Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the White House. Let me start with the nation's pastime, because as you know the President has issued a statement today. The President feels strongly that America's been living without baseball for too long. And now as the strike is dragging on, it does threaten the 1995 season. And importantly, it threatens a lot of the communities whose livelihood depends on baseball, particularly those communities that sponsor sites for spring training events. With the strike imperiling the livelihoods of tens of thousands of workers whose jobs depend on baseball, the President has said today that it's time for the strike to end.
He has previously, as you know, appointed former Labor Secretary Bill Usery to help the parties sort out their differences. He's now asked his mediator to approach the parties and to step up the pace and intensity of the mediation efforts and asked for a report back from the mediator by February 6th.
If the players and the owners by that time are not on track towards a speedy settlement, the President has asked Mr. Usery, if he believes at that point that it is appropriate, to put forth his own recommendations for a proposed settlement between the parties.
In short, the President is saying it's time to play ball.
Q: If the owners don't agree to play ball, does the President think Congress should take another look at the anti-trust provisions that are provided for the baseball owners?
MR. MCCURRY: We've got a process for resolution of labor disputes in this country. The President feels that it can work in this situation, and he's determined first to make sure that through this mediation effort the owners and the players can come together and get on with the season.
Q: Senator Dole made a very similar statement this morning, and it came before the President's --
MR. MCCURRY: It's another great example of bipartisan cooperation between the President and Congress.
Q: What is compelling both of you --
MR. MCCURRY: What is compelling --
Q: both Dole and --
Q: Did the President call Mr. Usery after he heard about Dole's announcement?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, he is -- this has -- for some time the President has been working with his advisors monitoring the strike and the negotiations themselves. Secretary Reich has been closely following the negotiations, too. And for some time they've been talking about moving into a stronger effort to bring about reconciliation between the disparate positions of the owners and the players.
Q: Was this orchestrated between Dole and the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: No, as far as I know, the President, as he made the calls today, was unaware that Senator Dole had said anything about that -- as far as I know. I can double-check that.
Q: And where is the stick? I mean, he can't impose a settlement --
Q: What are the federal government's options? What can the government --
Q: Could you do Gene's question?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the federal government's options are all contained within the National Labor Relations Act.
Q: Where's the stick, though? The President can't impose a settlement on the parties --
MR. MCCURRY: No, by having a mediator actually propose a settlement, which would then become in a sense the place that the negotiations would be at that point, that is most likely an inducement to the parties to get much more serious and get down to business.
Q: Yes, but that leaves open the possibility that that would fail and that there is nothing then behind that that comes from here or from Washington that says don't fail.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there -- I don't want to speculate on what additional steps that the President has outlined, a course of action here. We hope it'll work. We hope that the players and the owners will come together and settle.
Q: Mike, was there something in particular that teed the President off about the baseball strike today that prompted him to put out this statement today?
MR. MCCURRY: There has been a growing sense that there was a need for the President to give these instructions to Mr. Usery. That's developed over the course of the last several weeks, I believe. But the discussions that have been occurring within the administration and the White House really coalesced today, and the President's taken these actions.
Q: And it was totally coincidental that it came out on the same day that Senator Dole made his offer?
MR. MCCURRY: Coincidentally and fortuitous. I think -- hopefully that the players and the owners as they see that both the Senate Majority Leader and the President have spoken out publicly that they hopefully that will be encouragement to them to get on with a settlement.
Q: Is it coincidental also that the mayors of these baseball cities are holding a news conference today -- later this afternoon in Washington to try to urge the Clinton administration to do more to resolve this baseball strike?
MR. MCCURRY: That is a happy coincidence that I was unaware of. It probably has to do with the fact that the League of Cities is here in town, and it reflects what the President says in his statement that there's growing concern in these communities that depend upon baseball for economic livelihood and for the people who depend upon it for jobs, that it will have a damaging economic impact if this strike now cancels the 1995 season.
Q: Mike, doesn't it go against the grain of both what Dole and the President are preaching of making the government less intrusive in people's lives? Aren't you departing -- message on that and moving dangerously toward a big brother role?
Q: Night game. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think that the President feels that these steps are very consistent with the practices that we have for the government's involvement in labor situations. Those are all very carefully covered under the National Labor Relations Act and other federal statutes. And he's certainly acted consistent with that philosophy. And remember, first and foremost, the players and the owners have had considerable time to resolve their differences through negotiations.
Q: Aesthetics aside, but from a labor relations standpoint, how does he feel about the owners plan to use replacement players?
MR. MCCURRY: The President certainly hopes that the season can go on with a settlement. And I think that he doesn't even want to entertain that possibility at a time when he hopes that through mediation the strike can come to an end.
Q: will the President consider personally meeting with the parties?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll see how this current effort that the President has outlined develops, and then make a judgment later on to see what other steps might be necessary.
Q: told to butt out? Is there in fact no stick here at all?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't -- Mr. Usery has been in contact with the parties. And I think they have a great deal of respect for him. He's former Secretary of Labor. He's one of the most skilled labor mediators anywhere in the country, and they have, as far as I understand, welcomed him into the discussions and monitoring the discussions. So we are very hopeful that he can play a positive impact in -- discussions.
Q: But the reason that the owners have been able to impose the salary cap, which is the biggest bone of contention in this whole thing, is that they're exempt from antitrust laws. Why is the President unwilling to say that he would take a look at that if they don't agree to settle by February 6th?
MR. MCCURRY: Gene, we are pursuing right now this effort that the President has outlined today. The President is well aware of the impact of the antitrust statute. And we will hold that question until we see how this current effort proceeds.
Q: Mike, can I move to another subject, which is --
MR. MCCURRY: Move on.
Q: Has the White House --
MR. MCCURRY: -- spring training by the time we --
Q: Has anyone in the White House had a conversation with Secretary Brown about some of the legal questions that have been raised about him? And do you intend to do that? And what is the position of the White House on these troubles?
MR. MCCURRY: The office of White House legal counsel, when there are matters of this, routinely monitors the case. I believe they have monitored some of the stories here. The President has a great deal of confidence in Secretary Brown. And Secretary Brown as been very active in promoting U.S. jobs and exports and just very recently in his travels. And he's a very valued member of the Cabinet.
Q: No one has -- as you did with Secretary Espy, for example, at some point he was brought in here and I think it was Mr. McLarty or someone who had a conversation with --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to -- as I say, the office of legal counsel monitors these when there's matters like this that are raised publicly, they monitor that, and they have discussions with legal counsel, to the Secretary --
Q: The Justice Department also --
MR. MCCURRY: Attorney General Reno addressed that question today, Helen. That's correct.
Q: So you're not saying -- you're saying that you're not going to tell us whether anyone has brought him in here and had a conversation --
MR. MCCURRY: I just don't know the answer to that, Rita. I can --
Q: Could you find that out for us?
MR. MCCURRY: I can check into it, sure.
Q: Is it impossible for Secretary Brown to have the President's reelection campaign considering he's become a target of the Democrats?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I don't -- that's not a question I could possibly answer at this point. It's -- you know, the President when it comes time to establish a campaign committee will choose someone that he's comfortable with, and is confident, that will spearhead an effort to see him reelected. And that's -- I don't want to speculate who that might be or when that kind of decision might be reached.
Q: Mike, on Mexican loan guarantee, it appears to be in more and more trouble. What's your assessment right now of how long can this go on without -- (inaudible) -- consequences?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we continue to feel confident that the economic support package for Mexico will be approved by Congress. The administration has had good, substantive discussions with members of Congress, addressing their concerns that they have. We believe we can resolve those concerns and can proceed as quickly as possible to a final passage of a support package. The President feels strongly about this. So do the bipartisan leaders of Congress. And the Secretary of the Treasury will be testifying shortly on the Hill. And we've had other Cabinet members testifying to articulate the President's very strong support for the measure. The President just moments ago has told international economic leaders how important this is in terms of the global economy. So we will continue to press the case very firmly and very actively.
Q: Has the President at all talked to leaders of other countries about enlarging their contribution to at least the IMF stabilization fund? Or in terms of other countries or this country, has there been, or is there being developed a fallback plan, given the trouble that you have up on Capitol Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the administration has been very actively involved in discussions with foreign countries; I think the State Department has addressed itself to that. And the President, himself, to my knowledge, has not, other than the discussions he's had with President Zedillo, of course. But there are some very encouraging developments. There's some news being made at this hour elsewhere here in Washington that we believe is very encouraging.
Q: What's that?
MR. MCCURRY: I would prefer not to address it here, but I can tell you --
Q: Where to look?
MR. MCCURRY: I can tell you where to look -- you should look at the IMF. There will be -- we expect some type of announcement from them today. So there are some very encouraging things happening that reflect, I think, the world community's agreement with the President and with the leaders of Congress that this is a matter that has to be resolved and we have to move on through this short-term problem.
Q: Mike, does that change what your -- what you're trying to do on Capitol Hill in any way -- the IMF announcement -- in terms of the amount of money you need or the conditions involved, or does it make it easier or harder for you to get something through?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to predict what effect it will have, but I think some members of Congress publicly have indicated that they don't believe the United States, in instances like this, should share -- should accept all the burden. And, indeed, through international financial lending institutions, like the IMF, there is a way in which the world can share some of this burden, and certainly we would feel it would be positive if we see that.
Q: Will this be a concrete action on the part of IMF?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it will be, but I'd refer you to them.
Q: Mike, Senator Dole made it pretty clear yesterday that absent the size of deeper Democratic support for this, at least in the Senate, he wouldn't even bring it up. Is a special effort being made or renewed, or an additional effort being made here to generate that and make it known?
MR. MCCURRY: We have, as we've indicated to you several times, made a very aggressive effort to convince all members of Congress and, yes, especially those of the President's party, that this is in the interest of the United States; it is very critical to our capacity to keep jobs in our economy, to keep export and markets open to our south and to head off a crisis that might pose a real threat to our borders.
Q: But, Mike, the question really is, as of yesterday, whatever exhortations had been made along the lines you just described obviously hadn't done the job as far as the Majority Leader of the Senate was concerned. I'm just wondering if what he said yesterday had resulted in having renewed our further efforts.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will reinvigorate those efforts and continue to press exactly the arguments I just mentioned, because we think they will be persuasive and can be persuasive as members of Congress understand more exactly how the guarantee package would work.
Q: Mike, is the President himself going to go to the American people to educate them on this issue and when?
MR. MCCURRY: As he did in the State of the Union Address Tuesday night, as he will continue to do, he will continue to be very publicly associated with this support package and with the need to build support for it.
Q: Well, he spoke in Pennsylvania yesterday and didn't say a word on it, as far as I could see.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm not going to suggest, Doyle, in each and every instance that the President appears publicly -- he was having a good discussion with university presidents this morning and he didn't address that issue, too. It was not germane to that discussion. But he will find opportunities. In fact, he did earlier today in his address to the World Economic Forum. He'll find occasions where he can continue to speak out publicly, and hopefully, Americans will come to understand why this package is manifestly in the interest of the United States.
Q: What are your concerns about this group of House Democrats who want to join the effort to repeal the assault weapons ban?
MR. MCCURRY: The President could not have made himself clearer than he did in the State of the Union Address Tuesday night his feelings on that subject. And he made it very, very clear that he does not intend to let that type of repeal occur.
Q: Will he veto any legislation that is enacted by Congress?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President made that pretty clear Tuesday night.
Q: But this specific group -- this is from the President's own party, and a big chunk of these House members.
MR. MCCURRY: He understands that there are strong feelings on this issue. He feels strongly about it, too, and made that very clear.
Q: Has the President been in contact with Yeltsin at all in terms of the internal use of the hotline, or finger on the nuclear trigger and so forth?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't believe that in events of recent days there has been anything that warranted that type of communication. I can double-check and make sure, but I'm not aware of any communication of that nature.
Q: The President made clear on Tuesday night that he thought using Medicare cuts to pay for tax cuts was the wrong thing to do. How about using Medicare cuts for deficit reduction, and how about using Medicare cuts for health care --
MR. MCCURRY: The President has always suggested that changes in the structure of some of the entitlement programs in the context of health care reform is something that might be considered. But there's nothing new --
Q: How about the deficit reduction?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, you could put out a long list of things when you consider it in connection with that. The President --
Q: short list --
MR. MCCURRY: The President addressed himself specifically to that the other night, and I'll leave it where he left it.
Q: Mike, between Christine Todd Whitman's speech the other night and between what Republicans have been doing over the last few months, there seems to be a pretty clear Republican attempt to marginalize the presidency as much as possible. How do you all respond to that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President responded very effectively Tuesday night in a speech that, clearly, the American people responded to with a lot of enthusiasm, with a lot of support. That's the best way for him to continue to prove the negative of that argument is to do exactly what he's doing -- to get in here every day, continue to lead this country, continue to set forth his agenda and make progress towards the things that he has outlined. That's what he will continue to do.
Q: Can you talk about -- welfare reform conference on Saturday? Who's going to be there? What do they hope to accomplish?
MR. MCCURRY: Can I hold that off until tomorrow? We actually will have someone here, and we've got an idea of who, that will be able to walk you through a little more of that. I'll save that for tomorrow if that's okay. If you need -- check in with us later if you need some -- if you're writing something or setting that up in advance of tomorrow, we'll help you out.
Q: Any news out of the Brokaw? News?
MR. MCCURRY: News, like in hard news, news you can use? News you can put on the air? Maybe.
MR. MCCURRY: He held forth on baseball. Other than that, I don't want to scoop your colleague sitting down at the end of the aisle here.
Q: What else tomorrow?
Q: Mike, what's your assessment -- on the Mexican peso?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry?
Q: Do you have any assessment of when there will actually be a house -- well, let's put it this way -- when there will actually be agreed-upon language --
MR. MCCURRY: House action?
Q: and two, when there might be a vote?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are in almost constant conversation with the congressional leadership on both sides of the aisle on that, and I'd rather not predict. I really believe it's more within the promise of the congressional leadership to answer that --
Q: How about a bill?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be -- not be wrong to say that we are very concerned about action; action depends on there being a bill; and the bill is the subject of the negotiations going on now as they try to finalize the package.
Q: But are you saying -- what about the time frame? I mean, the markets aren't going to wait forever before they give up on you.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't want to predict the behavior of the markets. I think that would be incorrect for me to do. But that we certainly understand the obligation we have to try to finalize a package and move it to action as expeditiously as we can.
Q: How close do you think you're getting --? How close do you think it's getting to be a package?
MR. MCCURRY: I think there is good progress that's being made every day as they address specific concerns that members of Congress have. And Secretary Rubin, I would imagine, will be addressing that in front of Congress very shortly in much greater detail.
Q: Has the President talked to Greenspan at all about the adverse impact on Mexico of raising U.S. interest rates again?
MR. MCCURRY: His last conversation with the chairman on the subject of Mexico, I believe, was when they met here at the White House. I am not aware that they have had any conversation since then.
Q: The Vice President is on the board of regents of the Smithsonian, so the administration is going to have to take a position on this Enola Gay controversy. Where is the President on this issue as we go into this decision on Monday?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a subject that I will just dance around -- (laughter).
Q: He's honest.
MR. MCCURRY: I have no way of predicting.
Q: Whether he will or whether he has or -- I mean, what's --
MR. MCCURRY: I am not aware that the President has taken any position on that issue. And if I get an opportunity to ask him, I will report back to you.
Q: Mike, do you think it should be displayed at all?
MR. MCCURRY: I have never had a conversation with the President on the subject, but if there is interest in that I will see --
Q: think of think of Sonny Bono?
MR. MCCURRY: What?
Q: What did you think of Sonny Bono?
MR. MCCURRY: What did I think? I thought it was an interesting commentary on the times we live in.
MR. MCCURRY: As my partner would report, I laughed occasionally during it, yes.
Q: I don't know if this reached the presidential level yet, but some of the allies are accusing the U.S. of dumping dairy products and violating the spirit -- double-crossing them and violating the spirit of the GATT accords. And, of course, the announcement came just as Strobe Talbott, who was heading down to the region. Does the President know about this? Is there concern here in the White House about --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure whether that's been included in the briefings on developments in the world that the President has received. I do know that both at USDA and State that they have been following that and you might want to check in both places there to see how the administration has been dealing with that.
Q: To be fair, what they have said at State is the exact same thing that's been said for five or six years, and it's not selling down there --
MR. MCCURRY: They very often at the State Department have a habit of saying the same thing over and over again. I have kind of noticed that in my own practice.
Q: At this delicate time, a few months before GATT becomes implemented, is the White House getting involved -- did the White House actually know this was going to happen? I know it's an --
MR. MCCURRY: We have people here at the White House that are following the issue very closely.
Q: Can you get anything more on it, please?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check and reluctantly look into it. I will. I will. I won't be reluctant about it. I'll do it.
Q: Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Will you guys do that for me? (Laughter.)
MS. TERZANO: We're here to serve. (Laughter.)
Q: some personnel announcements there that you forgot to make?
MR. MCCURRY: You thought I was going to not make some personnel announcements today? What's wrong with you? You didn't think I would -- I just wanted to save some fun news for the last, if that's okay. Fun news, news that you can use. And we've got some paper coming out shortly on this, but the President has made the following appointments and they -- we've got them announced and in a release here from the Chief of Staff. Kathryn O'Leary, known to many of you as Kitty Higgins, currently the Chief of Staff at the Department of Labor, will be the new Cabinet Secretary with the title Assistant to the President for Cabinet Affairs.
Bob J. Nash, who now serves as Under Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Economic and Community Development, has been named Assistant to the President and Director of Presidential Personnel, replacing Veronica Biggins, who some of you may or may not know, informed the President that she's returning to her home in Atlanta.
Rahm Emanuel, now an Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Communications, has been appointed to a new position of Director of Special Projects, reflecting really what Rahm has been so successful on -- (inaudible) -- and generally taking on some very special assignments from the President and doing them very successfully.
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no, no. He's working on -- well, he has been working in his -- had been working on NAFTA and had worked on the crime legislation, too, right? Crime legislation. And he'll continue to follow those, no doubt be continuing in that effort, particularly around the crime bill, as we were discussing earlier.
Q: You haven't yet had him on the Mexican loan bill, though, have you?
MR. MCCURRY: He's been assisting in that, but I don't believe he's got that as what we would call a special project. He's been -- the Treasury folks have been working on that and the National Economic Council has been more directly involved in working with the Treasury on that.
John Emerson, who's currently a Deputy Assistant to the President and who coordinated the White House effort here on GATT, has been named Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, moving in a sense over to the Intergovernment Affairs shop. That's a critical position that the President, given his own background, feels particularly strongly about that shop within the White House.
And lastly, Stephen B. Silverman, who's currently a Special Assistant and has been the Acting Cabinet Secretary, will, with the appointment now of a Cabinet Secretary, will be formerly named Deputy Cabinet Secretary, and with the title Deputy Assistant to the President for Cabinet Affairs. Steve has done, I think, an extraordinarily good job, particularly in the period prior to the State of the Union --
MR. MCCURRY: -- look right here. See another page. That was the last of them.
Q: Political Director, CIA?
Q: Surgeon General?
MR. MCCURRY: We've got, as you can know, knowing that there are vacancies, there will be other appointments. How soon will they come? Mike, gee -- matter of days. (Laughter.)
I produced these in a matter of days, right? Okay.
Q: It's a week.
MR. MCCURRY: A week -- that's a matter of days.
Q: Yes, a little over a week. I think it was a Wednesday that I asked you that question.
MR. MCCURRY: -- doing the matter of days routine. How long ago was a matter of day?
Q: Last Wednesday or last Thursday.
Q: Matter of days.
MR. MCCURRY: It was a matter of days ago that I started the matter of days answer.
Q: A week. Now we're into weeks, Mike.
Q: Could you do tomorrow's schedule and next week's travel?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, why don't I. Can I or -- does anyone else --. What are we doing tomorrow?
The President -- tomorrow we've got -- figure this out here. We've got a couple things coming up tomorrow just to alert you to, because as we go into the weekend, the President will be turning his focus to the issue of welfare reform, which he addressed Tuesday night, of course. He will be looking towards the session Saturday, the working session here, where we hope we can at least help define the parameters of the discussion we would have with Congress about welfare reform. We doubt we're going to produce any final resolution to the issues that will be in discussion with the Hill. But we hope -- the President hopes to make some progress in the session on Saturday and at least either narrowing the differences or identifying exactly those areas in which there is agreement, strong bipartisan agreement on approaches to welfare reform.
Tomorrow the President will have an opportunity, he's going to meet with former and current welfare recipients and people who are making that transition from welfare to work, something that the President talked about -- talked about on Tuesday night.
Q: What time is that?
MR. MCCURRY: That will be 10:00 a.m., 10:15 a.m. tomorrow. I think that's closed coverage. Then tomorrow afternoon he'll be talking with -- I guess with some of the mayors from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. There will be pool press during his remarks to them.
Q: What time is that?
MR. MCCURRY: 4:15 p.m. And he'll tape the radio address at some point tomorrow.
Q: Will that be available on camera, too, the radio address, as last week's was? (Laughter.)
Q: Please say no.
MR. MCCURRY: I think that was a one-time offer only. May not -- we might do it again.
Q: The subject of welfare?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the subject -- that may change -- you can ask me about that tomorrow. I think probably welfare reform.
Q: Mike, can we put in a request to open up at least for photo op or something, the meeting with welfare recipients?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry --
Q: The first meeting with people on welfare and getting off welfare?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll look into that, sure.
Q: How about the Saturday Blair House summit?
MR. MCCURRY: Ditto.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, some type -- making some arrangements so you've got some access to the story. We certainly are going to want to tell you about the session and figure out how to do that.
Q: Any travel next week other than --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, next week we've got two -- two things. I think as most of you know, the President's going up to Boston on Wednesday the 31st for a DNC function. Tuesday. Tuesday the 31st.
Q: Just what you said.
MR. MCCURRY: Just like I said, Tuesday the 31st. And then on Friday, February 3rd, he'll be going to Lake Mary, Florida, to visit the Siemens Stromberg-Carlson Company. We'll fix that up in the transcript so you will have that.
He'll be visiting the electronic technician apprenticeship program -- students from a neighboring community college, who feed into the local high schools. He will continue to press the case, as he has often, for the Middle Class Bill of Rights. There are some people here who are living the New Covenant and who are really taking responsibility for getting more education so they can become more productive members of the local economy down there. The President looks forward to that visit.
Q: Is that a day trip or --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q: Definitely no news conference tomorrow --
MR. MCCURRY: Definitely no news conference tomorrow.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:45 P.M. EST
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Mike McCurry Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269949