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Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

August 08, 1995

The Briefing Room

10:53 A.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: Now, sufficiently aroused, those of you who are going --

Q: Is the President doing tobacco tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: Just before we get into that, those of you who are going up to Baltimore, the press bus is located at 17th and Pennsylvania, and it will depart at about 11:03 a.m.

On tobacco, the President --

Q: They said the Treasury Building.

MR. MCCURRY: 17th and Pennsylvania. So we'll get you to where you need to be.

Mr. Knowler, on tobacco, the President, as you gathered from his interview with National Public Radio last night, intends to move in the next several days to protect America's children from the ill effects of tobacco use. He will, I believe, restate the reason why that's an important issue to him as he travels to North Carolina tomorrow. I don't expect him to announce any final decision tomorrow in North Carolina, but as he indicated to NPR, that would likely happen in the next several days.

Q: Why is he delaying it?

MR. MCCURRY: He's not delaying it. He's been working -- this is a complicated issue, involving both regulation and then policymaking on the President's part. He's very keen on making sure he's got the right policy to make good on a commitment he feels strongly about. That's his responsibility as President, to protect the nation's children from tobacco use.

Q: What are the unresolved questions?

MR. MCCURRY: It's just -- there are lots of different ways that you could achieve the policy objectives that the President has in mind, and he's been exploring a lot of different ways that you would get the work done. He's got a pretty good idea, as you could tell from the interview last night, of the direction he is going to go. The issue now is how he actually codifies that in the proposals he'll set forth.

Q: But he's going to say flatly he will not declare nicotine a drug that should be banned?

MR. MCCURRY: I cannot say that, no.

Q: Mike, why is this a presidential issue? Why isn't it something that parents would deal with in trying to dissuade or appeal to --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that goes to the heart of FDA's determination or their interest in the issue itself. I think I should let the President address that. That goes to the health and science behind the regulatory work that the FDA has examined. Then automatically that makes it an issue that is subject to review and scrutiny by the federal government.

Q: Of all the issues that the President is dealing with lately, why did he agree to make this an issue on his plate right now?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, you've seen in recent weeks one after another scientific study coming forward that confirms some of the documented evidence that addiction to tobacco especially among young people is on the rise. It's a source of very real concern to him. And you remember the context for the discussion of this issue is a very real debate going on now about Medicare expenditures. And that speaks to the long-term health costs in America of what happens if we're paying 20, 30, 40 years down the road from the health damage done to today's children by tobacco use. So in a very real sense he's protecting future generations of taxpayers, in addition of protecting the current generation of children.

Q: Is one of the other issues, unresolved issues, the idea of voluntary self-regulation to avoid having this caught up in the courts for years to come? If you could get the tobacco companies on their own --

MR. MCCURRY: The President, as he indicated last night, is very concerned -- inevitably, there will be litigation that arises out of anything that the President indicates that he wants to do. The importance is to make sure that that is -- does not become an unnecessary impediment to getting the work done of protecting children. And one of the complicated aspects of the President's review of this issue is making sure we've got something that can deal with or at least handle the inevitable litigation that would arise.

Q: What does the President see in terms of a veto or not on this House-passed bill concerning the federally-funded or granted -- federal grants to organizations who lobby the government?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I believe that issue arose most recently in connection with the Labor-HHS appropriations bill which already has numerous reasons associated with it that would trigger a veto. The President feels strongly that the protections that exist currently for those organizations to exercise their constitutional rights are warranted, and this is one more -- in some ways, one more attack on -- ultimately, one more attack on a woman's right to choose and make her own decisions, health decisions about her future, since the direction, the target of this provision was organizations that were lobbying on that particular issue.

Q: So would he veto this bill?

MR. MCCURRY: He's already indicated that that bill, for many reasons, would be subject to a veto.

Q: Is this recent flurry of executive orders and veto threats an acknowledgement that there's little prospect of reaching common ground with the Republicans? What's the President trying to achieve with this more confrontational approach?

MR. MCCURRY: What the President is saying to the Congress is I feel strongly about these issues that are fundamental to the health and welfare of the American people, and if you're going to be so crazy as to go forward with these extreme measures that fall outside the common-sense, common-ground approach that has been part of our life in this nation, going back generations -- in the case of environmental protection which we talked about today, it goes back to the Nixon administration when we agreed on some fundamental premises when it came to protecting the American people -- and if this Congress in its extremity is going to violate that sense of common purpose and common ground, the President will use his presidential authority to protect the American people -- in this case, their right to know about toxic emissions in their community.

But I can foresee additional examples in coming weeks in which the President might feel so inclined to act. And this is in the context of a Congress that seems determined to disrupt some of the very valid bipartisan, common-sense judgments that we've made over the last generation about how we protect the health and welfare of the American people. That's what's at stake here.

Q: On tobacco, will the President's action, his decision, will that be limited to try to reduce smoking by children? Number two, will it be up to the FDA to implement? And when does the President, when does the administration hope that whatever he decides would take effect?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has talked -- answered to the first question about protecting the health of American children, and most of the discussions that I'm aware of here at the White House have focused on that issue. The second and third questions relate to the President's review of this issue, and we can be more specific about that in coming days as he finalizes his decision and makes it available publicly.

Q: Will it be limited to children, though? Will some of the actions be also at least aimed at trying to reduce --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, let me just do one hypothetical without indicating that that necessarily is part of the President's decision. If you restrict access to vending machines, for example, that is obviously designed to protect illegal use of that vending machine by children. But it obviously would have some impact on adult users of tobacco as well.

Q: Mike, are you going to give out the -- release the full transcript of NPR?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll defer that to Mara Liasson. NPR has made it available. We'll make it -- our understanding was that NPR was feeding that to their affiliates sometime today.

Q: At 1:00 p.m.

MR. MCCURRY: At 1:00 p.m. And our intent would be to provide it after they've had an opportunity to provide it to their affiliates.

Q: Where does Bosnia stand in terms of the President's involvement?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he made several phone calls to his counterparts. As you know from our statement last night, he had good discussions with Prime Minister Major, with President Chirac, and with Chancellor Kohl. He continues to work with his advisors to review what the situation on the ground is in the wake of Croatia's recent offensive in the Krajina.

He continues to explore with the allies, and then with his senior foreign policy advisors here, what diplomatic steps can now arise that would help settle this conflict at a time when we believe, and our sense is our other allies and our friends believe, that the solution to this conflict is not in continued fighting by the parties, but in a resolution of their conflict through diplomacy.

Q: Can I just have a follow-up? Do you think this will lead to a wider war, or are you of the opinion now that it will lead to a political settlement?

MR. MCCURRY: The reason that we caution the government of Croatia against this offensive is precisely the reason that it might lead to a wider conflict, as we indicated. We believe that further fighting involving Serbia and Croatia, especially in the area of Eastern Slovenia would be a very unwelcome development. It would be the wider conflict that the President has cautioned against. And the United States is determined, at this moment, to do everything possible to make more vigorous the diplomatic efforts that might help bring the conflict to an end.

Q: One argument -- on tobacco -- one argument being made to avoid unnecessary litigation is to have tobacco industry regulate itself with the threat that the FDA would come in and regulate it as a drug if they don't. Is the White House considering that?

MR. MCCURRY: That theory has been put forward by some folks both inside and outside government. The President, as he indicated last night, is intent on making sure that whatever commitments we make to protect the health of children will stand and will not somehow or other be subverted down the road.

Q: Mike, could we just go back to Bosnia?

Q: What is a mandatory-type action?

MR. MCCURRY: The question is what is a mandatory-type action. I can't -- obviously, Rita, that would just lead us down the trail of questions we don't have time for right now about what the President is going to decide, which I'm not going to deal with right now.

Q: Just to follow up on your hope that the Croatian offensive somehow leads to diplomatic settlement -- I mean, why are you hopeful? Is that just some abstract hope, or is it based on something specific?

MR. MCCURRY: No. I mean, you have followed this conflict and the attempts to resolve it through the Contact Group proposal to know how the Bihac pocket fits into the overall Contact Group proposal, what some of the obstacles have been in achieving agreement to that proposal. And I think some of the facts on the ground are self-evident as they affect the diplomatic effort.

Q: Are you getting any signs from any of the parties that the diplomatic --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been some signs, yes, that there is interest in dialogue.

Q: What are those?

MR. MCCURRY: The favorable response by government of Croatia. The invitation of President Yeltsin is one indicator, not necessarily the one that will be resulting in any immediate diplomatic moves, but there are signs that the parties are showing some evidence of war weariness.

Q: You mentioned that you cautioned the Croatians against widening the war. Has a similar warning gone to Serbia?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I believe we did -- we demarched Serbia, Former Yugoslav Republic, and the Krajina Serbs, as well as our demarche to the government of Croatia.

Q: In the NPR interview, the President, I think, used a the term that he would not be blackmailed by Congress into signing, you know, an unacceptable bill, and that he's willing to let the government shut down, I think, upwards of five days was the language he used, rather than --

MR. MCCURRY: He just said one, two, three, four, five days, whatever. He was not --

Q: Well, what about long-term? I mean, Congress is talking in some quarters of 60-day shut down. If we're talking in terms of a long-term government shutdown does that change the President's stance?


Q: One more on Bosnia. Does the President still think the U.N. should stay there at this juncture?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry. Say again.

Q: Any change on U.N. position? Does the President still think UNPROFOR should stay there?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, particularly at a moment now when we've dramatically added to the refugee crisis that exists as Serbs from the Bihac area now find themselves homeless in parts of Serb-controlled Bosnia.

Q: In her briefing, Ms. Browner was unable to say how many of the current facilities would be covered by the President's order. How do you plan to make that --

MR. MCCURRY: We're going to see if we can quantify it just as a general proposition. We were talking about this earlier, and Administrator Browner made the very good point that major manufacturing entities that currently have facilities that are listed in due report tend to be exactly those that do government procurement as well, those entities that the government does business with. So it will have a substantial effect. We'll see if we can't quantify somewhere or other.

But most major manufacturers that do business with the government have been subject to these reporting requirements in the past. And, obviously, they would be on notice that they would have to continue to meet that standard under the President's executive order and that we would hope would have some effect of setting a standard for the industry as a whole.

One thing -- I don't know whether Administrator Browner did mention -- but consistent with our desire to lessen burdens and regulations on small business, there would be an exemption for firms that do business in amounts in contracts less than $100,000. So there is a small business exemption in here, so we're not talking about smaller concerns. The effect of the executive order would fall most heavily on the largest manufacturing entities and those are exactly the ones that do the largest volume of business with the federal government.

Q: Is this $100,000 a year?

MR. MCCURRY: For $100,000 a year. That will be in a lot of the background material that those of you who should be on the bus by now will have access to.

Q: Is that the case in current law?

MR. MCCURRY: I think there is a threshold test in current law as well.

Q: In the realm of additional executive orders crime policy is apparently one area --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, wait a minute. Hold on for a second. Gene, let me correct that for a second now that I think about it. See, the effect of the current rider would affect all private enterprise. The President's directive can obviously only affect those companies that are doing business with the federal government, i.e., federal contractors, so that the exemption provision for the size of a federal contract might be specifically related to the executive order that the President signs today. I don't know whether there's a small business test within the 1986 statute itself. That's maybe something you guys can check on when you're up there today.

Q: The additional executive orders that the President is considering, apparently one area is anticrime policy. Can you add any detail to what he might be thinking of in that --

MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not going to add details to it other than to say the President is looking at these areas in which he might, of necessity, have to use his presidential authority and to protect the American people at a time when Congress seems determined to roll back the laws on the books designed to protect the American people.

Q: So crime is definitely one of them?

MR. MCCURRY: Crime could be an area. There could be what we've been talking about, tobacco is certainly an area in which the President has some authority to act and we've been discussing his intent to act.

Q: Did the President find any consensus when he talked to the allied leaders? And what is the follow-up? How come he isn't sending an emissary to this area to try to see what can actually be done? I mean, is he just going to operate through phone calls?

MR. MCCURRY: No, the President did find considerable consensus and did have good discussions about how to follow up.

Q: The President spoke to Boris Yeltsin about 10 days ago before Croatia started its offensive. Any plans to talk to Yeltsin now with the changing Croatian involvement?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check. In his last conversation with President Yeltsin they indicated they would stay in touch on the subject of Bosnia. I'll see if the President plans any follow-up contact. I know that through our embassy in Moscow we were interested in learning more about the proposal that President Yeltsin made for a meeting between the President of Croatia and the head of the former Yugoslav Republic.

Q: The British have apparently said that they've received troubling reports about ethnic cleansing on the part of the Croats. Are you all receiving the same reports?

MR. MCCURRY: We are aware of those reports. We're awaiting more detailed information. And, again, we would say that, as we said prior to this latest offensive into the Krajina, that we caution all parties to exercise restraint and to avoid civilian casualties.

Q: The memo that OMB Director Rivlin put out in late July on government shutdown if need be and preparing for a government-wide plan, would that extend to something as long as 60 days? Are you prepared to do something --

MR. MCCURRY: We're not going to speculate on how long the Congress would hold the American people hostage by shutting down the government. The Congress, if they're willing to do it for 60 days, 90 days, a year, they would just demonstrate their utter disregard for the American people by putting the American people through that type of crisis which could have for many Americans catastrophic consequences -- loss of a necessary benefit check, loss of necessary support services. Imagine the effect on the stock market if the SEC shut down for 60 days, just hypothetically.

So the President of the United States made it pretty clear last night that if that's the crisis they want to provoke, the President will have made it clear to the American people that he did everything possible to avoid that crisis.

Q: In the past, I think it might have been Carter actually had a legal opinion that the Executive Branch was able to keep certain parts of the government open even in spite of congressional inaction. Are you having Walter Dellinger do --

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't asked the Associate Attorney General whether we would keep the White House Press Office open, for example, but I can assure you that we will.

Q: Are you looking into this under separation of powers?

MR. MCCURRY: The OMB Director's direction to the Cabinet which was then subsequently followed up by the Chief of Staff did ask them to look at issues, and I imagine the legal issues associated with shutting down the government are also in the purview of some parts of our government to explore. I'm not aware of any specific question.

Q: You love your job so much, Mike, that you will work without pay?

MR. MCCURRY: I'd be happy to work without pay. I'm not paid enough as it is anyhow.

Q: When this has actually happened in the past on the October 1, there's always been a continuing resolution -- or raising the debt ceiling.

MR. MCCURRY: That's right. But I'm getting questions today saying that maybe this time it's different. Maybe this time Congress is determined to shut down the government, I'm hearing, for as long as two months. I'm just saying that that demonstrates that we might be in a much different situation this time.

Q: Back on tobacco. Given the massive health consequences and costs, why is the President just considering looking at this as an issue for children? Why isn't he -- why isn't he looking at this for adults as well, regulating this as an --

MR. MCCURRY: It could have the largest impact and make the greatest difference when it comes to protecting health and all the costs associated with protecting health, if you concentrate on children.

Q: But is he not willing to deal with it for adults?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any suggestions that there just be an outright prohibition on tobacco products.

Q: Would the President's proposal he's considering on tobacco amount to a pretty large regulatory burden on the states, since all these states already have laws which are not enforced affecting teenagers, and if you run it through the federal government, won't that just amount to a huge unfunded mandate --

MR. MCCURRY: There will be some consequence but it would in size, as a comparison be far less significant than the unfunded mandate that the United States Senate is now considering passing back the cost of welfare to the states without asking them -- without giving them any guarantee that there would be a willingness to pay for it. That would be the granddaddy of all unfunded mandates. This one might put some additional regulatory burden on states but we doubt that it would be that significant.

Q: Are you anticipating that no matter what the President does on tobacco that Congress and the Republicans would try to undo it legislatively? And what would be the fall-back for that?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on that.

Q: To avert this armageddon that you just depicted in the government shutdown -- (laughter) --

MR. MCCURRY: Armageddon?

Q: I think that was the term used in the Reagan administration. To avert that would you seriously consider a legislative vehicle that Congressman Moran mentioned last week that would allow the government to continue operating, allow all functions to proceed and you just simply borrow against Treasury coffers until all appropriations bills signed?

MR. MCCURRY: I know there is some strong interest in that, but I haven't heard that specific idea seriously discussed here. I imagine that there are some who are looking carefully at all aspects of this matter who will look into Congressman Moran's legislation. And he, properly, is concerned about the effect on federal employees in his congressional district. We can understand that. But that would just be one small measure to protect the American people. It's ultimately all American people who would be affected by the consequences of shutting down their government.

Q: The point is not just to protect a congressional district that has a lot of federal employees in it, it would be, as you said, to keep the checks running and to keep the facilities open.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, but it's always -- all discussions like that involve severe disruptions in the performance of government across the board, whether it's delivery of services, whether it's the necessary action of the federal government to protect the American people. These are stopgap measures designed to eliminate the effects of what is otherwise going to be a crisis. And just is an environment in which the President is saying we don't need to go through all that if we just get serious about doing our business now.

Q: Do you have anything on the detention and subsequent release of this West Point professor in Russia?

MR. MCCURRY: No. We've been back and forth in contact with our embassy in Moscow, and I suspect by the time my colleague, Ken Bacon, briefs over at the Defense Department they will have a lot more to report on that. They were still getting -- trying to get as much information as available from Embassy Moscow. They had not been able to confirm the report that we had heard from the Russian Federation earlier. We are aware that there was a joint U.S.-Russia project with the Institute of Biophysics that had a U.S.-Russia joint team operating in Siberia somewhere near Krasnoyarsk. But the Pentagon will be able to tell you more about that later on.

Q: What is the reading du jour on when the President is going on his vacation?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's next week. Mid- to late next week is the projection. I'm asking that we try to pin that down for those of you who have got hotel reservations in Wyoming.

Q: We'll be paying from the 13th on, I think.

Q: First Lady to China?

MR. MCCURRY: Nothing new. Nothing new on First Lady and China.

Q: Will she make the decision before the President goes West? I understand she's planning on going to Hawaii.

MR. MCCURRY: She'll make it sometime before the conference, as I said yesterday. I don't have anything.

Thank you. Good-bye. Have a good time up in Baltimore.

END 11:15 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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