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President Clinton Discusses Transportation Bill

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 22, 1998


The Rose Garden

3:00 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Today Congress will take an importantstep toward preserving and expanding our prosperity in the newcentury. I am pleased that Congress likely will answer my call topass an historic bill to strengthen our transportation system andmaintain our commitment to fiscal discipline and investing in ourpeople. It is a bill that will help our communities to modernize andbuild the roads and bridges, the railways and buses that link peopleof our great and vast country together; that keep our economy strongand vibrant.

I have said I would strongly support legislation thatmeets my core principles. First, it must keep our budget balanced,must preserve the budget surplus until we have saved Social Securityfirst. And then it must not undermine other national priorities,including education, health care, child care and the environment.

The bill being considered by the Congress this afternoonmeets those principles. The measure does spend more than we wanted,but I am pleased that we have persuaded Congress to cut $17 billionof excess spending from this bill. Therefore, we have reached, whatI consider to be, a principled compromise. At the same time, thebill fulfills the transportation priorities I set forth in mybalanced budget. It strengthens our commitments to encouraging masstransit, to protecting the environment, to expanding opportunities todisadvantaged businesses, to moving more Americans from welfare towork with transportation assistance.

But I am deeply disappointed by one thing that ismissing from the bill. Congress has refused to lower the nationaldrunk driving standard to .08 percent blood alcohol content. We musthave zero tolerance for irresponsible and reckless acts that endangerour children and loved ones traveling on our roads. We must make .08the law in every state, and I will continue to work until thathappens.

Finally, let me say, this bill does show that fiscalresponsibility and investing in our future go hand in hand towardpreparing our people and our country for the next century. I want tothank Secretary Slater and Larry Stein, especially, and the membersof my economic team for the hard work they did starting from a verydifficult bargaining position to reduce the spending in this bill.If Congress does, in fact, pass the bill as expected, I will bepleased to sign it into law.

Q Mr. President, did the Pakistani Prime Ministergive you any assurances that he will resist any nuclear test at thispoint, and did you offer him anything, including a request ofCongress to release the F-16s?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, as you know, I talked to him onMonday and I told him I would call him back at the end of the week,and I did so. And we had a good long conversation about where we go

from here to deal with some of their security concerns and otherconcerns. And I continue to urge him to refrain from testing, and Itold him that I had done everything I could do to get other worldleaders involved in both supporting him if he would refrain fromtesting, and encouraging the Indians not to further aggravate thesituation with precipitous comments or action in Kashmir orelsewhere. And we talked about some other things, but until we haveresolved our conversations I don't think I should get into any moredetail.

I am impressed with the depth of understanding that thePrime Minister showed and with his genuine concern that he bothprotect the security of his country and do nothing to upset thedecades long effort now the world has been making towardnonproliferation. And we'll keep working on it and hoping for a goodresult.

Q Mr. President, do you feel more optimistic in thissituation now? Is there any reason to believe that the Pakistaniswill not test?

THE PRESIDENT: I think that anything I say tocharacterize the Prime Minister's present position would only make itmore difficult for him and for others. I think they're having anhonest debate within their government; I believe they want to do theright thing by their people, but they want to do the right thing bythis great issue that affects even more than India and Pakistan.

All I can tell you is I'm working hard on this. I havespent an enormous amount of time on it in the last several days andwill continue to do so. And if there are definitive developmentsabout -- in this area, I will be happy to tell you. But today we hada very long conversation and it was a good one, and I'll continue towork on it and expect to have more for you over the next few days.

Q Mr. President, what will you do about these schoolshootings? Will you demand, perhaps, a federal age limit? Thischild actually owned the rifle he used.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, let me say I'm going toaddress that in my radio address tomorrow. And then, after that I'llbe available to answer more questions about it.

Q Mr. President, you've been criticized by Congressfor giving the approval for a U.S. satellite to go up on a Chineserocket. Documents released today, apparently by the JusticeDepartment, indicate that you may have been told that giving thatapproval could harm a criminal investigation of Loral and HughesCorporation. Given that knowledge, is that correct, and given thatknowledge, was that the right thing to do?

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, first of all, I think thedecision was the correct one. And I am glad that the documents,which have been turned over to the committee and apparently some havebeen released -- I hope that at the appropriate time everybody willhave access to the decision document. Let me back up and say thatthat decision, like every decision I make, was made based on what Ithough was in the national interest and supportive of our nationalsecurity.

About 10 years ago, it became obvious that our countryhad an interest in developing a globally competitive, commercialsatellite system, and that we had more satellites that needed to getup in space then we had launchers to provide. So we needed tosupplant satellite launches in America with satellite launch capacityin other countries -- that included China, but also Russia andEurope. President Reagan adopted a policy then. President Bushcontinued the policy, and I continued the policy. There were aboutnine satellites launched in the four years of the Bushadministration. I believe there have been about 11 launched under myadministration under this policy.

This particular launch, the one in question, had to berecommended by the State Department. Then, after the StateDepartment recommended it, it was concurred in that decision by theDefense Department and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. TheNational Security Council here sought the views of the JusticeDepartment because of the matter to which you alluded; they raised aquestion about it; the NSC evaluated their concerns, along with thedecision of the State Department that it ought to go forward with theconcurrence of the Defense Department, which was fully aware of thematters, and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and concludedthat, on balance, we should go forward.

I got a decision-making memo to that effect and Iapproved it. It was handled in the routine course of business. Ibelieve that facts will show that. There was absolutely nothing doneto transfer any technology inappropriately to the Chinese as a resultof this decision. I believe it was in the national interest and Ican assure you it was handled in the routine course of business,consistent with the 10-year-old policy.

Q Mr. Clinton, there's been a decision made that theSecret Service will not be allowed to use privilege in the case ofthe grand jury. Do you feel that by allowing Secret Service agentsto testify that it would, in fact, harm future Presidents?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's the Secret Serviceposition. And President Bush agreed with them.

Q Do you agree with them?

THE PRESIDENT: And I think there's a seriouspossibility that that could occur, probably in a different sort ofcontext -- at least it will have a chilling effect on, perhaps on theconversations Presidents have and the work thatthey do and the way they do it. But it is true that there is nolegal -- there's no statute there.

But all these investigations have been carried out overthe last 25 years in a climate of intense pro-investigation, and yetI don't think anyone ever thought about it because no one everthought that anyone would ever abuse the responsibility the SecretService has to the President, to the President's family. So thereare certain things that you ought not to have to make a law about,and I think that's basically where we are -- that it never occurredto anybody that anyone would ever be so insensitive to theresponsibilities of the Secret Service that this kind of legalquestion would arise.

What the law would be on appeal or whether the SecretService will appeal I don't know because I haven't been involved init. I don't think it's appropriate for me to be involved in it. ButI think -- yes, I think it will raise some serious questions andpresent a whole new array of problems for managing the presidency andfor the Secret Service managing their responsibility. And becauseprevious people have understood that and cared enough about it, Idon't think that anybody has ever even considered doing this before.But we're living in a time which is without precedent, where actionsare being taken without precedent, and we just have to live with theconsequences.

Thank you very much.

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