Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
1:16 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House. I start with the following item, courtesy of The New York Times.
"Neither wars, nor rumors of wars, but the popularity among motorists of the White House grounds on summer nights is the reason one of the iron gates on Pennsylvania Avenue is now closed after dark, and a guard stands at the other day and night to tell all comers that only those having appointments may park their cars inside.
"People have been driving in, especially at night, and parking there, the First Lady revealed at a press conference today. And though it is a pleasant place to sit, under the trees, the White House driveway is really not a good trysting place, she said. Too many motorists were attracted by it. As the number of parking parties increased, so did the problem of keeping the driveway open and free of obstruction. Now an extra all-night guard is on duty from dark to dawn to keep it so."
The White House would advise all of you that the North Lawn continues to be a trysting-free turf -- (laughter) -- and we advise you not to tryst out there, those of you who work out there. And we concur in those sentiments expressed by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, September 17, 1939. (Laughter.)
Q: Was that "make war, not love"? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: The headlines in The New York Times on that very day in September 1939 was "Soviet Troops March into Poland. Nazis Demand Warsaw Pact. Give up or be shelled. Fierce battle is raging on Western Front," showing you that, indeed, sometimes the problems of the outside world are considerably more complex than those that we face today.
Interesting. You're speechless. Exactly as I intended to leave you.
Q: What does that have to do with the budget?
MR. MCCURRY: What does that have to do with the budget? The times, they have changed, obviously, if people were trysting out there on the front lawn of the White House as recently as 1939.
Mr. Blitzer, question.
Q: Does the President feel his security is in danger as a result of what happened last night?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely not. The President is confident that, as he said this morning, the Secret Service did a terrific job last night. He felt in no danger at any time, nor did Mrs. Clinton or Chelsea. And they are confident that the Secret Service did the superb job that they do on a day-to-day basis.
Q: Do you think that the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue to traffic may have been seen as a challenge to some people? I know you're worried -- that people may be more emboldened by this?
MR. MCCURRY: I am not an expert on the motives or thinking of those that would attempt to do very silly and foolish things. I would refer you to security experts who suggest that might, in fact, be a case. But on the other hand, that would be speculating on the motive of the assailant in question here. And that will be now a subject for a court of law and for the prosecutors.
Q: But do you have any idea what the motive was?
Q: Has there been any evidence uncovered that this fellow was in any way attempting to reach the President? Did he say anything, has there been any paper trail, anything like that?
MR. MCCURRY: You should -- all questions about motive, about the incident, will now properly be in the hands of the prosecutors who will bring charges against the assailant. And I refer those questions to the Department of Justice appropriately.
Q: Mike, if somebody gets 30 to 50 yards away from the President, how can he not be any danger?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he was, believe me, not in any danger. And the systems here to protect the President when there is an intrusion of this nature worked and worked rather well, obviously.
Q: Just how far did he get, by the way?
MR. MCCURRY: The Secret, I think, was providing the information available on that last night.
Q: Mike, would you reflect the President's view of the fact that there have been this whole bizarre series of incidents going back to and including the plane crash? This is really an unprecedented string of bizarre incidents involving White House security.
MR. MCCURRY: Each of these incidents have got their own facts associated with them. And in this case, someone will bring appropriate -- law enforcement officials will bring charges against the individual responsible for the intrusion. But as a general practice, there's more attention to the issue of White House security. There's been more discussion of those issues. And it raises the awareness that some who -- have misguided motives may have, as they contemplate their own action. It is not -- not each and every one of the incidents around here that present some type of security challenge to those who protect the President, not all of them get reported, because many of them are routine and many of them happen day in and day out.
Q: Are you suggesting that to a degree it feeds on itself?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not suggesting that, no. I'm just saying that there's -- in a climate in which there is a heightened attention and awareness of these issues that might impact the thinking of some individuals. But clearly, we have in place the systems and the protection necessary to respond and, in fact, have just conducted a very extensive review of security around the White House. And we're confident that the President is very wellprotected.
Q: Now that the past security review has resulted in restrictions on motor vehicles, will the President or Secretary Rubin now order a further review to deal with the potential problems of pedestrians that continue around the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as I indicated to some of you this morning, the issue of security around the perimeter of the White House was one of the issues examined by the recently completed Treasury review, and as demonstrated last night, the systems in place in that possibility or that -- at that moment they were working very, very well.
Q: So does that mean that you --
Q: At what point do you --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't contemplate any additional review, having just completed an extensive and successful review.
Q: At what point did he trip an alarm?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a technical question, and if the Service wants to provide details on that, I'll leave it to them.
Q: Following the Oklahoma City bombing, the President said that the --
MR. MCCURRY: Wait a minute, actually, my memory of Mr. Noble's statement last night indicated that when he crossed over, he -- an alarm was tripped. I believe that was in Ken Noble's statement last night.
Q: Not while he was actually on the fence or --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's a technical question I don't know the answer to.
Q: Following the Oklahoma City bombing, the President said that he thought the tone of -- the ugly tone of public discourse lent itself to these kinds of actions. Does he feel that way about the string of events that have occurred here at the White House, that that's been a contributing factor?
MR. MCCURRY: You guys are asking us to speculate as to the motive of an unfortunate individual who made a very bad mistake last night and is now in the custody of the proper law enforcement officials. And we're not -- I am not, and the President is not, going to speculate on the motive of someone who will very likely be prosecuted now. It's just not --
Q: Did the President make a phone call today to the police officer?
MR. MCCURRY: He did, Helen. As I indicated earlier, he did have a good chat earlier in the morning with Officer Giambattista and obviously congratulated him on a job well done and thanked him for the sacrifice he made in performance of his duties and in protecting the White House and the President.
Q: And how about with the other officer who fired the shot?
MR. MCCURRY: He's not spoken to that individual. I don't believe the President knows who that is. That name has not been released -- the name has not been released, as is the routine practice by the Treasury when there is an after-incident inquiry underway.
Q: Speaking of telephone calls, did the President call Speaker Gingrich in search of some kind of last-minute compromise on the rescission bill?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he's -- let me backtrack a little bit. The Chief of Staff has had conversations with Chairman Livingston, Chairman Hatfield. There may have been some discussions as well at a higher level than that. But I can't report to you any progress based on any of those conversations that would indicate anything other than the veto that the President has indicated he will issue in response to the conference report under consideration on the rescissions bill.
Q: Does that mean that they didn't --
MR. MCCURRY: He may have had a conversation or two with the Speaker, but it hasn't led to anywhere that would suggest any compromise on a rescissions package. I think the congressional leadership knows very well what the President is in interested in seeing. He's interested in seeing less pork and more protection for the programs in the rescissions bill that help people. And he's been very specific in saying how they could address that. And we've, indeed, indicated exactly the type of measure both that the President would propose and even one that, while not entirely acceptable, he would sign, which is the Senate-passed version.
Q: Did he soften his position at all?
MR. MCCURRY: No. If you reflect back on the President as long ago as the speech in Dallas indicated that with objections, he would be willing to sign the Senate-passed bill because it was a vast improvement over the House-passed bill, that that would represent, in a sense, a reasonable compromise, and the President's conversations have reflected exactly that position.
Q: So with the Speaker, all he was doing was restating his position, there was no give? He was just saying you know what my position is; if you'll bend we can reach a compromise?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he reiterated where he is on the bill and what might likely be the way in which we could accomplish an objective that the President believes at least some in Congress share, which is significant deficit reduction and significant cuts and outlays in the Fiscal Year '95 budget.
Q: If he didn't move, why make the phone call, if he wasn't willing to offer --
MR. MCCURRY: Because we would prefer to see the deficit reduction accomplished. Remember we're talking here about $16.5 billion reduction in the federal deficit, of which in contention is only 10 percent -- $1.5 billion. And we believe that it would -- we believe that Congress ought to be willing to work with the President to address those differences and achieve deficit reduction that is envisioned in the bill. So that's -- the President's goal here is to get some deficit reduction, but to do it in a way that helps protects some of those programs important to people, and trim some of the excess pork that was not addressed in the bill.
Q: Did you say that Panetta spoke with Gingrich, or the President spoke with Gingrich?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the President may have had a conversation or two with the Speaker.
Q: When was that -- today?
Q: Did he or didn't he?
MR. MCCURRY: The Associated Press is reporting they talked last night, based on Hill --
Q: Is the Associated Press, the world's largest newsgathering organization, accurate in this respect?
MR. MCCURRY: They probably are. They usually are pretty good at reporting.
Q: The Republican position is they'll accept all the President's requests to eliminate the so-called pork, all the President's requests for cuts they'll accept. But they're not going to add any additional funding.
MR. MCCURRY: Do tell. You know more about this conversation than I do. You should --
Q: I'm just saying what they're saying publicly. They're saying publicly, we'll accept the requests for the elimination of all the pork, but we're not going to accept any additional spending for the President's pet projects.
MR. MCCURRY: They've had some conversations. I think I've told you what I'm going to tell you about them.
Moving on, Mr. Harris.
Q: When did this stuff become pork? At the beginning of the administration, the President said this was an infrastructure crisis and a lot of this was in the so-called stimulus package that was right out of the gate.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, in a perfect world in which you could make capital investments and improve the long-term health of the American economy, you would make some of these investments in physical infrastructure, and you would make some improvements in the operation of the federal government, including courthouses and some of the items that were contained in previous past bills.
We're not in a perfect world now. We're in an environment in which the President and the Congress share the objective of making additional reductions in the federal budget deficit and that requires some hard choices. It means some communities don't get the roads that they want, the courthouses that they want. But in the President's view, that's the price you pay if you want to protect programs that help individual Americans get the jobs and training and skills that they need to be productive, participating members of the economy for the long-term, so they can generate additional wealth and additional economic activity. That's a better investment for the marginal dollar invested when you've got to make tough choices about how to invest that dollar.
Q: Did the Speaker indicate --
MR. MCCURRY: You're thinking about that answer, aren't you? Good. (Laughter.)
Q: Did the Speaker indicate to the President or to Mr. Panetta --
MR. MCCURRY: I already did that one.
Q: Wait, wait -- why don't you let me ask the question?
MR. MCCURRY: All right, go ahead.
Q: that the House and the Speaker is interested in finding some sort of compromise to avoid sending a bill to the President that he would veto?
MR. MCCURRY: I think -- you can imagine that both the congressional leadership and the President would like to avoid the situation where there is no progress on deficit reduction because there's the certain -- certainty of a veto by the President of a bill that the President won't accept. I think both the Speaker and the President have both indicated in many ways publicly that they're looking for ways to try to avoid that eventuality and to achieve the deficit reduction that the President wants and presumably that the Speaker wants as well.
Q: Is part of the impetus to get this done before they leave tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it may have been, but that doesn't look like it's the likelihood now. I don't think that's going to go anywhere.
Q: The President initiated the call?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I -- there have been, as you can tell from my description earlier, a variety of conversations back and forth, and maybe some conversations that grew out of the conversations that the staff and chair level, lower level -- I'm making this very murky. (Laughter.)
Q: That sounds like evolutionary evolution.
MR. MCCURRY: It's evolutionary. That's a good word.
Q: Who picked up the phone first last night?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I actually don't know the answer to that, Todd. I know that they --
Q: Do you know what time?
MR. MCCURRY: I know that there were some conversations back and forth.
Q: Why are so reluctant to say the President talked to Gingrich?
MR. MCCURRY: I just said that about two or three times already.
Q: But you fuzzied it up so much that --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, well, you know.
Q: We had to schlepp it out of you.
MR. MCCURRY: You don't schlepp something -- there's got to be a better Yiddish verb than schlepp for that. (Laughter.)
All right, what else?
Q: Mike, is the President still planning to meet with Dr. Foster in the morning, and what effect, if any, do you think this delay has?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. The delay of the consideration of the bill? I don't know. I read somewhere in the paper today that it was a result of the desire to clear the decks for the Senate vote today on the budget resolution.
Q: additional days have any effect on it one way or the other?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we don't. And the issues are the same and the quality of the nomination is the same. And Dr. Foster's nomination, we believe and we hope, once considered by the full Senate after committee action, will be favorably received and he will be confirmed.
Q: What's the setting for that meeting tomorrow? What time and --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. You can check later on with the Press Office.
Q: Is there any movement on the foreign policy issues the President talked about yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The bill is on the floor today and we are hopeful. There are a series of amendments that will be offered that we hope would at least make improvement in the legislation. We'll watch that very carefully. But the President's ultimate concern about the scope of the bill and the infringement on his ability as President to conduct foreign policy remains as he stated yesterday.
Q: I'm a little confused how the President feels he can contribute to the budget process if he waits until conference to --
MR. MCCURRY: You want to torture me again, the way we went through yesterday?
Q: I do.
MR. MCCURRY: Fine, fine.
Q: a better answer than the one we had yesterday.
MR. MCCURRY: I gave great answers yesterday. (Laughter.) Yesterday's -- whatever I said yesterday, it stands. Those were great answers. (Laughter.)
Q: Which appeared nowhere. They went into the great ether.
Q: What does the President hope to see, if anything, out of the conference on trade in Northern Ireland?
MR. MCCURRY: They'll be doing both at State Department and then here tomorrow -- we'll be able to tell you a lot more about the conference. But let me just run through a little bit. I think you all know that we have been very actively engaged in the peace process in Northern Ireland and very pleased by the significant progress that's been made towards reconciliation.
The White House Conference on Trade and Investment in Ireland I think will be a way to underscore that role that we would play. And some have called it -- not necessarily that we heap praise upon ourselves -- but some have called it a pivotal role that we've played in that process.
We want to underscore that by outlining the opportunities that exist for private sector trade and investment in Northern Ireland and in the surrounding counties. And to that end, there will be several hundred British and U.S. private entrepreneurs gathering at the Sheraton over the next several days for a series of conversations about how to do that; how to make additional investments through the International Fund for Ireland, which the U.S. contributes to and which we've indicated a desire to strengthen our participation with additional resources. And there will be discussions, really, of that nature.
Our interest in the conference is economic. I think most of you are aware that there will be some political discussions on the margins of the conference as well that might be significant and might lend additional momentum to the peace discussions that have been underway. But the President is confident that the result of the two day will be additional progress towards the economic support for a peace process in Ireland that gives us all great cause for optimism.
Q: Mike, what's the status of the affirmative action review, and has the President actually begun looking at different options as it deals with affirmative action?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has been a vigorous participant in some of the discussions that have been underway during a course of the review. I would suggest that he has been shaping some of the conclusions and the recommended policy options that will be available to him as he concludes the review. But it is still underway and I won't want to speculate any more than I have earlier in the week about when it might be concluded.
Q: Mike, quick follow-up. In terms of the commencement address next week, is there still some possibility that this may be the subject of --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard that suggested any time recently.
Q: You hinted last week that the decision, Supreme Court decision regarding the Maryland scholarship might slow things down. Is that so?
MR. MCCURRY: Not as it's been examined by the Legal Counsel. It appears that the Court has not rendered any guidance on the policy issues underlying that case by not granting cert. Therefore, the review itself continues with no change in the current schedule.
Q: Given how long it's taken you to do this, has there been any thought given to just waiting until Adarand comes down, since the Court's going to go out fairly soon? I mean, originally you said you didn't want to wait for the Court on that one because that has much more pertinence to the set-aside issues.
MR. MCCURRY: There is a sense that we should not determine the timing of such an important policy review based on what we think the schedule at the Supreme Court might be.
Q: Mike, could expect a statement of principles or a nuts and bolts critique -- we like this program, we don't like this program -- when this comes out?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not entirely clear to me at this point, but it will address some of the issues connected with affirmative action with some specificity.
What's that? Are you trying to decide whether that's enough?
Q: On the other hand -- on the other hand.
Q: What direction -- the President's proposal about the sale of this plane to Pakistan a few years ago?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I've got -- I don't think many things have changed in the President's thinking on that since Prime Minister Bhutto was here. The Pressler sanctions are in place, but our leverage that exists as a result of the Pressler sanctions on Pakistan to meet our nonproliferation concerns have decreased over time. I think people are aware of that. And the President indicated they are seeking ways -- we've got a problem here that exists which is we've accepted payment for weapons system, aircraft, specifically, that has not been delivered. They're looking at that issue and how they might deal with that issue.
Q: Will this proposal be acceptable to the President? I mean, a sale to a third country like Taiwan, for instance?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on that right now.
Q: Mike, to torture you a little more. The variety of conversations that took place yesterday you said essentially ended in failure in attempts to find some ground on which to compromise. Does that mean essentially -- will there be another --
MR. MCCURRY: Failure -- what a pessimistic word -- failure.
Q: Collapse? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I said there was nothing about those discussions at the moment that would lead me to report to you anything other than the President's determination to veto the HouseSenate Conference report as it's currently written.
Q: Are they going on -- are they continuing now at that level?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, yeah, higher level. You know, talks here and there maybe.
Q: Higher level than the President of the United States? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Higher than a Chief of Staff.
Q: Hillary? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: The highest level. I guess, Helen, you're right. It's the next highest level.
Q: Were these discussions among the things going on with Mr. Panetta and the President last night in the residence at the time of his pizza delivery on the lawn? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I heard a White House Press Secretary sort of hint at that earlier today, and it turns out that was true, yes.
Q: Was he on the phone with the Speaker at that moment?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Not at that precise moment.
Q: When was he on the phone with the Speaker?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, there were calls and they were --
Q: previously to that?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, there were calls very late into the evening and perhaps even into the wee hours of the morning.
Q: What did they say?
MR. MCCURRY: I told you. They didn't result in anything.
Q: When does he get the --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't know. I don't think the Senate has acted, and that was part of the question -- is are you going to get -- is there any chance of getting something that would meet the President's concerns, and it doesn't look like that's the case.
Q: Were you encouraged by the fact that the Senate appears to have delayed any final vote on the rescissions at least until tomorrow? They were going to do it today.
MR. MCCURRY: That may or may not be significant. We don't have any way of knowing. Don't know what motive -- what's the motive there? Don't know.
Anything else? All right. See you all tomorrow.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:39 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/270011