Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
1:22 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Hello, everybody. I'm so glad you're here with me today. Let me start with something I think most of you know, that the Department of Agriculture today has put out some information on reform in the food stamp program. And they also issued a statement from the President which says -- and I quote -- "with this package we're saying to Congress that we expect the food stamp program to continue to get food to people who need it, but that we will not tolerate criminals who defraud the system and seek to profit from the hunger of others."
The President points out that over the last two years the administration has done a great deal to reinvent government and reinvent the food stamp program, and today we've asked Congress for new powers comprising 13 specific items to counterattack those who have exploited the program. USDA had given, I think, a fairly thorough briefing on the content of the proposal today, but I wanted to highlight the President's interest in that proposal from the Department of Agriculture.
And with that --
Q: Drug sanctions? Are you going to announce those here, or is that at State?
MR. MCCURRY: Let me do it right now. We will have for you right after the briefing a piece of paper that represents the president's certification for major narcotics-producing transit countries, done as required by the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. The President will certify that the following countries, or territories, have cooperated fully with the United States and are taking adequate steps on their end to achieve full compliance with the goals and objectives of the 1988 United Nations Commission Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances: the Bahamas, Brazil, China, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala --
Q: Wait, wait --
MR. MCCURRY: You'll have this on paper. I'm reading this just for the transcript. Bahamas, Brazil, China, Dominican Republican, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Laos, Malaysia, Mexico, Panama, Taiwan, Thailand, Venezuela and Vietnam. He'll sign vital national interest certifications for Bolivia, Colombia, Lebanon, Pakistan, Paraguay and Peru. And he will determine that the following major producing and/or major transit countries have not met the standards set forth in federal law. Those countries are Afghanistan, Burma, Iran, Nigeria and Syria.
Beginning very shortly, Under Secretary of State Timothy Wirth and Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bob Gelbard -- they are briefing over at the State Department to kind of walk through these determinations to talk about the National Narcotics Certification and what it all means.
Q: To clear up a couple of things -- did Syria get a waiver last year and --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe this reflects any change in the status of Syria. I think that was an issue raised bilaterally by the Syrians. They were, to my knowledge, not given a vital national interest waiver last year.
Q: The issue came up.
MR. MCCURRY: The issue came up because they felt that what they had done to control poppy cultivation warranted a certification. Our view was there are additional steps that the government of Syria could take to control heroin production in areas in which Syria either influences or controls.
Q: The change is Nigeria then. What is Nigeria has now done that caused --
MR. MCCURRY: I have to refer to the State Department on that. I believe that's correct, though, Doug, that is a change in the listing.
Q: You told us this morning that the U.S. continues to back the candidacy of Salinas for Secretary General.
MR. MCCURRY: And right I am. (Laughter.)
Q: Reuters is quoting Mr. Panetta as saying the White House is reconsidering blah, blah, blah, after his brother --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, no, read the blah, blah, blah part. (Laughter.)
Q: The headlines says U.S. sees Salinas brother's arrest affecting WTO bid, and it says the White House is reconsidering its support for former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gotiari as a candidate to head the new World Trade Organization after his brother's arrest on murder charges, Chief of Staff Leon Panetta said Wednesday. Panetta told Reuters that the White House was looking into whether Carlos Salinas was linked in any way to the alleged actions of his brother Raoul.
MR. MCCURRY: The article goes on to quote Mr. Panetta saying right now we're continuing to support him, and I think also notes that we have not changed our support of his candidacy. I think as I told you earlier today, he remains our candidate for Secretary General of the World Trade Organization. But we are acknowledging, and I believe the Chief of Staff is acknowledging the obvious --there has been an impasse now for 10 months in the selection of a Secretary General. We feel it is very important at this point to move forward. And we are now consulting with our major trade partners about how we can best resolve this impasse and how we can find the most effective leader for the World Trade Organization, an institution that will increasingly play a very important role in global economics in the post-Cold War era.
Now, I would specifically refer you to something I said earlier today: clearly, indictments in Mexican courts against individuals are law enforcement matters that are within the purview of the government of Mexico, and I am not aware of any connection between issues of that nature and the question of who ought to properly head the World Trade Organization.
Q: The fact of the matter is the guy's toast, right?
MR. MCCURRY: As a practical matter --
Q: He's already stuck.
MR. MCCURRY: Reporters can report facts and judge for themselves what they think the status of candidacies are, but I would decline to comment on the individual prospects of any individual candidate. I think I am acknowledging that there is an impasse at this point --
MR. MCCURRY: Because there are three candidates for the position and not any one of the three can garner the votes necessary to be elected Secretary General. And this has gone on for some time. There have been numerous discussions within the World Trade Organization about this, and it's time, as I say once again, to move forward and find the right candidate to lead the WTO.
Q: Wasn't Panetta indicating that Salinas's brother's problems might have an impact on this?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to -- I think I've suggested to you that that is an issue that properly is within the purview of the Mexican government; they have to pursue their own prosecution of individuals under Mexican law. But I think you all know the Chief of Staff to be very astute politically, and perhaps he was offering what was a very candid political assessment of that race. But again, I would stress that -- stress once again that our backing for our candidate is well known. We are in discussions with our trading partners about how we move forward from here.
Q: On foreign policy, Dole just now accused the administration of timidity in its handling of Iraqi violations of sanctions, and also said that --
MR. MCCURRY: Of Iraqi sanctions?
Q: Or Iranian. One or the other. One of those.
Q: Yes. Sanctions on Iraq.
MR. MCCURRY: These are the sanctions where many other nations in the world accuse the United States of being much too hardlined in its enforcement and prosecution of the sanctions regime -- was he referring perhaps to that sanctions regime?
Q: Those exactly. Also he said that the administration has gotten too cozy with Yeltsin.
MR. MCCURRY: With -- that would be Boris Yeltsin? (Laughter.) The democratically-elected President of Russia, a very large nation that still has, to my most recent recollection, a nuclear arsenal that might be of significant concern to the President of the United States, who has very carefully, adroitly, and we believe successfully managing one of the most important bilateral relations in the --
Q: Yes, that's the guy.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, do tell. (Laughter.) What curious points. What curious points for the Senate Majority Leader to be making. But as you -- he most likely has just finished most ago, correct, and the National Security Advisor will be here at 3:00 p.m. and I suspect he will have a lot more to say about such curious commentary on the administration's successful foreign policy.
Helen, did you have a question?
Q: Yes, but I'm trying to think of it. (Laughter.)
Q: Judging by the Secretary of State, he may share some of the concerns that Senator Dole has.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Secretary of State is a very wise and careful executor of the President's foreign policy, and the President and the Secretary are fully aware of the various aspects of the bilateral relationship we maintain with a democratic Russia, and the fact that the President and the Secretary are continually assessing the status of that relationship should come as no surprise to anybody. But I think the State Department has been very clear about the remarks you're referencing which are referred to, I believe, in a New York Times article today.
Q: John Shalikashvili has revealed that the Iranians have deployed antiaircraft missiles on an island in the Persian Gulf. Has the United States come to any conclusion as to why they think those missiles are there? Does the United States consider those missiles a threat to commercial air traffic? And what does the U.S. -- what can the U.S. do about it?
MR. MCCURRY: I would stand by the President's indication yesterday that we don't believe this presents an undue security threat to our forces in the region. We are aware that Hawk missile defense systems are on Obu Musa, which is one of the islands in dispute in the Straits of Hormuz that we've been talking about in recent days. And our naval forces continue to operate freely in the region. We obviously monitor very carefully the deployments that we see in that region. We will evaluate them, make judgments accordingly.
Q: But one of the reasons that the U.S. got itself involved in the tanker wars was not because of a threat to U.S. forces, but because of a threat to commercial shipping and air traffic and the like in that area.
MR. MCCURRY: We're aware of that, and as I say, we're evaluating how an air defense system, somewhat antiquated but perhaps somewhat modified, might pose, if any threat to shipping lanes in the Straits. As I say, the President indicated to you yesterday there's -- it's not our judgment this time that it poses an undue security threat, that we will continue to evaluate it closely.
Q: What is the President's position with regard to the objections to the balanced budget amendment raised by Senators Conrad and Dorgan? Does he agree -- and accept those objections, or not?
MR. MCCURRY: The President understands fully the concerns that many Democratic senators have that the proposed constitutional balanced budget amendment does not provide effective protections to programs like Social Security, and the fact that Democratic senators are insisting that Social Security, one of our nation's most fundamental social insurance programs, be protected in any discussion of a balanced budget amendment is something that not only reflects the president's thinking, but I think reflects the thinking of a majority of Democrats in the United States Congress.
Q: Mike, what those guys are talking about is not a protection of the way Social Security funds are disposed of; they're merely talking about changing the way the budget deficit is tabulated by either continuing to use the same system President Johnson imposed, the so-called unified budget during the '60s, which is in use now and has been used in all the Clinton budgets, or whether they go to a system where it's, in effect, taken off budget. That's what they're talking about. What is the President's view of that?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has discussed this from time to time with members of Congress. I don't know that we've taken a formal position on whether or not the Social Security trust funds, HIDI and the Social Security fund itself, ought to be tabulated separately. There are other proposals from time to time when it comes to the federal budget about keeping capital expenditures off- line. We have presented the FY '96 budget proposal consistent with past practices of presidents and administrations. That's the budget proposal that's now before the Congress. And it's up to the Congress now to consider the President's budget proposal, formulated according to the unified budget practices that have consistently been employed by administrations, and the Congress needs to get on with the work of writing the FY '96 budget.
It's well and good to have a constitutional discussion, but at the end of the day, the members of the Congress are going to have get down to the serious work of deciding how much revenues we are to have, how much spending we are to have, and how much deficit is going to result there from.
Q: Mike, has the administration settled on a timetable or a structure for reviewing affirmative action programs? And can you go into some of the names of the people who are consulting with the White House on this issue?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, second, no, because I would leave out the wide range of people that the President, the Vice President and others on staff have talked to, because we believe this is a very important subject upon which there needs to be a very sensible, rational and less than heated national conversation, as the President has suggested. So the President and others here at the White House have had a variety of contacts with people both inside and outside of government, both within the Congress and outside of the Congress with groups that pay very close attention to civil rights in America and others. And we will continue to do that.
I'm not going to suggest any timing or any structure to the review that the President has asked for. But it will be done very deliberately and carefully so that substantively it produces good answers to the questions, how can we move ahead in ending racial discrimination in America.
Q: Just a follow-up -- there was a report that the President intended to make a major address or a major speech on the issue sometime this month. Is that accurate? I mean, has the President targeted sometime in March to settle on this?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule it out, but I don't think an artificial deadline is what the President is interested in. And he's in the very best thinking of his staff that he can consider as he looks at programs that deal with the consequences of racial discrimination in our society and that provide when necessary affirmative remedies to address those injustices. He will do this work carefully, as I say, deliberately and when properly he can speak publicly to these questions he will.
Q: Isn't this just reactive, though, to what they want to do on the Hill to wipe it out? I mean, all of a sudden it's become an issue with him?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's not. The President's commitment to the civil rights of Americans goes back to when he was a very young man, as you know, and throughout his --
Q: The idea isn't to promote civil rights, the idea is to really to take away a lot of the privileges that have been accorded because of the injustices.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, your view is that the efforts of those who are raising these questions on Capitol Hill is designed to take away some of the fundamental guarantees of equal employment opportunity that have been available in our society.
Q: Well, then how about for the President himself if he wants to review it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think the President believes that if you start from the premise that he does, that we have to address the consequences of injustice and discrimination in our society, then you better make sure that those programs and policies that are in place are doing that work effectively and fairly. So I think he starts from the premise that we need to strengthen and make effective and fair those policies and programs that we have in place, leading him to ask not only for the review, but also to anticipate what I think you're correct in suggesting that it would be very vicious and political attacks coming from those who would like to dismantle these types of programs and go back perhaps to an earlier day in the history of our country.
Q: The rescission bill mark-up with the appropriations committee -- they are looking at excluding funding for abortions even in cases of rape and incest. How does the White House look at that, and if that actually did become part of this, would the President veto something like that?
MR. MCCURRY: Are you -- I may be mixing two different things here. Is this the provision within the mark-up that's dealing with the so-called illegitimacy ratio and how they would calculate this additional funding available to states?
All of these -- there's been some work done now within the Congress on welfare reform as they look at a variety of questions and the subject of abortion has come up from time to time in different contexts. One is the calculation of this so-called illegitimacy ratio that has been introduced within recent days by the House. We will look at that carefully, but I think the White House takes the fundamental view that welfare reform ought to be about putting people back to work. It ought to be about finding jobs for those who are currently dependent on welfare. And beginning to bring back into that equation discussions of abortion and other issues might unnecessarily tie up the work that Congress ought to do.
The President remains determined to work with this Congress to fashion a welfare reform bill that rewards work, that is tough on those on welfare by requiring them to go back to work, but that at the same time, protects children. And our concern has been to this point that the child is the element left missing in the Republican equation so far, without adequate protection designed to help those who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in unfortunate circumstances.
Q: Mike, what does it say about the President's role in relationship with the new minority in Congress when he offers his assistance to Minority Leader Daschle and Daschle doesn't have anything for him to do?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it says that we have a wonderfully cooperative and effective relationship when both sides of Washington -- Capitol Hill and the White House -- can work effectively to achieve a desired outcome, which, in fact, may be what's happening here.
Q: Well, does it suggest that the President perhaps is just not a player on this issue?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I've been listening to the Mark, all morning long, and hearing Republican Senator after Republican Senator blaming the President of the United States for the impasse that the United States Senate found itself in last night. So perhaps the best way to refute your mistaken theory, is to refer to those who are speaking quite vigorously on that. (Laughter.)
Q: Mike, your comments here and then your comments earlier this morning suggest that the White House is trying to signal to members of the Senate that the administration will take a new look at deficit reduction and perhaps expand the deficit reduction that you outlined in your budget. Are you trying to suggest here that failing the balanced budget amendment in the Senate, that those people -- for deficit reduction can look to the White House for a stepped-up effort to go beyond the $80 billion and get some kind of bipartisan movement on the deficit reduction that you're now talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: No, the President is signaling what is the case -- that at the end of a very long and exhausting debate on the Constitution, the Congress then has to go back to work the next day and do what the Congress has to do, which is to consider a FY96 budget and write that budget. We have put our best estimate -- our best proposal of how that budget should look on Congress' table, and we now await the thinking of Congress, as Congress begins to deliberate.
In the last two years, we were able by early March, if not mid-March, to have written and passed the budget. And we now are perilously close the point where that's not going to happen in 1995 because this Congress has been debating whether or not there ought to be a constitutional mandate to balance the budget by the years 2002. Well, well and good -- they've had that debate; but at the end of that debate they still have to get down to making the numbers add up. And the President is signaling to this Congress that he wants to work with them to write that budget. We have laid out our proposals. We have done an enormous amount of deficit reduction in the last two years and we are prepared to consider what additional steps Congress would recommend. But we need to get on with that work at this point.
Q: Has the decision been made now, in lieu of this debate over the balanced budget amendment, that the President has to be more aggressive in terms of deficit reductions?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The determination has been that it would be nice for Congress to be as aggressive in deficit reduction as the President and the Democrats in Congress have already been.
Q: More aggressive, though, than the President is in the current budget proposal is.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has put his budget proposal before the Congress, and we now say to the Congress, where's yours? Where is the budget that you would propose to submit on behalf of the American people, and let's get on writing that budget and considering it and passing it accordingly. And that, you know, there's been discussion of that within the Congress, but there hasn't been a whole lot of action at this point.
Q: Back on food stamps, what's wrong with block- granting money to replace the current admittedly corrupt system?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the reforms that are indicated by the Ag Department today I think go at taking a program which can provide necessary nutrition and assistance to those who are in need, and making it more effective. You'd have to go a long way to make a case that you need to block grant to take some of these public assistance programs that are available and turn them back to the states, because more often than not, when those who make that proposal do so, they're also talking about reduced funding. So, essentially, what they're saying to the states are that we're going to create a world of hurt for you, and by telling you that you're going to have to go to the indigent populations in your state and explain to them why these social services that have been available in the past are no longer there.
That's the problem with so many of the block grant proposals; they represent a gut-and-cut approach to how you deal with public assistance, and that's going to leave unfortunate people in the position where they don't have the social services that they really do desperately need.
Q: On this latest Whitewater indictment, Bruce Lindsey's name has been connected with this, perhaps obviously not in the indictment, but his name has emerged because he was the treasurer of the campaign, et cetera. Is there an increased sensitivity of the White House over this?
MR. MCCURRY: No, not that I'm aware of, and you're correct in pointing out that his name has not appeared in any indictment. His lawyer has spoken to that question since there were some news accounts that linked him to that development, and I believe the White House Legal Counsel has made it very clear that the White House itself has confidence that those involved in President Clinton's then-campaign for governor conducted themselves properly and lawfully with regard to some of the withdrawals that are referred to in the indictment of Mr. Ainley. And that being the case, I don't sense any heightened concern here.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:46 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/269966