THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Little Rock, Arkansas)
PRESS BRIEFING BY
Statehouse Convention Center
Little Rock, Arkansas
1:55 P.M. CDT
MR. MCCURRY: Everyone looks so blissfully, productively engaged, I hate to interrupt you. So I'll see you later. I have news. The President of the United States is greatly encouraged by the statements calling for House action on campaign finance reform legislation made earlier today by Democratic Leader Gephardt and yesterday by House Majority Leader Armey. And the President applauds these two House leaders for their commitment to scheduling a House floor debate on this crucial issue before Congress adjourns this year.
Statement at greater length now being distributed.
Q What about Gingrich's comments this morning that were not at all friendly toward campaign finance reform?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's not friendly towards the measure that has been advanced by Congressmen Shays and Meehan*, which is the House counterpart to the McCain-Feingold legislation. And there are differing views within the House of Representatives on how you achieve campaign finance reform, but we believe there is good bipartisan consensus behind the type of reform measure that Senators Feingold and McCain are advancing, and that Congressmen Shays and Meehan* are advocating in the House, and at the end of the day that will be the contours of campaign finance reform as Congress takes the issue up.
Q Can you tell us anything about the bomb scare this morning?
MR. MCCURRY: It was more hyperventilation by people
who have 24-hour news responsibilities than a serious threat to the President. There were two -- our understanding -- the President was not even told about it because it was handled in a routine way and the information conveyed to us by our detail is that they had a security incident at two separate abortion clinics checked out and nothing to it. Beyond that, we haven't
even asked for any further update because none is needed as far as we're concerned here at the White House. But if you have additional questions, contact Secret Service Public Affairs and they will tell you more.
Q What is the President doing this afternoon? Is he still with the Little Rock Nine?
MR. MCCURRY: He had a good meeting with the Little Rock Nine, members of their families, took a lot of pictures, visited with folks after the event. He did meet briefly with Dr. Franklin, the chair of his Race Advisory Board, and with Judy Winston, the executive director of the board, to talk about next week's Race Advisory Board meeting and talk a little bit about the agenda, and talk about how some of the things the President talked about today shape the contours of the race initiative itself.
He then is going to go on to play golf. He actually originally was going to play golf with Ernie Green and I think two of the other members of the Little Rock Nine, but they've asked to kind of beg off because they've got families here and they were feeling a little tuckered out after all the festivities. So the President will probably go play golf with Senator Pryor and a couple of others.
Q Can you talk about the meeting next week -- what's it on, Tuesday -- and what you hope to accomplish at it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's a good opportunity for Dr. Franklin and members of the board to really brief the President on aspects of the initiative that they've been developing and talk about some of the next steps in the year-long inquiry that they're pursuing on behalf of the President. They've been doing some work shaping the initiative and have got -- they're in a position now where they can discuss with the President some of the avenues that this initiative should pursue. And so they'll have a discussion about that.
I don't anticipate any decisions. This is more of a meeting to update the President on the work they've been doing for the President to give some additional guidance and instruction that will move them in the directions he feels are necessary to explore.
Q What are some of those avenues?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll be talking about them on September 30th.
Q The President at one point talked about having town hall meetings about the issue of race. Are those still in the works?
MR. MCCURRY: Still being actively considered.
Q You mean they may not happen?
MR. MCCURRY: No, they are -- I'm sorry -- now being actively planned. I mean, they're looking at dates and figuring out how they would actually accomplish that.
Q Do you think we'll have one before the end of the year?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Well, I should say it's entirely possible. (Laughter.) Like sometime in early December, maybe.
Q Mike, this group that was protesting out there apparently seeking easier access for handicapped people to get into schools such as Central High, what's the President's reaction to the substance of what they're seeking?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not certain that they were addressing any issue other than access to Central High. This is a local issue and the President certainly is sympathetic to the concerns of people with disabilities who want access to public facilities. Most of you know, the front of the West Lobby of the White House is torn up at this very moment, in part for that exact reason, so people with disabilities will have greater access to the West Wing of the White House.
But the group registering their concern today were addressing, if I understand correctly, the specific situation at Central High, and we're just not well enough prepared to talk about that from the federal level to render an opinion.
Q Was the President briefed on the Mir decision at all, touch base with Goldin?
MR. MCCURRY: The President got a good written update from his Science and Technology Advisor, Dr. Jack Gibbons, last night, and Dr. Gibbons gave the President a good understanding of the process being used by NASA -- or again, they reviewed the process that Dan Goldin has been following there. He specifically got a report on the update that was given by Lt. General Stafford and by Tom Young, the former Martin-Marrietta CEO. Their external reviews I think were very important in the decision that the Administrator reached.
But the President and the White House has relied on NASA to make the technical evaluation of the operational aspects of this particular mission, and the President is satisfied both with the process used and with the decision made by the Administrator.
Q Are you worried that the Speaker's comments this morning on campaign finance might railroad things?
MR. MCCURRY: No. As I said earlier, this is just a different view of how campaign finance reform should be undertaken. But we think there will be majority sentiment in Congress at the end of the day for the bipartisan approach advanced by Senators McCain and Feingold and by Representatives Shays and Meehan.
Q Does President Clinton have any response to Benjamin Netanyahu's desire to go ahead with establishing settlements?
MR. MCCURRY: The President concurs in the view expressed by Secretary Albright that at this moment in the peace process it's critical to create an environment in which the parties can advance their dialogue. And with that said, the pursuit of additional settlements in unhelpful and creates the wrong kind of environment.
Q Did the President veer off his speech at all, or did he stick to the text?
MR. MCCURRY: He worked real hard on the speech last night. He talked to several members of the Little Rock Nine at the reception last night, and then to some others who were here in town for the event, and spent, I think, considerable amount of time early in the evening before he went out for dinner rewriting parts of the speech, and then a lot of time last night working on it. But he worked off a text that had been in development back home for -- or back in Washington -- for a week or so.
Q What is the status of Bill Lee's nomination for the civil rights job?
MR. MCCURRY: Still under consideration by the Senate. We have been encouraging the Senate to take the nomination up and to consider his appointment. He's exceptionally well-qualified in the view of many who have spoken to his qualifications. And the President thinks it's important to have leadership within the division at Justice soon and he wants to see him confirmed.
Q Mike, he says in the speech that it's the first time since the '50s we're resegregating -- is he referring to Texas, California -- what's he talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he's speaking both of the phenomenon that exists in some institutions of public education and some institutions of higher learning today that there's really de facto segregation that occurs just because of the patterns of behavior by students and sometimes by faculty and administrators. But also he's talking about the consequences of some of the decisions that have been made -- specifically, Texas and California -- which there is some evidence suggesting that we
are going back to less opportunity available to minority Americans.
Q Is there statistical evidence that shows, for instance, more students now go to schools that are all white or all black? I mean, he seemed to be making a reference to --
MR. MCCURRY: There are some -- I think the Education Department, some of Secretary Riley's people have developed some statistics on that. They've got sporadic data that's available now. The Education Department itself is specifically looking at the consequences of the Board of Regents admissions policies for the University of California system. That's actually a technical review that they're dealing with, it's a little more specific and has more consequences. I don't know that they would talk anecdotally about that. And I think the President was relying both on kind of the preliminary surveys that have done and just the anecdotal evidence that is available.
Q -- talk with Attorney General Reno while she was here?
MR. MCCURRY: He may very well have during the course of the business. He was talking to some of the members of the Cabinet -- he was visiting with the various Cabinet members that are here. But he obviously would not have addressed the subject that you're more likely interested in.
Q What are we looking at theme-wise tomorrow? Is this a speech on HOPE Scholarship type thing, or what?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, specifically, the President is going to be able to report on a new study that's been done by the Department of Education 50 years after the Truman Commission report that called for a national network of public community colleges. This report is going to highlight the utility of the HOPE Scholarship in meeting the tuition payment needs of people who might want to consider community college setting for their higher educational opportunity.
Q And the other stop is just the standard campaign fundraiser speech?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he's just doing a fundraising dinner in the evening -- correct? He's got some time off initiative afternoon. He's going to tape the radio address. He's going to visit with some of his Texas friends.
Q Like George Bush?
MR. MCCURRY: I think more like Gary Mauro. And what else is he doing? Doing those two things -- there was one other thing that he was doing. Oh, I know -- one of his close friends from here at home is taking -- I think attending parents'
day activities at Rice University. So he's going to have a private visit with a family friend.
Q Any kind of FDA announcement today, food safety announcement?
MR. MCCURRY: There's no food safety announcement today. I think it's been reported various places that the White House is considering a new initiative to ensure the safety of fruits and vegetables consumed by the American public, especially those that come from foreign sources. The White House is considering that, and I do expect the White House will announce something soon about steps the President wants to take to direct the FDA to issue better guidance on agricultural practices and good manufacturing practices. And the President will likely have some things to say about legislation that will improve the FDA's authority to regulate imported fruits and vegetables coming from other countries in a way similar to what the USDA already does with respect to meat products -- meat and poultry products.
Q When might that be?
MR. MCCURRY: Sometime next week perhaps.
Q Topic of the radio address?
MR. MCCURRY: The topic of the radio address is our -- we haven't --
MR. TOIV: I don't think we're ready to say yet.
MR. MCCURRY: We're not ready to say that it's going to be on America's judicial system? Okay, we don't have -- we're not ready to announce the topic yet. We'll let you know tomorrow.
Q When are you going to shake loose some of these judgeships?
MR. MCCURRY: That would be -- golly, that would be a great idea for a radio address, but we're not prepared to address that yet.
Q Mike, there's a news report that there's a 5.5 percent increase in college tuitions. I wonder if the President is concerned about that and wiping out the other benefits he is trying to give parents on that subject.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think it points out the necessity of keeping that strong network of programs available that lend college assistance: both direct lending, which we've fought for in the face of attempts to abolish it; other forms of guaranteed or lower-cost federal lending to students who qualify under the income threshold test, Pell Grants; the new HOPE
Scholarship program; the combination of credits and grants that will be available. I mean, it points to the need for continued assistance for those families and students who want to seek opportunities for higher education.
I think the President is concerned and has raised directly with the leaders of America's higher educational community the rising cost of college tuition. He did that, I should point out, a long time ago and much prior to his own entry into the ranks of tuition-paying parents. But I think he has been concerned about the pace at which education costs have risen in America for those who have got kids going to college, and that's one of his motivations in establishing the structure of programs that we've got available to lend parents who qualify a helping hand.
Q Other people have said that Chelsea Clinton would have gone to Central High School if she had still lived here. Has the President said that?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard the President say that, but I was talking to the First Lady this morning about it and that is true, she would have graduated from Central had not she been required to move to Washington, D.C.
Q Mike, was there anyone saying how many were there today, what the size of the crowd was?
MR. MCCURRY: I never did hear and I've long since given up on trying to generate accurate crowd estimates. There were a lot of people and they were enthusiastic and happy.
Q Could you tell us something about the role Mort Engelberg played?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he was talking to me -- he's our advance guy. (Laughter.) He's our lead advance guy at various stops along the way.
Q How much of a role did he come up with in staging the walk and --
MR. MCCURRY: Very little. My understanding is that the program was designed largely by the student body at Central. When the Little Rock Nine were approached about what kind of commemoration they would like, they indicated that they wanted to do something that the school felt was appropriate and that the current students at Central felt appropriate. And I've been told that the ceremony today grew out of discussions between the Little Rock Nine and the school. And the idea of opening the door apparently came from those discussions, not from our advance folks.
Q Do you know specifically whose idea for that
bit of stagecraft?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I was told that the idea originated with the students and with the Little Rock Nine, who talked about what kind of program they wanted to have.
Q The students and the Little Rock Nine?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. And this was back months ago, prior to their first contact with the White House about whether the President would be available for the event.
Q So they conceived the idea of him opening the door and walking --
MR. MCCURRY: That's my understanding, yes. That's what I've been told by our folks who worked the event here, including Mr. Engelberg, who is the lead advance guy.
Q Is it fair to portray this as the President's second major address on race, the first being in San Diego?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that is fair. I think he's addressed the subject of race on other occasions and has interjected it at other moments, just, obviously, as he did yesterday with the AFL-CIO. But this was his -- since San Diego has been the next opportunity in a direct way to address the subject of race.
Q Mike, on that issue, when will the President finally just start speaking to white America and just target them with that one subject?
MR. MCCURRY: His address today was targeted to white America, as well as all Americans. And the point of his remarks was that we don't target -- it's less useful to target messages to white America or black Americans because we need to think of ourselves as one America. That was the whole purpose of his address today.
Q But you had more African Americans in this crowd. The speech in San Diego was --
MR. MCCURRY: I can't substantiate that, and I don't believe that's true, from looking at the audience myself.
Okay. Are we going to try to brief in Houston before the event tomorrow? Is that my plan?
MR. TOIV: I believe that's right.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. So we may try to -- just so you know, we're going to try to get over there early and brief
beforehand and then some of us will be departing from Houston to go home.
Q Was there -- there was an NAACP speech --
MR. MCCURRY: That's true. He addressed the NAACP. We need to go back and double-check that.
Q Maybe that was -- but that wouldn't be the same
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he spoke to the black journalists in Chicago and the NAACP, and they were all connected. I would hesitate to say this is the second speech because I think he's been addressing this in a fairly consistent fashion -- at least one other occasion where I think the sole subject was that.
Q -- where it was the sole subject.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Did the President have any reaction to the local NAACP decision to boycott --
MR. MCCURRY: I think his reaction was reflected in the sentiment he expressed in the speech itself, which is he fully acknowledges that there's more work to do on the subject of ending discrimination and barriers that exist for minority communities, which is the thrust of the concern that has been registered by the NAACP.
All right. See you tomorrow.