Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
1:45 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House, and welcome back to those of you who traveled with the President of the United States to Russia and Ukraine. I'm here to hold forth and answer questions, and I shall do so, providing that there is a question. (Laughter.)
Q: What are some of the specific steps that the United States is proposing to Syria about the Golan Heights?
MR. MCCURRY: As is customary, we decline to comment on the substantive exchanges between the parties. That would be inconsistent with our role as a facilitator of their dialogue, and we have found that our role as a mediator works best when we keep the confidence of both parties. So I decline to get into any of the specifics.
Q: Well, Mike, untraditionally enough, on this subject the U.S. has spoken of four or five typical security measures like demilitarized zones, surveillance, thinning out of troops. And Shaara spoke of, I guess, demilitarized and thinning out as per quality. Did he make a big point about quality and are they the familiar steps that most -- such arrangements usually entail?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the broad contours of the dialogue are not unknown to those of you who have covered this at great length, but the specific discussions that the President has had today with the Syrian Foreign Minister and, indeed, the conversations he's had most recently with Prime Minister Rabin are not something that we care to put a great deal of detail around.
I do understand that over at the State they'll be providing some background later in the afternoon, and there might be a possibility they could handle that a little more easily than I can here now.
Q: Do you want to try those arcane words you used to have to deal with reciprocity and equality?
MR. MCCURRY: I remember the words well, but I forgot the music. (Laughter.) So I think I'd better steer clear of that.
Q: Well, did he make any progress at all? Did he bring up the confiscation of land in East Jerusalem?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he talked about issues that impact upon the peace process, and my suspicion is that that issue was raised. It might have been raised by the Foreign Minister. They did talk about the broad contours of the peace process and the President did encourage the Syrians, as he has encouraged the Israelis, to do everything they can to make progress in the dialogue now.
Q: What do you think of Senator Dole's proposal to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the Secretary of State had a statement that reflects the administration's views on that.
Q: Can you just tell us?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a bad idea. It's a bad idea because it is taking what is one of the most sensitive issues in the peace process and pronouncing a U.S. view summarily as the parties themselves are grappling with that issue under the terms of the Declaration of Principles. It would needlessly inject the United States into one of the most sensitive, substantive aspects of the dialogue between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and for that reason, among many, would severely disrupt the peace process. In fact, in the words of the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, it might likely kill the peace process.
Q: You're referring only to the timing of it, however. I mean, it's on the agenda as one of the latter issues.
MR. MCCURRY: It is an issue as defined as the final status issue within the Declaration. Precisely for that reason, it needs to be addressed face to face by the parties.
Q: What about that other issue, please? You know the Syrian Foreign Minister touched on some of these things -- confiscation of property -- is that a problem to you?
MR. MCCURRY: We believe Ambassador Indyk has said that that is not a helpful development.
Q: Mike, when Senator Dodd suggested the White House should drop its proposal for a tax cut, is he acting sort of as a negotiator for you, putting out what your position may be in negotiations with Republicans, or is he acting just on his own?
MR. MCCURRY: He is not acting as a negotiator on behalf of the White House as far as I know. Our view is, very simply, that they need to drop the idea of disproportionate tax cuts that skew towards the wealthy. And the problem we have at the moment is we're not sure which Republican majority we're dealing with in the Congress these days. One-half is moving in one direction, and another half is moving just as quickly in the other direction. That is the question the Senate Chair seems to favor a budget without a tax cut; the House has made it equally clear that they are adamantly for tax cuts for the wealthy. And it's hard to get a fix on where they are. So it's in that respect a little hard to negotiate.
Q: So what is the purpose of having the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee on television saying that Senator Domenici's idea is a better one and we should rush to it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, if I heard him correctly, he made it clear in responding to the question he was speaking -- he said, my view is, or something to that effect, if I recall correctly. I think he was speaking his view. Our view and the President's view is that the budget that the President has put forward has clear direction toward budget deficit reduction, additional budget deficit reduction in FY '96, and within the context of what we do in budget deficit reduction in dealing with other issues including health care, we have found some room for a highly targeted tax cut that preserves investments in education and training and that benefit the middle class that need some tax relief in the President's view.
And that's a good place to start. That would be our starting point for a discussion. But again, there would be a need to be a lot more clarity in this debate as we go along before we'll have an idea of what the Republican majority really favors since they're not speaking with one voice.
Q: Kasich said yesterday, in essence, that you are irrelevant to the budget process unless you weigh in with a budget that would address the same issue of bringing the deficit down more.
MR. MCCURRY: You can forgive him a rhetorical point. He was on television. And by his same reasoning and logic everything that they have done for the last two years, as the President was doing the hard work of deficit reduction, would have been equally irrelevant since they were nowhere to be found in the last two years as the President was making the hard choices associated with budget deficit reduction -- $600 billion knocked off the deficit.
Q: If I can follow up -- does the President have any intention or does he go along with any efforts by any Democrats on the Hill to craft a substitute?
MR. MCCURRY: The President and those of us speaking on behalf of the President make it clear that the right time will come to sit down and do this work on the budget deficit, but you should start from the premise that, one, the Republicans dropped this idea for massive tax cuts that go disproportionately to the wealthy. If they want to consider as an alternative the President's Middle Class Bill of Rights, certainly we'd sit and talk about that. And secondly, huge cuts in Medicare that would eviscerate a very important social insurance program need to be visited only in the context of health care reform. And third and lastly, we need to preserve long-term investments in education that are going to grow the economy in the long run.
It's great to be all caught up in discussions on tax cuts on the Hill, but what we need to do is raise incomes in this country. And what the President is determined to do is to continue a strong economy, hopefully a growing economy that raises incomes for working Americans. And that's his first and foremost priority.
Q: But that doesn't answer the question of whether he's going to produce his own substitute budget that would try to balance the budget.
MR. MCCURRY: We produced a budget and it's the budget proposal that's before Congress now. And as I said to some of you earlier today, we'd be more than happy for them to take that up forthwith.
Q: Leon -- nobody seems to be willing to say that we just aren't for a balanced budget. Why not?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because the President and others who grapple with these issues are in favor of a balanced budget. The question is what kind of policy do you lay in place that gets you to a balanced budget and what kind of pathway do you move towards as you move towards a balanced budget. I think there's -- my guess is there's probably no one in America that doesn't want a balanced budget. It's how do you get there from here that is the issue.
Q: Okay, well if you're not willing to get there by 2002 because that's something that sounds too drastic for you, are you willing to lay out a path that gets there by any time?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've laid out a path -- our immediate path for the budget, and it's in the President's massive budget proposal as sent to the Congress.
Q: Mike, knowing where they're coming from and insisting that the White House produce its own balanced budget --
MR. MCCURRY: Do we know where they're coming from? I didn't know that we knew.
Q: Well, knowing what's in their budget --
MR. MCCURRY: You know? Which budget? Domenici? Kasich? I mean, which one?
Q: Okay, well --
MR. MCCURRY: Let's specify your terms. That's the problem. That's the problem we have -- which budget are you talking about?
Q: Let's talk about the House budget, Kasich's plan.
MR. MCCURRY: House budget, okay.
Q: Knowing what's in his plan, knowing all the cuts that are involved, knowing what they want out of you and knowing that the White House wants them to pull tax cuts off the table, are you confident that any kind of compromise is going to be reached?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm confident that we'll be able to write a FY '96 budget and that it will reflect, we believe, many of the President's goals.
Q: So is it mainly budget strategy he's going to be talking to the Democratic leaders tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I strongly suspect that will be the dominant issue. There may be others that either the President or the members want to raise.
Q: Two foreign policy -- any comment on the America's Cup and will the New Zealand team be invited to the White House? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he President congratulates New Zealand on the results of the Cup. I don't know that he spent a lot of time following it. I can check with him. I'm not aware of any invitation to the victors.
Q: Could you follow up -- check in?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we'll check in and maybe come back with an answer tomorrow -- right here --
Q: All right --
MR. MCCURRY: -- for you, since I don't think there would be a lot of interest maybe elsewhere. That's an NSC question.
Q: On China, on underground nuclear testing?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe -- did State put that out already?
Q: You did.
MR. MCCURRY: We had a statement. No, I know we did our statement, but they were going to do more questions and answers over there on it earlier. As we indicated in our statement earlier, we do think that the test today and the likelihood of additional tests by China run contrary to the Chinese pledge for utmost restraint in the aftermath of promulgation of the Nonproliferation Treaty. And looking ahead to the possibility of a comprehensive test ban treaty, the tests conducted by the Chinese are inconsistent with those worthy aims.
Q: Why do you think they did it?
MR. MCCURRY: They've publicly indicated their reasons for doing so and it relates to inventory, stockpiling and the reliability of weapons that they say are part of the Chinese deterrent.
Q: Also on foreign policy, John Major broke rank somewhat with the Western leaders by attending the military parade in Moscow. That, in connection also with the British press' campaign where they have been showing more shot -- than anything else over the Oklahoma bombing, do they still have a bee in their bonnet over the mediation of the Irish peace treaty, or is that all settled now?
MR. MCCURRY: I will not rush to speculate on bees in bonnets buzzing in the British haberdashery. (Laughter.) No, I don't -- not that I'm aware of. And we've thoroughly reviewed with the British a variety of issues related to the commemoration of the World War II events, and I'm not aware that there was any disagreement between us on that subject.
Q: Why did the President appoint an archivist who, according to anybody who knows anything about the archives job, is totally unqualified for the job?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that is not an accurate claim. We can give you a list of several dozen noted archivists, historians and information scientists who are fully supportive of Governor Carlin's appointment. There are disagreements, and sometimes strong disagreements between the community of archivists and the community of historians that worry about the maintenance of public records. That's because within the two disciplines there are sometimes conflicting views on how records ought properly to be maintained.
But I suggest to you that the President has found a very qualified and capable nominee, and, in the end, even those who are probably skirmishing for their own academic reasons will come to support someone who's got a very strong public commitment to openness and accessibility, who's got the management skills and the background necessary to maintain the archives in the pristine state to which they ought to be maintained.
Q: The law says that someone who has professional qualification should be appointed, and Carlin has none.
MR. MCCURRY: We are satisfied we fully met the requirements of the law.
Q: Mike, are you able to say now whether the U.S. is permitting the sale of American rice to Iran?
MR. MCCURRY: No. We didn't -- we need to get an answer. Mark, I'm sorry, we didn't get an answer on that. We'll come back and try to get it again.
Q: Any closer to pinpointing the Japanese sanctions and who will make the announcement?
MR. MCCURRY: No, but I steered some of you to Ambassador Kantor earlier today, and I think that's a worthy steer.
Q: We haven't heard affirmative action for a while. Do you have any idea when we'll get a decision on that review?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has been working on that, and I cannot pinpoint a time when you are going to get a public announcement of any decisions associated with that review. But the President continues to work on that, and those participating in the review have been preparing additional material for the President's review.
Q: Short-term, long-term?
Q: The security review -- when is that going out?
MR. MCCURRY: The Treasury Secretary has not formally presented to the President the recommendations based on that survey.
Q: Has he informally discussed it with him?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's been a lot of discussion of the review itself -- in part because your newspaper was kind enough to provide us a preview of some of the results of the review. But there are recommendations associated that will have to be formally considered by the President.
Q: I mean, the question is have they had discussions. Up to now, you have been saying --
MR. MCCURRY: I said the Treasury Secretary has not formally presented the results of the review to the President for final decisions.
Q: Would you hazard a guess as to the timetable for either affirmative action or the security review?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I mean, I won't hazard a -- I don't think I should be in the business of hazard guesses. I think I ought to know answers and pass on reliable answers. I don't have a reliable answer on either one of those.
Q: On affirmative action, Mike, just what should we expect from the President -- a definition of policy or --
MR. MCCURRY: -- expect exactly the kind of review that he's discussed publicly and any policy announcements that are related -- or that are suggested by the results of that policy review.
Q: I'm sorry -- I mean, do we expect the President to come out and make a definitive statement on affirmative policy, or is it going to be a series of speeches or --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I think we expect at least one occasion where publicly he will say something definitive about the results of the review.
Q: The latest sort of very soon, any day now statements refer to the Air Force commencement address as a setting for the affirmative action speech. Is that operative, inoperative?
MR. MCCURRY: Would not necessarily rule it out, but I haven't heard anything that suggests to me that that's a likely date.
Q: Why would that be the setting?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not suggesting that necessarily it would be the setting. The President has -- you've heard him publicly talk about the effectiveness of some of the programs to encourage diversity and opportunity within the military. But that's, I think, maybe why some people are speculating that might be the site. But as I say, I have not heard anything that would encourage me to believe that that is the likely date.
Q: Mike, do you have any plans or does the President have any plans this week to talk about the Republican budget proposals?
MR. MCCURRY: He'll be talking about it with members of Congress tomorrow -- Democratic members of Congress tomorrow, and we'll see. My guess is there might be in the context of that meeting some opportunity for him to say some things publicly. We'll just have to see tomorrow.
Q: Mike, how involved is the First Lady in the planning for the reelection campaign?
MR. MCCURRY: She advises the President -- I read a funny story today in one of the papers saying that she is going to be the campaign manager, and I strongly suspect that she's got a lot better things to do with her time. So I'd suggest that that's not really right.
Q: Is that so? Is that a fact?
Q: What's she involved in now?
MR. MCCURRY: She's booked. She's booked all the way through 2000. She's got a lot of things to do. (Laughter.)
Q: not saying that she was going to be the campaign manager, just that she was an influential force, could be an influential force, was reviewing personnel matters in that regard. How -- specifically what type of information --
MR. MCCURRY: I can tell you that she spends her time on the things that she talks to all of you about, and it's not hard to figure out what excites her and engages her by just looking at the types of things that she works on. And I haven't seen her spending a lot of time on politics. I've seen her spend a lot more time on the issues that she's been addressing publicly. And I encourage you to cover some of those because she's been doing a lot of exciting work that personally gives her a great deal of satisfaction. And I'm not aware that she's become overly preoccupied with the minutiae of an election campaign. In fact, for that matter, I don't believe that any of us have been.
Q: What are you talking about? What do you mean, minutiae? Come on, don't give us that baloney. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Was that baloney? Which baloney that I was offering up were you objecting to? (Laughter.)
Q: Across the board. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I sort of thought that was kind of what I did for a living, was just dish it out. (Laughter.)
Q: Do you mean she's not involved in politics at all?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, of course not. I mean, the President has said and she has said all the time that she's -- I mean, of course I'm not -- of course, she is, is what I meant. (Laughter.) The First Lady is one of the President's closest and most trusted advisers and his wife. And as many spouses do, they talk about a whole range of things. So I don't think it's any surprise that they talk about everything ranging from politics to the weather to what they're going to -- what they're going to have for dinner. I mean, you know, come on.
And to suggest that that somehow or other is unusual or is -- you know, there's certainly no formal role there, and there's certainly nothing there that is anything but transparent. Look at what she does. Cover what she does and you'll have a pretty good idea of what she cares about, what excites her and what she would like to be remembered for as she works in her capacity as First Lady.
Q: Does an informal role extend to having a say in who gets hired for various campaign --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, there's not anyone who works in this place that doesn't have an opinion about personnel questions. And they all exercise those opinions freely. I suspect she does from time to time, but I don't think that -- I think she's one of many who has got an opinion on personnel matters.
I have an opinion on personnel matters. No one ever asks me.
Q: Was she behind Dave Leavy's departure? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Dave Leavy graduated to the substantive ranks of being a highly-skilled and effective diplomat on behalf of the United States of America after his yeoman service here at the White House Press Office. So did -- was she -- was the First Lady solely responsible for Mr. Leavy's promotion? Of course, not. There are a lot of people who will take credit for that. (Laughter).
All right, what ever have we got?
Q: Is he going to listen to her speak tonight or --
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. I didn't see anything reflected on the schedule, but check later on with the office and they'll tell you.
Q: Is it the feeling here at the White House that the announcement of the trade sanctions is likely to exacerbate tensions between the United States and Japan? And would that work out with the security relationship that exists?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, our view -- the trade relationship with Japan is one aspect of a very complicated and very important relationship. We've always believed that while we make great progress on the global issues, on the political issues, environmental issues -- there are a number of things where the United States government and the government of Japan work closely and very effectively together -- U.N. peacekeeping, a very good example.
In all of these areas we take advantage of what is a very mature and very sophisticated relationship. But we have suggested on occasion that when there is an impediment in one aspect of the bilateral relationship, as there is now, with trade issues, that that inevitably, over time, if it's not resolved, might have some effect on other aspects of the relationship. Thankfully, we have not seen that in the case of our relationship with Japan, where we are able to cooperate with them on a number of issues. But, that's one among many reasons why we prefer to resolve these trade issues promptly, so that we can enjoy the full range of benefits from a very productive and constructive relationship.
All of that said, we do believe that the announcement of these sanctions and the fact that the United States is proceeding under our law, will be a stimulus to the government of Japan to work closely and carefully with the United States to resolve these issues so that we will not have to proceed with sanctions that nobody would prefer in the first place. We would prefer an amicable resolution of these issues.
Q: How about retaliation? You don't expect to proceed to retaliation -- the Japanese --
MR. MCCURRY: The government of Japan would issue that.
Q: In the President's speech today to the police officers, he made some very pointed remarks about the NRA. It seemed to me like they were the strongest to date that he has given about that organization specifically. Why go after the NRA in the way that he did today and why in such a pointed way?
MR. MCCURRY: He had no intent of going after the NRA, but they have been commenting very often in recent days and have been, as the President suggested in his remarks, trying to divert attention from the important business of handing -- passing the antiterrorism legislation that is supposed to be to the President by Memorial Day. And the President was suggesting there were those, the NRA included -- the NRA's executive director yesterday on television, made that very clear, who are trying to create a smoke screen of diversion by raising an issue of Waco, when that has absolutely nothing to do with the need for strong antiterrorism measures that should be passed promptly.
The President was merely suggesting that there's no reason in the world to go back and go through the record, which has been exhaustively presented on the subject of Waco, until we have passed the anti-terrorism legislation that will allow us to deal with the consequences of events like Oklahoma City.
Q: The President was warned about how bad it would be to delay this legislation. Does the President believe that the legislation is being delayed, and who is delaying it on the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: It is being delayed. The Speaker said several days ago that it was being delayed and he referenced the appointment of someone at the FBI as being a reason. But it has been suggested by others on the Hill that it's related to the need for an exhaustive rehash of the subject of Waco -- a subject that has been exhaustively plumbed in the past.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:07 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/270002