Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
2:43 P.M. EDT
Q: Mike, do you have any reaction to the remarks that the Iraqi Information Minister made today suggesting that the two Americans could be released if the U.S. and others were going to follow the precedent that had been set in the past with others who had gone across the border?
MR. MCCURRY: They have addressed that, I believe, over at the State Department earlier.
Q: Senator Lauch Faircloth says that the White House pushed for the replacement of the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in order to prevent a full investigation of Hillary Clinton's investment profits.
MR. MCCURRY: That is a baseless and irresponsible charge. And the continuing request for information that he has been raising is of a pattern that I discussed last week connected with attempts to intimidate and harass the proper functioning of executive and regulatory agencies.
Q: Mike, Carol Bellamy is coming under attack by antiabortionists on Capitol Hill, namely Chris Smith, who claims that she has a pro-abortion background as president of New York City Council and as a state senator. And he's also threatening now to take the UNICEF money and put it into some other account.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, she is pro-choice. I believe that's clear from her record. I don't know if that -- why that would be a factor in consideration for head of UNICEF. We welcome today her selection as the director of UNICEF, replacing another American. And I, quite frankly, don't see how the issue of choice should relate one way or another to the duties that she will assume in this very important position at the United Nations.
Q: She was named --
MR. MCCURRY: She was named earlier today by BoutrosGhali.
Q: He's raised concerns that she is sympathetic to efforts by Belgium and Norway to have UNICEF fund abortions and that that may be -- he claims that he believes that UNICEF money will go to funding abortions --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I -- I'll have to look into that specific concern. I'm not aware of that being raised. You might want to check with the U.S.-U.N. Mission.
Q: Can I try again?
MR. MCCURRY: You want to try again?
Q: try again on Iraq? Do you have any reaction to the visit by a Polish diplomat today, accompanied by a journalist, to the two Americans in the Abu Ghraib prison?
MR. MCCURRY: Wolf, the authorities in Baghdad are required to give counselor access to the two Americans who are detained. And that has been granted through the Polish protecting authority. We continue to get both reports on their condition and also have the opportunity to give them certain messages and provide them with food, clothing. I believe they're trying to get some provisions to them so they can take care of their own cooking. That's well and good, but again, we would insist that what has to happen here is for the timely release on humanitarian grounds of these two Americans who are there as a result of an innocent mistake on their part. And there's no purpose left served by Iraq for continuing to hold them. They seem to suggest that there is somehow or other a bargaining opportunity that exists here. And we just flatly reject that.
Q: I wanted to follow up on something you talked about yesterday, and that was the idea of closing off access to the White House for traffic. You said you were going to go back and kind of review what the President previously said about that and how the idea of closing off the street would square with that. I wondered if you had an opportunity --
MR. MCCURRY: I did. We've talked over to Treasury. They've got a final draft of the security review. It's being reviewed by various Cabinet agencies for comment at this point. Those will be analyzed and synthesized and then sent over here to the White House. So we don't even have the draft report here that's been discussed.
My understanding is, by the way, that the final report will have to be signed off by the Treasury Secretary and an advisory panel before it represents any kind of final conclusion. So I think the bottom line is, we're not messing with this until we get something that is more of a final document from Treasury. It's floating around now in a draft fashion and we haven't had an opportunity to look at. It is also at this point, I am told, a classified document, so there is little that we should be saying about it until such point that the Treasury decides what portions of it they want to declassify.
Q: You seemed to be suggesting yesterday, though, that the President would in fact agree to whatever the recommendation --
MR. MCCURRY: No, what I suggested yesterday is that the President, on matters involving his security and the security of the compound tends to defer to those who are experts on the matter. So, obviously, he will await the report the report with interest. But the important thing is the report has not been sent to the White House as of this time.
Q: And just -- can I just follow up one more, and -- just from a bureaucratic standpoint, could changes be made without the President agreeing to this? In other words, whatever comes to him will be a recommendation -- the Treasury Department couldn't just block off access without the President saying, okay, this is okay, or the White House saying this is okay?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I think that as a practical matter, setting aside bureaucratic niceties -- as a practical matter, I think the Treasury would want to consult with the Executive Office of the President, learn our disposition on recommendations that they make. But they have not done so.
Q: When the Park Service suggested in its 20-year plan to close Pennsylvania Avenue, you kind of dismissed that. Has anything changed?
MR. MCCURRY: Nothing has changed because there's been no proposal that's come to us to close Pennsylvania Avenue -- that I'm aware of.
Q: Does the President have any view on closing Pennsylvania Avenue?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he -- the last time he addressed this, he didn't think that was a particularly good idea. But there's been no change in that view because there's been no suggestion to close Pennsylvania Avenue that's been made to the President.
Q: Last Saturday --
Q: Could we just stay on this for one second?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure.
Q: Does the administration, or any of the police authorities have any authority to close Pennsylvania Avenue?
MR. MCCURRY: They do from time to time have authority in connection with --
Q: I mean permanently close it.
MR. MCCURRY: -- with connection with activity at Blair House. As you all know, they do that from time to time.
Q: But to permanently close it down?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. You'd have to ask the relevant local bodies.
Q: And was the White House made aware, the last couple of times we've seen, sort of unprecedented security, in terms of blocking off access even to walking across Lafayette Park when you've had some foreign visitors. Were you made aware beforehand that that was going to happen?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't -- I would have to check in each and every instance in which that's occurred. But as a general proposition, I take the position that when it involves the security of the President, the less we say about it, the better.
Q: Last Saturday, Under Secretary Holbrooke met in Athens with Prime Minister of Greece Andreas Papandrou, and he delivered a letter to him by President Clinton. Do you have anything of the context of this letter?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't. I'll have to check. Maybe Mary Ellen can check that for you.
Q: What determines whether a visiting head of state or head of government gets a pool press Q&A with the President or an open room-type, or an open press --
MR. MCCURRY: You can ask after the briefing on that.
Q: Pennsylvania Avenue, it hasn't been suggested to the President to close it off, but I understand that the Secret Service has testified before Congress that it would like that to happen.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. Ask Treasury and Secret Service.
Q: Mike, has the U.S. asked Aristide to suspend the Interior Minister until this investigation is complete?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we're working with them in the process of investigating that matter, and we have indicated that we think that they should take steps to make sure that they preserve whatever record or whatever access to information is necessary on the part of those who are investigating. I don't want to get into specific diplomatic discussions that we've had with them, but we've raised that the subject, as the President indicated, and had dialogue with the President and other levels of the Haitian government on that.
Q: The answer is yes, you have?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q: Can you just briefly preview the trip a little bit more?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will -- I don't have the exact times on the schedule, but he goes down in the morning to participate in -- I believe he'll have, aside from a short arrival ceremony, he will -- his sole participation tomorrow is in the 50th anniversary commemorative ceremonies remembering Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Little White House in Warm Springs. The President intends to look at the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt in contemporary terms and really address those aspects of the dynamic for change that was created by President Roosevelt as he looks ahead and thinks of the dynamic we need now as America prepares for the 21st century. So I believe his remarks will be in that context. He'll probably have some specific things that he will want to address related to tax and education legislation is pending.
Q: Is the Social Security stuff going to come up in that speech?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen that discussed in early drafts, no. But it's certainly part of -- President Roosevelt's legacy is the Social Security program, and in that broader generic sense, he will discuss that.
Q: The President in the news conference indicated you could attach an amendment to just about any bill that would restore the taxation of billionaires and, you know, renounce their citizenship. Do you -- is that the plan now, and have you arranged with people up on the Hill to do that? What's --
MR. MCCURRY: I've heard Senator Bradley, among others, suggest that there will be vehicles for doing that as Congress considers other legislation. And we do agree, since it's a feature of our own budget proposal, that they close that loophole and gather that revenue from those who have made it big in the United States and seek to renounce their U.S. citizenship.
Q: So is the White House working in conjunction with people on the Hill to see that that's done or is that already underway?
MR. MCCURRY: We will be as Congress takes up additional legislation later in the year.
THE PRESS: Thank you. END 2:55 P.M. EDT
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/269990