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Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

May 03, 1995

The Briefing Room

2:00 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: Thanks to all my colleagues for helping illuminate all of us.

Other topics? Other subjects?

Q: Does the President still have confidence in Bruce Lindsey?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I believe we had a statement last night, because he has rendered excellent, superb service to his country and continues to do so.

Q: Has the Counsel questioned him on whether or not he was --

MR. MCCURRY: You'd have to ask his attorney. I believe the legal counsel had a statement that they put out last night on this matter, and so did Mr. Kendall.

Q: Do you deny the allegations?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. The statements are available. They both issued statements last night.

Anything else?

Q: Today at the bombing hearing, Gorelick said that the presidential anti-terrorist plans may go too far, and said that you're going to delete various designations before the President will make a decision, and it's not repealable by, I guess, Congress or Justice --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, she was indicating a willingness on the part of the administration to work with Congress to address some aspects of the terrorism legislation. And, of course, we do agree that we can sit down and resolve any concerns that members of Congress have.

Q: Do you think it went too far?

MR. MCCURRY: We have confidence that the proposal is exactly the right direction. If individuals in the Congress want to raise specific concerns about that, we're willing to work with them to address that.

Q: Is it accurate to say --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry. Speak up a little.

Q: Is it accurate to say that everything we've heard this morning that your objectives in this is to get the Republicans to pare back their tax cut proposal, give up their balanced budget goal, and move on incremental health care reform?

MR. MCCURRY: Not necessarily. I think it's accurate to say that we need some clarity. You just had a very good description of the work that lies ahead in addressing the question of Medicare solvency and the HI fund. That work has to be done in an environment in which you have clarity, in which you have the road map of a federal budget strategy that lists what priorities are. Now, if we were in a position with the Democratic Congress of setting those priorities, getting the work done in a timely fashion, as we did in the first two years of the Clinton administration, we'd be able to wrestle with some of these issues.

Our problem right now is, we don't know what the objectives are of the Republican majority. Is it to balance the budget? Is that the highest priority, or are they going to put the focus on that? Is it to go for the tax cuts that go disproportionately for the wealthy? if that's the highest priority, they need to say so. They can't -- there's some problems -- the problem is they have irreconcilable differences within their own Contract.

Q: Whatever objectives they have, is not this President is obliged, because he's the President, to come up with the plan to deal with the Medicare solvency? Why does he have to wait around for the Republicans in Congress to do something?

MR. MCCURRY: Because, Brit, you're not hearing what I'm saying. You cannot address the question of Medicare solvency if you don't know what the parameters are of the federal budget that's available to you, because so many of the things -- as you just heard here -- so many of the things involving reimbursement rates, involving health care costs, involving expenditures, public expenditures, are embedded in the question of the federal budget.

Q: Mike, we have had --

Q: last year without waiting for Republicans.

Q: That's right, and we have had presidents of one party and congresses of another for the better part of the last 35 years. This is the first time that any White House has asserted, that facing a major crisis on a program, that it couldn't act until the other party had presented a budget.

MR. MCCURRY: Brit, that is not true, first of all, and second, we have indicated that this -- look, this question of the HI fund solvency has been -- it's not like this happened suddenly, as a crisis that appeared on the horizon in the last two weeks. This has been a regular feature of the trustees' reports as they examine the solvency of the HI fund. Everybody knows we have to do this. In fact, the Clinton administration came to office knowing they're going to have to address the long-term solvency of the HI fund. That can be done. It can be done when there is the political will on the part of both parties to get down to the serious work of addressing that.

What we have right now is a situation in which the Republican majority in Congress fails to produce any type of budget that allows you to know what the environment will be in the long-term so you can address these questions. And until they do that, you can't sit down and have that serious conversation and get to work. I think it's fairly clear.

Q: Mike, whatever happened to president proposes, Congress disposes?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has proposed an FY '96 federal budget --

Q: doesn't touch this.

MR. MCCURRY: -- and that tells you exactly what the parameters of federal spending on health care will be --

Q: But it doesn't touch this.

MR. MCCURRY: -- and that allows you to get in and address the insolvency questions.

Q: I know, but that budget leaves this problem in place.

Q: Are you saying that if the Republicans met every one of the criteria that Jack just laid out -- that is, that we're paring back our tax cuts, we're giving up on the deadline of 2002 to balance the budget, we're willing to discuss incremental health care reform -- you're saying you still wouldn't talk to them?

MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no.

Q: Then the answer is to -- question is yes.

Q: The answer to the question is yes.

MR. MCCURRY: Look, the answer is that they -- to Jack's question -- if they come back and say, look, all right, we overpromised, we admit it, we can't -- (laughter) -- we can't simultaneously balance the budget by the year 2002, and provide over $350 billion worth of tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans; if they just stand up and they say that and they say, look, we have to confess here -- and then they go further and they say, because of that, now we're going to have to get down to the serious work; we understand that; we ask the President to sit down with us and get down to the serious work of writing a budget and dealing with questions like insolvency, then you can move ahead.

You cannot move ahead in a situation where they will not lay forth with some specificity how they're going to tackle budget questions that are fundamental in resolving these long-term issues.

Q: So you've reduced this to a political game which does not at all jive with what the President told the seniors this morning, which was, the status quo will not stand?

MR. MCCURRY: The status quo can't stand. There are changes. But, look, that's what reinventing government is about. That's what taking a lot of these changes that we're putting in place to restructure and fine-tune programs like Medicare, that's what this whole effort is about.

We can make these changes, we can get down to that serious work, but first and foremost, you've got to have clarity on what the road map ahead is when it comes to budget priorities and budget decisions.

Q: But just in tactical, practical terms, you all had them on the run for the past 72 hours and you've been having a lot of fun with it --


Q: but the tenor of these exchanges this morning here in this room or this afternoon suggests that, absent a more detailed delineation by you, you're going to be subject -- and probably fairly -- to charges of demagoguery.

MR. MCCURRY: I reject the premise of the question. Look, they have got to write a budget, and they know that, and they are serious people, and they're getting down to serious work on that. That's going to happen very shortly here, and they're going to --they are going to do exactly what we've been calling on them to do. They're going to have to kind of have to step up to the plate and say, all right, here's where it comes out. That could happen as early as today, it could happen tomorrow.

We then can then engage in a serious conversation about, is that the right parameters for discussion about the future of federal spending as it relates to social insurance programs. And if not, how can we change it and how does that then impact questions like the long-term solvency of the health insurance fund that maintains Medicare.

Those things can happen, but they can't happen until the Republicans stop squirming and sit down, roll up their sleeves and go to work and get the job done.

Q: I realize you've been waiting for a long time for the Republicans to have to deal with this Medicare question and you're not -- and it is very understandable that you would not be -- let them off the hook or even suggest that you would. Why not just be candid and say that we're not going to let them out of this swamp by agreeing to any bipartisan discussions until everybody can see that they're as mean as ever and are ready to cut Medicare instead of all this --

Q: That's what he just said.

MR. MCCURRY: And I think Secretary Shalala just said that. She said, look, we start from the premise that we can sit down and have a serious conversation about what the future will look like, once you're willing to step up and say, here is our vision of what it will be. And that is contained and embedded in the type of legislative proposals they make related to the --

Q: The Congress proposes, the President discusses --is that the new --

MR. MCCURRY: No, we have -- the President has proposed an FY '96 budget. The President proposed last year a health care reform bill. If the Congress would desire to take up either of those and get down to work starting from that as a basis for a starting point, that would be well and good in the view of the Clinton White House.

Q: Secretary Shalala just said those -- those proposals are not on the table.

MR. MCCURRY: No, she said what the President acknowledged realistically, that November of 1994 changed the context in which you could have a discussion of the health care reform proposals as submitted by the President to the 103rd Congress, so that he indicated a willingness, leading and proposing, as he should as President in the State of the Union Address, to begin addressing health care in a step-by-step, incremental way, if that would more satisfy the new Republican majority in this Congress.

Q: Well, why not take the idea that the Republicans have given you yes for an answer and take them up on it?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, look, in some ways -- here the President when he -- here the President's speech today, for those of you who did hear it. He outlined some four areas, and you've heard about these four areas, of which you could have sensible, rational discussions about how you proceed. And I think the President indicated a willingness today to the Republican Congress to get down and do this serious work. But he made it very clear simultaneously if what you're talking about is starting from the premise that we're going to cut Medicare, a historic, all-time large slashing of Medicare, in order to pay for the tax cuts that we've said over and over are so unwise because they disproportionately advantage the wealthiest Americans, then that's not a place to start the discussion. And I think they -- you know, they're going to get that message sooner or later, and they will get down to the work, and we'll engage, and we'll get on with work.

Q: So when Speaker Gingrich says, as he said this morning, that the President is simply engaged in petty politics and is refusing to show leadership, what do you say to that?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, the Speaker is entitled to say what he wants to say. The President said what he had to say today and he made it very clear he's willing to sit down, work with this Congress and get on with work. But we can't start from the premise that we're going to go slash Medicare, a program that you could tell from the White House Conference on Aging today is enormously important to the elderly in America, you can't start from the premise that we gut that program in order to give tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.

If the Republican Majority will say we understand that and we understand that that's probably a sentiment shared by a majority of Americans, and we're not going to go that direction and here's what we are going to do and here's what our budget looks like, boom -- we move on from there. And then we can move on. I mean, then you can have in all of these areas --

Q: Mike, can we talk on some other subject for a change, please?

Q: Yes, see it isn't that important to the elderly. (Laughter.)

Q: a cutie pie --

Q: Give me that thing, I'll hit him.

Q: No, no, that's all right.

Q: She'll hit me.

MR. MCCURRY: Sometimes it's more interesting just watching than talking. (Laughter.)

Q: Mike, I'm very curious to know why the FBI is so strongly into this investigation of Whitewater and things that happened before the Clintons -- the White House? These are not federal charges, are they?

Q: Go ahead.

Q: Where's your plan?

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't realize. Now, back to Medicare --

Q: What's the FBI doing in there, and --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I am not aware of what role they might have. I'm not expert on that subject. But the FBI, if they are involved in that matter, would probably be willing to discuss it as they can. (Laughter.)

Q: Well, according -- according to The Washington Post -- according to the Washington Post they are very heavily involved in that.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'd have to refer you to the Justice Department. I'm not equipped to talk about that.

Q: And did anybody ever investigate the conflict of interest of Kenneth Starr since he was working with the Republicans and working to get money for Paula Jones's legal defenses before he ever took the job?

MR. MCCURRY: That for all of the obvious and good reasons is not something I'm willing to walk anywhere near.

Q: does the administration still believe, as it has for two years, that significant cost reductions in Medicare are necessary?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I think you need to -- the administration believes, as it has since coming to office, there needs to be structural examination of health care financing as it relates to the solvency of the trust funds. Now, that could result in reduced spending. The best way to reduce spending, of course, is to reduce the escalation in health care costs, which takes you back to the discussion of health care reform. We covered all that at some length already.

Q: Mike, can I return to the -- of the commission, which Secretary Shalala said she's against a narrow commission -- I think the President reflected that. But what about -- are you open to the idea of a broader commission which would include not only Medicare, but health care, Social Security and all of those issues as well?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, we are very leery of discussions about commissions and panels and, you know, all of that because it sounds so much like ducking the issue. You know, you can't -- how does a commission set down and do serious, real work, absent some clarity about what's happening here? You know, how do you structure the work and agenda of a commission if the commission doesn't know whether or not -- if its task is, you know, we're coming up with savings so that we can turn right around and give away those savings in the form of tax cuts -- that changes the parameters of the commission. So, we're just, again, asking for clarity.

Helen, you look like you have something --

Q: What's the President's position on a proposal by congressional Democrats to impose trade sanctions against countries that exclude or restrict U.S. products, arguing the U.S. should apply the golden rule to trade policy?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to look into that. I believe that our position --

Q: Gephardt --

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, our position on sanctions are those that have been outlined on numerous occasions by Ambassador Kantor. That sounds like it might be a new proposal, and we'll have to just develop more on that. Maybe we can come back to that either way today or tomorrow.

Q: Would that involve Japan?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'll have to check and see, Sarah. I'm not -- Helen's got a breaking copy. We'll look into that.

Q: Joycelyn Elders says that Clarence Thomas is an Uncle Tom; Jesse Helms is a typical white Southern male bigot. She's got some other things to say about Newt Gingrich. Does the White House have any reaction?


Q: Does the White House support Senator Daschle's interest in holding up the Senate agenda until Dr. Foster's voted on?

MR. MCCURRY: That sounds like a Senate procedural question. I'm not aware that we would take a position on something like that. We're interested in seeing Dr. Foster confirmed and confirmed as quickly as possible.

Q: Can I go back to Terry's question. Isn't that exactly the kind of hate talk that you all are against? And don't you deplore it on both sides?

MR. MCCURRY: You know, I'm not aware -- the only reason I say I don't have any reaction to it, I'm not aware of what she said or what context she said it. Those don't sound like particularly attractive comments, and, as you all very well know, she's no longer an employee -- in the employ of the President of the United States for reasons related to what she had to say on various subjects.

Q: What is the timetable for selecting the head of the re-elect committee?

Q: What was that question?

MR. MCCURRY: Sarah, the question was, what is the timetable for the, say again --

Q: Selecting the head of the re-election committee.

MR. MCCURRY: Selecting the head of the re-election committee. I'm not sure I understand the question fully. You could have a chair of the committee, you could have a campaign manager. You'll have a lot of different appointments in connection with the structuring of re-election effort, and they will all occur in due course.

The committee is currently focused on the work of raising the funds necessary to mount a re-election effort. That's the first order of business, and most of the staff that has been appointed to date has been concentrating on that task. But as we get further into the year, there will be other personnel appointments related to the re-election committee.

Q: Do you have any late update on the two Americans in Iraq, any --

MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't, but they were covering that over at State. They did have some new stuff over at State.

Q: Is there any concern here, Mike, that the appointment yesterday announced of the No. 2 person at the FBI who had been involved -- who had been, I believe, disciplined in a case in which someone had been killed might send the wrong signal at the wrong moment to people who are already concerned about the FBI and abuse of power?

MR. MCCURRY: The Attorney General addressed that question here yesterday. I think she is in a better position to comment on that. I don't know whether that was a factor that was taken under consideration as they reviewed filling that opening and proceeded to make an announcement of the appointment.

Q: Well, is this going to be an administration in which a disciplinary step like that is going to be the prelude to a major promotion?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, no, and that's -- of course not.

Q: Do you have any comment --

Q: Well, it happened.

Q: What does the White House think about Cuban- American reaction to the change of policy?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there has been a somewhat divided reaction within the Cuban-American community. There's enormous relief that those Cubans who are currently at Guantanamo will be reunited eventually with their families and will have access to immigration proceedings that will bring them here to the United States.

I think there's concern in the Cuban-American community because of the aspects of the policy that relate to interdiction. But, of course, we've tried to argue and tried to help people understand that the two have to fit together. It would have been nearly impossible for the United States to allow the remaining Cubans at Guantanamo to come to the United States without a very clear policy that indicated that no longer would Guantanamo be available as an avenue by which Cubans would come to the United States. Those two must fit together. The one part of the policy can't hold without the other.

Q: Mike, who's going to get jobs for these Cubans coming in here? We've got so many people who need jobs now.

MR. MCCURRY: That's a good question, and it's one that it is very ably handled by the Community Relations Service of the U.S. Justice Department, which works as part of the immigration process to locate sponsors, families who will be willing to support, church organizations, other private voluntary organizations in communities that help make the transition when people do come to resettle in the United States so they'll become productive, taxpaying members of our society..

Q: -- extra burden on us, the taxpayers' money and everything else.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is, and those are among the reasons why we are making it very clear that the United States must control its borders and why we are setting very firm standards on what we will do with those who we interdict at sea who are attempting to illegally immigrate to the United States.

Q: When is the Christopher briefing tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: We're going to do it at 2:15 p.m., roughly 2:15 p.m. Sometime midafternoon I propose to bring a pantheon of Cabinet secretaries here.

Q: Tomorrow?

Q: What for?

MR. MCCURRY: To talk about the Russia trip. What we'd like to do is -- you know, there are sort of three -- within our bilateral relationship with both Russia and Kiev, there are economic, political and security issues at stake, and for that reason, I think it would be appropriate to have Secretaries Christopher, Perry and Rubin, along with Tony Lake who can tell you more about the President's preparation and objectives.

Q: Has he had any outside briefers in addition to government people?

MR. MCCURRY: He has been talking to a number of people, and I believe he has talked to some about the coming trip that has got a different focus. I guess that's my signal that I'm done.

Q: Mike, before you go, did you -- did Starr, when he was here, did he talk to Hillary about indicting her, or about taking away her lawyer's license?

MR. MCCURRY: Not -- Sarah, I don't know what they discussed. And it would not be appropriate for me to comment about whether testimony was provided.

Q: We just received a copy of a letter from Gingrich and Dole to the President, released today, urging the President one last time to meet with them, to discuss Medicare solvency as soon as possible.

MR. MCCURRY: -- probably think the President's comments today are very clear, and the comments you've heard throughout the briefing today are very clear in indicating what our disposition is towards that discussion. The first thing they need to do is to step forward, talk about the work their budget committees and budget chairs are doing, and what type of approach they're going to use as they write a federal budget. And then we would be happy to consider that request more --

Q: So you're not going to -- the President's not willing to even meet with them before they submit their budget.

MR. MCCURRY: Look, I mean, this can go on endlessly. We've --

Q: Yeah --

MR. MCCURRY: -- back and forth, back and forth. We've made it real clear what it will take to have a serious conversation on these issues. And the Speaker knows that, the Majority Leader knows that. When they're ready to be serious, the President will be there to be serious with them. But the first thing that they need to do is to try to bring some clarity to the budget discussion, which is now fully underway, as you obviously can tell.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 2:20 P.M. EDT

William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Mike McCurry Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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