Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
1:16 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: I normally begin the briefing by saying what an august group I'm entitled to address every day. But today we look rather sparse. I think that's probably a judgment that I don't have much to say today and that, of course, probably is true.
So let's go at it.
Questions. Mr. Hunt?
Q: What does the President think about Boris Yeltsin going to Iran?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that they have announced officially, or officially confirmed that visit, but governments are entitled to their bilateral relations. Our concerns about Russia's engagement with Iran and our concerns, generally, about Iran's posture in the world are very well-known.
Q: Do you think that suggests that Mr. Yeltsin is even less willing to give up the nuclear sale?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be up to the Russian Federation to declare its views on those issues.
Q: Do you have anything to say about the Taiwan visa issue, or normalization of Vietnam relations?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't, on the first, Helen, on the first question, which is allowing President Li transit so that he can attend a reunion and at his alma mater, Cornell University, and to, I believe, participate in a ceremony in which they announce an endowed chair there on his behalf. The State Department is announcing, or has announced moments ago that transit will be allowed, and the policy implications of that, Nick Burns is dealing with right at this moment. I concur in what he's saying; we're aware of what they're going to be saying.
Q: Can you tell us if the Chinese were notified --
MR. MCCURRY: They were, and the State Department will have all the details on that.
Q: Did the President sign off on this, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q: How about normalization? Is there anything on the front burner on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Full normalization of relations with Vietnam would depend, as we have always said, on the fullest-possible accounting for POWs and MIAs, and that remains our position. There's no change in that. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Winston Lord has just been there recently with the delegation, and they've received some additional materials aimed at that type of fullest possible accounting, and that material will have to be evaluated.
Q: Affirmative action review results this week?
MR. MCCURRY: I would steer you away from assuming that would be happening this week.
Q: To tag onto the back to his question and just ask if it's possible next week in a certain western state, and second of all a second question: Do you have reaction to the Supreme Decision on term limits?
MR. MCCURRY: There are actually two Supreme Court decisions today, one of them involving the University of Maryland scholarship program, the other involving term limits. Obviously, the President is aware of both of those decisions and the Office of Legal Counsel is looking at the opinion in the case of the term limits and evaluating what the impact is of the court's decision not to grant -- in the first, and/or reflect our views accordingly in coming days.
The first part of the question?
Q: next week?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on when that might happen. Obviously, the University of Maryland case may have some implications for the review. We'll just have to look at it more carefully.
Q: Mike, some of the alleged pork in that -- that was not struck from the budget by the rescissions bill was the subject of a rescission request, I believe, by the President in his budget.
MR. MCCURRY: FY '96 proposal --
Q: Right. Some members of the Appropriations Committee on the House say that some of the spending to which the President now objects is also part of his '96 budget. Can you get us a breakout of how much of the spending that he now would like rescinded as pork he also proposed in his budget?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll see if we can develop it, yes.
Q: Can you give us an estimate of roughly how much it is?
MR. MCCURRY: No, not off the top of my head, no.
Q: Do you think you'd be able to break down the court -- the specific courthouses that the President considers pork?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I assume in the case of court houses it's similar to the highway demonstration projects under ISTEA -- under the surface transportation legislation. They were initially appropriated by Congress. There's a wide variety of projects that are then available, and we've not suggested that they cut all funding under those budget categories, but instead, suggested specific amounts that the rescissions bill ought to rescind, and that would then be up to Congress and the appropriators if they so choose to designate line items on particular projects, as they sometimes do and as they sometimes don't.
Q: If I can just follow up. The meeting that Panetta's having with Livingston at 2:30 p.m. on this issue -- the White House is going in to this meeting assuming what?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Panetta is going into the meeting, assuming that there has been an exchange of, shall we say, frank and candid correspondence with the chair of the committee, and following a telephone conversation between the Chief of Staff and the chair, they agreed it would be better to talk face-to-face than to send missives to each other.
Q: Is there some reason why we haven't heard much more about the veto threat?
MR. MCCURRY: No -- the President's veto threat stands. The conference report, as it's now been passed by the House and is under consideration in the Senate, would be the subject of a veto.
Q: Who asked for the meeting this afternoon?
MR. MCCURRY: I think they just agreed, as I say, as a result of the exchange of correspondence to me -- and I -- grew out of the conversation, I'm not sure one or the other suggested it, but they agreed to do it.
Q: But if modified?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President made some very specific suggestions on how they could modify the conference report -- it's a $14.5 billion bill, and we've identified the $1.4 billion, $1.5 billion in there that is the subject of concern that the President has, so it could, in our opinion, be fairly easily remedied.
Q: The President's made a point throughout this whole controversy that he is for cutting spending and, in fact, he actually cut it more in proposals. Do you have a reaction now to Livingston's offer to take the new cuts that the President outlined and just adding them to the bill? Why would the President object to that?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll have to wait and see what he means by that, and perhaps the meeting the Chairman's going to have with the Chief of Staff will shed some light on that.
Q: Isn't it clear, though, and haven't White House officials made it clear that, even if that spending that he objects to were all added in the form of cuts into the rescission bill, that would not do the trick, that the restorations that the President wanted would also have to be made?
MR. MCCURRY: We're interested in more sizeable deficit reduction. And we're interested in those areas that the President identified for cutting spending. But we are also interested in investments that will help grow the economy in the long term. That's the importance of the education and training items that the President pointed to as he suggested he would veto the conference reports. So we'll have to see whether there's any sentiment there to restore some of that funding for the areas that the President feels are important. But mind you, the President made very clear, he pointed to the areas that would offset that funding so that you would still end up with the same type of deficit reduction foreseen in the bill passed by the House and the Senate.
Q: But he doesn't just want the offsets, the added cuts without the restorations, does he?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he wants to see the investments long term in the economy and he wants to see deficit reduction accomplished by the bill. And there are probably -- there are ways of doing that, as the President suggested.
Q: Is he at lunch now with the --
MR. MCCURRY: He's having lunch with the Minority Leader at the moment.
Q: Just out of curiosity, how do they get these guys in now?
MR. MCCURRY: What we're going do -- that's a -- someone raised a very good problem that I hadn't thought of, and as far as I know, no one here had thought of, and that's the -- our stakeout area out in the front. What we're going to do is encourage those who come to visit with the President to be picked up and retrieved at the foot of the steps out there -- out at the West Lobby so that guests seeing the President who you might be interested in talking to will come in and go out via the West Lobby, as always.
Q: Can they have a car come down Pennsylvania any more?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I -- probably -- no, probably be picked up down on the Plaza, the West Exec Plaza.
Q: Would they come in the West Lobby or would they come up the steps and come in --
MR. MCCURRY: We will encourage visitors to come in the West Lobby and be received as they always have been and exit that way.
Q: Can they come down West Executive?
Q: You can drive through that atrium, can't you, at the OEOB atrium and come in that way?
MR. MCCURRY: I --
Q: You mean walk up the steps --
Q: You mean walk up the stairs and come into the West Wing Lobby?
MR. MCCURRY: The West Lobby, where they always come and where they always go out.
Q: as opposed to the West Basement Lobby, which is down on West Executive Avenue --
Q: They come in by car --
MR. MCCURRY: We're going to encourage them to do what they have always done.
Q: By car, through West Executive from the Southwest Gate?
MR. MCCURRY: Helen, I'll have to get you a traffic report. Maybe we can call the guy in the helicopter who watches us.
Q: No, but I mean, seriously, if people have the option of using the West Basement Entrance, we'll never see them.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you never see them now when they do exactly that. What we will encourage guests to do is to come and announcement themselves for their appointment with the President at the West Lobby, which is -- would bring them in and out of the place where you all have the same access to them that you have now.
Q: But they can drive in to West Executive, right?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I'll have to check that.
Q: Somebody can, because there are a bunch of cars out there. I mean, obviously, there's some vehicular traffic -- barring a miracle.
Q: They were left --
Q: Where's your car?
MR. MCCURRY: They're still around there?
Q: Where's your car this morning?
MR. MCCURRY: Same place it -- same place it's always been.
Q: Did you drive in?
Q: Over by the Corcoran?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, although we went through a somewhat different procedure this morning.
Q: Like what?
Q: Was your car checked?
MR. MCCURRY: They just moved farther -- you know, the checkpoint -- the checkpoint is farther back down.
Q: Did you have to assume the position? (Laughter.)
Q: Did you show your pass?
MR. MCCURRY: They usually look at me and suspect that would be a warranted procedure, yes. (Laughter.)
Q: Mike, is your immediate response to the administration's legal victory on terms limits indicate that this is a victory that you would not like to have too publicized?
MR. MCCURRY: Say -- I missed the question. What was that? And I think I'll miss it again if you ask it.
No, it's more -- it's more -- in reality, we do want the Legal Counsel's office to look at it and I'm -- I don't think anyone here has been through the opinion yet, although we've got some lawyers who are doing that.
Q: Could you follow up on that? What's your opinion about the concept of a Constitutional amendment versus the state by state approach that the court addressed?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that would -- that's obviously the question's suggested by the opinion, so let me hold off until we have an evaluation from our lawyers.
Q: Forgive me if you answered this earlier today, but do you see future implications now for moving the press area because of all these changes being made outside?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I don't see -- none of the decisions affecting Pennsylvania Avenue, in the opinion of the Press Secretary and the Chief of Staff, should affect the working arrangements that currently exist for the press.
Q: So what about with this tunnel idea in Lafayette Park?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's a whole -- there are a range of issues associated with how do you reconfigure the plaza to make it more attractive to the pedestrians who will now have greater access to the front of the White House, and those will be the subject of a review done by the National Planning -- National Capital Planning Commission, which is the interagency commission that looks at those issues. There will also be a -- the 90 day review of traffic issues that the Secretary of Treasury has already discussed.
Q: Whose idea was it to give federal -- all federal employees an extra hour to get to work this morning because of the closing of two blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't know -- you'd have to ask OPM how broadly the directive is extended, but there was discussion in implementation of the Secretary's directives that they should do something to deal with the likely traffic problems. And whatever steps they took, obviously, were semi-successful today, and we'll have to see how coming days go.
Q: And the homeless still allowed to sleep at night in Lafayette Park?
MR. MCCURRY: As the President indicated on Saturday, there's nothing that changes the ability of those who would choose to use the park or the facilities to protest actions of the government. Nothing affects their constitutional right to do so, nor their access to the premises upon which they do it.
Q: Unless they want to do it with a float, right?
MR. MCCURRY: A float? Unless -- that's right.
Q: As in a parade.
MR. MCCURRY: It would be hard to get a float out there, yes.
Q: Can they move their protests closer?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a good question. I would imagine they could if they wanted to do it in the middle of the street.
Q: Is the President going to say anything about this closing in his remarks coming up here?
MR. MCCURRY: At 2:00 p.m.? I don't believe so. No.
Q: If I can then follow up with you -- has he expressed any answer to the question lately of whether or not this shows that terrorists have won?
MR. MCCURRY: He addressed himself to that on Saturday, and he does not believe it does.
Q: Mike, two questions. First, how do you categorize a transit visa when the President Li -- just go from Taipei to Cornell and go back to Taipei?
MR. MCCURRY: I characterize it exactly as Nick Burns, the State Department spokesman, is doing so at the moment.
Q: Can I ask a second question?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure. You can have a second one.
Q: Yes, the second one is, how do you respond to the story that says this is a politically sound decision instead of a diplomatic policy? Is there any disagreement between the State Department and the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: No. There's no disagreement between the Secretary of State and the President on this issue, and it's a decision that's taken for all the proper reasons that are being noted now. It doesn't reflect any change in our policy on the status of our relations with Taiwan. But it does reflect a measure of common sense in allowing an individual to celebrate at a university in a country that values the right to speak freely and values academic recognition and the ties that Americans develop and foreigners develop to the institutions at which they study.
Q: Is the previous inability of people in his position to get a visa, is that associated with all countries or any country with whom we do not have normal diplomatic relations, or is it just that particular case?
MR. MCCURRY: It's specifically the result of policy as set consistent with the one China policy defined by the three communiques in the Taiwan Relations Act.
Q: But ordinary Taiwanese citizens can come here, can they not?
MR. MCCURRY: They can, but there are different questions that arise for those who are officials of the government on Taiwan.
Q: And this is seen as a purely private visit and therefore --
MR. MCCURRY: It is a purely private visit as it's being described.
Q: And the President will not be seeing him?
MR. MCCURRY: He, to my knowledge -- President Li will not be seeing any officials of the United States government.
Q: But didn't the White House force the State Department to back down? Somebody caused to the State Department to change policies?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that is accurate because the Secretary of State speaks for the State Department, and you can inquire further at the State Department on that point --
Q: Does the President agree with Christopher's statement today that --
MR. MCCURRY: Whatever it is, yes. (Laughter.)
Q: No, the Gilman bill, which wages an extraordinary assault on the President's constitutional authority to manage foreign policy. So would he support a veto of this bill? And what does he feel about the Senate --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Secretary of State indicates in his letter, based on the bill and the Constitution issues that arise from the bill, that he would recommend a veto, and the President certainly understands the Secretary's strong feelings on that, and the administration shares many of the concerns that have been raised about the Gilman legislation, and specifically the intrusion on the President's authority to conduct foreign policy. The President does feel very strongly about that.
Q: And the Senate bill?
MR. MCCURRY: In the Senate -- the Senate bill -- I'm not sure the differences -- to be candid, I'm not sure of the differences between H.R. 1561 and whatever's pending in the Senate. So I'd have to take the question.
Q: On the tariff -- the proposed tariffs for the Japanese luxury cars, Ron Brown said today that the -- if the Japanese take it to the World Trade Organization, the United State is, of course, happy to comply with it, whatever the WTO decides. If the WTO decides that these tariffs are not justified, will the Clinton administration back down and not impose these tariffs?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to consult with USTR, and that we do have, unilaterally, our own trade and export laws that do apply, and we have sought action based on that legislation, in addition to going to the WTO and suggest -- seeking remedies through the world organization. But how they -- how they -- whether one supersedes another, I'll have to check at USTR.
Q: As a matter of policy, does the WTO have the final say on whether or not the United States can impose tariffs on imported goods?
MR. MCCURRY: I am not exactly sure how decisions of the WTO integrate with questions that arise under our law. So I'd have to just check into that and get back to you.
Thank you very much.
THE PRESS: Thank you. END 1:34 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/270008