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President Clinton Holds News Briefing

Aired September 27, 2000 - 10:05 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Want to go back live to the White House, where President Clinton is taking questions from reporters.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there should be hate crimes legislation. I think they made a mistake in Texas not to pass it, and I think it's a mistake for Congress not to pass it. But we all know what the deal is here. This is not complicated. The Republican majority does not want a bill that explicitly provides hate crimes protections for gay Americans. And I think they think it will split their base, or something.

All the surveys show that over two-thirds of the American people believe that no one should be subject to a crime because of who they are. And I just hope and pray we can do it. If we can't do it, what does that Senate vote mean? Was it just some stunt? I mean, they voted for it 57-42. It's not a complicated piece of legislation; it could be put on anything.

So I wouldn't give up yet. I think a majority of the House and a majority of the Senate are for it. So if it doesn't get on it will require an effort of the leaders to keep it off. In other words, a minority rule, not majority rule in the Congress. I believe there's -- there are Republicans in the Senate and the House who genuinely support this. I don't know how many, but enough, as you saw in the Senate vote, to get a majority, unless the leaders keep it from happening. They'll have to actually keep it from happening.

QUESTION: Mr. President, is it realistic for the American public to expect a book on race from you before you leave office? And also, what are your thoughts about Joe Lieberman expecting to meet with Minister Louis Farrakhan to heal the racial divide between the Jewish American community and the African American community?

CLINTON: I didn't understand -- what did you say about Joe Lieberman and Louis Farrakhan?

QUESTION: Joe Lieberman told me yesterday that he wanted to meet with Minister Louis Farrakhan to help ease the tensions between the Jewish American community and the African American community, and also to try to change what he said, the misguided statements that he made at the beginning of Joe Lieberman being announced as the Democratic Vice Presidential running mate. CLINTON: Well, if anybody has got the standing to do it, he certainly does. That's my -- I don't know about the other question.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: What about the race book, though?

CLINTON: I don't know. I'm working hard.

QUESTION: Mr. President, how do you assess the situation in Yugoslavia and the likelihood of a run-off election?

CLINTON: Well, Mr. Kostunica and his forces apparently have said at the present time they don't plan to participate in a run-off because they're confident they got a majority. The government's official election commission has no credibility, whatever. There are no opposition party members on it; there are no independent observers that have monitored its work. And the opposition believes it clearly got over 50 percent, and at least another NGO and other independent observers believe it did, too.

So they have to decide how to respond to this. And I think what Europe and the United States should do is to support the express will of the Serbian people, and it's certainly appears from a distance that they had a free election and somebody is trying to take it away from them. And so we'll just have to see what happens. But whatever we do I think should be consistent with the wishes of the majority of the people there.

QUESTION: Mr. President, given what you've said today, why not just tell Congress that you won't sign appropriations measures that grant you more funding than you even requested, as they seem prepared to do?

CLINTON: Well, first of all, the President should never be in a position of, in effect, usurping the Congress's authority. They always add something to what I spend. I have consistently shown more fiscal discipline. But this is a question of the dimensions of it. And the Supreme Court said that I didn't have the authority for the line- item veto, and so I have -- the only option I have is a meat axe option now. And we'll just have to see whether I will be able to sustain those and what the consequences would be.

I would -- and my main concern here is all the things that are left undone, all this money they're spending, but they still have an inadequate commitment, in my judgment, to education -- at least based on what I've seen so far -- and all these other things. The priorities of the Congress strike me as strange. I mean, look at what their -- their first priority for tax cuts was something for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans and they still haven't done anything for long- term care or college tuition tax credits or child care for average Americans, and they still haven't done anything to raise the minimum wage.

So this is a question of priorities and balance. In terms of whether I would veto one, it depends on how much extra money they spend in the end and what it looks like. So I can't say that. I'd have to study the bills first.

QUESTION: Mr. President, eight months ago, Vice President Gore said he thought it was a bad idea to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. You spoke with him last week, before announcing your plans in that regard. What's your take on his change in position?

CLINTON: Well, I think the circumstances are quite different. I didn't tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve eight months ago either. And as you know, I think it's been reported in the press, we had a very long and serious discussion about this, and we discussed all the pros and cons and decided that after OPEC had set a target range of $22 to $28 a barrel -- which most of us, certainly me and the producing countries, thought was a reasonable range; that is, we didn't want to go back down to $13 or $12 or $10 again because that was also disruptive -- that the accumulated decisions were not going to come near that target, and that there seemed to be a trend line going quite high.

And so Secretary Richardson and his experts at the Energy Department argued for a couple of weeks, based on their experience and their understanding of the supply situation, that among the various options we considered -- and there were three or four of them, including doing nothing right now, and others -- but the most prudent thing to do is what we did.

So I essentially took the advice of Secretary Richardson and the experts at the Energy Department, after discussing it extensively with our whole economic team, including the Vice President.

Thank you.

KAGAN: We have been listening to President Clinton, as he takes questions from members of the media at the White House. Earlier he had a announced record budget surplus for the last fiscal year. Now the president answering questions about topics ranging from hate crimes to the possibility of a runoff of presidential elections in Yugoslavia.



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