Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
1:31 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: I am bereft of any opening salvos today, so I will entertain your questions as long as they are entertaining.
Q: Did the President talk with Secretary Rubin before the action on the dollar, and was he briefed on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I am told they did not talk. He's been briefed on the action, but they did not speak last night prior to the intervention. I think you've all got by now the Treasury Secretary's statement. There's not anything that I would say in addition to that. Obviously, the President, as well as the Treasury Secretary, believes a strong dollar is in the interest of the United States of America, and we are committed to strengthening the fundamentals that are ultimately important to maintaining a strong and stable currency.
Q: Which are?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's the extent of the statement we made. We are acting in accordance with that view.
Q: Well, then he didn't have to have any permission and any approval of the President himself? He just was able to act on his own?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President and the Treasury Secretary have been discussing currency market fluctuations regularly during a period in which the markets have been volatile.
Q: Affirmative action review?
MR. MCCURRY: There's nothing new on that. The President continues to work through a lot of the issues, and those helping him are working through specific questions that the President has suggested he would like additional detail on. I wouldn't speculate as to when the review itself would be complete, nor when the President might talk publicly about it, although it could very well happen sometime this month.
Q: Back to money world, a two-part question. What are you doing to try to head off D'Amato's efforts on Mexico? And can you provide evidence, do you see evidence that the bailout package is working?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you see some evidence in the response of the international community. And, clearly, markets are always going to volatile, but we continue to believe that the package itself and the direction that the current administration indicates it wishes to take Mexico will lead it in a path in which the economy will strengthen over time and that Mexico will be able to regain very sound basis for international commerce.
Q: What are you doing about the D'Amato effort, though? Are you --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he is raising certain questions. We are certainly taking steps, particularly at the Treasury Department, to respond to inquiries, not only from Senator D'Amato but from other members of Congress. Our only concern is that they would place this issue in the context of broader legislation or unrelated legislation that is urgent.
Q: Well, I mean, have you told him that this is a dangerous game he's playing, that he could theoretically --
MR. MCCURRY: He's a member of the Senate Banking Committee and is well aware of that, I would presume.
Q: How about the sharing of information with the Soviet Union on Iran?
MR. MCCURRY: They, I believe, at the time Secretary Christopher and Foreign Minister Kozyrev met, they indicated they had exchanged views on Iran's activity and that the United States had provided its own assessment of Iranian motives and tactics in furtherance of its own objectives of disrupting the peace process and promoting terrorism. And I believe the information exchanged was rather complete.
Q: Mike, as the Republicans start work on the tax package in the House, what's the White House comment on it? And how are you monitoring it, and what are you trying to do to effectively change it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we continue to believe that the proper approach for tax relief for middle-income Americans is outlined in the President's Middle Class Bill of Rights. We've got a very highly-targeted measure that goes to those who deserve some tax relief, and it is a long-term investment in the strength of the American economy. It promotes education, it provides help to people who face hardship circumstances, and it's a lot better than taking a tax proposal and skewing it disproportionately to the wealthiest in our society.
The Republican tax bill very clearly takes the benefits and puts them in the hands of the very wealthiest members in our society, and we just think that's wrong. We should give tax relief to those who deserve it and need it -- the middle income.
Q: Are you talking about the capital gains portion of the tax when you say that? Is that what you mean?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the overall bill, added together, takes about 20 percent of the benefit and gives it to the top one percent of tax filers. That includes both the anticipated effects of the credit and the tax measures within the capital gains cut.
Q: Can you tell us what the Vice President's goal is with his speech today at 3:00 p.m.? And will the President take part in this effort this week?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, this is a week in which, I think, we are beginning to reflect on the Contract for America, and Americans are learning more about the fine print in that Contract. The President and the Vice President and others from the administration throughout this week will be setting forth our view that there's a better way of addressing some of the problems that face the nation and there's a more detailed approach that is contained in the proposals the administration has sent to the Hill. And we would continue to press for action on those measures as opposed to aspects of the Contract yet to be enacted that the President feels might be detrimental to the interests of Americans.
Q: Specifically, what's the President doing, though? I mean, what occasions?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there will be numerous occasions during the course of this week in which a variety of administration people speak. The President, as you know, is going to talk to newspaper editors on Friday. We sort of start the week with the Vice President outlining a case at the National Press Club. You'll hear from others this week, including Senator Dodd. And, of course, the President will be speaking on Friday, and I suspect he'll address some of these same issues -- how you put the effort by the Republican majority in the context of what's really needed to define a better future for the American people. We've got a distinctly different view than the Republicans about what's best for America as we look ahead to the 21st century. It's not the Contract for America; it's the President's New Covenant.
Q: Will he specifically on Friday take note of the fact that it's the last day of the Contract and address it that way? Or will it be more like the speeches we've heard the last couple of days?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there will be a lot of thematic material consistent with the argument that the President has been making over and over again. But it will be a speech given in context on a day that is what the Republican Majority is pointing to as sort of a conclusion of the 100-day period. And the Speaker, I gather, is intending to speak that evening. So the President's speech will be in that context, but the President will define his own agenda as he looks ahead as well.
Q: Mike, you've just outlined all the things that are wrong with the House GOP tax package. Is the President prepared this week to say that if he got that bill he would veto it?
MR. MCCURRY: The Chief of Staff, I believe, has already indicated that.
Q: But Clinton's going to say that this week?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to -- you know, as we normally do not do, we don't predict when and how the President might draw that specific line.
Q: Does he think that the new Gephardt tax proposal doesn't go far enough?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I know that we're looking at it, and we will look carefully at all the measures under consideration by the Congress. We've got a tax proposal. Our tax proposal is the Middle Class Bill of Rights. That's the one that we're looking at, and we'd encourage the Congress to look at it as well.
Q: Right. But could you just describe -- is it the children's tax credit that you think is important or the education tax credits which now the House Democrats seem to say that is the top priority?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we're getting some synthesis of view as Congress considers these tax bills, but we'll continue to press for all the provisions in the Middle Class Bill of Rights; certainly, those that provide the child credit are important, but also the long-term investments in education and getting people interested in training, tuition assistance, and all of these things are things that we think are long-term investments in the strength of the economy. So we'll continue to press the case broadly for those, and we'll continue to work with our friends and allies on the Hill as they craft their own proposals.
Q: This is a week-long rebuttal, day by day, leading up to the summation of the Contract, right? What is going to be said different?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it may -- I think it might be interpreted that way. It is, in fact, just in the routine course of doing business, the United States Congress has got a variety of measures it's been considering. The Republican Majority chose to fashion a 100-day timetable for that consideration, and we've commented appropriately on its actions as Congress moves forward. That is sort of the context for the discussion this week.
Q: But you do have a campaign this week, a drive this week to rebut the --
MR. MCCURRY: We have people from both the White House, Democrats from around town, who are prepared to address what we believe are shortcomings in the Contract for America, and we hope that they will be heard this week.
Q: Will any Cabinet secretaries be speaking out on it?
MR. MCCURRY: There are a number of them who are, yes. You might want to check individually. We've got some indication of what various Cabinet members -- a lot of Cabinet members are out in their areas talking about those things that they think are deleterious about the Contract for America. They will continue to make that case as they have been throughout the early part of this year.
Q: Mike, along Mara's line of questions, does the White House see it as a big opening, this letter from over 100 Republicans saying they want the ceiling lowered to $95,000 -- and have any of your people contacted the Republicans on the Hill, the ones that signed the letter, in trying to immobilize that kind of campaign?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have -- I mean, we don't divine legislative tactics for the Republican Majority. But it's clear they have a very deep and significant split within the House Majority Caucus. And it is premised on the belief that it doesn't make sense in the time of deficits and times of trying to measure resources carefully to disproportionately shift resources from a tax cut bill to the very wealthiest in our society. That's caused a number of House Republicans to react with a great deal of warranted alarm.
Now, we want to work with them. We've been talking about Congressman Gephardt, obviously, has some tax ideas. We want to work with whatever we can develop as a majority to fashion a tax proposal that targets the assistance in a tax bill on middle-income people who deserve relief. That's what the President has in mind. We are hopeful that a lot of the controversy within the Republican ranks will move their proposal closer to the President's proposal.
Q: Do you see that as a middle class relief proposal -- $95,000 and under?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've had -- I think you saw last week the Chief of Staff was here with some charts that show that that doesn't materially affect the disproportionality of the benefit. The benefit, even with that adjustment, still goes to the wealthiest incomes.
We think a better way -- if they are interested in targeting the benefits of a tax relief, they ought to go back and take another very close look at the Middle Class Bill of Rights that the President offered them. That is a good way to achieve what many of them seem to want to achieve, which is a targeted tax relief measure that gets the money in the hands of people, the hard-working people in the country who are looking for a little bit of tax relief, but who need that tax relief in the context of efforts that will continue to promote solid expansion of the economy with low inflation.
Q: Are you developing a plan this week to tighten sanctions on Iran or economic trade with Iran by executive action?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the Secretary of State indicated yesterday that there will be some effort to look at that question as we go through the week. I don't have anything newer than that on it.
Q: Mike, Gingrich yesterday suggested that House -- Congress will restore the Pentagon gay ban. One, if it were to do so, would the President veto it? And, two, what's the prognosis for the appeal of the Brooklyn courtroom?
MR. MCCURRY: All I know is that the Defense Department has requested that Justice appeal the decision that was handed down last week. And I know that the Justice Department has been looking at that. I refer you over to them to look at the status of the repeal. The ruling last week affects only six plaintiffs in the case, and it doesn't prevent the Defense Department from carrying out the current policy which the Defense Department says is working well.
I'm not -- there hasn't been, to my knowledge, any further contact with the Speaker to indicate how intent he is on moving into that issue. My impression from hearing the Speaker and his representatives talk is that they have other issues that they consider higher priority. So I don't want to prematurely react to something until we know what exactly the Speaker's plans are.
Q: Mike, with Major coming over here tomorrow, what is the President going to do to make the warm and special relationship warm and special again?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we're going to do what we have done in virtually every bilateral meeting we've had with the United Kingdom. We're going to have a good, thorough discussion of all those issues in which the interests of the United Kingdom and the United States so clearly coincide. We worked together on subjects ranging from Bosnia to support for reform in Russia, to the efforts that the two leaders will have as part of the G-7 later this year. We've been working very closely with the British on NATO expansion, working closely with him on an extension of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
The President, again, is interested in going into some more detail on the Middle East peace process which I know they will spend time on, given Prime Minister Major's recent visit to the region -- so many areas in which there is a clear congruence of interest in positions on the part of our two governments. There will be a lot of issues to explore.
Q: How do you think they will approach the issue where they sort of collide -- on Ireland?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, exactly as the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister indicated they would when they met earlier today.
Q: Are they just going to have the two hours of meetings and then it goes over lunch? Is that it?
MR. MCCURRY: They have a meeting, working lunch, and then another expanded meeting. A one-on-one meeting, then a working lunch, and then another meeting in the afternoon.
Q: And a press conference at 2:30 p.m.?
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct.
Q: And then that's it? They don't see each other again? What does Clinton want to get out of this meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he wants to get very -- the best thinking of the Prime Minister on many of those issues that the United States and the United Kingdom have in common as they look around the world and see places in which global leadership is required. I think he also appreciates an opportunity with someone that he respects greatly to talk about current issues that might be of interest to both sides. But largely defined, it will be to explore those issues in which there's a great deal of common interest and common purpose in which our diplomatic efforts and those of the United Kingdom coincide.
Q: Will that be a full-scale press conference?
MR. MCCURRY: Originally, we were going to put it outside, but I gather the weather is going to be bad tomorrow. So we're are trying --
Q: We're trying for the East Room.
MR. MCCURRY: -- have they nailed down the location? We're trying to hold it in a location where we can make sure everyone that wants to participate can participate.
Q: So it'll be open and they'll answer a bunch of --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we're working on that, given the weather contingencies. We'll let you know more about schedule later.
Q: Will there be a lot of questions or just one or two questions or --
Q: Is this like departure statements with a couple of questions?
MS. GLYNN: It will be more of a press availability.
MR. MCCURRY: Are you guys trying to decide how hard you have to work to prepare questions?
Q: Whether or not we have to cover it to the extent that --
MR. MCCURRY: Why don't you prepare a lot of questions, and if they are good, I will let it go on a little longer? (Laughter.)
Q: Mike, you said before that the President believes that there shouldn't be tax cuts for people who don't deserve them. Is it the White House's feeling that anybody, any family that earns more than $65,000 doesn't deserve a tax cut? And, two, what about states like New York where the cost of living is twice what it is in Arkansas? Isn't a family in New York that earns $95,000 as eligible for a tax cut as a family in Arkansas that earns --
MR. MCCURRY: Everyone deserves relief from excessive levels of taxation. I didn't mean to imply that. I'm just saying that at a time when we're trying to target the benefits of tax legislation, the President's view is that we ought to target them on the middle income. They ought to be first in line when it comes to providing tax relief, and we see the wealthiest in our society have had a pretty good ride over the last 20 years as a result of tax policies of the previous Republican administrations. We think they can go to the end of the line so that those who really need the tax relief can step up first and get the type of relief that the President envisioned in his own tax proposal.
Q: Could you address, though, the question of differential costs of living?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are lots of different ways -- differentials in costs of living are taken into account in the tax system. I'm not an expert on that, but there are different deductions that generates -- costs of living generates different levels of deductions so taxpayers in higher-cost, higher-income areas see those changes reflected in the way they encounter all the exigencies of life, including the tax cut.
Q: Does the White House view the Dole-Gingrich tax commission headed by Kemp as a good idea, something that would be useful to the process?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we've looked at it that carefully. I'll see if anyone in our ranks has commented on it.
Q: On the issue of deficit reduction, what is the White House view of OMB certifying all spending cuts before any tax cuts can be taken?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with the -- I'll have to look into that. What have they done again?
Q: Well, it's one of the ideas being circulated on the Hill to make sure that if you're into deep tax cuts, that you're also going to reach a balanced budget of 2002.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you know, I'll look at that. Of course, that was the pledge from the Republican leadership that they would put spending cuts first and then do tax cuts later. But like so much of the Contract, that's fallen by the wayside now.
Q: So now that the Republican Contract is winding down, the first 100 days, what has the White House learned from this experience, and where does it plan on going?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Vice President will be addressing that very shortly, but we've found that there are winners and losers in this process. The losers have been middle-income Americans. They've been kids who rely on school lunches. They've been people who need some assistance for education as they look ahead to their futures. They are people who in one way or another rely upon the government for a positive outcome in their lives, one in which -- you know, requires of them some responsibility to take account of their own lives, but one in which they are hoping that the government will be there to lend a hand and to be a source of solution. Those are the people who lose under so much of the Contract, and the people who win are the same old crowd -- the special interests, the people who have got the lobbyists on the Hill, the wealthiest in our society. And I think most Americans are going to say, big deal, more of the same.
Q: I assume you saw yesterday the front page of The Washington Post, the two child welfare stories, side by side. Those two stories are the product of 40 years of the system that the Democrats put in place. How can you automatically say that changing that system would leave people any worse off than they are today under the current system?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't study those articles that carefully. Anything else?
Q: Mike, the Senate Democrats have been fighting for almost a week to close those loophole about people who leave the United States and get a tax break, and I haven't heard a peep from the White House. Do you guys have any communications or strategy sessions at all with the Senate to help them on this?
MR. MCCURRY: And we have been working very closely with them. This is, I think it affects 24 of the top income earners, taxpayers or people who should be paying taxes, and that the effort to role back that provision is one that the White House finds sort of metaphoric of their old world approach to taxes and the Republican Contract proposal. And we are working with them to see if we can't head that off.
Q: Well, we haven't heard the President say a peep about it. Did I miss it, or --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know whether the President -- I don't believe the President has addressed it in any of his public comments.
Q: That was part of a bill to help fund the self- employed health insurance deduction. The other portion of that bill would be to repeal the FCC program -- to minority --
MR. MCCURRY: Right.
Q: What is the White House position on repealing it? I know the administration has said it didn't favor modifying the program, but would you be willing -- the President be willing to sign this bill if it means repealing --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to predict whether or not he'll sign it or not. We do think that that particular provision needs to be looked at carefully. We think before you abolish it outright, you ought to look at the program, the underlying program, and see in which instances it's worked, and if it has not worked as designed, how can you improve it. But like so many things, there's a rush sometimes just to throw the whole thing out before you think about how you make things work better.
Q: Can you talk -- is the President going to be able to talk about the 100 days between Major's visit and his speech on Friday? Is he doing anything else this week?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he's got a very full calendar this week, and a couple of opportunities where he'll be with you where I'm sure he'll be happy to take a question.
Q: That's not on the schedule we get. The schedule that was given out has very little on it.
Q: Can you just describe what else he's going to do?
MR. MCCURRY: Mary Ellen can do the schedule for the rest of the week afterwards.
Q: Is he happy the 100 days are over?
MR. MCCURRY: Is he happy the 100 days are over? Look, there's a lot of hard work ahead this year. Again, I'd say, remember -- the 100 days was sort of an invention of the Republican Majority to try to create momentum for their own proposals. Their proposals fell by the wayside, because even the Republicans in Congress realize once they went out to the American people that there was not a lot of sympathy out there in America for a lot of the fine print in this contract. But it doesn't change the President's view. The President, just as he said all along, we've got to get back to real work now. So the 100 days are over, the public relations extravaganza is over; we've got to get back to the real work of solving the problems that the Americans expect Congress and the President to work together to solve.
Q: He said "100 days" himself when --
MR. MCCURRY: Sure. How can you not? There's been a tidal wave of publicity.
Q: No, no, he said -- he said it when he came into office.
Q: The President has also used this gimmick of 100 days.
MR. MCCURRY: Of 100 days? Sure. So has Franklin Roosevelt, so has everybody. It's a way, traditionally, historically, in which you create momentum for your program. It's perfectly reasonable for the Speaker to do that. The problem in this case is that, as the Republicans attempted to take that program and drive it through, they left the American people behind. And once the American people checked into the fine print, they said, wait a minute, this is not what we voted for in November of 1994, let's stop this thing in its tracks. And that's, indeed, what's happened in many cases, except for the cases where the President clearly was supportive, because those are the only things that have been passed out of the contract are the things that the President favored and campaigned on himself -- unfunded mandates, applying the laws of Congress to the Congress itself, and we hope, and we expect, the line-item veto.
Q: Mike, any reaction to the Russians basically telling us to get lost on the Iran arms deal, and does this have any implications for the President's trip?
MR. MCCURRY: Although -- need to be a lot of dialogue left on the issue of the provision of light water reactor technology to Iran by Russia, I suspect there will be a lot of diplomacy ahead on that subject well before the May summit of President Yeltsin and President Clinton.
Q: Let me ask you a question. Why is it okay to sell light water reactors to North Korea, but not okay to sell light water reactors to Iran?
MR. MCCURRY: Because in the case of North Korea, as you know, Wolf, there is a nascent nuclear program in development that posed a very significant proliferation risk. There are different assessments as to the nuclear capacity of North Korea that made it very urgent for us to freeze and throttle back their nuclear program. I'm not aware that there is any evidence that there is a similarly developed program on the part of Iran, but it is that very same desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction that underline so much of our policy that is aimed at containing those aspirations on the part of Iran.
Q: What does that have to do with light water reactors?
Q: But the light water technology was supposed to make it more difficult to get enriched plutonium.
MR. MCCURRY: It creates -- the provision of that type of reactor technology, that type of nuclear expertise within Iran would create a cadre of scientists, engineers, others, who would have a capacity that we think that would be dangerous in the hands of Iran, just as it was dangerous in the case of North Korea. The North Korean program was far more developed and posed a far greater risk. And that's one of the reasons that led us to reach the agreed framework in Geneva, and the carefully-balanced structure of that framework dealt with that challenge very effectively.
Q: Does Moscow face any concrete consequences if it insists on going through with the deal?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll have to see.
Q: Just how important is it to you to stop it?
MR. MCCURRY: As the Secretary of State has made clear and as others have made clear, it's important and it's one that we hope they will reverse.
Q: Can we get the schedule?
Q: How many points is the President giving tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a good question. Did you get any readout? Of course, he's not a betting man, Mike, as you know.
Q: But if he were --
MR. MCCURRY: We know who he favors, but how do you -- it's a dilemma. The team that you love versus the state with the most electoral votes. (Laughter.)
Q: What time will he get back here tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: He gets back in time for the Major meeting.
Q: I know. Do you know what time?
Q: How did he resolve that dilemma?
MR. MCCURRY: It's the Razorbacks all the way, I believe.
He gets back just prior to the meeting with the Prime Minister.
Mary Ellen, why don't you come up here?
Q: If Arkansas wins, he can't gloat without risking losing a lot of supporters in California. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Okay, Mary Ellen, you're on.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's -- Prime Minister Major tomorrow at noon, with a 2:30 p.m. press availability. Mubarak is the next day 12:00 noon to 3:00 p.m. as well; 2:30 p.m. press availability. He's also -- Tuesday morning --
Q: The same thing open for Mubarak also?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. Tomorrow morning he's speaking to -- excuse me -- Wednesday morning, he's speaking to the National Construction Trades Building -- anyway --
Q: Capitol Hilton --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, Building Construction. Thank you, Alexis.
Q: Where is that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's at the Hilton.
Q: What time?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's 9:30 a.m. It's all on the Week Ahead. It's all back there in the bins, yes.
Q: That particular item is and that's it.
Q: Is this a new thing, because there's no Mubarak on there.
Q: There's no Mubarak on the one --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Everything except Mubarak is on.
Q: What is the topic?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll check on that for you. Thursday, there's nothing on the public schedule. On Friday morning, very early, we leave for Dallas, and he'll be speaking at the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
Q: What time is that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That is at 12:00 noon, I think.
Q: Eastern or Central?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's at 12:00 noon our time.
Q: What about California? Do you know when --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And then he leaves for California that evening. I think there is a fundraiser in California, Sacramento, on Friday night. Saturday morning, a week from -- let's see, what day is that -- April 8th he'll speak to the California Democratic Convention, I think, at 9:30 a.m. And then he flies down to Los Angeles and speaks to the National Education Association at their School Safety Summit.
Q: At what time?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's changing. We'll let you know. It's around 2:00 p.m. California time. And then he'll be in -- it's unclear what he's going to do on Sunday in California, but he will be in California all day Sunday.
Q: That speech in Dallas is at 11:00 a.m. Central Time?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's my understanding, yes.
Q: He returns -- when does he come back to Washington?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sometime on Sunday night, late.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END2:00 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/269989