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Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

May 17, 1995

The Briefing Room

3:00 P.M. EDT

Q: In brandishing this veto -- the question I didn't get a chance to ask -- is this a signal to the Congress that the President would be willing on some of these 13 appropriations bills we're going to see later this summer to make similar veto --

MR. MCCURRY: The President, by announcing his veto of this rescissions bill, has made it very clear that he will stand for the priorities that he thinks reflects the judgments of the American people. And he'll be very firm about it. And that -- may or may not be a precedent depending on whether or not Congress reflects those priorities that the President cares about very deeply.

Q: Can you answer the question that Leon stuck you with?

MR. MCCURRY: Which --

Q: The question is what -- what grounds -- Mick's question --

MR. MCCURRY: I told some of you earlier today, each of these cases, we believe, should be looked at case by case, because that's precisely how they're looked at by all of those who are investigating these matters. And certainly that's how they were looked at by the Attorney General.

Q: But in this case, what in this case would enable him to stay on the job since, as --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President cites his unparalleled success and his confidence that the independent counsel found -- find that there's been no wrongdoing, as the statement says.

Q: I don't mean to harp on this procedural thing since it's probably moot, since they're not going to do it, and he's going to have to veto it, but how does the President think they could make these changes? And what does he think the odds of their doing it actually are?

MR. MCCURRY: They bang the gavel, they come into session, they take the bill, and they pass it. It's not hard. It's the way laws get written. How a law -- you know, how a law --

Q: the way he wants it. Where there's a will there's a way, in other words.

MR. MCCURRY: They can pass -- they can pass this, particularly when it comes to the Oklahoma City funding or whether it comes to disaster assistance for California. They could do that quickly. They've had the necessary hearings. They've explored it in both houses through the process. They could go back into session literally this afternoon and pass this version and pass -- they'd have to -- clear have to pass new acts on both sides and a new conference report. But it wouldn't be difficult based on the road map the President has now given them to do this expeditiously, because as has been pointed out --

Q: can't amend a conference report, right? You just have to start over.

MR. MCCURRY: The conference is closed. They basically would have to just not take up the conference report as it's now been produced by the committee, and both Houses pass separate acts, and just move on.

Q: Could you explain the difference between Brown and Espy?

MR. MCCURRY: Say again.

Q: explain the difference between Brown and Espy?

MR. MCCURRY: I just said it, case by case.

Q: Mr. Livingston says, we do not expect to take up anymore supplementals in Fiscal Year 1995 --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, then the Congress will be responsible for denying the necessary assistance to the people of Oklahoma City, the people of California.

Q: Why isn't the President responsible for it since they're presenting him with a bill and he's the one who's vetoing it?

MR. MCCURRY: Because the President has now made very clear to Congress how they can fix the legislation, accomplish those things that certainly, Congress agrees with President, need to be done, and give him a bill that can be signed immediately. We would look forward for them acting expeditiously and so we could have a nice signing ceremony in the Rose Garden.

Q: Have you done a -- count about sustaining a veto?

MR. MCCURRY: You should check around on the Hill on that. We've been in contact with them --

Q: Are you confident you could?

MR. MCCURRY: Based on the President's willingness to put forward his own proposal today, we that will -- his willingness to give them a good road map on how we would propose to do a rescissions package that achieves our mutual goals of deficit reduction would garner the support necessary to sustain the veto, as the Chief of Staff has said.

Q: Mike, isn't there also a time factor that now confronts Congress in revisiting the rescission bill in the sense that you're past the halfway mark in the fiscal year -- so most they dawdle another month, this money that is targeted for rescission, some of that would have to be spent on the budget empowerment act, wouldn't it?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, yes, although I believe the Director of OMB would have been good to ask that question of her. I think she did give some instructions that they should not spend out money that were under proposed rescissions as a way of trying to circumvent the affect of the act. But you're right, as a general proposition in some of these categories, that the longer you go into the fiscal year, the value of the rescission is then diminished because there are probably some payouts that must occur by law.

Q: And that --

MR. MCCURRY: -- another, which is, by the way -- by the way, another response to Congressman Livingston to get on with the business and pass a rescissions bill so we can get the true value of the deficit reduction that both Congress and the President seek.

Q: on the administration's decision on the timber language?

MR. MCCURRY: The timber language. What is the bottom line on the timber language? Mary Ellen Glynn will answer that question for you later.

Q: G. Gordon Liddy --

MR. MCCURRY: We had some -- I think -- I know that that has been addressed. There have been some administration testimony and statements in the last couple of days on that. And it's in -- that's in one of these handouts.

Q: It's in this thing, but would you veto this thing just over the timber language?

MR. MCCURRY: No. Okay.

Q: G. Gordon Liddy was honored today by a talk show host group with a freedom of speech award. Does the White House --

MR. MCCURRY: That is difficult to imagine. I'm not aware of the award. (Laughter.) That's freedom of speech for sure.

Q: Mike, considering the results of last November's elections, how does the White House come to the conclusion that the President -- the President's policies reflect the real values of the American people when the people that were elected to Congress are adopting a different approach?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm -- I mean, remember we're talking about a large rescissions package here in which there is a great deal of agreement between the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch. But you're all in a position to go out and ask the American people yourself whether the type of cuts and the proposed efforts that help people get necessary training, the types of things the President talked about today, are what they have in mind -- cuts in those programs in exchange for paying for what are clearly pork-barrel-type projects. I don't think that's -- I don't recall anyone suggesting that was the nature of the verdict rendered in November of 1994.

Q: Mike, why is there is a reticence, it seems, on the part of the White House to attach names of lawmakers to those pork barrel projects?

MR. MCCURRY: I heard the Chief of Staff do exactly that.

Q: but that was only after pulling and pushing. And that's the only one that you've named.

MR. MCCURRY: It gives you all something to work on for the rest of the day. (Laughter.)

Q: Mike, just on another topic. Our Miami bureau tells us that there's a apparently some plan afoot to allow Haitian kids from Guantanamo to be brought into the United States. Can you tell us about that?

MR. MCCURRY: I would ask -- I'd check at the State Department. There have been some discussions about how to address humanitarian concerns of kids who are at Guantanamo, similar how we did in the -- when we dealt with some of the Cuban migrants who were there. But they can tell you more about that.

Q: Do you expect this to be announced this week or --

MR. MCCURRY: I'd check with State Department. They'll help you.

Q: Mike, I know the line of the day is that all these cases involving independent counsels are judged on a case-by-case basis. But can you --

MR. MCCURRY: You got it. Good. (Laughter.)

Q: Yes, I understand that. Can you tell us how is the judgment in the Ron Brown case different from the judgment in the Mike Espy case? Are the charges less credible, are they less serious?

MR. MCCURRY: There are different facts, there are different issues involved, they're just, you know, they're different.

Q: we were told earlier that there's a difference because Espy's alleged wrong-doing occurred while he was in office --

MR. MCCURRY: Look, these are complicated matters. They clearly are complicated because the taxpayers are spending an awful lot of money to see them all properly examined by all the people who are examining them. So, you know, I -- let's not try to deal with it in a shorthand fashion here.

Q: Has Ron Brown --

Q: Michael, your administration now, I believe, has the record for cabinet members with special counsels. Do you believe that's because there's something wrong with --

MR. MCCURRY: It's a --

Q: Can I ask the question?

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, sure.

Q: with the special counsel law, or do you believe there is something particularly bad about how you chose Cabinet members?

MR. MCCURRY: No, it's -- because as the President indicated in his statement today, the threshold for these examinations is set by design, very, very low, and the environment that we now live in --

Q: the threshold wasn't any different for the Bush administration --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the environment, and the second part of my answer --

Q: I'm sorry. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: -- would be the political culture we now live in is one in which it is very easy to make allegations that then can blossom into matters that attract the attention of those who call for independent counsels.

Q: These allegations --

MR. MCCURRY: But that the law works, because that's what the independent counsel provision is there to do, is to resolve successfully -- you know, dispense with any concerns that exist when they are raised and to vindicate those who ought properly to be vindicated if they've done nothing wrong. And that is certainly the case in Secretary Brown's case, as the President indicated today.

Q: Are we going to get a list of some of these courthouses and highway projects?

MR. MCCURRY: I think you need to work the story a little bit. There will be some OMB folks that'll help out. Larry Haas was here earlier, and he's got some help.

Q: How do you know --

MR. MCCURRY: We intend to be very helpful on this story, as you can imagine.

Q: How do you know that the allegations against Ron Brown are unfounded?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has a great deal of confidence in Secretary Brown and has confidence that they're not.

Q: But have you done an independent investigation of them? Has he presented evidence to the President, or are you just accepting his word for it?

MR. MCCURRY: We do not have the capacity to investigate, as would an independent counsel.

Q: You're just taking his word that he's --

MR. MCCURRY: The President's not only taking his word, he has, based on his relationship and working with the Secretary, has that level of confidence.

Q: That's the question. Did they talk today, or --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe they've talked today. They may talk later on today. Secretary Brown, I think, talked to Leon earlier today. The President and Secretary Brown have talked on an off about this, and the President's statement today reflects the nature of those conversations.

Q: And did Secretary Brown offer to resign at any point?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe, based on their conversations, that that was not necessary to have that type of conversation. That was pretty much a moot point.

Q: Mike, if the Republicans, as Leon said, were warned that the President would veto the House rescission -- the version of the rescissions bill, why do you believe that they went ahead --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know; ask them.

Q: Mike, the President's gotten a lot of praise for the way he's handled the Oklahoma -- or the way he handled the Oklahoma City bombing. So just -- how does he respond, how does he react to some of the criticism on the Hill now, from DeLay and from others, saying specifically that now he's willing to turn his back on Oklahoma City, and --

MR. MCCURRY: That's outrageous, and the people of Oklahoma City will know that. They'll know that the will exists on the part of this President, and certainly the will exists in Congress to address the needs of those who have suffered from the tragedy in Oklahoma City, and to suggest otherwise by members of Congress is a little bit ludicrous.

Q: Just to be clear, you are saying that if they really are serious about passing --

MR. MCCURRY: There is no barrier -- it's not like the rescissions bill is the only vehicle by which they could do what they need to do for Oklahoma City. They could go and do that this afternoon and they ought to.

Q: What about Jordan? The same for Jordan?

MR. MCCURRY: The same for Jordan. I mean, the three aspects of this that carried some urgency to them were debt relief for Georgia -- or for Jordan, the disaster assistance for the people of California, which, equally, is something that they could do right away; and, of course, the provisions on Oklahoma City. And there are any number of ways in which Congress could do that work and do it expeditiously. It just happened to be caught up in the question of the rescissions for the FY '95 budget.

Q: But procedurally, Mike -- doesn't have to be a rescission bill; it could be any --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not an expert on legislative vehicles, but I don't believe it's necessary that it be a rescissions-type vehicle or a budget-type vehicle. I think there are other ways they could accomplish it.

Q: Can the President make a proposal?

MR. MCCURRY: Indeed we have. Indeed, we've said, go do it, and that's the nature of the proposal he's made today.

Q: Mike, there's some major discontent -- a lot of members of the Cuban American community with the new immigration law. Is the President having a dialogue with these people or are relations strained --

MR. MCCURRY: The White House is, the President is as well. We have -- he -- the President has had conversations with Cuban American leaders. Our Office of Public Liaison has been in close contact with them. Indeed, I believe there may have been some leaders from the Cuban American community here today -- today or yesterday. We can check on that for you. But we have been in dialogue with them because we feel it was important for us to explain the parameters of the President's Cuban migration policy. We've done that, and we believe we've done that with some success, based on surveys of public opinion within the Cuban American community in South Florida to indicate that there is support, and I would suggest, a surprising degree of support for the President's position.

Q: Why do you think that is?

Q: Japan has apparently communicated through the WTO seeking to get the United States back into negotiations, and the United States has 10 days to respond. What is the likelihood that the United States in fact will get back to the table?

MR. MCCURRY: I would check with Ambassador Kantor's office on that. We've said, and the President has said, we certainly prefer to resolve these issues through negotiation.

Q: What about the Iraqi -- yesterday.

MR. MCCURRY: We have, I think, just a little while ago the State Department handled that. It essentially says we have said publicly on numerous occasions that we seek the humanitarian release of these two. It's our view that they have been -- they have certainly committed no crime. They are being incarcerated only as a result of innocent mistakes, and that remains our position. Iraq is aware of that position. There have been numerous statements both here at the White House and the State Department to that effect that seem to be exactly the type of statement that the Iraqi officials suggested yesterday they were seeking. And we don't believe that Iraq should be encouraged to think that it has some way, as a result of this case, to be rewarded for doing something that it shouldn't be doing in the first place, which is holding two American citizens erroneously.

Q: So you're not going to send a letter? You're not going to send a formal letter? I mean, the President --

MR. MCCURRY: -- I have not seen anything that suggests we will send a letter.

Q: You may hear some wild screams from the wives.

Q: Mike, the President said he almost vetoed the bill --

MR. MCCURRY: We've been in very close contact with the wives.

Q: And they agree with the position?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't want to speak for them.

Q: Mike, the President almost vetoed that bill several weeks ago with the billionaires' tax break and chose not to. Is he feeling more emboldened by his poll numbers these days?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I think he just -- the urgency of the choices and some of the issues presented in this bill made this bill -- a different set of questions presented themselves in this rescissions bill.

Q: Mike, is the White House looking into whether Patsy Thomasson removed material from the travel office in the period of that firing?

MR. MCCURRY: I had a brief discussion with the legal counsel's office on that. I'm not prepared to answer that question now, but I would refer you to someone in that office that can help you with that.

Q: Would the President like to have his budget submitted for floor vote in the House alongside the Republican balanced budget version?

MR. MCCURRY: We've said all along that our proposal is there. We think that's a good starting point if Congress wants to continue work on the FY '96 budget. We suspect that probably won't happen.

Q: Mike, with the investigation of Ron Brown, do you think it's going to be harder for the White House to fend off attacks on the Commerce Department? Republicans want to eliminate the department.

MR. MCCURRY: We don't believe it will be based on the record the Commerce Department has compiled in advancing the interests of American working families and American businesses, both here at home and abroad. There is a widespread -- if you check anywhere within the business community -- enormous support for the department and the work that both the Secretary and other officials in the department have done. And that record, because it's won so much support, is an adequate argument, we think, as we head off an attempt to abolish the department.

Q: Do you have a reaction to Stenholm's alternative budget? Is it better?

MR. MCCURRY: It's certainly better than -- it's better than the original, but it doesn't satisfy the President's test that he's been very careful in explaining, and the ones that the Chief of Staff just reflected earlier -- not entirely -- it certainly addresses the one concerning tax cuts.

Q: Mike, back on the letter -- I don't understand. If an Iraqi official says a letter might be helpful, why would the White House hesitate on offering up a letter that --

MR. MCCURRY: Because there is a belief that they seek to be rewarded for doing something that they should not be doing.

Q: You mean rewarded with a letter from the President?

MR. MCCURRY: That's correct.

Q: And recognition implicit --

MR. MCCURRY: It has been -- it is an attempt to establish some type of dialogue.

Anything else?

Q: What's wrong with dialogue?

MR. MCCURRY: It's -- because it's no substitute for doing what they need to do, which is to release the two Americans.

Q: Can't talk about it first?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've got -- they have heard from us and they have heard from our representative in Baghdad.

Q: And you say the wives are accepting this?

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't say that.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 3:17 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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