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Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

May 19, 1995

The Briefing Room

12:55 P. M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the White House. I'm Mike McCurry. I'm the Press Secretary. You are the press. You've got the questions. I have the equivocations.

I want to start as a personal tribute to Tom Ross. I don't know if many of you know, but today is his last day as the Deputy Press Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director at the NSC for press and communications matters. He's leaving to go back up to New York and the private sector. And I, of course, worked very closely with Tom when I was over at the State Department. He has been a very valuable colleague to me, both in my State Department days and here at the White House, and we're very sorry to see him go.

I think most of you by now have probably met Colonel Jim Fetig from the U.S. Army who is now at the NSC as Assistant Press Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Director of Public Affairs. And we're glad to have him on the team. And, of course, we're always glad to have Calvin on the team who's here and who has been sometimes close to a solo act. And we appreciate him, too. But anyhow, thanks to all my NSC colleagues and a special fond farewell to Tom Ross.

With that personal observation, I will now take any questions you might have.

Q: Is there any chance, Mike, that the President could work out a compromise on the rescissions bill with the senators?

MR. MCCURRY: Sure. He, in a sense, already indicated several times his desire to see the Dole-Daschle bipartisan compromise in the Senate, which was the basis of the Senate rescissions bill. He would accept that as a compromise. That's not perfect. We would have improvements that we would make even in that bill as we've indicated several times to the Congress. But if that is -- that would be a compromise that the President indicated he would sign.

Q: That's especially the Senate version of the bill --

MR. MCCURRY: That's the Senate-passed version of the rescissions bill. Yes. We would make -- let me make it clear, as a compromise in our view because we would make improvements in that legislation to be sure. But we would find that acceptable --

Q: Is there any negotiation now underway?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there will be discussions underway, we presume, once Congress disposes of the conference report and the President disposes of that.

Q: Mike, why didn't the White House ask Senate Democrats to vote as they really felt on the -- unless you feel they did -- on the President's budget --

MR. MCCURRY: Because this -- this has now become standard theatre in the politics of the budgetary process, and we weren't paying much attention to what is, you know, tactical play that is now almost an annual part of the budget exercise. The important work on the budget lies ahead. Everybody knows that.

Q: Mike, you've been sitting here for weeks now saying that they needed to act on the President's --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, acting --

Q: act on the President's budget --

MR. MCCURRY: They didn't act on it. They didn't act on it. They didn't have hearings on it. They didn't submit it to a committee mark-up process. That wasn't part of their process. They were just -- this was a rhetorical device and we recognize it as such.

Q: You don't take it as a rejection of the President's budget?


Q: I mean, it got no --

MR. MCCURRY: It's part of the theatre of the budget process.

Q: Wait a minute, what about all the -- Democrats are voting -- in voting down the President's budget. Do you take that as a rhetorical action?

MR. MCCURRY: I think all of you will recall the days in which Marlin Fitzwater answered all these same questions and his predecessors before that, and you can just put me down in the same column. I have all the same answers.

Anything else?

Q: The President Li of Taiwan will be able to come to the states in the near future?

MR. MCCURRY: There is -- he has been invited, my understanding is, to deliver an address at Cornell and transit for him so that he could do that is under consideration. But I don't believe there's been any final decision taken nor am I aware that there will be one taken any time in the immediate future.

Q: Mike, some of the cops, after the meeting the President, came out and said basically that they thought that NRA rhetoric had already led to the killing or had contributed to the killing of police officers. Would the President go that far?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think they are in a better position to know because they are local law enforcement officials. I wouldn't want to say that without having a specific case that I could site whether that is likely true. But that reflects the very strong feelings in the law enforcement community about some of the rhetoric that the NRA has offered.

Q: Mike, does the White House or the President have any reaction to the behavior of the police who were here in D.C.?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President feels that the comments of the Police Commissioner in New York were appropriate for what was clearly inappropriate behavior.

Q: Also, another -- on the budget in general, the overall budget. This morning you were talking a little bit about the prospect of veto, veto, veto. I mean, if -- looking down the road somewhat, what do you think the prospects for --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President hopes that there will be an opportunity, and an opportunity soon, to engage with Congress and to fashion a real budget that reflects the priorities of the American people: deficit reduction; protection for those programs important to people; necessary tax relief, but targeted tax relief for the middle class, as he has proposed; and you know, serious choices that reflect serious priorities about where we want to spend the taxpayers' money. That's possible. And the President consistently has indicated to members of Congress he's willing to engage in that conversation, and he's been very specific about what types of steps they could take to back off the measures that they're now pursuing, which the President just feels are wrong-headed.

Q: But how likely are we to see veto, veto, veto?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it depends. That is the choice the Congress would make, not the President. If the Congress passes legislation that the President clearly feels is unacceptable, he's made it very clear that he will do the right thing and cast vetoes.

Q: Well, Mike, the President introduced a budget that projects $200 billion deficits as far as you could see. Why should anybody on the Hill who's trying to balance the budget one way or another think that they could have a serious conversation with him?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, because the President has indicated that he -- we know that in the development of this budget there will be points in which they will want to engage. The President has considerable support on the Hill, and support that is sufficient in many cases to sustain vetoes. So at some point there will be an engagement, there will be a discussion. And we hope that it will be -- the result of that will be a budget that moves in the direction of balance and that moves in the direction of significant deficit reduction.

That is possible. And we put a starting point on the table. They've now, in a sense, put a starting point on the table, which is the House budget. And it's clear that the House budget is -- that doesn't have -- lacks sufficient support in the Senate anyhow to move ahead, because Senate Republicans are moving in a dramatically different direction.

So we'll be fully engaged as we move into the next several weeks here.

Q: Well, does that mean that -- the Senate Democrats indicated, some of them at least, yesterday that there will be a series of amendments that will be consistent with the goal of a balanced budget by 2002, which will not add in more spending and whatever to try to reach the same goal, which is a far more ambitious goal than the President has yet set forth. Will the -- will the White House weigh in on behalf of or against or whatever any of those measures, or is he going to remain on the sidelines until there's something to veto?

MR. MCCURRY: There will -- are many twists and turns ahead in the story of the budget fight of 1995. And the President will be at plenty of places on the road ahead contributing ideas --

Q: Mike, that doesn't anywhere near answer my question --

MR. MCCURRY: -- contributing ideas, contributing specific ideas, and lending contribution to a debate that we think will lead to a budget that moves significantly in the direction of balance.

Q: Is that a yes or a no?

MR. MCCURRY: That's a yes.

Q: When you say he put -- he put a starting point on the table that moves significantly in the direction of a balanced budget. What is it?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he -- significantly in the direction of deficit reduction, adding to the President's record of deficit reduction as compiled in the first two years.

Q: That's not what -- you said he -- you said that he put a starting point on the table that moved in the direction of a balanced budget. You're talking about your own budget that was just voted down, that moves towards a balanced budget?

MR. MCCURRY: That moves in the direction of deficit reduction in the coming fiscal year. And it's a basis upon which you can make additional decisions and additional deficit reduction as you engage with Congress. But the President has made it fairly clear what the terms of that engagement will be. They have to -- look, you know, we're back to the same point. You cannot do what the Republican majority, at least in the House, has said it attempts to do. They want significant, huge massive tax cuts at the same time they want to move to a balanced budget by the year 2002. And they -- the only way you get there now, as it's now clear from the budget that the House passed last night, is to make significant and, we would argue, devastating reductions in spending for social insurance programs that are important to the people of this country. That is now clear. And it's not entirely clear that that's what the American people thought they bought in November of 1994.

Q: Well, that begs the question, Mike, that if you can't do that and get a balanced budget, what is it that the White House believes you can do and get a balanced budget?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that is the point of the debate that will unfold in the weeks ahead. And there will be plenty of points along the way in which the President's going to be contributing specific ideas to that debate.

Q: Mike, do you think the President will unfold on that before or after he unfolds on affirmative action? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to -- I don't want to predict. But -- as usual, his timing will spectacularly on point.

Q: Mike, do you think somewhere along the road of those twists and turns you mentioned, the President will come out with a date certain for his idea of a date certain for a balanced budget?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on that, but I wouldn't rule it out.

Q: Since you kind of make a bottom-line point about protecting social programs that are important to people, we've heard a lot about what the President doesn't want to do. But at some point would he come out and say what he does want to do, what he feels are the bottom-line programs that are important?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, we went through a very interesting episode in the discussion of the rescissions bill this week in which the President's priorities when it comes to spending were made abundantly clear. So we've done that, yes, and the likelihood that we would do it in the future I think is apparent, too. Any other thing?

Q: Senator -- yesterday was trying to make the argument to the President that he needs to lead on the budget, not follow, not to be dragged --

MR. MCCURRY: We drove Brit Hume from the room. Good- bye, Brit. We'll see you next week.

Q: not to be dragged like into the rescissions argument with alternatives down the road. Procedurally, what is the best way for the President at this point to lead on the budget? You're talking about being engaged --

MR. MCCURRY: The President -- the best way is to sharpen the choices that have to be made in the eyes of the American people. And the President's been doing that very effectively. The American people need also to understand what the nature of these choices are, that their elected representatives are making, and I think the President is doing an effective job of helping the American people understand what those choices are. They are painful and in the case of the budget now passed by the House, the President believes they're wrong-headed. They're not what the American people want. And that's part of what the discussion in the weeks ahead is about.

Q: Didn't the President talk about coming up with a plan to balance the budget within five years -- that he would -- he would present that at some point? What happened to that?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure what you're referring to.

Q: 1992.

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- I don't know your reference.

Q: said he would -- balanced budget within five years --

Q: budget within five years. What happened to that?

MR. MCCURRY: Which -- I'm not --

Q: During the campaign --

MR. MCCURRY: -- you'll have to ask me later. Well, he's talked about reducing the budget by half as a percentage of GDP. You've heard this over and over again. We've, you know, moving in that direction. We're certainly moving towards that goal. And as a fraction of the Gross Domestic Product of our total economy, the deficit has consistently been coming down.

Q: trip. Senator Robb -- Chuck Robb said to Taiwanese media yesterday that White House may announce it today. Did the President indicate to him that the decision has been made yesterday or when he --

MR. MCCURRY: I think I answered your question earlier on that subject.

Q: Mike, if the President believes that criticizing the police gives aid and comfort to criminals, does the President think police are above criticism? What is the proper way to decry police abuses in the President's view?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are within local jurisdictions proper ways of doing that for citizens who believe they have a complaint to raise, and there's a proper way to do that. But calling them "jack-booted thugs" is not, as the President indicated, the proper way.

Q: Mike, you said yesterday and the day before that the President had discussed the presidential security review with Rubin. Could you walk us through what happens now on that?

MR. MCCURRY: Only what I've indicated already. There were some additional points that the President wanted to discuss, and he'll be getting back with Secretary Rubin at some point as they bring the review to the conclusion.

Q: Has there been any consultation with the Hill or with the District government or any other interested parties, or is this going to be done fiat?

MR. MCCURRY: I -- no, no, no -- I -- there -- it's a question I would really prefer you direct over at Treasury. I believe I've seen the Under Secretary of the Treasury indicate that he has done some consultation, but the review is within the province of the Treasury Department, and the exact nature of the consultations they've done, which I think has been fairly extensive, is something I -- you should get a little more detail from them on that.

Q: Rubin was here at the White -- Rubin was here

Q: suggestion in The Washington Post yesterday that instead of closing Pennsylvania Avenue, they'd turn the White House into a museum and move him up to Camp David? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: That's -- do you have a question?

Q: (inaudible)

MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe so.

Q: Rubin was here at the White House today. Did he discuss this issue with the President today?

MR. MCCURRY: No, he was here for a meeting on budget and economic issues.

Q: Could I ask another question on another unrelated matter? The President is doing these radio interviews with New Hampshire stations today. Can you tell us why he picked New Hampshire today?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he -- he periodically does interviews with a wide variety of local media organizations. In the case of New Hampshire, he's been doing about what you'd expect a President to do in the third year of his term.

Q: (inaudible)

MR. MCCURRY: No, I -- we covered the arrangements for that earlier today, Todd, but we'll -- pick that up at the end.

Q: But the question I just wanted to ask was, how many more days of briefings like this in which the whole first half is essentially one variation of the same question that you're unwilling to answer about when it's time for him to come and, you know -- you say that he's sharpening the differences over the budget with public debate --

MR. MCCURRY: -- this weekend, the rescissions bill, and will continue to happen --

Q: But at what point do you have-- do you have to go to him and say, you know, this is getting dull now, we need to --it's not sharpening --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, you already have, but I think the American people are watching this debate. They don't probably watch it just as closely as you do, but they will begin to, you know, feel what some of the choices feel like. And the President will, at the proper point, be ready to engage and to offer up some ideas.

MR. MCCURRY: But -- yes, you know, the timing is his choice and not yours.

Q: Yes, Mike, in '92 during the campaign, the President talked about a rebuild America fund. He talked about putting money into the nation's infrastructure, highway projects. Now he's talking about pork. What's the difference?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have made investments in the long-term health of the American economy. But in the case of the rescissions bill for FY 1995, we were talking about specific choices around a set of fairly narrowly defined investments in the future. The question is, do you invest in people, or do you invest in physical infrastructure? And the President said, given that choice in the narrow confines of this bill about the FY '95 budget, I prefer the investments in people, because that produces a longer-term benefit for our economy -- become productive tax-paying citizens, as young people get job experiences, they education and training. And for the marginal tax dollar that we're going to spend on balance, I prefer to invest it in people as opposed to physical infrastructure. We're not suggesting that capital investment is not important for the long-term strength of the economy. It is. The President has addressed that, as you correctly note. But this is a question of choices -- real-time choices -- in a specific bill about the FY '95 budget.

Q: But pork is a pejorative term.

MR. MCCURRY: Pork is a pejorative term, but it's one that is easily understood by the American people. And what our goal here is to get the American people to understand exactly what the nature of the choice is. You know, courthouses in a congressman's district because they are, you know, an influential member of such and such a committee or investments in summer employment opportunities for kids.

Q: Mike, do you have an update --

MR. MCCURRY: It's a good way to sharpen up -- exactly as I say, sharpen up the choice that is now before both the Congress and in a sense, before the American people.

Q: Just one last question on that. But in rebuild America and in infrastructure, projects the President was talking about, I mean, isn't that pork?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, you know, you look at what is going to productive economic capacity for the future. Not every road represents pork. There are some roads that, you know, enhance a community's capacity to deliver goods and services that make the economy more productive. You know, in some sense, you could argue probably any investment of that nature is like that, but that's not -- that's not the question in making investments at the margin. The question is, if you've got a scarce dollar to make an investment in, what is the choice that you would do. We don't have an unlimited number of dollars to invest, so you have to make some choices for the future. And that's in the context of the debate this week on the rescissions bill, we were talking about specific choices and the President made it clear where he comes down on those choices.

Q: Would the President veto a bill that balances the budget over --

MR. MCCURRY: We -- well, that's -- you know, what budget? Which budget? What are the parameters of that budget?

Q: (inaudible)

MR. MCCURRY: It's an impossible question to answer. You know, a budget that balances over that period of time that reflects the priorities the President has outlined and could very well be a budget the President would sign. But it depends on how the whole budget looks.

Q: Can you imagine a budget that reflects his priorities that gets you to balance by 2002, or --

MR. MCCURRY: It's hard -- hard to do that. But it's not impossible. And that is exactly the type of question that has to be carefully examined in the weeks ahead.

Q: The President keeps calling for Medicare changes in the context of health care reform. Is it your plan to come forward with specific ideas during the budget reconciliation process? Is that an opportune time to come forward and work with --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there will be times, as the congressional committees get into consideration of spending for Social Security programs, including Medicare, there will be opportunities to look at exactly that type of question.

Q: Why is it hard to imagine a budget with his priorities that would get to balance, because politically it's impossible or because he wants to spend more money than that?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, because there are -- to do it, simultaneously providing those things the President has indicated are important -- you know, targeted tax relief for the middle income that preserves necessary investments in education and protection of those social insurance programs that are necessary for elderly Americans and those Americans who are looking for assistance, and then, you know, finally, achieving budget deficit reduction targets in a macroeconomic sense help the economy overall. Those are difficult to achieve. We know exactly how difficult it is, and we know exactly -- now that we've seen the House action, know exactly how those choices can be made in the wrong fashion, in a way that really damage the best interests of the American people.

Q: What is -- President's reaction to yesterday's hearings on the new Cuba policy?

MR. MCCURRY: -- Under Secretary Tarnoff's testimony? I think he feels Under Secretary Tarnoff, on behalf of the administration, explained how we got to the point where we articulated the new policy. He feels in particular that General Sheehan explained some of our concerns and the concerns of our military about Guantanamo Bay and the functioning of the camp there. And I think on balance he feels the presentation lends to the argument that this alteration in the migration policy is in the best interests of the American people and in the best interests of those who, for their own reasons, may attempt to leave Cuba illegally and in some cases in a very dangerous way, setting out for the high seas and in a fashion that might put their own lives at risk.

Q: Are there advantages to having the President repeatedly target the NRA?

MR. MCCURRY: Have -- say again.

Q: Are there advantages to having the President repeatedly target the NRA?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- I mean, the President felt strongly today that talking about their recent fundraising letter, as you know he referenced earlier, was an important way both to clarify the nature of the apology that the NRA thinks that its made, and secondly, to once again remind people that law enforcement officials lay their lives on the line every day and deserve a little bit of help, maybe even from the fundraising letter that the NRA is bragging about as recently as yesterday.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END1:18 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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