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Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

August 07, 1995

The Briefing Room

12:43 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: And a happy Monday to all of you, and welcome to the White House for our daily briefing. Let me start first with the President's meeting this morning with Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juencker of Luxembourg. They had a very positive and constructive 35 minutes that reviewed the current status of U.S.-Luxembourg bilateral relations and also issues involving the European Union in anticipation of Luxembourg's ascendancy to the EU presidency in the second half of 1997.

In the discussion of bilateral economic issues, the President reviewed the status of an investment that Luxembourg has in Arkansas. The Prime Minister had been down to Arkansas to visit -- it's a plant in Arkansas that produces steel for steel-bolted radials. Okay, I can see you're not paying any attention. (Laughter.) This is the Trefil ARBED Steel Plant in Pine Bluff, which the Prime Minister visited and which the President was happy to share reflections on the importance of that investment as it relates to our bilateral economic relations.

Okay, if you want any more on that -- let me do one other thing. With the Senate opening the welfare reform debate, I think you've all now seen our statement of administration policy and you know how strongly the President feels about changing welfare as we know it. But if we're going to end welfare as we know it, we've got to put work at the center of any reform and we've got to be prepared to require welfare dependents to earn a paycheck and not just receive the welfare check.

The President sees an opportunity to work in a bipartisan fashion with the Congress insofar as Democrats and Republicans want to move towards the goal of requiring work and doing it in a responsible and reasonable way. To date, the debate in the Senate, unfortunately, has been a debate about ideological litmus tests, and Republicans in the Senate are being asked to toe the line from the extreme in the Republican Party. That's not going to produce welfare reform. It's going to produce measures like the variant Senator Dole's bill, which, by judgment of the Congressional Budget Office, would require 44 out of 50 states to fail the test in providing work. In short, the bill before the Senate, Senator Dole's bill, is phony when it comes to work.

The President's objectives in welfare reform are very clear. He wants to require recipients to work for benefits. He wants to require them to work and have opportunities for child care so that someone takes care of the children while welfare recipients are working. He wants to require teenage mothers to live at home and stay in school. He wants to require delinquent parents to pay child support. He wants to require welfare recipients to sign a work contract, as they do in many states that are now experimenting with welfare reform. And he wants states to pay their fair share when they are moving people from welfare dependency into work situations.

Those are changes that are going to require a much more serious debate than the Congress has presented thus far. But those types of changes can result in a welfare reform proposal that the President will be happy to sign here at the Rose Garden, as opposed to producing a measure that the President would ultimately have to veto.

Q: Why is it that the view of the administration that it should be up to the federal government to ensure that welfare recipients work?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, because the federal government has a very strong interest, because it provides assistance to states, in making sure that the long-term future of the welfare system is one that leads to economic growth and participation by welfare recipients in the economic life of the nation and not just more and more dependency; not just a cycle of generation after generation requiring a welfare check in order to achieve daily subsistence.

Q: You're not willing to leave it to the states?

MR. MCCURRY: States have -- we are willing to give the states a great deal of flexibility, as the President told the National Governors Association recently. States are beginning to experiment. The President's willing to liberalize the provision of waivers to state governments so they can continue to experiment with measures that will make that transition from welfare to work a reality. So we see a lot of common sense at the local level. But at the same time, the federal government has a very strong interest in making sure that ending welfare will end it nationally in all 50 states, and do so in a way that will produce long-term economic benefits for all taxpayers.

Q: How do you see where it stands now? Is there some movement --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, right now, it's caught -- right now, the debate itself is caught in a very strong ideological divide on the Republican side, as various groups and outside interests require ideological litmus tests of Republican senators, some of whom have a very strong interest in living here at the White House someday. And that is -- (laughter) -- that is, frankly, been an impediment to the type of real reform measure that could achieve the bipartisan approach to welfare reform that the President believes is available and attainable.

Q: How do you ensure that each state pays its fair share?

MR. MCCURRY: Excuse me?

Q: How do you ensure that each state would pay their share?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that has been a good subject of discussion between the governors and the President. And they've talked about how maintenance of effort is possible if we make sure that we're not using welfare reform as a guise to just achieve budget cuts that will then ultimately be used for other purposes, for example, tax cuts for the very wealthy in America. There are ways that you can do this. We believe we've put forward a very strong proposal.

The President's got very clear ideas on welfare reform that we set out not only today in the statement of administration policy, but we set out in our work over the last two years to achieve welfare reform. And I believe that that can be done in a way that preserves states the option to maintain the effort currently required.

Q: Mike, do you suppose before this year is out there will be a Republican proposal that this White House disagrees with that you won't characterize as extreme, that you'll say we just disagree with it?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, when it's something that is just an honest disagreement, sure. We've had honest disagreements with them. We have one recently on the timber salvage provision of the rescissions bill. They started with extreme language on timber salvage, they modified their views, and we ended up with something that was signable. (Laughter.)

Q: Even though you say you're willing to work with the Republicans, it sounds like you're laying the ground work for a possible presidential veto here.

MR. MCCURRY: We're laying the ground work for putting a lot of heat on members of the Senate, especially on the Republican side, so that they can get down to the serious business of welfare reform. And the President believes that we will continue to keep that heat on because the American people are very clear what they want to see done with welfare. They want the current system ended. They want the transition from welfare dependency to work to occur. And they want to do that in a way that doesn't penalize the children who need to have access to child care if the parent or parents are going to work.

Q: So I guess he wouldn't veto it then.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, look, we are clear enough in what we say on the Dole bill today. We want a bill that the President can sign. We're not interested in vetoing the welfare reform measure because the President truly believes that that's an area where we can achieve bipartisan consensus and do it quickly. But in order for that to happen there's going to have to be a lot more seriousness of purpose applied to this debate as the Senate begins to take up the subject.

Q: You seem to agree on a number of provisions already in the Dole plan, like the tougher child support enforcement, making teen mothers stay home -- that sort of thing. It sounds like the thing that you're going to press the veto on is this block-granting method. Are they going to have to change that in order to come to some kind of agreement with the White House?

MR. MCCURRY: They're going to have to satisfy a lot of the points of criticism raised by the President today in our statement of policy. It's clear that among those are making sure that funding as it's available to the states can ensure that children are not left behind as a parent or parents make the transition to work from welfare.

But we're a long ways away from knowing what the final contours of that bill will be. What we suggest is that a much better starting place, as opposed to Senator Dole's bill, a much better starting place is the very good Democratic alternative which the President strongly supports -- the work first proposal that's been put forward by Senators Daschle, Breaux and Mikulski.

Q: The Speaker yesterday had some very harsh comments about President Clinton, saying, one, he should fire Ron Brown; two, that every time the President wants to deflect the attention from Whitewater, he issues another executive order. Do you have any reaction to the Speaker's comments?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, on the first -- look, speaking of deflecting attention, the Speaker, every opportunity he has to do something positive about political reform and changing the way business gets done in Washington he tries to change the subject. He needs to get serious about this. He's promised the President that he would be serious. He shook hands with the President of the United States in New Hampshire, and he can't somehow or other try to change the nature of that agreement. It was there. It was live. It was on videotape. It's time for the President and the Speaker to move forward on the political reform measure that they agreed to in New Hampshire. And it would be far more useful for the Speaker, rather than try to change the subjects or bring in extraneous issues, to sit down and write the letter that he's promised the President that sets forth his views on political reform.

As you know, we're moving ahead anyhow. The President's going to go ahead and do what he can through executive action to bring true lobby reform to Washington for the first time, so that those in the administration who are lobbied at least have the benefit of knowing, and the public will have the benefit of knowing who the people are and what they're being paid for to lobby about.

Q: And on Ron Brown?

MR. MCCURRY: It's just an extraneous issue. It has nothing to do with the subject of political reform.

Q: Wait a minute. The question stands, though, Mike. I mean, you either have something to say about it or you don't. The context of what Gingrich said yesterday was not political reform, it was something else. And you're being asked about that. You're not being asked in the context of political reform.

MR. MCCURRY: The President is fully supportive of Ron Brown, as you know.

Q: What was the result of the meeting today on Bosnia?

MR. MCCURRY: The President and his principal foreign policy advisors met for just under an hour today on the subject of Bosnia, but more broadly defined, the situation in the former Yugoslavia across all the former Yugoslavia, in light of the recent Croatian offensive into the Krajina region. The principals agreed it was very important to take into account the dynamic that exists on the ground now; very important to move forward to see what could be done to achieve a political resolution of this conflict on the grounds that no further military action is likely to make matters better; that now is the time for the parties to come together and to begin serious discussions that will lead to a political settlement; and, as always, the Contact Group proposal should be the basis for a settlement.

That proposal has been accepted by the Bosnian government, has not been accepted by the Bosnian Serbs. And they explored ways in which they could begin to invigorate the diplomatic effort that might lead to a resolution of the conflict.

Q: What about the Yeltsin initiative? Is the U.S. supportive of his call for talks in Moscow?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will consult further with the Russian Federation on that concept. We believe it is important for the parties to have dialogue, but the dialogue ought to be aimed at achieving acceptance of the Contact Group proposal which is one that is supported by the Russian Federation.

Q: What kind of encouragement or assistance has the United States provided for the Croatian offensive?

MR. MCCURRY: None that I'm aware of.

Q: And you spoke of invigorating the diplomatic initiative. How does the President see that happening?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think, first, it's important to take into account the views of our partners in this process, especially the Europeans. I wouldn't be surprised if the President has some further contact with his counterparts in coming days to explore our common understanding of what the situation is now on the ground.

I think that we've had positive discussions with the European Union's negotiator, Carl Bildt. We'll continue to look at what role the Contact Group can play. And as we develop a common approach with our European allies, we may have more to say later in the week.

Q: The Perot people have issued a press release saying that McLarty not only will come down to Dallas but will also address the convention now on behalf of the President. What was the thinking behind the White House in that decision to get McLarty to speak to the convention?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've thought for some time that Mr. McLarty would be a good representative of the President's point of view. We had known that Senator Dodd was going to go as general chairman of the party, but one concern we have at this point is it's not clear what the Senate schedule will be as we get to the end of the week.

On Friday, I believe, the United We Stand organization is hearing a series of substantive presentations about issues that are very much on their agenda. And in that context, we thought it would be helpful if Mr. McLarty talked about some of the things this administration has done to positively address the agenda that many members in Mr. Perot's organization care deeply about.

Q: Back on Bosnia, do you have a timetable for the veto on lifting the arms embargo?

MR. MCCURRY: I do not. I suspect it will be sometime this week, most likely later in the week. But I'll keep you posted as we know more.

Q: Is that here? You've got it? It has arrived?

MR. MCCURRY: It is here. The enrolled bill arrived, I believe, Thursday night -- Friday night? Sometime just before the weekend.

Q: Is the President going to use the trip this weekend to talk about his proposals for -- this week -- to talk about his proposals on tobacco?

MR. MCCURRY: It's clear to me that one way or another, in the context of his trip to North Carolina, that subject will come up. I don't know whether the President will address it directly or whether there will just be some general discussion of it. But we are looking now at ways in which we could move the President's thinking into a final decision. That requires a lot of work with lawyers, among others. And if he's able to address the subject on Wednesday, I wouldn't be surprised if he does so, but I'm not guaranteeing that that will be the subject of any major presentation.

Q: Would he have any discussion on Jesse Helms?

MR. MCCURRY: Any discussion on Jesse Helms? Well, I -- None that I'm directly -- that I'm aware of. I don't -- I'm not aware of any plans for Senator Helms to attend the National Baptist Convention on Wednesday.

Q: Does he have any sessions today or tomorrow with people on either side of this tobacco issue and-or elected representatives from states heavily affected?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check. He's had a variety of conversations individually, both by phone and sometimes here in person in recent days, with people on, I would say, both sides of the issue. But I'll have to check his calendar to see if he plans any meetings in coming days. I know he would certainly be discussing that with his staff.

Q: With who, Mike? Who's he --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's had an opportunity to talk to everyone from Congressman Waxman to Senator Ford on the subject. He, as you know -- wouldn't be surprised if he has discussion with some governors as well from the region. But I'll see if I can provide a more detailed list for you tomorrow.

Q: Robert Novak alleges in his column that the Haitian President may be involved in some 80 assassinations of political opponents and says the U.S. Embassy is aware of such things.

MR. MCCURRY: I am told the State Department will be covering that subject in greater details today, but I'm not aware of any evidence to corroborate the claim that some 80 political murders have been perpetrated against anti-Aristide individuals. In that sense, we question the accuracy of that report today.

As a general comment, I'd say you have to look back at what the situation has been in Haiti in recent years. The level of violence there today is far less than it was during the years of the Junta. It's clear that violence persists and violence continues but the government of Haiti has given every representation to the United States government that it is attempting to address those conditions that lead to that type of political violence.

Q: Well, have we tried to discuss -- you know --

MR. MCCURRY: Raise -- oh, yes --

Q: -- investigate this problem?

MR. MCCURRY: We have had regular discussions with the government of Haiti about the importance of law enforcement, the importance professionalizing their police force and bringing better techniques of law enforcement to those who are keeping the peace. And we have, in many cases, specifically raised our concerns about individual acts of political violence.

Q: But you have -- you don't think there is a validity to this charge?

MR. MCCURRY: We don't have any evidence to corroborate the claim that there have been these 80 deaths that are referred to.

Q: That's not the same as not believing it then, is it?

MR. MCCURRY: It's saying that we don't have evidence to corroborate it.

Q: What's the status of the government consideration of the merger of Westinghouse with CBS? Any government action that can take place, any comment by the President yet?

MR. MCCURRY: I have not seen anything here. The President did talk a little bit about telecommunications reform last week and that transcript is available. But that would be a Justice Department question principally. You might want to check and see whether they have anything to say.

Q: Does the White House have an official statement of the capture in Colombia?

MR. MCCURRY: We do, but come back to that question in a minute or two while I find it here.

Q: How about auto talks tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: Say again?

Q: I mean auto accords -- signing.

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't had a -- I did not have chance to check with USTR on that.

Q: Could you tell us what the environmental speech he's going to do in Baltimore tomorrow is all about?

MR. MCCURRY: I can tell you that the President is very concerned about some of the steps that are being taken to gut environmental protections that have been on the books now for 25 years plus, or at least the movement towards measures that have been on the minds of the American public for 25 years plus.

The attempts by this Republican majority to roll back the safeguards that exist to make sure that we have clean air and clean water take us back to the days before the original Earth Day back in 1970. And the President is going to address that subject tomorrow and talk about those things that he can do as President to reverse that type of attack upon a regulatory structure that has worked to make our air cleaner and to make our water safer.

Q: Will he announce executive orders along the lines of his lobbying reform and welfare reform unilateral action?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it sounds like you've got significant interest in the subject. You should go and find out. He might. (Laughter.)

Q: We will go.

MR. MCCURRY: That will be tomorrow's news. Do you have a copy of that? Can you give me that?

Q: What's today's, Mike? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no. The other thing. What is today's news? Me standing here and keeping you all entertained while nothing else is going on.

Q: Why did you put out this county-by-county report on Medicare? I mean, what is the --

MR. MCCURRY: To keep telling the American people what the consequences are for the Republican approach to Medicare cuts. They've got $270 billion worth of cuts projected in Medicare that are going to be very, very costly. The Speaker found out today down in Cobb County, Georgia, how much its going to affect the 37,000-plus Medicare beneficiaries in his state who are going to pay an average of $3,200 per person, $6,400 per couple over the course of the next seven years if their approach to Medicare and Medicaid savings is retained in the budget.

They are cutting the benefits of Medicare recipients in order to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. And we are going to continue to make that argument in a variety of ways. And one of the ways we can do that is to sort of take our analysis of what this means for individual recipients geographically around the country, make sure they understand what the consequences are.

Q: On tobacco, what contact, if any, has the administration had with the industry as the President decides what to do and where to go?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any direct contact. But the industry is in very close contact with its supporters on Capitol Hill and within states of the tobacco-producing region. And the thinking of the industry, I think, has been characterized by those that the President has had discussions with and that the White House staff has been in discussion with.

Q: Well, basically, what are they telling you?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they're saying that -- I mean, it's fairly obvious that they are quite concerned about the effect of proposed rulemaking by the Food and Drug Administration and concerned about steps that would mandate any curbs on their ability to market their product.

Q: On affirmative action the President sought industry views and corporate views on affirmative action. He keeps talking about trying to find common ground in terms of Republicans. Why not meet with industry representatives?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm not aware that any meeting has been requested, but, in any event, the White House is satisfied that it has had good input from the industry. And I believe the industry most likely would confirm that they feel like their views have been presented in discussions here at the White House.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I want to go back on the -- you all know that the White House National Drug Policy Director hailed the arrest of Miguel Rodriguez. I would say in echoing that statement that the President is very satisfied that strong law enforcement has produced in this instance a very important step forward in the fight against narco trafficking. We will continue to work very closely with the government of Colombia to address drug enforcement activities so that the Cali Cartel and others will no longer be making progress as they attempt to export products here to the United States.

Jack, do you have one last one?

Q: Yes, Mike. Is there a deadline by which you'll have to decide whether Mrs. Clinton is going to go to China?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Sometime before the beginning of the conference. (Laughter.) Thank you.

END 1:07 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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