THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART AND BARRY TOIV
The Briefing Room
4:15 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Anything else? Obviously, there was.
Q Reaction to the Senate vote on campaign finance reform.
MR. LOCKHART: I think that, understandably, the President, along with Senators McCain and Feingold and all of the American public who support campaign finance, are disappointed by this. Supporters of campaign finance -- a system that we think is broken and needs to be fixed -- have asked for a simple up or down vote, and we think that's something that the issue deserves.
The leadership in the Senate very openly said they were going to offer an amendment to block campaign finance reform from ever being brought to a vote, and that's what they've done today. And I think that that's an issue and a position that they will have to try to explain to the American people of why they couldn't bring this issue up for a simple up or down vote.
Q Well, is this matter dead for the rest of this term as far as the White House is concerned?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that's something that we're obviously going to have to have more conversations with Senators McCain and Feingold, the Minority Leader Senator Daschle. I think they are talking about trying to figure out some other ways to bring this up, so I think that we may find a way. But, clearly, the Republican leadership in the Senate took this step to block reform and it may turn out to be the case that they were successful today.
Q Are there any developments out of the fast track sessions the President had today?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I can report on. Nothing specific today. I think as Mike said this morning, he had a couple of meetings today and nothing specific that I can talk about as far as movement one way or the other.
Q Joe, Lanny said yesterday that staff had located several more recordings of presidential events in the White House or outside and expected to find quite a few more. When will these be produced, and have any more been located?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of the actual process that's going on, so I don't know. I know that Lanny has made himself available today and that the White House Council was up on the Hill and made himself available to talk about the logistics of all of this. I just don't know.
Q What, generally is the new set of videos?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know.
Q Joe, what's the White House response to Senator Thompson's demand that the President himself appointed independent counsel?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that they President's position on this has been clear for a long time -- that the Attorney General should act on the basis of the law, absent of any political pressure. And there was, obviously, political pressure today from that committee put on the Attorney General, and we just don't think it's appropriate to weigh in and put political pressure on her. These decisions should be made based on the law, and that's what we hope will happen.
Q But the essence of what Thompson and the other Republicans were charging was that Reno has become a captive of the President's and little more than his defense attorney. How do you react to that charge?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that she needs to act based on the law and absent the kind of charges that get made from either side of the aisle, whether they be pressure from one side or calls for her removal from the other side. I think she needs to do the -- make her decision based on the law. And we're confident she's able to do that.
Q Let's get back to what you discussed at the very beginning about the Lott amendment. Why does neither the President, nor the White House ever discuss the substance of the Lott amendment or why the White House is opposed to it?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that it's hard to take seriously and amendment that so openly was discussed by the Republican leadership as one that was designed to block campaign finance. It was not a serious amendment.
Q But the amendment died the same death as the bill in its entirety. It died the same death as the bill itself. So how did the amendment kill the bill? How do you come to blame the amendment if they failed to invoke cloture for that amendment?
MR. LOCKHART: Which was why -- which was what the intent was from the beginning, was to block any real consideration or vote on McCain-Feingold on its merits.
Q But, Joe, the reason it's a killer amendment is because Democrats were willing to kill -- decided it's a killer amendment. Why, if the President wants it so bad, is he not willing to accept a compromise, particularly one that seems reasonable to a lot of people, which is that union fees shouldn't go?
MR. LOCKHART: I think if you look at what's in McCain-Feingold, they took some steps toward dealing with the issue of the Beck decision. But this was a one-sided amendment designed to do exactly what it appears to have done today, which was to stop this process in its tracks. I don't think there was, as we've discussed from here before, a balanced approach to try to apply this to other people who give in elections, particularly corporations, so I don't think -- it wasn't a serious effort, and it wasn't designed to foster serious debate about an issue that a lot of people care about.
Q -- an up or down vote on the Lott amendment or the underlying bill?
MR. LOCKHART: No, on the underlying bill.
Q Why, if it is so egregious to use a filibuster against the underlying bill, why isn't just as egregious to use a filibuster --
MR. LOCKHART: We're talking about maneuvering here. We have gone through a process over this year where a lot of people have been in agreement -- Senator Thompson for one, the President for another -- that we need to look at what's going on in the campaign system and then move towards some way to try to reform the system. We have built some momentum through the year for this, and basically we've now hit a very serious, perhaps insurmountable roadblock based on what, in effect, is a parliamentary maneuver rather than something that's a serious issue in the debate.
Q So sometimes a filibuster is okay and sometimes it's not?
MR. LOCKHART: That is a broad philosophical question that --
MR. TOIV: -- compromised on free speech, as the President said --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, absolutely. If you want to look at where McCain-Feingold moved even in the last couple of months, there have been good-faith efforts to compromise to move this forward. But I don't really think that what they voted on the floor today was about serious campaign finance reform, it was about blocking.
Q The President said he would call Congress back into session if there wasn't a clear debate and a clear vote on the issue. Does that threat still stand? Is that something he could do?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have a definitive answer. Again, this just happened a little while ago and we will take some time to talk to Senator McCain, Senator Feingold, the Minority Leadership and --
Q Do you think we'll get a statement from the President, either written or otherwise, today on this?
MR. LOCKHART: Possible. And if we will, it will be soon.
Q Not to belabor the point, but can you just --
Q Should we expect to see him?
MR. LOCKHART: No, no, I'm sorry, I meant if there is something written.
Q Can you just give me a sentence or two explaining what your objection to the Lott amendment was, if you think the Lott amendment was good law, separate and apart from its impact on campaign finance legislation?
MR. LOCKHART: No, because I don't think it goes to -- it's singling out one group that participates in the electoral process without dealing with others.
Q Actually, two groups, right -- corporations and stockholders and unions and their members?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure. I'd have to look at it more closely, but I'm not sure that they have an effective system for corporations. I've heard some people talking about it, but I don't know that they have the same sort of restrictions put on corporations that you would have on union members or unions as a whole.
Q Can you run through tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. Basically, tomorrow's event, we'll be going to New Jersey and participating in an event with the gubernatorial candidate, Jim McGreevy. And I think the best way to look at the event is a preview of the child care conference that we'll be having here on the 23rd -- I think it's October 23rd; it's once we come back from the trip. The President will be talking about some of the issues as far as the importance of child care, Head Start, perhaps some of the educational issues that will come up in the conference. I don't expect there to be any new pronouncements or policy initiatives in tomorrow's event. Again, it's more of a preview to set up.
Any of you who have traveled with the First Lady over the last month, she's given several speeches seeking to set up the issues that will be discussed at the conference.
Q Can I just ask one question about the hearings this morning? There have been two pictures painted of the White House behavior -- one, of course, the Republicans say this is a cover-up, obstruction of justice. And then the other picture that's been painted, mostly by your own spokesmen trying to explain what happened, is one of utter incompetence. I'm wondering if you think that's a fair characterization of what --
MR. LOCKHART: I think that Lanny Davis, who's been speaking on this, is much better positioned than I am, knowing --
Q I'm talking about -- I'm not talking about the specific fundraising issues. I'm talking about has painted a picture of the White House as chaotic and incompetent, and I want to know if that is your -- if you feel that that's a fair characterization.
MR. LOCKHART: As a general question, no, it's not. (Laughter.)
Q But in this matter, do you think --
MR. LOCKHART: What I'm saying is that the people who have been talking to you about this are in a better position, given their review of the facts, to make that judgment. And I'm not in a position here to quibble one way or the other on this specific issue. As a general issue, I would dispute that, but on this particular issue that we're talking about, I think that the White House Counsel, Mr. Ruff, spoke today about these issues, and Lanny has been available to speak over the last couple of days. And they're in a better position to make a judgment or the kind of judgment that you're looking for.
Q Is the White House almost ready to issue its proposal on citizens panels to oversee the IRS? Is that going to happen?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, as Mike said yesterday, we could have something as early as this week. We'll let you know once we know.
Q Earlier in the day, Mike didn't want to say who the President was meeting with -- the House Democrats on fast track. Can you say at this point, are they members of the House Ways and Means Committee, for instance?
MR. TOIV: For the most part, yes. Democratic members of the Ways and Means Committee.
Q Do you have a count or any idea what your vote is going to be on that tomorrow?
MR. TOIV: Not yet.
Q Joe, do you know if there will be a gaggle tomorrow, given the travel situation?
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't think so. We leave pretty early.
Q Is Mike on the trip?
MR. LOCKHART: No, no. Mike will be here. I'm going on the trip, and I think the Press plane leaves at like 8:00 a.m., so I doubt there will be a gaggle. In fact, there won't be one.
Q Is that McGreevy luncheon a fundraiser for him?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, it's a Democratic Governors Association fundraising luncheon. We're trying now to get all of the details of the various events, and hopefully Josh will have it when you get on the press plane tomorrow.
Q Do you think there will be a departure statement?
MR. LOCKHART: Tomorrow? That's possible, but I don't have that nailed down yet.
Q Do you know how much a plate that lunch is?
Q What would the statement be on?
MR. LOCKHART: That's what I don't --
Q What did you think it would be on? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: There's lots of things going on.
Q The Philadelphia events, is that two fundraisers?
MR. LOCKHART: Two fundraisers, yes.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 4:27 P.M. EDT