[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[May 22, 1998]
[Pages 829-831]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on Transportation Legislation and an Exchange With Reporters
May 22, 1998

    The President. Good afternoon. Today Congress will take an important 
step toward preserving and expanding our prosperity in the new century. 
I am pleased that Congress likely will answer my call to pass a historic 
bill to strengthen our transportation system and maintain our commitment 
to fiscal discipline and investing in our people. It is a bill that will 
help our communities to modernize and build the roads and bridges, the 
railways and buses that link people of our great and vast country 
together, that keep our economy strong and vibrant.
    I have said I would strongly support legislation that meets my core 
principles: First, it must keep our budget balanced, must preserve the 
budget surplus until we have saved Social Security first; 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 afternoon meets those 
principles. The measure does spend more than we wanted, but I am pleased 
that we have persuaded Congress to cut $17 billion of excess spending 
from this bill. Therefore, we have reached, what I consider to be, a 
principled compromise. At the same time, the bill fulfills the 
transportation priorities I set forth in my balanced budget. It 
strengthens our commitments to encouraging mass transit, to protecting 
the environment, to expanding opportunities to disadvantaged businesses, 
to moving more Americans from welfare to work with transportation 
    But I am deeply disappointed by one thing that is missing from the 
bill. Congress has refused to lower the national drunk driving standard 
to .08 percent blood alcohol content. We must have zero tolerance for 
irresponsible and reckless acts that endanger our children and loved 
ones traveling on our roads. We must make .08 the law in every State, 
and I will continue to work until that happens.
    Finally, let me say, this bill does show that fiscal responsibility 
and investing in our future go hand in hand toward preparing our people 
and our country for the next century. I want to thank Secretary 
Slater and Larry Stein, especially, and the members of my economic team for the 
hard work they did starting from a very difficult bargaining position to 
reduce the spending in this bill. If Congress does, in fact, pass the 
bill, as expected, I will be pleased to sign it into law.

Nuclear Proliferation in South Asia

    Q. Mr. President, did the Pakistani Prime Minister give you any 
assurances that he will resist any nuclear test at this point, and did 
you offer him anything, including a request of Congress to release the 
    The President. Well, as you know, I talked to him on Monday, 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 other concerns. I continued to urge him to refrain from testing, and 
I told him that I had done everything I could do to get other world 
leaders involved in both supporting him, if he would refrain from

[[Page 830]]

testing, and encouraging the Indians not to further aggravate the 
situation with precipitous comments or action in Kashmir or elsewhere. 
And we talked about some other things, but until we have resolved our 
conversations, I don't think I should get into any more detail.
    I am impressed with the depth of understanding that the Prime 
Minister showed and with his genuine concern 
that he both protect the security of his country and do nothing to upset 
the decades-long effort now the world has been making toward 
nonproliferation. And we'll keep working on it and hoping for a good 
    Q.  Mr. President, do you feel more optimistic in this situation 
now? Is there any reason to believe that the Pakistanis will not test?
    The President. I think that anything I say to characterize the Prime 
Minister's present position would only make it 
more difficult for him and for others. I think they're having an honest 
debate within their government. I believe they want to do the right 
thing by their people. But they want to do the right thing by this great 
issue that affects even more than India and Pakistan.
    All I can tell you is I'm working hard on this. I have spent an 
enormous amount of time on it in the last several days and will continue 
to do so. And if there are definitive developments about--in this area, 
I will be happy to tell you. But today we had a very long conversation, 
and it was a good one, and I'll continue to work on it and expect to 
have more for you over the next few days.

School Shootings

    Q. Mr. President, what will you do about these school shootings? 
Will you demand, perhaps, a Federal age limit? This child actually owned 
the rifle he used.
    The President. Well, let me say I'm going to address that in my 
radio address tomorrow. And then, after that, I'll be available to 
answer more questions about it.

China's Satellite Launch Capability

    Q. Mr. President, you've been criticized by Congress for giving the 
approval for a U.S. satellite to go up on a Chinese rocket. Documents 
released today, apparently by the Justice Department, indicate that you 
may have been told that giving that approval could harm a criminal 
investigation of Loral and Hughes Corporation. Given that knowledge--is 
that correct, and given that knowledge, was that the right thing to do?
    The President. Well, first of all, I think the decision was the 
correct one. And I am glad that the documents, which have been turned 
over to the committee and apparently some have been released--I hope 
that at the appropriate time everybody will have access to the decision 
document. Let me back up and say that that decision, like every decision 
I make, was made based on what I thought was in the national interest 
and supportive of our national security.
    About 10 years ago, it became obvious that our country had an 
interest in developing a globally competitive commercial satellite 
system and that we had more satellites that needed to get up in space 
than we had launchers to provide. So we needed to supplant satellite 
launches in America with satellite launch capacity in other countries, 
that included China but also Russia and Europe.
    President Reagan adopted a policy then. 
President Bush continued the policy, and I 
continued the policy. There were about nine satellites launched in the 4 
years of the Bush administration. I believe there have been about 11 
launched under my administration under this policy .
    This particular launch, the one in question, had to be recommended 
by the State Department. Then, after the State Department recommended 
it, it was concurred in that decision by the Defense Department and the 
Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. The National Security Council here 
sought the views of the Justice Department because of the matter to 
which you alluded; they raised a question about it. The NSC evaluated 
their concerns along with the decision of the State Department that it 
ought to go forward with the concurrence of the Defense Department, 
which was fully aware of the matters, and the Arms Control and 
Disarmament Agency, and concluded that, on balance, we should go 
    I got a decisionmaking memo to that effect, and I approved it. It 
was handled in the routine course of business. I believe the facts will 
show that. There was absolutely nothing done to transfer any technology 
inappropriately to the Chinese as a result of this decision. I believe 
it was in the national interest, and I can assure you it was handled in 
the routine course of business, consistent with the 10-year-old policy.

[[Page 831]]

Secret Service Testimony

    Q. Mr. Clinton, there's been a decision made that the Secret Service 
will not be allowed to use privilege in the case of the grand jury. Do 
you feel that by allowing Secret Service agents to testify that it 
would, in fact, harm future Presidents?
    The President. Well, that's the Secret Service position. And 
President Bush agreed with them.
    Q. Do you agree with them?
    The President. And I think there's a serious possibility that that 
could occur, probably in a different sort of context. At least it will 
have a chilling effect on--perhaps on the conversations Presidents have 
and the work that they do and the way they do it. But it is true that 
there is no legal--there's no statute there.
    But all these investigations have been carried out over the last 25 
years in a climate of intense pro-investigation, and yet I don't think 
anyone ever thought about it because no one ever thought that anyone 
would ever abuse the responsibility the Secret Service has to the 
President, to the President's family. So there are some things that you 
ought not to have to make a law about, and I think that's basically 
where we are, that it never occurred to anybody that anyone would ever 
be so insensitive to the responsibilities of the Secret Service that 
this kind of legal question would arise.
    What the law would be on appeal or whether the Secret Service will 
appeal, I don't know because I haven't been involved in it. I don't 
think it's appropriate for me to be involved in it. But I think--yes, I 
think it will raise some serious questions and present a whole new array 
of problems for managing the Presidency and for the Secret Service 
managing their responsibility. And because previous people have 
understood that and cared enough about it, I don't think that anybody 
has ever even considered doing this before. But we're living in a time 
which is without precedent, where actions are being taken without 
precedent, and we just have to live with consequences.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 3 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White 
House. In his remarks, he referred to Larry Stein, Assistant to the 
President and Director of Legislative Affairs; and Prime Minister Nawaz 
Sharif of Pakistan.