.
And with that.
Q: Can you give us a sense of how the White House will receive the two measures that seem -- certain to pass the House today and likely the Senate? I take it that the first will be acceptable, if not all you want. What about the second?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, this whole unfortunate episode in which this shutdown of our government was used as a negotiating tactic didn't work very well for the House Republicans. And the President, I believe it's safe to say, is gratified that they're at least removing that threat from the current discussions about a balanced budget. They will see today at 3:30 p.m. when they convene here that the President is just as engaged and just as thoroughly committed to the goal of a balanced budget as he was prior to any decision they take today to end the government shutdown.
So in a sense, the whole rationale that the House Republicans used for the shutdown in the first place will evaporate today at 3:30 p.m. when the President conducts good-faith negotiations to get this agreement, which is what they felt he would not do so absent a government shutdown.
Q: You're not saying he's going to lay down a seven-year CBO-scored plan, are you? MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll get to that in a second. I want to answer your first question first. There are two
continuing resolutions pending. The first, as you know, would bring federal workers back, would give them the pay they're entitled to, and also give them the pay for the period of work that they missed, and also restore some services of government, but certainly not all those that are vital to the American people. The President believes that is a modest step in the right direction, but he will continue to work vigorously to restore all the necessary services of government to the American people.
The second resolution is one in which would come into effect after the January 26th expiration date of the first continuing resolution. That's a complicated piece of legislation which would require expenditure of funds by the Executive Branch only after a ruling by a Legislative Branch body, the CBO, when certain conditions have been met. And I think there might arise because of that arrangement certain constitutional issues. In any event, we don't believe the second resolution will be necessary because the President, committed as he is to the current negotiations, believes that we can achieve the goal of a balanced budget agreement prior to the January 26th expiration date of the first resolution in question.
And now there we go from here.
Q: Would he or would he not sign that -- the second? Are you saying it's going to be vetoed for either constitutional or timing reasons?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, let's wait and see. On the second one, I believe it's fair to say we need to see whether there's action sufficient in the Congress to send that measure to the President. The first, which is urgent and is necessary and at least does something for the federal workers who are currently out of work, we hope will be on the President's desk shortly, and we can sign that and get federal workers back to work.
Q: Are they definitely coming at 3:30 p.m. and who is coming?
MR. MCCURRY: The same old gang, I think.
Q: You didn't answer the second part of Brit's question --
MR. MCCURRY: The President and the Vice President will meet with the Speaker, the Majority Leader, the two Minority Leaders and Mr. Armey.
Q: Is the President going to table a seven-year balanced budget --
MR. MCCURRY: The President has, in these discussions, all the elements necessary to achieve the goal of a seven-year balanced budget scored by the CBO have been present, and the President himself has advocated the combination of measures necessary to get this work done. So the elements are there. They are on the table. They are being discussed. And we'll see how the discussions go today.
Q: Can I just follow that up? Are you saying that in the course of these discussions the positions the President has taken or urged, taken together, would add up to a seven-year CBO-scored, balanced budget plan?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it's correct to say that the President, as they have engaged in discussions with the Republican leadership, have discussed a combination and a variety of combinations of elements that would meet the test of a seven-year goal balance.
Q: No, but has he said he's for such elements?
MR. MCCURRY: He has indicated in the negotiations where we could work to achieve that agreement.
Q: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I don't mean to be a hair-splitter about that, but --
MR. MCCURRY: And I'm not -- your question is, has he advanced a proposal that does that. I'm not suggesting that. I'm saying that the elements that have been under discussion so far, the elements that have been under discussion so far could reach that goal.
Q: Mike, after all this time and listening to the members yesterday, they seem to be asking for something that's fairly simple. They say, look, we don't understand -- the President signed this last CR; he said that he would be in favor or help to work for a budget that certainly had his priorities in it, also was in line with the CBO priorities; and they're saying we want him to produce the goods.
And I think if you're sitting home or you're sitting in the White House press room, you have a hard time figuring out what is this absolute reluctance to produce a budget that seems like something that would really be able to get the -- things back on track.
MR. MCCURRY: Let me help you then, because there is no reluctance. The President agreed to work with the Congress to come up with a balanced budget plan that would meet the goal of a balanced budget within seven years as scored by the CBO, provided it address the priorities he considers important. The President's been working very hard on that. He remains fully committed to that goal.
Q: -- how specifically he would do that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, of course he does, and that's what he's been saying.
Q: Well, he hasn't -- you've just acknowledged that he hasn't done that.
MR. MCCURRY: That's what he's been saying specifically to those that he's negotiating with in private in the Oval Office.
Q: But Mike, haven't you just acknowledged that he has yet to set forth or advocate a set of measures which, taken together, would accomplish that goal?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I've hinted at exactly the opposite, as a matter of fact.
Q: I'm sorry, you lost us.
Q: Maybe if we, who have to explain -- if we who have to explain this to the people had something that we could --
Q: -- a little bit more --
Q: -- we could see to show --
MR. MCCURRY: This is a negotiation, okay? Both sides have got ideas of how you would reach this goal of a balanced budget, different ideas on how you could develop policies that would be consistent with the expenditures that go into that negotiation.
What I'm suggesting to you is they have had these discussions; present in these discussions have been elements that would be satisfactory in reaching the goal that is under discussion. And the President has advocated various combinations of measures that would reach that goal.
Q: -- taken together what he has urged --
Q: Is there any document you could show us?
MR. MCCURRY: They can't -- they're not -- I'm not suggesting they've been accepted by the Republican leadership, but I'm suggesting to you that they've got the work underway to meet the test that the Republicans in the House are concerned about. And they will do more work towards that end this afternoon.
Q: Is there any document or something that you could show us where we could say, look, people, this is the President's plan, this is how he would get here?
MR. MCCURRY: Rita, I think you know, and for your viewers I will explain, too -- the negotiators who are doing this very hard work are doing it in private. They're doing it in the Oval Office. They're working hard at it. And they're working through numbers, calculations and policies that would reach the goal of a balanced budget. They've agreed themselves -- the Speaker, the Majority Leader, the President, the Vice President -- that they won't do these negotiations in public because, frankly, they didn't make a lot of progress when we were out here shooting press releases at each other every day. So I can't produce for you a public document because, as you know, they have agreed they're not sharing the substance of this dialogue publicly.
Q: Could I just follow up and then I'll stop, because we're not talking about the negotiation because we know that he is going to start at one place and they're at another place and they will eventually come together. We're simply saying, okay, the President says this can be done; what's his opening as we know what their opening is on this?
MR. MCCURRY: Obviously, if I can't share with you the substance of their dialogue. I can't tell you what their opening positions were or how they're beginning to close the differences, or how you look at the different items that go in the package. I can just tell you that it's a demonstration of their commitment to getting the work done that they're actually working towards that end.
Q: Are you not still arguing with CBO that OMB numbers should be used in the effect on Medicare and some of the other issues, rather than the CBO numbers? Isn't that been part of the argument, particularly on Medicare?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, no, I mean, the argument's a little different than that. We've suggested that the OMB provides a more accurate barometer or forecast as to what the performance of the economy will be, and we continue to believe that. But as you know, for the purpose of these discussions, they're working off of CBO scoring, because that's the agreement that was reached.
Q: Are you saying that your side is working off CBO scoring on Medicare?
MR. MCCURRY: Our side is working off CBO scoring for all the elements that are under discussion. There was a dispute as to how much savings are generated by the President's policy proposals when it comes to the subject of Medicare. There's a disagreement there. We believe, and we believe we can get the CBO to agree, that the number is closer to the $124-billion figure that is contained in the President's proposal, they scored at $97 billion. But that is a dispute among economists about the rate of health care cost inflation as I understand it. I'm not a specialist in that.
Q: No, it's you say their CBO numbers on the rate of inflation and medical growth are wrong and yours are right, and this is the same excuse you've been having for months.
MR. MCCURRY: There's no quibbling here that in order to get to the goal of an agreement scored by CBO, we would have to accept the lower number as part of that agreement unless we could get them to agree that there was an adjustment that was warranted in the calculation of the savings proposed by the President for Medicare.
Q: The questions arise, Mike, because the House Republicans, particularly the freshmen, believe that in the November CR, the President promised to present a budget seven years scored by CBO.
Q: He didn't.
Q: Are you saying that the President did not make that promise?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not in the CR. It's just not the language of the CR -- at all. Everyone here -- everyone's shaking their heads --
Q: Where did they get that impression that there should be a plan?
MR. MCCURRY: They want one from the President, I believe, so that they can go out and attack it because it's not as good as theirs. And I don't see how that's going to get us any further along in this progress.
Q: It would get the government, though, wouldn't it?
Q: And so your answer?
MR. MCCURRY: We got the government open without having to do that. And the President --
Q: But that means you would not --
MR. MCCURRY: We hope it will be at least partially -- you know, mostly reopened by today.
Q: Along that line, the House Republicans have made it clear that their next move from now through January 26th and presumably then after January 26th, is to pass piecemeal appropriations bills -- fund the FBI, fund Head Start, fund this, pick and choose programs, pass appropriations bills. Many of them the President would agree to because they are similar if not the same as some of his funding levels. In your view is this a strategy for essentially ending without a broader budget deal?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that that strategy will be necessary because I think the President remains confident that if parties continue to negotiate in good faith, we can meet that goal of getting the balanced budget agreement in had prior to January 26th.
In any event, though, to comment on the question, Congress is now in a situation where they failed to do what they must do by the Constitution, which is to send -- to appropriate the money. Now, the President has a constitutional right to veto appropriations bills, and he has, and those vetoes have been sustained by the Congress. So what happens now is the ball is in Congress's court. They have got a constitutional obligation to produce appropriations bills. And I'm not going to predict where we will be down the road, but we would prefer to be, and believe we will be in a situation in which we have a balanced budget agreement that's --
Q: Are you saying the Constitution requires that the Congress produce another bill if the President vetoes one?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I'm just saying that --
Q: Then what are you talking --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that the power of the purse resides with Congress and the Constitution, and we can veto bills. And we have vetoed bills, and those vetoes have stood up. So, in a sense, Congress has got to do something now.
Q: Mike, I know you're reluctant to go into specifics, but going into today's session, have any of the tradeoffs that you've predicted would be on the table this week, have there been any tradeoffs at all in the sessions up until today?
MR. MCCURRY: There's been considerable discussion of how those tradeoffs would work.
Q: But no tradeoffs have occurred?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I mean -- look, there's nothing, as we say often, there's nothing agreed to until everything is agreed to, and they are all embedded in this same package because what you do in one area of the budget, obviously, then has consequences for what you would do elsewhere. But they've begun to discuss exactly how you would structure that type of package.
Q: Did you get the Republicans' welfare bill down here yet? And, if so, when is the President going to veto it?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it is here, and he will veto it in some timely fashion because in a sense it's been overtaken by events, the events being the discussions of welfare reform that are ongoing as part of these budget deliberations.
By the way, at the request of the negotiators, a bipartisan group of governors have been reviewing some of these issues. You'll see several Democratic governors have been in and out over the last several days meeting with Mr. Panetta. They are lending their expertise to exactly that discussion of both welfare reform and Medicaid, in particular, as we go deeper into the budget deliberations.
Q: But will he do it -- will he veto it with some ceremony or just a piece of paper or --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe so. I believe we will just -- I mean, as I said, it's overtaken by events, and it really right now is superseded by what we're doing in the budget discussions. So I imagine it will only be a piece of paper.
Q: Mike, does the President believe that a one percent downward adjustment in the CPI, as advocated by Senator Moynihan and others, is too much? Would it be too much?
MR. MCCURRY: The President prefers to rely on expert advice from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to answer that question, and their answer is that it's, I think, in the range of -- they've got a range -- .1 percent to .3 percent, something like that. But I imagine that an adjustment in the calculation of the Consumer Price Index will be a feature of the baseline of any agreement that is reached in some fashion. I doubt very much it will be of the size suggested by Senator Moynihan.
Q: Is he wedded, or committed, I should say, to the BLS's take on this issue?
MR. MCCURRY: We've suggested all along that we acknowledge that what economists acknowledge, that there's probably an overstatement of the impact of inflation as calculated by the current Consumer Price Index which is not, as Senator Moynihan likes to point out correctly, is not actually in fact a measure of inflation for a lot of different good reasons that he can tell you.
But that's -- our view is the overstatement has to be measured, has to be measured precisely given the best economic advice we have from experts. And it appears there will be an adjustment and there's been adjustment proposed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and I imagine that will be incorporated the --
Q: You're not saying that the President is committed to just that one and no other, are you?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that I -- I'm saying that that one looks like it would be a feature of the baseline, and any other adjustment in the CPI is an element of the budget discussion and may or may not play in a final agreement.
Q: This is the adjustment that they have already proposed --
Q: Factored in.
MR. MCCURRY: Correct.
Q: Is the meeting today scheduled for a certain amount of time? Is it open-ended? And what's the lookout for the weekend?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we budget -- we, just based on what we've seen so far, we have been budgeting about three hours for these sessions, because that seems to be the capacity for most these people to stay in the room together with each other. (Laughter.) But I --that -- no, I mean, that's a period of time that works well, and that would take them almost up until the dinner hour. And I certainly hope on a Friday night they don't get to the point where really feel like they should all night long or anything. But we don't anticipate that. At this point, we anticipate three hours, and we'll have to see where we are at that point. We can't tell you about through the weekend, although the President is prepared, and I would imagine the Republican leaders are prepared to continue working on the weekend, as they have been.
Q: Is there coverage today?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, having addressed budget issues earlier, and the negotiators themselves not having a whole lot new to say, I would suggest probably not.
Q: Does the President still have full confidence in Secretary O'Leary, and has he had a chance to review the findings of the GAO report that was released yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: The President does, and he has not. And he understands that the Secretary has requested the Inspector General's report as to issues in that report, which he believes is appropriate.
Q: Why does he still have full confidence in Secretary O'Leary?
MR. MCCURRY: She has done a very good job as Secretary of Energy.
Q: Considering the economic situation now on the budget cutting, is he not concerned about the stuff that's emerged in the last few days about expenses that are not verified by expense receipts, large security details that are triple, quadruple, ten times what previous Secretaries have, any of these, what the Republicans call lavish and unaccounted for expenses?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is always concerned about any government expenditures that seem unnecessary. That's exactly why he believes it's appropriate that those matters be reviewed by the Inspector General.
Q: How does he expressed that concern? Has he had Panetta talk to her again or ---
MR. MCCURRY: I just expressed it to you, and he had previously prior to this report had expressed his concern, as you know.
Q: Forgive me for going over fairly well-treaded ground at this point, but I just want to make sure what you're saying about what could take place at the meeting this afternoon. Are you saying --
MR. MCCURRY: I think I dropped a pretty good hint.
Q: Well, that's what I'm trying to figure out. Are you saying that in these meetings, positions and proposals that the President has advocated, if strung together and combined would be a seven-year balanced budget plan scored by CBO figures?
MR. MCCURRY: I suggested that's the way these discussions have been developing, yes.
Q: And is it likely that this afternoon that the President or somebody will do that stringing together for those on the other side who might not have been able to put it all together?
MR. MCCURRY: You mean for you? (Laughter.)
Q: No. I mean --
Q: -- other side of the negotiation.
Q: -- never done that.
Q: I mean, in the negotiations.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, I mean, we have a little bit of -- you know after each of their sessions I've come out here and I've reported to you that, based on the -- with the concurrence of all those participating, I've reported constructive progress. And there's a reason why they've said constructive progress. And the degree to which there's been constructive progress and the degree to which that's been shared by the Republican negotiators with their House caucus is something you'll have to ask them about.
I mean, I take the point that somehow or other the House Republicans or an element of the House Republican Caucus doesn't trust the statements of the Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader that there has been progress. But, you know, that's kind of their problem. That's not my problem.
Q: Well, I know, but he did have -- he still has a question --. His question is still --
MR. MCCURRY: How are they going to -- the other stuff. Sure.
Q: He's just asking whether or not -- whether this will be outlined in some form that will make it abundantly clear to all that the President has in effect done what they've been insisting that he do which is to lay out a blueprint that will get you there.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, I don't want to predict what will happen at the session. I just said -- what I've said to you, I think, is pretty clear -- that the elements that are under discussion, that have been under review, taken together and put together in the right fashion can get the job done.
Q: But that would be true if all you were talking about as the Republican budget.
MR. MCCURRY: That would be true. I mean, look, they are at a serious point in the discussions where they've -- the President is advancing those elements that he sees necessary to meet the goal and they are on their side.
Q: Mike, in at least two recent instances, members of the White House press corps attempting to do their job have been roughed up by security personnel. What's the explanation for that, and does this White House condone that kind of --
MR. MCCURRY: Of course, we don't condone any disagreements that lead to that type of encounter. And we are working with representatives of the Secret Service to make sure everyone can do their jobs effectively -- the White House, all of you, and all of them.
Q: There are some rules posted at the Northwest Gate that supposedly govern how members of the press corps are to conduct themselves. Where did those rules come from?
MR. MCCURRY: They come from, my understanding, of a procedural manual that the Secret Service maintains. And I find some parts of them contrary to my understanding of what the working business around here should be. And we're working with the Secret Service to make sure that we have got everyone on the same page.
I mean, look, everybody understands how we work around here. And you all have to work in this environment. And, by and large, everything goes pretty well.
Q: Well, but they shouldn't be --
MR. MCCURRY: And we've had one or two misunderstandings recently, and we're doing what you would do when you have a misunderstanding -- we're working out the problem.
Q: We have always been able to walk to a car with a congressman or senator.
MR. MCCURRY: And I think you should continue to be so. Now, there are occasions, as happened the other night, when a member of Congress says they don't want to walk with you. And then --
Q: -- not the job of the Secret Service to protect members of Congress, is it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm not --
Q: They can say no. That's fine. Let them.
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's not a bad way of looking at it, but that's the kind of problem were working out. And we well work diligently, and have been working diligently, to make sure everyone understands that we all have work to do here, and we ought to do it in an amicable environment.
Q: Two logistics questions. Is there going to be a photo op at the top of the 3:30 p.m. meeting? And if the House and Senate act on the CR, what are your plans for signing that? Would you be doing something public or just sign it when you get it?
MR. MCCURRY: As I said earlier, probably not. And second, as fast as possible.
Q: As far as the President's trip to Bosnia, is there a date already, when that's going to happen?
MR. MCCURRY: Not one that's been publicly announced.
Q: How about next week? Could you say whether it will be next week?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q: Has the time frame been narrowed at all?
MR. MCCURRY: We've got a good idea of when we're going, and we will make sure that those who are going know when they have to go.
Q: Do any VIPs go with him?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm going. No, I don't -- there will be some small -- we're trying to keep a small delegation. It's, you know, still a difficult logistical move for a lot of different reasons, and we'll take an appropriately sized party in so the President can get his work done.
Q: Many different countries, or just one? And one day?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe you can fly directly to Bosnia-Herzegovina, so there's got to be at least one -- more than one.
Q: Germany? Hungary?
Q: On the travel issue, Starr, as I understand, has sent a letter here -- quite unhappy letter about not receiving this memo and outlined some questions that he wanted answered. Can you release to us the letter and your answers?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The letter that was sent by the Independent Counsel, Mr. Starr, was not released by him. He made a statement available about its contents. And we, as we appropriately do, will do likewise. Mr. Quinn has developed a response. I'd characterize that response as expressing some regret for the fact that the document in question was not discovered earlier and was not produced until yesterday morning to the Independent Counsel. And we will also put out some statement on the contents of the letter that we've sent to Mr. Starr. We can do it -- find out how -- they should have that done shortly.
Q: Are you all doing any sort of further search for documents, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been multiple requests for document searches. The most recent -- this document in question was found as the result of one of the most recent committee inquiry, not from the -- not from the Counsel. But suffice to say we are not only, again, reviewing how the requests for documents were handled, but also making absolutely sure that documents have not escaped notice that should have properly been produced.
I think everyone in this room would agree that had we known of the existence of this document sooner, most likely it would have been in our interest to have produced it. Now, we did find it. The White House did voluntarily produce it for the committee, and we did voluntarily make it public.
Q: Why would it be in your interest?
MR. MCCURRY: Because I, for one, believe it's -- would have been a whole lot better to have this matter out and available and public sooner rather than later.
Q: Does the Independent Counsel have -- is he investigating also the travel office?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not in any position to comment on the scope of the Independent Counsel's inquiry.
Q: Mike, in this document, the Watkins memo, Watkins takes serious exception to the internal report that was prepared by Mr. McLarty. One would think that that would be a part of the file that would have been turned over when the entire committee and others started looking into this whole affair.
MR. MCCURRY: One would think. And the White House legal counsel is inquiring now as to why this document was discovered so late in this process after multiple requests for documents to be produced by both the committee and by the counsel.
Q: But this is not the first instance. This has happened repeatedly with various documents.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can't -- I don't know enough to know that it's happened repeatedly, but it's certainly happened in this instance, and we're trying to find out why.
Q: Is part of that inquiry whether or not Patsy Thomasson had a lapse of memory about this in her files?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- I think the question suggests answers to matters that the counsel will have to inquire about. And I don't think anyone should unnecessarily suggest they know the facts until the facts have been established.
Q: Well, you've established the fact that it was found in Patsy Thomasson's file.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, but what are the --
Q: Presumably she'd remember what was in her files.
MR. MCCURRY: -- the circumstances of what has been found, or who had it there, or who had custody of it; that's all the kind of thing that has to be looked at.
Q: Is this inquiry related to whether or not people acted properly or whether procedures are proper?
MR. MCCURRY: No, look, the --
Q: -- is this oriented toward disciplinary or oriented towards how are we going to explain this?
MR. MCCURRY: The President and the White House take seriously the obligation and the responsibility we have to produce documents pursuant to subpoenas and pursuant to requests from investigative bodies on Capitol Hill or independent investigative bodies, such as the Independent Counsel. And when a document that should have been produced has not been produced, that's a cause of very great concern for the President and for everyone else around here. So it's entirely appropriate and necessary for the legal counsel to inquire as to why it happened.
Q: Mike, Senator D'Amato is apparently going to ask for an extension of the life of his select committee on Whitewater.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, what a surprise. (Laughter.)
Q: A, how do you feel about that?
MR. MCCURRY: Predictably, that's not a surprise.
Q: B, apparently he's going to do a referral to Ken Starr about a possible perjury investigation into Margaret Williams and Susan Thomases.
MR. MCCURRY: The Senator routinely, and often daily, says things to which we take great exception.
Q: Well, do you take great exception on behalf of Susan Thomases?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the Senator has suggested something. It's in the Senator's nature sometimes to make charges that are undocumented. And, in any event, he doesn't bring indictments, law enforcement officials do.
Q: Does the White House think the memory of those two people is --
Q: Just for the camera, could you give the White House --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, I've got two different questions going on.
Q: Just for the camera, could you give the White House reaction to the Japanese Prime Minister's resignation? And will the President be sending a message by phone or otherwise to Mr. Murayama?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will communicate appropriately with the Japanese government. I don't know that that has occurred yet, but he would intend to. We have admired Prime Minister Murayama's service. He has been an extraordinary partner for the United States as we address issues of mutual concern to the government of Japan and the government of the United States in the area of security cooperation, in the area of economics, in the area of our political work together on global issues. Japan has been a very important, valued partner to the United States. And Mr. Murayama and his government have been extremely close to us as we work together on these issues.
We have every confidence and expect continuation of this type of cooperation as the Japanese form a new government. While it would be improper for me to comment or speculate on their constitution of their new government, we fully expect it will be one with which we will continue our excellent working relationship. And we have a written statement that was pretty close to what I just said.
Q: What is your assessment, if any, of the individual about whose most speculation is -- successor, Mr. Hashimoto?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can't here publicly speculate on who they might designate as the successor to Mr. Murayama. Now, as a separate question altogether, I will tell you that Ambassador Kantor has always enjoyed and considered very valuable his interactions with his counterpart, Mr. Hashimoto. They enjoy an excellent working relationship, and he is very highly regarded by the United States government.
Q: Michael, the First Lady has, as I understand it, a series of interviews coming up related to her book. Might she make herself available to the press corps in whole on these numbers of issues that have been raised on the travel office and the Whitewater, as long as she's doing all these press anyway in the next week?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't speak for her or for her press secretary, but I know that she's anxious and enthusiastic and happy to talk about the book. And I think she understands that if she goes around the country and talks about the book publicly, she's likely to get questions about any manner of other subjects. And I think she's prepared to --
Q: -- could put to her our interest --
MR. MCCURRY: I think she is prepared to address that and, you'll be happy to know, given your question, we've already had some discussions about how she might be available to a wider cross-section of members of the press beyond those that she will meet with in connection with the tour that she will conduct, set up by her publisher Simon & Schuster.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to -- I can't speak on her behalf or her scheduler's behalf or her press secretary's behalf, but I know that they've had some discussions about how they might do that. And they look forward to the opportunity to talk about a book that I think will make a very big impact on the people who read it and probably on our debate about the future of children.
Q: Have you read it?
MR. MCCURRY: I've read a large volume of excerpts from it. It's good -- a good book.
Q: Would you touch on your comments earlier --
MR. MCCURRY: "Good book." -- Mike McCurry. (Laughter.) Boy, I would love to be on that -- that's a book jacket I'd love to be on with that blurb. (Laughter.)
Q: Would you touch on your comments, I guess at the gaggle earlier today, about Mrs. Clinton not having a role apparently -- was in the firings you were talking about or in the concerns about financial mismanagement?
MR. MCCURRY: It has long been established, after a variety of reports, that she expressed concern about the financial management of the travel office. But it's also long been established, and Mr. McLarty reaffirmed yesterday, that she did not direct that anyone be fired.
Q: Well then how does that jibe with two Watkins' memos -- the most recent one and the one of May 14th, where he quotes her as saying, we've got to get rid of these people. We've got to get our people in?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, she maintains that's an incorrect memory on his part. So she is quite clear about what she said, and her version of those conversations -- of that one conversation, because she had one, has never varied. And her version of what she had to -- her concern about the financial management of the travel office has never changed.
Now, the other individual's story has changed. But you have to make the judgment yourselves, as fair reporters, when two people who are in dispute about facts, who you believe. Your news organization, Paul, has already concluded -- has already made that conclusion. And I don't know on what basis you made that conclusion.
Q: If she was so concerned, why didn't she tell the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe she felt it was a matter that she wanted to spend talking with him, but I'm --
Q: Why not?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't speak to the facts. I don't know whether -- I don't know for a fact whether she did or did not talk to him. There's nothing --
Q: She wasn't hesitant to talk to members of her staff about it, though, was she?
MR. MCCURRY: -- in the public record that would indicate that, and her discussions with staff have been thoroughly documented in both the White House internal management review of this and in the written questions she submitted to the General Accounting Office.
Q: You think they just got the idea from her interest that you fire people?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, there are people -- here who think Hillary Clinton is responsible for the weather outside -- and regularly run to tell you that. But that doesn't mean that people --
Q: Are you denying that she's responsible for the weather? (Laughter.)
Q: Is that a good thing or a bad thing? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Acts of God? (Laughter.)
Q: Well, if you read the Watkins' nine-page memo, you will really have the feeling that she certainly had a lot of influence and impact on the actions that ensued.
MR. MCCURRY: I read that memo, and it struck me as a noncontemporaneous version of events. I mean, in my own opinion.
Q: -- concerned about --
MR. MCCURRY: And it was written after the fact.
Q: What is that supposed to mean?
Q: Oh, you mean, an afterthought?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, I can't hear your question.
Q: Is the White House concerned about the perception that average Americans are going to have if these two indictments go through on Williams and --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, come on. Look, you've got Senator D'Amato -- it's very unfair to any individual involved to say that Senator D'Amato would be an authoritative source about indictments, you know. The second half of that sentence --
Q: You're not saying, are you --
MR. MCCURRY: I bit my tongue -- so in fairness to the two individuals, let's not run and leap to conclusions that are not his responsibility but the responsibility of appropriate law enforcement officials to examine. And there's nothing that indicates that anything that he has said is going to happen. In fact, there's some suggestions to the contrary by those of your colleagues who have reported on these matters. So, you know, let's be real here.
Q: Well, Mike, you can say categorically that the First Lady would never testify under oath on this matter?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't think -- I can't say that. I'm not entirely sure how they've addressed that. What she's said all along is that she's fully prepared and has been answering the questions that have been posed. And she continues to cooperate, as she should.
Q: Radio speech tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: You know, I forgot to check. Do we know what the topic -- will be on the budget. Is it live? Live tomorrow on the budget. Live from the White House, more on the budget.
Q: Bosnia aside, will there be travel next week or what does next week look like?
MR. MCCURRY: Next week -- we've got a week ahead schedule. There are some -- mostly what I see so far, a lot of events -- there are about three or four events outside the White House that are connected to political activity. The President has, by and large, kept most of the schedule free to continue work on the budget, if necessary, if there's not an agreement prior to that time.
Q: Clarify one thing for me, Mike. In answer to a question about that second resolution on the House side, did you mean to give the impression that you thought it might be possible that the principals would arrive at a balanced budget agreement by the end of this month?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I meant to give that impression.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:56 P.M. EST
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Mike McCurry Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/270302