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

November 06, 1997

The President. Good evening. Today I was proud to represent all Americans in honoring the service of President George Bush at the dedication of his Presidential Library. It was an extraordinary moment for many reasons, but one of the most impressive things to me was that there were four men, two Democrats, two Republicans, who have held this office, all agreeing strongly that for America to continue to lead in the world economy, Congress must extend the President's power to negotiate new trade agreements.

A large bipartisan majority in the Senate supports extending this authority. Speaker Gingrich and I are convinced that the authority will strengthen our leadership, and we want the House to follow suit. A vote against fast track will not create a single job, clean up a single toxic waste site, advance workers rights, or improve the environment anywhere in the world, but it will limit America's ability to advance our economic interests, our democratic ideals, our political leadership.

So, once again, before Congress votes tomorrow, I call upon the House of Representatives to vote for American leadership, for America's economic future, and pass the fast-track trade negotiating authority.

Q. Mr. President, how close are you at this point? How close do you think you are in the House?

The President. I think it's a close call. Obviously, I'm here because I'm trying to pull out all the stops, and I want to emphasize the extraordinary moment we had today when the four Presidents were all strongly endorsing fast track. President Ford, President Bush have spoken out on this; President Carter has actually made a number of phone calls. It is close, but the policy is not close, and I am convinced that a substantial majority of the Congress knows the policy is not close, that it is clearly in America's interest to do this.


Q. Mr. President, the Iraqis in a letter today threatened again to shoot down the next U.S. spy flight. There is apparently no give on their side at all. Are you becoming more concerned?

The President. Well, it would be a mistake for them to shoot down a plane. But we have a team there working for the United Nations, and our policy is clear—and I don't mean American policy—world policy. What they need to do is to resume the inspections. And the team is coming home this weekend, and we'll see where we are then and where we go from there.


Fast-Track Trade Legislation

Q. What deals have you cut and are you planning to cut in order to get fast-track trade through, and does that include Congressman Smith's language on abortion?

The President. What we've tried to do is to resolve—if there are any issues, economic issues, that affect congressional districts or States that we can resolve honorably, we've worked hard to resolve those in ways that I think are consistent with what we're trying to do on fast track. If there are other issues that we can resolve that permit the business of the Congress to go forward, we're trying to resolve them. But there has been no agreement of the kind you just mentioned.

Q. Mr. President, can I ask you about your statement that if this were a secret ballot, this would pass by a 3-to-4 margin? Is that a fairly damning assessment of Members of Congress? It suggests they're so strongly in the grip of special interests that they won't vote their conscience on an issue that directly affects U.S. standing in the world.

The President. Well, they're under a lot of pressure. And you know, we see a lot of evidence that from time to time in these elections, that if one side is funded and another is not, that they can be very—that they can be in trouble. And there are other issues there for them to consider. All I'm saying is, I believe if there were a secret ballot, it would pass overwhelmingly.

And what I'm trying to do is to bring the vote tomorrow evening in line with where I think everybody's understanding is. I think the most important thing to do is to heighten the public awareness of this. The level of—though we've been talking about it now for months, I think because this is the authority for the President to continue to negotiate trade agreements rather than a specific agreement with a lot of specifics in it, there's not as much public interest, public awareness, or public involvement in this, and that has made the issue more difficult to lift the level of the national interest on. But I feel I must say I'm encouraged by the developments of the last few days, and we're just going to continue to do it.

Let me just mention one other thing that we've done in this, because I think I should have been talking more about this, but I think it's quite important. In order to address some of the concerns of Congress with regard to labor and the environment and congressional input, we establish in this trade bill a panel of advisers on labor issues, a panel of advisers on environment issues, parallel to that which existed in previous bills of advisers on business issues. That's never been done before. In addition to that, we're going to have a congressional observer group for every one of these trade negotiations the way we have congressional observer groups for NATO expansion, for example, or for the chemical weapons treaty.

Now, those of you who followed this and have been on our trips, for example, like when the congressional observer group went with me on the NATO trip to Madrid, know that this is a critical part of securing congressional approval because the NATO observers are involved in the early negotiations. They know what's going on. Their voices are heard. They are not just confronted with a fait accompli at the end of the day.

All these things have been changed for this particular fast-track bill, so one of the things I'm trying to hammer home to a lot of individual Members is that they—or their representatives, whether they're Democrats or Republicans, and—will have an involvement in how these specific trade agreements are negotiated, far greater than their predecessors have had in my administration and in previous administrations going back 20 years. And I think that's a big plus. One more.

Q. With the outcome still in doubt, have you and Speaker Gingrich considered delaying tomorrow's vote to give you more time to round up support?

The President. We find that the deadline concentrates our attention markedly, and so we're working hard. We think we can get there by tomorrow night, and that's what we're working to do.

Q. Mr. President, is it tomorrow night now?

The President. I'm sorry. I don't know. I haven't talked to the Speaker today. We think we can get there tomorrow, and that is what we are trying to do. I have not received any information. You probably have better information than I about when it is scheduled.


Q. A question again about Iraq. What do your intelligence people say are motivating Saddam Hussein? Why is he doing this? Why is he pushing this again to the brink?

The President. Well, we learned, you know, back during the Desert Shield/Desert Storm period that his motivations are somewhat complex and difficult to fathom from time to time. All I can say is that the reason that we have the inspection regime and the reason we are determined to resume it is that, whatever else happens and however long he stays there, the international community has decided that he mustn't be allowed to resume the production of weapons of mass destruction. So he can have whatever motive he wants.

We have tried to work with the United Nations to deal with the humanitarian concerns of the Iraqi people. We are very concerned about those. But we can't permit a man with his record, the regime with their policies, to get into the weapons of mass destruction business if we can stop it. And that is what the inspection regime is designed to do, and there is a lot of evidence, you know, that it has been quite successful. So all I know is that whatever his motives are, I just want to start the inspections again.

Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 6:32 p.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to President Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

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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