THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The Briefing Room
11:48 A.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: I think we're going to have to take you all outside probably in the next 15 minutes so --
Q To do what, shoot us? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, to the woodshed or to behind the Oval. Questions?
Q What about a budget deal? What do you hear now?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we've been making progress since they started sitting down last week and going through these issues. But as we've said before, there remains some serious stumbling blocks, particularly on education, class size, hiring 100,000 new teachers, school modernization. And we continue to work with the Republicans to try to reach some sort of agreement.
Q School construction was one of the things the President dropped last year to get the balanced budget deal. Why is he so adamant about it this year that we would get five days in a row on this subject three weeks from an election?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think as you heard from the President yesterday, there's the recent GAO study that says that one-third of schools around this country are in some need of either modernization or repair.
Obviously, you know from this President that education, he believes, is the key to our future. He's talked about this repeatedly through the year. You're right that we had to drop this demand last year to reach the balanced budget agreement, and the President committed at the time that he would come back this year --and not a week or two has gone by this year where he hasn't spoken about the need for school modernization.
Q IMF, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: On IMF, we've certainly made significant progress over the last few days. We seemed to have rounded the corner on the issue of the funding. There remains some issues that Treasury and the Congress are trying to work out, but we've made a lot of progress.
Q Joe, when you talk about the IMF, just to clarify, this whole issue of Mexico City is never mentioned anymore. Is it your expectation that Republicans would not be going to these lengths to come up with some kind of a compromise on reform if they didn't also plan to ask Chris Smith to stand down?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I can't speak for them, but I haven't heard Mexico City in the context of these negotiations over the last few days.
Q On IMF, there was a couple of stories this morning saying that there's basically a deal on IMF. Are those stories just basically wrong, or not that --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think what I've said is we've made significant progress. We have moved the ball on the issue of the funding. There are still a few issues that we're working out, but we think we've made substantial progress.
Q But what I also wanted to ask you was, the meetings this morning, can you characterize the meetings of this morning: who the administration people met with, what issues were focused on in particular, and what kind of progress was made?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, our people went up today and met with the Democrats, with the Democratic leadership -- and that would be Erskine, John Podesta, Larry Stein, Jack Lew. And I think, not surprisingly, they focused on the education issues that we've been talking about that remain as differences between our position -- the Democrat's position -- and the Republican's. I think they also --we've spent some time on some of the environmental issues, both funding and language issues.
Q Joe, on the IMF again, on the reform issue, you indicated this morning that there doesn't seem to be much problem between the White House's position and the Congress' position on reforming and some of the internal things going on --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think the White House has made clear that we believe -- and I think the IMF has spoken to this and has made clear that there are reforms there to make it more efficient and transparent there. But we have said along, also, that we don't believe that any specific reform should hold up the desperate need to get the money, to get the U.S. share, into the IMF.
Q Congressional Democrats are also objecting to a Republican plan in a Labor HHS bill to have a provision that would allow HMOs to have a morals exception, so they could deny coverage of contraception. Is that something the President would veto?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. Let me check, and I'll come back to you on that. I'm not aware of that provision.
Q Joe, on the education issue, how do you expect to resolve this when you have the Ways and Means chairman saying that the offsets that are being proposed are nothing more than poison- filled tax hikes?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we have made our case since the beginning of the year for the need for school modernization. Again, the President has talked about it throughout the year, speech after speech. We are willing to look at -- if he has other ideas on how to pay for it, we're certainly willing to talk.
The problem at this point is that we haven't even received a counter-offer on this issue. For the Republicans, the idea of modernizing schools and using the approach that we've taken through leveraging tax breaks is a non-starter.
Q Well, is there still time to do a tax bill now? I mean, Archer has a proposal, Roth has a proposal, now the administration has one. I mean, is it still possible to get --
MR. LOCKHART: They are in the process of doing one; so, yes.
Q Can you give us some details about what's going to happen on Thursday in the Mideast talks and what the President's participation is going to be?
MR. LOCKHART: I cannot give you more details right now. I hope to quite soon, beyond that he will participate Thursday and then moving forward as necessary or as appropriate.
Q But will they still come here and meet with him in the Oval Office? What do you --
MR. LOCKHART: Those are the details that I had hoped to have for you today. I don't have them yet. I'll provide them as soon as I can.
Q Has there been any contact with the Judiciary Committee this morning?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. Charles Ruff, the Counsel, is awaiting a phone call from Mr. Shippers. They agreed last week to talk today, meet as early as today, but I think that's probably not likely now. But I expect they'll both talk today and arrange for some sort of meeting.
Q Joe, is the President considering a formal press conference in the near future?
MR. LOCKHART: I am. I haven't talked to him about it yet.
Q You're going to hold a press conference?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm considering asking him to hold one. We're working on one. As soon as I have something, I'll let you know.
Q Joe, the World Trade Organization has just recently given a ruling against U.S. environmental laws. Does the U.S. intend to abide by that ruling on -- and what does that say about the WTO as far as U.S. compliance down the line?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think one of the things it does say is that the WTO will take environmental standards into consideration. And I think that should be viewed as a positive move. I think there has been some discussions about the WTO's ability to look at environmental issues and I think this case, in particular, indicates that they will take environmental standards in view.
Q Joe, what about this issue of the President campaigning for Schumer, who's on the Judiciary Committee? I mean, is there any way that Schumer could cast a vote to impeach the President when the President was just up there raising -- I guess it was about $1 million for him?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, as I said yesterday, I don't really see that as a legitimate issue. I think that Congressman DeLay is being somewhat disingenuous when he raises these issues. He's well renowned as a fundraiser. His tactics have been written about and are well known, and I just don't take that as a serious criticism. I think it's more politics.
Q Well, why is it not a serious criticism? It's a lot of money and wouldn't Schumer be reluctant to vote to impeach the President after he --
MR. LOCKHART: I think Mr. Schumer and others have spoken out and spoken their mind, voted what they thought is right on principle and conscience, and I don't see this as a legitimate issue.
Q Republican leaders are also complaining that in the tax area the Democrats and the White House have moved this extender's bill, which was only about $9 billion, all the way up to up to $23 billion. And I just wondered what the White House reaction is to that -- this last-minute, 11th-hour expansion of these extenders?
MR. LOCKHART: To tell you truth, I'm not familiar with all of the details of the extenders, so I'm not quite sure what the provisions are that have moved it up.
Q If you can't resolve the education portion of this package, would the White House be willing to accept solely just the extenders if they're paid for?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, you mean the education modernization in the extender's bill?
Q If you can't agree to the education portion of that package, would the White House be willing to accept solely the extenders, the extension of --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that's exactly what we're talking about now, and is trying to move school modernization forward. So that's a hypothetical that I can't answer.
Q Joe, why wouldn't the President avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest with Schumer? Why not send the Vice President to the Schumer fundraiser? Why was it imperative that the President had to be there?
MR. LOCKHART: Because if we had sent the Vice President, you'd be asking the very same questions.
Q The Vice President doesn't have an impeachment proceeding pending against him. Schumer's on the Judiciary Committee. It's a legitimate question. Why not avoid the appearance of a conflict?
MR. LOCKHART: As I said, I don't think Congressman DeLay is being genuine in his criticism. I think he's trying to score partisan, political points on an issue that we have said over and over again should not be partisan, should not be political.
Q Forget about DeLay. Forget about DeLay. There's still the appearance, at least, of a conflict of interest there.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the appearance is in the eye of the beholder.
Q The extension of the question then is if Schumer is successful and becomes a member of the United States Senate, should a bill of impeachment be presented, it will clearly go over to next year, to the next Senate. He then becomes a judge. Senator Byrd said, don't tamper with this jury. Wouldn't that then be even a more critical problem?
MR. LOCKHART: I think helping like-minded Democrats around the country who believe in a patients' bill of rights, who believe in preserving Social Security, who believe in protecting the environment and who believe in promoting education is a completely, appropriate activity for the President.
Q But Schumer would have to recuse himself then, would he not, on the grounds that he was elected because, to some extent, the money the President helped raise for him. Now he's supposed to be a juror? He'd have to say, I can't sit on this jury.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't believe that proposition.
Q Will Governor Glendening be at the event today?
MR. LOCKHART: I think so, yes.
Q Was there an arrangement made with regard to that? There had been some talk about doing this event maybe in Virginia.
MR. LOCKHART: We talked about going to various places, looked at various locations for this. When we decided on this yesterday, we issued an invitation to the Governor and, as I'm told, he's going to attend.
Q Was it decided to do it in Maryland, in part, in order to provide opportunity for the two of them to come together, given the Governor's statements?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think that that was a compelling reason.
Q Has Glendening sent a letter to the President apologizing for statements, because I understand that he's been in Maryland saying, we all make mistakes -- his own way of apologizing, that he sent a letter to the President.
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware he sent a letter, no.
Q Thank you.
END 12:00 P.M. EDT