THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts) ______________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release August 29, 1997
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
Edgartown Elementary School Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
12:35 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: I'm sorry for being delayed. It was a bureaucratic problem, which I won't bore you with. Let me tell you a little bit -- I know that there are probably some people, I understand, who are going to be rotating out and new people coming in, and I think we're roughly about the halfway point through this vacation, so I took that milestone to have a conversation with the President and the First Lady this morning to get some impressions of sort of halfway through, and let me share a few of those with you.
I think the overall impression I got particularly from the President was that he has really used this time to relax. He seemed very well rested and relaxed and sort of really taking advantage of the time. He noted that this is by far now the longest he's taken as President of straight vacation time, and, in fact, the longest family vacation that he can remember taking with the First Lady and Chelsea. He remarked that there are some days that he's just done nothing at all. He hasn't gone out to play golf, hasn't gone to any formal function or party.
I asked him, on days like that, what kind of things were you doing. He said they've been playing the kind of games that the First Lady was talking about in her column, and I think Barry has talked about -- Scrabble and some other games; done a good bit of reading; some golf. He said he probably would have predicted beforehand that he would have played more, but he's just enjoyed being around the house and the beach and the facilities that are provided in the house. And he said he's had a lot of time just to sit and think and think about the kinds of things that once we get back we're going to have to be paying a lot of attention to.
On the issue of what kind of work -- he said he's done a little bit every day, but it hasn't really been intrusive and he's glad that things have remained calm and he has been able to take some time. Just some of the structural things that he has been doing for work -- I think Barry recounted the fact that he gets a national security briefing every day. He's also been getting something that Erskine organized, that all of the department heads at the White House have been doing a daily report of what they are up to, what they're working on, what issues have come across their desk that day, and that generally arrives in the evening. It's something the people do by the middle of the afternoon. And so those he's been reviewing every day and some of those he has comments on or has more questions. So that's really been the bulk of the work.
On the reading front, he's just finished a book called, "Power Curve," by Richard Herman. I'm going to try to remember the plot because I didn't write it down -- a vice president becomes a president when the president dies, and she is faced on her first day of office with war breaking out between China and Japan. It's a mystery, thriller.
Finally, I put to him the question that I know you all have been asking and handicapping, and the President plans to stay here through next week, taking the full three weeks. So that was really the gist of that conversation. I'll be glad to take any on that.
Let me just go through some of the other pieces of business. Specifically on yesterday, I know we didn't have much in the pool report on what he did yesterday -- both the President and the First Lady went down to the workout facility that they have at the house. They have some -- I think it might even be a separate building that has exercise equipment. And they both worked out. The President then, later in the day, jogged on the compound, and then they stayed in -- had dinner at the residence.
Q Does one of them cook or get the groceries?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not certain. I know that they have been doing the cooking. I don't know what the arrangements are, who is doing it. But groceries have been brought in and they've been doing their own cooking.
One other thing of note -- yesterday was, he did yesterday afternoon about 3:30 p.m., he placed a call to Joe Kennedy, and basically that call was he wanted Representative Kennedy and his family to know that he and the First Lady were thinking about him yesterday as they made this difficult decision.
Q What did he think of the reasons by Kennedy to explain the decision --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think he has any comment one way or the other on the reasons. Those were personal and I think they were articulated quite clearly by Representative Kennedy, and I don't think he's in a position to speculate one way or the other on any of the things that were raised there.
Q Did he reach Kennedy?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, he spoke to him. I think it was about 3:30 p.m. So it was an hour or so after the news conference.
I think we are putting out some paper at the end of the briefing on the federal workers' pay raise, which works out to 2.8 percent. There is a somewhat arcane formula that was passed in the 1990 budget agreement that every year we go back and take a look at, and I think under the 1990 agreement, using their methodology, the federal pay raise this year would have been around 10 percent. We obviously have problems with the methodology, so that's why we go back, and the pay raise will be 2.8 percent.
This was widely expected because these were the assumptions used in the balanced budget agreement and this is also the number used for military personnel, which Congress has done within their own appropriations. So I think this actual number was widely expected by all concerned parties.
Q When does that kick in?
MR. LOCKHART: I would imagine it is the end of -- it may be the end of the fiscal year. I don't know that, I'll check. But the end of the fiscal year is September -- yes, because it was due by August 31st, and this was the last business day to get it to Congress, so that's a good guess. I'll make sure that that's right.
Q Who are affected by that, do you know?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me check. I have that, I've seen it someplace -- I'll get it for you.
Q Does this affect employees like yourself?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think so.
Q Do you know if it affects members of Congress?
MR. LOCKHART: No, they have a separate process for determining their -- I mean, the underlying economic figures that a lot of these things are tied to, but Congress has a different formula, I believe, for setting their own pay.
Q You said this has been done like every year?
MR. LOCKHART: It's certainly been done in the last several years because, I don't pretend to understand the formula they use, but it's no longer applicable now, because if you use the formula for 1990 you'd be talking about a 10-percent raise, which, given the inflationary environment we live in, would seem somewhat excessive.
Q It's the standard civilian labor force -- 2 million plus?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. We'll get the number for you. It's somewhere in one of these pieces of paper. It will take me a while to find it.
Radio address tomorrow. Should be recorded, I think, sometime after golf, so we should get you a transcript probably late this afternoon, early this evening. The big news on the radio address is that, beginning this Saturday, WSAR-AM, 1480 on your dial, will carry the President's weekly radio address in Fall River, so you'll be able to listen to it. So I expect to see you all here tomorrow at 10:06 a.m. to join me in listening.
Q -- the 50,000 watt blowtorch of the south --
MR. LOCKHART: Which 50,000 watt blowtorch of the south are you referring to? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Subject is something like a record 52 million or 53 million students will be going back to school this week. The President will talk about some of the progress we've made and the challenges, particularly on educational standards that we still face.
A couple of things on the school that we live in here, this school. They have a 5K race tomorrow that starts in the parking lot, tomorrow morning. I don't think it -- my understanding is we'll still be able to park there, but they just wanted us to know that there will be a lot of people in shorts -- a lot of thin people in shorts running around and leaving at some point.
They also have their students coming back. We handed around a note yesterday which detailed -- I just want to make sure that everybody saw that and understands how this place becomes a little bit different on Tuesday. Anybody who hasn't please come and get one. These people have been great hosts and we've been great guests, and we shouldn't have any problem.
Q Is the President going to come over and see the school? Some of the teachers said that invitation had been extended to President Clinton to come over and meet with some of the students.
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't heard that. Let me talk to the principal, see what they had in mind, and we'll see. I don't know that there's anything planned at this point.
Q What do you show on his schedule for tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: For tomorrow?
Q What about today?
MR. LOCKHART: The rest of today -- when he comes back from golf I know of nothing planned. Tomorrow, I think they may have another meeting -- party with friends, or something. I don't know all the details. We'll get it for you at some point tomorrow.
Q Any reaction to the news from London that Sinn Fein has been invited to --
MR. LOCKHART: Let me just finish all this stuff and I'll come back to that. The last thing is that we are doing -- we'll have a number of personnel announcements this afternoon. I'm trying to get them as early as we can. I haven't actually seen the list; I don't know how significant they are. But I just wanted to give you an early warning they would be coming out. I hope to get them sometime in the next couple of hours.
Q Are they responses to The Washington Post article today?
MR. LOCKHART: If you read down through that story, I think you'll find a more accurate description of where we are in our personnel process than the headline in the first paragraph led you. So I'll leave that there. But it is not in response to these things. We have an orderly process that obviously will heat up as we reach today and next week, because Congress is back, because many of these require -- and a lot of people don't like to be announced, say August 1st when Congress is out, because then when you get into October, they feel like, you know, I've been out there two months, so there's a real push to -- just before they come back and when they come back, put a lot of paper up to the Hill.
Q Is there anything else coming out of the White House or the Executive Branch at any time today to take advantage of the fact that it's Friday and Labor Day Weekend? Should we look for any interesting stories?
MR. LOCKHART: I would call your attention to the excellent news conference held by the Secretary of Agriculture sometime in this past hour, pushing for significant power for the Secretary of Agriculture to, for instance, recall beef and assess civil penalties to meat and food processors who are not making the grade.
Q I will look for that, but it wasn't exactly what I had in mind. Let me phrase the question a different way. Is there anything that you're going to shove out late this afternoon because you'd really like to cover it up?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q No? Nothing?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I know of. Not that I know of.
Q Will you consider it?
Q Thank you.
MR. LOCKHART: Is there anything you had in mind?
Q A lot of stuff I could think about.
MR. LOCKHART: Finally, I don't plan to stand here for the next three days unless there's some popular demand. I can't imagine there would be. And we'll be back on Tuesday, but there will be someone in the press office, everybody's pageable, and that's it on business.
Q What about Sinn Fein?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. We understand that the announcement was made by the Secretary for Northern Ireland today that says the conditions have been met for the IRA cease-fire and Sinn Fein has been invited into the talks. We welcome the decision which gives an opportunity for all parties in Northern Ireland to be part of inclusive talks, leading to a negotiated settlement.
Q Joe, is the President up on the Barry McCaffrey threat?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm assuming that if not in a daily staff report, probably was part of the national security briefing, so yes. General McCaffrey, in at least one television interview has talked about how he's satisfied with security arrangements for him and understands that as probably our highest-profile leader and fighter in the war on drugs that he will at times be a target. But he is satisfied with the security arrangements that have been made, and he's satisfied with security on both sides of the border.
Q Has the President in recent times said anything about how he feels McCaffrey's doing in that job?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that the President has only been complimentary of his efforts in leading the fight against drugs, both in the prevention and prosecution of that fight.
Q What about the Glickman news conference, Joe? Does that require some presidential action?
MR. LOCKHART: It requires legislative action. This is legislation -- what Secretary Glickman is looking for is powers that we've asked for twice before in 1994 and in 1995, and Congress has not given the Secretary that power, and he's, I think at his press conference today, has made the point that we're going to make this a top priority. When Congress comes back next week, we're going to have this legislation ready to be introduced and ask them to move quickly.
I think the events of the last couple of weeks are a case study for why the Secretary should have this power.
Q Could I get back to Bosnia yesterday for a second? I had asked you if you could find out whether the President was simply passive in being briefed on this, or did he take an active role at all? Was he on the phone, was he involved in --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any conversations beyond the daily briefing, so he's certainly aware of what's going on, but I'm not aware of anything beyond that.
Q Yesterday, Shalikashvili said that he did not think U.S. troops should be involved in apprehending war crimes suspects. Is that official U.S. policy?
MR. LOCKHART: That has been official policy from the beginning, that SFOR troops -- it's not appropriate for SFOR troops to be involved under the conditions laid out in the Dayton Accords, because that's not their mission nor their training.
Q But Shali's been fuzzy on that in the past until yesterday, he was --
MR. LOCKHART: I think he was just restating policy.
Q What about all the U.S. troops not part of SFOR? What about other troops not part of SFOR?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, I don't think we have talked about doing things to strengthen the War Crimes Tribunal process, but I'm not going to get into how, where or when those things might happen.
Q Shali also said that sometimes it seems no one's in charge of the overall operation of the United States in Bosnia, and that has led to a lack of cooperation and you essentially need somebody in charge of the whole operation. Is that something the President's concerned about? Is Shali voicing -- is he a voice in the wilderness on this, or is this a real problem?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not really aware -- that part, I didn't see. I saw some of the other references on Bosnia and some other areas around the world, so I'm just not familiar with that, and I had not heard that concern before.
Q I'm trying to create a Bosnia story here. Can you --
Q Are there still no plans for the President to go to that forum on race relations tonight?
Q And why not?
Q And what about the birthday party?
MR. LOCKHART: Why not? The President is on vacation and I think we've tried very hard to protect this time for someone who, 49 weeks out of the year, is working most of the time. So it's just a decision to try to protect -- wall off some time where he can relax and not work.
Q We always heard that with this President, one of the things he most enjoyed doing was sitting around high-powered people and talking about a subject that's close to his heart. And from what I hear, that's what a lot of the dinner parties in Martha's Vineyard are like; people discuss fairly weighty subjects. Why would this be work when --
MR. LOCKHART: I think certainly the issue of race is one that is close to his heart and he has been talking a lot about and will talk a lot about. But I think this is -- and a public forum is different than a private dinner party where you sit and exchange views. It involves a lot of preparation, and those kinds of events we've tried to avoid simply because we don't want to impose upon the limited vacation time he has.
Q And what about the birthday celebration?
Q Dorothy West, the writer.
Q Dorothy West, I'm sorry.
MR. LOCKHART: Not attending.
Q Did they talk about Chelsea today at all when you were talking to them?
MR. LOCKHART: Not really. I frankly didn't ask. Yes, in the context of the family doing things and the overall impression of just sort of spending time together, sitting and talking as a family. But I didn't specifically --
Q Any special emphasis on her because she's about to go off to college? Did they talk about it in that context?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I'm sure that you all know that this is a very special vacation because of that. And I think there would be -- there's a certain sense of savoring the moments, and I think that's at the heart of why the family's enjoying it is -- it's not just so much that they point to, we did this special thing, we did that special thing, it's just spending the time together.
Q See you all Tuesday.
Oh, yes -- to answer your earlier question, approximately 1.5 million government workers are directly affected.
Q Thanks, Joe.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:55 P.M. EDT