Bill Clinton photo

Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

June 29, 1995

The Briefing Room

10:35 A.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the White House, and thank you for arriving here this morning, as we glide into a holiday weekend.

Let me start with a statement. On June 29th, President Clinton met in the Oval Office -- June 29th would be today, I imagine -- today President Clinton met in the Oval Office with Lt. General Hikmat al-Shihabi, who is the General Staff of the Syrian Army, and Lt. General Amnon Shahak, who is the Israeli Chief of Staff, to review the results of their discussions held in Washington June 27 and 28. These discussions were introduced on Tuesday by Secretary Christopher, building on his 13 trips to the region and the foundation that he's laid in his extensive efforts in the region. The Secretary joined the parties for the discussions today.

These negotiations between the two Chiefs of Staff constitute and intensive and serious exchange on the full range of issues related to security arrangements for a comprehensive peace agreement. The talks in Washington afforded Israel and Syria an important opportunity to better understand their perspectives on security issues and to begin to identify in concrete terms where these views converged and where they differed.

The President was impressed by what had been accomplished in these initial sessions and by the parties' strong commitment to achieve an agreement that will provide a secure, peaceful and prosperous future for the peoples of both countries. Toward this end, the parties will review the results of their discussions and will send senior military experts to Washington for follow-up discussion in July. In the interim, our Special Middle East Coordinator Dennis Ross will travel to the region to continue discussions.

The United States' commitment to attaining an enduring peace remains one of the Clinton administration's top foreign policy priorities. President Clinton remains personally committed to achieving this objective and will continue to assist the parties in their efforts to negotiate and lasting peace.

Q: Why weren't we allowed to get a picture of the President with the Syrian and the Israeli generals?

MR. MCCURRY: The arrangements for press coverage of this meeting were part of the discussion between the parties and, as always, we facilitate the parties and honor their requests.

Q: Who rejected the proposal?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get into respective positions, but we will be making a White House photo available and I understand we will be making some video available that was taken by White House.

Q: The statement that you read on paper?


Q: Can you give us some specifics of accomplishments in the negotiations?

MR. MCCURRY: No. The reason is that a longstanding practice of ours is not to comment on the substance of the issues that are being negotiated by the parties. That would interrupt our ability to facilitate their dialogues. We refrain from comment on the substance of the issues between the parties. The parties from time to time take their own opportunities to comment on where they are in their dialogue, and we defer to them.

Q: What is the difference or the objection to having media pictures versus government-run camera. The picture is released through the government.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, you could ask both governments their preference on that question. We --

Q: But that was their preference to have a government camera picture as opposed to --

MR. MCCURRY: We made the arrangements available as best we could and in fitting -- in keeping with the desires of the parties.

Q: Mike, yesterday you released the two letters from the President about the budget. Beyond that, has the President made any personal phone calls to the leaders, and can you give us a sense about what else the White House is doing as the budget moves to the floors of both Houses?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, in addition to the two letters that the President sent, Dr. Rivlin, on behalf of the OMB, has sent some correspondence as well outlining where the White House will be as we move into a more intense period of negotiations on the appropriations.

Rita, I'll have to check on whether the President has made any additional calls. None that I am aware of. But I anticipate as we move into this long, hot summer of negotiations on appropriations bills, that the President will be very actively involved. And as he said yesterday, he wished to have a dialogue that would avoid the necessity of him very broadly using his veto authority in order to force the kinds of changes in these congressional measures that must be made if we are going to protect the interests of the American working family and protect the American economy which must grow and which must lead to rising incomes for the American people.

Q: Just to follow up -- when the President made his budget statement on television a couple of weeks ago, he said the reason he was doing that was because if something didn't change before the budget resolutions were voted on, then it would be impossible to have any effect during the appropriations period.

MR. MCCURRY: No. He's suggested, somewhat differently, that if he had not intervened in the process at that point and given Congress a reasonable road map to accommodate the concerns that he has, we would wind up in a process that would lead to vetoes of appropriations bills, perhaps the veto of reconciliation measures, and the likelihood of debt ceilings that would then not meet the President's expectations and a shutdown of the federal government.

Q: You said those numbers would be locked in. I mean, I guess the question is, other than a veto, does he think he has maneuvering room once this resolution is passed?

MR. MCCURRY: Once the resolutions are passed there will be maneuvering room because they represent only broad guidelines that go to the appropriations committees as they begin to draft their measures. But the budget resolution does lock in an approach to a seven-year balanced budget goal that the President finds unacceptable. It's going to lead to Medicare, Medicaid cuts that are much too drastic, and it leads to tax cut measures that don't target relief on ways in which we can expand and grow the American economy.

For all those reasons, the President, as he looked at the right policy to follow, made policy decisions which then led us to a 10-year path for a balanced budget which is a reasonable way to achieve that objective.

Q: But once that resolution is passed, what can he do about it?

MR. MCCURRY: Once the resolution -- well, once the resolution passed, that represents guidance that then goes to the appropriations committees. And as we suggested at the time that the President addressed the nation from the Oval Office, will go into an extensive period of very tough bargaining with appropriations committees as they write their individual appropriations bills. And it may very well be, as the President suggested in his letters, that he will have to use his veto authority in order to force the necessary changes in these appropriations measures to engender his own support.

Q: Well, are you not locked in at that point to a seven-year path rather than the 10 years that the President --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the guidance that goes to the committees would lock them into a seven-year path. But those kinds of things do become negotiable when individual appropriations bills are examined. Then that leads to a reconciliation process, which is the way the Congress then reconciles differences that exist between the initial resolutions and the actions of the budget committees.

Q: Are you saying that the President's -- the effect that he wanted from his package did not occur? In other words, the budget resolution was not changed. You said the reason he put his plan out when he did was to affect a resolution.


Q: Now that hasn't happened, so a veto is inevitable since those concessions are locked in?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he can't veto -- he doesn't have a veto as it relates to the budget resolution.

Q: Well, I know. I'm talking about -- you're saying that the instructions are locked in now, and he was unable to affect them with his plan.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, very clearly, as the President suggested in his letter, if all the Congress does at this point is to take the guidance from these budget resolutions and draft appropriations bills accordingly that lead to results the President finds unacceptable, he'll have no choice but to use his veto authority. He made that very clear.

Q: What do you say to those who -- some would suggest that the President's decision to come out with his own balanced budget proposal and to accept some cuts in Medicare growth and Medicaid growth and to have a tax cut made it easier for the Senate Republicans to accept, to come much closer to the House version of the budget plan than what they originally wanted?

MR. MCCURRY: That sounds like the most contorted analysis imaginable.

Q: Senator Daschle said yesterday that even before they began negotiating on the level -- excuse me.

MR. MCCURRY: They're making fun of me, not you. Don't worry.

Q: Senator Daschle yesterday said that before they even began negotiating on the level of tax cuts and what's to be targeted that they really have to address Medicare cuts. When in this reconciliation process is the White House going to come forward with detailed plans on their own health care reform proposal?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I would argue that the material we've put forth so far in support of the President's 10-year balanced budget plan is fairly detailed and gives the Congress a very good sense of how you can protect Medicare, Medicaid beneficiaries from a new round of cuts as you reach for the goal of a balanced budget. We were pretty explicit on how you can begin to do the incremental type of reform in health care that would protect Medicare, Medicare beneficiaries, but reduce overall government costs for government health programs. And now I think we've been fairly explicit on that, but there's certainly ways in which we can sharpen that up should Congress wish to have that dialogue.

Q: Mike, what was the answer to the question yesterday about whether the Counsel's Office cleared the hiring of --

MR. MCCURRY: The answer was that -- well, just to review, the information I've got is mostly on the contract that he had -- your question is whether legal counsel --

Q: -- White House Counsel's Office reviewed that for propriety before it was gone ahead with.

MR. MCCURRY: I should have gotten the answer to the question -- I don't have it. I'll take the question.

Q: Could we get that, because the answer from the campaign is that they don't remember.

MR. MCCURRY: Okay. I'll take the question.

Q: Did the White House ever get a formal response to the President's line-item veto offer that he made? Did Gingrich reject it -- the idea that he wouldn't veto revenue measures?

MR. MCCURRY: That's -- I don't recall the Speaker having made a specific response to that. The President put forward the proposition that, give me the line-item veto for this year and I'll use it on spending cuts only, I won't use it to tinker with tax relief measure. But to my knowledge, we've not heard back from the Speaker formally on that proposal.

Q: Have you pressed for an answer or was it just a speech he made in the Rose Garden and that's it?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I believe there's been some follow up conversation and the President has raised that additional points, both publicly and privately since then. But I'm not aware that we've had any answer.

Q: Are you going to make the follow-up correspondence by Rivlin available to us?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll see if we can. I don't see any reason why we shouldn't.

Q: Has the President made the first installment of funds for the rapid reaction force in Bosnia?

MR. MCCURRY: He has -- he's made a presidential determination that $12 million should be available for the rapid reaction force, and I believe that we'll seek, under existing authority, an additional $3 million under a 614 waiver for equipment for the force. Those determinations have gone yesterday and will go later today to Congress.

Q: Is that what was requested by --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's not necessarily what our allies would like to see available, but it's what, consistent with the limited budget resources we have available, and consistent with existing authorities, what the President can request, pursuant to his authority as Chief Executive.

Q: He is going to ask Congress for this amount?


Q: I'm sorry -- you asked if he's going to ask Congress for the money and you said yes?

MR. MCCURRY: He said he is -- he has sent a determination saying that we will make that available. He doesn't have to --

Q: He doesn't need congressional approval.

MR. MCCURRY: He doesn't need congressional approval of that. He has sent a determination that will be made available.

Q: Well, why has he chosen to take this route, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: Taking the route of supporting the rapid reaction force?

Q: No, no -- not going to Congress for the money.

MR. MCCURRY: It goes without saying you can judge congressional sentiment as well as we can, and there wouldn't be sufficient support in Congress for any larger supplemental requests.

Q: Is this the limit, the $15 million? Is this all he can give them on his own?

MR. MCCURRY: Maura, I don't know the answer to that. I know that that's -- I believe that's what he can make available under existing authorities, but I don't know if that's an upper limit or a maximum that he can make. We can check on that.

Q: This is money in the defense budget, or where is this money from?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe it is -- I'll have to check which portion of the budget it comes from.

Q: It may be too early ask your reaction, but Supreme Court now has struck down --

Q: Could we stay on the other question, Helen, please for a second?

The 614 waiver, the request for the additional $3 million --

MR. MCCURRY: That's for equipment. The $12 million is for sea and air lift to the region and the $3 million would be for equipment that would be provided.

Q: Okay. And the $3 million is, once again, his own authority, he does not need approval for that?

MR. MCCURRY: That's correct.

Q: And can you tell me what percentage of the European request this represents?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can't tell you in percent. I've seen various estimates on what the rapid reaction force might cost over a six-month period. I believe it was in the range of $300-$350 million for a six-month period, going up to close to $700 million for a one year period.

Q: This is peanuts.

Q: When we were in Halifax we were talking about substantially more money, right?

MR. MCCURRY: This would not -- for example, our U.N. assessed peacekeeping rate would be -- what -- just under 31 percent. Our view is it should be less than that, more like a quarter. Are view is it should be 25 percent, so this is not close to being a quarter of the assessed cost.

Q: But Congress has mandated the 25 percent. But when we were in Halifax we were talking about roughly 25 or 30 percent of the overall cost of the rapid reaction force -- is that correct?

MR. MCCURRY: No, that's not correct. We didn't indicate -- we indicated that we wanted to do our share, that we would provide material support to the rapid reaction force and that we would be in consultation with Congress to determine what amount we could provide. And very clearly, those consultations lead us to believe that there would not be sufficient support in Congress for 25 to 30 percent funding of the rapid reaction force.

Q: Have you guys been successful getting money from the Persian Gulf nations or Asian nations for what you talked about in Halifax?

MR. MCCURRY: It wouldn't be us getting it, it would be the United Nations, and I don't know the answer to that. It would be a good question to ask the Secretary General and his staff.

Q: Is this the commitment that the President made to --

MR. MCCURRY: The President made a commitment to provide material support including sea and airlift to the rapid reaction force, in support of our NATO allies who are on the ground in Bosnia doing the work of trying to protect the UNPROFOR mission.

Q: Is there a published figure that he intends to contribute $50 million? Is there a figure out like that?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware, no.

Helen. We are going to be looking both in Capital Square review and Miller v. Johnson, looking very carefully at those decisions. They are important ones by the Supreme Court. The Office of Legal Counsel here will be analyzing those, and when we've got a reaction from the President that we can provide based on that analysis, we'll make it available -- most likely in writing.

Q: Just a quick question on Japan trade. Gephardt is saying that in spite of this agreement, new barriers could still pop up -- new trade barriers could still pop up. What if we've been down this road before with the Japanese with similar kind of murky details and the ability to circumvent --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have reached in the last 29 months 16 agreements with the Japanese, the latest yesterday in what was certainly the most troublesome sector in our trade relationship. And the President is very confident that these agreements will lead to more open markets. We achieved the objectives that we had set out for ourself in the negotiations. We wanted deregulation of Japan's repair parts market; we wanted greater access for American car makers at Japanese dealerships; and we wanted to secure voluntary plans from the Japanese auto sector that would lead to increased sales. And I think that in all of those respects we met our objectives at the negotiating table, and we've now got an agreement that provides some objective criteria with which we can measure the results of our trade relationship with Japan.

Now, we make it clear at the same time that as you watch the progress that we make in our trade relationship, if there remain underlying problems and underlying barriers, Congressman Gephardt suggests our U.S. trade law is still applicable. And that means that if there is not measurable change in the nature of that trade relationship over time, we have to go back and use our law and examine what the problem is. And if the problem is, in fact, barriers that exist, we'll be right back to the point where sanctions have to be on the table.

Q: Well, is there a monitoring system? Are you relying on trust?

MR. MCCURRY: No, there is a very -- in the agreement reached yesterday in Geneva, there is an extensive monitoring capacity built into the agreement that provides for fairly detailed data exchanges, so that we will know exactly what the results have been as we look at the performance in the markets. And that's among the many reasons why the President has confidence that there will be measurable change in the nature of the relationship in the auto sector. If there isn't, we then go right back to where we've been, using our own trade law. But for now, we believe, having reached this agreement in good faith, it's going to lead to change.

Q: Does this agreement set a new standard for the way we're going to deal with trade problems with other nations, such as China, in the future --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the only thing that is suggested by this is that being very firm and very direct and being very disciplined as we negotiate can lead to results that we find satisfactory. That has been the posture of our Trade Ambassador and USTR for the last two and a half years. So I don't know that it will change, but it shows that you can produce results when you're tough at the table.

Q: The administration has already stated its opposition to the flag desecration amendment. With the House now having now passed the amendment and it going to the Senate, does the President intend to maybe jump into that debate and become a participant?

MR. MCCURRY: The President opposes the amendment, and he has opposed the amendment. The President loves the American flag, but the President also loves the Constitution. And the flag is a symbol of our republic, but the Constitution is the soul of our republic. And the President doesn't believe that you tinker with the soul for something symbolic.

Q: But so far he's stayed relatively quiet himself; other people have been doing the talking. Can we expect him to get involved more or to see the White House begin lobbying on this issue in terms of the Senate?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I have not discussed that with him. I'll do so when I have a chance.

Q: -- that Republican affirmative action bill include a provision that would prevent the Justice Department in discrimination cases from using numerical targets in settlements. My understanding is that's outside the purview of your affirmative action review. Is that something that the administration has an opinion on?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry. Say that again, Jack.

Q: Aside from set asides, there's also -- the Justice Department right now goes in and signs agreements when they find discrimination in certain industries or whatever, and applies targets, numerical targets or quotas that they expect these discriminating people to meet. And evidently, the Republican bill would prohibit numerical targets. My understanding was that the Justice Department's enforcement of discrimination laws was outside the purview of the affirmative action review. So I was wondering if you would -- if you've got an opinion on that.

MR. MCCURRY: Let me -- I'll have to check with George and see if that -- I'm not aware that that's within the purview of the existing review or whether that would be changed by any of the guidelines that the Justice Department released yesterday. But I can check on that and get back to you.

Q: What's the timetable on the President's speech now? I guess he said July, but is there --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, you can tell from the very extensive analysis of Adarand that the Justice Department did yesterday that there's been a lot of very detailed things. In fact, in many aspects, the ability of the Justice Department to produce that type of analysis of Adarand that quickly reflected a lot of the work that had been done already in connection with the review of affirmative action programs. I think it also reflects the fact that the President is bringing to closure now some of the larger questions that underlie the review and some of the policy issues that have to be addressed in addition to the simple question of how do you meet the legal test of Adarand. And I think because that is all coming to closure, the President might likely unveil more publicly some of the results of this review some time in the coming month.

Q: Doesn't he think that affirmative action is dead --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he certainly --

Q: -- on the basis of everything that's happened?

MR. MCCURRY: He certainly understands that there are those on Capitol Hill, and those in the Republican majority who wish to declare it dead. But he is determined to say that affirmative action -- as he's said often -- affirmative action has played an important role in breaking down barriers in our society and providing employment opportunities and equal justice to women and to minorities. And he intends to fight to preserve those programs that have achieved those results, but to make sure that he makes any changes that are necessary in programs that must be improved if they're going to engender support from a majority in Congress and a majority of the American people.

Q: But hasn't the Court really made it much more difficult now to even draw those kind of -- split those hairs, draw those lines?

MR. MCCURRY: The Court has made it clear that federal affirmative action programs have to meet tests of strict scrutiny and have to be narrowly tailored to address very specific instances of injustice, as it was made clear of the analysis of that opinion by the Justice Department yesterday. By no means did the Court of did the Justice Department suggest that these efforts must end.

Q: Mike, two questions. One is, does the President have any plans, and if he doesn't, could we ask him to have some, on a general new conference?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard him talk about one. I don't think we'll do it over a holiday period, but we'll visit that when we come back from the holiday.

Q: And the other is, has he made any more ads along the lines of the ads that are now playing, and does he have any plans to make any more --

MR. MCCURRY: He has not participated in any filming of any ads himself beyond the three that are currently running. We would leave open the possibility of doing additional advertising in the future, but there are no plans to do so at the moment that I'm aware of.

Q: Mike, what are the President's plans for the holiday? And what are the plans for the White House Press Office operations?

MR. MCCURRY: Jump in and correct me if I'm wrong. He is -- let's see -- today leaving for Chicago; tomorrow in Chicago. He will then be on a private family visit to Florida with family pool coverage on Saturday. Then later on Saturday goes to New Haven, Connecticut, for the Special Olympics event. And my understanding of his plans now is that he plans to head to Camp David and to be out of Washington.

Q: Until when?

MR. MCCURRY: Through the 4th.

Q: He's not coming back for the fireworks?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure. Coming back the 4th? We don't know. I don't think he has plans to come back for the fireworks.

Q: Is he going to call the space station?

MR. MCCURRY: He is not. Vice President and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin are going to be doing that together. The Vice President has done extensive work on that, so, the plans have been for them to make the call to the communal spacecraft.

Q: What's the status of the rescissions bill?

MR. MCCURRY: The rescissions bill was vetoed by the President of the United States, and there have been negotiations ongoing to achieve the kind of deficit reduction and emergency funding requests that are necessary.

Q: That was history. He wants status. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: I gave you the status. I'm told they're very close to a deal. They've had good discussions but they've got some disagreements remaining.

Q: How about the bipartisan commission on campaign finance reform -- where does that stand?

MR. MCCURRY: The Speaker has indicated that he would set forth in a long letter to the President some of his views. And we're anxious to receive those views.

Q: On rescissions, what are the sticking points?

Q: What are the areas?

MR. MCCURRY: Substantively, I don't want to get into too much more other than to say that they are still in negotiating around some of the priorities that the President wants addressed. They're still talking about how to pay for some of those priorities and they're still looking at language on increasing timber salvage sales. That's a pretty good hint, though.

Q: Are there plans for the President to travel to Britain and Northern Ireland in November?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. We haven't announced a date, though.

I'm told that I need to knock it off if you guys want to see the cops event. One last question in the back.

Q: It's about the Syrian-Israeli negotiations. Did the Syrians accept the idea of earlier warning stations on the two sides?

MR. MCCURRY: I can't get into any of the specifics of their exchanges. The characterization I provided at the beginning of the briefing is the one that will stand as our authoritative readout on that.

Have a happy 4th of July. I'm going fishing. I won't see you all until July 10th. We'll have one of -- either Ms. Terzano or Ms. Glynn may, in fact, take a turn at the podium here, if necessary next week.

Q: Will Ireland be after the Asian summit?

Q: Yes, are you going to go right from Japan?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't checked in on what the timing is for those discussions.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 11:00 A.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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