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Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

February 17, 1995

The Briefing Room

1:19 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It being Friday, I apologize for being tardy since we would all prefer to end the day early today.

Q: It was your idea to get out of here early.

MR. MCCURRY: I know, it is my idea to get out of here early.

I'd like to start with two things, to wrap up one question from yesterday left hanging that someone asked about earlier today. The first is, someone inquired on the status of the White House security review. I am told that the task force review should be completed in the next several weeks. They've been looking into some incidents that have happened prior to the establishment of the task force. And I've got a contact number that we've got here over at Treasury, if anyone wants to pursue it further with them over there.

The second item is -- Chris Peacock is the Treasury contact on the security task force and his telephone number is 622- 2960. Mr. Peacock, an able young fellow that he is, will be glad to help you.

Q: He's very good.

MR. MCCURRY: He is very good. Sarah, thank you. (Laughter.) That was unsolicited praise from someone who is very good. You know him from Texas days, from Senator Bentsen days. He worked for Senator Bentsen at one point; nice fellow.

Alright, onto statement -- a very short statement I have. I will only do part of it. In its longer, unedited version, it will be available at the press office. But the President welcomes the peace declaration that was signed earlier today in Brasilia by Ecuador and Peru. The agreement brings to an end the hostilities which caused tragic loss of life and marred the principle of peaceful resolution of disputes that is one of the hallmarks of our hemisphere. The declaration was signed and the presidents of negotiators from the four Rio guarantor countries that have been working to bring this conflict to an end -- Argentina, Brazil, Chile and the United States.

We've had not only our Assistant Secretary for Inter American Affairs now there participating, but a full-time negotiator, Ambassador Levitsky. The President wrote to President Duran of Ecuador and President Fujimori of Peru, and Secretary Christopher and others from the administration have been working tirelessly to help bring this conflict to an end. So we celebrate this news.

Q: Mike, is the President and the First Lady -- are they prepared to be interviewed by the Whitewater Independent Counsel, Kenneth Starr?

MR. MCCURRY: If I'm not mistaken, the President and the First Lady's legal counsel indicated that they were prepared to respond to any reasonable requests that they got. So the answer is yes.

Q: Have they been asked by the Independent Counsel for an interview?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. You should direct that question to their legal counsel.

Q: Do they expect to be asked, if they haven't been asked?

MR. MCCURRY: I have not had an opportunity to ask the President that question.

Q: You now have two Cabinet members who could face special prosecutors, independent counsels. Does the White House have a policy on whether once so targeted, they would be able to remain in their jobs? Espy, we were all led to believe, was essentially told that he needed to get out when it became a fact, but since --

MR. MCCURRY: This is -- as you can well imagine, each and every case has different fact, different circumstances associated with it, so you couldn't have any blanket -- it wouldn't be common sense to have a policy such as the one you just described.

Q: When you say reasonable request, would reasonable request include going back 20 years, involving all of the land deals?

MR. MCCURRY: That's a question for counsel. That's not a question I can address.

Q: Mike, you said this morning that the U.S.-Russian relationship was a big ticket item that outweighed the situation in Chechnya. That being the case, why is the United States hesitating on accepting the May 8th invitation to celebrate the end of the war in Europe, that being a big deal for the Russians who suffered enormous casualties and regard this as one of the real turning points in their history?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, summits at the highest levels between the President of Russia and the President of the United States require enormous preparation. They ought to be designed specifically to advance all the wide range of interests that we have in our bilateral relationship. And that means that they need to be properly prepared, properly scoped, and lead to some concrete achievements. So the best time to have summits are when both countries are in a position to advance their interests and to advance a very important strategic partnership. When that time comes, we'll be able to tell you.

As you all know, President Yeltsin and President Clinton indicated at their last meeting in September of 1994 that they intend to meet again in the first half of 1995. And I'm not aware of any planning differently, but the exact timing and when you have a summit is something that requires some thinking and some careful preparation.

Now, the second half of that -- we fully acknowledge the role that Russia played in the victory in World War II. But we think we had something to do with that, and there are a number of celebrations here at home that will be occurring around about that same time, too. So that is a factor in the timing and the discussions about these. But there is no decision at this point on when we might hold our next summit with President Yeltsin.

Q: But it sounds very much like you're laying the groundwork for not going to Russia on May 8th.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, good. (Laughter.)

Q: Does that mean that the President would then also decline invitations to go to London or Paris and take part in those --

MR. MCCURRY: There are other events around and about that same time. But I don't believe we ever indicated that there was a swing that would have stops in London, Paris, Moscow. Again, the planning and the discussions about when we would make that type of travel is something that is still under deliberation here at the White House.

Q: I want to take this opportunity to welcome you on board and stipulate that you've only just arrived, but Hubbell, Watkins, Altman, Hanson, Espy, now potentially --

MR. MCCURRY: This is a trick question. (Laughter.)

Q: potentially Cisneros and Brown -- what happened to the tremendously ethical administration that we were promised on taking office?

MR. MCCURRY: Then in fairness, mention every single person who has been appointed by this President who does their work each and every day, including those that you just mentioned who are serving this nation and the American people quite well.

What happened? I think we are in some sense in a -- it is a sign of our times that people can kick up a cloud of dust, allegations can swirl, and that they get a great deal of attention by those on the Hill and those of you who follow these matters. But it sort of misses the point that there are people throughout this administration, including those that you just mentioned, who come to work every day, serve the American people, serve them well, and are responsible for a number of remarkable achievements in the first two years of this administration. You just don't hear as much about that.

Q: But that said, you'd just as soon not have these investigations underway. It doesn't help you, does it?

MR. MCCURRY: It -- you have -- allegations, when they surface like this, have to be appropriately pursued. My point is that it's easy to get allegations like this going. And when they do now, because of the climate of Washington -- which is sometimes a little bit on the sulfurous side, particularly in these days of divided government -- you see a lot of coverage, a lot of attention, a lot of discussion of those types of issues. And that all has to be properly dispensed with by those responsible for looking into the veracity of these charges.

Q: Mike, clear up the "well, good" response for me. Has President Clinton ruled out visiting Moscow May 8th?

MR. MCCURRY: He has not made a decision. I think I've been saying that for three days. When he makes a decision -- you all seem to be interested in it, so when he makes a decision, I'll let you know.

Q: Mike, the trip to Canada -- is the President still going to meet with the leader of the opposition in Quebec -- the separatist leader in Quebec? And if so, why?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe he's planning to, and the reason would be, as we do often when we visit foreign countries, in fact if we don't do it virtually every time, we consult with a broad range of political representation within the political dynamic of the country we're visiting.

Q: But what we're hearing from Canada is, this is the first time this has happened in Canada.

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know whether that's right or not. I'd have to check and see if it is the first time.

Q: Mike, what are the state of the negotiations between the U.S. and Mexico? Are you close on agreement? Do you expect to finish today?

MR. MCCURRY: They are ongoing and I'm admonished by the Secretary of the Treasurer not to speculate, other than to say that they will have further conversations with Minister Ortiz today.

Q: Mike, the President recently announced seven appointments to the baseball base-closing commission. But when the nominations when up to the Senate and only six turned up, and Michael Stone, former Secretary of the Army, sort of vanished in a big black hole. Dole has said he's going to hold up the other six until he finds out what happened to Stone. Can you elucidate?

MR. MCCURRY: Is Senator Dole still indicating that as of today? I believe there have been some discussions with him.

Q: But what happened to Stone?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm getting it, I'm getting it. We actually had an answer prepared on that yesterday. You forgot to ask yesterday, and I don't have it in front of me today.

Q: Well, how about yesterday's answer?

MR. MCCURRY: We will get yesterday's answer for you. In fact, go get it and I'll give it later on in the day.

Q: Can we get that?

Q: We don't want it, she said.

Q: She thinks it's changed.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, if it's changed, we'll just check it out then. Okay, what else have we got?

Q: On the REGO event next week, must the President use that event as an opportunity to say whether he plans to veto either the regulatory moratorium or --

MR. MCCURRY: I think I've talked a lot about the different types of opportunities the President will use to influence the thinking of this Congress. We have used, on one occasion now, -- explicitly in connection with putting 100,000 cops back on the streets of America -- used an explicit veto threat. We've also made it pretty clear that we consider different types of legislation unacceptable, different approaches unacceptable. And there will be a variety of ways in which we try to influence the thinking of Congress, jawbone them into modifying pending legislation so that it comes out more to the President's liking.

Next week I think you'll see a concentrated effort to address some of the issues of regulatory reform and reinventing government that are very important to President Clinton. Specifically on Tuesday, and then probably again on Wednesday, he'll have opportunities both to put a highlight on the work we've done to reinvent government, and also to point ahead on some of the things we're going to do to reduce there regulatory burden that some Americans and private enterprise face. So that will all be part of a discussion next week that we think will have some very serious thinking on pending legislation in Congress.

Q: Mike, what areas is there still room for compromise? You're saying it's still --

MR. MCCURRY: Say again.

Q: There's still room for jawboning in these two areas?

MR. MCCURRY: I think there is, and many areas we don't see final -- Congress is moving towards final consideration, but they haven't gotten there yet. And we think that while they move in that direction we can influence, positively, their consideration of some issues; just as we've done this past week -- as we got them turned back on funding Star Wars; as we got people in the Senate to begin rethinking the aspects of the Crime Bill developing in the House that the President finds objectionable. I think all of these things have their impact, and we're now seeing some evidence of success as the White House influences the thinking of the Congress.

Q: Is the President going to watch the dinner from New Hampshire Sunday night when he's at Camp David -- the GOP gathering?

MR. MCCURRY: No, it's torture. You expect the poor guy to have to watch -- he's going to watch his own interview on C-SPAN, which will be a lot more illuminating, I think.

Q: Yes, but -- the dinner speeches there. He's not going to watch it?

MR. MCCURRY: He likes to channel-surf, so maybe he will. But they have got a number of -- the cast of characters, first of all, is so long, if I'm not mistaken. They're going to have a lot of people giving a lot of long speeches. And I'm not sure that there's --

Q: He knows nothing about that. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure that there's a lot there that he's going to want to pay a lot of attention to.

Q: He wouldn't want to sit through a long speech, would he? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Not the ones given by those gentlemen.

Q: Have you tracked down -- has the FBI report on Foster in fact arrived here? And you mentioned this morning that there was some other paperwork that the White House needed completed. What is that?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they're routine things associated with a nomination that are forms required by the legal counsel, forms required by the government, disclosure forms, a variety of things that have to be submitted in advance. And I believe Dr. Foster was working to complete those. On the background -- the background report from the FBI has now arrived at the White House. It will be reviewed by the legal counsel.

Q: On what?

MR. MCCURRY: On Dr. Foster. It will be reviewed, or is being reviewed by the Office of the Legal Counsel. And then as we look ahead towards either next week or the following week, the first appropriate time when the paperwork is complete, we will send the nomination forward to the Senate.

Q: Since the FBI background on Dr. Foster has arrived, what about the FBI background on Glickman?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any information on that report.

Q: I mean, that's been out there a lot longer than the Foster check.

Q: Is something wrong?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything on that.

Q: You'll let us know if there is something wrong, won't you? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: If I can find out.

Q: Is it still pending? The nomination?

MR. MCCURRY: We plan to proceed with the Glickman nomination when we're ready.

Q: Mike, what's the purpose of the President's visit to Capitol Hill on Wednesday?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's going to have a number of purposes, but I think it will be twofold -- one, to give our champions on Capitol Hill a pat on the back for the good work they've been doing this week, the success that they've had this week in turning back some of the Republican efforts to push through aspects of the Contract for America that just are not sensible from the President's point of view.

We've had two substantial achievements this week, alone. One is stopping the effort by the Republican majority to pour billions down a rathole called Star Wars, which they were fully intending to do. Second, we've demonstrated that in backing up the President's pledge to veto any effort to cut the 100,000 cops that need to be on the streets of America, we've demonstrated that we've got support in the House of Representatives to override a veto -- I mean, to sustain a veto.

So in both of those cases, I think there's a lot for us to celebrate with our Democratic members. And then I think we also want to begin to look ahead at some of the legislation that will be moving in coming weeks, and work with our colleagues on the Democratic side to talk about how we can get the Congress to fashion that legislation so it is more to the President's liking. So there will be a lot to talk about, covering a range of issues.

Q: As a follow-up, is he going to have any special message to those 40 to 60 conservative House Democrats who have already developed a record, so far in this Congress, of voting with Republicans on some key issues?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have exercised their judgment on issues pending before the House. They've been with the President's point of view on a lot of occasions. There have been a lot of occasions where they've done what they think is the right thing to do, based on their own judgments looking at the issues they're looking at. We've got very strong and good relationships with many of those members. And we're pursuing a program to help America's working families that we believe those members will be supportive of and have been supportive of. So, I think building on that relationship will be one aspect of the President's visit to Capitol Hill.

Q: Can I go back to a summit question for just a second? You said the summits have to be put together carefully to produce specific results. I thought we were trying to get away from that with Russia; that as part of the normalization, they would become more routine in their --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's -- I mean, that is by a large true, but there are so many things working through this relationship now where you want to make progress. To mention one, strategic arms reductions, which both presidents are now in the process of working on the START II treaty. We hope that the -- at the time of the next summit there will be substantial progress both within the Duma and within our Congress on START II ratification. That sets the stage, then, for them to explore other possibilities for arms reduction. That's an example of the type of thing that can move forward at the proper time and that the two presidents can help push forward when they meet in that type of setting.

But it is in a sense becoming more routine that the President of Russia, the President of the United States will meet to explore the range of things that we do together with them. We gave you a piece of paper earlier today on conventional arms issues and the whole effort to develop a successor to the COCOM regime, which was a Cold War instrument of preventing high technology transfers to the totalitarian states has been a substantial part of the work that we've done with the Russian government over the last two years -- building a system of protecting regional security and regional force posture balance questions into a structured multilateral relationship with Russia participating as one of the people helping to design that type of regime. That's a serious piece of work. But it's the kind of thing that I think points to more than just a sort of routine ongoing relationship. This is a -- relationship that exists in the context of the creation of a new world order in the end of the Cold War era.

Q: But are we moving the bar back up higher again for reasons for these guys to get together?

MR. MCCURRY: No, not necessarily. I'm just suggesting to you that there are -- the timing of a summit is something that there are a lot of factors, a lot of variables that go into the timing of a summit. A question that came earlier was really is -- or came yesterday, is Chechnya the defining -- is that what sets the level of the bar? And the answer is no. I was trying to point to a wider range of things that you would want to do.

Q: On the timing, you still going to go by June, aren't you, by the middle of June? I mean, that was the promise.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we -- they said in September of '94, first half of 1995. And I believe that there are six months in a year, so June is roughly right. But I'm not -- there are a lot of things on the calendars of both President Yeltsin and President Clinton that would have to be considered.

Q: In regard to a June meeting between the President and Yeltsin, you've got a mid-June date for the G-7, and the last few years Yeltsin's attended G-7 --

MR. MCCURRY: See, you're making my point. There are a lot of complicated things that then go into scheduling of a summit and a lot of variables.

Q: Mike, my point is whether you might take advantage of the G-7 meeting, to call that a summit with Yeltsin, if he goes to Halifax.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they do meet. They met in Naples last year, and they meet in the context of having that type of multilateral summit meeting. But I would caution against assuming that that is necessarily the form for the type of exchange of summits between Russia and here that we've had before.

Q: So why are you jerking them around on May 8th?


Q: So why are you jerking them around on May 8th?

MR. MCCURRY: Boy, I'll tell you, how many times can I answer the question? I think only five or six. I think then at that point, my patience expires. Another subject.

Q: We've yet to see that.


Q: We've yet to see your patience expire.

MR. MCCURRY: I have too much fun doing this.

Q: The trade deficit -- new numbers have people worried. What can you do to allay their angst?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, both Secretary Brown and Ambassador Kantor have, I believe, addressed themselves publicly to it. As a general --

Q: Will you put it in laymen's words?

MR. MCCURRY: As something that's in plain English?

Q: Yes.

MR. MCCURRY: That's exactly why this President has spent a substantial amount of his time as President expanding trade opportunities, because we understand that in the structure of trade relationships and in the economic and commercial activities we have with other countries, there are imbalances.

That's why we've worked these issues so incredibly hard. Whether it's framework talks with Japan; whether it's the discussions within the G-7 on expanding trade opportunities; whether it's passing NAFTA; whether it's creating a new global trading order through the GATT; the work to expand markets overseas so that American workers can make good products that we can sell overseas has been a central focus of this administration's foreign policy. That's exactly the way we will reverse the type of imbalance in the numbers that were announced today.

Q: Has Dr. Tyson been offered the NEC job?

Q: But if you're doing what you're supposed to be doing, why are the number so bad?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, because it takes time to create these types of market-opening opportunities. We've just pushed down barriers when it comes to Asia; we've just created a new trading order in the hemisphere through NAFTA. As you see these important achievements begin to work, that's the way you begin to see the changes developing and these persistent trade imbalances that America has lived with for many years now.

Q: Has Dr. Tyson been offered the NEC job? And, if so, has she accepted or declined?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, if she had, it would be up to the President and Dr. Tyson to address that, and perhaps they will sometime soon.

Q: How about today?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- I'm not aware -- are you aware of anything happening today? No, I don't think anything today.

Q: On Foster, is the White House looking for hearings around mid-March, and are you hoping that in the interim maybe tempers will cool a little, and that you'll be able to increase your chances?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I read that somewhere and it's kind of -- sort of a nutty proposition to begin with. We believe the momentum is on Dr. Foster's side now. More and more Senators are indicating that they are keeping an open mind; that they're interest in hearing from him. He's been on Capitol Hill and he's been making a very positive impression. So to the contrary, I would expect us to move as quickly as we can. As I indicated earlier, we now have got one piece of information that we need so that we can proceed as soon as we have all the others in place, so we can send the nomination forward. And we hope that the Senate will act as quickly as it can.

Q: What evidence do you have that the momentum is on Dr. Foster's side?

MR. MCCURRY: The statements that have been coming from members of the Senate as they meet with him, as they indicate how impressive he is in person, and as they begin to pay attention to more than just the extraneous issues that were initially part of the debate about his nomination.

Q: Has the FBI given the White House any indication that anything in that report would be disqualifying?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with the contents of the report. I haven't heard anything to suggest that.

Q: Mike, did you get an update on Stone?

MR. MCCURRY: I said that we just wanted -- the answer here is that we have to check and see, because the answer might have changed earlier. It's in flux.

Q: What's the answer?

MR. MCCURRY: I took the question. I took the question, and now that I'm reading the answer that we prepared, it wasn't any good anyhow. (Laughter.) What else do you want?

Q: Is Foster going to be making courtesy calls again next week?

MR. MCCURRY: Courtesy calls Foster? We don't have any information on his schedule for that next week yet.

Q: What are your plans on Monday?

MR. MCCURRY: My plan is to be here with Harry Smith and Paula Zahn, bright and early in the morning.

Q: Is the press office going to be open? I mean, will the lid be off, or --

MS. TERZANO: Yes, yes, we'll be here.

MR. MCCURRY: We'll be around -- we'll be -- I'm trying to give some of our staff a bit of a break on a holiday. Some of us will be around, and I'll not do anything formally here at the podium. But maybe I can get -- make some arrangement around mid-morning to just caucus with those of you who are here, and then we'll shut it down for the balance of the day so we can enjoy a holiday in honor of our Presidents.

Q: Do you have any 20th century candidates for joining that holiday? We're almost at the end, barring a catastrophe, there might only be one more President this century.

MR. MCCURRY: Say again? I think we've got him. We're up to 42 by the year 2001, that's my prediction.

Q: Has the level of the President's support for Commerce Secretary Brown diminished or changed in any way over the last 24 hours?

MR. MCCURRY: Not at all.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END1:45 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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