Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
1:40 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you, Dr. Tyson. Thank you Secretary Shalala. And I will bat, clean up, and do any other questions that you might have.
Q: Mike, can you give us an update on what kinds of meetings have gone forward here on the case of Secretary Brown? Who has he met with; who has his lawyer met with; and has the President been briefed on everything?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that Secretary Brown has had any specific meetings with anyone. The office of legal counsel here at the White House has remained in contact with Secretary Brown's legal counsel, as I indicated yesterday. And we will continue to monitor any developments.
Q: Is it private counsel?
Q: Are you concerned about these letters that have been released by Congressman Clinger?
MR. MCCURRY: The legal counsel, as I say, has been monitoring those issues and will remain in contact with the Secretary of Commerce's legal counsel.
Q: Could you tell us a little about the logistics of tomorrow's meeting? What sort of briefing, if any, will be available afterwards, whether we'll be able to talk with some of the participants?
MR. MCCURRY: I can do that. Why don't we go through some other briefings first. We can have someone do them later.
Q: What is that noise?
Q: It sounds like the rotor-rooter. What is that the rotor-rooter in the other room?
MR. MCCURRY: This thing goes up and down. I just found that out. (Laughter.)
Q: Mike, let me ask you the same question I asked Laura Tyson. If the economy's in such great shape, better than it's been in a decade, why is Clinton in such bad shape politically, and why did the Democrats do so badly?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I think the President has answered that often -- that there still is a great deal of insecurity in the country about the future of this economy. One of the changes taking place in the world, the changes in the global economy and the changes in our country are exactly those things that the President addressed the other night. They lead to insecurity as people think of their own lives, think of their families and think about what they're going to have to do to continue to make a living.
So, Wolf, the answer is that while people see the prosperity, they see the job creation, they sense that the fundamentals of the economy are strong, they still have this nagging doubt that it will last. And I believe that's why the President has been so insistent on making those fundamental changes in the economy through education, through job training, through letting people acquire the types of skills that will allow them to enjoy more opportunity.
That's why he addressed exactly those things at the State of the Union address Tuesday night, and why he will continue under the rubric of the New Covenant to push that concept that people need to take that responsibility to reach their own potential in return for the government helping promote and nurture those types of opportunities.
Q: The President has talked about Mexico a couple of times this week and it hasn't worked. There is, in the words of Diane Feinstein, "zero public support" for a Mexico loan guarantee package. And this morning, the Speaker said you're not going to get anywhere unless the President takes a more active role in speaking out on this. Is there going to be a more active presidential effort to sell this not just on Capitol Hill, but to the American people?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has been -- I'll just first deny the premise of the question in a sense. The President has been enormously active in pulling together a strong bipartisan consensus on what we must do in the interest of the United States to address the economic crisis in Mexico. He's convened a meeting with the bipartisan leaders and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. He addressed a coalition of business leaders last week at the Treasury Department. He has devoted a radio address to the subject of the Mexican Stabilization Act, carrying that message directly to the American people. He went into the State of the Union address and made a very strong and public appeal in front of a national television audience in order to build support for that package. Yesterday in addressing a forum of world economic leaders, he again sort of wove that argument into the case that he was making the importance of this in terms of the global economy.
So in every point along the way and in every point continuing along the way that the President can help educate the American people about the necessity of doing this in the interest of the United States to help protect our jobs, help protect our borders, he will make that case, make it public.
Q: What's he going to do today?
MR. MCCURRY: What he's doing today is some of our folks are attempting to get a hold of the Speaker so that we can do what we can to bring to closure some of the questions about the legislation itself. There has been a lot of work done on the economic package itself. And we hope that in the course of the next several days, we can wrap that up, get on to the business of building support for a specific vehicle.
Remember, they are still trying to structure the package itself in order to take into account some of the concerns of individual members of Congress. And at some point, you need to wrap that up so that you can begin to go build the case for a specific vehicle, which is what we need to do.
Q: When the President was in trouble -- or, when NAFTA got into trouble, the President made ultimately a tremendously concerted, almost daily effort to try to dig out of that trench. And it was ultimately highly successful. Is anything on that scale being contemplated here?
MR. MCCURRY: Brit, first things first. I think the first thing for the administration and the White House to do is to finalize the legislation, the package itself. And as I say, I believe that there will be some meetings and some work on the Hill today towards that end. At that point, then, you can begin to build support for a specific legislative vehicle. And I would not at all rule out the likelihood of the President engaging in that and helping convince members, either collectively or individually, of the importance of supporting that package.
Q: What's the main stumbling block? And is it the question of conditions, immigration, and all that?
MR. MCCURRY: Helen, I mean, it's not hard to imagine. I think the most --
Q: But you said you'd have the package last week.
MR. MCCURRY: For most Americans -- well, the stumbling block -- there are a lot of -- there are specifics concerns that we are addressing of individual members. I think in a broader sense, what is the stumbling block? The stumbling block is that most Americans find it hard to accept the fact that with this very large dollar amount that they keep hearing -- $40 billion -- is going to be used to bail out Mexico. They keep, for a variety of reasons, hearing that. Frankly, there are people who continue to tell them that when it's not true. They don't understand the mechanics of a loan guarantee. A loan guarantee, as the President has said often, is like cosigning a note. We are, in a sense, giving them an insurance policy that is worth, ultimately, to them, $40 billion in exchange for them paying a premium to us so that we get money back. I think if you told most taxpayers that there is a good chance, if the fundamentals of the Mexican economy remain strong, that we might make money on this deal, that would probably ease some of their natural concern.
Q: Mike, will the President convene another high-level meeting with Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Dole, Mr. Greenspan and Mr. Rubin?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll see. As I say, some of our folks have been attempting to get a hold of the Speaker today, and we'll see where we go from there.
Q: Getting back to the Ron Brown thing again, is there any evidence that he did anything wrong?
MR. MCCURRY: I -- look, that is obviously, Wolf, a question that I'm not going to answer. That's a matter that the Secretary's legal counsel has addressed and addressed very directly. And it's a matter that the White House legal counsel is in discussion with the Secretary's legal counsel at that end.
Q: Mike, quick change of the subject --
MR. MCCURRY: Quick change of the subject?
Q: Quick change of the subject -- does the White House have any comment on Dick Armey's reference to Barney Frank as Barney Fag?
MR. MCCURRY: It's dispiriting when that type of extreme language is used in public discourse. But I believe Representative Frank has had a retort to that that is probably an apt response.
Q: While the President's views on Mexico are clear, his views about the balanced budget amendment just seem a little cagey and not exactly spelled out. Is he opposed to a balanced budget amendment? Does he favor it, or what?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I think the White House has made it very clear that the President opposes a balanced budget amendment, especially when it is not at all clear how those proposing that amendment would do the work which the Constitution of the United States would then require, which is to balance the budget by a time certain and to do it in a fashion that the President fears might extract enormous pain from the elderly, from people who depend on Social Security, Medicare, and other programs that he has pledged to nurture and support.
We can't see the plan and can't see the way that they would get there, among other reasons, because this administration knows how difficult it is to draft that type of budget. We have to do that work. We will shortly have to submit to the Congress, to the American people a draft budget document and it will make it very clear how difficult it is to move towards a balanced budget.
And so we say to the advocates and the proponents of those who say we must alter probably the most sacred document in our Republic -- the Constitution of the United States -- in order to require this balanced budget. How do you propose to do that? Why can't you tell us how you would go about that very important work?
Q: But let's say they did. Would you still consider on the merits that basically a balanced budget amendment is or is not good Constitutional policy?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President -- and you just heard Dr. Tyson give an economic version of that -- I think the President shares some of those concerns. I think the President shares, more fundamentally, the concern, how do you mandate Constitutionally, a balanced budget and continue to do the things that he considers so vital -- first and foremost, to sustain the economic recovery that is putting Americans back to work and helping raise their incomes; secondly, make sure that those who are in real need are able to have access to the types of programs that have been part of the social compact of the last many decades. And it's not clear how the proponents of the Constitutional amendment would get from there to here. And it seems like a fair response on our part to ask them simply to put a plan together so everyone can understand what the complexities are and what some of the risks are in reaching for a balanced budget goal.
Q: Would the President campaign against ratification if it in fact passed the Senate?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's premature to speculate on that. It will be clear to many states and increasingly clear as the debate moves to the states, if in fact the Senate also passes the amendment, that states themselves would face an enormous price under some balanced budget proposals. And so I suspect many state legislatures, when they see the cost that the proponents of the balanced budget amendment might shift to them as a result of a Constitutionally-mandated balanced budget provision, might begin to have some second thoughts.
Q: Mike, he keeps saying this thing is troubling; that he seems to be concerned about what this balanced budget amendment might cause Republicans to do. But what about the more fundamental question of whether such an issue ought to be addressed by Constitutional amendment? Does the President think that's a good idea or a bad idea?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Brit, in fairness, I would want to talk to him about that. The President of the United States, among other things, is something of an expert on Constitutional law and it's a good question. I would ask him that question and see if I can get that type of answer. It is good. I think he's got a number of concerns about it that he has stated often himself. But whether or not, as a matter of Constitutional principle that's the type of issue that ought to be embedded in a Constitutional amendment is a good one, and, I think, a fair one to put to him. Will you guys make a note of that?
Q: When he was asked this morning what he thought about the House action last night, he said I'm glad they adopted the Stenholm Amendment. Then he said, I think it makes the bill much better. Doesn't that suggest that, under certain conditions, he would welcome a balanced budget amendment?
MR. MCCURRY: No. He was -- I mean, it's important for everyone to understand, Wolf, that that was drawing the distinction between the three-fifths super majority required for revenue changes and a simple majority as was advocated by Representative Stenholm. It certainly is much more palatable than the original draft of the legislation. That's all the President was referring to.
Q: So he would have voted against it if he had been a member of the House?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he would have voted against the Constitutional balanced budget amendment. How he would have voted on the Stenholm Amendment, I think, is pretty clear based on his comment today. He would have supported that, too.
Q: Getting back to an earlier question, the previous briefing, comparing health care reform --
MR. MCCURRY: Wait a minute. Let me fix that for a second. He would have voted -- he would have preferred the question in the Stenholm Amendment -- I just made the same error, I think, that others made earlier. The issue is the majority provision versus the three-fifths provision. It's certainly preferable in the President's mind to have a majority requirement on those types of revenue questions versus a three-fifths requirement. But that amendment was embedded in the overall Constitutional amendment which, of course,the President would have opposed. So I incorrectly said he would have had to vote against the Stenholm Amendment as it was part of the overall -- since it was an overall package.
Q: He would have voted against -- wait.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, because that was an overall -- just a different approach to accomplish the Constitutional balanced budget amendment.
Q: He's just saying that he's glad they avoided the most pernicious alternative .
MR. MCCURRY: Sufficiently confused everybody now? (Laughter.)
Q: I think we've got it now.
Q: He's against the whole thing.
MR. MCCURRY: He's against the whole thing, but if they're going to do it, they should do it with a simple majority versus a three-fifths.
Q: This whole thing?
MR. MCCURRY: This whole thing.
Q: On welfare reform, I'm struck by the way the President is going about this in contrast to health care reform, which was brought up before. Here you have the President on the one hand saying he wants to make the issue his own, and on the other hand, this vaguely passive approach that he's taking which contrasts very much with health care, a very specific proposal that went down in flames. And at the end, he stood back and said, I'm for principles --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, what do you mean by vaguely passive?
Q: That's what I want to find out from you. What is going on here, and what -- how would you compare it with the way they approached health care?
MR. MCCURRY: The President of the United States is going to wake up at an ungodly early hour on a Saturday morning and go to work on welfare reform. I don't think that's fair to call that vaguely passive. He's going to bring together all of those who have got certainly a very strong interest in how the welfare reform debate will go during the course of the coming year -- members of Congress who play a leading role who are themselves expert on the question; governors who are intensely interested; other stakeholders, including local municipal officials.
He's getting them together in a room and saying, where -- given the history that we've got on welfare reform , and he has -- as Secretary Shalala just suggested -- he is part of that history. He said, we all know something about these issues; where is the flexibility here in trying to address common answers to the problems; what are the problems; let's get a common definition of what we're trying to do; and can we narrow any of the differences and disagreements that exist between us?
That's a different kind of debate than under the environment in which health care reform occurred in which you had large external enemies of reform represented by many special interests who organized themselves. Welfare reform is different, you know. The problem, in fact, in some cases with welfare reform is that there isn't much of a constituency out there for those who are poor and those who live on welfare.
So it's a different environment entirely, and the debate in which you -- the environment in which you structure reform of our welfare system versus that in which take on health care and take on the large industry that is involved in providing health care to our country.
Q: So what's the question?
MR. MCCURRY: What?
Q: What was the question?
MR. MCCURRY: It was a very good question. It was, like, what is the difference between health care and welfare reform? It was good -- Josh's question, initially. You want to follow up on that?
Q: Could you assess the political stakes involved in the administration on welfare reform in light of the fact that the administration was not able to achieve its goal on health care reform?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because you guys will do that for us, ably, I'm sure. Although -- look, we would -- sure there are political stakes out there. The President is going to try to reform welfare. He considers it very, very important. He said so to the nation on Tuesday night. And so, obviously, when we get that done, it'll resound to our political benefit, we would hope.
Q: Who are the administration people coming to the meeting? Do you have a list of them, too?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I think we have put out -- we have now --
Q: You only put out the congressional and gubernatorial.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, you mean the folks on our side?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I guess because the President's going, no one else wanted to try to upstage him. But, obviously, Secretary Shalala will be there.
MS. TERZANO: The President, Shalala, Carol Rasco.
MR. MCCURRY: Carol Rasco will be there.
MS. TERZANO: Shalala, the Vice President.
MR. MCCURRY: The Press Secretary of the President will have to be there in order to answer questions about it later.
Q: At an ungodly hour on Saturday morning?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Leon is going -- Leon will be there, too, right?
Q: Mike, what kind of read-out will you do tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Okay, are we done with any other substantive questions and we can go on to sort of logistic stuff?
Q: Last substantive question, please.
Q: Why is the President proposing in his budget charging fees for the use of the radio spectrum, especially when the Republican Congress is unlikely to go along with it?
MR. MCCURRY: I unfortunately can't answer that as directly as you would like. I looked into it. There have been discussions within the administration about that. Because the budget document itself will not be submitted to the Congress until February 6th, I am not at liberty at this point to discuss specific features of the budget, nor, I think, should I, because otherwise we would then have to spend most of next week doing it.
Q: When does it go up? February 6th?
MR. MCCURRY: February 6th, I believe that's correct.
Q: But it is being considered?
MR. MCCURRY: I will confirm that it has been under discussion. I don't want to indicate one way or another how that issue might be addressed in the context of the '96 budget.
Q: There's a big difference between your bill on welfare reform and the Republican proposal is the question of whether people on welfare should be guaranteed work after they are kicked off. Is the President still 100 percent behind his original proposal, or is he willing to be flexible on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's -- Secretary Shalala answered that. He's 100 percent behind the principles that were embedded in that bill. We've got to get together with the people who are now going to actually draft that legislation in the Congress, and say where are they going to go, how can we work with them, how can we address it?
Q: But is that a principle, or is that a detail? If you get my drift.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's an important principle upon which tomorrow there may or may not be a way to reconcile differences. That's one area in which we will just have to see if there is enough flexibility there to reach some type of consensus. That is one of those -- one of the reasons why we think it's highly unlikely tomorrow that there will be full consensus on those range of issues and the development of a consensus proposal is that there are numerous issues exactly like that one in which we doubt that there will be a real chance to reconcile the differences. But that's -- it's better at this point to narrow the differences, sharpen up the debate and define those areas in which we are going to have to contest with opponents as we move ahead.
Q: Did you determine if the President has a position on the Enola Gay exhibit?
MR. MCCURRY: That one also I looked into, thanks for asking. The Vice President is a member of the Smithsonian Institution Board. The Smithsonian Institution Board will meet on Monday. It's not clear to me at this point whether or not the Vice President is going to be able to attend, but in preparation for that meeting, and in looking at that issue, there are a number of people at the White House who are working on that. So if I can ask your indulgence, I would like to come back to that question on Monday, either -- I'm not sure when the Board actually meets on Monday, it's either prior to or just after the briefing. But I think I'll be in a better position on Monday to tell you more about our thinking.
Q: You mean the President won't -- until Monday, the President won't know what he thinks about this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's got some -- there are a variety of people here with views. But the more important thing is that there is a decision that's going to be made by the Board of the Smithsonian Institution on Monday.
Q: Well, one presumes that if the President has some views on this, whatever comes out of here will reflect that. The question is, what are the President's views? I mean, how can that be such a mystery after all these months?
MR. MCCURRY: No, Brit, I haven't had a chance to -- I mean, I'll make it clear, he apparently does have some views. I haven't had a chance to talk to him about it. I do want to talk to him about that before I reflect. And I also think the Vice President, because he's participating in a -- as a governing member, governing board member of the Institution, I need to check with him more directly, too.
Q: And on the baseball strike, is Donald Fehr here at the White House meeting with anybody today?
MR. MCCURRY: Good question. We'll check.
Q: Did you mean to suggest that Gingrich is dodging your calls?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I think -- not at all. I think they're just trying to set up a meeting, as far as I understand. We've been in touch with his office. We're trying to get together.
Q: What do you want him to do? Do you want him to cut off debate and get going with the package, or what?
MR. MCCURRY: I think we want to bring -- as I indicated earlier, we want to bring this package to conclusion.
Q: And he do you think he effectively can do that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we think, as we have been all along, the solution that we're working towards is a result of the work we're doing together with the bipartisan leadership. And we think that is a way to pull the package together so we can move on to actual consideration of the package.
Q: On the campaign against teenage pregnancy, are there any specifics about when it will start, who will be in charge --
MR. MCCURRY: I think some of you heard from a -- it was either a chief of staff or a senior administration official, I can't remember which -- talking about the campaign itself, how it would be likely to unfold. It is directly associated with the question of who might be the next Surgeon General, which is one reason why we've held off a little bit on providing some specifics.
Q: Who might that be?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a matter of days. In a matter of days, we will know.
Q: Man or a woman?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on gender.
Q: Say yes.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. One or the other. And there are some very specific things in private partner -- private sector/public sector cooperation and promoting some things that are happening in educational settings around the country where we feel like we can make a real difference, and it's really going to be the focus of the work of the campaign, and it's pretty interesting. So we'll do some more of the specifics as we get closer, hopefully next week, to an announcement.
Q: What about Dave Leavy?
Q: Yes, what about Dave Leavy?
MR. MCCURRY: Dave Leavy.
Q: Has he met the President?
MR. MCCURRY: Dave Leavy is off next week to see the world in an extraordinary way. He's going to have a great opportunity to go to the United States State Department, which is one of the finest places on Earth where a young man can learn more in two years than they did in four years-plus of college. And David Leavy deserves that opportunity because he's done extraordinary work here. He was indispensable to many of you, certainly indispensable to Dee Dee. And in recognition of his work, it is such a pleasure for me to know that he's going to a place where his new colleagues will appreciate his work there as much as he was appreciated here at the White House.
And, with that, I believe -- (applause). For those of you who -- just as a last thing before David cuts the cake, I did have one last thing on the logistics. Someone had asked about logistics tomorrow.
The President will be on camera to the pool at the beginning of the meeting, and then afterwards at approximately 1:45 p.m., we expect to have the Chief of Staff here with some of the other participants.
Q: Here in the briefing room?
MR. MCCURRY: Here in the briefing room.
Q: At 8:30 a.m. in the morning for the first?
MR. MCCURRY: With the snow going out. The first thing will be at roughly 8:30 a.m., I believe.
MS. TERZANO: The meeting starts at 8:30 a.m., and the President will be right before that.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. And then the briefing back here, we anticipate being around 1:45 p.m. We'll have some sense of what kind of meeting it is if they can agree on who should actually come over here to tell you.
Q: Hey, Mike, just to clarify, when you say "to the pool," is he going to have a statement? Is he going to take questions? What is his plan?
MR. MCCURRY: He's going to have remarks at the beginning of the meeting.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:05 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/269950