THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The Briefing Room
1:18 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Hello, everybody. Good afternoon. Welcome to the White House briefing. It's not as crowded as yesterday. Is this bad reviews? (Laughter.) I could be closed by Wednesday. (Laughter.)
Q Watch out.
MR. LOCKHART: Watch out.
Q -- what's going on on the Hill, we all might be closed.
Q Do you actually read your press notices?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I'm just trying to judge by the return audience. There seems to be some people who have found something better to do this afternoon.
Q Well, you said this morning that the Republican leadership is pursuing a strategy for electoral advantage. Who in the Republican leadership? Are you talking about Congressman Hyde, or who are you talking about?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it's impossible for me to pinpoint who develops strategy within the Republican Party. I think Congressman Hyde and others have indicated that this is -- the Republican leadership in the House and the Judiciary Committee have been working together. But it's impossible for me to -- I don't know how productive it would be to say who is the person who is developing what strategy.
Q I mean, you can't pinpoint if you think it's the Speaker?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the Speaker of the House is the leader of the Republican Party and the House, so I assume he has some input.
Q Over on the other side, Senator Lott's people continue to insist that he was told that here at the White House you want to shut down the government. In a letter today his Chief of Staff writes the President's Chief of Staff and said, please renounce that.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it's difficult for us to understand what's been coming out of Senator Lott and his office for the last few days. As I stated here yesterday, our position on shutting down the government is clear -- no implications or messages like the ones he discussed on television on Sunday were sent. And it's --
Q Could he have misunderstood -- excuse me.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that's why yesterday I called it a mischaracterization at best. There is always the chance that someone could misunderstand, but I think if you see the comments this morning from his Chief of Staff and from the Senator himself this morning, it really seems to indicate that they're trying to change the subject themselves. They've been in session now for nine months; this is the first Congress in 24 years that hasn't passed a budget; they have two appropriations bills they've sent down. We're now six days late. And what they seem to be spending their time on is sending political messages about what we're thinking.
They ought to concentrate on their work, and when they get their work done, we can all decide what the politics of the situation are.
Q Senator Lott, as you noted this morning, said he thought the President might be trying to do a domestic "Wag The Dog."
MR. LOCKHART: Well, Senator Lott also said that he doesn't feel people at the White House are talking to him and the Republican leadership. I think he needs to check with his committee chairman. We are in constant contact trying to work these issues out, work through the differences we have on variuos pieces of legislation. We had a team that spent the better part of yesterday afternoon up on the Hill with Chairman Livingston and Chairman Stevens, so we are trying to get the work done. And it's important for the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate to stop playing politics and get their work done.
Q But are you planning a domestic "Wag The Dog"?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me try to figure out what that is first. Our goal is to complete the appropriations process, let Congress go home and have 13 appropriations bills so that we can fund the government.
Q But you only want it completed on your terms, Joe.
Q What do you think the prospects are for a shutdown? I mean, you'll be presented another continuing resolution probably, won't you?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we think through the meetings we've had on the Hill, what the President said, the Republicans in the House and the Senate know where we stand, what our priorities are. We think we can work through those differences, but we need to sit down and get the work done and stop the political posturing.
Q But isn't there political posturing on this end, too? Doesn't the White House say the President will veto appropriations bills if he doesn't, for example, get his education funding that --
MR. LOCKHART: Mark, we can't veto a bill that doesn't come down here.
Q I understand that --
MR. LOCKHART: So, I think we can get into -- and that's part of the constitutional process, where if a piece of legislation is unacceptable, at times, Presidents exercise their right to veto; Congress then has their constitutional responsibility. But right now, this isn't -- we're not having a debate about substance. We're having a debate about the politics. And the Republicans seem to want to draw attention away from the fact that they haven't been able to get their work done and somehow create some sort of diversionary tactic that says there are secret plans to shut the government down. It's not true. They ought to stop worrying about the politics, start worrying about the job they were sent here to do, and get the work done.
Q On the notion of playing for electoral advantage, what advantage do you think they're playing for?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there's probably people better qualified than I to discuss the upcoming elections. But I think there is some pattern here to try to make this an issue in the fall campaign and to try to keep this -- to string this out with a new development each and every week. Again, it's probably a better question for them on what their strategy is, but I think objective people can look at this situation and see that politics is part of it.
Q Do you think it should not be an issue in the fall campaign?
Q Are you talking about impeachment or --
MR. LOCKHART: No, no, no. He was asking about the process and how we've gone -- you were talking about impeachment, right?
Q Well, the President continues to call for IMF funding before Congress goes home. But Mr. Armey, for one, continues to say, no reform, no money.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think there are some indications now that that position may be softening. The President has been very clear that IMF is a very high priority for the American economy and for the international economy. And he said today that it's unacceptable for Congress to send down legislation that doesn't include paying our share to the IMF.
Q What indications, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I've seen some stories, or I've had some reported to me that some Republicans now indicate that they may be more flexible on this issue than they have been in the past. But whether those stories are true or not, the President has been clear that this is a priority and that it would be reckless, given what's going on in the world, given the people he was talking to today, if we weren't able to come up and pay our share.
Q Are you talking about stories you're reading in the press? What about all those people you said who are meeting every day on the Hill? What are they telling you, your own people? You're saying --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any firm indication that this issue is resolved. But I think --
Q Your position is that it might be softening?
MR. LOCKHART: -- but between now and Friday it's our hope that we get to the point where they can send us a bill that has the full funding.
Q Right. But what I'm asking you is are you hearing from your people, who you say are up there every day meeting with the Republican leaders -- are you hearing indications from them that a resolution is --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I was specifically referring to a report that someone reported to me. So I didn't actually see it myself -- another person on some comments that Mr. Armey made.
Q Okay. But what have White House, your own Hill liaison people told you about this issue?
MR. LOCKHART: We continue to be hopeful. I think we are making progress with the President speaking to this issue repeatedly. And, again, we are hopeful we can get this done. And as the President said, it's unacceptable if it doesn't get done.
Q Would you settle for a little less than the $18 billion, perhaps find a figure in between?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't think, given what the President has said and given the current state of the what's going on in the world, that this ought to be a negotiable number.
Q Did the President talk to Blair?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q He actually did?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. He talked to Blair this morning. I think he gave you some sense at the top of his speech this morning that he talked about Kosovo and the President briefed the Prime Minister on Ambassador Holbrooke's meetings with President Milosevic last night. Obviously, this evening's meeting hadn't taken place yet. Then they talked at some length on the international economic situation that the President spent a good bit of this morning talking about.
Q Joe, The Washington Post reported this morning that Maryland's Governor Glendening who twice snubbed the President last month now wants him to come to Maryland to do a fundraiser. And my question is, does President Clinton attribute this utterly astounding transmogrification to the charms of Mrs. Clinton in Maryland yesterday, or would you deny, Joe, that Glendening is obviously desperate and in need of money?
MR. LOCKHART: Boy. Where do we start? The President, as you all know, works tirelessly for Democrats around the country to help them get elected, to help them obtain the resources they need to be competitive in elections, and to work with them to try to build support. That's no different from Maryland Democrats, that's no different for Governor Glendening.
As you know, the First Lady is scheduled to do an event with Governor Glendening, as is the Vice President. There has been some contact from the Governor's staff to see if -- we're trying to see if it fits into the schedule, but I don't have any final conclusion at this point. But he is supportive and will help.
Q He thinks that Mrs. Clinton really charmed the Governor then and brought about this amazing change?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm not even sure that's what he said, but --
Q He doesn't think that she charmed him?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I'm certain that he thinks he charmed her. But this is about helping like-minded Democrats around the country to get elected, and that's what the President's focused on.
Q He did snub him. Is all forgiven now between the President and Glendening for the snub?
MR. LOCKHART: Sure. This is about getting Democrats elected and helping to support them. The President is the first person to stand up and talk about the unacceptability of his behavior and -- thank you, Helen -- the need for forgiveness.
Q Who initiated the contact? Was it the Governor's staff in Annapolis? Was it somebody at the White House trying to reach out to the Governor?
MR. LOCKHART: There have been ongoing conversations throughout the Governor's campaign between White House staff and the Political Affairs staff and the Governor's staff. Who is talking to whom now about any campaign event, I'm not sure.
Q But would you suspect there would be a presidential appearance for Glendening before the election?
MR. LOCKHART: If it works into the schedule and we can be helpful, I certainly wouldn't rule it out.
Q Speaking as you just did of getting Democrats elected, what's the message from here to conservative Democrats like Congressman Stenholm of Texas, who say they are going to vote for an impeachment inquiry and many of them are conservative Democrats who are in very tight election races?
MR. LOCKHART: It is the same message for any Democrat, which is that we don't believe that there is anything in this situation that approaches an impeachable offense. But if you move forward, the process should be fair and nonpartisan.
Q Are you saying that after the Democratic alternative fails later this week on the House floor, you want those Democrats to stop there and vote against the Republican proposal?
Q It's not going to the floor.
Q Actually, Joe, on that subject, Armey has just said it's not going to the floor, the Democratic alternative.
MR. LOCKHART: I am not aware that the White House has issuing any instructions, so I don't think we're in a position to instruct members of either party how we think they should vote.
Q You're not asking Democrats to vote no in the impeachment inquiry?
MR. LOCKHART: We have made our point of view very well known that we don't think this approach is an impeachment inquiry, but we are not asking them to vote yea or nay.
Q The President is asking them, according to several Democrats.
MR. LOCKHART: I think -- I don't want to get into a semantic game here --
Q Well, the President is calling them --
MR. LOCKHART: And making his case. We have made our case that the process needs to be fair, that there's nothing in this story that approaches impeachability. And that's why the Democratic alternative offered some positives, because it talks about setting a standard before moving forward to an inquiry and making it focused and time-limited.
Q Let's be clear -- you're not denying that the President is making calls and asking to vote no?
MR. LOCKHART: Absolutely not. This is not a situation where there's a war room and a whip count and where we're trying to instruct members on how they should vote.
Q Do you have a count, by the way?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Joe, you just said both things. You've just said that you're not asking members to vote no, and then you just agreed with Sam that you are asking members to vote no. Which is it?
MR. LOCKHART: As you know and as I said yesterday, we have said that the Republican -- what was the Republican plan to move forward yesterday in the Judiciary Committee we don't think is fair and we don't think deserves support. But we're not trying to instruct people --
Q Is the White House, is the President asking Democratic members of Congress to vote no on the impeachment inquiry?
MR. LOCKHART: We are certainly expressing our view that we don't think this approaches impeachability, nor do we think what the Republicans voted out of the Judiciary Committee is fair or non-partisan.
Q What is the meaning of the word "no"?
Q How do you define "no"?
MR. LOCKHART: Let's go on. We're not getting --
Q Wait a second. What is the President asking them to do?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, as I said yesterday, the conversations are private, so I don't want to get into them, but let me give you a general idea. He has made the case, as I have made the case and others, about what we feel about the issue here and the process.
Q But if you don't care what they do, why are you bothering to -- why is he bothering to call?
MR. LOCKHART: I didn't say we don't care what they do. I'm trying to get to the point that we're not trying to issue instructions or lobby to go one way or the other. I think it would be startling or shocking to us if anyone on Capitol Hill or anyone in this room didn't know what our feelings on this were.
But we don't feel like we're in a position to go out and say, you must vote with us on this, you must do this -- to instruct. So to the extent that I did tie myself up semantically, I hope that clears it up.
Q Are you telling members to vote their conscience?
MR. LOCKHART: What?
Q Are you telling members -- from the podium right here today, are you telling members to vote their conscience?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't participate in these calls, so I don't know what the language is. I know what we're not doing is we're not lobbying and saying, you must do this as part of the Democratic effort.
Q To instruct, in other words, you're saying there is no instruction. But the President is saying, please vote no.
MR. LOCKHART: The President and others are making the case that the they don't believe we should move forward, based on the Republican proposal.
Q You don't have a War Room, but what is going on? Describe for us the efforts that are on up on the Hill? How many people are there? And are they organizing themselves in some way so that every Democrat has somebody available to talk to? Are you counting numbers, or not?
MR. LOCKHART: I just don't know the answer to that question. Maybe Jim Kennedy might, being a little closer to this.
Q This isn't a scandal question. This is a White House-Hill liaison question. Why should Jim Kennedy talk about that?
MR. LOCKHART: Because Counsel's Office is very involved in the effort. But I will go back --
Q I think that's a fair question.
MR. LOCKHART: I will go back and see if I can find something, but at this point I'm not committing to detailing who's working on what.
Q Joe, whether or not you're telling them to vote "no," there are a number of Democrats who say they're feeling pressured by the White House and they don't like it.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that -- I don't believe that there's anybody in this building who's trying to pressure anyone.
Q Carol Browner testified at the Espy trial today. She was recounting a conversation in which she said it was her, Bruce Babbitt, Ron Brown and Mike Espy, and she said that it was in the course of this conversation where Mike Espy and Ron Brown said that they were tested for drugs as part of their background investigations, and that she testified that she found it odd that her and Bruce Babbitt had not. Her quote was that, "It was kind of odd that the two African Americans were tested and the two white people were not." Do you have any reason, any idea why that --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't. I can look into that. I really have no knowledge of how the background investigations on Cabinet members -- I'm very familiar with White House staff, who are all subject to an incoming drug test and then random tests.
Q Is the President tested for drugs?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q He's not?
MR. LOCKHART: No, not that I'm aware of.
Q Why not? (Laughter.) I mean, he's the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, shouldn't he be tested for drugs if the Armed Forces are tested? PJ, what about that? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Next? (Laughter.)
Q Can you give us a feeling as to whether the White House has resigned itself to the inevitability that the full House later this week will vote to go ahead with impeachment proceedings? Or do you hold out some glimmer of hope that somehow this can be averted?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, we can always remain hopeful. But as I said earlier, there is a certain sense that the dye is cast on this issue. But there is time between now and then and there's no point in giving up hope.
Q Joe, on Armey's comments earlier today, he set out for IMF that there would be three conditions and he could vote for the full amount. The first would be more transparency, the second, to stop making loans below market rates, and the third is to limit IMF loans for one year. Is that something the White House could live with?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I actually wasn't familiar with the conditions laid down, so let me go back and take a look at that and see if I can't get some sort of response to it.
Q Joe, were you able to find out yet what the President's direct reaction was to last night's vote?
MR. LOCKHART: I talked to some people who talked to him today, and I think, as I've said -- it's fairly close to what I talked about this morning, which is I don't think he was surprised by the straight party line, partisan vote last night. And there remains some disappointment that the process has moved ahead the way it has because we do believe that there has been some unfairness and in which I have detailed at length.
Q Is there still concern about the fact that they're actually moving to the next step, rather than what's happened before in terms of release of documents?
MR. LOCKHART: No, again, I think he's not surprised. It would have been hard to predict anything else given the way the last month has gone.
Q I mean, I understand your objections to what's happened before about releasing the videotapes and the documents and all that sort of thing. But this is really a different question. It's a question of whether or not the President thinks that Congress should be looking at the evidence and determining some of these questions on which there are divided opinions.
MR. LOCKHART: And our view, as the President -- or the President's lawyers have set forth in the brief they sent up last week, is that's putting the cart before the horse, that they should first look at what the standards are, what do you need to do to reach the level of impeachment, before you launch an investigation or an inquiry. And that remains our belief.
Q Do you think that the vote in the House will be along the same lines as the Committee, more party lines, or do you expect a lot to jump over to the other side?
MR. LOCKHART: Helen, I just have no way of predicting what the vote will be, could be, and I think if I launched into a prediction, you would either say I was trying to play expectation games or put pressure on people. There's just no way for me to do that.
Q Last Thursday, I asked Mike McCurry to respond to a presidential quote that I thought Mr. Clinton had made in 1974 to the effect that Mr. Nixon should be removed from office because he lied to the American people. But in checking, I cannot find that there is any citation for that. It was included in research that I got off the Internet -- no citation. I believe the quote now is bogous, and I regret having used it.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I appreciate that. There are lots of things that fly around from time to time on the Internet that somehow gets chopped and changed, both that are inspired by people of the Democratic persuasion and the Republican persuasion, but it's good that -- yes?
Q Well, I'm not blaming the Internet, I'm the one responsible for using it.
Q Joe, to what extent is the White House working directly with Abbe Lowell?
MR. LOCKHART: Mr. Lowell has an open channel in our Counsel's Office. They have gone up and met with him on several occasions, particularly when they first started up, and Greg Craig and his operation and I think talk to him on a regular basis.
Q So they're working closely with Abbe Lowell?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we are working closely and will remain working closely with the Judiciary Committee, with the full House, with whoever has a proper role in this process.
Q Does that make Mr. Lowell a representative of the White House before the Committee?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think it does. It makes him a representative for the minority of the Judiciary Committee.
Q Which is working in tandem with the White House.
MR. LOCKHART: The White House works with any proper authority involved in any issue that has constitutional bearing on how the White House and Congress works together.
Q Would you consider the cooperation between the White House and Mr. Lowell to be the same as perhaps cooperation between the White House and Mr. Schippers?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the White House stands ready to work with the counsel of the Majority and of the Minority. And I think we've done enough on this.
Q But what is the fact --
MR. LOCKHART: We're not going to do this.
Lester, go ahead.
Q Joe, I understand you're saying that in the future you would do that, but what is --
Q I'm not going to interrupt the White House correspondent --
Q What is the current state of affairs? Has the White House been working with Schippers or just with Lowell?
MR. LOCKHART: The White House has been working with the Majority and the Minority.
Q As Commander in Chief of the Army, the President allowed a Sergeant Major of the Army McKinney to be relieved of all of his regular duties until his sexual offenses charges were resolved by court martial, as you remember. And my question is, given the fact that the President has far more and heavier responsibilities than Sergeant McKinney, has there ever, to your knowledge, Joe, been any consideration of a similar relief of the President's regular duties until his charges are resolved, under the provisions of such relief in the 25th Amendment?
MR. LOCKHART: We were asked that question sometime back, and we answered it, no.
Q Joe, can I steer you to Kosovo a little bit? Can you tell me what the status of our preparations are, how far we are moving forward on that, if there's any indication that any strikes are in order? May we be backing down from that?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the NATO allies are working towards the possibility that some use of force may be needed. Ambassador Holbrooke is in Belgrade this afternoon and this evening. I think he's --
MR. LEAVY: He's meeting right now.
MR. LOCKHART: He's meeting with President Milosevic as we speak, and he's there to send a very clear message that the United States, the international community, NATO, is expecting full and complete compliance with U.N. Resolution 1199. As I think you know, President Milosevic has responded by talking about there's been a reduction in fighting and some withdrawal of troops. And Ambassador Holbrooke is there to make it clear that we'll only be satisified with a full compliance.
Q Is this the line in the sand?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, when the U.N. passed the resolution now -- I think on September 23rd -- they made it very clear what President Milosevic needs to do. He needs to declare an immediate cease-fire, withdraw security forces, allow full and unfettered access of humanitarian agencies and assistance to the some 250,000 people who have been driven from their homes, and set a timetable for real political dialogue that will allow self-rule for the Kosovar Albanians and allow them -- and this is an important point -- allow them to go home free of the threat of terror and oppression and live in their homes.
Q Is there progress on any of those points, Joe? Progress on any of those points?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, as I said, President Milosevic has said, has given a somewhat murky answer. There's some movement on the ground, but it does not -- as the U.N. report of yesterday indicates, it makes clear that we are not at or near full compliance.
Q Joe, can I come back to Dick Armey, because I don't think we got your reaction before to the idea that there will not now be a vote for the Democratic alternative on the floor.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm hearing this here first, so let me go back and check.
Q Let me go back to Kosovo for a minute. Secretary Cohen has made it clear that the U.S. is considering NATO air strikes, but not ground troop deployment. Given that three years ago NATO air strikes in Bosnia were followed eventually by ground troop deployments, U.S. troops that are still there today, can the President give us any feel now as to whether the commitment to not deploy ground troops is something short-term or long-term? Can you see that in the future?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, you're dealing in a hypothetical that is several steps down the road. They are in a process now where we are attempting to compel Mr. Milosevic to change his behavior and comply with 1199 through political and diplomatic means. The threat of force is there and it's real, but that threat of force is air power. And any discussion of anything that happens post-air power or post-settlement is premature.
Q Joe, getting back to this drug situation, why doesn't the President want to be tested as a good example? I mean, Ronald Reagan certainly volunteered.
MR. LOCKHART: I'm just not aware of that or --
Q The whole White House staff, you say, is tested for drugs --
MR. LOCKHART: Right.
Q -- but not the President. I'm astounded. Doesn't he want to be?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I have had no discussion with him, nor do I think it's a problem.
Q Joe, how long do you go on talking to Milosevic before taking action?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not going to get into any timetable here. I think after last evening and this evening with Ambassador Holbrooke he should understand what the international community's position is -- that he needs to come into full compliance which is verifiable and durable.
Q And without full compliance NATO will take action?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, we have said that the threat of military action is real if we do not get full compliance.
Q Joe, Amnesty International issued a report criticizing human rights in the United States. It says, the United States maintains a double standard, criticizing countries that don't abide by international treaties and saying the United States doesn't do it either.
MR. LOCKHART: I actually think the Justice Department has something on that. I actually don't have it here, but I'd refer you over there.
Q The President doesn't have any reaction to this report?
MR. LEAVY: We respect their scrutiny, but we've got the judicial system that's the envy of the world and we'll stand up to any --
MR. LOCKHART: Envy of the world.
Q Joe, Mr. Conyers today suggested that the U.S. should lift economic sanctions against Iraq and suggested if the President wants to be forgiven he should also be forgiving.
MR. LOCKHART: That sentiment is appreciated here, but I think our position on Iraq is clear and unwavering. Iraq must comply with the U.N. sanctions that were imposed upon it after the Gulf War, before any discussion of lifting sanctions ensues.
I think it's important to note that the U.S. was one of the prime movers behind the oil for food program, and has worked very hard to expand that program and to get food to the Iraqi people so that the punishment -- the sanctions impact the leadership that are making these decisions that keep Iraq as a threat to its neighbors, not the Iraqi people.
Q Mr. Conyers said that he would take his request to the President, that if he didn't react, he would take it to the First Lady because they go to her on everything else anyway.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think Mr. Conyers speaks to the level of sophistication and knowledge of issues around the world of the First Lady, but it's more appropriately sent to the Oval Office to be considered.
Q Were you able to find out about London, whether there's a stop in London?
MR. LOCKHART: There have been a lot of discussions over the last few weeks, and the President has been a leader of calling for international cooperation. Part of that mix of discussions has been some talk about leaders getting together, but I don't have anything on whether that is actually going to come off or --
Q On Monday of Thanksgiving week?
MR. LOCKHART: I just don't know that anything has advanced to the point where they're actually looking at potential dates and times. But it is in the context of what the President was talking about today and continuing the international cooperation on the economic situation in the world.
Q Joe, you talked about the President's desire for the $14.8 billion in quota funds. Is it the President's belief that the IMF today is underfunded and unable to deal with the world financial crisis?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think if the question is today, the IMF can deal with the world crisis. But this is a question of moving into the future. And it's also a question about -- and world markets in some respect work on issues like confidence -- governments around the world, economies around the world, need to know that America will exercise its proper role -- leadership role -- in the world economic situation. And when we have a situation where we're held up for month after month on paying our commitment into the IMF, I think that sends the wrong message.
Q So it's not a crisis for the IMF today, the lack of those funds?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we have a very difficult situation around the world that does depend on issues such as investor confidence. I think if we can get our business done within the week, the U.S. can exercise the leadership role it should.
Q Joe, what is the reason that the President himself is not making the argument publicly that impeachment is not warranted and that an inquiry is not necessary?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President, through his attorneys, has made the legal argument that they put forward at the end of last week. The President is focusing on the job that he was sent here to do, and that's the proper thing to do, whether it's international economics, Kosovo, or the various appropriation bills where we're trying to make sure his priorities get out. I think that's what the public wants him to focus on, and that's what he's going to remain focused on.
Q Does he think that he is not in a position to make this argument publicly?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q But you're saying that there would be some kind of -- the public would see it as a bad thing if the President made the argument in public that he's been making in private?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't predict affirmatively that the public would say that's a bad thing. I think --
Q Why do you guys think --
MR. LOCKHART: Because I think what the public wants the President to do is to focus on the issues that matter most to them. And I think -- and that's a judgment that we make, and it's a judgment you may not agree with. But the judgment we make is what they're interested in is getting a health care bill of rights bill through, and interested in funding the President's education priorities, protecting the environment, and saving Social Security first.
Q Do you think it would be unseemly for him to make that argument in public?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't offer -- we're not contemplating making an argument like that, so I'm not going to get into how it might be received.
Q If they agree --
Q But don't the American people deserve to know what the President thinks about this?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there should be no doubt by anyone who watches your programs or reads your newspapers or listens to their radios what the President thinks about this.
Q Do you foresee anytime in the future that --
Q Joe, your predecessor had a goal -- didn't always live up to it -- of a news conference with the President every four weeks, six weeks or so. Is that a --
MR. LOCKHART: Really? Really? (Laughter.) He said that?
Q I'll refer you to the transcripts.
MR. LOCKHART: He didn't tell me that. That wasn't in the note that he passed. (Laughter.)
Q Is that goal part of the Lockhart pledge as well and when do you think we could expect to see the President?
MR. LOCKHART: We actually have a state visit at the end of the month, but I'm working on trying to see if we can't get something on the schedule which would just be the President in it solo. I can't give you a date yet, but we're working on it.
Q Do you also think it's a good idea that every month or so --
MR. LOCKHART: I think regular access, without putting an actual time line on it is a good idea.
Q Joe, do you think there might come a time in the future when the President will take more interest in this impeachment process than he apparently has now?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President is going to remain focused on the job he was sent here to do.
Q But the point has been made, I think, wouldn't you agree, that if the President doesn't retain his position, if he's ousted as President, he can't do any of those things you say he was elected to do, so wouldn't it make sense for him to be very focused on staying in the Oval Office?
MR. LOCKHART: The way this building works and the way it properly works is we have people who work on this subject -- they're very talented and they can represent the President's interests. As I've said before, the President does from time to time talk to members. But that's not his job. His job is to pursue the agenda that the American public elected him twice to pursue and that's what he's doing.
Q Joe, Mr. Schippers has said that Monica Lewinsky's testimony should be considered substantial and credible. Does the White House take exception with that?
MR. LOCKHART: I didn't see his remarks, so I don't know on what basis he said that.
Q Do you believe that her testimony is credible; does anyone here quarrel with that?
MR. LOCKHART: I am not going to get into a line-by-line review of her testimony. I'm not familiar. I, for one, was not allowed to see the grand jury testimony. We don't know what hasn't gone up to the Hill, what has. And I haven't read through all of it so I'm not in a position to make that judgment.
Q What kind of specific action or development do we look for to come out of the IMF meeting this week that would signal a positive response to the President's remarks today?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't know what procedural -- I don't know the procedural mechanisms. But I think, talking to the President's economic advisors yesterday and today, we are, and the President is encouraged that there seems to be a fairly positive reaction to many of the ideas that the President laid down both at the Council on Foreign Relations and last Friday when he made the statement before leaving for Cleveland. So I think we have gotten a positive reaction, and the President in his speech today said it's a call to action to move both these short-term provisions through, and some of the longer-term provisions on financial architecture.
Q Joe, Senator Lott today said, even though he's pretty much thrown in the towel on an $80-billion tax cut package that there is a possibility a slim tax cut could come through --
MR. LOCKHART: The Daschle plan maybe.
Q -- noncontroversial tax provisions that need to be extended, as long as they're offset, would the White House --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we'd have to take a look at it. The President, as you know, put forward some tax breaks. We've had very good things to say about the Daschle tax plan. But the priority here is that tax relief needs to be fully paid for and that we need to, after 29 years of running up deficits, wait some time while the ink dries on this surplus in order to get a real long-term fix for Social Security.
Q He also said that he didn't expect more than eight appropriation bills to be completed, and the rest would be wrapped up in an omnibus spending bill. If that's the case, would it be acceptable to do that over shutting the government down?
MR. LOCKHART: We'll have to look at what they send down here. There have been situations in the past, Barry reminded me, where omnibus bills have been acceptable; there have been situations where they haven't been. So we need to see the details.
Q How can you say that Monica Lewinsky's testimony -- you don't know whether it's credible or not? I mean, she says it began in '95; the President says '96. She says there was certain touching; he denies there was this touching. Clearly don't you have to say that her testimony is incredible?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm leaving it to others who had a chance to review the details of the testimony.
Q Well, do you agree with the President on the two points I brought up, or do you agree with Monica Lewinsky, or say it's up for grabs?
MR. LOCKHART: I am, frankly, not familiar with what her grand jury testimony is, and I could spend all day going through it.
Q Readout on Menem.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. As I said today, they had a very warm meeting at the end of the IMF meeting. They discussed international economic issues, in particular Latin America. They discussed the talks between Peru and Ecuador, the peace talks, what there are both joint guarantees of. And they had a discussion on climate change, as Buenos Aires is going to host the follow-on meeting next month to Kyoto, the climate change talks.
Q Joe, this morning you described the impeachment process so far as a political strategy by the Republicans to embarrass the President. If Democrats later this week vote to move forward with the impeachment process, are they, in fact, signing on to this strategy?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think -- what I was talking about this morning was four or five steps as a whole, not necessarily the vote. And I think whether you're a Democrat or Republican, later on this week you're going to have to decide which way you vote. But I think -- it is just our view here that the process, rather than being designed to be fair and somber and befitting of the constitutional importance it takes, has been driven more by politics -- maybe not politics, but partisanship.
Q Do you expect the President to be calling Democrats leading up to the vote on Thursday?
MR. LOCKHART: Since, over the last several weeks, the President from time to time has talked to Democrats, I have no reason that that's going to change in any way.
Q Argentina has been mentioned as a candidate for this new contingent fund that the President has proposed. Did he discuss that with Menem at all today?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know if that specifically came up. I know that they had a discussion about some of the things the President has been talking about, particularly in today's speech. But I would have to check to see if that particular issue came up.
Q If Democrats vote as a bloc as they did last night, isn't that partisanship as well?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think our view is that they tried to add some fairness to the process. And importantly, and this point shouldn't be lost, they believed that there should be some discussion of the standard of impeachment before you launched into investigating whether -- if you don't know what's impeachable before you start investigating, you don't know what you're looking for.
Q Thank you.
END 2:00 P.M. EDT