Press Briefing by Press Secretary Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
1:06 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Well, welcome to all of you. Good afternoon. This is the White House and here I am briefing -- imagine that. What would you like to know about today?
Q: Sounds like another substantial accomplishment. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: This is. This is, indeed. On a day when we're celebrating so many accomplishments, and the great event the President just had concerning retirement income security and the protections that eight million Americans who were in troubled plans will now face, it truly is a day to celebrate.
Q: The obvious question is, why is this necessary? IF this President has done so much, why do people not realize it?
MR. MCCURRY: You're accusing us of bragging, I see. Well, that is fair. Sometimes you need to be able to lay out the case, tell the people what record you've established.
I think there are a lot of people -- I'll just maybe take a test -- go out and ask Americans if they're aware about some of the things that are included in the document that the White House released today. Ask them if they know that we've taken these significant steps to enhance America's economic recovery, to do things like protect the pension rights of eight million beneficiaries who are in trouble. And see if they know that much about that record. I think that you'd be surprised that some people may not have heard about this good news, and it's fair, I think, for us to tell that news over and over again.
Q: My question really gets to the point of why don't they know it already?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's an awful lot of information out there in the world. And I think that for us to penetrate that, very often, in order to communicate effectively with the American people who have got an awful lot on their minds trying to raise families, trying to earn a living -- in order to get through to them and tell them about what's going on here in Washington, you have to be persistent. And I think this is part of what you'll see as an ongoing effort for us to open a dialogue with the American people about where the President wants to lead this country. That's really what's going -- that's what this event today was about, it's what -- and the President has been talking about in recent days, and certainly as we go into the State of the Union address, part of what he will do beginning Tuesday night.
Q: As the President looks forward to the second two years of this term, does he imagine his job will be easier or harder or less or more rewarding?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he will always find the job rewarding. He does now. As he looks ahead in the next two years, he knows there will be challenges out there. We're in a different political environment now, obviously, with the Republicans in control of the Congress. But I think he will find many opportunities to build on the type of success we've had in the last two years and the type of success that the White House has outlined today.
Q: Mike, the question is, if the President has done so much in honoring his campaign commitments, as this document would suggest, why he is in such trouble politically?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has got a very strong argument to make about what we've done over the last two years. I think as that argument is made effectively, and as the President then says we're going to build on the success, look ahead and lead forward into the next two years, the President's got an opportunity to open a dialogue with the American people that could change some of those impressions.
Look, we're not -- we understand that the effort to persuade the American people that we are on the right track, that we are going ahead with the type of success that we've accomplished in the last two years is a challenge. But we are willing to accept that challenge and move ahead, make the case persuasively so that the American people will come to appreciate better the extraordinary work that's been done in the first two years of this administration.
Q: Can we go back to the question over here as to why that hasn't gotten across to the country yet? You have a radio address every week, you're on line on the Internet, you have briefings every day, awful lot of press about the President. Why is it that the White House still thinks its story isn't being told?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you have to communicate effectively, and there are ways to do that and some of that is not terribly complicated. But I think it's also important to be very focused on what you say, and maybe sometimes we've tried to cover the gamut. We've had so many exciting things to talk about in the first two years that sometimes you maybe get lost in the forest when you're trying to talk about all the individual trees. Maybe what we're doing now is being a little more focused, so that the story we want to tell resonates a little more clearly with the American people.
Q: Can you deliver those Democratic votes in the House to pass this Mexico loan guarantee package?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has been having good conversations with his team here, the team working on the Hill to secure those votes. We feel very confident, given the enormous importance of the Mexico economic support package, that we can generate bipartisan support that will allow us to pass this quickly. Obviously, there's a lot of work still to be done. There are a lot of discussions that need to be held on the Hill, but the President is confident that, given the enormous importance of this package, that members of Congress from both sides will rally to it and pass it expeditiously.
Q: Haley Barbour said at a news conference this morning that he suspects the White House is behind the strategy of character assassination against Newt Gingrich because Democrats are afraid to talk about issues. Could you respond, please?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the Chairman of the party is mistaken. Democrats across Washington, certainly here at the White House, are more than interested in talking about substance. That's what the President has been doing each and every day. You see that he's been talking, as he has been today, about economic security for Americans in retirement. He'll be talking about fighting for working families, and that is very substantive and very important to the American people. And we'll be doing that each and every day.
Q: But is the White House behind pushing this questioning of Gingrich's ethics and his personal behavior --
MR. MCCURRY: Of course not. There's a lot of heated debate going on in the House of Representatives, and I think that has been true for centuries. But our business here at the White House and the President's business is to talk about the work the American people expect him to do to build a stronger economy and to fight for working families.
Q: Despite all the success you say the administration has had, it appears that you are having some trouble attracting people to jobs like CIA chief; we know of a couple of prominent people who say they don't want to do it. You still have a lot of holes to fill on the White House staff. Why is it so hard to get people to take important jobs in this administration?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think that's a correct characterization. I think the President in a very disciplined way has been working on a number of personnel issues, and I believe the President will have something to say publicly about that very shortly.
Q: Tomorrow? Today? When? I mean, everyone's been saying, very shortly, very shortly.
MR. MCCURRY: Very shortly in my mind would be in a matter of days.
Q: Is that on the CIA you're talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: It's specifically about the CIA, but I think we've got several personnel issues that are coming to a conclusion now, and I expect an announcement shortly.
Q: Has the President narrowed the list of the CIA candidates to only a handful?
MR. MCCURRY: That would be accurate.
Q: One of the promises in Putting People First is raising the minimum wage. Have the economic advisors sent their recommendations to the President, and when is he going to make a decision?
MR. MCCURRY: They have not sent a recommendation forward yet. The questions that they're dealing with are how do you look at the issue of structuring a minimum wage increase if, in fact, you are recommending a minimum wage increase. There are many different ways to do that. There has been legislation introduced already on Capitol Hill that would accomplish that, so there are different approaches that some might take to it. I believe the President's economic advisors want to give him their best advice as to how to address the question and whether -- when it becomes time to look at the question of an increase how it should be structured is a question that they are focusing most upon.
Q: Well, a senior official says it would go to the President this week. Does that still hold?
MR. MCCURRY: I really -- I prefer not to speculate when action, decision memos of that nature are going to go to the President.
Q: As you look back over the last two years, can you also look ahead, tell us some of the themes of the State of the Union, whether or not you anticipate the President -- whether or not you can tell us -- to pop out any kind of surprise?
MR. MCCURRY: The President in some sense has been giving you good previews of the type of argument that he wants to make on Tuesday night in his speeches recently. He's been talking a lot about the relationship between the American citizens -- American citizens and their government, what he has described often as the New Covenant that exists between the American people and government, talking about the role that government can positively play --
Q: The sound has gone off --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll fix that in the future, particularly when I'm on a roll like that. (Laughter.)
Well, seriously, he's done a lot. He will do -- he's talking a lot about that relationship that exists between the American people and their government and why Democrats believe so strongly that government must be effective, must not be wasteful, and must enter in a positive way when it enters into the lives of the American people. That is what reinventing government is about. That is obviously a principal theme.
And then secondly, looking ahead, how you take the enormous success that we've had with the economy in the last two years, build upon it, so that working families in this country are confident about their economic future. Those are two large building blocks. You've seen the President looking at that subject -- aggressively in the last couple of days, and it's safe to imagine that that will be part of the address Tuesday night.
Q: Since we've heard a lot of that stuff recently, isn't there a risk for you that the State of the Union will then seem like an anticlimax?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think so. I think the State of the Union address each and every year is a major opportunity for a President to lay a message before the American Congress, to call the Congress into action for the future and, thus, is always newsworthy. And whether or not you judge there to be as much news value in it based on what he's been saying will be for you to determine Tuesday night. But I think it will be an important address. It come at an important moment for President Clinton as he goes into the next two years of his administration. And I think the address will be significant and will be judged to be significant.
Q: Is he likely to travel and take some of the themes more directly to the public?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President would like to, after presenting his message to Congress, would like to go and share it with the American people, and I suspect he will do so Wednesday. On the 25th he will go to Kutztown, Pennsylvania --
MR. MCCURRY: Kutztown, Pennsylvania, to Kutztown University where there are a lot of students who are very, very interested in what the President is fighting for in the Middle Class Bill of Rights.
Q: The day after the State of the Union?
MR. MCCURRY: Wednesday, the 25th. Kutztown.
Q: Why there?
MR. MCCURRY: Why there? Because at the university, at Kutztown University, there are a number of students who are going to depend on the type of assistance that is projected in the Middle Class Bill of Rights and need that type of tuition assistance if they're to have a promise of a college education. It's an ideal place to talk specifically about some of the economic parts of the President's message.
Q: How did you find out that the students were so interested? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: We've got a lot -- we've got our antenna out there all the time, picking up good information about what the American people are thinking.
Q: Is it a public university or private school?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll tell you more about the details of the stop as we get in later in the week.
Q: Senator Dodd this morning spent a great deal of time at the Sperling breakfast outlining some of the things he thinks need to be done to redound the Democratic Party. But he started from the point saying the November 8th election was a death sentence for the Democratic Party. Is that assessment, that stark assessment held here as well?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- I don't know the context in which he said that, so I'll beg off a comment on that until I know more about what point he was trying to drive at. That sounds like it might have been something that is slightly out of context here.
Q: You talked earlier about the need to focus in terms of communication strategy. On Monday you said that the theme for Monday and Tuesday was going to be national service and stressing that, and you said that probably Tuesday would be even a bigger day for that than Monday was. But when the President, in all of his comments on Tuesday -- in all of his public comments -- he never mentioned national service once. Is part of the problem in terms of communicating the President himself?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think that's fair. He talked in California -- you'll recall when he was visiting -- especially northern California -- the flood damage, and also really down in southern California when he was looking at the earthquake damage, he talked about the enormous positive work that had been done by a lot of the volunteers, including people who are sort of within the umbrella of the AmeriCorps program by virtue of being part of the California Civilian Conservation Corps. And then we talked with, met with them. He talked about his experiences with them and the good work that they were doing when we were in Northern California. So it was really, I think, built around that general theme. And he will continue to press that theme, as in fact, the AmeriCorps has been in the last several days.
Q: Just as a follow-up, I mean, he didn't mention volunteers. But unlike Monday, he never mentioned national service. He never mentioned AmeriCorps. He didn't stress the fact that this was an accomplishment of this administration. I mean, is part of the problem trying to keep him on track?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I think he is very focused and very disciplined himself.
Q: Hire that guy.
Q: Since when? (Laughter.)
Q: I'd like to ask about something that --
MR. MCCURRY: Let me ask you a question, can the people in the back hear okay? It's hard to hear the questions up front. I'll try to repeat some of them.
Q: to ask what's going on on the House side today in committee, will the President veto any legislation that would put a moratorium on federal regulations?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, but I am not familiar -- repeat again what you were saying.
Q: Will the President veto any legislation that would put a moratorium on federal regulation?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to project into the future a specific veto threat about that piece of legislation. I'm not familiar enough that that piece of legislation myself. I can look into that and maybe come back to that later in the week.
Q: Mike, back to the State of the Union. One of the issues that's often picked up in the polls in so-called credibility or character issue which we all know about. Is the President going to somehow try to address that, either directly or indirectly, in the State of the Union?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think you address personal issues like that; you stand up, you tell the country where you want to go, where you think you can lead the country, and I think that in doing that, the President will demonstrate great character on Tuesday night.
Q: At his new conference this morning, Haley Barbour also tried to draw a parallel between Vice President's book deal and Newt Gingrich's book deal; said there's no difference. Does the White House see a difference between those two book deals?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's a substantial difference, and the substantial difference is that the Vice President, when he was then a member of the United States Senate, sent his contractual arrangement to the Senate Ethics Committee for review, but I believe the Vice President's staff can tell you more about that -- that's a principle difference. Other than that, I don't know that I want to get into the torture that the Speaker is experiencing right now.
Q: Can you explain -- you said you might be able to by now -- the bad trade figures this month, and how it figures in with all the President's efforts to engage the U.S. in the new --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I would say that on the trade figures there's good new and bad new. The bad new obviously is the likelihood of a very large trade imbalance, but there's good new behind that. The good news is that those figures are based upon the strong performance of the U.S. economy, the trade deficit reflects continued growth differentials around the world as you look at different economies.
We have experienced here, economic expansion with low levels of inflation; elsewhere in the world they've not had that type of economic performance. Some of our major trading partners have economies that are rather sluggish. And right now, as a consequence, their imports from the United States are not as high as they otherwise would be. So that is part of the explanation for the numbers.
In general, in the good years, our economic recovery continues. And that puts American consumers in a position to purchase goods from abroad. The bad news is other economies are not performing as well, so there's not as much economic activity that results in goods and services from the United States going into those economies. So, it's a mixed picture.
Q: Mike, are there any plans for the President to tell the heads of American corporations that the profits from this economic expansion should be passed on to employees in the form of wage hikes?
MR. MCCURRY: Is that a question about the minimum wage that's coming in the back door?
Q: jawboning or maybe something in the State of the Union?
MR. MCCURRY: I think as a general proposition the President has argued often about growing the economy and the need for jobs that produce higher wages. I think he will continue that argument. I'm not aware of any specific plan involving the question of corporate profits and how they ought to be directed.
Q: I see several items of accomplishment here on arms control. But I don't see anything that says that we should limit the CIA and limit other government agencies in exporting arms for sale to countries from warring around the world. I wonder if he's going to address that in his -- or whether he's going to do something about that? Will he address it in his State of the Union message?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't predict whether or not the issue of conventional arms sales around the world would be part of the President's address. I can tell you that the Clinton administration has done a lot of very significant work on conventional arms transfers. There's been a great deal of work done inter-agency on that out of the Defense Department and the State Department. And that is a record I think we would be proud to point to. I wouldn't necessarily associate it with the agency you mentioned because it's been -- the work that's being done on military arms transfers involves a number of Cabinet agencies.
Q: Will you work to encourage the sales from us to --
MR. MCCURRY: The sales are reflective, the percentages -- sometimes people mistakenly think that the percentages of sales were reflected in what our export activity has been about. There's actually our share of the global arms market has increased somewhat because the share of other countries has declined; specifically, Russia.
One last one in the back and then I've got something else I want to do.
Q: How far along is the President in his review of Secretary Reich's idea of eliminating corporate tax subsidies --
MR. MCCURRY: It's a powerful argument, and we may be saying more about it in the future.
Let me -- for those of you in the back who often complain that you can't hear those in the front, those in the front are now saying they can't hear you in the back. So thus it will ever be at the White House briefing room.
Paging Nancy Ward. Nancy Ward, you're about to be made famous.
I think a lot of you know -- I'm going to start a tribute to Nancy Ward while we're finding her. A lot of you know her. She worked in the Clinton campaign and did just about anything that needed to be done anytime someone asked her to do something. Since she became Press Office Manager two years ago, she has been, I think, one of the most devoted and effective members of the press office staff. She's done everything from training interns to -- on foreign trips when I've seen her, she was often doing most of what anyone was doing. (Applause.)
And one of the things that she was always amazing for me, when I traveled with her for the State Department, was tracking down transcripts. And I hope that this will be a transcript that she likes to use.
I think all of you know that Nancy has got a great job opportunity down in Arkansas, and it's probably also -- to say that it might be a matter of the heart, too.
So Nancy, thank you very, very much for a job well done. (Applause.)
END 1:40 P.M. EST
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Mike McCurry Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269873