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Remarks on Fast-Track Trade Legislation and an Exchange With Reporters

November 10, 1997

The President. Good morning. Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, we have postponed the vote in the House of Representatives on renewing fast-track authority to strengthen our ability to expand exports through new agreements. I'm disappointed, of course, that this step was necessary because we worked very hard, and we're very close to having the requisite number of votes. But early this morning it became clear to me that if the matter were taken to a vote, there was a substantial chance that we would not get the votes necessary to pass the bill.

Let me begin by saying a profound word of thanks to Speaker Gingrich and to the leadership team in the House who worked with us on this, and on the Democratic side, to Representatives Fazio and Matsui and the others who were helping them. This was a partnership for the national interests, and I am very grateful for what they are doing.

I think most of you know what happened. We have been having a big debate in our party for several years on the question of trade and its role in our economic future. Even though we clearly have a majority of the Democratic mayors and Governors, and we had a majority in the Senate, we don't have a majority in the House who agree with the position that I have taken. We worked hard to overcome their objections, and we didn't succeed. And because we didn't have more Democratic votes, we then had to get a bigger share of the Republican vote. That brought into play the controversy over international family planning and the socalled Mexico City language.

Had we been able to resolve that, I think we could have gotten enough votes on the Republican side to go with the Democrats' votes we had to pass the bill. Clearly, I think we could have. But we simply were not able to do that. And I say that without undue criticism of anyone. The people who took the position that they could not give their votes to the fasttrack legislation believe very deeply in principle that we should change our family planning funding. I, on the other hand, believe that it would have been wrong for me to mix the two issues and to compromise what I believe in principle. And in the end, this matter could not go forward because of that disagreement.

But what we're going to do now is to regroup a little bit and find a way to succeed, and I think we'll be able to do that. I also know, from my extensive work now in the House, that there are a large number of House Members who are interested in trying to find some constructive resolution of this matter, and I think we may well be able to do that. I expect that we will successfully press forward with this issue in this Congress and at the appropriate time. So I'm not particularly concerned about the long run; I think we'll be able to prevail.

Today, let me say again, I think it's important that all of us do more to make the case. This country is in good shape. We have 13 1/2 million more jobs; we have a 4.7 percent unemployment rate; we know that a third of that growth has come from trade. We know that the countries that are willing to enter into agreements with us in the kinds of areas of agreement that we need to push on a regional and a worldwide basis will lower barriers more in other countries than they will in our country.

But we also know that the benefits of trade are often not seen as directly tied to trade. When a plant expands or a new contract is signed, and whenever a plant closes down, generally it's easy to tie it to trade whether trade had anything to do with it or not. So we have some more work to do.

But on balance, based on where we are now, I'm quite optimistic that we will ultimately prevail in this Congress. And I'm very pleased again with the good partnership that we had with Speaker Gingrich and the House leadership team and with the Democrats who helped us. And so we're just going to go forward. I think it's clear to everybody that America's leadership in the world depends upon America's continuing economic leadership, and this, therefore, has to be only a temporary obstacle because, in the end, we always find out a way to do what's right for America, to maintain our leadership, and maintain our economic growth.

Situation in Iraq

Q. What did you think—[inaudible]—to make a move on Iraq? And how do you assess the situation now?

The President. Well, first of all, as you know, the United Nations U-2 plane was not fired upon in its flight. But—and that's a good thing, but it does not change the larger issue which is that the U.N. inspections have been stopped by Saddam Hussein. So the next step is to get a very strong resolution from the United Nations manifesting the determination of the international community to resume those inspections. And that should happen shortly, as the report is made from the people who went to Iraq. And then we will have to go about manifesting that, demonstrating our determination to start those inspections again.

Q. Do you have any fear for the safety of those Americans who are in Baghdad? And what kind of unambiguous action did you signal yesterday that you expected out of the Security Council?

The President. Well, of course, I'm concerned about the Americans. I'm concerned about the other United Nations personnel who are there. I'm concerned about all of them. But again, I am trying to work with Mr. Butler and with the United Nations on a daily basis to do what seems right and best. And it was the judgment of the United Nations people and Mr. Butler that they ought to stay as long as they had a chance to resume their work and that they wanted to do that. But I assure you, I'm quite concerned with the safety of all the people that are there on behalf of Americans and on behalf of the world community trying to keep this weapons of mass destruction program from being restarted.

I believe we are considering every aspect of this issue. We spent all weekend working exhaustively on it, and we're going to watch it very carefully in the days ahead.

Fast-Track Trade Authority

Q. Mr. President, on fast track, you said that the people who decided to vote no on this because they believed in principle about family planning are sincere. Do you think the Democrats who decided to vote no on fast track are sincere, or as you suggested in the past, that, in fact, they're knuckling under to political pressure from labor?

The President. Well, I think some of them are generally opposed to it. I think some of them really do believe that we would have gotten all the jobs we've gotten and we would be raising incomes and lowering unemployment and growing the economy if we had a more protectionist trade policy, and that we wouldn't have lost any jobs that have gone away in the economy. I think some of them really believe that. I don't believe that. And I think the evidence is on my side on that argument.

And then I think some of them were, in effect, voting their district, voting their concerns. They're afraid, or concerned at least, that the trade issue is much misunderstood and easily subject to misunderstanding. Was there some politics in it? Of course, there is. But there's politics in every tough vote that has been held in the Congress and any legislative body in my lifetime. I did not question their integrity. I questioned the judgment, and I do believe that there were some who felt that it was a politically impossible vote but that the right thing to do was for me to have the authority and go forward, based on my conversations.

What I think we have to do is try to let the temperature go down here and unpack this and go back to what is actually at stake. The Democratic Party, insofar as it is saying that we ought to inject labor issues and environmental issues into our international negotiations as part of our strategy to expand trade and economic partnerships, that is a positive thing. We can disagree about how we should do that, but I think that's a positive contribution of our party.

Insofar as we're saying that we should do more and do it more quickly to help people who do lose their jobs, whether it's from trade or technological changes or whatever, to start new lives and to resume successful careers, I think that is a positive thing. And what we need to do is sort of unpack the politics and the emotions and the substance and try to go back and put this together in a way that allows us to have a big bipartisan majority in the House for a constructive fast-track authority that enables us to move forward on all these fronts. And I think we'll be able to do it.

Q. A lot of people are going to say this is the second most serious defeat you've suffered, after health care. Do you feel——

The President. No, there's a big difference.

Q. Do you feel you could have handled it better? Do you think you could have started earlier, or is this just a nut you couldn't crack unless you caved in on Mexico City?

The President. Well, I think in the end—let me say again, I think in the end we could have passed the bill if the Mexico City thing had been resolved. But I simply couldn't do that. I mean, I just couldn't do it. To me, first of all, I think it's wrong to mix these things. And secondly, I feel as strongly in principle on one side of the issue as the people in the House who otherwise might have voted for fast track do on the other. The prior problem was that we have, as I said, we have—look at the Senate vote—we have a majority of Senate Democrats for fast track, a huge majority of the mayors and Governors who are Democrats. We don't have a majority in the House. And I don't know whether—what we could have done differently.

Let me just say this. I think the bill that's there before them now, had we been able to persuade everybody involved that that bill should have been there months ago, maybe that would have made a difference. But it's easy to second-guess these things. The main thing is— the difference between this and health care was that health care was all caught up in politics and partisanship in even a more profound way, and there were big vested interests that had a stake in basically performing reverse plastic surgery on the proposal we made, and when it was dead, it was dead.

This is not dead. I will be very surprised if we are not successful in developing a bipartisan, constructive, successful approach to fast track before this Congress is over. This is a big difference here. I feel that this is entirely different. And keep in mind, it's also occurring in a different context. It's occurring in the context of the country doing well, the economy being strong, and the Congress continuing to do productive things.

So I'm going to sign a bill, an appropriations bill that has the biggest increase in education in decades, that funds the America Reads program, our program to put computers in schools, increased scholarships for people going to college, and that makes a huge step toward establishing national academic standards and national testing, something that everyone thought was dead just about 10 days ago and we worked out.

So I'm basically very upbeat, as we move toward the break for Thanksgiving and Christmas, about the capacity of the Congress to work together and to work with me and to get this done. I wish we'd been able to pass it right now, but I expect it to pass.

Q. What about this week? You said this session, but do you mean this year?

Q. When? In the spring?

The President. I'm sorry, what did you say?

Q. You said you expect it to pass this session, but what about this year? Any hope this week?

The President. First of all, we've been up for a couple of days working on fast track and dealing with Iraq, and you will, I hope, understand why we can't make a judgment about that. We will bring it back up at the appropriate time and when we think we can pass it. But we're very close now, under the most burdensome of circumstances. So all we need is a few breaks to have more than enough votes to pass it. And what I would like to do is to bring it back up at a time when we can pass it with a big vote and a much stronger vote from both parties. And I think there's every change that we will be able to do that. And I look forward to it, and I expect it to happen.

Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:30 a.m. on the South Lawn at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to President Saddam Hussein of Iraq; and Richard Butler, Executive Chairman of the United Nations Special Commission.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Fast-Track Trade Legislation and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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