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Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

August 03, 1995

The Briefing Room

1:27 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: A little-known fact -- a little-known fact for you, Anne Compton, I discovered reading the coverage of the purchase of your wonderful network the other day. The very first Disneyland Show on ABC was the day I was born. Imagine that. How about that.

Q: I remember that show.

MR. MCCURRY: I remember many years afterwards, many of those shows. Present at the Creation, or something like that. Does that qualify me to be the next senior executive at ABC? Don't know. (Laughter.)

Q: Did you have a crush on Annette, too?

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, yes. I liked -- I agree with Maureen Dowd on that subject, I used to watch all the Musketeers, Spanky and Our Gang.

Q: Isolate the "I agree with Maureen Dowd" part, guys. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Shall we have a daily briefing, ladies and gentlemen? Let's begin. I begin with the statement by the Press Secretary -- that's me. This concerns counterterrorism policy and it relates to events that the Attorney General has already described to some of you today.

President Clinton welcomes the arrest and return to the United States today of a suspect charged in the World Trade Center bombing. The United States is determined to bring to justice those who perpetrate terrorism directed against Americans. The President applauds the law enforcement authorities involved for their very deft handling of this case.

Last February, as you will recall, the President submitted legislation that will give us the additional legal authority to protect Americans from terrorists and to prevent America from being used as a sanctuary for those who would practice violence against other countries. The congressional leadership promised the President that they would have that bill passed by Memorial Day. Memorial Day has long since passed, and today we call again for the prompt passage of the omnibus counterterrorism bill.

The administration's aggressive counterterrorism policy has resulted in an unprecedented number of terrorist suspects being returned to the United States for trial from Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan, and the Philippines -- elsewhere as well. The President has said on numerous occasions that we will not let terrorism pay.

We've got a fact sheet just covering some of the efforts that we've made in counterterrorism, and would remind the Congress once again that these efforts can be strengthened by passage of the legislation that has broad bipartisan support in the Congress and that deserves to be on the President's desk promptly.

Q: On a similar subject, are you guys releasing the report on economic espionage today or this week?

MR. MCCURRY: I've heard that it's coming, but it's not due until early next week or -- there was a discussion of that earlier. We'll check on that, Paul.

Q: Is that a State thing or --

MR. MCCURRY: I think it's a mandated congressionally required report to Congress, if I'm not mistaken. And it's due -- it will be coming soon. I'd heard a discussion of that earlier in the week -- we would release it here. It's an NSC document.

Q: What about Israel? Has the White House received a request, or the U.S. government received a request for the extradition of Marzouk?

MR. MCCURRY: We have not received a formal request for extradition of Marzouk from Israel. We would, of course, consider that when we receive a formal request. We have had a communication from the government of Israel on the status of this matter. And I refer you to the Justice Department for any discussion of that.

Q: What does the President mean by the government has a responsibility to curb youth smoking? Does he mean that the government will regulate tobacco?

MR. MCCURRY: No, that's -- I'm not going to make the announcement that the President clearly said he was not going to make for you. He's quite clear in saying he's concerned about the health effect of tobacco use in young people. He thinks there's a proper role for the government to play. He's reviewing recommendations on what that role should be, and he will have something to say on it, I gather from the President's comments today, fairly shortly.

Q: Sounds like you guys made a decision.

MR. MCCURRY: Has he made -- he hasn't finalized a decision. He's got some sense of where he will go on the issue, but it's a very complicated one and requires very careful review both of the regulatory implications and the policy implications.

Q: This week?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't suspect that this will be announced this week.

Q: Mike, the Defense Minister of Colombia has had to resign now under a cloud. And there are calls in the Colombian Parliament for the resignation of President Samper. How would this affect the U.S. collaboration with Colombia on the war on drugs?

MR. MCCURRY: We have -- we're aware of the decision of Defense Minister Botero to resign, of course. The Vice President and others in the administration have complimented the government of Colombia on its recent efforts to eradicate drug trafficking, and the Defense Minister and others played a role in those efforts. They have, within Colombia, been very extensive in their pursuit of those associated with the Cali Cartel, as has been publicly reported. These efforts of collaboration on combatting drug trafficking are very important to the United States, as we've made clear to the government of Colombia, and we would hope that there's nothing about currently ongoing internal matters in Colombia that would interfere with that effort.

Q: Mike, the DLC came out today with their affirmative action proposal which calls for getting rid of all government set-asides and executive order requiring goals and timetables for government contractors. Is the President concerned about there's obviously not unity within the Democratic Party over the future of affirmative action?

MR. MCCURRY: There is -- you can find within that study -- we haven't had an opportunity to look at the entire DLC study, but we have seen the press release that they've issued. And there are some things about it that are certainly interesting to those at the White House that have been working on this issue, and they'll be looking at it more carefully.

On the general subject of how you look at other criteria for targeting affirmative action efforts, as you know, the President's own report that we issued on the day of his speech specifically addressed the prospects for targeting affirmative action efforts geographically, as opposed to criteria based solely on race or gender. So we have, in a sense, opened the door to exploring how that would work in practice, how you could tailor some set-aside programs to areas of economic distress. And for that reason, we will look very carefully at the DLC report.

Q: Mike, on the timing of the President's veto of the Bosnian resolution, as I understand it, he has until the 14th of the month. Is it fair to assume that he will wait until the final day?

MR. MCCURRY: Leo, you should give a ring up to Judge Mikva's staff because they are looking at exactly that issue. I'm not -- I heard this morning a discussion that didn't indicate they were quite certain how the calendar worked or what the clock would work or what the implications were for a veto during a congressional recess. The legal counsel's office is looking at just those questions.

There's no question about the substantive position of the President. He will veto the bill as it has been presented. But we are looking at issues related to timing and questions related to when Congress might consider an override attempt. I think it becomes increasingly clear now that an overriding attempt would not likely occur this month.

Q: So whatever the legalisms are, the President's position would be to do it later rather than sooner within legal constraints?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has a period of time in which he can exercise his veto. And we're looking now at the question of when he might best do that.

Q: Does the President feel he has the votes to override the veto?

MR. MCCURRY: We believe we do, and we will -- with the assumption that our policy is working -- and from every indication now, it has worked to deter further Bosnian Serb aggression, especially around Gorazde -- with the assumption that it continues to work to deter that aggression, if an override attempt occurred, for example, when Congress comes back in September, we feel confident that we would have the votes to sustain that veto.

Q: The President today said he understands Croatia's desire to protect Bihac. But today, Croatia's President Tudjman has made it clear that his goal is not just to protect Bihac, but also to regain territory taken by its rebel Serbs. What's the U.S. position on that?

MR. MCCURRY: It's the one that I stated for you yesterday, and it has not changed since then.

Q: Mike, the President spent much of July preaching conciliation and making high-minded calls for common ground. Then he came out here Tuesday and had very harsh denunciation of Congress and issued five different veto threats. Isn't there some contradiction between --

MR. MCCURRY: Five or seven?

Q: Well, seven, perhaps.

MR. MCCURRY: I've seen different counts here and about.

Q: I think it was five.

Q: Well, we count seven.

MR. MCCURRY: Objection in the front. There's a different count. Common ground can be found when Congress wants to work with the President to help define that common ground. When the Congress wants to pursue extremist measures that fall outside that common ground, the President, of necessity, will have to use the threat of a veto to see if he can't pull them back into that common ground that most Americans wish to stand upon.

Q: Doesn't he risk confusing the public as to his basic approach to how he's working with Congress by going --

MR. MCCURRY: No, I think the public is pretty smart in such matters, and they know that there's a fist-in-the-glove approach that sometimes works when you're dealing with obstreperous institutions.

Q: A group of economists met with the White House health care working group recently, advancing this idea of an alternative to the GOP voucher. And their idea would be essentially to not -- to basically leave Medicare beneficiaries current population intact, but for the baby-boom generation, when they're ready to hit that particular age, to move them into a so-called defined contribution plan. Is the White House looking seriously at the proposal --

MR. MCCURRY: Go back to the beginning. Is that the presentation that some of our economic folks heard from Reischauer and the other groups?

Q: Yes, by Reischauer --

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, they were asked to come in, my understanding is, because they were about to make -- this group of economists were about to make a presentation to AARP. And some of our folks -- Dr. Tyson, Joe Stiglitz and others -- were interested in hearing more about their ideas, learning more about their concept. They had a good review of the issue. Frankly, the folks on our side didn't indicate what a reaction would be to the type of voucher proposal that they were discussing.

The general question you asked, though, is one that I'd put in a somewhat broader context. There has been a general shift in employee benefit and employee welfare plans, both in the private sector -- certainly in the private sector, away from defined benefit-type plans towards defined contribution plans. You see that most typically in pension coverage in which pensions are moving from defined benefit-type qualified plans to defined contribution plans such as 401Ks and profit-sharing plans of that nature.

The problem with that is it begins to shift the risk from the employer, who maintains such defined benefit plans, to the employee so that there is less security for those who are participating in those types of plans. Now, if you applied that same concept to the public sector, in a program like Medicare, you'd have the same risks associated with it.

That is a source of great concern to the White House. It's one of the reasons especially why we've got a balanced budget plan that the President has introduced that within 10 years could achieve reform and savings within Medicare without new cuts on beneficiaries. And that remains the goal that we would wish to pursue.

Q: Wow.

Q: Another question about common ground. Is there any --

MR. MCCURRY: You like that stuff, huh?


Q: Is there anything currently under consideration on the Hill that he thinks Congress is pursuing this common ground approach on? Or have they not done that anywhere?

MR. MCCURRY: Give me some time during -- I'll see if I can think of something as we go along. (Laughter.)

Q: Welfare seems to be an exception --

MR. MCCURRY: Welfare reform -- yes, welfare reform -- good, thanks for that punt. (Laughter.) There is a great opportunity there. And, as you know, Senator Mikulski, Senator Daschle and Senator Breaux are talking about exactly that today. We have got a bill on the Democratic side that would reform welfare -- the Work First program -- that could be passed in a heartbeat. The distance between that approach and the approach that Senator Dole outlined up in Vermont before the National Governors is not an insurmountable distance. They could probably sit down and finish an acceptable bill and do it even before they go away for summer recess if they wanted to.

The problem is that the extreme faction within the Republican majority in Congress keeps yanking the debate farther and farther to the right. You know what happened to Senator Dole. Senator Dole is now facing fierce criticism from the extreme right within his own party for the ideas that he advanced. Now, it's hard to find that type of common ground when people want to pull you outside common ground all the time.

But if enough people would come together and say, look, here's an issue upon which there is broad agreement -- we've heard from the governors, we know generally what the parameters of reform should be, and we ought to get on with the business of passing it. They could do that, as I say, in a matter of days if they just summon the political will to do so.

Q: But no other bills?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are other -- I mean, we were talking earlier about the counterterrorism bill. That's one that there ought to be broad bipartisan support for. There is. It's been expressed to us by the congressional leadership. Why on earth hasn't it passed? Why can't this Republican Congress get its work done and send bills down to the President when a clear majority of both Houses favor getting the work done? It calls into question whether or not they can make the trains run on time up there or whether they're determined to see the trains wreck. And it happens not only in this area, but in the budget area and other areas.

Line-item veto -- there's another example. Everybody in the country wants to see the President of the United States have the line-item veto, from the President to a majority in Congress. Why won't they pass that bill? The Senate had to pass a resolution the other day imploring the House of Representatives to get it together and appoint conferees on the bill. Why can't the Republican majority in the House of Representatives pass a measure the American people want and the Congress is already on record supporting? They just can't seem to get their act together.

Q: It's not just Dole, but also Gingrich of late who has --

MR. MCCURRY: Sure, it's everybody up there. They can't get their work -- (laughter.)

Q: Now that you mention it.

Q: -- the far right, as Bob Novak's column attests this morning. I was just wondering, since you folks --

MR. MCCURRY: I know. I felt for the Speaker reading that column. Here's --

Q: Can I finish my question?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, let me -- (laughter) -- no, you've got me on a tangent now. Here's the Speaker, the Speaker trying to in a common sense way address one of the most divisive issues facing America today, the subject of race, and does it in a way that I think is a sort of a mindful caution flag to the Republican presidential candidates, that we can't let this issue divide Americans as we pursue the presidency next year -- much similar to things that former congressman and former Secretary Kemp had to say. And then he goes and sits down with a roomful of conservative journalists and he gets slapped around for it because he's not being hard-core enough. I mean, that's a sad commentary. The Speaker is trying to be a statesman, and he faces this type of commentary from those who you would suspect would be his -- (laughter.)

Q: Oh, we're going to remind you --

Q: Isolate that sound bite, too. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Okay, zzzzzzz, role back tape -- trying to be a statesman. (Laughter.)

I'm sorry, Leo, I interrupted your very good question. Go on.

Q: My question was going to be that since you folks, the President and the White House have been on the receiving end of lots of barbs from the same far-right people, whether the President or you have any -- either advice or consoling thoughts for the Republican leader.

MR. MCCURRY: It's lonely on that common ground when you're standing up against the extremists, Speaker Gingrich, but the President will stand there with you as long as you're trying to resist the siren call of those extremists so that we can do the will of the majority of the American people.

Why don't I think that's ever going to show up anywhere? (Laughter.)

Q: In all fairness, is the President concerned equally, though, about problems on the Democratic side? Because, for example, in counterterrorism, his Democratic objections to habeas corpus --


Q: -- or these 11 absentees -- or eight, whatever, on the EPA provisions the other day -- what does he think he can do to get his own house in order?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, those are two separate questions. The President had to stand up to those in the Democratic Party who feel very strongly about civil liberties, some of the groups that are active on that front, and say, look, this is just too important not to let that stand in the way of passage of a bill. We had to say no to some of the people who might want to see our position veer in a different direction.

The other matter, the EPA vote, I think was a -- if I understand it correctly, was a question of scheduling a Monday night vote when members had not anticipated a Monday night vote and they had commitments in their district. That's a separate issue. But in generally, the proposition is sometimes you have to say no to your friends. That's the way you get work done in Washington.

And the President has demonstrated a willingness to do that. It's time for the Republican majority to have the courage to say to some of the extremists in the Republican Party you can't get everything you want. But it hasn't been such a good record so far, whether it's on welfare reform, what we're seeing now; whether it was the NRA manufacturing a hearing that probably we didn't need to spend all that money on -- you know. So that's the issue. The issue is you're going to demonstrate the leadership that requires you sometimes to say no to your friends.

Q: Is the Speaker a statesman or merely trying to be a statesman on campaign finance reform?

MR. MCCURRY: I think he's trying to be a statesman. He faces enormous pressure. You've all seen the campaign filing reports now, so you know what that pressure is. There are members on the Republican side, as there are on the Democratic side, that get a lot of money from interests that don't want to see political reform move forward. I'm sure the Speaker faces a the same pressure the President does when the President calls for political reform. I'm certain that the Speaker faces that pressure. And it's very tough being in a leadership position in the Congress when you have a very diverse caucus and you have to take into account the strong feelings that exist throughout your side of the aisle.

But is he trying to be a statesman? Yes, he is. He's promised the President a thoughtful letter that responds to the President's initiatives on that. The President is determined to move ahead on this issue and will continue to talk about it and might even talk about it in coming days. But I think the Speaker is trying to do the right thing.

Q: The White House has repeatedly said it want's to try to avoid this October 1 train wreck. There is legislation developing on the Hill now that, other than a continuing resolution, would in effect allow the government to borrow from Treasury coffers until all the appropriations bills are passed. If something like this, this type of legislative vehicle could be passed that could keep the government up and running until all the appropriations bills are enacted, would the White House support it?

MR. MCCURRY: The theory being then that that would relieve the pressure that might exist if there's an imminent train wreck that's going to occur and the natural services of the government are going to shut down? It keeps -- I will check further; I deserve a more thoughtful answer that I can give you. In general, we've been concerned about any efforts to slap together things at the last minute with Scotch Tape and paper clips and rubber bands when we should be getting the orderly business of the budget done in a timely way through the appropriations process, as this President did with the Democratic Congress the first two years of his term.

Q: But the point being made, though, is the White House has also said it costs money to shut the government down. It would have cost up to $600 million for that three-day period in 1990 had it not happened over a holiday weekend. And in effect, when the government came back in operation again, all the government employees were paid retroactively anyway. So if you could avert that and have this all taken care of in some sort of legislative vehicle, would you support that?

MR. MCCURRY: I will look more carefully at that. As you know, the Director of the OMB has asked agencies to look at ways that they can make contingency plans against the effects of a shutdown of the government. But it's clear that within Congress there's some desire to use the crisis provoked by shutting down the government to force certain accommodations on the part of the President. And the President has made it clear to you what -- where he stands on that. I don't think that making it easier to shut the government down is, in any event, a good way for the federal government to do its business.

Q: While you're discussing vetoes, what's the latest position on the telecommunications bill which was expected to get a final vote in the House tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: Just as it was -- just as we put out in the statement yesterday. I'm not aware of any changes that they made that affects the President's views as he outlined them earlier in the week.

Q: There seems to be some second thoughts in the Senate about holding a duplicate set of hearings on Waco. Does the White House -- would the White House oppose more hearings on Waco in the Senate?

MR. MCCURRY: The President is satisfied that the hearings in the House did two important things: One, they corroborated the information that had been presented in over 500 pages of reports from the Treasury and Justice Department, making it clear that we had come -- provided the complete record to the American people about the administration's understanding of what happened in the incident involving the Branch Davidian confrontation.

Second, the President made it very clear he's standing up for law enforcement at a time when there are those in Congress who are trying to disparage the reputation of law enforcement officers who, by and large, do good, honorable work with a lot of integrity on behalf of the American people. And if anything, this hearing was another good reminder to the American people how valuable our federal law enforcement officers are. And the President had numerous opportunities during this hearing to make that case.

Now, I'm not certain that the American people learned much new that they didn't already know about the Branch Davidian confrontation during the course of these recent hearings. So if the Senate, looking, seeing that record reviewed exhaustively, decides that they do not want to pursue that matter and that many of the questions that were important questions have now been answered, we would be satisfied if they made a decision to drop that off their calendar.

Q: But do you think it's been aired enough? Does the White House think it's been aired enough?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. The President feels that the combination of the work we did to come forward with the facts in the reports that we released to the American public, plus any unanswered questions being asked and answered by member of the House, it would be hard to look at those -- that recent stretch of hearings and image that's there's anything new to be asked. I think that if there was anything new there -- and, frankly, we didn't see a whole lot of it -- it really would raise the issue of whether we need another round of hearings.

But that is a question that will be before Senator Hatch, I'm sure, and others in the Senate and they'll have to address it as they see appropriate and as they see their senatorial duty demanding.

Q: The Senate committee today reported out legislation that would end baseball's antitrust exemption. Do you all have a position on that?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe that we have said some things on that, but I don't recall the exact phrasing of that. We'll see if we can pull that up.

Q: Every Democratic senator yesterday, except Senator Moynihan, voted in favor of open hearings on Bob Packwood. Do they reflect the views of the White House?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we took no position on that. That was a matter of internal deliberation for the Senate involving the review of ethics of a member of the Senate. Senator Boxer clearly did a commendable job in trying to raise many issues and got substantial support for her position when they took that vote.

Q: Thank you. (Laughter.)

Q: Good try.

Q: On China, just one thing on China. You had mentioned earlier that maybe you might have something further to say. Nothing further?

MR. MCCURRY: Nothing further. The two American officers are still at the consulate. They had a very good reunion with their spouses and with their superior officers at the consulate. They have been debriefed. The report will come in. I don't believe there's anything about the information that we've seen so far here at the White House that changes what we told you about this incident yesterday.

Q: On tobacco, the President spent last week with a number of lawmakers. Do you have any update on people who he has met with or do you describe at all what is going on decision-making wise behind the scenes, some of the deliberative process?

MR. MCCURRY: He has talked personally to a number of members of Congress, to governors, sought their views, White House staffers have been in contact with folks on the Hill, obviously been working through the issue with the relevant federal agencies -- HHS and FDA. I'm not aware of any direct discussions with anyone in the industry. That question arose earlier today. I didn't go back and check all of the work that various people here at the White House are doing on it. I'll see if there is maybe someway I can get a summary on that for tomorrow.

Q: Does the President think the compromise proposal Charlie Rose and Congressman Wyden for some sort of less-than regulatory role would be acceptable?

MR. MCCURRY: He is aware of their proposal, and, as you know, we've looked at that. But as he told you earlier he has got some recommendations. He's thinking it through and may have something to say on it shortly.

Q: Has he done anything today on tobacco?

MR. MCCURRY: He's talked to a number of a staff about the issue today. I'm not aware that he's had any other meetings today but let me check because in the afternoons, as you know, he likes to work the phone himself and talk to others about it.

Q: Has the decision been finalized on whether McLarty will go to Dallas next week?

MR. MCCURRY: It has not been finalized. As I told you yesterday there was a strong disposition to have the Counselor to the President, Mr. McLarty, go down there to be available to some of the leadership of United We Stand and talk about the President's record in addressing the issues that are fundamentally important to that organization. I suspect that may happen. I don't think that's necessarily been finalized and we're looking at the question of, you know, who else will be down there and what the arrangements are.

Q: Anything new on the First Lady going to China?

MR. MCCURRY: No, nothing new.

Q: Do you think the President will address the smoking issue when he goes to Charlotte, North Carolina, next week?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not certain when or how the President would make any announcement concerning the work he's been doing recently on the question of tobacco use. It is a subject of very real concern in North Carolina for a lot of different reasons. And my supposition was that it might arise one way or another when we're down there next Wednesday. I wasn't trying to signal anybody that he plans to make an announcement down there. The timing is really up to the President. It certainly will likely arise while he's there.

Q: Is this an issue on which he might have to say no to friends?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, because it's a divisive issue and he's got friends who feel strongly on both sides of the issue.

Q: Were you saying he would discuss this in front of the Baptists or there would be another venue? And what happened to Henry Foster?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm just saying he's going to be in North Carolina. It's a subject of intense concern and might likely come up while he's there.

Q: But is the subject of the trip still teen pregnancy or is that being changed?

MR. MCCURRY: He's got a couple different things in mind for his speech, but talking about protecting children, first and foremost, and ways in which we can protect their health and their security and their livelihood will likely be the subject of his remarks. And that might very well fit in to some of the subjects we've been addressing here today.

Q: -- from yesterday after taking credit for stopping Hurricane Erin, who gets the credit for it smashing into New Orleans?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, I shouldn't have said that, you know. (Laughter.) Someone upstairs will strike me dead if I talk about the weather anymore. You know, it roars out into the Gulf of Mexico, picks up steam, challenging James Lee Witt to a duel -- (laughter) -- right there in the Panhandle. But everything I told you about FEMA's work in Central Florida yesterday applies equally to the Panhandle region and over through Southern Alabama as well. There's been a real extensive effort by FEMA to prepare for any disaster conditions there, and --

Q: Pat Robertson made it go away. Two years ago, Robertson -- how come the President can't?

MR. MCCURRY: The power of prayer? He doesn't have as many direct connections, maybe. I don't know.

Q: Is the President still open to some sort of --

MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Fournier is trying to end this briefing, just so you know. But you can ask one more.

Q: Is the President still open to some sort of voluntary regulation plan involving the tobacco industry or has that been ruled out?

MR. MCCURRY: That's been asked and answered. You've seen that I've got about as much as I can say on that already.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:55 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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