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Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

June 08, 1995

The Briefing Room

1:25 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: Many questions probably, but nothing more to say.

Q: Has the President talked to O'Grady?

MR. MCCURRY: Not yet, Helen. Our understanding is that Captain O'Grady is still resting, and a well-deserved rest that it is. My guess is that he'll talk to the President at some appropriate time later in the day.

Q: Has he been debriefed at all? Has the President gotten any reports on all of the mission?

MR. MCCURRY: We will as it's available, but I'd prefer to have the Pentagon talk about that for operational reasons. They should be in the best position to provide information at the proper time.

Q: Did the President at any point make a decision to send this rescue mission in, or was he just kept apprised of the developments? Did he say yes or no at some point?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he was fully briefed by General Shalikashvili and others about the parameters of any possible rescue mission. This is going back several days. He had a very good idea as Commander in Chief how his forces in the region would respond if there was successful work done on search and rescue. And as that was underway, they were reviewing plans on how they would proceed. So the President was very comfortable with the plans, was apprised several times when it looked like they would be in a position to possibly undertake some activity, and had several opportunities along the way to --

Q: Did he have to give a --

MR. MCCURRY: He was not -- the way the missions were structured since time would be of the essence, the President didn't need to give a go or no go, but he was apprised the minute the mission was underway, and obviously could have taken action if he felt it was not warranted. But to the contrary, I think the President, as he indicated earlier, felt that the judgments of the commanders were correct, and they went ahead even though there were certain risks associated. The President has spoken publicly about that, as you know.

Q: Are those patrols continuing?

MR. MCCURRY: The deny flight patrols? They have been flying sorties over Bosnia or in and around Bosnia, I understand.

Q: Since the incident?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I believe the Pentagon has indicated that.

Q: There were conflicting reports whether the pilot was alive or not from previous days. When did the White House really know that he was alive and emitting signals?

MR. MCCURRY: I think with a higher percent certainty that Captain O'Grady was alive was probably not confirmed to our satisfaction until last evening. But there were indications during the day on Tuesday that were encouraging.

Q: Mike, Senator Kerry was outside, suggesting that retaliation would be appropriate in the form of taking out SAM missile sites. I know you probably don't want to telegraph anything, but have the Bosnian Serbs heard the last of this?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, U.S. senators are free to speculate on military action, but White House spokespeople are not.

Q: Well, have the Bosnian Serbs heard the last of it?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to answer that question.

Q: Mike, is there any thought to having the United States Marines who rescued this Captain to the White House for any kind of ceremony?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, our first and most urgent concern are to allow Captain O'Grady to get some rest. He deserves it. Our second priority is to get him back to his family. I think his family is very anxious to see Captain O'Grady, and the President certainly thinks those are the right priorities. The President is very grateful to the splendid work done by the U.S. Marine Corps, to all of our services, their well-coordinated activity here, good coordination and support from our NATO allies on this U.S. mission. And I think there will be plenty of time for all those who are involved to be properly honored for their good work.

Q: In addition to the radio signals, didn't the other plane, or the wing -- I don't know exactly how they -- the formation, there was another plane in the area -- did they see the pilot eject?

MR. MCCURRY: That's a detail of the mission that I would really refer to the Pentagon. I haven't heard anything in any of the briefings I've seen the Pentagon do that indicates that that's the case. But that really is a better question to direct over there, and they've got some folks who have been briefing today, as you know.

Q: At any time during the six-day period was there ever a sense that the Bosnian Serbs were cooperating in any way or being helpful?

MR. MCCURRY: There was never a sense in which the Bosnian Serbs were providing information that we consider reliable as to the fate of Captain O'Grady.

Q: Would you say that's deliberate?

MR. MCCURRY: I would say that it's consistent with their thoroughly outrageous behavior during the conflict in Bosnia.

Q: But were there trying to find him, too? Was there any sign of that?

MR. MCCURRY: I think there's ample evidence that they were interested in finding him, too.

Q: Mike, did Captain O'Grady ever seen any Serbs in the six days that --

MR. MCCURRY: I will refer to the Pentagon on that. They'll be in the best position to provide information on what Captain O'Grady has said during his debrief.

Q: Some people, in looking back on a mission like this, were thinking, unfortunately, of a failed mission back in 1979 by President Carter. And did that concern ever come up or did the President ever voice the concern that a rescue mission could fall apart?

MR. MCCURRY: The Commander in Chief asked appropriate questions as to the nature of the threat that would exist, how they would work to suppress that threat and how they would configure the missions. But I think he gave a lot of latitude to the military commanders who know best what would be required in the circumstances involving a rescue. But the President was satisfied that they would undertake the missions and do it appropriately structured to maximize the chance for success. And that's the best you can do.

Q: Mike, might we take it from what you have said that from the start that it was assumed that a rescue would be attempted if he could be found, and that it never required an order or no order release was ever given by the President to go in and try to find him?

MR. MCCURRY: It was assumed from the beginning that if U.S. forces were in a position to conduct a rescue, that they should do so. And the President gave his indication that he would certainly want and expect them to proceed, understanding that there would be risk entailed in such a mission, but that the risk, if it was judged by the commanders to be an appropriate risk, is one that was acceptable in his view.

I think the commanders understood that they were proceeding with their planning and with the full support of the Commander in Chief. And I think the President is delighted with the way they planned and successfully supervised the mission.

Q: Mike, this guy was flying on behalf of NATO. From the point he went down, did it then become an American problem to try and get him out, or was this a NATO effort? It sounds like everybody's pretty much talking about just an American chain of command.

MR. MCCURRY: We appreciate very much the support we've had from our NATO allies on various aspects of the operation in Bosnia, but I think it's significant that the President last night addressed his note of congratulations to General Joulwan in his capacity as commander in chief of the European Command.

Q: Was this a combined effort to find him, or simply a --

MR. MCCURRY: This was a U.S. --

Q: -- a U.S. effort? And was that a deliberate decision, or is that the way it is structured?

MR. MCCURRY: This is a U.S. mission undertaken by the U.S. to rescue one of our --

Q: Is there some reason why it was a U.S. mission and not a NATO mission?

MR. MCCURRY: It just was the judgment of the Commander in Chief that this was the best way to proceed, and also consistent with the recommendations of military commanders in the theater, most of whom, as you know, wear dual hats.

Q: Other jets have gone down. Do we have a regular role in rescuing any NATO pilot, or did we take this on simply because it was our boy?

MR. MCCURRY: We have certain capacities under NATO that would be available and have been available, and as you know, we have some contingencies available for emergency extractions as they exist now, consistent with the President's policy.

Q: Weren't there some NATO planes that were used in this recovery?

MR. MCCURRY: There may very well be. I'd really defer -- they may have had some coordinated effort, particularly in the air, and I think it would be more appropriate for folks in Naples to brief on that. Lieutenant General Mike Ryan, who is the air commander for NATO European Command was the overall coordinator of the search and rescue mission, and he obviously is also very closely linked to our NATO allies.

Q: You said there was ample evidence that the Serbs were trying to find them. What evidence?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, among other things, the television pictures many of you have seen -- they clearly have a number of people out looking for them and were displaying evidence about the crash site.

Q: Was this a case where the pilot tried to elude potential captors and get away from populated areas, and is that the reason why he waited, in effect, five days to give location signals?

MR. MCCURRY: Leo, I'm sure it is going to be an outstandingly fascinating tale, but it really is Captain O'Grady's to tell, and it's really up to those who are conducting the debrief with him to appropriately tell that story. I don't have any details that would suggest the answer to that question one way or another, but I am certain they will want to provide them at the appropriate time.

Q: Just for clarification -- you said it was significant that General Joulwan directed the undertaking. Isn't he a NATO commander?

MR. MCCURRY: He wears a dual hat. He is CINCEUR, Commander of the European Command, and also SACCEUR of the Supreme Allied Commander for NATO.

Q: Does that tell -- then why is it significant?

MR. MCCURRY: Because he was -- the President directed the message to him in his capacity as Commander in Chief of the European Command, i.e., wearing his U.S. hat because it was a U.S. operation.

Q: Directed what to him to do what?

MR. MCCURRY: -- that was done last night.

Q: So, in other words, it was done in that role. Well, is there something we are missing here? I mean, did somebody decide along the way that this was to be U.S. only and who did that and --

MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no.

Q: You said that that was a way the Commander in Chief wanted it to be done. Are you talking about the Commander in Chief, Europe or what?

MR. MCCURRY: We have a lot of -- I mean, there is very good and very sophisticated integrated planning within NATO so that they can undertake missions specifically in Bosnia, and then they do general planning of that nature all the time. And there is coordinated activity with the allies when it comes to missions of this nature. But the United States undertook this one, and they undertook it quickly and at the recommendation of the commanders who structured the mission.

Q: Are you looking at this as an example of future rescue missions that could be undertaken under the parameters of the President has been talking about in general?

MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't want to suggest that because obviously we would hope there wouldn't be a need for rescues of this nature in the future.

Q: But this has been described? I mean, this is one of the ways that U.S. troops could be used specifically in emergency rescue operations.

MR. MCCURRY: Look, each and every mission has to -- acquires its own specifics and its own structure and this might be a useful model. It might provide information that is useful to those who would have to plan any such missions, but it wouldn't be right to speculate on the type of missions that might be undertaken in the future. I believe Secretary Perry has indicated well, this is -- it demonstrates a capacity to go in, do a job quickly and get out quickly. But that, I think, is fairly obvious.

Q: Mike, this is a crass commercial question, but what are the rules if the Captain decides to write a book or entertains movie rights? Serious -- I mean this is obviously going to come up.

MR. MCCURRY: You know, I don't know the answer to that. I know that there are restrictions -- my own experience at the State Department, there are some restrictions on your ability to use classified materials or information that relates to an ongoing operation. But I really don't think we need to speculate on that at this moment.

Q: This is another way of asking Jill's question, but is this one of the things the President means when he says there are some roles the U.S. is uniquely suited for?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is -- I think it pretty clearly demonstrates that we have a capacity to do some incredible things, but it also demonstrates that there are integrated capabilities within NATO. And certainly, in search and rescue, the United States has some of the most sophisticated equipment and expertise. That clearly was demonstrated last night, early this morning.

Q: Can you draw from that an inference that because of our unique abilities in this area, that would be why it was a unilateral U.S. --

MR. MCCURRY: No, I think it just -- I mean, I would really prefer to put that question in the province of those who directed and structured the mission. They know best why they structured it this way as the fact that that is the way it was put together. And I think that they are in the best position to explain really how they structured the mission that way.

Q: If I could follow that with another question -- from this podium, you never did give much credence -- any credence -- to the Bosnian claims or the Serb claims that they had captured him. Were there indications as early as Monday that they were lying then? Because you say it wasn't until Tuesday you began getting some sign that Captain O'Grady --

MR. MCCURRY: No, I believe what I said here throughout this period is that there was nothing upon which we would feel comfortable saying we had information that we could share with the public that was -- or we were 100 percent certain about. And that applied certainly to some of the conflicting statements that were made by General Mladic as to the suggestion that they had access to Captain O'Grady and that they were holding him captive.

There wasn't a lot about those statements that we believed at the time, based on what we knew. But on the other hand, what we -- consistent with what I was telling you, we didn't have enough to know for certain ourselves what his fate was at that point. So we couldn't -- we could discount it, but we had to work under the assumption that a variety of things might be true.

Q: Mike, can we change the subject here?

Q: Before you do that, why do you think General Mladic was making up those stories?

MR. MCCURRY: It's anybody's guess --

Q: Horrible. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: -- but is consistent with his behavior and consistent with his conduct as an alleged military officer.

Q: Ohhhh.

Q: Mike, you said that the President in the briefings leading up to the rescue mission was given various risk assessments -- how hazardous the mission might be, and so on.

MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't -- I want to correct that. I don't know that implies something formal. I think he had general discussions with the commanders about the nature of the risk. I don't know if there was specific assessment levels.

Q: My question goes to what the President knew before the rescue mission in terms of a risk. Was he told, for instance, that while there were obvious risks, they were not very, very high because the pilot was in an isolated area?

MR. MCCURRY: He was told a considerable amount about the nature of the risk. In fact, as he spoke publicly just a short while ago, he indicated one aspect of that, which was the concern that with daylight the mission might become riskier. And he indicated that -- his own feeling and the feeling certainly of the commanders that that was a risk worth accepting, given the nature of the mission. But there were other aspects like that. I'm not going to get into all of the calculations, but certainly generally he understood what the risk would be like. And there was some considerable risk.

Q: Mike, was it the President's decision to make this a U.S. operation or was it a commander's decision?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it was a recommendation that was quickly accepted by the Commander in Chief.

Q: -- to pass a resolution to lift the arms embargo. I know they've done this sort of thing before, but is the administration concerned that this whole incident will increase pressure on Congress to do something like that? And what's your reaction to that?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to suggest that the successful rescue of this pilot has any policy implications. I mean, our concerns about lifting the arms embargo are exactly those that we have stated in the past. And they are unchanged as a result of today's incident.

Our concerns are that lifting the arms embargo in effect Americanizes this war because it would have to be done unilaterally. It would require the United States unilaterally to train and equip the Muslims or to give that responsibility presumably to some third party, which might be an unsavory third party. If we took on that responsibility ourselves, which it would be hard to see how you wouldn't morally be compelled to take on that responsibility, telling them that they can now have a fair fight, and then not giving them the equipment necessary to have that fair fight, then not holding the Bosnian Serbs at bay while they were trained and equip so they could have a fair fight would seem to be a fairly repugnant thing to do.

Now, if you proceed on that assumption, and I would think that well-intentioned members of Congress would proceed on that assumption, the United State, a, incurs heavy, heavy financial costs. The U.S. taxpayer incurs heavy financial costs as they equip up the Bosnia Muslims. We also presumably have got a resource requirement to put a lot of trainers and those to protect trainers on the ground in Bosnia so that they can carry out the mission. And we've got a very significant air power calculation with the risk that we've seen very dramatically indicated in recent days as we fly air sorties over Bosnia to presumably bomb Bosnian Serb targets and keep them at bay. That, it seems to me, is a pretty complicated piece of business. And I assume those who are advocating this approach in the Congress are being forthcoming with all of you in explaining how they would do all these things.

Q: The President, he approved the policy that General Shali announced yesterday, that if the reaction -- what do they call it --

Q: Ready reaction force --

Q: -- ready reaction force isn't able to the do the job that they're supposed to do that there will be a pullout in the fall?

MR. MCCURRY: The questions and answers that were delivered by General Shalikashvili and Secretary Perry yesterday went pretty much along the lines that we had anticipated and that had been thoroughly reviewed here at the White House prior to the testimony.

Q: Does the President have any plan to have a telephone conversation with Captain O'Grady?

MR. MCCURRY: We've suggested that might happen, but we don't have any guarantee that that's going to happen.

Q: Mike are all of the hostages out now, or are some still being held?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe there are just under 150 U.N. personnel that are still being detained in some fashion by the Bosnian Serbs. In some cases, their movements are restricted; in other cases, they're actually being detained in specific compounds.

Q: Mike, could the President veto a bill lifting an arts embargo?

MR. MCCURRY: A bill -- it depends on in what fashion it came to him. The current amendment is coming to him on a bill that for other reasons we've indicated we might likely veto.

Q: Could you say what the President was saying on the South Lawn today about Captain O'Grady? He seemed to be saying that Captain O'Grady's training helped make his case for activist government. Is that what he had to say?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that's a bit of a stretch.

Q: Well, wait a minute. It was the President doing the stretching.

MR. MCCURRY: The question --

Q: No, that's precisely what he said.

Q: He cited O'Grady and his training as an example of the kind of thing he said illustrates what government needs to be able to do --

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President's general point is that the effective conduct of this mission, the kind of training that went into it, the kind of expertise and skill and courage shown by Captain O'Grady is something that we need a lot more of in government. I think that's a well-taken point.

Q: Well, does he detect that someone in the Republican ranks up there trying to cut the Pentagon training budget to balance the budget?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that's the point he was addressing. I think he was making a general point about the type of thing that --

Q: I asked. How about that for getting an answer?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll check into it.

Q: Mike, he made an analogy though. He said, his personal responsibility and bravery, coupled with the best training in the world that he got, and then he said it matters if all of you get proper training. I mean, he seemed to definitely be making the analogy that John has suggested.

MR. MCCURRY: I think he was suggesting that good training and good backup and good support from management and having the resources available is something that can make the conduct of the government more efficient and effective. That's, in fact, exactly what we've been trying to do with reinventing government. (Laughter.)

Q: That's a stretch, too.

MR. MCCURRY: I think that answer, the elasticity of that answer matched the elasticity of the question.

Q: Reno today said they would file a brief in the Colorado gay rights case. There had been discussions going on here at the White House on that issue as well. How involved did the White House ultimately get in that decision?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it was the Attorney General's decision based on her reasoning, her examination of the law and the President understands her reasoning and her thinking, and is fully supportive of her determination that they should not file in this case.

Q: Did the President actually play a role in any of the discussions? Was he briefed on this issue? Did he have any say on --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he was aware of it. It's a very prominent case and was aware of the case. I think he generally was aware of some of the issues involved with the discretion that the Justice Department would have to file an amicus brief, but in this case he awaited for the recommendation of the Attorney General prior to --

Q: Isn't that a reversal? That's a reversal --

Q: -- nobody in the White House weighed in?

MR. MCCURRY: No, he has spoken against the Connecticut referendum itself, and has very strong feelings -- I mean, sorry, the Colorado referendum -- and has strong feelings on it, as you know; he's addressed that publicly.

Q: He continues his opposition ?

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. But that's not the matter that was addressed by the Attorney General in looking at whether or not you file an amicus brief. That's a very separate set of issues, and in this case, there was no underlying federal question arising from a federal statute which was, as the Attorney General indicated, a fairly significant point.

Q: So nobody in the White House had weighed in at any level with Justice?

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't say that. I didn't say that.

Q: Well, could you sort of elaborate then on --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, as there often are in these matters, there's discussions back and forth.

Q: Is it fair to say that if he objected to this decision would not have been made?

MR. MCCURRY: That's not necessarily fair to say. I mean, if he had made his views clear to the Attorney General one way or another, as is sometimes the case, that might have had some impact on the thinking, but I am not aware that he did that.

Q: Well, Mike, the rationale that is being given here is that this was not a federal case, that this did not involve federal laws. However, this does deal with an issue that is coming up all across the nation in a number of states and a number of cities and it does have some national impact. Why then is it not appropriate for the federal government to step in and file a brief?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, for all the reasons that the Attorney General indicated today.

Q: Mike, can I just ask this question? President Li of Taiwan is either in or about to come into the United States. Does the Clinton administration have any regrets about this decision given the very negative reaction coming from China?

MR. MCCURRY: The President is confident that this was the right decision. It honors a very cherished principle of democracy here in the United States which is freedom of association. In this case we're letting a individual travel to his alma mater. He is traveling in an unofficial capacity and in a private capacity. And that represents something that we value and cherish in this democracy.

Q: So you won't be seeing him here?

MR. MCCURRY: There is no plan consistent with our policy. As we've articulated it often, there are no plans to have any contact at that level because that would run contrary to our policy.

Q: Any official contact?

MR. MCCURRY: No, he's not having any official contact because he is on an unofficial private visit.

Q: It's not only at that level, it's at all levels. Correct?

MR. MCCURRY: On this visit, that's correct.

Q: I mean, I'm not sure if there is a fine nuance here. I just want to make sure -- is he not going to meet with any U.S. government official?

MR. MCCURRY: If I'm -- my understanding is he will not meet with any representatives of the United States government. I have heard that there are individual members of Congress that plan to see him at some point. I'm not sure what their arrangements are, but that would be outside the purview of the executive branch obviously.

Q: Mike, is the White House troubled by the demonstration by Cuban exiles out in Lafayette Park, and is there any chance they might succeed in getting the administration to reverse its policy on the forced repatriation of Cuban refugees?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we feel strongly about the direction that the President has articulated in our policy. It has been working. It has made a difference and it will provide for safe, legal and orderly migration from Cuba. And we are aware that there are those who dissent from that policy. We're also aware that even within the Cuban-American community, there are those who support it. But that's the right to demonstrate in Lafayette Park is one that is a fairly cherished right.

Q: -- somebody from the White House spoke to them?


Q: Can you explain the action that the President took with the House action on the War Powers Act? Even though he officially opposes it, he did not technically -- I'm not quite sure exactly what is going on. Can you explain?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they had a vote and dispensed with the amendment last night. And we -- our views on the War Powers Act, as are consistent with those of previous Presidents, previous administrations. We would like to see, in particular, elimination of the 60-day withdrawal period. We'd like to see modifications made in the War Powers Act. But at the same time, that doesn't change this President's determination to continue consulting with Congress.

I think he's made -- throughout the two and half years of his Presidency, President Clinton has made close consultation with Congress on matters that arise under the War Powers Act a matter of fact. And we do that type of coordinated consultations because the President understands the need of members of Congress to be fully apprised of decisions on the use of force. At the same time, he retains his constitutional authority, as the executive branch has often seen it, in matters related to the War Powers Act.

Q: There is a report that the North Koreans are now demanding as much as a billion dollars in what you might call accessories for their power plants. Will the President make any more concessions to get them to live up to their agreement, or is he simply talking about implementing what they've already agreed to?

MR. MCCURRY: We have a structured, agreed framework that dates back to October 21st, last year, and there have been a variety of discussions between the DPRK and the United States on that agreed framework. They have been underway in Kuala Lumpur, as you know, and they've been fully discussed over at the State Department. So I don't know of any different posture than the one that's been indicated in many of the briefings that they've been given.

I do know that Ambassador Galucci and Assistant Secretary Lord will be going to Seoul to consult closely with the Republic of Korea. The President talked to President Kim last night, I think as you know, and had a good review of some of the issues underlying that discussion. And our view -- the central issue, is the role that the ROK would play as a participant in the organization providing the lightwater reactor technology to the North. And there have been no change in our view that that role ought to be central.

Q: Nothing for them --

MR. MCCURRY: I am not aware of anything of that nature and they have briefed at great detail over at the State Department on it, so I'd check back through the briefings they've done. And I assume they'll continue to be talking about it.

Q: Mike, back on the Colorado case just for a second. Just to be clear, are you telling us that the administration took no position one way or the other -- the White House took no position --the President -- one way or the other on the case and that you agree with the decision that the Attorney General has made?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that the President understands the reasoning of the Attorney General as she articulated it today and he fully supports her reasoning and her determination that the government not file on this case.

Q: Political question on that. Gay rights issues have dogged this administration from the beginning. You had problems with the gays in the military questions, with which the gay community was in an uproar over. You're have -- the gay community is again, at least in terms of current comments, seems to be angered by this recent decision. How do you deal with this constituency group that helped the President is 1992 with money and with votes, looking ahead to the reelection?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there was a long question there, and I don't -- without accepting any of the premise of the question, I'll say, as we do with a variety of -- any group of Americans that are organized and seek the administration's viewpoints and talk to them. We try to help them understand the direction and thrust of our policy. And if I'm not mistaken there's a group of leaders from various gay organizations that will be here as early as next week sometime. So we continue to keep a close dialogue underway.

Q: For what?

MR. MCCURRY: As they do from time to time, briefings on various aspects of administration's policy. We've done an awful lot that the gay community is rightfully pleased about, that range through, you know, combatting discrimination and making sure that gays are not denied access to certain opportunities within the federal government. And I -- you know, the opportunity to talk about that type of issue is something that the White House will take that opportunity.

Q: Do you think that as Republicans are dealing with moral issues in a campaign way and also in Congress, that issues that deal with gay rights become political thorny for this administration?

MR. MCCURRY: I have no way of judging that. It depends on the issue. I don't think -- this is not a case that involved a lot of political judgments in the eyes of the Attorney General. She was looking at the law.

Q: One more burning question from me. Did Tony actually join the President on the balcony for the smoke-in? What kind of cigars -- what kinds of cigars?

MR. MCCURRY: They were legal, if that's what you're question is. (Laughter.) They were most likely not done under the watchful eye of the First Lady, if that's your second question. And I think it was -- it's not the President's practice to smoke cigars, but I think on this occasion he thought that might be a very nice thing to do.

Q: What time did this happen?

Q: Did Lake, in fact, join him?

MR. MCCURRY: This would have been just after one in the morning.

Q: Did Lake in fact join him?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he went over. They went -- I was telling some people earlier --

Q: Who had the cigars?

MR. MCCURRY: -- when the President got the good news last night that Captain O'Grady had been rescued, he was not at that point of the Kearsarge. Mr. Lake, who had phoned him with that news -- Tony was monitoring the developments over here in the West Wing. He went over to the Residence because he needed -- the President was drafting his congratulatory message to General Joulwan. And Tony asked permission of the -- no, actually he didn't ask -- he said, "With or without permission, Mr. President, I'm going to smoke a cigar." And the President indicated that since he was doing likewise, that Tony should come on over to the Truman Balcony --

Q: How long were they out there?

MR. MCCURRY: -- have a puff together.

Q: Do you know how long they sat out there?

MR. MCCURRY: Not long, because Tony was busy getting other things -- he had to get the message out to General Joulwan and do some other things.

Q: What kind of cigar -- Cuban cigar? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't ask. (Laughter.) I already indicated it was a legal, though somewhat frowned-upon, product.

Q: In the Colorado case, you indicated the President agrees with Reno's view that there's no underlying federal issue. But obviously the lawyers for the gay rights people feel this is a federal issue or else they wouldn't be going to the Supreme Court. The President is a legal and constitutional scholar in his right. If you go back to the early civil rights movement, they were exactly these same debates and discussions as to whether what was happening in the South was a state issue or a federal issue. Isn't he taking a rather cramped view of federal enforcement of civil rights by saying there's no federal issue?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't had an opportunity to review the constitutional issues with the President, so, I'm not in a position to answer that.

Q: Is the President leaning toward outlining his balanced budget alternative all in one fell swoop rather than putting it out in dribs and drabs?

MR. MCCURRY: As he indicated the other night, he'll make that determination himself and make his intervention into this ongoing debate about the budget at a time that he feels is appropriate.

Q: What does the President mean today and some earlier speeches this week when he talks about people who argue that all of the country's problems are cultural and not political and economic? I've not heard anybody say that. It sounds like he's saying people who aren't as aggressive as he is on -- who are more aggressive than he is on the budget deficit think somehow that the problems of the country are all cultural.

MR. MCCURRY: I'll think about the question and ask him.

Q: Does the White House agree with the statement yesterday from Chairman Greenspan about the state of the economy?

MR. MCCURRY: I think we had a pretty good assessment of what our view of the long-range fundamentals of the economy are in the statement that two of the members of the CEA released last week when they looked at the unemployment numbers for May. I think we see prospects -- although we understand that we're into perhaps what some call the bumpy landing, we think we see some prospects for long-sustained growth with low rates of inflation. And the fundamentals are there and, you know, a lot of work that the President has been doing is aimed at making sure we protect those fundamentals so we can enjoy the kind of economic growth and rising incomes that have been one of the central focuses of his work as President.

Q: This is the second day in a row that he's talked about Roger's drug problem in a speech. And I'm just wondering why he's started to do that?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to ask him. I don't know if there is any particular reason.

Q: It wasn't clear to me in your answer earlier to Jill's question. Was a deliberate decision made by the White House not to push for the repeal of the War Powers Act?

MR. MCCURRY: Was a -- well, there is an amendment -- that's an issue that will be around for a long time. And we have worked closely with Congress to address concerns about the War Powers Act that we have. This was not necessarily the right vehicle or the right place to make that type of intervention, but it's surely an issue that will continue to be subject to dispute between the executive and legislative branch.

Q: Well, would this administration advocate the repeal of the War Powers Act?

MR. MCCURRY: We have advocated and would advocate, as have every recent administration, modifications in the War Powers Act, particularly as it relates to the 60-day period.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 2:02 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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