Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House. Nice to have you here today. Let me start by pointing out something that the Small Business Administration is doing today that we are proud of. They are launching today something called the Fast Track Program. That's an innovative effort to streamline the process for small businesses to apply for loans. This especially helps borrowers who are looking for less than $100,000. It's a two-year pilot program they're announcing today. It's going to reduce red tape and paperwork for people trying to start businesses and create business opportunities for Americans. And it is yet another example of reinventing government at work. Good news from the White House podium, and I'm glad to share it with you.
Now, let's go to your news.
Q: Do you expect any more surprises as far as the nomination of Dr. Henry Foster? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Surprises? What?
Q: Is there anything else that's come to light in the past 24 hours?
MR. MCCURRY: No. As many of you know, the administration, the White House has shared some of Dr. Foster's writings from various medical journals and speeches that he's given, things like that, with the Senate. Those materials were in our possession and we were aware of them prior to the announcement of his nomination.
Q: What time last night did you all decide to send the Vice President to Tennessee?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I got my call saying it was likely to happen around 6:30 p.m. or 7:00 p.m. I think that's -- is that what time we -- maybe a little bit later than that.
Q: Until then, wasn't the plan to send him to the Senate to begin the round of courtesy calls?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if there was any plan, or not. But Vice President Gore felt, and I believe we all felt, too, it was an excellent opportunity with Dr. Foster in Tennessee to put a spotlight on this showcase program that has been so successful in Nashville, that's gotten rave review and got rave reviews again today with the Vice President there with Dr. Foster. So it was a good opportunity for us to help America understand the extraordinary things Dr. Foster has done. Since the American people were hearing an awful lot about him, it might be nice to hear about something that he's done that's very important and helps reduce teenage pregnancy and has helped put young lives on the right track.
Q: Sending Gore wasn't just an effort to make Foster appear animated, was it? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: In comparison? Well, the Vice President is often very candid on that himself, if I'm not mistaken.
Q: Is this a fight over abortion? Is this what it's all boiling down to?
MR. MCCURRY: It is, very simply put, the truth that there are extremists within the Right to Life movement who now have hooked the Republican Party and Congress by the nose and they're dragging them around. And what they intend to do is to make this not only a litmus test, as one of the leaders of one of these extreme groups said over the weekend, they intend to demand a payback for the payoff they got from the Senate Campaign Committee on the Republican side. So it's very clear.
Q: Are you linking those two?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have linked them themselves very directly.
Q: Wait a minute. Let me hear that logic again on that. They got a payoff and they think they're supposed to get paid back for getting paid off?
MR. MCCURRY: They got, in the words of Senator Gramm, they got a payout, whatever you want to call it, to these groups to go out and do the footwork to elect right to life members of Congress. And now they want a payback, for having done that work in the field they want a payback by demanding adherence.
Q: I thought they already got paid for that. Who wants the payback?
MR. MCCURRY: The groups, one of them the leader of whom spoke exactly to that point prior to the weekend, Mr. Reed.
Q: You just said they're the ones who got paid already.
MR. MCCURRY: They got paid off to go do the work; they went out and did the work, and now they're coming back and saying, we would like to see adherence to our litmus test right to life point of view. They have been very candid about this. I stood here on Friday and told you that this is what they would demand, and then they went right out and confirmed what I told you.
Q: Are you charging that the Right to Life movement can't stay bought?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm saying the Right to Life movement went out, took the money they got from the Senate Campaign Committee, went out and did work, and now they're back at the door saying, we went out and did the work you paid us to do, and we want our payback, we want to get some adherence to their point of view.
Q: Do you think there's a direct link between the Senate Campaign Committee payments and the Foster nomination vote?
MR. MCCURRY: Do I think there is? I don't know. You'd have to ask individual members who were supported by the work of the right to life committees that got these payments from the Senate Campaign Committee to find out whether they see a linkage now in the positions they're taking.
Q: Are you suggesting there may be a --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not suggesting. You'd have to go ask members of Congress who were helped by these campaign committees to find out whether they were going to adhere to this very strict litmus test point of view that people like Mr. Reed have now suggested ought to be the dogma of the Republican Party.
Q: Are you suggesting that members of the United States Senate are being told what to do in this case by members of the --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. They were. They were told by the leader of this organization that if the Republican Party so much as dared nominate any candidate who had anything other than an extreme right to life point of view, that the members of this extreme right faction within the Republican Party might withhold the type of support they gave these candidates they supported in the last election. That's pretty blunt. You don't have to ask me, you can ask them because they've said it on the record.
Q: Well, are you also suggesting that if a member of the United States Senate -- if his religion or her religion teaches that abortion is wrong, that they are an extremist, somehow being led around by the nose?
MR. MCCURRY: Not by any means whatsoever. There are a lot of Americans who share President Clinton's point of view that abortion should be safe, legal and rare. There are many Americans who, as they ponder what is a difficult moral issue, have a great deal of ambivalence about abortion. We respect those differences, we certainly do. The difference in this case is that there are those who are now saying there would be a -- you have to adhere to this litmus test that we are putting down as a condition of political support, and suggesting that the course of Republican presidential politics in 1996 might very well be affected by that type of litmus test.
So the issue is, what are they demanding by way of the positions they take on issues? This is not about the way people in their own personal lives contemplate these very difficult moral issues in which people can have different points of views.
Q: How is that different from what the abortion rights group said about the Democrats and, indeed, about Mr. Clinton, and the level of applause they got for him when they said they thought he was for abortion on demand as, indeed, has been said many times?
MR. MCCURRY: Again, I can't speak for those groups, you'd have to ask them.
Q: You're speaking for these other groups.
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm suggesting to you that they've now spoken for themselves. Mr. Reed's comments were very, very clear.
Q: I'm not referring here, Mike, to things that were never said. I'm not asking you to guess, I'm asking you to speak from the record, which is not small, about what happened in 1992.
MR. MCCURRY: What's the question, again?
Q: The question is, how is this different from what the abortion rights groups said to the Democrats in '92? And how is this different from the level of support they gave Mr. Clinton, once satisfied that he was in agreement with their view that there ought to be abortion on demand?
MR. MCCURRY: My recollection -- there were a lot of discussions on the Democratic Party side about issues like this. I can't recollect anyone --
Q: Yes, there were, and that's why Mr. Casey never got to speak.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't recollect anyone suggesting that unless there was a presidential candidate, a vice presidential candidate and nominees for appointed office who did not adhere very strictly to a point of view expressed by this particular faction, and then reflected in the platform of the party, that they would somehow or other be run out of the party or denied a position.
Q: Wait a minute. You had a gag rule imposed on the Governor of Pennsylvania by the same -- by the people who had an extreme view on the other side.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that that is accurate.
Q: Well, how come Casey didn't speak?
Q: Is your hardball rhetoric going to help or hurt Dr. Foster's chances of getting confirmed?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea. I think we want to -- we would like nothing better than to have a discussion about this We would like nothing better than to have a discussion about this nominee's qualifications, record, experience. We would love for there to be a discussion of the type of program that the Vice President visited today. But we're not in that situation.
This fight has been picked by those who are trying to take Dr. Foster's views on abortion and his fully legal practice as a doctor and turn that into more or less a referendum on what type of future are we going to have for women. Are we going to take women and doctors who exercise their right to choose on difficult matters and turn them into criminals? That's what this fight is very quickly becoming about -- not from our choosing. We've put this nominee forward, hoping that his extraordinary record combatting the need for abortion would be the centerpiece of attention, and it was not chosen to be that fight by those on the Hill who now oppose this nomination.
Q: What do you say to the Democrats, though, on Capitol Hill who say that's not what the fight is about, the theory that you're painting today about what's happening to the nomination, it's because the White House bungled it up. And they don't even want to stick with you anymore because of all the mistakes that were made.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of anyone who said that today. (Laughter.)
Q: Not today?
Q: The weekend --
Q: What other events have you arranged for Dr. Foster to participate in so that you can continue to draw these differences? And what groups have you enlisted and brought on board to help on the Foster swat team?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't -- I know that there have been a number of groups that are now beginning to make their support for Dr. Foster known. There was a group on Friday. I'm not aware if we had any specifically today announcing their support for this nominee, but we will continue to work with Dr. Foster and to find opportunities for him both to talk about this record and then, also, eventually, to get to the point where we can answer questions from members of the Senate. The next step along the way, as I told some of you earlier today, is to begin doing the types of courtesy calls on the Senate side that normally are expected of nominees for high office.
Q: He's supposed to do that this afternoon, according to Vice President Gore, who told reporters this --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not certain of his schedule -- Mary Ellen, your going to be keeping track of his schedule. I'm not sure whether it's going to be later on today.
Q: Well, can you give us -- because he's supposed to be out there, we're finding out, and we'd like to know when and where.
MR. MCCURRY: We'll help you on that.
Q: What other events have you got planned for him? Is he going to make any more speeches? Is he going to do more television? What's he going to be doing?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, first and foremost, he's going to be preparing for his confirmation proceeding in the United States Senate by meeting with relevant members of the United States Senate. That's the next thing I anticipate.
Q: Is the paperwork done?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it will take some time, and it's time that will be well taken by the FBI. They need to move orderly through the type of background checks that they do.
Q: Was today's op-ed piece his idea, and was it all his work?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know. I know that many of us looked at it. I think he certainly provided the inspiration and the core of it. He may have had some help editing it, but those represented his thoughts, as you've heard him say publicly. He's been speaking out in very much the same fashion.
Q: Did he prepare a draft?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know, Brit. I'll have to check on that.
Q: Panetta said yesterday that this -- the messiness of the staff work in this case will not happen again. What changes does he intend to make, or what's going to happen here so that you don't repeat this experience another time?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I said last week that we can do a better job, and we will take steps to do a better job.
Q: What kind of steps?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, whatever we feel are the appropriate better steps.
Q: Somebody did some nice staff work with Biden last week. Can you describe how you got him to turn around a little bit on that? (Laughter.)
Q: Mike, in the State of Union speech, and before that, the President said, people need to be more civil and stop attacking one another's motives. How's that compatible with what you're doing today by saying people who oppose Foster are being led around by the nose?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm responding to what had been outrageous and, in some cases, very intemperate charges leveled against this nominee, and we think unfairly. And I think that what we are now -- it's very clear now that we're in a nomination fight on behalf of this nominee. And so, as the President has made clear and as others on the staff have made clear, we will fight back.
Q: Isn't it clear that -- Foster's qualifications aside, do you all believe this is going to be a political winner, do you not, for the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no way of knowing the answer to that.
Q: Let's get back to Carol's question about the Democratic senators who say this is -- they're furious and frustrated on the White House bungling. This weekend, Panetta seemed to suggest that -- he almost was sarcastic -- he said, gee, they're just using this as an excuse because they don't want to make these tough choices. Are you saying that these senators are wimps and they're running away from a fight? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, wouldn't you love it if I would do so right now?
Q: I mean, what did he mean by that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think what he suggested -- he was simply suggesting that sometimes members of the Senate, members of Congress have to step up to the plate when there are difficult issues to face. We think this ought to be a pretty clear-cut case. I don't think he was referring to this case. He thought it was -- this is a pretty clear-cut case of a highly-qualified nominee with an excellent background who is being attacked because of his views on abortion, and because of his practice as an obstetrician-gynecologist. And we are saying, very simply that that is not the criteria by which you should judge a candidate for nomination as a surgeon general; that there's a full range of things that ought to be explored. And moping and kvetching about the White House staff is not what this nomination fight ought to be about.
Q: They're using that as an excuse?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. You'd have to -- I don't catalogue each and every comment by members of the Senate.
Q: Mike, what is the White House's assessment today of the actual prospects, ultimately, for this nominee to be confirmed?
MR. MCCURRY: A lot of hard work ahead that will ultimately be successful with his confirmation.
Q: Mike, in the last few years, Republican Party leaders, from time to time, have talked about the "big tent" concept in --
MR. MCCURRY: It seems to be getting a lot smaller these days.
Q: Well, that's my question. As you folks look to '96, I gather you are practically licking your chops that they're abandoning the big tent idea and moving to the dogmatic right. Is that a fair --
MR. MCCURRY: It's already suggested -- it appears that an extreme right faction within the Right To Life movement does have a lock-grip on thinking within some parts of the Republican majority and the Congress. I think that is a fair statement of fact at this point. And if it is otherwise, it would be smart, I think, for a lot of the Republicans to stand up and say so. Very few have been willing to take that faction within their party on.
Q: But my question basically is whether you feel that it would be a bit more difficult for the President in '96 to confront a Republican Party that adheres to the big tent idea as against a Republican Party that is moving the way you described.
MR. MCCURRY: I am not good at doing that type of political prognostication. I can't predict whether it would be easier or harder.
Q: Mike, the Justice Department has been very active in going after these antiabortion groups that have struck abortion clinics, injuring people and so on. Does your criticism about the Right To Life movement and the extremists taking over the Republican Party in any way extend to linkage between the Right To Life organization acting in this way and the opposition to the Foster nomination?
MR. MCCURRY: No. We very clearly are dealing with criminals who are acting for wanton criminal motive, in the case of attacks, and I don't make that connection at all. I think, though, that the political impact of the debate, or the policy aspects of this debate, is something that ought rightfully be addressed by those who are concerned about exactly that type of violence.
Q: Mike, as a related question, what's the difference between someone who's antiabortion and the people you're characterizing as far-right opponents of abortion? What's the difference?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it is reasonable for people to have ambivalence about abortion to ponder this very carefully; it is a difficult moral choice. The view of the President is that it should be a choice made by a women in consultation with her advisors; religious, medical advisors, and others, family members, and that you can certainly -- we certainly acknowledge that you can be against the practice of abortion and have a practical, common-sense approach to the political issues that surround abortion.
The difference here is a case in which people would seek to impose an extreme point of view on the majority in the United States Congress and on an entire political party. And that's what has been suggested by those in the extreme right of the Right to Life movement that are now seeking to impose their view on the Republican Party in making it a litmus test for the politics within that party. We just think that that is inevitably going to lead to divisive discussions of what is already a divisive issue.
Q: Does the White House want hearing to be held and the vote to be taken even if it becomes clear that there are the votes in the Senate to defeat this nomination?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't even want to speculate the possibility. We're convinced that as we continue to make a case for Dr. Foster, as Dr. Foster continues to make a case for himself, he will build support, not lose support. And we hope we will get to a point where his confirmation becomes far more likely.
Q: How long will it take? What is your time frame on this do you think? How long can it drag on?
MR. MCCURRY: It's impossible to say. There have been surgeon general nominees that have been before the Senate for as long as six months in the past; in fact, in the recent past.
Q: Senate Gramm yesterday was suggesting that maybe you should get rid of the position completely.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again.
Q: Some have suggested in the Senate that maybe you should just get rid of the surgeon general's position completely, that it serves no official function other than to advocate for certain causes.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think there have been recent surgeon generals, even in Republican administrations, that have shown that the post can be very valuable in promoting the public health of Americans. It can take on issues relevant to public health from a range of things from immunization to better health care, preventive health care on the part of Americans, and can make a real difference in the lives of Americans, make them healthier. I don't know why anyone would want to walk away from an opportunity to have a position within the federal government that has that type of priority as a focus.
Q: Mike, can I briefly change subjects? The economic summit this spring -- what is the purpose of it? Who is organizing it? What will be discussed?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm going to hold over -- I promised more today on that. I don't have a lot more other than it's still in its planning phases. There is a desire on the part of the President to bring together people similar to those who participated during the transition and address economic issues, take stock of all the progress that's been made to create jobs and hold inflation to a minimum over the last two years, and to plot out how best to keep that record of economic success going, to continue to build on the strong economic record that the administration has compiled over the last two years. He has a desire to bring that type of group together. We will likely do that towards the end of next month, likely do it outside of Washington, and we'll try to do some more discussions on it.
Q: Normally, you have a summit when you've got a big problem here. Normally, administrations do not convene summits to talk about policies that are working. What's the point?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you bring together people who can best talk about ways in which you keep economic progress and economic momentum moving forward. And there are a whole range of things we need to do. We need to figure out how we're going to put the kinds of investments into education and training called for by the President's Middle Class Bill of Rights, going up to Capitol Hill today; how you bring together people, how they can identify the ways in which that would help build an economy for the 21st century; how they look at export strategy; how they look at global economics and America's role in the global economy -- those are all things that we think deserve -- they deserve attention each and every day, but to get special attention at a summit like this seems to us very much merited.
Q: For whose edification is this event -- is it for the administration's edification, or is it an echo chamber for the public?
MR. MCCURRY: This event can prove useful to those who make economic policy in the administration by exploring new ideas --
Q: They don't already know what the policy should be?
MR. MCCURRY: It can be useful to the American people by giving them more information about those policies being pursued by the administration, and it can be useful to those who are in the business of building a 21st century economy. It can be useful in identifying those types of strategies that can promote job growth and expansion of the economy.
Q: May we take it then that one of the possible results of this conference would be major revisions in the administration's economic policy?
MR. MCCURRY: No, you can take it -- one likely result might be ways in which we take the policies, the economic policies of the administration and tune them up so that we can continue to build on the strong success and momentum of the last two years.
Q: What's the status of the Dan Glickman nomination, and when are you going to have a new head of --
MR. MCCURRY: No change in the status or in the process.
Q: What's the problem?
MR. MCCURRY: We're waiting for a background report to be finished.
Q: Still waiting?
MR. MCCURRY: Still waiting.
Q: Has anybody here asked the FBI what the holdup is or tried to get --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe -- we check with them from time to time to see how they're doing. I don't know that we've asked what the holdup is because they have to do their work properly as they see fit.
Q: What about filling Bob Rubin's job; have you got a candidate yet?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know specifically about NEC. I, again, don't rule out the possibilities there may be some further announcements.
Q: Within days?
Q: How is he going to give a sendoff to the minimum wage and tax cut package today?
MR. MCCURRY: Within days, give or take a few days.
Q: How is the President going to give a sendoff to the minimum wage and tax cut -- is it a piece of paper?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. He will sign a transmittal letter I believe at 2:00 p.m. today, along with the economic report that will officially transmit to the Congress both his proposals for a Middle Class Bill of Rights and a minimum wage increase. They will then go to Minority Leader Daschle and Minority Leader Gephardt and it will be up to them to introduce both measures at the request of the administration. We understand they plan to do so in coming days.
Q: Have you managed to attract any Republican support for the minimum wage proposal?
MR. MCCURRY: I am not aware of any change in Republican support, but the measure, as I say, will likely be -- it will be on the Hill later today and be ready for introduction. And we'll see whether it attracts any Republican cosponsorship.
Q: What's the difference between what happens at the economic summit and what presumably happens every single day here in the NEC?
MR. MCCURRY: More focus, more opportunity to have giveand -take with those who are experts in their own sectors of the economy; more opportunity to think through how the future of the post-industrial economy unfolds. And to have that opportunity to really get down to specific ways in which policy meshes with the reality of those who are creating jobs and providing employment opportunities is a good experience for all in the administration who work on economic policy, including the President.
Q: Will members of the Congress be invited to participate in this?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that they're thinking about having the same kind of participation as they had during the transition. But I'll have to -- again, we're trying to work up some more specific information on that.
Q: Mike, on the border crossing fee, there's a -- some of the Texans came out here and said they'd expressed a lot of concerns to Panetta and others, and got some indication that they were taking another look at it. Is the administration locked down on that, or are you reconsidering the way that that process might be --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the border fee is reflected in the budget submitted to Congress a week ago today, and will be argued about accordingly as the budget goes through congressional consideration.
Q: On the Foster nomination, what is the President himself going to do to promote this nomination? Is he calling senators now, or will he himself do anything --
MR. MCCURRY: At the proper point he will engage in it and help convince members of the Senate that it is a good nomination, and that it deserves the support of the Senate.
Q: Has he done any of that yet?
MR. MCCURRY: He's raised it in some of his discussions and had discussions with members of Congress and, specifically, some members of the Senate. But he has not done that -- I think you're suggesting in some organized way that he'll actually hit the phones and start working it. We really won't be in a better position to do that once the nomination officially goes to the Hill.
Q: Senator Biden said out here at the stakeout on Friday that he and the President did not discuss the issue when he was here, that their conversation was confined to the crime bill. Obviously, someone spoke to Senator Biden between the time that he left here and the time he got to the Hill. What happened there? Who talked to him? What was said? How did you all manage to turn him around to the extent you did on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Brit, I have to confess, I was up in New York on Friday so I wasn't here for all the byplay. But as you might expect, his remarks caught the attention of the White House staff and I believe there were some conversations back and forth between the Senator's staff and the White House staff. I'm not sure if anyone talked any specific point.
MR. MCCURRY: I wasn't here; I'd have to go check. I think -- we'll have to go check. I just don't know. But I know that -- as I heard about it in New York, obviously we had some contact between the White House staff and the Senate staff. And wouldn't you imagine that we would? (Laughter.)
Q: Well, I don't know how it didn't come up with the President. One never knows about such things.
MR. MCCURRY: They had other things on their agenda. They were talking about fighting crime and talking about --
Q: Has the VA Secretary been told to alter his travel schedule to Chicago?
MR. MCCURRY: The Secretary or his staff has had some conversations with the White House Legal Counsel staff today, and I understand that Secretary Brown has got a response to some of the things that were in the newspapers over the weekend.
Q: What have they told -- what has the Counsel's Office told him or Panetta's office told him?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I think they just touched base to see how they were responding to these newspaper stories, and we've got some sense of how they will be responding later today.
Q: Do you have a reaction on the Mexican vote in Jalisco yesterday --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. Did we ever -- did you see any formal -- I believe over at the State Department today they're just saying that from the reporting that we've seen, the state and municipal elections in Jalisco yesterday appeared to have transpired in a peaceful and orderly fashion. The first reports that we have are that some 65 percent of the registered electorate cast ballots -- we don't have official results, nor firm data. We've just got -- we're relying mostly at this point on exit polls and quick-counts, as they are called. We commend the people of Jalisco for what appears to have been an orderly election. The process of opening Mexico's political will have advanced significantly if initial reports from Jalisco are borne out by the electoral result.
Q: The budget last week and the economic report today predict a slower level of economic growth in '95 and beyond, from 4 percent down to 2.4 percent, and then 2.5 percent, but that's all premised on the Fed not continuing to raise interest rates. Is this am implicit signal by the administration to the country and to the Fed that if interest rate hikes continue, we may not have such a soft landing and could abort the recovery?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to suggest that here. If I'm not mistaken, Dr. Tyson has just addressed that question following here noontime speech today, and I think she was fairly candid on that point, but also properly so, somewhat circumspect in describing the Feds actions as they relate to interest rates.
Q: If you go from 4 percent to 2.4 percent, that's quite a comedown in economic growth. And wouldn't that suggest the President might be concerned that this recovery he is boasting about could evaporate if you had further interest rate pressures?
MR. MCCURRY: That is not the only -- of course, not the only indicator to watch. The growth rate is important, but the growth rate in combination with other things, like the inflation rate, how unemployment is doing, other economic measures are very important to the President as well. The President is determined to do what is necessary to do to keep the economic recovery underway, to keep expansion of the economy going with low rates of inflation, as he indicated.
Q: What's the theme of his speech tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I come back and do tomorrow --
Q: I just wondered if the President was pleased with the Middle East summit, whether he things anything really tangible was accomplished.
MR. MCCURRY: He was satisfied with the discussions as they were related to him by Secretary Christopher and those who participated. We recognize that there is a great deal of work ahead, but the recommitment of the parties to the process was gratifying to the President, and indeed, was the reason why he had elected to participate in the session at Blair House over the weekend.
Q: Mike, could you tell us, now that the President has threatened to use a veto on the 100,000 police officers, and Perry and Christopher are threatening -- recommending that he veto anything that would undermine his -- tie his hands on U.N. peacekeeping, what other areas that the President hinted at in his State of the Union address -- where else is the President threatening a possible veto?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, at the minute, there's only -- the President has only made one explicit veto threat, and it's a case where he feels it's warranted based on the way he sees legislation developing on Capitol Hill. He has very clearly set out areas in which he sees some differences between the approach of our administration and the Congress. He will continue to work with Congress to try to get them to amend or otherwise alter emerging legislation, but there may very well be cases coming up -- I don't want to speculate on which specific areas -- in which it becomes necessary for him to be very explicit about a veto.
Our strategy here is to work with the Congress, cooperate when we can to get things done for the American people, draw distinctions, to, in a sense, use the bully pulpit to jawbone them when possible to get them to consider other ways of approaching a problem, and then, on occasion, very specifically to say, no, we're just not going to accept that specific provision. That will continue to be the way in which we emerge.
Q: Is the President aware of the Perry-Christopher --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q: So he wouldn't repudiate them, would he, if they called for a veto?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, suffice to say, Helen, he would find the recommendation of the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense very compelling -- already did -- and certainly will probably have more to say on this as the week goes on.
Q: By suggesting that those who would oppose the Foster nomination are tools of the Right to Life movement, are you not risking by this whole strategy poisoning the well for any kind of cooperation with the Republicans on the issues on which you want to cooperate, like welfare reform?
MR. MCCURRY: No. And there are -- each individual member of the Senate will address his or her response to this nomination as he or she sees fit. What we're suggesting is that a knee-jerk response to an extreme faction in the Republican Party does not do justice to this nomination and his superior record, nor to the advice and consent process of the Senate. So those rushing to make judgments based on the admonitions of these extreme right-wing groups we ask to pause to consider more fully the full breadth of this nominee's record. Done in an amicable way and done with some sense of fair play and common sense, we think Dr. Foster's nomination will fare quite well. But the reason we are being very strident in responding to those who are saying "as a strict litmus test, just say no to Dr. Foster" is that we don't think that that is a fair way for him to be received or for his nomination to be considered.
If we can get them to stop and think about this nominee's full range of experience, background, expertise, and his values, we think we will do quite well. But so far we haven't been given that type of debate, which requires a very forceful response from the administration.
Q? Mike, one of the questions that was early on raised about Dr. Foster was this transcript in which he talks about 700 amnios and therapeutic abortions. You took the question on that. What's the answer?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again.
Q: The transcript of the ethics panel hearing where he said 700 -- is that -- are you disputing the accuracy? What's the explanation for that line?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard one, nor can we imagine what one would be, given that that does not fit Dr. Foster's record.
Q: Yes, but Mike, it's in the transcript. He never challenged it in the past. There's got to be an explanation.
MR. MCCURRY: Deborah, I have to check and see. I heard from others at HHS who are more familiar with the work of the ethics advisory board that there were some who served on the board who have different recollections of that session and different memories of what Dr. Foster may have said. So they may have said something further on that. I can check and see whether they've had any additional members of the board available. But the members who were there are available and some of them, apparently, have been willing to say that their recollection is different.
Q: Mike, how can the President with any consistency say, on issues like welfare and even some aspects of law enforcement, that states and localities should have maximum flexibility, that they know best what solutions will work for them, and then turn around on the crime bill and say, if you don't take our idea for adding police and you want to spend the money on what you think is something more effective in your community; that we won't let you do that, we're going to dictate from Washington and it's got to be cops.
MR. MCCURRY: We did a fairly lengthy discussion this Friday, Brit, but essentially what we argue is that in the case of the crime bill last year, there's a very specific commitment hard fought to put 100,000 more police officers out there. And that's something we now see jeopardized by the approach they're taking.
Philosophically, on some issues like welfare reform, there are good, sound reasons to put decision-making back in the hands of those locally who are closest to the customer. There are some aspects of law enforcement where local decision-making is very much warranted, and we've got, through the Justice Department, programs that do exactly that. But we're talking here about a very specific commitment -- 100,000 police on the streets that we think will be lost if it's shoved off into a block grant where there's no accountability. That's what we're fighting for and protecting in this instance.
Q: If there is a commitment and it is shared by local authorities, as I assume you consider a commitment to be a two-way deal, why is there any worry at all if this is the best thing to do with the money that that's not what the localities will do anyway?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because we've got to guarantee --
Q: Why does it have to be a mandate?
MR. MCCURRY: We have a guarantee in last year's crime bill under the -- that the money that is in the bill goes to 100,000 more police officers on the street. There is no guarantee in the approach emerging by the Republican crime bill. And that is a big difference, and that is a point hard fought over.
Q: Why is this commitment set in concrete? Do you read something in the election returns that says the public was so wedded to what Mr. Clinton did that --
MR. MCCURRY: No. We wanted to get cops out on the streets to fight crime. It's as simple as that.
Q: And you're afraid that authorities at the local levels do not?
MR. MCCURRY: We're afraid it might go to things other than cops on the street. It might be perfectly legitimate purposes; I've heard local law enforcement people talking about upgrading their administrative practices, redoing computers, all this stuff which obviously there might be a need for. But we've got a specific commitment on the books now for 100,000 police officers.
Q: Isn't this an absolutely classic example of a onesize -fits-all solution? I mean, classic.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, it is, Brit, one-size-fits-all, more police officers out there in America fighting crime. We think that's a good idea, whether it's a small community, big city, wherever it is. That's why the President fought hard for this last year.
Q: Mike, why do you think so many mayors think there are better ways to fight crime than more cops?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again.
Q: Why do you think so many mayors, like Mayor Guiliani of New York, for example, have pushed for alternate ways of funding because they don't think more cops is the answer.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because in some cases -- they might have different views on the best way to do it, but I haven't heard many, if any, local or municipal officers suggest that more police on the streets wouldn't be a help. If that is, in fact, the Mayor's view, I don't believe I've heard him say specifically that he thinks fewer cops on the streets of New York is a bad idea.
Q: He did say that he had better ways to use the money, as I believe the mayor of Boston --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have different ways, maybe.
Q: But that goes back to Brit's question, why does President Clinton think he knows better --
MR. MCCURRY: Good note here: The Attorney General was here and did all these answers, and did them very eloquently on Saturday too. So you might want to look back on Saturday's transcript.
Q: Do you have any additional information on the science and technology meeting at 5:30 p.m.?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again?
Q: Do you have any additional information on the high- tech CEOs meeting at 5:30 p.m.?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't have it, unless these folks -- these folks may have a little bit more after the briefing.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:40 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/269883