THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The Briefing Room
1:30 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. Let me just fill you in on one thing before I take questions. The President had a 10-minute phone call, I think within the last hour, with President Cardoso of Brazil, who was certified as the reelected President of Brazil. The President congratulated him on his reelection, gave him a report on the meetings that have been going on here in Washington, specifically the meeting that he spoke to yesterday; talked about the support within the G-7 to help countries like Brazil that we believe have done the right things as far as economic reform, but face some of the exposure to the contagion that the President has talked about.
President Cardoso told the President that he'll be speaking later today to the Brazilian people and gave the President a preview of what he planned to say. Again, the call took about 10 minutes.
Q Joe, the President said in the Oval Office this morning that he was going to be returning the calls of a number of members of Congress on the subject of impeachment. Can you fill us in on what happened and what some of those calls may have been about?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think as I told you this morning, I started this morning by telling you a little bit about the fact that he has made a handful of calls, some of them people who he has reached out; others that he has returned calls. As he told you in the Oval Office in the photo opportunity, he believes that members, as in all cases, should vote based on principle and conscience.
So I can't go into -- I haven't gotten a briefing on any specific call, but I think he told you basically where he is in talking to members and also where he is on this issue.
Q So we don't know if he's actually made the calls that he talked about this morning?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think he's had a chance to return calls. He's been working pretty steadily. He's now in with the foreign policy team on Kosovo, so I don't think he's had much of a chance to get to the phone.
Q But, Joe, he seemed to leave the impression that he was only returning calls. You're saying now he's definitely initiating --
MR. LOCKHART: No, no, no. Again, let me give you some context for this. When we all met this morning, I was responding to some press reports that there was some aggressive, last-minute lobbying effort from this building that was out putting pressure on Democrats. And I think I tried to put into perspective for you how that's not the case.
You know, as I look out here I see a lot of you who have been here for some time, and I think you know what it's like when this building gears up to run an aggressive campaign -- whether it be the Brady Bill, whether it be NAFTA, whether it be fast track -- I mean, fast track is an issue where we came up short, but I think you saw that this building mobilized and tried to do what we could to generate as much support as we could. So you know what that effort is and I think you know what it isn't. And that's not what this is.
This is, whether it be staffers here or the President reaching out and talking to members, listening to their concerns -- and I think over the last couple days there has been three, four, five calls that he's generated, and probably about the same amount of calls that he's returned.
Q Are you saving your breath for the Senate fight?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think that we -- our feelings on this are known. We continue to believe that it is a process that should be fair and a process that should be nonpartisan and, importantly, it's a process where you should take some time and spend some time on the issue of establishing some standard for impeachment before you move forward with an inquiry. And that's what the Democratic alternative embodied, and that's what we think is a more fair and serious way to look at this.
Q May I follow on Mara's question? Your point is well taken about this doesn't seem like the NAFTA fight, but is the President doing any overt lobbying or horse trading or arm twisting when he gets this people on a call? Are you doing -- even if the calls are made in a more local context, is he offering --
MR. LOCKHART: That's a fair question. I think the President indicated in the photo opportunity this morning that he thinks people should vote based on principle and based on conscience. I think -- you also know that the First Lady had a meeting today. Let me tell you a little bit about that meeting because I think that also can help give you some perspective on where we are.
There were about 40 members of the freshmen Democratic class who asked the First Lady if she could set aside some time to come down and talk to her. I think this was a response to a number of women members of Congress who came down about two or three weeks ago for a seminar session, and as they went back and talked to their fellow freshmen members, the freshmen class believed it would be a good idea to come down.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the issues, basically the issues that got these freshmen Democrats here to Washington, and the issues that they believe and we believe will keep them here past November or past this Congress. So they had a good discussion of Social Security, patients' bill of rights, education, and the environment.
I'd say that took up about half the meeting. The second half of the meeting, the members raised the issue that Congress will vote on tomorrow. As far as the members go, the way it was described for me, there was a variety of opinions expressed, people coming at it from different ways. There was a certain unifying theme that a lot of members were concerned that this issue would be ripe for playing politics and that Republicans around the country would play politics with this issue. And I think what the First Lady told them -- she told them a couple things. The first is that the members should vote based on what they thought was right and what they thought their conscience told them to vote, and she made the point that, we understand the concerns, we know that you have to be able to defend your position, but you ought to do what you think is right.
She made the explicit point that this White House stands ready to work with Democrats and support Democrats, help them get elected, work into the future, no matter how they vote. She also made the case for the intrinsic fairness of the Democratic alternative, based on a process that was more fair, was more focused, would offer the opportunity to put this behind us in a more prompt fashion, and probably most importantly, dealt with the issue of setting the standard before we move forward with an inquiry. That's what at the base of the Democratic alternative and she argued that that idea had merits.
Q Joe, you're saying that a Democratic congressman can vote to impeach the President and then rely on the President's support in the future?
MR. LOCKHART: What I'm saying is that the message in this particular meeting, and I think the message that the President sent, is that for those who, for whatever reason, decide to vote -- to move forward under the proposal put forward by the Republicans, that we will work with them.
Q No consequences for an impeachment vote?
MR. LOCKHART: We will work with them as we move forward. And remember, this is -- I know that you would like to shorthand this, but there is a process here and it's a constitutional --
Q I'm not asking about an inquiry vote, Joe, I'm asking about an impeachment vote.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that's not --
Q Are there consequences for Democrats who vote to impeachment the President?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not going to answer a hypothetical question. We've got plenty of things that are real right in front of us. I'm going to wait to look beyond that.
I'm sorry, let me go to the back. I'm ignoring people back there. April.
Q Joe, the way it seems, the White House is taking a very relaxed approach to something that could be the fight of the President's political life.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't want you to mistake a lack of aggression with a lack of concern. Clearly, this is an important issue. This is a situation that we want to find a way to put behind us. But we don't -- as I think I tried to articulate yesterday, I don't think we're in a position to try to dictate or to compel. We understand the political and partisan games that get played, and we understand the concerns of the members. And we, as the First Lady said, we will support members, and we think they should do what they believe is right.
Q How have you seen the President's own concern manifest itself? Again, you try to give an impression of the President dealing with other issues, but since you say there is a matter of concern here for him, how have you seen it shown?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the President is very concerned about me and he worries that I have to answer all these questions.
MR. LOCKHART: No -- there is a sense that we have important budget issues facing us over the next two or three days, and we have an important agenda to get forward. And I think it's a -- and it's an agenda that the public generally supports and supports fairly strongly. Unfortunately, most of the back-and-forth political debate seems to be focused on this issue. So that, obviously, is something that concerns us.
Q That's where his concern is centered, or is he not concerned about his own fate in this vote tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: We believe and we think that the American public expects a process that's fair and a process that's nonpartisan. We haven't seen much of that. And as the President said today, ultimately the American public will weigh in on this.
Q Joe, hold on for a second --
MR. LOCKHART: I'll come back.
Q On the First Lady's talk with the members, aside from saying she'd understand if they voted one way or the other based on principle, did she appeal to them to vote against this inquiry?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, as I just stated, she made a case for the Democratic alternative because it's an alternative that's more fair, and it's on this important point -- I'll keep repeating it -- that we decide and we debate and we discuss what the standard for impeachment is before we move forward with an inquiry.
Q So she does think there ought to be an inquiry?
MR. LOCKHART: We decide, we debate, we discuss what the standard for impeachment is before we vote and go forward.
Q Is this a way to lower expectations if a number of Democrats desert you tomorrow, that you can now say, well, we told everyone they're free to vote their conscience?
MR. LOCKHART: No, it's a way for me to accurately report what's going on here in the face of some inaccurate reports of what's going on here.
Q Joe, on Monday there was a lot of discussion in the Democratic Caucus about the need for the President to reassure members that they should vote their consciences. Was that communicated here?
MR. LOCKHART: Communicated from the Hill?
Q From the Hill to the White House.
MR. LOCKHART: I'm honestly not aware of what the incoming has been. I know that this is something the President said to you all today, and has said; it's something the First Lady told freshmen members today.
Q Do you know if the President was told in his talks with other members that some of them needed to be reassured that they could vote for the Republican proposal?
MR. LOCKHART: I just don't know the answer to that.
Q Joe, you said ultimately the American public will weigh in on that, which is exactly what the President said today. Now, he's not up for reelection again. Does that mean that he sees the November election as a referendum?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think there is a broader point here that --
Q -- public opinion poll?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes -- people in Congress, people in elective office do, properly, stay in touch with their constituents. And I think there is a strong feeling here that seems to be getting stronger that we need to find a way to fairly bring closure to this. And I think if you look at where the American public is, they believe -- I'd like to draw the distinction between when we say vote your conscience, we're not saying that the Hyde plan is a vote of conscience, because we don't think it is. We think it's political. And we think that the Democratic alternative, because it offers this first look at the standards of impeachment, is a much better way to go.
Q Right, but that's not the choice members are facing. They're faced with the choice of two votes. They can vote for the Democratic alternative, and then the choice is, do you do something else after that, after the position fails. You're saying you can vote your conscience and then make another vote that's not your conscience?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think it's pretty clear what the President said -- people should do what they think is right.
Q Can I come back to this idea of the election? You're saying the American people will weigh in. Well, they have a chance in about a month to weigh in. And if the Republican proposal prevails and Republicans win a lot of seats, isn't that an endorsement of their approach to the --
MR. LOCKHART: My view from my time working in politics is that elections are decided on issues and people and other things that don't necessarily revolve around what happens in the White House, what happens in the Capitol -- that they are local.
The intention of my comments were to suggest that I think people do -- that there is a growing feeling that this process isn't fair. And I think there's strong belief that we should look at these standards before we launch forward with an inquiry, and the people have a way of making their views known.
Q Can you go back to the genesis of this freshman meeting? You said the request came from the freshmen. When did it come in? The timing of this meeting just before the vote is kind of interesting.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me read to you from the letter to the First Lady. "As the President of the House Democratic freshman class, I would like to invite you to address our membership before the close of this session of Congress. Several of my colleagues have remarked that after meeting with you they have emerged rejuvenated and confident about our future prospects. At a time when it is imperative that we communicate our unified agenda, I would appreciate you conveying the same motivating messages directly to our members."
So there was a meeting of some of the women members that came down. Some of them are freshman. And I think basically what happened was they reported back on what a positive session it was and how rejuvenated they felt about a good discussion of the issues and they decided they wanted to come down.
Q I understand that, but was this meeting scheduled for today before the House vote was scheduled for tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: They said between the 6th and the 8th and the First Lady had time on her schedule today. I wouldn't read too much into the meeting taking place today.
Q Do you know why they didn't come to the stakeout after we told that they would?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't. I don't.
Q Joe, if a significant number of Democrats do defect tomorrow, won't you lose the ability to charge that this is a partisan process?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not going to speculate about what's going to happen tomorrow as a way of trying to get into what I think or where I think the vote is going tomorrow.
Q Can you say, Joe, that when the President uses the word that it's a vote of principle, that it's a vote of conscience -- we hear similar words repeated by you that the First Lady apparently said -- many people in this town look at those two words and they say, oh, well, that's code word and the code word is you are officially released from any obligation to the White House on this issue -- that we understand that you have to vote the way you have to vote. Is that the message that the President and the First Lady are sending?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not trying to speak in code. I don't think the President is trying to speak in code. I don't think the First Lady is trying to speak in code. I think members understand what we're saying, and if others don't, I don't think I can explain it any further.
Q But a lot of the members on the fence are already saying they interpret this as a green light from the White House to vote for the Republican proposal. Is that the intent?
MR. LOCKHART: I think members are capable of understanding when we speak clearly to them what we mean.
Q Are they getting the right impression then?
Q To go back to the question that Carl asked, can you say that there has been no horse trading in exchange for votes tomorrow, either by the President or anyone else who works here?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. That question came up last week. We looked into it and I have no reason to modify the answer.
Q Joe, you would do that on any other legislation pending. Why not this one? Why is it inappropriate in this case?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it goes to what the point I've been trying to make for the last 24 hours, that we believe that it is not proper for us, despite what others may report about what we're doing, to aggressively try to impact or lobby people on this. This is a decision that members are going to have to make. And we hope that they will -- while we understand the politics and the political pressures, we hope they will do what they believe is right for them and what's the best thing for them.
Q Members call in and ask to speak with the President and he returns the call, what are they calling for? Is it people who are on the fence? What are they asking him? What are they hoping to get?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't speak to what the members -- there are some -- as I've detailed, there are some members who have wanted to talk to the President. Those conversations are private, and I can't just speak to the details.
Q Joe, you told us what the First Lady said, the President spoke about it today. What is the Vice President doing in this whole thing? I understand he's also talking --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I inquired on him because he seemed to be prominently featured in some stories. And again, he has reached out to some members over the last few weeks, but I think it's probably a handful to a half-dozen, and made the same case that the President makes, the First Lady makes, the staff here makes and friends of -- sort of the outside community that's sort of friends of the President.
Q Joe, how many members were there and what was the atmosphere like inside the --
MR. LOCKHART: I wasn't in. I think there was about 40 -- about 25, I'm sorry. And I think based on the reports I got, it was a very positive session, particularly the first part of the meeting, where the First Lady and the Democrats reminded themselves on the issues that got this particular group of people here -- Social Security, education, the environment. And it was a good reminder of what they need to do over the next couple days to finish the work that they're doing here and what they can very proudly go home and make the case to their constituents.
And they'll be making two cases. They'll be talking about what they got done; but they'll also be talking about what they haven't gotten done, and that, in fact, might be what gets the attention of the public even more. They haven't gotten the patients' bill of rights to reform HMOs.
Q How long was the meeting, Joe? How long was the meeting with the First Lady?
MR. LOCKHART: One hour.
Q Did she persuade any of the Democrat freshmen --
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I think you'd have to talk to them. I don't want to speak for them.
Q Is it fair to conclude from your answer to Mara that if the Democrats in the November election do better than expected, hold their losses below the historical average, that neither you, nor the DNC will claim that this was then a referendum on impeachment?
MR. LOCKHART: You're asking me to both predict the future and predict what our strategy is. I can't do that.
Q But even if the Democrats do well, you will not say that that was then somehow a referendum on impeachment and against the Republicans?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, not being willing to speculate on what might happen tomorrow, I'm not willing to speculate on what the consequences of tomorrow are.
Q Just to clarify that one point, I just want to make sure I understand correctly -- if any Democrats vote for the Republican proposal tomorrow, the White House will not hold it against them, they get a pass on that vote?
MR. LOCKHART: I think I was pretty clear on this, that we continue to support Democrats, we will continue to work with them on issues, we will continue to work with them on helping them in their quest for reelection.
Q But you're reserving judgment on the later impeachment vote, should that come?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm saying that that is something that's speculative and theoretical and I'm not making a judgment.
Q But on the same topic, what the President said today should or should not be interpreted as a green light, as permission to vote for the Republican --
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think the words we've used and the expressions that we've had are very clear. We can go around all afternoon on this and if that's what we need to do, we'll do it -- but John?
Q I know we've been around this a couple of times before, too, but the President specifically said this morning that the American people ultimately will render a judgment. Is he suggesting that members of Congress should follow the polls in voting on this matter, either now or when there is an impeachment --
MR. LOCKHART: No. No, I think he was suggesting that members of Congress should do what they think is right. They should take a vote -- that they should vote based on their principles and based on their conscience. And he also suggested that the American public has a role in this, that they should correct the congressmen, elected officials, correctly, should be cognizant of the views of their constituents. And I think we have a situation where people do want the President to be treated fairly. They want the President not to be treated in a political way, that they think this is serious and it should be treated in something other than the partisan politics that we've become accustomed to.
Q Would he like American voters to lobby their congresspeople on this issue?
MR. LOCKHART: No, he was not suggesting that.
Q Would he like American voters who feel their congresspeople have been too partisan in this matter to vote them out of office?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that's up to the American voters to decide.
Q Is that what he's talking about, though? Is that the judgment of the American public that he's looking for?
MR. LOCKHART: I think what the President was suggesting was on an issue like this the American public has a say, too.
Q And that say is the vote, correct, Joe?
Q When do they get the say?
MR. LOCKHART: They get the say every day. I mean, we're in a representative democracy here, and --
Q You're saying November is not a reflection of their feelings?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm suggesting that I don't look at the November elections as a referendum on this issue.
Q Joe, the President said this morning that he was returning the calls of congressmen. Is it not also correct that he's been making unsolicited calls to congressmen on impeachment?
MR. LOCKHART: I think I've already acknowledged that.
Q That's a "yes"?
MR. LOCKHART: That's a "yes."
Q Can you give us some idea of what the ratio is?
MR. LOCKHART: I looked over the last three days and it was kind of 50-50.
Q Half and half?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, about half and half.
Q Joe, does the White House hold out any hope that it can defeat a resolution against launching impeachment hearings tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: I think -- one of the things -- and it's probably not appropriate for this discussion in this room, but I haven't seen a whole lot of conversation or I haven't read a whole lot in the newspaper about the whip count on the other side. I think this is a -- as I said yesterday, this, for the Republican Party, has become part of an electoral strategy. And I don't believe that, given we've seen this played out over the last month, that at the eleventh hour they're likely to change their strategy.
Q Joe, let me follow that. If it's part of an electoral strategy for the Republican Party, why is it not appropriate for the President to suggest to the American public that those lawmakers the public feels have been to partisan about this issue should be voted out of office?
MR. LOCKHART: Because the President feels that the message he should be making and the message he should be taking to the American public is about the issues that you've heard him talk about -- about Social Security, the environment, health care bill of rights. That's what's appropriate for the President to take to the people.
Q So the reason you're not even trying to sell your viewpoint to Republicans is you believe this is just their strategy? I mean, the only hope is among Democrats?
MR. LOCKHART: I think you're looking at one part of the process. But if we learned anything from the process in Judiciary Committee, it is that the Republicans are united to move this process forward in the way they want it to. They don't want to look at the standards. They want to launch the investigation first and then at the end decide, okay, now we'll figure out what an impeachable offense is. They don't want it to be focused on what they got from the Starr referral. They want to keep their options open so they can bring some other things in if they need to. And they don't want to do this on a tight time frame, where we can bring this matter to some conclusion.
Q Joe, didn't they effectively set the standard when they voted the other day? The committee said basically that they believe the things that they're looking at now could be impeachable; therefore, that's the standard that they've set.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't think they spent time talking about what the standards is.
Q I mean by voting yes or no -- if they had gotten an allegation of a speeding ticket --
MR. LOCKHART: How would we know that? How would we know unless they went in a session and actually debated? I mean, I'm not sure I understand what --
Q They had a presentation from both sides -- both counsels, and they voted to go ahead with it.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that what is important in the Democratic alternative is that you have a real process. I'm not talking about someone sitting down and speaking for an hour. You have a process where you look at the standards, you look at the historical precedence. That, in our view, would be more fair and I think the American public believes that.
Q Joe, based on the nose counting you've done, can you talk about what the expectation is here, how many Democrats you're going to lose tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Why aren't you willing to make the argument that an inquiry is not warranted?
MR. LOCKHART: We have made the argument that we don't think that anything here is an impeachable offense. We delivered a document, a very well-reasoned and well-written document that says that this does not reach the standards of impeachment. So I think that is our position.
Q You think that no inquiry should go forward, not even the Democratic version?
MR. LOCKHART: We think, based on what is in the Starr referral, there is nothing that approaches an impeachable offense.
Q Joe, on that, is it still the White House contention, the White House belief that the President's testimony in the Paula Jones deposition and before the grand jury, that in neither of those cases was there perjury?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Joe, is it possible that one of the reasons you're not able to exert much influence on Congress on this matter is that the President has just lost a lot of clout?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. If you look at what's going on in the appropriations process -- and we're in the middle of the game, so there's still some time to go -- but I think we are moving forward, we are pushing many of the priorities that the President has laid out. We're still fighting on some things. We've actually made some progress. I think this goes to what the President said is, this is an issue that the members are going to have to decide and it's not appropriate for us to push.
Q Can you give us an update on the talks on the IMF funding and what stumbling blocks may remain?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we saw some indication yesterday from some other Republican leadership that they now believe that they should move towards providing the $18 billion to the IMF. I think there remains some stumbling blocks.
We are committed to reforms and to increasing transparency within the IMF and we've worked with the IMF on that. Some of the other conditions that were laid down, I think Treasury is probably in a better position to give you the point-by-point position. But we still have some distance to go, but I think we're making some progress on that.
Q Joe, just to follow up on what Wendall said about perjury, Shippers changed some of the counts to be about false statements, not perjury, which is a different legal definition. Is it also your position that the President did not make any false statements?
MR. LOCKHART: That is a legal question; let me check with the lawyers on it. I have not addressed that with them.
Q Can you give us an update on any progress you've made in the budget talks? You just talked about the IMF, which is part of the whole deal.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. We have a series of meetings up on the Hill today where we're really trying to get this process going. Jack Lew, the OMB Director, and Larry Stein, our Legislative Affairs Chief, met with the appropriators this morning. I think that conversation focused on some of the language problems that still remain between Democrats, the White House, and the Republicans. He's meeting with them again --
MR. TOIV: Jack is meeting with them again this afternoon.
MR. LOCKHART: Jack is meeting with them again this afternoon. I think the same group will meet with the ranking minority members of Appropriations this afternoon. And Erskine Bowles will go up this evening.
MR. TOIV: I'm sorry, Jack is meeting with the Appropriations Chairman and the committee members.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, so he's meeting with the group of four.
Q Would there be any possibility that he will reach agreement by this Friday? Will there be another continuing resolution?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't predict what happens between now and Friday. I can only say that our team is up there and that they're determined to get this done. And they're determined to convince Congress that it's time for them to finish their work. We are down here waiting for them to finish their work, but we're working very closely with them to try to narrow any gaps that remain.
Q On IMF, has there been progress on any of the other issues?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I haven't gotten a report back --
MR. TOIV: Some progress has been made on language.
MR. LOCKHART: A lot of the language issues that they were discussing this morning involve some of the environmental riders that are sprinkled through several of the appropriations bill. We're making some progress, but I can't offer you an assessment of what the ultimate result will be at the end of today or tomorrow.
Q On Kosovo, do you have an update?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. The President is meeting with his foreign policy team now. He's getting the latest assessment of the situation on the ground, an assessment of Ambassador Holbrooke's meeting that continue in Belgrade.
Are they in now?
MR. LEAVY: I don't know if they're in right now. I don't think so.
Q Is Holbrooke leaving today?
MR. LEAVY: He's supposed to come back today.
Q -- have another meeting, though, wasn't he?
MR. LEAVY: He was supposed to have another meeting today --
MR. LOCKHART: I expect there is another meeting today and we'll get a report when we can for you.
Q It's over.
Q Let me rephrase the question. Do you have a report from the Holbrooke meeting today?
MR. LOCKHART: The President is getting it right now. Let me give you an overall assessment. We, as we've stated here over the last few days, believe that President Milosevic needs to comply fully in a way that's verifiable, full, durable with the U.N. resolution, U.N. Resolution 1199. We don't see that full compliance on the ground. Ambassador Holbrooke has made it very clear that there are potential further consequences to compel that compliance if President Milosevic does not change his behavior.
Q No breakthrough in the meeting today?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q When will those potential further consequences materialize?
MR. LOCKHART: One of the things the President is being briefed on is -- as you know, Secretary Albright has announced that she will be in Europe tomorrow meeting with NATO Secretary General Solano and the Contact Group. And we expect sometime in the next few days the NAC to meet and to discuss and potentially authorize further action.
Q Joe, the President today basically said that even in the best-case scenario in Kosovo, that it's going to require some form of ground forces. Is he prepared to commit U.S. troops there?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President went through a sequence that even if we reached full compliance at a date certain, there would be some force they would need to verify that there was compliance. Because one of the things we talked about is that the Kosovar Albanians need to live in an environment where they not only have self-rule, where they have the belief that they're living without the fear of repression and violence. So I think there is some sense that there needs to be, whether it be under U.N. auspices or OSCE, a force that would verify the compliance with U.N. resolution. And there's no talk that I'm aware of of U.S. involvement in that.
Q So there's not. I mean, he's not considering U.S. troops?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, as the President said in his further comments, that if there is a need down the road beyond a further political settlement for a monitoring force, there will be discussions with our allies, there will be consultations with Congress, and there will be -- it will be at that point if there will be any contemplation for any role for the U.S. in that force.
Q So it could go either way still, he's open to the monitoring?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think if there is a political settlement there may be the need for that. But that is something into the future where we'll have to discuss and consult with allies and with our Congress on, if there's a role, if any, for the U.S.
Q You saw that Secretary Cohen yesterday testified that he's opposed to using ground forces to try to resolve the situation in Kosovo.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think what he was talking about -- and I don't think there is any discussion at this point -- as far as next steps on using ground forces, what NATO has planned for, the planning and what they've begun to take the steps to authorize is air strikes.
Q Do you believe that air strikes alone can convince Milosevic to stop what he's doing in Kosovo?
MR. LOCKHART: We believe and the NATO planners believe that air strikes can significantly degrade President Milosevic's ability to continue this repression and violence against the Kosovar Albanians.
Q On ground troops, if the time comes that U.S. forces will be in an open-ended monitoring situation, would the White House ever support a public referendum on this or --
MR. LOCKHART: I think there were three hypotheticals and that's too much for my brain.
Q Joe, the South Korean President is in Tokyo meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister this week and one of the ideas they'll be discussing is six-party talks to address North Korea. As you know, there were four-party talks, as the President and the previous South Korean President proposed a couple of years ago. Is the U.S. amenable to opening the four-party talks to Japan and Russia?
MR. LOCKHART: I am not familiar with this issue. I think I would direct you to either Colonel Crowley or Mr. Leavy after the briefing.
Q Joe, do we have fixed dates for Mr. Arafat and Netanyahu to come here? It's supposed to be next week.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I believe that the Secretary of State made some comments in the region today. She announced that they would be coming here October 15. They will be meeting at the Wye Plantation, which I believe is on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Reflecting her comments, she talked about a sense of a new spirit there, that they've made progress on further redeployments and security on some interim issues.
The President, as he said to you this morning, looks forward to working in this process as appropriate, and being involved. I don't know what the time frame of it is. But, again, the Secretary talked about a new spirit, and I'll remind you that ultimately it is for the parties and only the parties can narrow the differences. And we stand ready and the President stands ready to help them in that process.
Q Is the President going to be going to the Wye Plantation to participate in that summit?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he will participate as appropriate, and we'll be looking at those issues as we go forward.
Q But does that mean going to the Wye Plantation or bringing them here?
MR. LOCKHART: That could.
Q He's planning to travel on Friday and Saturday after that. Is it possible he'll cancel that or postpone it in order --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any changes in the travel schedule now. But if that becomes necessary we'll let you know.
Q He did say he tried to block a couple of days.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Joe, the President listed this morning a number of legislative initiatives that the Republicans have killed -- tobacco, campaign finance reform, I think patients' bill of rights and some others. Does the President or does the White House feel that they could have lobbied more aggressively for that legislation if Lewinsky matter didn't get in the way, that the Republicans might have taken other action on it if the Lewinsky matter wasn't --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think that -- my impression is that the Republican leadership was determined to block at least the three that you've mentioned. We know that the Majority Leader of the Senate closed the House down -- closed the Senate down for four hours so that he wouldn't have to bring up an HMO bill of rights. It's hard to understand why you wouldn't want to, if you have strong feelings on it, just vote on it. We know about what -- the maneuvers that have gone on continually for the year on campaign finance reform and also on tobacco.
Q So do you feel this controversy gave the Republicans cover to do take those actions without a great public outcry?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think these are issues that are very popular with the public. They want action on an HMO bill of rights. They want action on campaign finance reform. They want a comprehensive tobacco settlement. And this will be up to the public. I can't speculate on what kind of cover the Republicans may have had.
Q Do you have anything on the reports of the French finding traces of nerve gas on Iraqi warheads?
MR. LOCKHART: My understanding is there were some American tests that were done where they found traces where the Iraqis had weaponized the VX. There are some preliminary reports coming out from France, but we -- UNSCOM is expecting a detailed report from the French on another fragment.
COLONEL CROWLEY: The U.S. tests confirm the weaponization of VX. These other tests are looking into how broadly that weaponization took place and we're awaiting those results.
Q Have the French inspectors delayed telling us about it to avoid sanctions against Iraq? I mean, I know they're already imposed, but that was the thrust of the report.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have anything on that. I suggest you go to UNSCOM.
Q Treasury Secretary Rubin and President Clinton have called repeatedly over the last few days for Japan to take more effort to stimulate their economy. Yesterday Prime Minister Obuchi announced a new fiscal stimulus. Was that enough in the category of fiscal stimulus? Obviously, they need banking reform --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not sure I'm in a position to characterize what enough is, but we think -- we've been saying for months now that they need to take positive steps forward on things like fiscal stimulus, banking reform, deregulation, opening markets. At this point, I think we want to focus more on what the actions are, rather than what plans are in the works, so I think we'll withhold. We do view additional steps toward fiscal stimulus, though, to be positive.
Q So they have to actually deliver -- that's what you're saying?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, yes.
Q Do you have any answers on the drug testing questions from yesterday from the prospective Cabinet members?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I didn't look into it. Oh, the Cabinet members? Yes, I'm sorry. Barry informs me that Cabinet members -- that Cabinets have drug testing policies that are done department by department.
Q This was for prospective nominees.
MR. TOIV: The testing is done --
MR. LOCKHART: By department by department, and each department sets their own drug testing policy.
Q But when Browner was discussing this yesterday, she was talking about, I guess, during the transition because they were originally --
MR. LOCKHART: I am not familiar with her actual testimony, but we did check, and the policies for drug testing are set by department individually, so that there is some degree of differences even within each department.
Q Has the testimony raised any concern for the White House?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. I think -- because I've described the policy to be what it is.
END 2:10 P.M. EDT