Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
2:03 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Why don't I start with an announcement or two today just to get things going? Always something new. President Bill Clinton has invited French President Jacques Chirac to Washington for a state visit on November 3rd. President Chirac has accepted the invitation, and the visit provides an opportunity for the two leaders to reaffirm close ties that exist between the United States and France. It will give the two leaders an opportunity to exchange views on a range of international issues, including transatlantic relations, European security issues, of course the conflict in the Balkans, the Middle East, global efforts to support democracy, and also the two leaders will discuss their mutual objective of achieving a signing next year of the comprehensive test ban.
Q: Can I follow up on that, please?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, of course.
Q: Does this condone the French nuclear testing?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, no, it doesn't. Our views on that have been well expressed and are well-known.
Q: Letter to Yeltsin.
MR. MCCURRY: President Clinton and President Yeltsin did recently exchange correspondence, as they very often do, reviewing the agreed basic principles agreed to in Geneva, at the end of last week. This is an exchange of correspondence late last week. And they reaffirmed the importance of very close consultations and working together on the conflict in the Balkans.
Q: Can you track us on what the President has been doing on this explosion, this grenade attack on the embassy in Moscow, and what the White House on details on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've been getting the same information from Embassy Moscow that they've discussed just in the last hour over at the State Department. Nick Burns has done a good job of walking through what the embassy has reported on what they know about it, and I don't have anything to add really on what he said.
Q: Could you walk us through that on --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not going to do it --
Q: -- when the President was advised --
MR. MCCURRY: He was advised, I believe, just prior to leaving here by his National Security Council representative who was on the trip -- right?
Q: Has he spoken to anybody in Moscow, or will he speak to the Ambassador?
MR. MCCURRY: He will monitor the situation. We're getting more details on it now. And obviously, we condemn this attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility, but we will work together with the Russian authorities to determine what we can find out very quickly about the nature of the attack.
Q: And you have no idea who did it? There were no threatening letters?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. I steer you to the State Department specifically, who has got the best information in town on that right now.
Q: Do you know if there are any plans to send over American law enforcement or anything like that?
Q: Wait a minute. You mean the President doesn't know because the State Department has them, or what --
MR. MCCURRY: No, they've got the best information available to make public at this point, Brit.
Q: Is the President planning to send over any U.S. law enforcement types to help with the forensics or anything else?
MR. MCCURRY: That will be determined depending on how our cooperative effort with Russian law enforcement authorities develops.
Q: President Yeltsin has threatened to lift the embargo against Serbia in reaction to the bombing. Now, if that occurs and the Serbs do not maintain the wall towards the Bosnian Serbs, that they would be resupplied and probably have a greater ability to resist as they are trying to do now --
MR. MCCURRY: I think you know this administration's views on unilateral abrogation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. They haven't changed.
Q: You said this morning the President was going to delay a formal announcement of his candidacy until next year. Could you --
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q: You said this morning, I think in your spin session, the President was going to delay announcing his candidacy until next year.
MR. MCCURRY: No, I didn't say that at all. I said I was increasingly uncertain that the President would declare his candidacy for reelection this year.
Q: At all? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: -- and I didn't indicate it at all that he might announce --
Q: Why would that be?
Q: Shocking --
MR. MCCURRY: Because the President is so consumed with the work that's going on here right now to address the problems the country faces.
Q: Like he's taking next week off? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, you may be taking next week off if you're not traveling on this very important trip that the President is making. But he will be in Florida where, given the debate going on right now on Medicare and Medicaid, I expect that he'll be addressing that in front of senior citizens. He'll be talking about Medicaid, very important long-term care issues for the elderly out in Colorado. And he'll be making some fairly significant news on Thursday. So he'll be very busy next week.
Q: News? What kind of news?
Q: News on what?
MR. MCCURRY: You'll see next week.
Q: What would you say were the successful things that were discussed between the President and the Prime Minister of Jamaica?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd like to turn to my colleague, Mr. Johnson, when we get to that point. Let's just -- you want to do that at the end? If we can -- can I beg your indulgence and come back, or are you --
Q: Well, there's a press conference that goes on at 2:30 p.m. with the Jamaican Prime Minister --
MR. MCCURRY: I'd be happy to accommodate you. Then let me have David Johnson do a very quick readout on that.
MR. JOHNSON: The President and the Prime Minister had a discussion for about a half an hour. They had a number of issues that they covered, had a quite lengthy discussion on the situation in Haiti and the good work that the CARICOM battalion had done in Haiti and how Jamaica in particular had played a real leadership role in that not only with the organization of that group and their deployment, but also with the help for the accommodation of refugees before the MNF action took place last year.
Also talked about issues related to counternarcotics and the recent passage in Jamaica of a forfeiture legislation and the scheduled during this legislative year of passage of money laundering legislation.
Further to that, they talked a bit about the forthcoming meeting in Buenos Aires as a follow-up to the Summit of the Americas where CARICOM's going to be taking a leading role in some work on money laundering there. The President told the Prime Minister that AID, the United States Agency for International Development, would be providing an additional $150,000 pounds of needed medical equipment.
Also discussed a couple of economic issues -- NAFTA parity, and the push that's going on now in the Congress to bring that about. And both were interested in that. The administration is committed to getting that legislation passed. And also, as you will probably ask if I don't mention it, the banana issue, and the separation of that, in our view, from the needed access that the CARICOM states have in the European Union to our belief that the European Union's approach to this needlessly discriminates against American companies. And for that reason we are addressing this issue in the WTO.
Q: Can I interrupt for a second?
MR. JOHNSON: You may.
Q: You said the banana issue, and it's become amorphous. In the minds of the countries in the Caribbean, when they met in Miami -- I'm sorry, in the Miami Summit of the Americas, a number of the prime ministers and heads of state said it was promised to them that the issue with respect to how it affects the agreement in Brussels is going to run through the entire course. And in the minds of these heads of state, it seems like if the U.S. has retracted on that. Can you comment on that?
MR. JOHNSON: We do not believe we've retracted on that at all. We believe the position we've taken is entirely consistent.
Q: Can you tell me what was promised to the heads of the Miami Summit with respect to the banana issue?
MR. JOHNSON: If you'd like to go over that, I'll be pleased to review the Miami Summit with you.
Q: Can I go back to narcotics?
Q: I'm sorry, but these are important things that I'm going to probably ask the Prime Minister when I go over to the press conference. With respect to narcotic control, I spoke to a number of sources last night, and they said that the Jamaican Prime Minister had requested specific equipment to deal with narcotics control in Jamaica. We were told that these helicopters were promised, but they will not be delivered because there is some of kind of bureaucratic process or problem.
MR. JOHNSON: I think your Prime Minister will be able to tell you in some detail about that when you talk to him at his press conference this afternoon. Your sources I think you'll find were somewhat mistaken.
Q: Can I ask one last question?
MR. MCCURRY: One last question.
Q: With respect to the interim trade problem, when Vice President Gore spoke at the OAS with respect to NAFTA parity, it was promised that the interim trade program would go through. I followed the Ways and Means Committee yesterday. It seems like the CBI bill is out in the wind somewhere. Can you make a comment on that?
MR. JOHNSON: The leadership did remove it from the reconciliation package, but we're committed to finding another way to bring it about.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you. Other subject. Yes, Rita.
Q: Just to go back to the question that Claire was asking. My colleague, Mr. Gibbons, quotes you as saying that you learned lessons from recent political history, and that the President seems to think it's wise to get started sooner rather than later on the campaign. And I'm trying to figure out, are we in the campaign, are we not in the campaign.
MR. MCCURRY: I think one of the -- there's certainly activity. That's why the President has formally established a reelection committee, the Clinton-Gore Committee '96, which is actively principally at this point in raising money. And they've done quite well, and you'll see at the end of the month as they move towards the next quarterly filing with the Federal Elections Commission, we did reasonably well. So they are putting together the resources the President will need to conduct an effective campaign next year. And in some of the early states where it's prudent to have a good reelection effort in place, states like Iowa, New Hampshire in particular, the Committee has been quite active. They're beginning to do that type of preliminary work. But the President will turn his attention to his reelection at a time that he feels is appropriate, and right now he's occupied with other issues.
Q: You don't consider the speech, something like today, that it has any election overtones?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he was marking the anniversary of the signing of the crime bill, dealing with local kids who were kicking off their red ribbon campaign for the year. And he'll do a lot of events like that. Look, sometimes do presidential events here at the White House or out on the road look to you like campaign events? Well, of course, they do, because you've got a guy standing on a podium giving a speech. That's usually what happens in a campaign.
Q: Is there concern that by --
Q: We're not mistaken on that, are we?
MR. MCCURRY: No, but you're entitled to make your own judgments on those things.
Q: Is there concern that by doing the preliminary funding now that it changes the public and press perception of what the President does?
MR. MCCURRY: You have the perceptions, so you can make them yourselves.
Q: With regard to next week's trip, about how much of this is going to be picked up by DNC or the reelection campaign?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't looked at it. It will be -- it looks like, from my own look at the schedule and what the events are, probably about 50-50, depending on what kind of events he'll do. And as I said, there will be some events that you'll see have both a bipartisan flavor and also have -- directly related to the business the President is doing right now on the budget issues that are central in his contest with the Congress over how we best articulate the priorities that must underlie this budget so we can break the impasse and move on.
Q: What about Thursday --
Q: Are you going?
MR. MCCURRY: Half and half, I think. I'll go -- I think there are some days that look more political; I don't think it's necessary for me to be there.
Q: What will be the general topic on Thursday?
MR. MCCURRY: On Thursday? Technology.
Q: Mike, last night you were somewhat optimistic that you could get a welfare bill that you'd sign. Has that changed?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, a couple things on welfare because I think there are significant developments today. I think by now you're all aware of the very strong position that the National Governors Association has taken. They've essentially said to the Republican majority in Congress, look, we need to move this bill in the direction that the President has been talking about, and there has been some movement today. The passage of Senator Domenici's amendment is a significant development with respect to the bill. It doesn't -- by no means, doesn't satisfy all the President's concerns. There's a lot of work left to do on this bill to make it acceptable to the administration. But they are beginning to move this legislation in the direction of real reform of our welfare system, beginning to put some real meaning into the requirements for work and making sure that we take care of children who are going to be left at home when welfare recipients make the transition to work. Those are improvements.
We went from -- I think some of you know -- from not having any commitment at all to the states that there would be a maintenance of effort provision to now some agreement in the Senate-passed bill that there will be 80 percent; in other words, states can't reduce by any more than 20 percent their statewide expenditures for Medicare, Medicaid. Those are significant developments, and that's important -- in public assistance.
Q: You are going to go back to conference, and they generally split things. Everything you win in the Senate you sort of have to devalue by half. Are you still optimistic?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know about that. I mean, we've proved with the rescissions bill that that's not always necessarily true.
Q: Does the President want welfare to remain a federal entitlement?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has talked about maintenance of effort and about making those changes that are necessary to achieve real welfare reform. There's a point at which the word entitlement becomes semantics if you're talking about the thrust of welfare reform, which is to take people who are currently dependent and make them make that transition to work. So I am not going to quibble over semantic terms; I'm going to talk about what really is going on in both the work that the administration has been doing on the Hill to achieve welfare reform and in the direction that the Senate bill is now taking.
Q: Well, Mike, a lot of people feel that it is not a semantic matter, that down the road if you have some folks who are needy who need basic sustenance, where children need some support, the question then two or three years from now after this reform goes into effect is, is there a federal safety net for these people, or is there not? And for some reason this administration has been waltzing around this issue now for months. Why can't you people come clean at least with regard to your intent? Do you want to maintain a federal safety net or entitlement, or do you not?
MR. MCCURRY: We want to see maintenance of effort exactly as the Senate codified today. Frankly, we'd like to see 100 percent maintenance of effort as called for in Senator Breaux's bill. But they achieved -- they've made a good move towards that. Or, I believe, actually Senator Breaux's bill as 90 percent maintenance of effort. They've got 80 percent maintenance of effort, which they've achieved. And that's significant.
Again, I'd call your attention to what the governors said today, and they addressed many of the things you just said -- there needs to be a substantial -- substantially more money for child care; there needs to be contingency funds for states, so if they do get in a position, as you just described, where economic conditions require additional assistance to be available to take care of downturns in the economic cycle, that there's some guarantee that that money will be there.
They want -- we want to see performance bonuses for states that are making more rapid transitions and making welfare recipients move over to work situations. So there are a lot of things that you can do. I don't we have -- we've not been squeamish at all about spelling out very precisely, beginning right over here in Blair House, what we needed to see in welfare reform. And it has taken an awfully long time for the Republican Congress to start moving in that direction. Now they're beginning to make that move, and we are going to encourage them. We're going to encourage them to continue to improve this bill. And we're going to see how closely it comes to what the President has for months been saying is true welfare reform. But we're getting closer.
Q: Just to follow up on maintenance of effort, which seems to be your preferred wording, does the President want maintenance of effort guarantees in perpetuity or would he settle for three years maintenance of effort, five years maintenance of effort?
MR. MCCURRY: He wanted, would have accepted the language in the Breaux amendment. That failed by one vote yesterday. They did pass today a substitute that ratified an 80 percent maintenance of effort. The President finds that a satisfactory improvement over what had been in the bill originally, which was zero. And that's the language that currently we're dealing with. We're not going to deal with hypotheticals; we're dealing with what's now moving down the legislative train, and that's certainly an improvement.
Q: -- 80 percent for limited duration or --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- I'd have to go look at the amendment, and I don't know, I can check with the exact wording in the amendment.
Q: Jack Kemp said today his commission is moving towards coalescing around the idea of flat tax. Is there anything in that the President could support, at least within the concept, if you don't know the details?
MR. MCCURRY: Most of the conceptual plans for flat taxes we've seen fail to meet the President's test of fairness, making sure that we make taxes simpler for most Americans. Many Americans already face simplicity, or some form of simplicity, as they fill out taxes. And most importantly, taking a look at the overall requirements of a stable and growing economy.
We had very good news today on the Consumer Price Index, showing that this is a growing economy with low rates of inflation and that, I think, you have to attribute to the work this President has done on deficit reduction in the first two years of his term, among other things.
So we don't want to see anything happen in changing the revenue side of the federal budget picture that would jeopardize that sustainable long-term growth with low rates of inflation, which is certainly one of the President's achievements that he ought to be proud of.
Q: Do you think a flat tax would do that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think there needs to be very careful attention to that question. That's the kind of question that the Treasury Secretary, on behalf of the President, is examining. And I'm not familiar with this -- did former Secretary Kemp indicate that they were going to try and move a proposal anytime this year? I would be surprised if he had indicated that.
And so what I think what we need to do is see -- this is a recommendation, after all, that he has made to the Republican leadership. We'll have to see how they receive those ideas. But I haven't detected anything that has been said by the Republicans leaders that indicates to the White House that they intend to move forward with any tax reform proposal in the near-term -- that would be this year.
Q: Well, he said tax reform would stimulate growth and that 2.1 percent growth, approximately what we're looking at, is not enough.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we could go back and revisit the whole sorry history of supply-side economics if you'd like to. But I don't think I want to do that right now.
Q: Do you have any response to Congressman Livingston's said today in a press conference that the President's event Monday on education was largely disinformation, scare tactics.
MR. MCCURRY: Monday -- what did we do on Monday?
MR. MCCURRY: That's, I think, is an unfortunate characterization of a speech that certainly seemed to ring true to the students who were present. They knew exactly what the President was talking about. The President was describing the impacts of these cuts in education programs that had been proposed by the House and seem to be about to be ratified, in at least in part, by the Senate.
And the kids who were there are the best testimony to the truth the President spoke, because they had very clear enthusiastic reactions to the President's indication that he thinks investing in the future of these kids, giving them the type of educational opportunities that will make them higher wage-earners, as they go out into the work force, is something that is important and ought to be an important national priority.
Now, if the Republicans are claiming it's misinformation, that they are trying to cut things like the direct student loan program, then that's laughable. You all know that, and you ought to -- we can pull out all the charts and the briefing materials that we have that show what the impact of these cuts will be.
Q: When the Speaker last night said that at least GOP freshmen are still insistent on not supporting an extension of the debt ceiling unless the President supports the GOP majority budget plan, what did the President say? I mean, what did he --
MR. MCCURRY: That was not put to the President in that fashion. The Speaker was putting that as a point of information to the President that, look, I've got for political reasons a lot of freshmen who are really -- can't let any compromise. He didn't ask for the -- he didn't say "because of that, Mr. President, you've got to sign on to our seven-year budget plan." I don't think the Speaker is that naive.
Q: If he's issued veto threats on appropriations measures, why doesn't he issue a veto threat on being railroaded into trying to sign a budget reconciliation bill --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, he's made it clear we're not going to -- we won't accept the unacceptable. And he's made that more than abundantly clear.
Q: Rubin said in Atlanta today that the administration had gotten assurances from lawmakers that they would not block debt extension. Are you familiar with that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he was characterizing, much as I did last night, the tone of the meeting. There seemed to be general recognition at that meeting that it would be bad for the people of this country, bad for the United States itself as it's positioned in the world economy, for there to be a default by the United States government. There didn't seem to be anyone who understood that that was wrong-headed thinking. But at the same time, there was a lot of discussion about how there are certain members of Congress who wouldn't mind seeing exactly that happen, or would at least take us to the brink of that point.
Q: There were no pledges made, in other words, not to do that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it was a good, sober, candid discussion of that issue among other issues related to the budget, as I indicated last night.
Q: Did the President have an opportunity to drop by the Dalai Lama meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: He is -- it's most likely underway right now. And if that happens, we'll put out a short statement under my name that indicates that he did drop by the meeting that the Vice President had just had underway. It was a significant meeting in the President's viewpoint and in the Vice President's viewpoint, and reflects some of the concerns we have about religious freedom and human rights conditions in Tibet.
Q: -- planning to bring those issues up with the Dalai?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure that they would be discussed, and we'll see if -- have a statement for you as soon as we know that it actually happened.
Q: What is the Office of the Spokesman?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, that's actually -- now corrected that twice on the NSC documents. No, it's Office of the Press Secretary. They just had a typo the other day and we let another typo through.
Q: Excuse me for not knowing this, but is there, in fact, a person who has that title, though -- "spokesperson"?
MR. MCCURRY: No. David, who was just here, has the title, Deputy White House Press Secretary, and he also has an NSC title, which is Senior Director of Press Relations. Q: So office of the spokesman doesn't exist? MR. MCCURRY: No, what happened is, that's the heading on
State Department press releases, and we brought some of these State Department guys over, and they bring their computer disks with them. You know, we've got to go purge the system.
Q: I have the same question about drop-bys and Gerry Adams.
MR. MCCURRY: Nothing that I'm aware of, Jack. The current schedule is for Mr. Adams to meet with Tony later today. If there is any drop-by by anyone else, we'll let you know later in the day.
Q: Mike, has the President spoken with former President Bush about any of his meetings or talks with Japanese officials?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he has not. The former President has been traveling -- I believe today he is at an event that is sponsored by Reverend Sun Myung Moon's -- a group affiliated with Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. So he is obviously still on travel status.
Q: Have you made any -- between the former and the present?
Q: Do you deal on a daily basis with people so affiliated?
MR. MCCURRY: Most likely. (Laughter.)
Q: Mike, on Gerry Adams, he owes quite a bit to the President in terms of letting him into the country, raising money and world opinion. At the same time, Adams has been very intransigent on decommissioning, saying that they're not going to anything before the Brits allow IRA or Sinn Fein into the peace talks.
Is the position of the administration to try and collect some chits from Gerry Adams and coax him to be a bit more flexible, while at the same time trying to get the Brits to be more flexible on their side as well?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, even if there was anything resembling that strategy, I would be the last person that would be in a position to say so. But there is a strong desire on the part of this President to move this peace process forward. And we have not only with Mr. Adams, but with all the parties and with the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, encourage them to continue making progress. They started with a great deal of momentum, as peace processes often do, and as we see -- frankly, as we see right now, in regards to the Middle East peace process is hard work and the issues are difficult, and the underlying disputes and the uncertainties are often very difficult to deal with.
That's why we often believe our best role to play is as an intermediary who can help the parties recognize the opportunities they have to achieve something of lasting importance and to help encourage them to move forward. And I suspect very much that Mr. Lake will have that type of message today for Mr. Adams without being any more specific than that prior to the meeting.
Q: Old issue. What is happening with Dr. Foster and the teen pregnancy job?
MR. MCCURRY: He's -- I wouldn't be surprised if we have something to say about that fairly soon. There's a meeting that will happen, I believe, before the end of the month in which we might have some more to say about that.
But there's been a lot of work done to follow through on that. Some -- there was a little bit of delay in our plans to move ahead with that because of the summer vacation schedules of some folks who are involved in that effort but I believe we're going to be having more to say about that in the near future.
Q: -- a joint public, private, maybe a foundation?
MR. MCCURRY: Wouldn't surprise me but we'll have more to say about how that's going to be structure in the near future.
Q: Back to the Jack Kemp question. Will the Treasury proposal study result in a counterproposal to a flat tax?
MR. MCCURRY: Will it result in a counterproposal?
Q: Counterproposal to a flat tax.
MR. MCCURRY: Not necessarily. One of the things they're looking at is really what's necessary in tax reform.
The President wants to -- first and foremost in the President's mind is tax relief for Americans, especially middle income Americans who ought to get a break as they're saving for college education or expenses related to education. That's the -- we'd like to see that type of targeted tax relief. That's the top item on the President's tax agenda right now.
Tax reform and where it ought to be on that agenda is one the things that the Treasury Secretary will look at and he'll look at in the broad parameters I've described before. Also, what affect is it going to have on the economy -- what macro-economic effect will there be.
I'm boring people. You're all leaving me. (Laughter.)
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:31 P.M. EDT
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/270091