THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:30 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Because you're mostly interested in covering the news and the subject you indicated to me that you're interested in discussing today was the President's inaugural address, and the President, moments ago, concluded the very extensive drafting session on that, I can probably be of some help to you on that subject. If I briefed at 1:00 p.m. you wouldn't have had the benefit of my newly-arrived-at wisdom. But I apologize for being late. I have to be in a position to be of help to you. So that's what I did.
All right, let me do a couple of other things. We've got some other items and then we can get into that accordingly. The first is, I think you recall last May the President announced the United States intention to achieve as soon as possible a worldwide ban on land mines, and then in December at the U.N. General Assembly nations voted unanimously in favor of a U.S. initiated resolution that would urge nation states to pursue such an agreement.
The President today is announcing that when the Conference on Disarmament opens its 1997 session in Geneva on Monday, the United States will seek to initiate negotiations on a worldwide treaty banning the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of antipersonnel land mines. As the President said before the U.N. General Assembly in September, our children deserve to walk the Earth in safety. And the United States hopes that nations of the world will work with us to create that safety and ban the scourge of land mines which every year kill, wound, or maim more than 25,000 civilians.
And we've got some ideas on how in pursuing this goal we can do some things on our own unilaterally that will create a better environment in order to achieve that type of ban. The United States will observe a permanent ban on the export and transfer of antipersonnel land mines. That actions builds on a Land Mine Export Moratorium Act that Senator Patrick Leahy, who has certainly been within the Congress one of the leading voices in attempting to end the use of antipersonnel land mines -- builds on legislation that he authored, which temporarily prohibited the export and transfer of those weapons. That's been in effect since 1992. The effect of the step the President is announcing today would be to make that ban permanent.
And we would also, at the same time, urge other nations to join us in stopping the export and transfer of these mines. We believe that will help hasten the completion of a comprehensive ban and, in the process, save many innocent human lives.
As a second step towards encouraging the right environment for a ban, the President has decided to cap our antipersonnel land mine stockpile at the current level of inventory, which is several million land mines.
Q What's the difference in what he did before? He said we wouldn't be manufacturing them?
MR. MCCURRY: What I'd like to is introduce Bob Bell, who's are Senior Director for Defense Policy on Arms Control, who has been working the issue. I'd like to -- I know you've got other subjects you want to cover, too, but I think it would be useful if he walks through a little bit what we're going to be doing in Geneva at the Conference on Disarmament, and then importantly, how this will reinforce a very important process that the government of Canada has launched, the so-called Ottawa Process, which is mutually reinforcing of the efforts that we will be pursuing in Geneva.
Take it away, Bob.
Q What made the President change his mind? Didn't he go for just a partial ban before?
MR. BELL: Why don't I take the two questions on the table, if you will, in order, and then just a comment on the CD. In terms of the cap, what we're saying as of today is that we're putting a ceiling on the U.S. inventory and guaranteeing permanently never to go above that number, while we work through arms control to take the number down to zero. So we're capping it at the current level, which is in the millions.
Now, that does not include the 3 million so-called dumb mines, the ones that don't self-destruct within a time limit that the President ordered last May to be destroyed. We're required, pursuant to an OAS resolution that we voted for last year, to make a declaration on our exact inventory later this spring, and we'll be putting out numbers at that time in accordance with the OAS requirement.
On your question, Helen, there's no change here. What the President said in May is that we would seek a worldwide ban, a global ban on land mines. And the question left open after the announcement last May was where would we negotiate that. At that time Secretary Christopher said we had several ideas in mind, one of which was the CD. Of course, at that time we didn't know if the CD was going to succeed with the comprehensive test ban -- which it did, of course.
And so we now feel, after extensive consultation with a number of countries, including key allies who also support the CD like France and Britain and Australia, that our best shot at this in terms of achieving the President's goal of a global ban -- not just a ban among some countries, but a ban that really reaches the countries that are causing the problem on different continents around the world -- is to take it to the CD where we have a proven track record -- the Chemical Weapons Convention came out of the CD, the CTB came out of the CD -- we think we can get a land mines agreement out of the CD, recognizing that it's going to be tough because some of the countries in the CD, like Russia and China, do not appear to be disposed to do this, or at least to agree soon to abandon. We're going to have to work that hard, but we're going to start that process on Monday.
Q What's a CD?
MR. BELL: Sorry, the CD is the Conference on Disarmament. There's a fact sheet, I think, being handed out on this.
Q What you say means, in fact, that the President has decided against joining the Ottawa Conference?
MR. BELL: No, in fact, we --
Q Or the two are exclusive, Geneva and the Conference?
MR. BELL: No, we don't think they're exclusive. In fact, we think they're complementary. And that statement that you will get and the fact sheet makes that point in more detail.
Basically, what the Canadian government has suggested and is now scheduling is a series of conferences to which those countries who want to ban land mines and will ban their own will come. And the Canadians have set a goal of actually signing a treaty among that subgroup of the world's nation in December in which those participating states agree to ban their own land mines.
Our concern with that approach, and one of the issues we worked so hard on the last several months as we looked at this was that the indications we have are that the major problem states, if you will, the states -- the historic producers that are providing these old technology land mines that are killing so many people around the world are not going to come and join the Canadian process. And the President's objective here is a global ban that reaches out and captures the countries that are causing the problem.
So we will welcome the Canadian effort. We hope they succeed beyond our expectations even, and that they managed to bring more countries into this process than we think they will. We will support them. We won't try to dissuade other countries from joining that, but we think the main action is going to be in the CD, at least in terms of our first shot at this.
Q Just to be clear, if nothing has changed, you will not be signing a treaty by December '97 banning all land mines, as the Canadians want? You will succeed through the CD or you will not sign Ottawa treaty?
MR. BELL: No, I wouldn't put it that categorically. As I said, we're skeptical that the Canadians will succeed in getting that wide a participation. But if we're wrong, and they do persuade China and Russia and other major providers of land mines to come and join that ban, we would be the first to congratulate them and be there with them joining in that effort.
Our approach is to go first to where the problem states will be across the negotiating table from us, and that's the CD. The Russians and the Chinese have said they're not going to go to Ottawa.
Q Mr. Bell, what do you answer to people like Senator Leahy who say that the U.S. should lead the way by joining the Ottawa Conference to force the Chinese and the Russians to join by the force of example?
MR. BELL: Well, Senator Leahy, as Mike said, has been the leader in the Congress on this issue. We are very happy to be working with him on this goal. What we apparently have is a disagreement over the tactics of getting there because Senator Leahy has favored the Canadian approach. But we think that we are showing leadership on this. We showed leadership when the President made his announcements in May, when we decided to destroy all of these old technology dumb mines. We showed leadership in the U.N. last month when, at our initiative, we got a vote, 155 to 0, in support of our resolution calling for the negotiation of this ban. And we expect to play the same leadership role in the CD in getting this land mine's global ban that we showed as the leader in the CD getting the CTB and the Chemical Weapons Convention the last several years.
Q Could you just explain the bad things that would happen if we signed this Ottawa agreement without Russia and China also signing?
MR. BELL: Well, you really have to go back to May and what the President said then, and what General Shalikashvili and Secretary Perry said. Our assessment was that, first, our mines -- once we've destroyed the dumb ones which we're now into and will be completed with by 1999 -- the mines that we will have in our Armed Forces are the self-destructing, self-neutralizing ones that turn themselves off or blow up within a very short period of time and don't present a danger to civilian populations once a battle is over in a particular area. So as the President said in May, it's not our mines that are causing the carnage, not the U.S. mines.
And, secondly, it is the view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CINCs, the commanders in chief, that these mines, the self-destructing ones that we have, do have military benefits in terms of our maneuver warfare doctrine. That said, General Shali made very clear the JCS is prepared to give up that military benefit for a greater good -- the greater good being ending this humanitarian crisis around the world caused by this mine epidemic.
But it's in that context that the Joint Chiefs of Staff are agreeing to give up the mines. If you have a narrow treaty, if the Canadian produces a treaty that isn't subscribed by the major providers of the mines, you're not going to achieve the humanitarian benefit because you won't be reducing or eliminating the mines that are causing the problem.
Q Can you quantify where you say our inventory is in the millions? Is that tens of millions, hundreds of millions?
MR. BELL: No, it's not tens of millions.
Q How many?
MR. BELL: I'm going to have to refer you to the Defense Department on that. I don't have the number for you. But as I said, we're required over the OAS resolution to come in with a declaration early this year, and we'll be making that declaration.
Q Is it something you don't want to disclose now?
MR. BELL: I don't want to put a number out until we are sure that it's the operative number. And pursuant to this OAS process, it's got to be one that we stand behind. But again, this is a step that shows what direction we want to go, which is down. We're just making the point here that we're not going to increase the number.
Q I thought you said 7 million a few minutes ago.
MR. BELL: That was several.
Q Oh, I thought you said seven.
MR. MCCURRY: No, several.
Q How about a range? Between 5 million and 10 million?
MR. BELL: It's not tens of millions, but I just don't want to try to pin it down to one or two places. It's several million.
MR. MCCURRY: David tells me also that you might want to -- I think they're planning to do a backgrounder over at the Pentagon later on today; they might get into that question in a little more detail, too. So you pass that on to your colleagues.
On to the speech. As I mentioned at the beginning, the President has been spending literally hours at all times of the day and night -- or maybe that's all times of the night and day -- or maybe it's all times of the night and day -- working on the message that he wants to deliver on Monday. He has been, really almost since the election, thinking about the ways he would describe America's future in this speech. He told us a short while ago that what he wants this speech to do is to put in a larger historical context where we are as a nation, to put in one place our dreams for the world we are trying to make and call the country together so that we can do the job.
He said that he is thinking of ways to say things that I've said before, certainly during the most recent campaign, that capture what he calls this unique moment in history. And I think a large part of this speech will place in some historical context the unique moment of history that the President believes we are at, not only because of the arrival of a new millennium and a new century, but also because of the forces of change that are affecting the lives of every single American.
He'll talk a lot about how those episodes of change in history in the past have been met by an American people willing to rise up to the challenges a period faces; and then how, at this moment, the American people can come together to address the challenges that we face as we build a bridge into the 21st century. I think you will not be surprised by the content. But as the President said, what he's trying to do here is to put these things that I said before to music and words. What he's trying to do is be a little more contemplative and perhaps a little more poetic.
In fact, he has -- among the many things that he's been reading for this speech, he's been reading poetry and looking at people who put words together in a compelling way. A couple books that he's been reading -- he's read Davis Lott's book, "The Presidents Speak" -- we can type these out and give these to you after the briefing so you can get the spellings -- Robert Isaac's book, "American Political Thinking." Because it is Martin Luther King Day, he has read Martin Luther King's essay, "A Testament Of Hope." He's read a book by William Safire, "Lend Me Your Ears," which is, I think, a book that kind of -- it's a compilation of speeches that Safire has edited. And then he has some commentary, as I recall, on some of the speeches.
Q Does he still want to punch Safire in the nose? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: And a book by Houston Pearson called "The World's Greatest Speeches." He also asked that we pull all of the second inaugural addresses that incumbent presidents have given upon reelection. And he read those and found some a little more compelling than others, but he was particularly struck by FDR's second inaugural address, which was the famous, "one-third of a nation" speech; and also by Lincoln's address.
In general, the President has described the period we are in in history as being one in which we are going through this enormous transformation as we move from one era, the era of industrialism and the Cold War, to a new era, the era of the post-Cold War, global information-led society. And making that transformation, however, at a time that we don't face any particular national challenge or crisis, as did Lincoln, as did FDR. And he is -- for that reason winds his way back off into Teddy Roosevelt.
He read also Teddy Roosevelt's inaugural address, and sees in that period of change, as we move from an agrarian society to an industrial society at the beginning of this century, a period that offers some parallels. The President -- I asked him, what would you want the American people most to feel after they hear you speak on Monday? He said I'd want them to be excited about our future and eager to build it.
Q What is the poetry that he's reading?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't get any of the particular -- I think he's just been going through collections of poetry and just probably doing that to daydream in between doing drafts of the speech.
The process itself, I'll describe it to you. The President is in the Oval with a group of people -- Don Baer, Mike Waldman, assembled some of his speechwriters here. And what he's doing to kind of make this speech as much as possible his very own is that he will take the most recent draft, take the rewrites that he's done on the copies of those texts and read them into a tape recorder, and sometimes extemporizes a little bit on things that he has jotted out or notes that he has made. The speechwriters then take that and go back and transcribe some of the things the President has said and then incorporate them.
I think that process will go on through the weekend, probably right up until Monday morning, so that by the time the President delivers this inaugural address it will very much be his own and very much reflect the help that he's received from an incredibly wide array of people. But, ultimately, it will be the one that he himself has coalesced so that it's a speech and a message that is personally his own.
Q Mike, if he's talking about this transformation and the poetry, how is that that different from his first inaugural?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the first inaugural was different because it was really calling the country forth to deal with the changes that we face and really a summons to the country to prepare the work that we needed to do. The country was drifting at that time, and we lacked a coherent economic strategy for the future. The President, through a lot of hard work, put that in place in 1993, and it's worked exceptionally well.
So it's a different moment now, because we now can build on the record of the last four years. We've seen the progress that has been achieved in the first full term. As I suggest to you, the President's certainly not going to look back during this speech -- a speech that looks forward and looks forward to a new century and a new millennium. And it's a different moment in time. In 1993 when he delivered his first inaugural address, there was no guarantee of success and no record to judge. Now, four years later that's a different situation.
Q What's the length he's shooting for, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: He's -- right now -- I asked him, I said, how long do you -- I have a guess, looked at what I've got, but he cautioned me against using a timed figure because one thing that he wants to do is to be concise and to shape this a little more. He's not at a point yet where I think it's as concise as he wants it to be. So I'm not going to predict the length.
Q Can we assume that both Saturday and Sunday he's going to be continuing this process of revising the draft and reading it aloud?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. In fact, I had hoped to get some of the people who were working on that to be here. We just finished a session in the Oval, and they went off to kind of get back to work and incorporate some of the things the President had just said. So they will be, I think, having this process back and forth with the President certainly Saturday and certainly Sunday as well. But the President was obviously very excited about where the speech is at this point. I think he feels he's making good progress on it.
Q Is he going to specifically address the rather toxic atmosphere on the Hill right now, and is he going to address that point in his speech?
MR. MCCURRY: He could very conceivably talk about the climate in which the American people can come together and meet the challenges that we face, and what elected leaders have as a responsibility to do that. I think he does want this speech to set a tone that makes it clear that Republicans and Democrats and the Congress and the Executive can come together to do the work that needs to be done over the next four years.
Q Have you heard the President say anything how his first inaugural -- things have changed personally for him between the first inaugural and the second? His mother passed away and Hillary's father passed away -- these kinds of personal anecdotes that things may have been different.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I mean, I think that's true. I don't think that's -- I don't think this is going to be a self-reflective speech on Monday. He's really speaking to and with the nation about the future of the country. It is a period in which the President has gone through the joy and the cost of serving as President for four years. And there has been an impact on that on his life. He has learned things about himself. He's learned things about the presidency.
If you ask the President what's the single greatest insight that you have into the presidency itself after serving for one term, he would say that the tools that are available to the President and ultimately to the American people to lead the American people are much more comprehensive than those that are often talked about by the commentatortariat; that the White House to Congress axis up and down the length of Pennsylvania Avenue that he will walk Monday does not define the resources available to the modern presidency; that they include much more the bully pulpit, to invoke TR's phrase. They include the power of executive action. They also include the ability to go to the country and find examples of success and lift them up so that people can come together and begin to build the kind of future that they want for themselves and their communities.
And I think all of those things you'll see the President do in the aftermath of both this speech and the State of the Union -- finding places where those things he talks about Monday and then later in the State of the Union address are happening in America, using that in a sense as a way to help all Americans see the opportunities that exist as we address the problems that exist.
Q Four years ago on Inauguration Day he signed some ethics directives. Do you expect -- is there anything that he's going to sign on Monday? Are there any plans for him to take concrete action other than the speech?
MR. MCCURRY: He might do that; he might do some proclamation or something that is a specific piece of action on Monday. But I would point you more towards the possibility of Tuesday of doing some work related specifically to the economy and his economic program. Of all the things that come together here, in the President's desire to see the American people raise incomes and raise kids in more suitable circumstances, the strength of the American economy as we continue to move ahead is a real foundation for so much of the work that lies ahead.
So I wouldn't be surprised if you see him on Tuesday turning his attention to the question of a balanced budget and how we do that, because we will be moving more directly then into the question of how do you use the tool of government, which requires a balanced budget, requires a lot of other things that the President and the Vice President are doing to reinvent the tool of government. He'll probably talk about how we use that tool more effectively.
Q Mike, on Tuesday is he still going to talk to the DNC and make some kind of proposal there about reform and fundraising, and could you just tell us about that?
MR. MCCURRY: The National Committee meets on Tuesday, later in the day. I expect him to nominate new leadership for the party, which will be elected on Tuesday, and then also talk about steps we can take to address some of the mishaps of 1996.
Q Will that be something other than just calling for McCain-Feingold again? I mean, is he going to do something unilateral or --
MR. MCCURRY: I think he'll have a number of things to do on Tuesday related to campaign finance reform and how we advance federal legislation for campaign finance reform, and then how we can take responsibility at the Democratic National Committee to acquire the resources of politics in a fashion that assures the American people the integrity of the process.
Q What's the outlook on getting a text of the speech Monday? And, also, are you going to brief at all over the weekend?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not planning at this point to brief over the weekend. I don't think there's going to be much more to add to what I've just said now. We'll be available. We'll have people available throughout the weekend if there's any breaking news. But it's a weekend in which the President's activities will be pretty apparent, and most of them will be social and celebratory, as you know.
Q On Tuesday will he make a public statement calling for a balanced budget? I'm sorry, I didn't quite understand.
MR. MCCURRY: Tuesday is several days away now and I've kind of hinted at what he might do.
Q Mike, can I just follow up? Will there be any other subjects besides campaign reform and balanced budget that he's going to key on on the first day after the inauguration?
MR. MCCURRY: Those are the two -- I think the two that will be most likely on his agenda at this point.
Q Mike, just a symbolic-type question. What Bible does he plan to use and will it be open to any particular verse?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't know for certain. I'll have to check and see whether he's using a family Bible or whether he uses the same Bible he used back in '93. I forgot to ask him that. But there is a phrase -- well, let me hold on that. I think I'm not absolutely sure. There's a phrase that he's played with from Nehemiah -- Nehemiah, Chapter 18, "And they said, let us rise up and build, so they strengthened their hands for this good work.'" I don't know whether that's -- several people who have worked on the speech have said that's a biblical passage that has had some meaning to the President. I don't know whether that figures into the speech or not.
Q Mike, how much attention will there be in this speech to international affairs and the U.S. role on the world stage?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not going to be a foreign policy speech, but it certainly will be a speech that talks about America's extraordinary opportunity to lead in this world -- something we were just talking about moments ago. It will be something that reflects on the this unique moment in history in which the United States is the lone superpower in the world has special obligations as what the President often says is an indispensable nation.
Q Among contributors of ideas have been, for example, Henry Cisneros and hundreds of others. Can you name any contributors whose work likely will make it through into the final?
MR. MCCURRY: I think there are so many it would be unfair because you'd leave someone out. I think a lot of people have affected the President's thinking, and more importantly, if you want to know, the true sources of inspiration are all those millions of Americans, or hundreds of thousands of Americans, that he met along the way in 1996. This is a speech about the people of this country. And it's a speech about what Americans together can do. And I think that what inspires the President are the stories and the anecdotes and the memories and the phrases and the recollections of people that he's had along the way.
Q Mike, does the President sense a different mood, because it's a second inauguration, among his supporters and in the nation in general that he seeks to address?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. He senses the American people are confident about their President and optimistic about their future. We've just gone through a holiday season in which people have been able to celebrate a country that is in relative prosperity and a world that's relatively at peace. And I think that's important. And it has given the American people a moment here where they can reflect on the future and on the new century from a position of strength and a position of confidence.
Q I was thinking in terms of the fact that this inauguration does not represent a change in the Executive, in the highest level as it did four years ago, it's a continuation of what we've had for four years, and so that the level of enthusiasm or the excitement level may be diminished from four years ago. Have you heard him sense that?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's level of excitement is not at all diminished. If anything, it's somewhat greater. He seems really more buoyant, more confident because there's -- the one thing that's different from this inaugural and the last inaugural is uncertainty. As he launched his efforts to promulgate and economic program and to really deal with so many of the things he did in the first term, there was no guarantee of success. So we don't at this moment have that uncertainty anymore. We know that what we're doing is working. We know we can build on it and build into the future. So I think that puts the President in a different frame of mind as he makes this inaugural.
And I would suggest, too, that the arrival of a new century and the importance of that as an organizing principle certainly for the President in this speech, but for the work that we're going to do in a second term as we literally prepare for the new century is something that is inspirational to the American people. It's something that I think Americans will think about in their daily lives as they think about the approach to the year 2000.
Q You said he puts his voice in this by sending numerous drafts back to the speechwriters to edit. Does he ever sit down and just write longhand so it's actually his?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, in fact, he said -- that's what he intends to do with this at some point. And he will -- when he finally gets down to -- he suggested he was going to do it last night and it just got too late and he wanted to retire to bed. But he will take where they are at it at one point and really literally write it out in longhand. That's a way that I think he kind of incorporates and begins to internalize the speech.
Q Just to ask in a different way, does he actually sit down and write the speech? In other words, write out a whole draft?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, that's what I was just answering. He will sit and take what all the material he's got and then go through and rewrite the whole thing by hand, making changes as he goes along, yes.
Q No, did he start out by writing a draft and giving it to the speechwriters? What I'm wondering is, did he ever sit down and pen a speech?
MR. MCCURRY: He sits down and -- what he did in this case was start by writing out passages, different passages, doing different parts of things that he wanted to do in the speech. And then he would bring the in. Very often they would be in -- or sometime he'd make only notes, maybe not entire passages that he would write. But he would bring that in and then sort of dictate it to a tape recorder. He sort of -- I mean, you know how the President -- the President is pretty good at extemporaneous speaking. So he'll come in and make notes to himself and then come in and sort of give the speech into a tape recorder. And that becomes his source material that people use as they go through. Plus they incorporate ideas or he sees things that are suggested to him by others that he likes and he tries to weave those into a draft.
Q Anything yet in the aftermath of the ceremony with Dole?
MR. MCCURRY: They had a very nice private moment. The reception was really extraordinary as you had this parade of people from the President's orbit and people from Senator Dole's orbit, many of them standing together. I mean, I had -- I decided I wanted to go through the receiving line myself, not so I could see my boss, but so I could see Senator Dole. And I went through with Clarkson Hine, who was Senator Dole's press secretary, and Nelson Warfield, who was the campaign press secretary. And we did -- we had some reflections on the campaign. And there were a lot of nice moments like that for everybody. Steve Goodin, who is the President's young whatever you call him -- aide-de-camp -- was with the fellow -- and I'm sorry I don't know his name, the guy who is Dole's aide-de-camp, who you saw very often during the campaign.
Q With the blonde hair.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Well, you know who I mean. And they were comparing notes. So there were a lot of moments like that that I think were very nice and very warm. And the First Lady, Mrs. Dole, Robin, the President really seemed to be enjoying their reminisces together and enjoying sharing, comparing evaluations of the various people going through the line.
Q No hard feelings?
MR. MCCURRY: No hard feelings apparent. In fact, a lot of people I think expressing some satisfaction that the sharpness in the exchanges in the campaign were being set aside.
Q Did you have any medals for Warfield or Hine? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I think they're both doing quite well on their own.
Q Can you tell me whether Gingrich was invited?
MR. MCCURRY: He was -- David, go -- I want to narrow that down. I forgot to check, but I am almost certain that he was, yes.
Q You said that one of the things that was different four years ago was that there was a lot of uncertainty. Would you also say that expectations were so much higher last time and now they're more -- that's one of the reasons things seem a little more --
MR. MCCURRY: I think expectations are higher now than they were four years ago. Four years ago, the immediate challenge was to address the fundamental premise that we had to get our nation's economic house in order. That was, in some part, green eyeshade work, because it involved the promulgation of an economic plan and a budget plan in particular, what the President spent a large part of time on in 1993. He also was intent on dealing with the problem of crime in communities and the crime bill became a major focus -- health care for Americans, obviously.
But the ambition and the challenges and the agenda as we go into 1997, I would suggest is somewhat loftier and probably a little more ambitious because we're literally creating the America that we want to see passed to our children as we enter a new century, with all the different things the President will talk about on Monday. It's a somewhat loftier challenge because we can think bigger now. We've got a stronger foundation from which to do that thinking, based on the performance of the last four years.
Q Mike, you expressed the impact he wants. Has the President expressed a sense of his debt to history in this speech?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, very much so. I mean, he has a debt to the record. He has a debt to all of his predecessors and a debt to the American people for the uncommon opportunity that we have at this unique moment in history. Americans -- he will talk a lot about what we have been able to build together during the course of the 20th century and what an extraordinary century it was, and then look ahead to how even more extraordinary the 21st century can be for all Americans.
Q When you mentioned poetry, is the President looking for literary references, as JFK used to do? Or is he trying to be inspired to write more poetically --
MR. MCCURRY: The latter. I think that he is looking for, in his choice of language, ways in which he might be a little sharper a phrase and more musical a phrase.
Let's move on. I've got some folks to do the embargoed briefing that I promised you earlier, and I'd like to get --
Q Do you have anything more on Lebed? I mean, have you figured out where his invitation came from?
MR. MCCURRY: No, someone -- I heard NPR had figured out that it was a connection through Senator -- they reported it was a connection through Senator Roth. That's the only thing that we've heard. We don't really know.
Q This balloonist who is floating toward Libya, has there been any specific request to the White House on his behalf to ask Libya to let him through Libyan air space?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that we are aware of any requests, but our understanding now is that his course may have changed and they don't intend to overfly Libya, so it's kind of a moot point. We had heard that there might be that concern. I think we had had some contact with the government of Belgium, which is our protecting power in Libya, but we didn't have to activate that channel. It doesn't appear we'll have a need to.
Q Did the President call Cosby?
MR. MCCURRY: He did yesterday, had a nice private conversation with him and obviously expressed his condolences.
Q Back on the Dole event, was the timing deliberate for the event, right before the inauguration? And where did the President come up with this idea? Was it always in his mind to give him this award?
MR. MCCURRY: The notion of paying some tribute to Senator Dole is something the President thought about doing almost immediately after the election. You heard him often during the election talk about how he had high person regard for Senator Dole even though they clearly had disagreements, but he was looking for some way to express the gratitude of a nation for Senator Dole's service. Senator Dole left the Senate in the midst of the campaign, and while he had, I think, a number of very eloquent tributes from both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, he really didn't have an opportunity to be acknowledged by the entire nation. The President thought it was appropriate to do that.
He had a conversation, as he does from time to time, with former ambassador Robert Strauss right after the election in which they talked about a number of things, but the President talked about his desire to pay some tribute to Senator Dole, and I think the idea really got its genesis then. The President asked several people at the White House to look into the notion of awarding a Medal of Freedom to Senator Dole. He got a report on that, I think, right around Thanksgiving. And the President had intended to have a follow-up conversation, as you know, with Senator Dole. They had agreed to do that on election night when they spoke by telephone. And the President then, just before the holidays, met with Senator Dole. That went very, very well. They had a very warm conversation, and shortly after that the President asked Ambassador Strauss to sound Senator Dole out about his willingness to accept that type of honor.
That was just a short while ago, and this was the event that had been long planned that made sense, because it was a reflection on the progress we're making to memorialize veterans of World War II.
Q Are you saying that it was Strauss's original idea to offer a Medal of Freedom?
MR. MCCURRY: It grew out of that conversation. He doesn't take credit for it, and the President doesn't really remember. It sort of grew out of his conversation with Strauss. And then he had Strauss inquire of Senator Dole's willingness to do it.
Okay, we're going to bring on some folks and do a little bit of other stuff.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:51 P.M. EST