THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
3:00 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, everybody. The Vice President, as you know, recently showed uncommon wisdom in promoting from our ranks Ginny Terzano to be his Deputy Communications Director. And not long ago, in the Oval Office, the President of the United States put his arms on Barry Toiv's shoulders and blessed him as our new Deputy White House Press Secretary. And it is a pleasure to welcome Barry to the Press Office.
He has worked for Leon Panetta for most of his adult life, 18 years. And parting is sweet sorrow for Leon, but with Leon's blessing, and with the understanding that Barry will continue to help out with some of the press responsibilities that Leon has, Barry has graciously agreed to join the lower press staff. And we're delighted to have him. We have an announcement to that effect quoting the President and Leon and everybody except me, so I'll say here and now that he is a welcome addition to the press office staff. And I think he also understands that our business is to serve our primary customers, the people of the United States, and we do that by serving you.
And with that -- (laughter) --
Q Speaking about Leon Panetta --
MR. MCCURRY: Some may wonder about that. (Laughter.)
Q Speaking about Leon Panetta, he was on the Hill today apparently trying to put out a little fire on welfare reform with concerned Democrats who think --
MR. MCCURRY: Fire? No, he was up there trying to stoke up the fires of bipartisanship that will blaze forward and lead to passage of a welfare reform act that will reform welfare as we know it.
Q Is the President still committed to signing this Republican-backed legislation that he signaled his readiness to sign Monday night?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, the President said -- we are on the verge of bipartisan welfare reform that the Congress will support, the President will support. And the President, as he has said over and over in recent days, the model for that is -- the elements of that are coalescing now around the legislation that has been offered in the Senate by the Breaux-Chafee group and the House by the Castle-Tanner group. The Republican leadership has made some improvements in their welfare reform bill and they need to keep going so we can get a bill passed.
The elements that would be sufficient for welfare reform, again, are very well-known at this point given the long debate we've had on this issue. And what would be objectionable to the President is pretty well-known given the President's two vetoes. So what seems to be the dominant mood on both sides of the aisle on the Hill and certainly the dominant mood here is to work hard in the coming days and find a way to pass a bill that is to the liking of the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch.
Q Would he veto the Republican bill as it stands now, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, in recent days we're not talking about veto, we're talking about signing. We're talking about finding ways to find things we can sign. Now, the President cannot accept the unacceptable. We've made that clear in the past. But what we're looking to do now is to work with those who are working on welfare reform on the Hill to find a measure that will get the job done. And we believe that can be done. There's been far more discussion about how to have a proper signing ceremony here than how to deal with another veto.
Q Well, how close are you? Are you talking about days away from passing either House?
MR. MCCURRY: It's very hard to say. If the consensus that has developed around welfare reform is codified and put into legislative language quickly -- and again, that's much more likely with the Republican leadership dropping the Medicaid poison pill element -- we could be days away from an historic moment, a real change in the way we maintain income for the poor. But that depends on several things coming together and it depends on a willingness to set aside politics temporarily so we can truly act in the nation's interest.
Q Is that possibly because Bob Dole is not in the Senate any longer?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's not been a part of these discussions. We've been working with the Senate Majority Leader and the House staffs, we've been working with the people who can get it done in the Congress. But he contributed significantly in our opinion by dropping his previous insistence on linking Medicaid to welfare reform. He issued a statement, as you know, that encouraged Senator Lott and Speaker Gingrich to move forward on a bipartisan bill. That is helpful.
Q Senator Moynihan and Congressman Gibbons yesterday wrote another letter to OMB, to Jack Lew, asking about estimates of child poverty, and they repeat the assertion that the White House has asked HHS not to prepare any more detailed estimates.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any requests. We responded to the Senator on June 26, and we indicated there's a great body of data available now, there's a great understanding of how the previous Republican bill would work and what improvements were made -- clearly, an indication from our part and from our experts that poverty impacts would be lessened. But more importantly, because it's an inexact science to begin with, you need to find the right ways to consider the overall intangible values associated with welfare reform. And I spoke to those last week. And that's the response that he received back at the end of last month and the response we stand by.
Q I just want to follow -- the implications of their letters, that you would be unwilling to sustain a revision that says, instead of plunging a million a children into poverty, this would plunge 652,000 or something. I mean, they just don't -- clearly, their attitude is if a number were put on it, it would give you pause.
MR. MCCURRY: Senator Moynihan is well aware of the fact that estimating is -- he has a favorite word for it -- estimating sometimes is a worthless exercise. What we know, based on our experience now with welfare reform done state by state is that we can see very positive changes in the lives of people who make the transition from welfare dependency to work.
We know that we can do that in a way that protects kid through sufficient child care, through maintaining health care guarantees, through easing the transition that occurs. And we know there's something better about a community in which people are working and paying taxes, supporting themselves than being clients of the state. And that is something not always reflected in federal poverty statistics, but something that's not only intangibly important, but something that the American people now expect because for a long time now they've called for elected leaders in Washington to complete the reform of welfare that they desire.
Q But OMB is not going to do any more detailed analysis, this is going to be a poke and sniff analysis of the --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have done extensive analysis of state experiences. They have done extensive analysis of the experiments that are underway in the states. They have got a previous study of some of the earlier versions of welfare reform bills that model some of the impacts. And as Jack Lew said in his letter to Senator Moynihan, there are some inherent problems with that methodology because you don't know things that you need to know. It's very hard to measure what employment growth will be because, indeed, employment growth has been greater than administration economists had estimated. You don't know what overall GDP growth will be, what's the functioning of the economy, because that all affects the equation in which a state is providing job opportunities in which you calculate what the poverty impacts are going to be for individuals who are receiving cash assistance.
So a lot of this has to deal with the methodology that economists use to measure the aggregate economy and what's happening to the poverty cohort as they are in the community. And, on balance, we said, look, we've got momentum behind us now, we know that we can deal positively with the transitions that occur in individual's lives as they move away from welfare and into work situations. That's a good thing. That is a net plus for kids because kids are then part of families that are self-sustaining. And there is value, intrinsic value in that. We think that's a justifiable case, and it's one that the President will pursue.
Q Mike, you have done almost everything but say that he actually is going to sign this. I'm just wondering on the outstanding issues like the legal immigrants, food stamps, and the vouchers for parents who have exhausted their benefits, is there anything in there that would be veto bait? Is there anything that would cause the President to reject the bill?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are working very hard to come up with a bill that is acceptable, and we're working with staff addressing our concerns. I think our concerns on previous versions of welfare reform are well-known. What we're doing now is encouraging people to look at those pieces of legislation. And again, I'd cite the Castle-Tanner measure in the House, the Breaux-Chafee measure in the Senate that have really taken all of this debate on welfare reform, which has gone on some time now, and codified it in legislation that works. It works for the President; it apparently works for a bipartisan majority in the House and the Senate, or it could conceivably if they get a chance to vote those measures. And what we should not do is step backwards by trying to load up welfare reform bills with provisions that are veto bait. That's not the way to get his job done.
Q But other than Medicaid, what provisions are veto bait?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Congress knows what our concerns are, and we believe that our concerns can be addressed if there's a willingness to address our concerns.
Q But can you just explain what are the --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to go through and delineate -- try to write a bill for you right now, Mara. That's not my job here.
Q It seems to me, though, that the President may have more problems with some of his own fellow Democrats in getting them on board to his position than he has with a lot of the Republicans who are ready to go the extra mile and come up with a compromise.
MR. MCCURRY: It is likely true that if we obtain a bipartisan majority in the center of the political spectrum around a welfare reform bill that works for the President and the Congress, there will be those on the right and those on the left that will find the measure unacceptable. That's correct, but, on the other hand, there's probably no other way to get a bill done that accomplishes the task of reforming welfare as we know it.
Q Is the White House more accepting of this idea then of the MSAs about the $500,000 limit than the Democrats on the Hill? They are less approachable.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's actually a separate negotiation underway on the Kassebaum-Kennedy Health Bill.
Q On the Kassebaum-Kennedy thing, that's right.
MR. MCCURRY: That is a separate discussion that again has been positive. We have had much the same type of deliberation with the Hill on that issue, that we believe we can expand health care coverage through passage of the Kassebaum-Kennedy bill, but for that to happen there have to be some specific concerns we have about medical savings accounts addressed, and there is a willingness, a receptivity to our ideas that has been very good, and we believe good-faith negotiations are on that point.
Q What about the 500,000 number? Is that okay with the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's all part of this negotiation is what the overall number, the aggregate number for participation in any experiment -- or another way of looking at that is what size enterprise might be affected by an experiment involving MSAs. And that's all part of the discussion, and I think part of what has so far been a good-faith discussion that is occurring back and forth between the White House and folks on the Hill. And I'd kind of like to leave it there and not try to negotiate it in public.
Q Senator Dole today took on the President on education, calling him the "pliant pet of militant teachers unions," and said the President took take --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he got a new speechwriter, I guess. He looked angry. What was he so angry -- I saw him waving his arm around. He was angry earlier. What was that about? He looked very angry.
Q Anyway, he said he is going to come out with another voucher --
MR. MCCURRY: He looked very cranky. (Laughter.) Woke up cranky today, I guess.
Q You mean this one hit home for you; is that what you're saying?
MR. MCCURRY: I watched part of that, and the one thing I think I can say with some certainty is that when it comes to memory he flunks the test. He forgets, or apparently forgets, the fight we had on exactly these budget issues at the end of last year and early this year when the President had to stand firm against a Republican Congress that Mr. Dole himself helped lead that was attempting to cut funding for the very programs that he was apparently talking about today -- safe and drug-free workplaces, direct student loans, the Goals 2000 program -- all those things that this President has fought for religiously as President to improve the quality of education in America. That is what the Dole-Gingrich budget attempted to cut.
And we stood firm. The American people stood with this President. And we won that fight. And apparently, Mr. Dole now wants to take a pass on that record and talk about other issues. But this President, when it comes to reforming education, applying standards, making our schools safer and better for kids has been working nonstop to give that American future to the American people.
Q Mike, what is the official White House response to the acknowledgement by reporter Joe Klein that he is, indeed, Anonymous, the author of Primary Colors?
MR. MCCURRY: You know, from time to time I read what Joe Klein writes and I say, yep, that's fiction. (Laughter.) At the same time at the White House we have not spent a lot of time worrying about fiction because we have to deal in the real world. And I'll leave it to others to imagine the importance of what he has said about the book in the past, what he says now, and whether or not he sells any more copies as a result.
Q If I can just ask you a slightly more -- a question that is slightly more philosophical than we usually get in a briefing, but is this a problem for the White House in dealing with a reporter who basically now admits, well, I didn't tell the truth about something I did myself? Does that mean that when that person makes phone calls here, those calls will not be answered? How do you deal with someone after that type of situation?
MR. MCCURRY: Those are standards for those of you on the other side of the podium. What journalists expect of each other when it comes to truth, what their editors expect from them is a very important issue. We like to think here that those of us who have to stand here and talk to you have high and scrupulous standards for veracity. And I believe everyone in this room who works as a journalist tries to take those same kinds of standards in to mind in terms of your own profession. But that is a debate that you want to have in your community, and properly so, maybe, but it's not one that I want to try to take a part in.
Q Would you ever not take phone calls from people if you think that they're not truthful? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I take phone calls from the most scurrilous people imaginable sometimes in the press. (Laughter.)
Q What about the President? I mean, he's known Joe Klein for a long time and dealt with him. Has he had any reaction to this?
MR. MCCURRY: He did not seem particularly surprised by the disclosure.
Q Is he relieved that it's not a member of his own staff?
Q Well, wait a minute, Mike. The President knew before, didn't he, because he tipped us off in the Correspondent's Dinner with his remark about Joe, introducing his imaginary friend.
MR. MCCURRY: He, like many in this room, had great sport in speculating some times, but I don't think -- he had no direct knowledge that Mr. Klein was the author until Mr. Klein made that disclosure today.
Q So nobody in the White House knew it was Joe Klein until today?
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct.
Q For sure.
MR. MCCURRY: For sure. I don't think we knew anything more than you. Remember, again, for us he wrote a piece of fiction and that's how we treat it.
Q Does the President still support CIA Director John Deutch's position that journalists should be allowed to be used as spies?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not his position, Wolf. His position is the CIA's policy is not to use journalists accredited to American news organizations, their parent organizations, American clergy, or the Peace Corps for intelligence purposes. That includes any such use of those organizations for cover. Period. That's been the policy for 20 years. And I don't think it's useful to speculate on the very, as the Director says, improbable circumstances of a waiver from that policy. That's not his disposition. It's certainly not the disposition of the President.
Q Do you know when the President intends to act or how long he has to act on the Anacostia Park transfer matter and what his disposition of that will be?
MR. MCCURRY: He has until tomorrow to act, and I do not know his disposition.
Q Is he going to take all the time he has?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't plan to act on it today. I guess he has until Friday -- correction, until Friday. I don't believe there's an announcement on that today. I can check into it further if you want.
Q What feedback are you getting from your embassies on Helms-Burton -- European allies, Canada, Mexico?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the reaction from our embassies is very consistent with what many of these governments have said publicly. While they remain adamantly opposed to the extraterritoriality implications of the Title III of the Helms-Burton Act there was some favorable comment on the suspension for six months of the right to sue. And, more importantly, for us we detected at least in some responses a willingness to consider our argument that foreign governments ought to join with the United States in bringing pressure to bear on the Cuban government to change the ways of that communist government.
That is something we hope we can build upon. That is indeed the purpose of the President's decision yesterday -- to start the clock ticking on the right to bring action, but at the same time, to use this period of six months as a lever to try to bring about change in Cuba -- positive change for the future. And if other governments join with us, that could -- as you know, that could affect the President's determination in six months on the right to bring a litigation. But it won't change our determination that we have to see a positive transition towards democracy in Cuba because that is in our nation's interest and it is what the Congress, the President and the American people expect.
Q Was the President aware that the Secret Service was unhappy about giving White House passes to staffers who had used crack and coke and hallucinogenic drugs? And does he think that --
MR. MCCURRY: That's a little inflammatory. You're talking about a couple of -- several instances in which the Secret Service worked with the White House Legal Counsel's Office to establish a special testing program. The President was aware of that program. It's been public knowledge since 1995 and not particularly newsworthy, as far as I can tell.
Q Does he think that that type of drug use should preclude or not preclude one from working at the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is very clear. He has an absolute zero-tolerance standard for drug use at the White House. And that, I want to make very clear, has been maintained while he has been here. There have been -- remember, everyone to come work at the White House has to submit themselves to a drug test. That's mandatory. We have to make ourselves available for random drug testing, and that happen annually with 12 percent of the White House staff tested. And for a small number of individuals, based on their background reports, there is a special testing program that goes even beyond that.
Now, this is a testing program that goes well beyond anything in Congress or the Associated Press or just about any other workplace that I'm aware of. But the net result of it is quite clear. There is zero-tolerance for those the President appoints to sensitive political positions here at the White House when it comes to drug use. And there has not been a single violation of that standard in the time that he has been President.
Q If I could follow up, I guess the question is, though, do past indiscretions disqualify anyone from future --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, the President addressed that publicly. There are people at this White House, no doubt there were people at previous White Houses, that had some indication of drug use in their backgrounds. That does not disqualify someone from service. You know, I tell you, I have myself. I was a kid in the 1970s. Did I smoke a joint from time to time? Of course, I did. And the FBI knows that, and that was in my background file. But that doesn't disqualify me from serving here. The point is, if I use drugs now in any way, shape, or form, I'm gone, I'm history. And that's the standard this President has set, and that's the one that has remained in effect, and it's the one that there have been special drug testing programs applied to.
Q The testimony today, however -- Q But is there anything that would disqualify -- Q The question here is whether people who list on
their forms that within the last year -- I think the phrase is "recent," but they say within the last year, is there some period of time past which the President --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Service, the Secret Service -- and I gather that there has been a deposition that at least one superior official at the Secret Service has given -- raises a concern when they have a concern with the Legal Counsel's Office. When they did so in the period of 1993 they established the special testing program that has now been in effect since March of 1994. And out of 1,700 White House employees, if you think of are universe here, including the Executive Office of the President, there are currently nine individuals in that program. And they have all remained drug free and they submit to their tests. And that's the way in which we satisfied the concerns of the Secret Service.
By the way, there was a little incorrect story on the wire earlier, but when the GAO examined this matter in October of 1995 they established, according to White House and Secret Service officials, that during the period that they reviewed pass access issues here at the White House, the White House never directed the Secret Service to issue a pass in circumstances that it, the Secret Service, was otherwise reluctant to do so.
Now, the Secret Service takes very seriously its mandate to protect the President and when they raise a concern we're concerned. And that's how they established this program. That's how we satisfied the concerns that we would have as the employing entity, specifically the Legal Counsel's Office, and we would satisfy, obviously, the concerns of the Secret Service.
Q Mike, as I understand the story, the Secret Service was concerned about recent drug use -- not a joint in the '70s, but recent drug use.
MR. MCCURRY: They were concerned with a small number of individuals that they identified, brought to the attention of the Legal Counsel's Office, and they established the program that I just described, to the satisfaction, as far as I know, of the Secret Service and to the satisfaction of the Legal Counsel's Office here.
Q And was the President involved in that decision --the decision by the White House Counsel's Office to overrule the Secret Service recommendations?
MR. MCCURRY: Now, you just said specifically something I corrected -- there was no overruling. We cannot overrule Secret Service determination on a pass, nor would we.
Q A concern, then. Expression of concern.
MR. MCCURRY: If they express a concern, we work with them as we did in this instance to establish the special program. And the President certainly knew and I think all of you knew that a special program had been established. That's been a matter of public record for well over a year.
Q But does the President think that any type of prior drug use would be a disqualification for working here?
MR. MCCURRY: No. He's made that clear. It was -- at the time he began his service as President, it became -- it was clear from some of the testimony and some of the issues that arose that some people had some indication of drug use in their backgrounds.
Q No, I'm asking if there is a certain -- I mean, sure, just an occasional joint here and there isn't a disqualification. I'm asking you if the President thinks that there is a certain pattern or amount of drug use that would be a disqualification.
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. Absolutely. Any current -- any use that would trigger a positive test result because that's why we have that --
Q No, I'm talking about prior employment.
MR. MCCURRY: -- and as to any prior concern, anything that would sufficiently cause the Secret Service concern, which is what happened here, which is why we set up the program.
Q How many people -- since the beginning of the administration, how many people has the Secret Service initially denied clearance to because of drug use? And the word "recent" was used in the testimony released today. How recent was that?
MR. MCCURRY: You'll have to read their deposition and define recent. It wasn't clear to me, but that's the Secret Service's answer to give you now. How many totally --
Q Well, I mean, they clearly have told you, told the White House.
MR. MCCURRY: I can tell you the number that had been -- the total number that had been enrolled in this special program --
Q No, no, no, that's not the question.
MR. MCCURRY: -- is 21, which is the number I have. I don't have a number --
Q But how many have initially been denied clearance who were --
MR. MCCURRY: Raised concerns?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea. You should ask the Secret Service.
Q But 21 is the total number, and the current number is nine. Is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, there have been 21 individuals who were in this special program. There are currently nine.
Q Has anyone been denied?
Q And how frequent is that testing?
MR. MCCURRY: It's twice a year, twice a year.
Q And how many people --
MR. MCCURRY: Twice a year, unannounced.
Q Has anyone, any political appointee wanting to work for President Clinton been denied by Secret Service and subsequently denied employment because of a drug test?
MR. MCCURRY: Say it again.
Q Has anybody -- you've said these 21 flags were raised about, and they went on a special program. Has anybody been denied clearance and denied employment here because of drug use?
MR. MCCURRY: Because of -- well, I'll check with the Legal Counsel's Office. They could very well, in screening applications, find someone that they deem less than suitable since the Legal Counsel's Office does suitability determinations. They would not then be submitted to the Service for admittance or for pass clearance.
Now, I can check with Legal Counsel's Office to see if they have ever denied an employment application for someone on those grounds. I suspect they may have. That's not -- wouldn't be entirely out of the realm of the possible. But as to your question, Cragg, how many has the Service raised an issue about on pass holders, I don't have that information, nor would I. And you have to get that from the Service.
Q They would tell you. They would flag it with Personnel.
MR. MCCURRY: It needs to go to the Service and see what they want to say on it as to that question and also their question of what triggers their concern. I can't answer that for you. That's a security issue that they should address.
Q And you will authorize them to give that figure?
MR. MCCURRY: They don't work for me. They work for the Treasury Department.
Q In congressional testimony today, Secret Service agent Arnold Cole said that he advised the White House not to hire Craig Livingstone because of some things in his background. And Mr. Livingstone has admitted to using drugs. Are you aware of this, and do you know what it is in his background --
MR. MCCURRY: See, you want -- if I answer that question, you want me -- the substantial body of concern about Livingstone is what did he do with private, confidential information in personnel files, what may he have done. There is an investigation underway now on that question. Me answering that question is doing exactly what he is -- what people claim to be concerned about when it comes to him. You want me to violate the Privacy Act by putting any information that I may or may not have -- and I don't have that information available to me -- but to put it out publicly is simply a violation of the Privacy Act and I'm not going to do that.
Q If I could follow up on that, you said something a moment ago that may raise some alarm bells, and I just wanted to make sure what it is that you were trying to say here. When you talked about drug use of White House officials, you mentioned previous White Houses.
MR. MCCURRY: Listen, I want to make very clear, I don't know of any drug use by White House officials.
Q Or previous White House officials?
MR. MCCURRY: In fact, we have a testing program here to make sure there isn't any. That's the point, right?
Q But in your answer previously when you talked about --
MR. MCCURRY: So just -- I'm asking you to get the question right, Mick. That's my question.
Q But you did allude to possible drug use in previous administrations. You didn't mean to imply that this White House is aware of drug use by previous administrations.
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Okay, fine.
MR. MCCURRY: No, I have no knowledge of that other than occasionally reading articles that I think where people have volunteered that information on their own who have, in fact, served in previous White Houses.
Q Mike, just to follow up for Mara quickly, these people who got in the special program presumably got there either because their background checks or their own admissions to their interviewing officers or their friends or whoever said that their drug use had been frequent and recent enough to raise a concern on the part of the Secret Service about their susceptibility to blackmail, their probity, their stability, whatever -- some kind of concern.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it caused a concern to the Secret Service that the Secret Service then relayed to the Legal Counsel's Office.
Q If I read Mara's question right, she was asking, regardless of what the Secret Service's view was, if a background report showed that some candidate for an administration job acknowledged using cocaine all through the inauguration parties or something --
MR. MCCURRY: Well --
Q -- would the President consider that -- I'm just asking.
MR. MCCURRY: I know, but that is a purely hypothetical speculation. Let's just stick with --
Q I don't think it's hypothetical at all. I think it's precisely the type of admission that prompted --
MR. MCCURRY: Stick with facts. The Service has testified in this deposition that if they raised a concern and they stipulated as to what the nature of that concern would be and what would trigger that concern, they would flag that to the attention of the Legal Counsel's Office. That caused us concern. And obviously, it would concern the President, which is why, in the case where we have deemed someone suitable for employment, we established a way to monitor that individual through this special program we have.
Q How recent would that use have to be?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Service is responsible for answering that question because they are the ones -- whatever "recent" is in their definition that would trigger their concern is what recent is. Now, they --
Q Somebody here didn't ask that?
MR. MCCURRY: I've read the deposition that they have given now, and it's not clear whether they're talking about within a year or within five years.
Q People are asking if the President and the White House doesn't have some concern about drug use by people he is trying to hire. It's not a question of what --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, obviously. We -- absolutely, he does. That's why he makes them pee in a jar before they can work here. That's what this is about.
Q But the question is, what does he --
MR. MCCURRY: You have got to pass a drug test to work here.
Q What do you define as recent?
MR. MCCURRY: Rita, you've got to pass a drug test to work here.
Q What do you define as recent?
MR. MCCURRY: And you have to submit yourself to random tests in order to stay here. And in some cases people have to go beyond that mandatory program, which has been in effect since 1988.
Q But does the White House, from a personnel standpoint as opposed to a Secret Service standpoint, do you have a definition of what meets your requirements for recent? Or don't you? That's the question.
MR. MCCURRY: We have not attempted to define what triggers a concern that the Service might have. What we do have is standards that the Legal Counsel's Office has that maintains what we call the suitability determination. Now, clearly, drug use in and of itself is not grounds to deem someone nonsuitable. But that would have to be a case-by-case evaluation that the Counsel would make and the Counsel would say, is this someone who can operate with the full trust of the President. And then, that has to be -- there are many factors that go into that kind of suitability determination.
QQ So there are no cases where somebody has been denied employment here because of drug use?
MR. MCCURRY: We need to check that. I don't know the answer to that. It may very well be some individuals who have applied for employment -- remember, we're talking about a workforce of 1,700, although the White House Legal Counsel's Office would do the immediate Executive Office of the President determinations and other agencies would do their individual determinations. But there may very well be and, in fact, I would have to believe that there are cases in which drug use by individuals deemed someone nonsuitable for employment. That just would be -- in the universe we're dealing with and the applicant pool that we're dealing with for a lot of the different jobs around the complex here, that would be self-evident almost.
Q Mike, testimony today wasn't about joints. It was about crack, cocaine and hallucinogens. One, does the President know that there are people working at the White House who had recent use of drugs like crack? Two, how do you expect the American people to take a war on drugs seriously if the President thinks it's suitable to hire people who have used crack?
MR. MCCURRY: Because the standards that we maintain to maintain the White House as a drug-free workplace go well beyond what most Americans encounter in their own workplace. We have to submit ourselves to procedures that most Americans, frankly, don't encounter in their workplaces. And that's very clear. That's both the condition of employment and a condition of continued employment.
And the other thing as to what the American people think, they should know, and I hope you will report, that not a single person has flunked one of these tests, if they've been political appointees of the President serving here at the White House.
Q And the answer to the first part of the question, does the President know there are former crack and cocaine users working here?
MR. MCCURRY: He knew of the fact that there were people who had drug use in their backgrounds. How extensively he knew the information in their files, I don't know. I think he knows that there had to be suitability determinations done by the Legal Counsel's Office. They had to assess those facts, and he understood that they established in that office the standards that he would expect of a work force that he wanted to remain and keep drug-free.
Q Can you describe by general job title the highest level of these 21 people and then of the current nine people?
MR. MCCURRY: I can only tell you of the current people, because former folks for obvious reasons I'm not going to delve into their personnel files.
Q Not by names, just general title.
MR. MCCURRY: Of the nine currently in the program, there are none at the rank of assistant to the President, deputy assistant to the President, or special assistant to the President, which are the three highest ranks here at the White House, and I would safely say constitute 100 percent of most of the people that the American people think of as the White House staff. It's roughly 130 individuals.
Q What about the initial 21?
Q Were there any in the 21, do you know?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have that information and can't get that information without going into the personnel files of people who previously served at the White House, and for, I think, obvious reasons, I won't do that.
Q Well, wait. Craig Livingstone didn't have any of these three ranks, is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: Craig Livingstone did serve as special assistant to the President.
Q You just said before that not a single --
MR. MCCURRY: Beyond that, I'm not going to violate privacy right of individuals by speculating on who might have been this or that or the other when it comes to what I believe you're trying to figure out.
Q You just said not a single one of the political appointees has ever flunked one of these tests.
MR. MCCURRY: Correct.
Q Has anybody else ever flunked one of these tests?
MR. MCCURRY: There have been two career employees, longstanding career employees who have failed a random test. They were both, to my knowledge, holdover employees who have been here for quite some time.
Q What happened to them?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they are covered -- if you are under what we call the Panetta rule here, if you are a political appointee of the White House, all the people that you deal with day in and day out, you're automatically dismissed if you test positive. Again, I stress, that's not happened in any case.
For career people who are sort of career employees of the government, they are entitled to additional protections. The sanctions can range from dismissal to referral to drug rehabilitation programs. And that's all done consistent with the Reagan executive order on drug testing and with the general practice in the federal work force for handling this.
Remember, the Reagan executive order established as a principle -- it was not one strike and you're out. That's the standard that President Clinton has for his immediate White House staff. But the standard established by President Reagan was people ought to be given some opportunity for a second chance and for rehabilitation.
Q So what was the disposition of those two cases?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe in one case -- I think both were dismissals -- or both were separations, if I'm not mistaken. This was -- by the way, that was part of Patsy Thomasson's testimony in 1995, last year.
Q On education, Dole's going to come out with his new voucher proposal tomorrow for education. President Clinton has never supported, is that correct, vouchers for students --
MR. MCCURRY: He supports school choice and has encouraged school choice through both the charter schools, through some of the things we're done on flexibility for parents at the local level. We have opposed specific vouchers for use at private schools. But I also believe that Mr. Dole covered most of that today, too, if I'm not mistaken.
Q Mike, the President again today used the figure of 100,000 for community police officers and said 44,000. This is old -- he does this everywhere. But can you go over the numbers of -- all of the numbers of actually how many are budgeted and all that?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I can go through what is most recent. There are 100,000 that are now budgeted. Of those, there are 43,000 that have been fully funded -- in other words, that the money has been appropriated and they're there and they're in the process of coming on line. I think the actual number -- most recent count was 17,000 -- has probably gone up since I last looked at the numbers. But these are the numbers that are moving out into the streets. The reason for that typically is community policing requires what we hope at most local levels is some sensitivity to neighborhood conditions and some special skills. So most police forces as they get the funding and as we give the COPS grants to the local jurisdictions, then enroll folks in some training before they send them out on to the streets.
Q There are 17,000 who are in uniform at work?
MR. MCCURRY: That's the most recently count. And you -- if you want to use that, let us check further and see what the latest count is.
Q But 43,000 is what?
MR. MCCURRY: That's the number that's been fully appropriated now by Congress as of the FY '96 appropriation.
Q And 100,000 is the goal?
MR. MCCURRY: And 100,000 is what's been in the authorizations and in the budget. I think that is now -- we can say that has been budgeted by the year 2000? I'll have to check that. That's the budget, and that was the goal, too.
Q Mike, one of the things that these drug things seem to do is back up some of the charges made by Gary Aldrich. I want to ask you again about another --
MR. MCCURRY: Still trying to resurrect him, huh?
Q I want to ask you about another point in that book. In that book he says that Craig Livingstone issued a memo telling White House aides they had to stop writing bad checks to the Secret Service shop. Is that or is that not true?
MR. MCCURRY: I am not going to check because most of what he writes in that book has already been proven to be without merit.
Q Mike, this is -- I mean, if it's not true, why don't you want to check it?
MR. MCCURRY: Because it's written by a person who's already been shown, I think, not to have much standing when it comes to reporting the truth. I don't think it's worth my time to check.
Q But Deborah's question is legitimate, isn't it, Mike? I mean, she's is asking the question, not Gary Aldrich.
MR. MCCURRY: The New York Post, I thought, was her publisher -- or his publisher.
Q The New York Post isn't the publisher, Mike,
MR. MCCURRY: I thought you had reprinted the book.
Q I don't remember you being so snotty about a story The New York Post did on a book involving George Bush, do you?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm just saying, I think that that book, for reasons that you've heard us address before, was filled with lies. And your newspaper, as I recall, reprinted large portions of it, and I just want to make sure where we are here.
Q As did ABC. And it printed your denials, Mike. But the question is a question about a memo. Did or didn't he issue such a memo?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know.
Q Will you check?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Even though the gentleman from CBS has asked the question you're not going to --
MR. MCCURRY: Did CBS ask me that question?
Q No, I was asking why you couldn't take the question from Deborah.
MR. MCCURRY: Because I don't want to.
Q Would you care to take the question from CBS?
MR. MCCURRY: Does any other new organization want to pose the question? Okay, hearing none, any other questions?
Q No, I have a question about Secretary Perry. He announced his force protection initiative today --
MR. MCCURRY: He did.
Q -- revealing that the threat against our troops abroad, especially in the Middle East, appears to have been far more serious than previously acknowledged. Now, this threat just didn't develop in the past couple of weeks. Is there concern that it's taken a terrorist act against our troops in Saudi Arabia to get this initiative going?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it -- he described the force posture initiative and what they are looking for to maintain security for U.S. personnel overseas -- I think did a very good job of explaining the different kinds of threats they're trying to assess. They have got different ways of assessing the risk that presents itself for U.S. personnel overseas and some of the different types of risks they might encounter. And he made the point, because we were talking about a specific instance, of making sure you maximize the effectiveness of mission performance along with protecting the force that is tasked to that mission.
I thought it was pretty clear from what he presented today that there has been a great deal of thinking, assessment of risk, and clearly they have to adjust to what they see happening in the world and also to what they can learn from further work through intelligence. But all of that goes into the decisions that he has been talking about and that he reviewed today.
Q And the President remains confident in Secretary Perry --
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. And confident -- and this is a piece of evidence of the extra length to which this Secretary of Defense has gone to ensure the safety and security of personnel abroad.
Q If I can follow that, Mike, the Secretary also said it was going to take quite a bit of money or be quite expensive, I think were his words, to upgrade the security to needed levels. Is there thought given, first of all, I guess, to adjusting the President's defense request, budgetary defense request? And also, is there likely to be some movement of troops because of the expense in protecting -- move them out of Saudi Arabia, adjustment in force there?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that is a subject that the Secretary of Defense has addressed specifically, what the nature of the deployment is within Saudi Arabia. And there's been discussion at a fairly high level between the United States and the Saudi government about that, and, frankly, been one or two erroneous news reports from the region, too, about that. But the Secretary of Defense is working to correct that record, as is the embassy in Saudi Arabia.
Q If I can ask one more drug question. Did the currency -- of how current it had been -- did it include anybody who had used drugs between the time they came to the White House and the time they were cleared? Many of these we now know were delayed so long.
MR. MCCURRY: No, because -- I mean, the employment test, the pre-employment test that you had to submit to had to be within a day of arrival, correct?
MS. GLYNN: Yes. Before you get your temporary pass.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, before you got even a temporary pass you had --
Q Within a day of arrival?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Before you got a temporary pass you had to submit to the mandatory pre-employment test. And that had been a practice that had been in effect for, I believe since 1988. That had never been -- in terms of the objections raised to the drug testing program during the Bush years, that had never been the grounds for the complaint. The complaint was related to the random test.
Q Mike, how do you explain what appears to be a disconnect between Gore's assessment of Yeltsin's health and the assessment by two reporters who were in the room with the two of them -- Bill and Larry McQuillen, who both reported he looked horrible.
MR. MCCURRY: Did you all see McQuillen on TV last night? He did a very good job.
Q But can you answer that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that there was a disconnect or a different assessment. The Vice President described President Yeltsin during his meeting and the engagement on the issues and his alertness to some of the detail of the discussion. I don't know that it necessarily challenges the accounts of the reporters who said that he looked pale and he looked stiff. I just think the Vice President didn't address that particular question. He avoids commentary about stiffness.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:45 P.M. EDT