Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
12:35 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. Happy Monday to you all, and welcome to the White House daily briefing.
Your first question, please, whoever would like to pose one.
Q: Salinas. Where is he?
MR. MCCURRY: Where is Salinas. To quote the President, he's probably hanging out with Carmen San Diego at the moment. (Laughter.) The answer is, we don't know. President Salinas has traveled since he's been President of Mexico to the United States on three separate occasions. He has a valid general visitor's visa, which would allow him to travel as a private citizen. We don't have any record yet of him having entered the country. We have not had a report back to us from INS that he's been processed at any port of entry. Obviously, we're inquiring as to his whereabouts. To our knowledge, he has not contacted us regarding any intentions that he might have to remain in the United States, so we'll have to establish some contact with him, or at least INS will, to determine what his intentions are beyond the six-month period that he would be allowed to stay on the visa that he's currently traveling on.
Q: Does his entire family --
Q: Does the administration have an opinion if former President Salinas should choose to live in the United States for a period of time?
MR. MCCURRY: We'd have to have a discussion with him, as we normally would with any individual who would like to stay beyond the period in which he's allowed to stay on under the terms of the visa that he's traveling on.
Q: Do his wife and children have valid visas for six months?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any information on family members that may or may not be with him.
Q: Has the White House contacted the Mexican governments for some clarification on this report that Zedillo and Salinas reached this agreement?
MR. MCCURRY: We have had some contact with the embassy here, and as we learn more details, I'll try to pass them on. But I don't have any readout.
Q: If he does get in, is there any thought that he might be the new Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I believe his interest is in pursuing an academic career. I'm not sure --
Q: Isn't that job traditionally reserved for an academic?
MR. MCCURRY: It is, indeed. I'll determine whether his economic background might put him in the pool of candidates available. I doubt it. We do cast, as you know, though, consistent with our views on diversity, a very wide net.
Q: Can I follow up? You said there has been contact between the U.S. and the Mexican government. What did they tell you?
MR. MCCURRY: I frankly, interrupted a call that an NSC staffer was just having with the embassy, so I don't have a full readout on that yet. But if we have any more details -- these are the details that I've got at this point. If we get anything more, we'll pass it on.
Q: Mike, can we get an update in progress here?
Q: Has he definitely left Mexico?
MR. MCCURRY: Calvin Mitchell just indicated that he's more than happy to continue to pursue this matter while we are on brief.
Q: If the former president is in this country -- haven't been told about it, how would that be?
MR. MCCURRY: As a private citizen, he's entitled to travel here on the visa that he has. He has a multiple entry visa. And as I say, he's been here three times that we're aware of since he served as President of Mexico. So that's -- the fact that he would be in the United States is not unusual and is -- wouldn't be inconsistent with the type of visa he has.
Q: But you have no record of him.
MR. MCCURRY: We don't have a record. He has not -- the INS has not reported back to us yet, based on our inquiries, any indication of what his port of entry was or where he might be at this moment.
Q: Mike, today is the deadline for the Justice Department to say whether they're going to appoint an independent counsel for Henry Cisneros. Have you received any word on that?
MR. MCCURRY: That's at 12:30 p.m. now.
Q: And has the President decided whether or not he believes that Cisneros should stay on if the counsel --
MR. MCCURRY: As the Chief of Staff got that same question yesterday, I'll give the same answer the Chief of Staff did. We don't want to comment on this while it's under review by the Attorney General. That would be, in some sense, prejudicial.
Q: We ran out of time, so I wasn't able to ask a follow-up. But it seems pretty straightforward. It's not the kind of thing that you have to wait and see whether there's a referral. You have in your mind -- you know one way or the other what your decision will be.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think that's an accurate characterization. It depends on what manner is referred and what, if in fact, something is referred. We'll just have to wait and see what the Attorney General recommends.
Q: Mike, the British government says that John Major has written a letter to President Clinton asking that he twist Gerry Adams's arm on the issue of decommissioning IRA weapons. Has the President received such a letter? What can you tell us about it?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has received a letter from the Prime Minister dated March 10th. We will be developing a response to the Prime Minister. The tone of the letter is fully consistent with our sense that there exists between the United States and the U.K. a warm and special relationship. It does refer to the issue of Gerry Adams's visit to the United States and it does reflect our determination, as well as the U.K.'s determination that there be forward movement in the peace process and that the issue of discussing decommissioning actually be translated into real actions and words. That would represent a step for in the peace process.
Q: The United states favors, or wants to see the IRA take that step?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are, as you know, we were satisfied that raising the issue of decommissioning within the talks was a step forward. And of course, we do want -- our concerns about disarmament are well known. That could contribute to deepening a furtherance of the peace process.
Q: So Major is preaching to the choir in asking that the President twist Adams's arm on --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are -- I don't want to confirm -- it really would not be up to us to confirm the substance or tone of the letter beyond what I just described. I think I would leave that to the British.
Q: Well that was the purpose of the letter, was it not?
MR. MCCURRY: The purpose of the letter, generally, I'd describe just reviewing the peace process and where things stand and how we can further and deepen the peace process that the United States clearly supports.
Q: Who is Adams going to see when he comes here? Is he -- you said that, or we've been told that there's -- he's not going to have substantive meetings with President Clinton, that's it's basically a handshake. But who will he have meetings with in the administration?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check on that. I'm not entirely certain that there have been any scheduled. He's been invited to be a guest at the reception for Prime Minister John Bruton. In that sense, he'll be a social guest of the President at the St. Patrick's Day reception Friday. Beyond that, I'm not aware at the moment of any planned meetings, but he has had contact in the past, I believe with the National Security Advisor, as well as other NSC staff members, and I'll see whether they plan any type of contact of that nature.
Q: Mike, is the President happy with the way the Pentagon's gays in the military policy has been implemented over the past year?
MR. MCCURRY: He is. He knows that the Department of Defense believes the policy is working well. The Department has no intent of changing it. Both Secretary of Defense Perry and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Shalikashvili report that military commanders in the field are satisfied with it, and the number of expulsions clearly is declining. So, based on that report from the Pentagon, we're satisfied that the policy is working well and we ought to proceed with it.
Q: Does the President think that more military personnel should be punished for violating the ban, as there is clear evidence --
MR. MCCURRY: We believe that the Pentagon should effectively implement the policy as it was designed, and they are clearly doing so.
Q: Has the President telephoned, or tried to telephone John Major today or over the weekend?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check and see. I know that beyond the letter that I've just described, there have been some attempts to have contact at the highest level, but I'll have to check and see if there was any effort over the weekend to have contact.
Q: Mike, what's the latest on Dr. Foster's nomination? You had a meeting today with how Patsy Fleming, the AIDS Czar, with various groups in the Roosevelt Room to talk about Foster, but what's -- do you have any idea when he's going to actually get his hearings, and can you give us a status report?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that there have been any hearings scheduled yet by the Senate, but we certainly hope that they will be scheduled as soon as possible. And Dr. Foster continues to meet with various groups that are supportive of his nomination. We continue to make the case for his nomination on the Hill, and it is a strong and persuasive one, and we're satisfied that as the Senate exercises its advice and consent role, they'll see the merit of the appointment, see his extraordinary record in its full context, and they will proceed to confirmation.
Q: The reaction to Phil Gramm saying that he will do his most, including filibuster, to kill this nomination?
MR. MCCURRY: His remarks are unfortunate, because they indicate that, based at least on the issue of choice, he is willing to use that rather extreme view as a way of blocking a nomination that could do so much to end teenage pregnancy, a subject to which Dr. Foster has devoted most of his professional career. So it would be unfortunate if extremists in the Senate took a view on choice, made it a litmus test and prevented the nomination from going forward on that basis.
Q: Senator Gramm said that his opposition was based on the issue of Dr. Foster's credibility, not choice.
MR. MCCURRY: I've read the transcript very carefully, what he said, and his opposition was based in part on the fact, simply that Dr. Foster had performed abortions, and I suggest you check the transcript.
Q: Mike, The Post yesterday had a major story of possible connections between high government officials in Mexico and drug-trafficking, and that the U.S. has told the Mexican government. Can you confirm that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check into that. I saw the story, and I think there have been some contacts related to former President Salinas, but I'll have to check and see what contacts we've had on that subject.
Q: It wasn't clear to me this morning whether Mr. Deutch will have to go through any kind of additional vetting process, or does his nomination get sent up right away?
MR. MCCURRY: We are checking on that now. He's been through a confirmation process twice during the course of the current administration, most recently when he was confirmed as Deputy Secretary of Defense last year, so most of the material and background work on him is relatively current, and was in the hands of the Senate fairly recently. But whatever additional information is necessary, we will gather prior to sending the nomination to the Hill, but we believe we can do that rather quickly.
Q: Why did the President decide to make the CIA Director Cabinet level?
MR. MCCURRY: The President believes that elevating the position of Director of Central Intelligence to Cabinet rank will help bring the intelligence-gathering function to the table as foreign policy is discussed within the White House and within the administration broadly. It is a reflection of the President's view that in the new world that we live in, the information that we need to make the right decisions become very, very important. And Dr. Deutch, as someone who will be the chief analyst of that intelligence information, will be able to contribute that perspective to the discussions underway. Even though he will not play a policy-making role as a member of the national security team, he will be at the table as someone who has got the best available facts and the best available analysis, which will be critical as the administration addresses the challenges America faces in this new world.
Q: Who convinced the President of this, and when did he change his mind?
MR. MCCURRY: The President -- the question of what role information-gathering can play in foreign policy discussions has been a subject of not only debate in foreign policy circles, but has certainly been a point of discussion within the administration. And the President does feel that the Cabinet rank can attach significance to the intelligence function within foreign policy deliberations. The exact point at which I believe the President indicated his willingness to elevate the DCI to Cabinet rank was Saturday as the announcement was made.
Q: As a condition of Deutch taking the job?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware -- I'm not 100 percent confident that this question actually arose in the President's conversation with Dr. Deutch. I think it was raised during the day on Saturday.
Q: Does this change his salary in any way by being a Cabinet rank office?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I'll have to check on that.
Q: The President has been criticized for not seeing the CIA Director in the morning, regularly, on any basis during the week and so forth. He has no regular meetings with him.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President gets a daily briefing from his National Security Advisor, which is consistent with pass practices here at the White House. I suspect, given the President's relationship with Dr. Deutch, that he will see the Director of Central Intelligence, once confirmed, on a fairly regular basis.
Q: It wasn't clear from what you said about efforts to reach John Major. Are you trying to reach him by phone or have you been unable to, or is he not taking the call?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'll check on that. As I say, we've had correspondence with him, and I'm not certain whether or not they've had trouble connecting. I do know that the President looks forward to the Prime Minister's upcoming visit. We expect him here in early April for what will be good discussions on a range of matters.
Q: What was the reason Mr. Deutch gave in the first place for turning down the job?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to get into that. If he feels like he would like to address it, it would be appropriate to address that question to him.
Q: Mr. Mitchell has returned. Did he bring Mr. Salinas with him?
MR. MCCURRY: What news, Calvin?
Q: The President's plane --
Q: The baseball strike is over.
MR. MCCURRY: Struck out, huh?
Q: April fools.
MR. MCCURRY: -- 0 for 3 -- says we're -- mostly we'll have to get more information as we come along. We don't have any readout on the conversations we've had so far.
Q: Is there any concern that he could be missing; that his plane went down somewhere? I mean, what's -- (laughter) --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard any concerns of that nature expressed.
Q: Then somebody --
Q: Is it realistic to assume, though, that the former President of Mexico would come to the United States without informing anyone in the United States government of his travel plans?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that is realistic to assume, because I believe that happened at least on one occasion prior.
Q: Depends on the level of haste, you think? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate.
Q: Time is -- since time was of the essence here?
MR. MCCURRY: I've --
Q: Is he wanted in Mexico?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of, no.
Q: Is he wanted here?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of.
Any other questions? We're sort of petering out.
Q: What's the significance of that green M&M on the edge of the podium?
MR. MCCURRY: The significance -- it's the one little bit of bait that's put out there to see if I will tempt myself with a chocolate.
Q: What was the prior occasion?
MR. MCCURRY: Prior occasions that he's been here? I'd have to check. He gave a lecture in Texas at one point. I'm doing that from memory, Gene, but I'd have to go and check the other times he's been here.
Q: He has a general visitor's visa. And we were unaware of his presence here?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. At least that one other occasion.
All right, thank you everybody.
THE PRESS: Thank you. END 12:50 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/269975