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Special Event

Clinton: 'I Just Haven't Decided What to Do' if Congress Grants Elian Gonzalez Citizenship

Aired January 25, 2000 - 12:16 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

SONIA RUSELER, CNN ANCHOR: Want to take you straight to the White House, where the president is answering questions from reporters.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... That is well beyond the life of most baby boomers.

I would like to take it out 75 years, but I presume, based on what happened last year, that we won't be able to get enough bipartisan agreement to do that. So there will be plenty for the next president and the next Congress to do, and they will have to do that because the life expectancy is going to go up so exponentially.

And we've already got Medicare out 25 years. Keep in mind, Medicare was projected to go broke last year when I took office. Now we've got it out to 2025. I think that it is appropriate to add the voluntary prescription drug benefit and to take it out a little further by taking some of the reforms that all of us apparently agree on, based on the Medicare commission that had heavy involvement by Senate Republicans and Democrats. And the Finance Committee is going to take that up.

So there will be plenty for America to do next year and the years beyond. There always will be.

QUESTION: Mr. President, what's your read on the results from Iowa? Were you surprised by the margins on both the Democratic and the Republican side? Can you give us your take?

CLINTON: Well, I think the Republican race was about as I thought it would be. And I think that the vice president had a terrific victory last night in Iowa and I think the all more impressive because he and Senator Bradley, I thought, both ran very substantive campaigns, very idea-oriented campaigns, and had that whole series of debates, which I think served the people very well.

And I think he should be very proud of that, his strong effort. And I was very pleased to see that. But I don't have any real analysis of what happened on -- you know, in the insides of either one of the campaigns, because I didn't follow it that closely.

QUESTION: Well, you've been through this. I mean, as they go into New Hampshire, how does it affect the dynamic there?

CLINTON: I think it's a plus, but I agree with what the vice president said last night: it's important not to over-read it. The people of New Hampshire are very independent. Now, they want to make a good choice. They understand that, to some extent, the choice they make affects the choices that the country has after the New Hampshire primary, and I think that you will see all the candidates there really bearing down and trying to reach the voters, which is what they ought to do.

QUESTION: Mr. President, are you inclined to sign or veto any possible bill out of Congress that would grant Elian Gonzalez U.S. citizenship? And do you think it was a good idea for the two grandmothers to come here to meet with Congress, or are you concerned that might further politicize the process, as you have previously expressed?

CLINTON: Well, first, I have done my best, as all of you know, to handle this in a nonpolitical way and to make the judgments for which the law provides. The judgment that the law provides for the INS to make is whether the father can properly be declared the guardian of the child since the mother was unfortunately killed. And the case is now in court. And I would like to see -- at a minimum I would like to see this court case played out before the Congress takes action.

I think we ought to try to let the legal system take its course. I mean -- you know, I understand the strong feelings that exist in this country about the Castro government complicates this, and I know that, you know, that that little boy has some relatives in this country who feel very strongly about that. And I guess his grandmothers, in coming up here, were reacting to what they thought about the extent to which the case had already been politicized.

More than anything else, I wish that somehow -- I mean, no one can really know for sure, I suppose, what terrible and probably not fully conscious burdens that child has already sustained because he lost his mother and because now he's being competed for in a way that is unusual for a 6-year-old child.

And I know that maybe it's just because I'm not running anything, but I just somehow wish that whatever is best for this child could be done. And I know there are people who genuinely disagree about that, because plainly he would have more economic opportunity in this country, but all the evidence indicates that his father genuinely loved him and spent a great deal of time with him back in Cuba.

So I think that -- you know, what I have tried to do is to set up a circumstance where the people who were in a position to know the most and be the least influenced by whatever the political considerations are would at least have the maximum opportunity to wind up doing what was right for the child.

I hope that somehow we can still find a way to do that.

QUESTION: For better of worse, though -- if I could follow up, please -- for better of worse, politics is a reality in this situation.

CLINTON: Yes, it is.

QUESTION: Could you possible veto any bill that would grant Elian Gonzalez U.S. citizenship?

CLINTON: Yes, I -- I have not decided what to do and I wouldn't rule that out. I just haven't decided what to do.

Let me just say, for the moment, if you take out of the combustible, emotionally nature of relationship with Cuba -- and particularly the Cuban-American community and South Florida's relationship with Cuba -- and you think about the issue, one of the things that I think we all need to think about is, this could happen again. I mean, this sort of thing could happen again because you have so many people coming to our shores from all these different countries, and then shifting governments, shifting policies within countries, and what we do need is an analysis of whether we have the tools to maximize the chance that the kids involved and the families involved will be treated fairly, and based on the merits of particularly interests of the child.

And I think, again, you know, I mean, I'm happy to talk to anybody about this and really try to think this through. I'm just trying to minimize the politics of it because I think that when you -- if you take this one decision out of context, it's not just Cuba and it's not just this little boy. There are likely to be a lot of these things in the future as immigration flows increase, upheavals increase elsewhere, and as we know more and more about what goes on in other countries.

This is not -- this is something that ought to be thought about, but in my -- I suppose I have tended to think of this child more from a point of view of a parent than anything else. And I wish I knew more about the facts, even that I do, because I just -- this poor kid has already lost his mother, and whatever happens, I'm sure he's going to carry certain burdens into his early adolescence that most of us did not carry.

And somehow, whatever happens, I just hope it turns out to be best for him. He's a beautiful child.

QUESTION: Mr. President, in his victory statement yesterday, Governor Bush seemed to be throwing down the gauntlet against you. He seemed to be kicking off his major campaign against you. What do you have to say about that, and do you have a rebuttal? Are you going to do anything about it?

CLINTON: Well, I have I guess two responses. One is this campaign is between the candidates and the American people, and they will evaluate all claims and charges. And, you know, they usually get it right. That's why we're all still around here after 224 years.

They almost always get it right. And so, I'm going to leave most of that to them. Now, it is an unusual claim that we ought to somehow reject an approach that has given us the longest economic expansion in history and the lowest unemployment, welfare and crime rolls in 30 years, not to mention the benefits of the family and medical leave law and the Brady law, which were vetoed in the previous administration.

And I agree that the tax program he's proposed might well undo a lot of that. And if -- and he can make the claim that that's the basis on which the campaign ought to proceed, but I don't really want to get into an argument with him. He ought to -- I think that ought to be something between him and the other candidates and the American people. But I do think...

RUSELER: President Clinton commenting on the results of the Iowa caucuses. On the Democratic side, he described it as a terrific victory for Vice President Al Gore because he got 63 percent, and on the Republican side for Governor Bush, one, he said that was as he expected. He also had a lot to say about the little Cuban Boy, Elian Gonzalez, saying that he hadn't decided what to do if Congress did decide to give him U.S. citizen. He wouldn't rule out a veto on that, but he was hoping that Congress would stay out of it until the courts had finished dealing with this matter.

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