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Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

February 06, 1995

The Briefing Room

1:45 P.M. EST

Q: what the game plan is? What will happen if there's no real movement before 5:00 p.m. today? Walk us through what he can do to resolve this baseball strike.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll have to wait and see later today what type of response the federal mediator -- what's wrong? Testing, one, two, three four. Rewind? Start all over?

Okay, you guys okay? Everybody happy?

Q: Tell us about the baseball strike.

MR. MCCURRY: Have you ever seen the Chevy Chase movie where he starts -- too bad, audio problems. (Laughter.)

Okay, let's start over. Mr. Blitzer, did you have a question?

Q: What happens if there's no movement on the baseball strike before 5:00 p.m.? What does the President do then?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the federal mediator, Bill Usery, former Secretary Usery, has been in contact with the parties today and will be working with them prior to coming here to the White House. If there is some indication that he needs more time, or the prospect that they need to go into extra innings, we will see how that develops and see if that request makes sense later on in the afternoon.

But at this point, I would just suggest that the President has asked his mediator to do everything possible to get the parties to engage so that they can solve this without any involvement by the government. And that would certainly be the preference of both the President and the mediator. But the mediator is prepared to make certain recommendations to the President at whatever point that's appropriate. And what those recommendations might be has been under discussion, but I certainly don't want to speculate now in the midst of the afternoon of what type of recommendations might emerge.

Q: Does the President feel that the government should be used, or could be used to settle this strike?

MR. MCCURRY: The President wants to see the strike ended. He is motivated by both the economic damage that the continuation of the strike would have on communities around the country, especially those associated with spring training, since they are first up. He's motivated by a sense that baseball is the national pastime and it's good for America that people can enjoy one of our favorite sports. And I think he's also, thirdly, senses that there is a role that he might properly play as President if he can help bring the parties together. His preference, as with any collective bargaining dispute, is that the parties themselves can satisfactorily resolve their disagreements and reach a settlement.

Q: Well he is playing that role, isn't he --persuasion of setting up these talks and so forth?

MR. MCCURRY: His involvement to this point has been to, one, secure the services of a mediator and make that available to the parties; and two, now put some pressure on them by setting a deadline by which, hopefully, the parties will make some progress. We'll have to see this afternoon whether they do so.

Q: How does it look, Mike? Are they getting closer, or are they still far apart?

MR. MCCURRY: No indication, as you know or you've probably seen what Mr. Usery has said earlier today, no indication that they are making substantial progress. And he's already indicated that he thinks it is not likely that by 5:00 p.m. today they will have made sufficient progress to settle.

Q: Has the President received any commitment from members on the Hill today to consider any possible remedy on an expedited manner so that spring training can begin on time?

MR. MCCURRY: It would not have been appropriate at this point to suggest that a legislative remedy might be necessary. We'll have to see how that develops in coming days.

Q: But how quick could the Congress act if a legislative remedy is proposed?

MR. MCCURRY: That would be up to members of Congress. But certainly from public comments by members of Congress, we sense that they share the President's sense of frustration that the strike has continued for too long, and we detect among many members of Congress the desire to see baseball get back on the boards for 1995.

Q: If there's no willingness being shown by either side to settle, then why give an extension on the deadline?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there would only be an argument to do that if it looked like they were engaging or were prepared to engage substantively on the issues that have divided them. I wouldn't say that there is zero interest. There have been proposals, counterproposals floated during the weekend but, at this point, the mediator is in the best position to judge the status of the talks, and I think you've seen what he's indicated publicly.

Q: While we still have the lights, I need to change subjects and ask if the White House, first of all, in any way deliberately deceived members of Congress about Dr. Foster's background on abortions and whether the President is firmly committed to stand behind this nominee no matter what?

MR. MCCURRY: President Clinton remains very firmly committed to a very distinguished nominee for Surgeon General -- someone who has spent a lifetime devoted to the care of mothers and children; who has personally delivered some 10,000 babies into this world; and certainly helped young women seek alternatives to abortion. He will -- President Clinton will continue to support his nominee. He regrets that the full breadth of this nominee's capabilities and experience are being overshadowed by debate on one narrow issue. But he's satisfied that during the course of the confirmation process, those questions will be answered.

The President, suffice to say, never would tolerate any member of his staff providing misleading or untruthful information to Congress. He believes that that is not what occurred in this case; that in our effort to provide the best information available at the time, some incorrect information was provided to a member of the Senate. That's unfortunate; it's regrettable, and the President has asked to find out more about the circumstances in which inaccurate information was provided so that, if necessary, an apology can be delivered to Senator Kassebaum, a member of the Senate that the President admires greatly.

Q: Are you telling us that that still hasn't been sorted out yet; that in all this time he hasn't been able to trace it back?

MR. MCCURRY: They've sorted out -- I think this was a case, very simply, of wanting to provide the best information that we had available. And it turned out that that information, while generally correct, was not specific enough.

Q: Where is Dr. Foster now?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that, Wolf. The folks at HHS have been working with him as he prepares for his nomination and eventual confirmation proceedings, so they might be able to tell you.

Q: Have the people vetting this specifically asked him before Senator Kassebaum raised it whether he had performed abortions and how many he performed?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, and that information -- the President was aware of that information. We knew that the nominee had, in accordance of his practice as a physician, had performed abortions.

Q: Did you know how many?

MR. MCCURRY: No, we did not know specifically how many, Brit. And in fact, at the time the question was raised with Dr. Foster, I'm not sure that he recalled specifically either. There were, as is now reported, in his own memory he believes fewer than a dozen cases in which he performed abortions, and they were cases primarily in which rape, incest, or life of the mother were factors in the treatment that was prescribed.

Q: Has it been determined yet, Mike, how many of those dozen or so, or under a dozen, were abortions on demand or by convenience, as opposed to --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, Dr. Foster will be able to address himself more specifically. But again, primarily, as he indicated in his statement, they were cases where rape, incest, or life of the mother were the circumstances involved in the procedure.

Q: These abortions were legal, weren't they?

MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely.

Q: And when does the nomination go up?

MR. MCCURRY: The nomination goes to the Senate when the paperwork, necessary paperwork required of the Senate is complete. And you are correct in your first question, that the procedures -- certainly, Dr. Foster was acting well within the law and consistent with this President's belief that abortion in this country should be safe, legal and rare.

Q: Could you shed some light on the political thinking that went into this? If the President knew that he had committed -- excuse me -- performed abortions, did you just think, well, let's go ahead and have the fight on choice and let the Republicans have an internal fight on this issue that we think the American public --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure what, if any, political thinking went into the nomination. I know the President was satisfied he had a very capable, highly-qualified nominee who had an enormously impressive record when it comes not only to questions of reproductive health, but more largely, questions of the role of public health in our society. He was satisfied he had an excellent nominee, and that was first and foremost on his mind.

Q: When Frist was in the Oval Office and later, was it your understanding that he supports this nomination? Senator Frist.

MR. MCCURRY: My only understanding was that he expressed himself as he did publicly as someone who had a great deal of admiration for Dr. Foster. It's not for me to say whether he's indicated one way or another whether he would be supportive of the nomination or would vote in favor of the nomination.

Q: So you didn't have any idea if he was going to be the -- to shepherd the nomination through the Labor Committee?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe that the intent in having him there was as a courtesy to the home state senator of the nominee.

Q: Also, on the number of abortions that he did, are the ones that he talks about in his letter during his practice different or the same as those that he might have done as an educator?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that there is any difference between the two -- between those two questions, but that's something that I suspect the nominee in the course of confirmation, will address. The information available to us is the information now contained in the statement that Dr. Foster has issued.

Q: The statement seems to -- what I'm getting at is the statement says in his medical practice he performed no more than or fewer than a dozen -- whatever. The third or fourth paragraph down, he then takes on the issue of him being an educator to colleges, and that he worked within the law at that time, too. And some groups are saying that what he's saying in that paragraph is that he also taught the abortion procedure. Do you know if that's right?

MR. MCCURRY: The statement does not say that, but I'll have to refer specifically -- refer the question specifically to people at HHS who are working with the nominee on that. And I wouldn't want to get into that question without knowing more myself.

Q: Mike, on a new subject, on the budget, the President, during the 1992 campaign promised to cut the deficit in half in the first four years. It's clear from the document that was released today that there's little chance that he'll be able to do that. Has he broken a promise on this issue, or are you redefining the half that he was discussing during the campaign?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he said he would cut it by half, he's cut it by half in a variety of ways if you want to measure it -- cut it by half as a percentage of the total economy, a measure of the gross domestic product. He's cut it in half as you look against projections of what the deficit otherwise would have been, absent the very detailed work on deficit reduction that the President did in the first two years of his term. So there are a variety of ways of measuring.

The commitment is to move ahead on deficit reduction. And the commitment now is on a track in which you see the numbers, as you look on the out years, are much improved and most likely less than half of what -- I mean, a reduction of greater than one-half than what the deficit track would have been absent the steps that this administration took in the first two years.

Q: So in your opinion, he's fulfilled the promise that he made in '92?

MR. MCCURRY: In our view, based on our projections, we are on track to meet the commitments that the President made to the American people.

Q: Well, Mike, isn't this not only an old promise, but an old issue about it being broken? I mean, inasmuch as it came up during the transition and spokesman at that time indicated that the promise would not be met. Isn't this -- I mean, isn't he getting double jeopardy on this?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, what the administration has for some time been very clear in talking about the type of deficit reduction track that we projected, and based on the action taken. And I think that there's nothing new in the terms that we're using to describe how we look in the out years.

Q: I thought that the President and his team has basically owned up to the fact that that promise was by the boards and would not be kept during the transition.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that was prior to my arrival here, but I wouldn't dispute that.

Q: There's been a lot of talk today about the ongoing process of reinventing government. When can we expect the next round of reinventing government ideas to be announced -- not until next year's budget? Or is it sort of a supplemental --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's a lot of work. I will refer that to the folks working on the National Performance Review. But there is a lot of work going on all the time, restructuring various elements of the federal government's approach to a wide variety of things.

The President had a meeting today with some senators on one aspect of that, as a matter of fact, that's contained in this budget. But the Vice President will be in the course as we move through this year announcing additional steps under the National Performance Review that constitute a serious effort to reinvent government.

Q: So there will be some --

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, in fact, it's the budget impact and how they are played into the budget is something that would have to wait for next year's budget proposal. But they can be, as they develop, factored into the congressional consideration of this budget proposal.

Q: Mike, three things -- one is, do you have any idea when the Glickman nomination is going to go up to the Hill?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't. I was checking on that. Someone had asked me that earlier and I was checking on it earlier. I didn't get an answer yet, but I'll be happy to get into that tomorrow.

Q: Also, as you know, over the weekend, there were an awful lot of questions about what did they know and when did they know it on the peso. What is the official White House response on whether there was any foreknowledge of the peso problems?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the condition of the Mexican economy and the possibility of the devaluation of the peso was something that was generally known. But specifically what information was available to the Treasury Department officials who worked most closely on this, I'd have to leave for them to address. They have addressed that in some great detail. But through a wide variety of measures, we continued to believe throughout the balance of 1994 that the fundamentals of the Mexican economy were strong. In fact, we continue to believe that they are strong and were strong, even throughout the most recent crisis. But the short-term bump in the road, which was triggered in part by the devaluation of the peso had many root causes behind it, the least of which was the change of administrations in Mexico -- a variety of factors that you could attribute to what was obviously a very serious short-term crisis.

Q: So what you're saying is that when the President gave his rosy speech in December, he didn't know about any of these problems?

MR. MCCURRY: No. We knew what we know about currency markets, that they are sometimes volatile, but we knew simultaneously, as the President indicated and based his remarks upon, that the underlying fundamentals of the Mexican economy were, at that time, and are now strong and durable.

Q: Mike, the IRS has temporarily stopped paying on the earned income tax credit, due to massive allegations of fraud. Does the White House know about that? Has the President expressed any kind of interest?

MR. MCCURRY: The White House is a big place, and there may be someone here who does, but I don't; so we'll check.

Q: Mike, you put out a communique yesterday saying that the U.S. government sent 62 agents to Nogales because of unusually high rates of illegal immigration trying to come across. My first question is, are there any other border police where you're noticing the same effect? And do you really think that it will stop just because you've taken measures with the peso?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have moved these 62 new agents to Nogales -- I believe they begin work tomorrow -- in part, because we've done some very effective work at other border checkpoints. We had, in fact, anticipated that there would be attempted illegal entries in Arizona because of the crackdowns that have occurred in both California and Texas. And they had already been training 100 new agents at the time the President ordered that these 62 be dispatched to Nogales.

But as a general proposition, I think the President's view is that as the peso stabilizes and as Mexico now begins to emerge successfully, we hope, from this most recent economic bump in the road, that that will reduce some of the pressure that might otherwise occur in illegal immigration.

Q: Have you noticed any other spots besides Nogales where more people are coming through?

MR. MCCURRY: Those are the ones that I think they've concentrated the greatest degree of problems in recent days. I'd have to check and see if there are other places along the border where they've anticipated problems. But, clearly, Nogales was a problem, which prompted the President to act.

Q: Mike, on that point, what is the immigration event tomorrow? What is that all about?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have either Mary Ellen or Ginny can tell you a little bit more about that and the schedule stuff later. I have to -- generally, it's going to be looking at some of the things that are reflected in the budget. I believe there's over $1 billion proposed in the budget for combatting illegal immigration, including increased border control efforts, work site enforcement, some additional assistance to states; but we can preview that for you later on.

Q: Is there any concern about these reports about Glickman? I think U.S. News had a story about problems with a DNC charge card. Is that holding it up at all?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that that is holding it up. I'll have to, I said -- indicated earlier I'd check it out and try to get back into it tomorrow. But I'm not aware that that is a particular problem -- that that specific citation is a problem.

Q: Could you address yourself to The New York Times story yesterday, which alleged that the President could have made much more significant cuts in the budget but chose not to for political reasons?

MR. MCCURRY: Say what? (Laughter.)

Q: The New York Times story of yesterday which alleged that the President could have made much more significant cuts in the budget, but chose not to for political reasons.

MR. MCCURRY: I would suggest perhaps somewhat differently the President could have, in this budget proposal, proposed much more significant decreases in the federal budget deficit. But to do so might run counter to other economic objectives that the President considers very, very important -- continuing solid growth in the economy; continue to produce new jobs; to continue to protect those who might otherwise run the risk of losing the safety net and the benefits that they are entitled to. So there are several objectives he balanced out, as he expressed himself to today, and deficit reduction will remain very, very important to him, but so will a variety of other objectives that are addressed in the whole scope of the FY96 budget proposal.

Q: Mike, assuming that Mr. Usery has to be here at around 5:00 p.m., can you give me a kind of a tick-tock on if there's going to be any sort of briefing or how the -- how any information will be made available?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll have to work it out, and Ginny and Mary Ellen will be able to give you a better sense. We'll see how things develop and what the timing is. I think it depends on how close we get into network windows and other things, too. But we'll figure out how we make it available to you.

Q: Mike, has the President had any contact today with Mr. Usery -- personal contact?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe he has today. I believe Mr. Lindsey has remained in contact with either Mr. Usery or those working with Mr. Usery over at the Mayflower.

Q: Can you give us a little sense of the administration's view of this Peruvian-Ecuador conflict? The President of Ecuador is said to have called Warren Christopher over the weekend and complained that the U.S. has tilted hard on the side of Peru and is seeking to propose a punitive settlement and blaming Ecuador for the thing. What's the deal?

MR. MCCURRY: I know. What's going on right now is the United States, as one of the guarantors of Reo Protocol, is participating in a mediating effort with Argentina, Brazil and Chile. And the negotiators, I think, are now meeting at the ambassadorial level, or have been in the last several days, trying to get some type of solution.

Now there have been contacts, both with Peru and with Ecuador. I think the State Department has already done a read-out on Secretary Christopher's calls over the weekend, so you might have a little more information there. But we take the view that we do have a responsibility within the hemisphere, specifically under the 1942 Reo Protocol, as a guarantor of some of the border questions that do exist between Peru and Ecuador. And that's why we have indicated our willingness both to participate in the mediating process to help resolve the dispute, and also perhaps long term, to participate in some type of observer mission that would help ensure that the territorial integrity of the border is honored.

Q: The charge on the Ecuadorian side apparently is that the U.S. is tilted toward Peru and blames Ecuador for the latest outbreak of skirmishes along their borders. Is that how we see it, or not?

MR. MCCURRY: No, we have not -- in the dispute between the two we have not attempted to intervene on either side. We have attempted to, consistent with our role as a guarantor of the Protocol, to assure that the parties in conflict can mediate their own dispute.

Q: Well, isn't that Protocol -- but isn't that border one that was rejected by Ecuador in 1960 before the border had been marked?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been significant disputes along that border. In fact, the disputes between Peru and Ecuador have become almost something of an annual conflict. That doesn't negate the seriousness of this dispute, nor the need for us to be involved diplomatically --

Q: So your view is, we've been absolutely even-handed.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have worked -- we've tried to play a facilitating role in meeting the conflict along with the other three guarantors of the Reo Protocol.

Q: Mike, CIA Director this week and news conference this week?

MR. MCCURRY: Sounds good to me.

Q: Seriously, do you predict a CIA Director this week?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't predict presidential appointments, but I think that it is possible.

Q: How about a news conference?

MR. MCCURRY: And I'm not going to predict that one either, although I'm working on it.

Q: Why is he so unwilling to have a news conference? It's been a very long time. He went today without answering questions again.

MR. MCCURRY: He's not unwilling, I haven't asked him to have one yet. I'm working up the nerve to.

Q: Can you take request from the group? (Laughter.)

Q: You suggested that the U.S. would be willing to participate in an observer mission on this border dispute under what auspices? Would that be OAS, or --

MR. MCCURRY: No, it would be I think within the Reo Protocol itself there is a provision that allows for observer delegations along the border. We put out a statement, if I'm not mistaken, last Friday in which we indicated that. You may want to go back and check the paper on that.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 2:08 P.M. EST


William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Mike McCurry Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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