Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
3:17 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Thanks to Secretary Reich and Karen Nussbaum. And I've got a couple of items. I will noW hold forth with our daily briefing -- several items to begin with. First, to start, unfortunately on a sad note, President Clinton expresses his deepest sympathies and condolences to the families and friends of Alisa Flatow. She's the young American woman who died this morning as a result of injuries suffered in yesterday's terrorist attack in the Gaza.
The President would also like to praise the courage and the resolve of the Flatow family at what is obviously a very trying and difficult moment, and stressed that this death is a poignant reminder that the enemies of peace sometimes know no boundaries as they inflict their terrorist outrages on those who would seek peace and seek to live in peace. And the President is all the more determined now to support those who are attempting to bring a comprehensive, lasting and just peace to all of the peoples of the Middle East.
Q: Did he talk to the family?
MR. MCCURRY: He has not. The National Security Advisor has been in contact. The President may be in contact with Alisa's father, who is in Israel now, later in the day.
Q: Mike, do you have any -- new subject?
Q: It just becomes -- anything you say while that's going on can't be used. You may want to use that from time to time.
MR. MCCURRY: Thanks for that tip. (Laughter.) That will be very useful in the future, I'm sure.
All right, a couple of other things. The President, about three minutes ago, signed into law H.R. 889, which is the Defense supplemental bill, an act making emergency supplemental appropriations and rescissions, and to preserve an enhance the military readiness of the Department of Defense for the fiscal year ending September 30th, 1995. We'll have a statement shortly in which the President will commend the Congress for its expeditious action on his request to provide these funds necessary to defense readiness and preparedness.
Q: What's that?
MR. MCCURRY: It's H.R. 889.
Q: How much money?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll check it out. We've got a statement coming out shortly.
Q: Any reaction to Bob Dole's officially announcing his candidacy today?
MR. MCCURRY: No. (Laughter.) No, I mean --
Q: Turn that machine on again.
MR. MCCURRY: While Senator Dole did become a presidential candidate, he remains the Majority Leader of the United States Senate. And as the President has said often, he looks forward to working with Senator Dole in crafting an agenda that will meet the needs of the American people as we look ahead to the 21st century. That's the business the President will be about in the months ahead, and he looks forward to working with Senator Dole in his capacity as Majority Leader of the Senate.
Q: Mike, the President is also running for reelection in the months ahead. How does he feel about --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, at some appropriate point, the President might enter in the fray himself. But right now, he's concentrating on addressing those issues that are important to the future of the country and are most on the minds of the American people.
Q: Is it possible for Senator Dole to do justice to both jobs?
MR. MCCURRY: Of course. He's very talented.
Q: Prime Minister Bhutto was saying the United States should either give them their F-16s that they paid for or give Pakistan it's money back. What do we mean to do about it?
MR. MCCURRY: I suspect the first and most urgent thing would be to discuss with the Prime Minister exactly that issue, and I suspect that issue, among others, will come up as the President meets with the Prime Minister tomorrow. Certainly, our nonproliferation concerns are very much at the heart of the dialogue the Prime Minister expects to have tomorrow, and I'm sure on her mind will be the effect of the Pressler sanctions, which prevents the transfer of the aircraft to Pakistan, and which also prevent the disbursement of the money back to Pakistan, which is -- it's also a legislative appropriations item as well.
Q: Do you expect a resolution to this problem?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't expect there will be any resolution of that issue at the meeting tomorrow, but I do expect there will be a conversation related to not only our nonproliferation concerns and objectives in the region, but also what we hope will be growing bilateral relations with Pakistan and a growing sense that we can work together on a number of issues of mutual interest to both Pakistan and the United States.
Q: Would the President like to see Congress grant a one-time waiver to press for Pakistan in this case?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the President, first and foremost, would like to see the kind of progress on our nonproliferation concerns in the region that would warrant the type of change in the Pressler sanctions that were originally foreseen. The problem is, five years ago when the Pressler sanctions were implemented, they were designed to enhance our nonproliferation objectives in the region, and there are those now who question whether the utility of those sanctions have remained.
Q: What's the administration's view of that?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is going to have a discussion with the Prime Minister tomorrow about whether or not there are other ways, including through fruitful and useful dialogue, that you could address those concerns that we have.
Q: Well, why can't you still have a hold on the nuclear weapons and have a dialogue?
MR. MCCURRY: You obviously --
Q: I mean, if you lift the sanctions you've taken away your one weapon.
MR. MCCURRY: We cannot -- the President cannot lift the sanctions, first of all. They are enacted by the United States Congress and they remain in place. Now, consideration of whether or not you could adjust those sanctions or give relief would be, in our mind, easier to consider if there was progress on our nonproliferation objectives.
Q: What could Pakistan do so that there would be progress on this?
MR. MCCURRY: There are a number of things they could do, and we've had, through the contacts we've had with the government of Pakistan, suggested some things that they might want to do, and I think that might likely be a subject of the discussions tomorrow.
Q: Can you just explain what they are?
MR. MCCURRY: No, not now. I mean, we're going to have -- we're on the eve of a meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and it would be appropriate to tell you more about the outcome of their conversations rather than necessarily preview it now.
Q: Mike, on the affirmative action commission that's under consideration by the White House, what now is the purpose of that commission that's under consideration?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the suggestion for some type of blue ribbon affirmative action commission comes from a number who have suggested the idea to the President. The President has indicated he finds the idea attractive in part because it is a way in which you can take the results of the review that he is now conducting, implement those, and then have a forum by which you have an ongoing national conversation about the issue of affirmative action and the importance of programs that protect women and minorities as they seek to advance through the work force. That is, in the President's mind, the most attractive feature of that suggestion.
But I would stress at this point it is only a suggestion. The President has not indicated that he's accepted that idea, nor that he intends to include that as one of the results of the review that he's now conducting. It's certainly an idea that he is looking at. It's something that he finds attractive, specifically because it aims for that type of national dialogue on the issue of affirmative action that keeps race- and wedge-based politics out of our national discourse.
Q: Mike, you're describing a panel which would be an advocate for the President's principles as opposed to a panel that would have divergent points of view?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm describing suggestions that have come to the President. Among those suggestions are a commission that would include very prominent Americans from a cross-section of political and academic life, and people who would be able, through their own reasoned judgments about the performance of affirmative action programs, be able to elevate the discussion of the effectiveness of these program out of what is sometimes a very contentious and very divisive political environment.
Q: I'm still confused about what's supposed to happen after the internal review.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has indicated there will be the review that is now going on, will conclude with, perhaps, recommendations, some conclusions, certainly on his part some public articulation of the results of the review. But that could very conceivably lead to some substantial reforms or adjustments in some of those programs that do exist to enhance them.
Q: The President wouldn't quite yet be ready to tell us what he thinks about this issue when his review is complete. He's telling us what he thinks might await the conclusion of this suggested blue ribbon commission?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, not at all. In fact, I would steer you in exactly the opposite direction. The President doesn't think there's any way that a commission could give -- a commission would not be used by the President to slip some of the issues that are on the agenda in the course of this discussion now. What it would be is a vehicle by which, over time, you could continue to evaluate the effectiveness of these programs, which might undergo some substantial modification or adjustment as a result of the President's policy review. It becomes a way in which we can continue to monitor these programs after they -- after whatever changes occur as a result of the President's review, and continue to keep the dialogue about these programs out of the very contentious political environment that we see developing on the issue.
Q: You've got the California initiative. There are going to be, obviously, proposals coming from various Republican candidates to do one thing or another with regard to affirmative action. Is the President, as these things come forward and are being debated, going to be prepared to tell us as we go along what his views of each of these proposals is, or the issue --
MR. MCCURRY: You mean the California --
Q: Well, we know what the California initiative says. There will be --
MR. MCCURRY: No I don't. Do you? It's not written yet and it's not clear. There may be competing -- there may be more than one ballot initiative in California. So we really ought to wait and see what that looks like before we summarily judge what might or might not be on the ballot. In any event, they will be on the ballot in California. The President's obligation is to take a look at programs that exist now, make sure that they are working effectively, if they need improvement to improve them, and then to publicly discuss the issue with Americans in a way that they can come to some understanding about how the programs perform.
Q: Does that describe the order of things?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q: So the answer to my original question is yes then?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure that -- we're not sure at what point -- no. No, because you're not -- you're making certain judgments about what might or might not be on the ballot in what, March next year, November next year? Who knows at this point?
Q: No. The first question I asked you was whether his announcing what his view of all this is would await the conclusion of this blue ribbon commission if it occurs.
MR. MCCURRY: No. The answer is no. He is going to, obviously, at some point, at some point reasonably soon, talk about what he has seen happen so far in this.
Q: Is that days, weeks, months?
MR. MCCURRY: It's, as several of us indicated yesterday, probably a matter of weeks.
Q: How does the commission keep this out of --
MR. MCCURRY: Some of us, as opposed to others of us. (Laughter.) The others of us now concede that he was wrong. (Laughter.)
Q: How does the commission keep this -- I mean, none of these efforts are going to stop when the commission -- I mean, the California initiative isn't going to stop, and the Republican presidential candidates are going to stop talking about this when if the commission --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't know. I mean, the President thinks that the type of dialogue that a national commission might be able to engender amongst Americans might significantly change the willingness of some politicians to use this issue divisively to divide Americans. I think that's one of his interests here, to see if we can change the tenor of this debate.
You all heard him on Saturday on this subject, and he said we could do with a lot less shouting on this issue and a lot more reasonable discourse. Now, this might be one way --this might be one way that you could achieve that type of dialogue as opposed to having what would amount to a very contentious and perhaps nasty fight before the American electorate.
Q: Is there a report to close down Pennsylvania Avenue for protective --
MR. MCCURRY: There is, I am told, a draft of a document circulating over at Treasury that is representing some, I guess, some effort to bring to a conclusion the security review that's been going on. But I'd refer you over to Treasury Department because it's in their province over there.
Q: When do you think you'll get the report?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I'd suggest you ask the Treasury folks.
Q: Does the White House now intend to close down Lafayette Park every time a foreign leader is staying at Blair House, or is it just coincidence that this has happened the last few --
MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea. I suggest you -- who handles that?
Q: The Secret Service.
MR. MCCURRY: I'd refer that over to Treasury.
Q: Is it related to that review, though?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. You'll have to ask Treasury. They handle that.
Q: Does the President have any opinion about making Pennsylvania Avenue into some sort of pedestrian mall?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't asked him. I don't know if he has any opinion on it or not.
Q: He's going to have to decide, is he not?
MR. MCCURRY: No, not necessarily. He -- there's a security review that's conducted at the Treasury Department. He might very well accept whatever recommendations they have. He tends to defer to the professionals when it comes to --
Q: Well, he will get a report. He has asked for a report, has he not?
MR. MCCURRY: When it comes to matters of his security, he tends to defer to the opinions of those who are professional and expert on that matter.
Q: Hasn't the President already indicated an unwillingness to close Pennsylvania Avenue? Am I wrong on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check on it. There may be some background on that. We'll work on it.
Q: Does he always defer?
Q: Mike, do you know if -- is there any timetable on the President signing the D.C. bill, the Financial Review Board?
MR. MCCURRY: We are awaiting, I think, the final and copy. I'm not sure if it has arrived here or not, but we anticipate signing of that very shortly.
Q: Can I just clarify on the commission idea that's being discussed? Is that idea to make that a vehicle for monitoring these programs over time -- is that a White House generated idea, or is that something that comes from the outside?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The suggestion has come from a number of those with whom the President has consulted in the course of this review, and the President has indicated that he finds aspects of the idea attractive. Now, there are some problems with that, too, and he has not indicated that he's necessarily wedded to the idea of moving in that direction, but he's talked a little bit about it most recently over this past weekend.
Q: Mike, what are the drawbacks to the commission?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the drawbacks are that it wouldn't achieve the central purpose for which the President finds some utility in the idea, and that is an ongoing mechanism by which you can seek to build a national consensus about these programs which are clearly divisive for all the reasons the President described on Saturday. If it's not going to work to achieve that purpose and not contribute to that type of dialogue, then it's not clear that the idea would have enough merit to be included within the final recommendations that the President accepts.
But that's part of what the discussion is now. Would that be the vehicle for helping to take this issue out of the thorny hubbub of politics and turn it into something that Americans can come to understand both what affirmative action is and is not which is a source of confusion to many Americans? A lot of Americans think affirmative action is quotas. Well, quotas are against the law. And nobody is advocating quotas, least of all the President of the United States.
So if it's a vehicle by which you can help Americans to understand what these programs are, why they are necessary, what type of race and gender discrimination still exists in our society, and how it is being addressed by these government programs, it might serve a very useful purpose which is what the President's interest is on this.
Q: How would the President like to see it conceptually?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I don't know. They're not anywhere near having any conclusion on that.
Q: If it took nine months or a year, is that a plus or a minus?
MR. MCCURRY: There's no discussion that I'm aware of on any timing. I mean, they are basically -- they are still looking at the idea of a commission. I don't know that they've done anything to define what parameters might exist for the performance of such a commission.
Q: At least one prominent Republican said this morning that this commission is "another Clinton waffle in order to toss this subject off and not --
MR. MCCURRY: Politicians pop off all the time.
Q: so that the President would not have to make difficult decisions on what programs should be kept and which programs we've formed." Can you tell me in the review that he will in fact specifically answer questions on --programmatically, or will he ask the commission to do it?
MR. MCCURRY: I addressed that earlier. I said that the President does not see this as a vehicle by which he avoids any of the issues that have been embedded within the review that he is conducting.
Q: So you're certain he won't say, I've decided to let the commission decide what these programs -- which ones ought to be kept and which ones ought to be --
MR. MCCURRY: In a general sense, he's not going to use the concept of the commission for that purpose. Now, there may be some specific issues -- there might be some specific issues as they come along that might be conveyed to a commission if it is established. But I don't see -- the discussion has not advanced far enough at this point for anyone to see that as a reasonable outcome of the review. As a general proposition, the President has made it clear, he's got a range of things under discussion. He intends to address those issues shortly as he unveils some of his judgments and conclusions as a result of the review that he is conducting.
Q: What is the problem, really, in the West Coast? Isn't the Democratic Party all for affirmative action basically?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he addressed an audience on Saturday -- very clearly of the mind that there should not be any abolition of affirmative action programs. And he concurred in that general sentiment, while at the same time reminding this very partisan audience that they needed to understand some of the frustration and skepticism that comes from those who feel they've been victims of these programs and why they feel victimized. That was what the President addressed Saturday in front of the California State Democratic Convention.
Q: Was he happy with what they adopted, the resolution about no arbitrary preferences?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if -- I haven't asked him that. I know that Mr. Stephanopoulos remained in California. He had good discussions with some of the state party leaders and others later in the day on Saturday and was very satisfied with the discussions that he had. But at that point, I know that they were seeking to achieve some balance in the language that they were going to issue in the resolution on affirmative action.
Q: Mike, when the review's completed, will the White House or the President release a very detailed, specific list of whatever changes you're thinking about? Will there be a --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen -- I don't know that there's anything in a draft form that makes it possible to answer that question at this point.
Q: I'm sorry if this is redundant, but I just want to be clear on this. At the end of this review, is it anticipated that the President will actually make decisions that could in fact affect programs now in place?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q: But it could be a list or it could just be --
MR. MCCURRY: There's no draft at this point, so it's impossible to speculate what form the final report might take. There are some, you know, ideas beginning -- their text beginning to circulate, ideas begin to circulate, but I haven't seen anything that sort of says here's the final recommendation memo or decision memo going to the President, or here's the way the public discussion of this would look.
Q: Is the President traveling on Thursday as well as Wednesday?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard any plans for travel Thursday.
Q: there's something in the works on Thursday?
MR. MCCURRY: He's going on Wednesday.
Q: To Warm Springs, right? Is there something else?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, no, no. He may have some plans to leave town for the Easter weekend early, perhaps as early as Thursday night.
Q: Where's he going?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe to Camp David.
Q: You talked him into it, huh?
Q: He deserves a rest. He's been working hard. (Laughter.)
Q: talk about tomorrow? Is he going to sign the health -- the self-employed health insurance deduction --
MR. MCCURRY: Very shortly. Maybe tomorrow.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:39 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/269889