THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY The Briefing Room
1:50 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House Briefing Room for today's daily briefing. Announcements: The President of the United States will travel out west October 20th and 21st, to San Francisco and Los Angeles, to attend a fundraising dinner for Senator Barbara Boxer, overnight in Los Angeles the evening of the 20th. It's likely that an event will be added Wednesday morning to the schedule in Los Angeles. And we'll let you know details on that as soon as we can. Wednesday afternoon he'll attend a fundraising lunch for Senator Boxer in San Francisco, return to the White House later that evening -- probably very late that evening.
November 6th to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to attend the dedication ceremony for the Northwest Regional Airport in Fayetteville. (Laughter.) The President had a longstanding interest in this project, worked on it when he was governor, and Air Force One will be the very first plane to land at the new airport. The President is thinking about staying overnight that night.
Q Where is he going to be on Election Day?
MR. MCCURRY: Don't know yet. Well, if he stays overnight -- don't have an answer.
Q Mike, you're saying he may stay overnight there?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he may stay overnight that night. So that's your travel that we have to date.
Q In Kosovo, there are reports of atrocities taking place. Can you tell us what the administration has been able to confirm has happened?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have had Ambassador Chris Hill and the reports that we've had -- you've seen on the wires, I think, that we have information that corroborates some of this. It's very important to us that international forensic experts be allowed to inquire further on these events.
But these atrocities are part and parcel of the horror that has been underway in the Balkans for years, and in Kosovo since Serb authorities moved in a very dangerous and very outrageous way against those Kosovar Albanians who are attempting to get some freedom of expression with respect to their own political rights. That has led to the actions that you're familiar with both at the United Nations in the Security Council, and the work that NATO is doing even today with respect to additional measures which might be under consideration if Milosevic, the Belgrade authorities fail to heed and comply with the requirements put forward by the Security Council.
Q But with winter coming there's now some 50,000 people homeless. When are we going to act? I mean, people risk freezing to death and worse.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we're very well aware of that, which is why, exactly why all the work that is being done in Brussels even today by the North Atlantic Council has been underway. Last week, in furtherance of the U.N. Security Council resolution, NATO took the final step necessary to begin preparing for action, and there have been discussions even today about the next steps that might have to be considered if the effort to bring about some diplomatic resolution -- and to see, as the Serbs have said, that they do intend to withdraw from Kosovo their security forces -- to see if that pledge is honored. We don't rely upon their statement that it is so. That is why we've taken action both in New York at the United Nations and in the Alliance to --
Q Why don't they just move? What are they waiting for, NATO?
MR. MCCURRY: NATO is -- the use of military force as an option should come if we've exhausted the efforts to resolve this on diplomatically.
Q How much more exhaustive can they get?
Q -- diplomatic efforts have failed?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they are at this moment assessing in capitals the steps that would be necessary should there not be compliance with the Security Council resolution.
Q Are any of our allies resisting us, or can you tell us which ones?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't describe for you the deliberations that occurred today, but there is a high degree of resolve both within the Security Council and within the Alliance to see that we deal with what is going to be an unspeakable tragedy, especially as winter proceeds -- what is already an unspeakable tragedy.
Q Can you point to any example or any hope the diplomacy is working in this case, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been statements made from Belgrade by Milosevic and by others that would appear to be statements that meet some of the necessary conditions. That's not satisfactory to us. When it will be satisfactory to us is when we see the Serbian authorities take the steps necessary to remove security forces from Kosovo and to allow those who are now displaced to safely return to their homes.
Q How long are you going to give them? Is it ad infinitum, it can keep going until --
MR. MCCURRY: It's not ad infinitum and the seasons are about to change, as everyone is well aware.
Q Is the President satisfied with the speed in which NATO is working to --
MR. MCCURRY: The President is well satisfied that NATO has been doing the hard work necessary to prepare for other options, should they need to be considered.
Q Well, is the U.S. policy -- are we wedded to this lack of feeling for self-determination for the Albanians?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we have -- with respect to the future of Kosovo and its status within the former Yugoslav Republic, we believe that there needs to be a peaceful diplomatic resolution of the status. It's an area inhabited primarily by Albanians, but it has been an autonomous region in the past of Yugoslavia, and that's undisputed.
Q After Bob Dole briefed the President on his trip to Yugoslavia, he went on the Larry King Show -- I've got a transcript -- and he says that in his view, the administration is prepared to do what has to be done, but Dole said, "I think they're trying to bluff Milosevic and I don't think it will work."
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think what -- another accurate way to say what we're doing now is to work together with others in the European Alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, that has to deal together with a problem that is in the heart of central Europe. We've been working in a very painstaking way with other governments and we believe that the course of action both diplomatically and should other necessary measures be considered, other options considered, those courses are best undertaken by countries working together who care about the future of Europe and care about the historic danger that the Balkans has always presented to Europe.
Q Going back to travel -- first of all, I wish you all the best, you have done a great job as Press Secretary here.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you. You want to know, though, if we're going to Indian and Pakistan. (Laughter.)
Q Yes, if you have a comment, or can you make an official -- the trip has been cancelled to Indian, Pakistan, and Bangladesh?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has decided to postpone his visit to India and Pakistan, which had been under review, which also means he will not be making a separate trip to Bangladesh. I think the President very much wants this trip to take place. It's been something that he's often said that -- a trip that he has often said he would like to make as President. We are trying to get an environment created in which that trip will be most useful in advancing the interests of the international community and the people of the United States as well as the people of India and Pakistan.
We've had good talks with both India and Pakistan, recognizing the significant role they play in the region and their significance to the world community. We've made some progress on the issues that obviously prompted this decision, nuclear testing and export controls in particular. We're pleased that Prime Minister Vajpayee and Prime Minister Sharif, in their meeting last week in New York, announced resumption of foreign secretary-level talks between the two countries. That's important, and we hope that those are fruitful exchanges.
At the same time, the issues that we have been discussing with both governments are complex and we believe will require more time to be addressed to our mutual satisfaction. Until more progress is achieved, we are not going to be able to lift the sanctions that are in place and we aren't in a position to strengthen the kind of bilateral ties with both governments that we would naturally want to make a featured element of any trip by the President to the region.
Now, that said, the President is still eager to make the visit when we have had further significant progress with our respective security concerns, and when more latitude exists for using his visit to strengthen the kind of relations that we desire with both nations.
Obviously, the President, in the correspondence he's shared with the leaders and also with Prime Minister Hasima in Bangladesh, has indicated his desire to make the trip at an appropriate future date.
Q Mike, on that point, there is some move on the Hill to work out a mechanism whereby the President could lift those sanctions rather quickly, bipartisan support --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Can you give us a little bit --
MR. MCCURRY: We strongly support, I think it's Senator Brownback's measure, which would allow for temporary lifting of agricultural sanctions -- not the military export control sanctions that would remain in place, but this would allow the President more flexibility when it comes particularly to agricultural sanctions that in the past have been automatic. The President believes that having that kind of flexibility allows us to shape the kind of foreign policy response to things like nuclear testing that is more appropriate and more consistent with the needs and interests of the American people.
Q Given the situation in Malaysia, is there any thought to moving the APEC summit to someplace else?
MR. MCCURRY: There hasn't been thought of moving it, but certainly many of the member economies of APEC have discussed how they can use the discussions in Malaysia to make the point that many of the governments would wish to make about the behavior of the Mahathir government, especially with respect to the recent incarceration of the Deputy Prime Minister.
Q Congressman Conyers, about an hour ago, had a news conference on the Hill, and he had a lot of complaints the way the Judiciary Committee majority is handling this whole investigation. He felt that it really is not nonpartisan. He didn't like the way the rules are being played. Does the White House share his complaints?
MR. MCCURRY: We're well aware of the concerns expressed by Mr. Conyers and we have been concerned about some of the debate on the Hill. There have been in the last day or so discussion about modeling some of this work on the kind of work that was done by Chairman Peter Rodino's committee back in 1974. Remember that that effort was bipartisan, it was dignified, information was gathered and carefully assessed before it was released publicly, and the nature and seriousness of the offenses that were eventually voted as articles of impeachment required a process that was as careful and deliberate as the one they had.
This matter has now been investigated for eight months by an independent counsel created by an act of Congress. The facts, in abundant detail, have been made available to the American people. And the notion that the process should be somewhat different reflecting that reality is a concern of Democrats on the Hill and obviously a concern shared here at the White House.
Q Mike, one of the articles of impeachment against Nixon was lying to the American people. Do you not see a parallel there?
MR. MCCURRY: What Richard Nixon did, as the House Judiciary Committee looked at it, was he used the powers of his office to delay, impede, obstruct the investigation of an unlawful entry into the opposition party's political headquarters. He covered up and concealed the scope of the unlawful entry by those who did it. He misused government agencies to conceal the extent of the crimes that had been committed. He obstructed the investigations that were then undertaken to determine what the facts were. He abused his authority by obtaining confidential information from the Internal Revenue Service, which he then misused in violation of the constitutional rights of American citizens. He misused the FBI, the Secret Service to conduct unlawful wiretapping of American citizens. He maintained a secret unit in the White House to violate the constitutional rights of citizens and refused to provide information in a timely way to Congress, in contempt of Congress. So there's no parallel whatsoever.
Q Would you say this White House did not delay, impede and obstruct the Starr investigation?
MR. MCCURRY: I would not -- in the fashion that was done by the Nixon administration, in subordination of the Constitution, absolutely not. Little history lesson. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, when you said the U.S. is looking for a positive environment for the President's visit to India and Pakistan, what kind of environment are you looking for? And also, if the trip is cancelled because of the nuclear tests of both countries -- in New York they told me, both Prime Ministers there, that they are ready to sign the treaty, and also the Indian Prime Minister told me that India is ready to welcome President Clinton at any time without any conditions.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are well aware that both governments and the people of both nations would warmly receive the President. That's not the question. The question is, can, in light of the testing that's been done by both governments, the concerns that we've expressed and the dialogue we've had with them about how to turn the corner and to move back in the direction of a testing regime that addresses the international community's profound concern about proliferation related matters -- can we create an environment around those issues that makes the President's visit both timely and increases the likelihood of a productive series of discussions, and we're not at that point yet.
But we certainly desire that type of relationship and will continue the kind of work that Deputy Secretary Talbott has done recently, that others have done to achieve the environment that would make a future trip possible. But in the context of the already scheduled trip to Malaysia coming this fall, it's just not possible to have that environment at this time.
Q So you're saying the trip is not canceled, but postponed?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that the President remains strongly of the opinion that a trip to that region is both desirable and in the best interests of the people of the United States and the people of South Asia. And he wants to make the trip, but he also wants to make the trip in an environment in which it can produce the most productive outcome.
Q Mike, this is the second time, I think, that trip has been put back. Is the President a little frustrated over the level of instability?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's not instability. It was postponed in the first instance because of a pending election in India and it made sense to wait until the new government was established so that there could be a productive visit. But then, of course, the testing by both governments further complicated the question of timing and calendar.
Q Right now some time has been freed up. Will the President be going to Japan and South Korea in connection to that trip? And why wouldn't it be an opportune time to visit --
MR. MCCURRY: It certainly, given the importance of our relations with both of those countries, and given the President's itinerary which already calls for a long trip to the region, other stops will certainly be under consideration. And when we decide, we will certainly announce it.
Q Mike, speaking of secret units in the White House, do you know of any secret police operation in this White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not. And let me -- here's the danger of grand jury testimony that is just sort of dumped unedited into the public domain. This arises, as you well know, from testimony that Mr. Dick Morris gave in front of the grand jury. He has been saying exactly that same thing, writing exactly that same thing for weeks and weeks now, and it got all the attention it deserved, which is to say it got zero attention, because, as he admitted to those of you who contacted him yesterday, he has no factual information to support that allegation. He just kind of made it up.
But when he made it up in front of the grand jury and suddenly some people treated it as news, I'm not sure I understand why it's news. It doesn't have any more merit or value dumped in the raw and unedited form on the streets now by the committee than it did when he put it in whatever venue he had for punditry. You know, punditry doesn't automatically make grand jury testimony more enlightening.
Q Where do you think he got that idea?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not a clue. And he made clear to those of you who talked to him yesterday that he doesn't have a clue. He thinks he read it somewhere.
Q So you're saying this former top aide to Mr. Clinton perjured himself in front of the grand jury?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't -- haven't seen his testimony, so I don't know the nature of it. Normally, grand jury testimony is secret. I haven't seen the transcript of what he said, it hasn't been released -- it's been seen by some and it's been reported on by some of you, but we haven't seen the nature of his testimony. So there's no way we can know.
Q Do you know if it will be put out, made public later this week?
MR. MCCURRY: No -- I mean, we've seen the same kind of anecdotal reporting that's some of you are carrying in your own reports.
Q Is the White House lobbying congressional Democrats to vote against the idea of impeachment hearings next week?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again.
Q Is the White House lobbying congressional Democrats to vote against the idea of having impeachment hearings or an inquiry --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we certainly make the case why we do not think that the matter that has been presented rises to the level of an impeachable offense. And we question, therefore, the utility of having such an inquiry at this point. Now, reality is reality, so there have been a lot of discussions that reflect what the reality is on the Hill, too.
Q Do you think the reality is that congressional Democrats think they need to vote for this to show that they're not trying to stonewall?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think that they need to address this matter in the way that they believe is the correct way to proceed in the best interests of country. I think a lot of them, as Mr. Conyers indicated earlier, believe a totally unrestricted, wide-open, bring-back-the greatest-hits-of-years-gone-by type of inquiry is not satisfactory given the narrow nature of the referral made by the Office of Independent Counsel.
Q In making the case with these members who are under pressure on this vote, is the White House also making any offers to help them in making the decision by making available people for fundraising help, maybe sending Mrs. Clinton or the Vice President to their districts or accommodating them on legislation?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard of any discussions of that nature.
Q Is Iraq building -- have they been building missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm not -- they have been -- we've been long concerned about their missile technology programs, but I think you're asking a different question if you're asking about the Washington Post story today, which is are they trying to get the sophisticated devices necessary to have a nuclear device.
Q Capable -- yes.
MR. MCCURRY: Right. That's not a missile technology question, it has to do with spherical implosion devices. But in any event, we are aware of the allegations that Iraq retained weapons-related components, but we can't confirm the specific allegation that they have required those devices. There's little doubt that they have sought a nuclear capability. That's been one of our longstanding concerns and one of the reasons why we have insisted on support for the international efforts by the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor and to investigate suspected activities in Iraq. It's why we've supported UNSCOM, as well, for similar and related issues.
Iraq's current refusal to allow inspections by both the IAEA and UNSCOM, as the Security Council noted in its 15-0 vote on Resolution 1194, is totally unacceptable. We continue to believe that there is a lot more to know about Iraq's nuclear program. We've sought clarification before we're willing to consider what kind of final punctuation mark you can place on efforts by Iraq to require nuclear related technology.
Q Mike, to follow up on a previous question, in legislation on any subject in any given year there's a lot of horse trading that goes on between Congress and the White House. Would it be appropriate for the White House to offer help to particular congressmen's needs in return for "no" votes on impeachment related questions?
MR. MCCURRY: In my opinion, it would be inappropriate. I don't believe that that has occurred. Let me do some further checking on that just to satisfy you and to satisfy me it has not occurred.
Q Would the President or the White House hold it against any Democrat who votes for impeachment hearings?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q Would the White House or the President hold it against any Democrat who votes to hold impeachment hearings?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that we would argue strenuously against it, but we would well understand people as they look at this issue, examine what their conscience requires, examine what they believe is their constitutional obligation, and then vote what they believe is the right vote. I don't think we would be in a good position to take much issue with that. I mean, we'd have to acknowledge that people might have a different way of looking at the same set of facts. We've got an opinion on that, but others might be entitled to a different opinion.
Q Do you think they're trying to broaden it because they don't really have -- can't prove impeachment?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that they are looking for the widest possible avenue to do the widest possible political damage to the President and his party.
Q But Whitewater has already been investigated on the Hill --
MR. MCCURRY: Whitewater has, all the other matters that have been suggested as possible avenues of inquiry by this Judiciary Committee in an impeachment inquiry have already been the subject of investigation by Dan Burton, by Fred Thompson, by Al D'Amato. They have conducted these investigations at considerable expense over considerable time for most of the time that Bill Clinton has been President. And going back and regurgitating all of that in connection with a referral of the independent counsel on a narrow matter that has been well addressed publicly is suspicious. It looks like it's politics; it doesn't look like it's doing the constitutional business of the American people.
Q Mike, on today that we have a new surplus -- or starting tomorrow, whenever -- the Republicans are spending a lot of time saying that they're not the only ones who want to spend the surplus, that the President is doing that through his proposed supplementals on Bosnia defenses and the year 2000 problem. Why is that not spending the surplus and what Republicans are doing --
MR. MCCURRY: Because in the 1990 Budget Act and as been the case in the past by President Bush and previous Congresses, emergency funding is designated outside the surplus window when it's things that have to be addressed because it's either a question of disaster relief or some emergency.
Our deployment in Bosnia the administration has put forward to Congress as an emergency funding. Those troops are there. They need to be supported. We need to support the brave Americans who are there with others doing the hard work of keeping that fragile together in Bosnia. And we just don't believe it's appropriate to shut off the funding for them because of other budgetary debates that may be underway.
Q Members of Congress have suggested that having troops in Bosnia is not a surprise, that it doesn't have to be emergency spending, that this could be part of the budget. Same thing with the census. It's not a surprise, there is a census.
MR. MCCURRY: I think that issue was raised yesterday when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the other service chiefs were in front of the Senate, and I think that they answered that well, which is in the type of planning that they had done -- and they do long-term planning particularly as the they try to manage the resources of the Pentagon effectively. The deployment that was foreseen in Bosnia and the duration of the mission was not anticipated at the time they drew up the FY'98 budget, and that's, therefore, prompting the need for a supplemental emergency request. I think that that's well argued in the documentation that we sent to Congress.
Q Mike, I've got a parochial question with the Watertown Daily Times in New York.
MR. MCCURRY: A fine newspaper.
Q Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: You're the Alan Emory understudy then.
Q The new Alan Emory.
MR. MCCURRY: That's right. Do you know Alan Emory, any of you? You know Alan. He's a fellow Gridiron member, being of the New York press delegation here -- a fine and talented journalist. Thank him for that wonderful profile he wrote about -- (laughter.)
Q I've got a question about the President's choice to head the St. Lawrence Seaway. There appears to be a gentleman from California with no --
MR. MCCURRY: This is stump Mike time. (Laughter.)
Q -- with no background in the seaway or in shipping.
MR. MCCURRY: I'll take the question and Amy Weiss will help you get an answer, because I don't know.
Q Mike, is the White House working on some additional written response that would come out at the same time the Hill releases the additional documents, and would it maintain basically the same legal posture as before which caused some problems with Democrats on the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we are working on an additional written document to refute the stuff that's coming out because I don't know that that's going to need that kind of additional commentary. Now, are we preparing additional written arguments and presenting those to members of Congress? Of course, as part of the vigorous defense that we are mounting of the President. But I am not aware of anything that specifically responds to whatever 40,000 pages are coming out because I don't know whether we know in great detail what's in it. We know sporadically and anecdotally what's in it.
Q There have been reports that a White House operator testified that he received the first reprimand in a really long career after declining representation suggested by the White House Counsel's Office. Has anybody checked that out?
MR. MCCURRY: I heard that today and I'm trying to see if there's any information we can provide on it. Personnel actions, as you know, are covered by the Privacy Act. Unless we have a privacy waiver we can't report on it because it's against the law. But I'll see if there's anything to pass on on that. So far I haven't turned up anything.
Q Can we get back to Mr. Conyers for just a moment? He said today -- quote -- "We've been advocating a Watergate model and I support it." I was wondering if you could react to that given that you have said at least at some level it's ridiculous to compare Watergate with this --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the facts of Watergate and the Monica Lewinsky matter are entirely different, and I think most Americans would readily and quickly agree to that, which is why I went through a little reminder about the enormity of the crimes committed during the period of Watergate and why the House acted in that fashion.
But that process used by the House Judiciary Committee was one that had -- and all of us who are old enough remember it -- it had enormous statesmanship associated with it. It was bipartisan. It was done carefully. And it was done by the book. And there is ample reason to believe, based on what we're seeing, that this committee at this time is headed off in a much more partisan direction.
The model ought to be bipartisanship and fairness, because that's what Chairman Rodino enforced. It's what the Republicans were offered and became a part of, and it was a moment worthy of our Constitution. So far, this one doesn't appear to rise to that grand level.
Q Given what you've been told by congressional Democrats who have seen the documents that are going to be released later this week, do you think they, in fact, will be helpful to the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I really have no way of predicting, because we don't know all -- it sounds like -- I saw one of your reports that said it sounds like some of it's helpful and some of it's not. And that's probably what it is.
I think that it all ought to be taken with some grain of salt. It all ought to be looked at carefully, it ought to be run through careful filters to sort of determine what's relevant and what's not. And the problem in just dumping all this stuff out, there is no way for an average citizen to determine which piece of information is more reliable or credible than the next piece. And we obviously -- we were talking here earlier about something that sounds pretty far-fetched.
Q When those documents come out, you're not planning on doing something, some written guide or some written response?
MR. MCCURRY: That's news to me. I haven't heard anything to that effect.
Q Mike, you keep raising the process that Rodino used as the statesman, bipartisan, and so forth. Their resolution also imposed no limits on what the committee could consider. A few minutes ago you were talking about the idea of --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, but they had not -- Peter, they had not had eight months worth of an unrestricted investigation by an independent counsel who hauled dozens of witnesses in front of a grand jury and produced a 445-page report to use as a beginning point. I mean, it's just totally different.
Q The question was, should the resolution that they vote on then have limits on what subject matter can be considered?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that they've got in front of them a single referral from the Office of Independent Counsel. They're now in the process of determining if there is any additional information the independent counsel has that would rise to the level of a referral. And that seems like that's the sensible place you would want to focus on an inquiry, rather than just kind of ranging all through six years worth of nuance.
Q Should that be written into the resolution that they consider, I mean that kind of a --
MR. MCCURRY: That's not for us to say, it's really for people on the Hill to say. But it would make sense.
Q There was, as you know, a special prosecutor during the Watergate case who had been spent months investigating it --
MR. MCCURRY: He kept all that information protected under rule 6(e) when it went to the Congress, and it stayed protected.
Q But there is a certain parallel there, would you not agree, that there was a special prosecutor who did spend months investigating it and did turn over a great deal of evidence to the Judiciary Committee?
MR. MCCURRY: That's true, but then that committee went in additional directions and carefully sorted out what they were going to deal with and what they were not going to deal with, and stayed very much focused on the questions that were eventually voted as the articles of impeachment. And maybe this process will end up bearing some resemblance to that; so far it appears not to.
Q Since we weren't allowed to be there, what can you tell us about the President's meeting with the Assassination Records Review Board and about openness in government --
MR. MCCURRY: It was good and 4 million pieces of information, documents, are now available to the American people that weren't before. And if anyone had -- if you would seriously suggest that you would have been there and used the opportunity to ask the President questions about that and not other matters like Monica Lewinsky, it would have been something well worth having available for coverage.
Q Well, what's wrong with asking about Monica Lewinsky and the President's forward strategy?
MR. MCCURRY: The problem with it is it might erase our very good surplus event today. The American people have a surplus and we're entitled to enjoy it today.
Q Story of the year. Day, I mean. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: The surplus. I think it was a surplus of that other story.
Q Mike, back during Watergate, then Congressman Trent Lott was one of the biggest opponents of impeachment. He was a supporter of the President up until the very end. And he went so far as to say that even criminal conduct is not enough to justify impeachment. As you know, yesterday he said that bad conduct was enough. I wonder if you could comment on that difference in his position.
MR. MCCURRY: His constitutional thinking has undergone quite an evolution in the time. (Laughter.) Either that or, less charitably, one might imagine that politics has more to do with his new standard. But in any event it looks like a double standard.
Q Was that yet another indicator, as far as the White House is concerned, about the partisan environment surrounding the proceeding?
Q Say yes. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I watched a bit of Senator Lott's comments yesterday, and I think he kind of got caught up in the reverie of memory. So I don't know. You'd have to ask him that. But what he came out with at the end was a standard that didn't come anywhere close to being the standard that he subscribed to as a minority member of the House Judiciary Committee in 1974, which was very clear and unambiguous and goes to the heart of crimes that do damage to our nation, to the people of the United States, to our Constitution -- and which Watergate surely was -- but it's hard to see how the Monica Lewinsky matter rises to that level. Now, bad conduct is not high crimes and misdemeanors.
Q Mike, on bipartisanship, today was an opportunity that maybe a few months ago the President would have used it as an opportunity to talk about the bipartisan success of this balanced budget. He didn't. He talked about a Democratic vote in 1993 instead of the Republicans working with him on this balanced budget. Why was that and should we take that as a sign of how this President views his job now?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because what -- you should take it is the bulk of the work to achieve this moment in history was done as a result of the 1993 economic program, promulgated by the President and supported by Democrats, and not a single Republican voted for the 1993 economic program of the President. And yet 90 percent of the work to eradicate the budget deficit was done under that act. I mean, most of -- we got to the point we are today because of those courageous votes cast in 1993.
I think it's fair for us to point that out. It's fair for us to say that the combination of those two programs -- the '93 program and the '97 program -- have moved us into an era of budget surpluses, and that's good. And we need more of the bipartisanship that we had in 1997 which led to the balanced budget agreement. We're losing some of it in the budget debates that are underway on the Hill right now because there is some backsliding away from that agreement. But I think it's fair and proper for the President to give the credit where credit is due. And there wasn't a single Republican that voted for the 1993 program; otherwise they would have been eligible to be here today and we would have been happy to have them.
Q Do Republicans deserve any measure of the credit for the balanced budget?
MR. MCCURRY: They deserve credit for the good work that was done in the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, which was good. I think there were some Republicans -- though not Mr. Gingrich, not Mr. Armey, not Mr. DeLay, not Mr. Kasich -- that supported George Bush's economic program in 1990. They're fond of pointing out that the Bush program had something to do with it, but you all recall that Newt went storming out of here when it was put forward. So I don't know that they can try to take any credit for it now.
But the combination of those tough economic decisions that led to fiscal discipline, that led to tighter control on the budget, plus all the other things that began working well for our economy -- the monetary policy is clearly one of them -- have combined to give the American people a moment to savor, which is a federal budget surplus, which is something we haven't been talking about for well over a generation. There are some Republicans who were courageous enough to make tough choices in the face of their party -- Dick Darman, remember, got burned in effigy by Mr. Gingrich and others up on Capitol Hill.
Q So Darman and Bush might deserve some credit, but not the Republicans who --
MR. MCCURRY: Gingrich didn't vote for George Bush's program, and Armey didn't vote for it, and DeLay didn't vote it, and Kasich didn't vote for it. They opposed it. They said it would ruin the economy. And they said the exact same thing about Bill Clinton's program in 1993. John Kasich went so far to say if it worked he'd turn himself into a Democrat. And we've got the DNC sending him a membership application now. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, if I understood you correctly a moment ago in your comments about the Assassination Board, you said that you closed that event because you anticipated --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, we didn't close it; we didn't elect to make a photo opportunity open because we didn't want the President sitting there answering questions about impeachment and other issues on a day when we were trying to put the focus on the surplus. Simple. That's what we were doing.
Q Why would you say that?
Q My question, if I could ask it, is, is it appropriate and fair to make decisions about access to the President based on what you think we might ask him?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure, we do that every single day -- every single hour of every single day.
Q News manager?
MR. MCCURRY: Not a manager. Look, we had an important event today about a federal budget surplus. You all can decide whether it was news or not. I think most Americans would be interested in knowing that after hearing for years and years and years about deficits, we now have a surplus, as of midnight tonight, as of the end of this fiscal year.
Q Why can't there be two stories? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Looking back over the last eight months, I would have been happy to have had two stories. (Laughter.)
Q You have not provided us a real opportunity.
MR. MCCURRY: I dispute that. We come out here every single day. We offer up all kinds of stories --
Q I'm not talking about you, I'm talking about the President.
MR. MCCURRY: -- and it's been Monica, Monica, Monica, Monica. And you know that, and I know that. I mean, you can't pretend otherwise.
Okay, good. Thanks.
Q What's the President doing this afternoon?
MR. MCCURRY: He had phone and office time. He had the meeting that I mentioned with the two senators. What else is he doing? Phone and office time, I think.
Q He has what, an education event tomorrow? What's that about?
MR. MCCURRY: That will be an opportunity for us to talk about education, a subject very much in the news, very much on the minds of the American people.
Q What's he going to do in Philly and Cleveland on Friday?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to fill you in on it tomorrow. I think it's part of the Unity events, but is there any other events on it?
MR. MCCURRY: I sure hope so.
All right. See you tomorrow.
END 2:29 P.M. EDT