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Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

June 19, 1995

The Briefing Room

1:10 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: All right, let's start. All right, now, Corey Pavin -- who knows the story? Who wants to tell me the story, because it's news. He's playing in the Kemper Open, he's struggling. Let's be candid, he's struggling a bit -- okay. He goes out to Army-Navy Country Club, he plays with the First Golfer -- all right. What happens? The next day he goes and blisters the course, shooting a 63, which was -- what? -- about eight under -- and gets himself into playoff, losing just narrowly in a playoff. And then what happens one week later? There at the U.S. Open wins the tournament.

Q: Is the President claiming credit --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not claiming credit, I'm just pointing out facts -- right. Facts. We deal with facts here at the White House Briefing Room, and them's the facts. Corey Pavin played golf with the President of the United States and they gave pointers to each other and the President's pointers must have been pretty good, right. (Laughter.)

Q: So Corey took Mulligans when nobody was looking? (Laughter.)

Q: Oooh.

MR. MCCURRY: The U.S. Golf Association carefully monitors the taking of Mulligans at the U.S. Open, believe you me.

Q: How far from 63 was the President that day?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know, but he played with the Prime Minister of Canada on Saturday, and I am told, reliably, by the Deputy White House Press Secretary that he shot a 78 -- 78.

MS. TERZANO: Par 67; 11 over.

MR. MCCURRY: I think they only -- the President, as is his custom, only does the tradition of first tee Mulligans, known to every golfer as being a perfectly acceptable, constitutionally protected -- (laughter) -- rite of golf.

Q: Is the President playing too much golf?

MR. MCCURRY: No, he doesn't play enough. In the opinion of this loyal staffer, he should play as often as he can. And he enjoys it and it helps him think.

Q: Is there something happening on civil aviation. Federal Express?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I am aware of.

Q: No wonder his speaking is zig-zaggy.

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, Helen.

Carl, you look like you have a real question.

Q: I do. In the last seven days The Baltimore Sun has had a series running that --

MR. MCCURRY: And a fascinating series it has been, for those of you who have not seen it.

Q: -- showed that there were death squads, CIA-trained death squads operating in Honduras in the '80s and that the State Department knew of this and covered it up, and that the cover-up was led by the Ambassador, named Negroponte, who's now -- who Bill Clinton appointed Ambassador to the Philippines in 1993. I'd like to know if the White House has any comment.

MR. MCCURRY: The only White House comment that we can offer is that these are matters which were looked at very carefully by congressional intelligence oversights committees during the course of the 1980s. They were also investigated by the CIA's Inspector General, and they were done so under President Clinton's predecessor. So I'd direct you to former officials who can ask you more -- tell you more about the nature of the investigations and oversight they did, as well as the appropriate congressional investigations.

Q: Senator Leahy told our reports that if he had known what he knows now, policy might have been different. It seems that some of these facts are just now coming to light. Does the White House or the State Department want to question the Ambassador to the Philippines about these things, because that's the part that relates to the President -- is that he's an Ambassador that he appointed.

MR. MCCURRY: The Clinton administration, rather than dwelling on these events, that are now well over a decade old, has been looking forward. And we've probably been placing our policy related to Honduras and human rights in the future and have been pressing our own concerns. We report annually on human rights conditions in Honduras. And I'd direct you to the most recently available human rights country report for Honduras, which is a very thorough review.

Q: Mike, it's being reported out of Tokyo that Ambassador Mondale and an embassy official, a U.S. embassy official there have been working out some kind of compromise on the auto trade deal by which the Japanese would agree to include more American car parts in Japanese-made autos if President Clinton would call off the tariff.

MR. MCCURRY: The President couldn't have been clearer in addressing where we are in the Japanese auto talks. We have from time to time met with private sector representatives through the embassy in Tokyo, which is a normal part of the economic reporting that an embassy staff would do in any event. But the venue for further discussion is clearly the sessions coming up in Geneva, and the President's disposition as to those negotiations was made very clear in Halifax that June 28th is a firm deadline and he is prepared to invoke sanctions should there not be a negotiated settlement -- a negotiated settlement, of course, being the preference of the United States and we presume the preference of the government of Japan, as well.

Q: But a negotiated settlement could include a compromise, as is being reported out of Tokyo.

MR. MCCURRY: I decline to speculate on any substance of the discussions that will occur.

Q: Would the President settle for less?

MR. MCCURRY: I decline to speculate on the substance of the discussions that will occur later this week.

Q: Would the President settle for less than an opening of the Japanese --

MR. MCCURRY: I decline to speculate on the substance.

Q: Mike, has Vice President Gore have any contact with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and what kind of monitoring is going on here of the situation in Chechnya?

MR. MCCURRY: I would have to check. I don't know the answer to that. I know that there have been contacts through our embassy with the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow just to make sure that we understand the situation. They have facts available for our government.

Q: Well, does the U.S. sort of favor the Chernomyrdin approach more than the Yeltsin approach to solving this crisis? Do you have any comment?

MR. MCCURRY: The President, as he made very clear, believes that an agreement that could result in reconciliation between the people of Chechnya and Russia is the most important thing and that the way to achieve that reconciliation is through negotiation rather than a cycle of violence, as he said on Saturday during his meeting with President Yeltsin.

Q: So is that a yes?

MR. MCCURRY: No, it's a -- I'm not commenting on the efforts to release hostages, I'm commenting on the overall effort to achieve some type of negotiated settlement to the conflict.

Q: Excuse me, but Chernomyrdin went beyond the hostage issue on to negotiated settlements.

MR. MCCURRY: Chernomyrdin appeared to be willing to attempt to negotiate release of hostages and also addressed himself to the very same thing the that President did, which was the growing cycle of violence.

Q: Is the President thinking of resuming nuclear testing?

MR. MCCURRY: There have been a lot of discussions underway within the United States government because of the approaching negotiations on the comprehensive test ban. One aspect of what we might end up with under a comprehensive test ban regime are different procedures for correct stewardship of existing nuclear stockpiles. So within our government, we've been looking at those types of questions, but the President has not been given any recommendation related to those issues. The President, as you know, has declared a moratorium which is in effect until September of 1996 on nuclear testing.

Q: Wouldn't that be a contradiction of condemning other people's resuming of testing and so forth, and going ahead?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've always made clear within the context of negotiating a comprehensive test ban that there should be provisions made for stewardship of existing stockpiles to assure their safety and reliability.

Q: Everybody could always use that excuse ad infinitum.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's not the issues that arises in the matters that are being explored now within our government. Again, I'd stress that there are no recommendations pending before the President that would lead to a resumption of testing.

Q: When is the meeting? Is there going to be a meeting here, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check.

Q: Again, on the civil aviation thing, are you steering us -- are saying there is no breakthrough, or you need --

MR. MCCURRY: I just have -- we need to check on it, or you could check at USTR -- it would probably be faster.

Q: What was the President's opinion of Mr. Yeltsin's demeanor and behavior in Halifax?

MR. MCCURRY: He found the President in their private session very sharp, very passionate, particularly on the question of Chechnya. And as they covered a range of matters related to security and Europe, the Partnership for Peace, the approaching Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, he found the President well-briefed.

Q: Mike, the President will be meeting with some campaign supporters in the East Room at 5:00 p.m. and then he does his first Clinton-Gore campaign fundraiser Thursday night. And then Friday he does one of these reunions with the Clintons and the Gores in Little Rock.

MR. MCCURRY: Are you on Inside Politics today?

Q: Maybe.

MR. MCCURRY: What's going on?

Q: It depends on you.

MR. MCCURRY: I'll disappoint you, I'm sure.

Q: Is the President already in his campaign mode?

MR. MCCURRY: No, the President is in his presidential mode.

Q: Come on.

Q: Let me just follow up, if I could. What are all of these political -- really political events this week indicative of?

MR. MCCURRY: It's about raising money, Wolf. You've got to -- if you want to have a campaign down the road, you've got to raise money. But that is usually -- it's a wise thing to go out and raise the money and then spend it when the campaign comes in. As you well know, the campaign is not yet come.

Q: I think you just made IP, Mike. (Laughter.)

Q: Did the President already videotape or film some sort of commercials that Dick Morris is orchestrating?

MR. MCCURRY: The President -- tactically we, the White House and the President work with the Democratic National Committee from time to time to examine the best ways to articulate the President's record and achievement to the American people. But far be it for me to comment on this type of tactical question, which I would leave for those who are much more consumed with politics.

Q: To follow up on Carl's question, Honduran officials and human rights groups are asking the U.S. government to declassify records and cables from the '80s. Is the U.S. willing to do that?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the administration has a very strong commitment to declassification and to openness in records, but there is an established procedure at the national security agencies, including the CIA, the State Department, the Pentagon, here at the NSC, for doing so. I can look into the question of whether there is any additional release that has been suggested, but in the normal routine of releasing materials about the foreign policy of the United States, they would examine the body of material available with a standard that would suggest maximum possible disclosure and openness.

Q: Was the President aware of all this stuff on Negroponte before he appointed him?

Q: Mike, are these people here at 5:00 p.m., are they major donors --

MR. MCCURRY: It's like -- Ann, I believe it's sort of the emerging finance board, finance committee of the Clinton-Gore '96. Those are the folks who will be here.

Q: So it totals like 200 people. Are they like a couple per state or --

MR. MCCURRY: We'll have to check. Maybe you can check -- Ginny can run that down for you.

Q: How much money have they raised?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.

Q: As we head in --

MR. MCCURRY: More to follow.

Q: -- this fundraising season here, I am assuming that President Clinton, like the previous three or four presidents, will have open their major fundraising events, the remarks of those events. Am I correct in assuming that?

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, you're correct in assuming that we will very definitely and correctly address that question. I haven't looked. We're going to -- we are looking at the question of how we would handle the fundraisers later in the week, in particular.

Q: You mean, you wouldn't consider closing them, would you?

MR. MCCURRY: I considering doing what's appropriate. And we'll let you know what's appropriate.

Q: Thursday night in New Jersey at the fundraiser, will that be open? Will we be able to --

MR. MCCURRY: We'll let you know when we decide.

Q: You haven't decided?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't talked to anybody. There have been -- a couple people who have discussed it. I just haven't had a chance to visit with them about it.

Q: Why would they be closed?

Q: Why would you possibly close them?

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't even suggest that they would be closed. I just haven't had a chance to visit with the staff to see what the arrangements are. As you know, on major presidential events we have -- sometimes let the pool in, sometimes we have different types of coverage available. And as soon as I check with the staff, we'll let you know.

Q: And who would make the call on that? Would that be Chief of Staff level?

MR. MCCURRY: It would be me talking to the Chief of Staff and others. Sure.

Q: When the Congress was in Democratic hands, President Clinton considered the Congressional Budget Office to be reliable and unbiased. Now, when they come in with a different estimate, he considers it to be off, and the Chief of Staff yesterday said that 42 percent was no big deal. Well, it is a big deal over 10 years.

MR. MCCURRY: Nobody suggested that they are -- quote, unquote -- "off." We suggested that the OMB has produced a series of projections and budget assumptions that we consider more reliable as we do the hard work of planning the long-range economic security of the country through the drafting of a budget.

Now, we have got two years of experience now through the projections of the current OMB. And they have proven to be enormously reliable. And as you know from the statement Dr. Rivlin released late last week, our budget assumptions and projections are much closer to the blue chip forecasts that are available. The disagreements, the technical disagreements that exist between the CBO and OMB are rather minor, I would suggest to you. And it should not pose any difficulty at all if Congress wants to step forward and respond to the President's willingness to articulate a 10-year balanced budget plan, should pose no impediment at all to getting down to the serious business of writing a budget that leads to balance within a decade.

Q: When you came into office they didn't say that they were inexperienced, they said that the CBO numbers were considered less partisan. You're not accusing them of being partisan now, are you?

MR. MCCURRY: No, not at all. But there has been a change at the CBO, so there's a different cast of officials at that entity. And we have now had two years of proven ability to make correct budget assumptions that are reliable, that are economically correct. And the President considers those assumptions built into his budget enormously reliable.

Q: Mike, last week, at the end of the week, Friday, the House Budget Committee Chairman called the -- well, said the White House is relying on rosey scenarios for the budget. The Senate Budget Committee Chairs, Domenici said that they were off the mark, the numbers are off the mark. Can you respond to specifically to those statements?

MR. MCCURRY: We did -- we did last week in the statement that you have from Dr. Rivlin.

Q: But the point is that, as you know, the Congress is bound by the CBO figures. So what point is there to the administration to stand by their own figures when that really cannot be used --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, look, the figures are less important -- hard choices and decisions that go into writing the budget. And there's nothing -- you can wave in front of you any set of assumptions or projections that you want, but you still, at the end of the day, have to come back and make the hard choices that would lead to budget policies that bring the budget more into balance.

Now, the President has done that. The Republicans are struggling with that. The Republicans can't decide what type of welfare reform they want. They can't decide what type of tax cut they want. So they have got to come reckon with the tough decisions that go into drafting a budget.

The President has now done that, has offered his suggestions. The Republicans will sooner or later resolve the conflicts in their ranks, and then they will presumably want to come forward and meet the President and get on with the business of drafting a budget. But for the time being, technical disputes about budget assumptions should not stand in the way of the work that must be done.

Q: When push comes to shove, are you saying then that you would accept the CBO figures --

MR. MCCURRY: Our numbers are reliable, and the OMB's budget assumptions can be -- you can take them yourself, and go walk into any macroeconomic firm that does macroeconomic projections, econo-metric analysis, and say, does this stand up or not? And you can go back and report to the American people whether or not those are good numbers. And we would suggest to you, since they fall into an area -- there's no certainty, as you do projections. Lord knows, economists have trouble predicting anything about the future of the economy. But given the available forecasts and the available analysis, our budget projections and assumptions stack up very well to the leading indicators that are available.

And the technical disagreements with the CBO are fairly minor. I mean, they make some adjustments on interest rates that they did not even apply to the House and Senate budget resolutions. They are applying that standard to us when they did not score the House and Senate resolutions in that fashion.

So we are -- look, this is a technical debate between budget wonks. And it's not -- it's a fundamental question of what the budget -- what decisions will go into drafting the budget.

Q: If this is just a technical debate, why did you give them another tool that they could bash your budget with and say that it was phoney and didn't add up? It just -- politically, it doesn't make any sense.

MR. MCCURRY: You know, we use -- the administration, as you would imagine, uses those budget assumptions that underlie the economic policies of the administration. They come from the OMB.

Q: -- trying to make a political statement about hard choices. You say the figures are less important. Then why give them the chance to say that your budget doesn't give --

MR. MCCURRY: You're missing my point. The budget assumptions have got nothing to do with the decisions you have to make as to cutting various programs, addressing the budgeting for various component parts and functions within the budget. And that's the work that's got to be done. And that's what the President would suggest the Congress and the President should work on.

Q: On that note, Mike,there are members both in the Democratic and Republican parties who are interested in seeing more details about how those hard decisions would be implemented. When can they look forward to getting some more details from the White House?

MR. MCCURRY: During the mark-up process on various appropriations bills as they come forward.

Q: So they're not going to get the chance to look at anything --

MR. MCCURRY: Unless there is some change, unless the President -- unless there is some change in the way they wish to conduct the current House-Senate Conference.

Q: But that invitation has to come from them?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they are the ones drafting the legislation now. And they've got a presentation from the President on what his views are. The President would be more than delighted, if invited, to provide additional details in the course of a reasonable discussion that's aiming towards real results for the American people.

Q: But if he has a budget proposals that's the right way, and he knows what the details are, and he wants them to take it seriously now as part of the budget resolution process, why doesn't he put those details out now?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, because they -- we're going to do that in a course of working with them to draft a resolution. We're certainly not going to come up, stand up, put out these details and then have the Republicans blithely dismiss them, you know, using, oh, these don't match CBO scoring and we should use CBO's numbers. I mean, there has to be a demonstration on the part of those responsible in Congress that they want to work with the President to get the job done.

You know, we can skirmish back and forth all you want on whose assumptions are right, but that's -- those are avoidance mechanisms. You know, if they want to get serious, they'll call the President up and they'll say, look, you've got a lot of good ideas here. Let's start working on this budget; let's give the American people the result that they expect from the Congress and from the President.

Ms. Devroy.

Q: Is the administration nearing an agreement on the rescission bill?

MR. MCCURRY: There have been some good discussions that have led to some progress, I am told. But they ain't there yet.

Q: Mike, can I follow up on that?


Q: What exactly is the administration's position on the timber salvage dispute over the rescissions bill? Where does --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to summarize it. It's the one that's been in all the documents that we have released in the Statement of Administration Policies on that provision.

Q: Is the administration willing to reconsider its -- that seems to be the main sticking point on a compromise.

MR. MCCURRY: It's not at all clear that that's the main sticking point.

Q: The White House has been critical of the Domenici budget plan for having a fiscal dividend in it. Yet, the White House uses that itself in order to balance the budget by 2005. How do you explain the contradiction?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'd have to go take the question and ask some of our budget experts. I'm not sure exactly which provision you're referring to.

Q: The interest savings.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the interest savings that we -- I mean, that goes to the heart of how you calculate the interest savings, and we think we've done the right job in looking at what we would measure to be the reduction of interest rates resulting from the President's movement towards --

Q: -- you use their number.

MR. MCCURRY: Look, we used part of their number. I mean, the concern more has been that the fiscal dividend that's been lying in the Senate budget resolution is going to be spent on tax cuts. Everybody knows that, and there have been plenty of suggestions during the course of the Senate's deliberation on the budget resolution that that's exactly what they intend. In fact, they've had senators say that they're going to try to adopt the Senate position in conference.

Q: When the President spoke on the balanced budget amendment, he kind of went back and forth and he seemed to suggest he might be for one under certain conditions. But then he said he was against it because the Republicans hadn't showed him a road map to how they get to the balanced budget. Now that there's an emerging seven-year Republican plan, he has his own ten-year detailed plan. Are there any circumstances under which he might change his position and support some kind of balanced budget amendment?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, the President has gone a very long way towards addressing the goal of a balanced budget in the presentation of his budget. The Chief of Staff has suggested there might be some give and take in that presentation, but it would depend on the willingness, a good faith effort on the part of this Congress, a willingness on their part, to come forward and try to get the job done.

Now, that's what we're waiting to see now. We're waiting to see do the -- are the Republicans serious, or do they just want to move in the direction that they already know the President has said is the wrong way and will lead to a standoff that's going to produce vetoes and a crisis for this government as we go towards October 1st. Either they want a deal and they want to get serious about this, or they don't. We don't know yet whether they're

serious. Of course, we don't know a lot of things about their budget at this point.

Q: -- remains opposed to an amendment to the Constitution -- there's no circumstance under which he might change it?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, amendments to the -- in the category of avoidance mechanisms, the constitutional balanced budget amendments and debates on those, is a very good way to avoid the kind of decisions that go into writing a budget. The way you write a budget is the way the President has done. You sit down, you make hard choices, and then you work to implement the policies. And that's -- time spend on getting on with the business of writing the budget is far preferable than debating a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. In any event, it's not smart, in the President's view, to write fiscal policy into the Constitution.

Q: You said this morning that you would talk to the President about affirmative action before you told us what he plans to do about it. Have you?


Q: When are you going to do it?

MR. MCCURRY: When I see him I'll probably have -- the subject will arise.

Q: What about the Fed nomination --

MR. MCCURRY: Nothing new on that I am told.

Q: Any word on the President of Vietnam coming to the United States?

MR. MCCURRY: It's not President, it's Deputy Prime Minister, or is it --

Q: It's the President of Vietnam -- that's what the wire story said.

MR. MCCURRY: It's going -- apparently --

Q: That was, what, October for the U.N.?

MR. MCCURRY: No, it's for the upcoming -- yes, it's in October. I don't really have -- we don't have a lot more than what's on the wires. Is that right? Because the wire stories are saying that the Vietnamese President will visit the U.N. in October for the U.N. commemoration activities.

Q: Mike, what form do you think this cooperation with Congress to show good faith ought to take? Should it take the form of Panetta meeting with folks on the Hill, or lower-level staff, or how do you advance down this road of cooperation?

MR. MCCURRY: It should take whatever form will lead to real results in the President's view.

Q: Did he see any sign that this is working down this way?

MR. MCCURRY: Not so far.

Q: Mike, it's been a couple of months since the bombing in Oklahoma City. What's the status of that 60-day review of the federal building security?

MR. MCCURRY: It's in it's final stages. A draft has been reviewed by the Deputy Attorney General and should be ready for presentation to the Attorney General soon. The Attorney General will then deliver the final report to the President. And we think that will probably happen in the next few weeks.

Q: Mike, there's a couple of questions on the glove incident. Why did the President feel compelled to write an apology when you had already made statements and the Secret Service and Treasury had already made statements?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President felt personally that he would like to apologize to those gay elected leaders who encountered that difficulty when they came here.

Q: Also, it's policy -- it has been policy for well over a year that the Secret Service issues gloves and recommends that people who go through -- agents that go through baggage and do frisking wear the gloves. So why would you apologize for what's been policy?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, you're making a sweeping judgment on what policy is and is not, and the Treasury is looking at that question now. So you might want to look at them for a more detailed explanation of the policy.

Q: And the last thing. What's the White House view at all on unionizing the uniformed Secret Service? They had asked the White House for collective bargaining rights and they got an indication that --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer, I'd have to check with administration and find out.

Q: Did any of those gay leaders mention this incident to the President or anybody at the White House --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they met with White House officials just after they encountered the difficulty upon entering the campus.

Q: Was there any discussion of that during that --

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, it came up in the session.

Q: Oh, the President was involved in that discussion?

MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no, the President was not involved, but it came up during the course of their meeting with White House officials. The difficulty they encountered was raised as an issue.

Q: What's your Dr. Foster prognosis now?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, Dr. Foster had what we considered a very productive meeting with Senator Dole today, and we hope that the Majority Leader, working with the Minority Leader, will be able to find the time soon for the consideration of the nomination.

Q: Did you get any kind of a promise? Not you, per se, but --

MR. MCCURRY: That's up to Senator Dole to say, not us.

Q: Have you gotten a response from Gingrich on the political reform letter?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't think so. Have we gotten a return letter? No. But we will be interested in his reflections on the President's ideas, and we would certainly be willing to consider any amendments or other suggestions that the Speaker might have so we can move the New Hampshire handshake agreement forward.

Q: Do you have any reaction to the Supreme Court's refusal to review the --

MR. MCCURRY: No. We've got -- there have been a number of opinions issued by the Court today, and the legal counsel has been looking at them and we'll comment on them once we've had an opportunity to study them more carefully.

Q: How does the President go about mollifying the Democrats who are so upset about the budget?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, working with them and pointing out to them that by coming forward with his own proposal it is far more likely that we will head off more difficult measures which would certainly run counter to the interests of many of those very constituents that those members of Congress are concerned about.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:38 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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