THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:05 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Sit down in front, we hear from the masses in the back.
The President, in a short while, will sign the minimum wage increase in the package of small business measures, including expanding and enhancing retirement income security for millions of Americans. It's a big day at the White House. The White House staff just wished him "happy birthday" a day late. Thank you for letting me wait to begin the briefing, so we could handle that.
And, Helen Thomas, you had a question about the --
Q Does the train wreck in West Virginia affect the President's schedule?
MR. MCCURRY: No, my understanding of the information I've gotten from the Department of Transportation's public affairs office is that it was not on trackage which the President's train is scheduled to ride on next week. They have identified the accident site, they've got a response underway. And now the Federal Railway Administration has dispatched inspectors to the site of the crash and the Deputy Federal Railway Administrator and a public affairs team will be on site shortly. They'll be able to give you updates.
Q For weeks the Republicans have been accusing the White House of neglecting the drug problem, and saying that on the President's watch drug use among children has skyrocketed. And now new numbers coming out by your own administration seem to confirm precisely that. Was no one watching over these past three years while drug use was skyrocketing?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, to correct, as one of the things you'll see in the statistics that are released by the Department of Health and Human Services suggest today, we've seen a trend building in the 1990s, dating back to at least 1991, where there had been an increase in drug use among young people. And because of that, that has been a very specific target of our comprehensive national drug control strategy. Indeed, of the five goals General McCaffrey is pursuing now, reducing drug use among young people is number one on the list of five objectives.
So you'll hear from him, from Secretary Shalala later today, to talk about the ways in which we can all work together to combat the most troubling part of the report today.
Obviously, on a general indicator, the fact that drug use is stable, it is well below levels of the late 1970s and '80s, that there's been no marked increase in overall use is somewhat encouraging; but we have to, I think, go at the heart of what we see as a potential problem, and that's the rising use among young people.
Q On that same subject, the President has talked about this before, his concern about rising drug use among the people. Does this particular report catch his attention today? Does he have something to say about his --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as with the problem generally this is something the President talks about regularly and has identified as an area that he wants to work on personally. A lot of things that we're doing to protect kids are connected. You know that we are also in the process of studying a proposed rule on tobacco use. That's very important, because tobacco use sometimes can be an early indicator of a vulnerable population for potential drug use.
So the problems are interconnected. The President has indeed spent a great deal of time personally but, most importantly, he's got a Cabinet-level official, General McCaffrey, who you've had here before in the Briefing Room to brief you on our drug control efforts. We're working very intensely on the problem, and they'll be reporting further on some of the things -- specific things they've done later today.
Q Mike, does the President have any second thoughts about how much he cut the Office of Drug Prevention here in the White House when he first came in? It was the office that took the biggest hit.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it did, and it has been -- as you know, funding levels for that office have increased and have been restored. What the President is most certain about is that his veto of Republican budgets that had significant cuts for substance abuse programs was very much warranted.
Recall that the Republican Congress tried to cut one of the most valuable programs in dealing with drug use among young people, the schools provision, by almost a quarter of a billion dollars. So that was part of the budget fight. The Republican Congress has put at risk some of the funding for programs that most experts believe are very valuable in deterring and treating drug use among young people.
Q What was the final result in the --
MR. MCCURRY: Wait a minute, wait a minute.
Q If I could just follow up. So you're saying, basically, that he doesn't feel that he made a mistake in cutting the staff here, even though he went back and added them back afterward?
MR. MCCURRY: He's got a lot of confidence in the Office of Drug Control Policy. They're under superb leadership now with General McCaffrey, they're doing very good work implementing a comprehensive drug control strategy, but this is not a problem that additional federal workers will solve. This is a problem that has to be attacked at all levels by parents, by teachers, by community leaders, by community cops as -- remember, part of our effort to get more police officers in the streets is in part motivated by a desire to deal with drug use in vulnerable populations, particularly the young. Funding of one office is not the most valuable indicator of how we're doing on the program; it's the way in which communities come together to address the problem, and that's one the President has attacked relentlessly.
Q If I could just follow up with one more, and that is, he cut all the people, then he added them back, but he doesn't really think it matters that he added them back?
MR. MCCURRY: He's confident that he's got a good office working on a problem, but that's not the way we're going to solve the problem, Rita. We're going to solve the problem when parents, teachers, educators, government officials -- because, indeed, they have a role to play -- come together at all levels, working with kids themselves to get more attention paid to the problem.
One of the things that Secretary Shalala will talk about today is the way in which they're working with educators and with the teacher community to try to make sure that that is the particular focus. Now, that's not something that involves additional salaried federal workers; that's something that gets everyone involved at all levels in the community to stimulate the right kind of response.
Q Is the Drug Office now back up to where it was before, or is it -- have the cuts been fully restored?
MR. MCCURRY: I honestly don't know. I can get the figures -- or, probably even better, if you've got interest that might be a question you'd want to put to General McCaffrey at 3:00.
Q And just one other question. Maybe this is also something he has to answer, but you're saying that the President vetoed the Republican budget cuts for substance abuse programs. In the final budget that he did sign, were there cuts in those programs or were they at the same level --
MR. MCCURRY: Some of the funding had been restored. I think the budget that we've got now has got an overall -- in the DEA effort about 18 percent increase. Overall funding --
Q Eighteen percent increase for --
MR. MCCURRY: That's for the DEA. We've got some numbers which I can get for you that kind of trace through what the level of drug funding is. On the specific question of the office, which is a small slice of the overall federal anti-drug effort, we can get a couple numbers on that, too.
Q Do you know why this report is released today?
MR. MCCURRY: It's an annual release of statistics through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of HHS, annual report. And I think this is probably within the period that is usually released.
Q Do you see anything to the Republican criticism, Mike, or is it all political?
MR. MCCURRY: It's politics. You know, everything is politics now and that's part of it. In fact, what I believe and what General McCaffrey believes and what the President believes is that the less that we try to make partisan politics out of this, the more we will send the signal to kids that everyone is working together to address the problem. It's not a question of Republicans or Democrats being tougher on drugs, it's a question of everyone coming together to try to encourage young people not to use drugs. And that's where the focus should be, that's where the focus has been as we've administered what we think is a very comprehensive anti-drug strategy.
Q No substance to their criticism at all?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen substance, I've seen them attacking the President because drug use is on the increase. That's -- you know, we're in a campaign season so that's likely to happen. We'd like to also seem them come together and sort of acknowledge that either the strategy we have is the right one or make suggestions on how it could be improved. We haven't heard anything substantively about how they would change the core strategy that we're pursuing to attack the problem. You know, it's fair and good for them to raise criticisms. What they need to do is help us be part of the solution. And I think that's what you'll hear from other officials --
Q Mike, they said that the President hasn't made it enough of a priority and that it needs to be a higher priority.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I will let you be the judge of that. You've heard the President talk about this often. He raises it consistently. He's got someone that he has a great deal of confidence in running this effort. And we've attached a high priority to our budget request to fund the kinds of efforts that we think are appropriate. But you all can be the judge of that, as well as the American people.
Q Mike, one of the strongest and most consistent critics of the Clinton administration's efforts in the war on drugs has been Charlie Rangel -- the last time I checked, he's a Democrat from New York -- who said that there has been no leadership from the White House in regard to this issue.
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard him say that at any point recently. If he has, I stand corrected.
Q Oh, recently? But, you know, I think the criticism is that there appears to have been an election year conversion here at the White House in terms of the war on drugs.
MR. MCCURRY: If you go back through efforts that we've pursued, they've been consistent over time and they've been aimed at getting at the heart of a problem that everyone acknowledges -- Republican and Democrat -- as one we need to deal with.
Q Mike, this rise in drug use, nevertheless, took place on the President's watch. The President has claimed credit for successes on his watch. Does he acknowledge responsibility for the fact that this took place on his watch, or does he think it has nothing to do with him?
MR. MCCURRY: He acknowledges responsibility for the role everyone must play from the top down in combating trends that show increased drug use by young people.
Q I'm not sure I understand the answer to that. Does the President think he bears some responsibility for what's going on --
MR. MCCURRY: That was a pretty good one. The President certainly has responsibility, as do we all, in attacking the core of this problem.
Q And does he think -- I mean, under the two prior administrations, drug use went down, and as Mick points out --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it started to go up under the prior administration.
Q As Mick was noting, Charlie Rangel has said several times he misses Nancy Reagan and the "Just Say No" program. Does the President think if he had continued some of those programs that this might not have happened? Does he think his policies in any way contributed to the rise of drug use?
MR. MCCURRY: The President doesn't have any way of knowing precisely what contributed to or failed to contribute to more success in this effort. He understands that there's more that needs to be done, which is what he has consistently been doing in his time here -- more effort to attack the problem.
The experts in this field who look at the trends began as early as 1991 saying that there had been a marked shift in attitudes among young people, that that needed to be attacked forcefully with more education and awareness programs aimed at young people. The President's been fully supportive of that, both in the private sector and in the efforts that government pursues, and has made it a personal priority.
Whether or not that that is judged a worthy record is, ultimately, very quickly now going to be in the hands of the American people.
Q If I could try one last thing, Mike. Does the President -- you were saying before that he feels he has a superb leader in the war on drugs. Does he feel Lee Brown, his first drug czar, did a good job in the war on drugs?
MR. MCCURRY: He feels that his first director did a good job and he's very, very confident in the current director.
Q Any reaction to the --
Q Mike, can you list the three top priorities of the second Clinton administration?
MR. MCCURRY: The three top priorities? I can wax at length on this.
Q Oh, no. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: The President, in his first term in office, restored health to the American economy, fulfilled two major pledges he made to the American people -- cutting the deficit in half, creating 10 million new jobs -- turning the economy of this country around, getting our fiscal house in order, moving us in the direction of a balanced budget. That is a record, as he often suggests, that one must not sit on, we must build on it. And as he looks ahead to America in the year 2000, he will describe for the American people in some detail next Thursday night what he thinks we can achieve together as a country as we go into the 21st century and, specifically, what we need to do in order to get there.
We have to continue to build on the strengths of this economy, we've got to raise incomes for workers, in a sense having addressed the macroeconomy and getting the largest fiscal questions addressed and setting in place an economic program now that has really turned the economy in the right direction, we now have to work on the microeconomy. How do we encourage wage growth for the American people. You're familiar with his proposals on education funding and technology funding that will help increase the incomes of American workers as we go into the 21st century, but the President will also suggest next Thursday what we have to do is come together as a community and address exactly these kinds of problems we've been talking about so far this morning -- this afternoon.
Q That was one --
MR. MCCURRY: The use of drugs by young people, address violence and crime in our communities, how we can make America a safer, more prosperous place as we come together, built around what the President cherishes as American values that he thinks underpin a lot of these efforts -- providing opportunity for Americans, asking responsibility in turn from the American people, and coming together in communities to address the problems we face.
Q Those are --
MR. MCCURRY: Opportunity, responsibility, community. Three values you will likely see reflected in a lot of the presentations the President and others make in coming weeks.
Shall I go on some more?
MR. MCCURRY: No?
Q At the risk at having you go on more, those are just themes. I mean, before he came in, he says I'm going to get universal health care for everyone. I'm going to cut the deficit in half. I mean, what are his three --
MR. MCCURRY: The President also understands that in addition to painting this vivid portrait of America in the year 2000, he also should suggest to the American people a specific plan that builds on the achievements that we can point to over the last three and a half, four years. And he will be doing that on Thursday. You will see some things -- I think in our convention, it's safe to say -- there will be one thing that was lacking from the convention in San Diego, there will be some new things that the President wants to lift up and point to as the direction we need to pursue to build on the success that we've enjoyed.
Q Can you give us an example?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because then it would not be news next week.
Q You mean, you're managing this? It sounds like you're going to stage-manage some policy initiatives. (Laughter.) Could that be?
MR. MCCURRY: We're just going to put forward a very concrete set of proposals, let the American people look at them and think about them as the President makes the case of why four more years of his leadership will be good for the American people.
Q The Republicans went into their convention with a couple of things they specifically wanted to do. They wanted to let people know more about Bob Dole's personal story, they wanted to unveil their tax plan and so on. What are the specific -- the handful of specific goals that the Democrats have going at their convention?
MR. MCCURRY: There will be, in coming days, a number of people who are more on the political side of our equation talking about that. But, essentially, we enter our convention period in a much different position. The President enjoys a great deal of support from the American people; he is satisfied with the political efforts his campaign team has put forward so far this year; we have a united party; and we have a party platform that the President not only has read, but actually took part in drafting. It's a platform that he will be proud to stand by as we go into the fall election, and in a sense, what any convention must do is to generate excitement for the candidates and for the causes of the party. It must contrast the vision of the party with that offered by the opponent.
And the President, himself, has a very personal responsibility of exciting people about his vision for the future and also convincing Americans he has a specific way that we can arrive at that destination. That's what he has put a lot of time and effort and thinking into. Some of your news organizations are in the process of getting a book that he has written that really outlines some of this thinking about that 21st century that he sees for America. These things are connected to the larger argument that he's making for our future.
Q Does the President support everything in the platform?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President, as all Democrats do, might have less stress or less support for certain elements of the platform. There are some things that you could read in that platform and say, well, that really has not been a priority effort that the President has made, but they represent historic commitments that the party has undertaken.
But we have a platform that the President knows will encourage inclusiveness in our party. We have, just for example, on the specific issue of choice, a direct appeal for those who have moral conscience take issue with the party's strong pro-choice stance; encouraging them to be active in the party, respecting their right of moral conscience to take differing points of view from the majority of the party on that subject.
So we're confident that going into this convention period that the President has built a very strong and solid record that we can lift up and hold out to the American people; that he will articulate a very compelling vision of where we must go in the future as we think about the challenges we must face. And he'll talk about those values that together Americans share as we think about how we will solve the problems that we face. In all, we hope a very compelling period.
Q Does the President really think by turning the other cheek and this business of ideas, not insults, going to work when he is being pummeled every day by the opposition?
MR. MCCURRY: The President feels that there are sharp, clear differences between the parties and between the candidates on issues that are important to the American people. He believes that any campaign, any convention are about contrasting those views of the future but, also, ultimately making the most persuasive case you can for your own vision.
The one thing he will not do at our coming convention is to dwell on the past and to make sort of a tacit assumption that America's glory days are behind us. He believes the 21st is going to be, as you've heard him say often, an age of possibility for Americans -- most likely the most prosperous, safest, joyous, most exciting period in the history in our nation. But we've got some hard work to do in the next four years to ensure that we have that kind of future.
And he's excited about that work, and he wants to talk about what he will bring to that work. And that's exactly the kind of presentation you would expect an incumbent president to make as he contemplates asking for four more years.
Q Is he the second most optimistic man in America?
Q Is he as optimistic as Senator Dole?
MR. MCCURRY: Maybe Senator Dole left the convention optimistic enough to think he might win. So it's not a surprise that he's optimistic.
Q Any reaction to the Susan McDougal --
MR. MCCURRY: We have no reaction to that.
Q Mike, could you characterize this train trip for us? What kind of events will there be along the way? What will he be doing at the overnight stops -- say, like when he arrives in Columbus?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd prefer that you get most of this from our campaign committee because they're prepared to tell you more about it. I could tell you about the train trip, that he will have an event each that underscores some of the fundamental commitments that he believes we must bring to this work of building America's 21st century. They will focus on things that you've heard him discuss before, but they will contain some newsworthy proposals, we hope.
In a sense, by traveling on his way to Chicago, we hope we can get the audience in Chicago excited about the progress he's been making, both physically as he journeys to Chicago and as he talks about his vision for the future -- culminating in what we believe will be a very forceful presentation Thursday night about his goals and objectives for four more years. They will be both newsworthy, they will be thematic, they will reflect -- and in some ways, the announcements and the events the President has along the way will correlate to some of the work the party is doing in convention in Chicago, showing a connectedness between these two things.
And the President will just also have some good old-fashioned whistle stop campaigning that he will enjoy mightily and that will largely make whatever schedule we announce useless because that train won't run on time, probably.
Q Mike, can you clarify, will the delegates in Chicago be seeing him speak every night of the convention?
MR. MCCURRY: We certainly hope that courtesy of the major networks who report on his train trip they will. But we can't guarantee that.
Q He's not doing a hook-up in a hall for them?
MR. MCCURRY: We have some national and technical means that we could bring to the equation, and we might very well do that.
The convention itself, by the way, we'll be doing announcements later this week about the program and about elements of the program. And I'd leave it to my colleagues out in Chicago to tell you more about how the convention will work. But if any of you have seen the pictures of the podium that they unveiled over the weekend, you'll notice that there are two large television screens right there on the podium. And I imagine you could play all sorts of things up there.
Q One other thing, is Mrs. Clinton going to be on the train or will she have a schedule of her own in Chicago?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is she'll have a schedule of her own in Chicago, her home town. And she also will have a very prominent role at the convention, as you know.
Q Mike, while you're on the schedule, what's under consideration for Thursday, Friday and Saturday -- any travel after the convention?
MR. MCCURRY: Under consideration are traditional meetings on Friday with the party committee, the Democratic National Committee. And the President will likely do some campaigning the following weekend, but that has not yet been announced by the campaign.
Q Is it likely to be in the same Midwestern area?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on when and where.
Q Does he leave Chicago on Friday?
MR. MCCURRY: That's most likely, but I'll leave it to the campaign. I don't have any travel details to announce.
Q Can you tell us when he'll sign the welfare bill? And what can you tell us about arrangements for tomorrow's signing ceremony?
MR. MCCURRY: Tomorrow's signing ceremony will be done at around the same hour -- is it going to be 2:15?
MR. TOIV: Yes, 2:15.
MR. MCCURRY: Two-fifteen tomorrow for the health care measure. The President expects to sign the welfare reform measure sometime during the day on Thursday. We have not set the time, the venue, or the arrangements for that signing as of yet.
Q What about the FDA --
Q Who comes tomorrow? Who are the invitees?
MR. MCCURRY: We have invited a range of people who are active in health care delivery, health insurance and, of course, bipartisan leaders of Congress that worked with the President to make this very important piece of health care legislation a reality.
Q FDA, tobacco?
Q Mike, does the President consider tomorrow's ceremony at least a partial pay-off on his campaign promise on health care?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, as he suggested when he wrote to the Democratic leaders -- or the Republican leaders of Congress in early 1995, suggested that we should proceed with health care reform in an incremental, step-by-step way. The Kassebaum-Kennedy measure, by expanding portability, by really instituting some controls and some new procedures on health care administrative costs, does take a very important incremental step.
But there is more that must be done. It does not address the question of the uninsured. So there is more work that certainly lies ahead. The mental health parity provision that was dropped from this version of the bill is one that the President believes we should turn to again in the future. And health care reform will continue to be a very important part of his agenda should the American people decide he deserves a second term.
Q Will Mrs. Clinton be at the signing?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I know of, but I'll have to check on that for you tomorrow.
Q Mike, on the subject of health, the President was talking about being older and tireder over the weekend. Are we going to get his detailed health care records, including lab tests and full records and access to doctors?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'd suggest you go back to the briefing I did on the day of his physical, because I gave a very extensive accounting of the tests that day, and we put out most of the same material that you would expect and some type of comprehensive report on the President's health. That was done fairly recently and I'm not aware of any plans to update that information, but it was fairly comprehensive at the time.
Q What I'm wondering about are lab tests and access to his doctor.
MR. MCCURRY: I gave a number of the lab test results and results from his physical exam during that briefing, so you might want to go back and look at that transcript.
Q How about the access to the doctor, Mike? How about access to his doctor?
MR. MCCURRY: To doctor -- she was available that day for anyone who had follow-up questions. If there is a specific question you have, I will refer it to her.
Q How many pounds has the President lost in the past few months?
MR. MCCURRY: He indicated to folks out on vacation -- I was not there, some of you may -- he may have lost 15 pounds or 20 pounds. I thought that sounded like an inflation factor to me. (Laughter.) It's like a CBO baseline measurement -- you have to know what the baseline was you were measuring against on that. But he cares about his health and eating habits and his exercise regime and he follows the advice of his doctors on those and other specific health concerns. And as the President's doctor reported, he's in excellent health.
Q Will he avoid Chicago pizza, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: There will probably be many temptations in Chicago of the culinary sort that you will find irresistible.
Q Did he call the gorilla for saving that little boy? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: That's a good question. If there's life on Mars, there may be talking gorillas, some of whom serve in Congress.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh. Wolf Blitzer.
Q Does the President think it's a good idea for the FBI to be opening up all of these offices overseas?
MR. MCCURRY: The State Department and others who are involved in working with this have come together with a coordinated plan to increase our ability to address the most urgent threats we face in the post-Cold War era. And among them are the need to increase law enforcement efforts related to terrorism, related to drug trafficking, related to international money laundering. These are all areas in which the FBI has expertise and there is a plan that we're confident has been devised that respects the traditional prerogatives of the President's chief mission at each diplomatic post that we have around the -- but it also can encourage involvement by the FBI.
Q Mike, would you like to tell us what you think the baseline was for those 15 --
MR. MCCURRY: A more generous one than the -- well, one perhaps more generous than his most recent weigh-in at his physical exam. How about that?
Q What was that?
Q Would you like to tell us what he weighs now?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what his -- I can't remember what it was. He weighs --
Q He weighed 215.
MR. MCCURRY: It was 215 at last report, which was unchanged from the year before, but which I was -- I hasten to report was after his bilateral encounter with Chancellor Helmut Kohl. (Laughter.)
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:25 P.M. EDT