THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The Briefing Room
1:58 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Questions?
Q Henry Hyde has come out and said that he favors a narrower inquiry of the President. What's your reaction?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, as we've said from the beginning, that we believe that the first step you need to take is to have an objective standard by which to measure any of the charges against -- whether it's two charges, 10 charges, 15 charges. And we think that the committee and the Congress should take a look at the standard issue first.
As far as whether they're going to narrow or not, I think it's unclear. There's been some back and forth and some mixed reporting. The President has said and been clear that he believes the process should be fair, nonpartisan and timely. We look forward to seeing some of the details of whatever the Chairman's plan is and we'll assess them when we see them.
Q Joe, the Chairman also said that that deadline could be lifted if the White House doesn't cooperate.
MR. LOCKHART: The deadline could be lifted?
Q Yes. If the White House doesn't cooperate, then the deadline wouldn't hold -- the December 31st deadline.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we're looking forward to going up and sitting down and talking to the committee. That hasn't happened yet, but I expect it will happen later this week or next week -- look at what the rules they plan to proceed on. And we look forward to those discussions and we'll start them when it's appropriate, when the committee wants to reach out.
Q Joe, in the past you've said that you want to see a focused probe, and Hyde is speaking specifically about focusing on the core issues here. Isn't this something to be welcomed?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we have certainly said that we want something that's focused, something that first sets a standard for impeachment and then looks at the issues within the referral that the committee thinks is appropriate.
Again, I don't want to rush to any conclusion about what might be in the committee's mind, or in their thinking, or what might be in the newspaper about what's in the committee's mind are thinking. We look forward to talking to them, discussing what the standards of impeachment would be, how they plan to address that and then move forward from there.
Q The statement that he issued and speaks specifically of focus. Isn't this --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that the statement says that other issues -- in the past, the Chairman has said that he would consider other issues as they come in. If this statement is intended to signal or to say that those other issues now are off the table, then clearly that would be something that would make it more focused, and I think, in reality, would make it more timely. But I don't think we know that.
Q Could you just explain for the record why you think lying under oath is not an impeachable offense?
MR. LOCKHART: The standards of impeachment and why we believe they don't reach the standard here is laid out in the brief, which I refer you to, that the President's lawyers sent up to the Hill.
Q Can you just explain for the record why lying under oath is not one of those?
MR. LOCKHART: That is in the brief and I'm not going to get into each and every one of those arguments every day here. There's the brief. I'll give it to you if you don't have it, and you can read it.
Q But, Joe, that's actually not true. I mean, all your brief says is that you don't think that that rises to the level of an impeachable offense. It doesn't say, here's why it doesn't rise to the level of impeachable offense.
MR. LOCKHART: If you read the entire brief you'll see what our view is of what the standard should be. We have addressed other issues like that in previous filings with the committee which are all available to you.
Q Why do you think it's important the committee establish a standard? Will that help give you a target to set up your defense --
MR. LOCKHART: I think you need to decide what you believe an impeachable offense is before you move down the road to inquire and investigate those matters.
Q But is it your assumption that actually setting those standards could actually forestall the hearings? Could that make the hearings in some way moot, if they set standards and then decide --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that's for the committee to do. But I think they need to --
Q But is it possible?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that the committee needs to look at what a standard is. I think that is the first step in this process, not the second step.
Q Joe, Henry Hyde just said that there is going to be a subcommittee that will examine standards. And during Watergate, standards were not set in advance, the discussions occurred kind of simultaneously as the investigation was going on. Why isn't what Hyde has laid out in terms of the attention he is going to give to the standard discussion enough for you?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think if you look at the committee that is supposed to look at the standards, it was supposed to meet next week; now it looks like that's going to slip until after the election. I don't think they're planning to meet next week now. And we just believe that that is the first step.
Q So your argument is that they're meeting a week too late? I mean, they're doing what you're asking.
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think our argument is they're discussing this six weeks too late; that upon receipt of the referral and review of the referral they should have spent some time in an open session talking about what the standards are.
Q Joe, this morning you spoke of this as a trial balloon and that really politics is what's at play here.
MR. LOCKHART: I think, to be fair, it's hard this close to an election not to see some of these things through a political lens. We have a situation where there was a referral, now four or five weeks ago. There was a House vote last week where charges went from 11 to 15. And then this week, after the House vote, there seems to be some signals that they're being reduced. And, again, given this being this close to an election, it's hard to not sense that there may be some politics at work here.
Q You're sensing then a backlash?
Q -- the Republicans are going to -- meaning what?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't interpret. It's exactly what it is. I'm just saying that --
Q -- what do you have in mind?
Q Are you sensing that there is a backlash and that they're trying to deflate the backlash --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not in a position to interpret the signals. I think when you have this -- if this case indeed does come to pass, you have this stark a change, you have to look for the reasons. And this could have nothing to do with politics, but it's certainly a possibility.
Q Joe, it's already Wednesday afternoon. Has Mr. Shippers gone to talk with Mr. Ruff yet?
MR. LOCKHART: Not as of late this morning, which was the last time I checked.
Q Joe, you always have said you wanted a limited inquiry, didn't need to go over a lot of this ground again. The Democrats on the Hill are proposing a longer list of witnesses to apparently bring up than the Republicans would like to. Are those two things consistent?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there is some discussion going on in the committee, and probably more discussion going on in the press, about how they're going to proceed. We've said we want something that's fair, that's constitutional, and that gets done in a timely manner. And we haven't changed on that.
Q Is it necessary then to bring people who have already testified before the grand jury before the committee as well?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't speak to what the committee is deliberating about, what they're going to believe is necessary. But we do believe that whatever they do, it should be done in a timely way. That's our view. We've obviously stated it publicly.
Q Joe, how close are you to a budget deal, and where are the areas where there is still disagreement?
MR. LOCKHART: We've made significant progress. Let me tell you where we are as far as where the negotiators are. As I reported to you this morning, there were several meetings this morning, with both Democrats and the Republican leadership, and with the Democratic Caucus. They are now meeting with small groups up on the Hill to resolve some issues. The President will meet with Erskine and some of the budget team that's not on the Hill now, shortly, for just a quick update in the Oval. And then Erskine and the team will go back up to the Hill at 2:30 p.m. for a meeting with House Speaker Gingrich.
Q Is that going to be -- is there going to be a final deal at that meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, as I said, I think we've made significant progress on a wide range of issues. There remain some obstacles. And as those of you who are familiar with negotiations, you need to get through and deal with the all of the issues, because there is inter-relationships on some of the remaining issues with things that have been agreed upon. We don't have a budget deal until we have all the issues agreed to.
Q Is the census still an obstacle?
MR. LOCKHART: There is still some discussion going on on that subject.
Q What about the education, and have the Democrats accepted a possible compromise?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think education remains on the table. We're still debating the issues and pushing for putting 100,000 teachers in classrooms. I understand the Republicans have made some arguments about sending the money out, but just sending it without any target or restrictions. We disagree. We believe that the money should go out and should go for teachers and should go for putting teachers in classes and getting class sizes smaller.
We think that, in a way, we've rerun this argument from several years ago when we had the COPS program. And with the COPS program, we had the same argument, where we argued that federal money can be used to promote the idea of community policing and get more cops on the street. And that's worked. And, in fact, I mentioned this morning that there are even some Republicans now who are touting the COPS program. In the Minnesota Senate race, the Mayor of St. Paul is using an ad on the air right now talking about putting more cops on the street, which he got through a COPS grant.
So we believe it's important that we get the money to local school districts, where we agree with the Republicans, but we get the money there with a target of hiring teachers and lowering class sizes. And it's not a serious argument when they start arguing about bureaucrats in Washington because this doesn't -- this is money that goes to local schools, not to the bureaucracy.
Q Are you willing to forego the money on construction?
MR. LOCKHART: On school modernization, I think earlier in the week, last week, we had high hopes that we could move them and get some sort of agreement on modernizing 5,000 schools. I think, to be frank, those hopes have faded in the last few days. To express the view of the President, he can't understand why the idea of using a tax break to spend $5 billion over five years, leveraged to $22 billion, to the local communities to rebuild 5,000 schools has become a partisan issue, has become one that the Republicans are so entrenched against and are unwilling to cede any ground. But I think, as I said, to be frank, the hopes are fading on that.
Q Joe, this is the second time that you're going to have given up on something that the President has fought long and hard for. Why not just say, I'm not going to sign the budget until you give me the school construction money?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we have a lot of issues. One of the problems with the process of leaving all your work until the end and being months and months late, and not passing a budget for the first time in 24 years, and being this late with your work, and throwing so many pieces of legislation into an omnibus bill, and the fact that they have not moved a tax bill at all this year, is you sometimes get into a situation where you get -- and you work hard and provide to try to get as much as you can, and then you have to make decisions. I don't know that we're at that point yet. I'm reporting --
Q -- it sounds like, by waiting so long and not getting its work done, the Republican Congress has gotten its way on school construction. You're going to let them go home without giving the President one of his signature education policies. I mean, you have a choice here, too.
MR. LOCKHART: We have a choice, and we are -- we are up there and we're continuing to make our case. And if we are unable to get it, we will have delivered on much of the President's education agenda. But we will, again, continue to make the argument that it's incomprehensible to us how this has become such a partisan issue -- an idea that makes so much sense, that involves reducing taxes and giving money to local communities to modernize schools.
Q Joe, why is it incomprehensible when you've proposed offsets that they find -- or they consider poison pills?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I would look back at the argument -- I think we were pretty careful on the offsets to actually go and look at things that the Republicans in the past have endorsed. And in this case, the Republicans have endorsed this. So I don't understand why it's okay to use these offsets for spending or tax cuts that they believe are appropriate, but when it comes to school modernization, all of a sudden the tax cuts -- or the offsets are a poison pill. And they have endorsed this plan in the past.
Q The President said the offsets just went up to the Hill on Monday. Can you explain why they just went up Monday given that you're complaining that the Republicans dragged their feet for eight months?
MR. LOCKHART: Because that's the way the budget and the appropriation process works. You sit down and you decide. The President sent up a budget in February which was fully paid for with detailed offsets. We go through an eight-month process, which in this year was very much delayed and we're now into almost the second half of the first month of the next fiscal year, and you decide what you're going to spend and what money is going to be appropriated. And then you decide how you're going to pay for it.
Q How does the President feel about an extension until Friday midnight?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, given the complicated nature of trying to put this many bills into law at this late date, that I would expect a CR to come down tonight, which will go for a couple of days, that the President will sign. Even if they made an agreement right now, there is an enormous amount of checking and paperwork that has to be done that I don't think could be complicated by midnight.
Q Joe, is the IMF thing already worked out?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, as I reported yesterday, we're just about there. And to the extent we can report something to you, we will.
Q Is bankruptcy reform dead for this session?
MR. LOCKHART: We've made clear that we would be willing to sign a bill that was close to the Senate version, that balanced the obvious abuses in the system with the rights of consumers, particularly, middle to lower income consumers. Unfortunately, they've moved closer to the House version, which we find unacceptable. They're continuing to talk, but if it stays -- if many of the provisions that stay within the bill stay there is no way that we can sign that.
Q So you're still talking?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I believe that there are still some discussions. I don't know at what level or how serious.
Q Joe, on Kosovo, how many American "civilians" do you anticipate being there? And what are the contingency plans if any of them are hurt or taken hostage?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't have an exact number. Those things are working through OSCE now. There will obviously be, as the Pentagon described yesterday, a force over the -- an over-the-horizon force that can rapidly respond to any extraction that needs to be done.
I would say that if President Milosevic or anyone believes he can use this verification force to their own -- to pursue their own political ends, he would be gravely wrong and would suffer the most severe consequences.
Q What is the logic of having them unarmed, when everybody else over there is armed to the teeth?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think you're building on the KDOM force, which is these are verification, they're not -- they are there to verify and keep track of compliance with the U.N. resolution. I think the people -- there are others who are more expert than I am on this subject, but they are not a peacekeeping force. They are there to verify compliance. And KDOM has been there since -- yes, several months, in the same capacity and without incident.
Q Aren't they dependent on the Serbs to let them go places so they can verify?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, but I think if you look at the actual verification agreements, which will be signed in the next day or so, both the ground and air, there are unilateral rights of movement for these verifiers to move around. They have complete and total access.
Q Why isn't this just like Saddam Hussein and the weapons inspectors? I mean, it sounds like you're setting up a situation where you've got these people who are over there to inspect and verify, they're dependent on someone else that you don't really trust to let them into these certain areas to do their work.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't think you can make that comparison. My understanding is they have access, complete access to wherever they want to go. And if that access is limited in any way, then President Milosevic will not be in compliance.
Q But isn't that -- it sounds exactly like Iraq.
MR. LOCKHART: He will not be in compliance with the agreement and then he'll be subject to further steps.
Q Well, why isn't that exactly like Iraq?
MR. LOCKHART: You're asking me to compare something that's been in place for seven years with something that's being arranged and set up now. And we believe that based on the commitments made that this verification force will be able to give us on the ground, accurate, up to date assessments. And if they are not given unfettered access, then President Milosevic will not be in compliance and he will face further steps.
Q Joe, what is your assessment of the situation on the ground as of now? Is Milosevic moving closer to compliance? Is he anywhere near where he needs to be by Friday --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it's hard to say at this point. From what we've seen and heard from the ground there has not been a lot of movement to date. But we, obviously, have time. And what we are looking for -- and I've stated clearly -- is that he make substantial and real progress towards compliance by the end of this 96 hours.
Q But you haven't seen it yet?
MR. LOCKHART: Haven't seen it on the ground. But as I'm sure you know, there's a variety of things he needs to do, some of which he's already done. He made unilateral political statements yesterday about dialogue between his government and the Kosovar Albanians on self-rule. So he has done some things. There are other things that are going to take time and we are watching closely and will make an assessment at the end of the 96 hours.
Q Joe, where would these Americans come from and where would they be drawn from?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, my understanding is OSCE has a pool of people they use for monitoring operations and it's multinational. I think this one will be primarily European, but there are Americans. For instance, I think OSCE did Bosnian elections. There were thousands, I think, of OSCE people, some of them Americans, who were in monitoring Bosnian elections. So there is a pool of people that they draw from.
Q You don't have any rough idea what percentage of the 2,000 might be Americans?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't at this point, but when we do, we'll let you know.
Q Joe, on the Judiciary Committee, does the White House want to see testimony taken in the open or in closed session, as in the Rodino model?
MR. LOCKHART: The Rodino model being closed?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we look forward to having a discussion with them on seeing where they're going. I think it would be premature to express a view before we sat down and talked to them.
Q You don't have a view, then, on whether the testimony should be open or closed at this point?
MR. LOCKHART: I think what I said is we're going to sit down and talk to them, as we've told you, and we'll discuss what their intentions are and we'll express our views there in a more appropriate place.
Q If I could follow up, does it not cause any concern that the Chairman of the committee today said that the December 31st deadline is flexible and may move? What does that tell you?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we have laid out very clearly what we hope and we expect to happen, which is this process is fair, constitutional and timely. We have yet to sit down and discuss with the committee what their plans are. We look forward to doing that. And I think it would be more appropriate to discuss those conversations and what the committee has planned once we're in a better position to talk about them.
Q You're not looking for a hard deadline, then?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think as you know, we spoke favorably towards the Democratic alternative, which we thought was more focused, had a target date or a deadline that was sooner. We think that this thing should be done in a way that's timely and has a way that it does not get drawn out and moved to extraneous issues.
Q Joe, Senator Warner and some other senators are preparing or may have sent already a letter to President Clinton, which includes letters by ex-Secretary of State Eagleberger, Kissinger. They're suggesting the formation of a Kissinger-type of commission for Central America, this time for Cuba -- claiming that policy towards Cuba hasn't moved in 38 years and saying the Pope has visited, other delegations of the U.S. has gone. Does the President have a view on this?
MR. LOCKHART: We are aware through some reporting there is a Kissinger-Eagleberger proposal and that Senator Warner is preparing a letter to send down for the President's consideration -- has not been sent down yet as far as I know. And I think we'll want to take a chance to look at the letter, study what the ideas that they have in mind before we comment.
Q In the role of Richard Holbrooke in Kosovo, his attorney is saying it's just fresh evidence of what he can bring to the role of U.N. ambassador. Is there any further movement on his nomination, and where are you on that?
MR. LOCKHART: I think Ambassador Holbrooke's diplomatic credentials are unquestioned. I think what he could bring to the job at the U.N. is also unquestioned. But it would not be appropriate for me to discuss something that's under review at the Department of Justice.
Q Joe, can I come back to the budget talks. Can I get your bottom line? Is there a deal imminent? I mean, are you close to it at all for this afternoon?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we're getting down to the wire, but we still have some issues that we've got to work out. And it's just impossible to know until both sides slip across the table and say, we have an agreement, how long that will take.
Q But it sounds like you're saying that it could get wrapped up this afternoon. I mean is that possible?
MR. LOCKHART: That's certainly possible. I just can't put any odds on whether that will get done.
Q Joe, how about the emergency supplemental spending bills -- and the embassy security --
MR. LOCKHART: To tell you truth, I don't have any details on where that is in the process. I think it's one of the issues that I believe we've made progress on, but I'm not sure if it's settled. I can do some checking on that and come back to you.
Q In Israel, the Prime Minister had some sort of negative comments about -- because of the recent violence there, saying that he really was a little bit pessimistic about an agreement this weekend. Are there any fresh ideas that the President's going to bring to this to take away over some final status issues, Palestinian state, and also, what's the mood at the White House on the momentum for a deal?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think to your first point, there's been a couple of different things said and I'll let the Prime Minister speak for himself on his prospects for moving into these talks. The President has always said that it is our hope to bring the parties together, narrow the differences, move to an interim settlement, so that they can move to the difficult issues in the final status talks. But the important point is that we can't get there. We can't reach that point unless both parties come in the spirit of wanting to make an agreement. So, ultimately, it will be up to the parties.
Q But is there any -- I mean, there is concern about the Palestinian Authority President, Yasser Arafat, declaring a Palestinian state given the May 4th deadline. Is there any moves afoot by the U.S. to have at least Israel talk about considering a Palestinian state in the future after an interim deal --
MR. LOCKHART: I think -- and this may serve as an explainer for where we move tomorrow -- but that we believe that the parties have difficult issues to work through and we're going to let the parties work through these issues at the negotiating table with a minimum of comment from people like me. So I'm just not going to go into that. The parties will be here, they'll be working through issues and I'm going to leave it at that.
Q But there is a report that the U.S. is pressing Israel to consider a Palestinian state. Can you comment on the report?
MR. LOCKHART: Like I said, I think the parties have difficult issues to work through. They'll be here tomorrow, ready to get to work to try to narrow the gaps and move forward. And I'm going to leave it to the negotiating table, not from here.
Q Congressional Republican leaders are aggressively pressuring business and trade groups not to hire a Democrat as their chief executives and lobbyists. And specifically, they unsuccessfully sought to block former Democratic Congressman Dave McCurdy from becoming the head of a trade group. I was wondering what your take is on what's going on there.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I've seen the press reporting on this and it's not a new story. I think those of you who remember the Republicans coming in in 1995, Congressman DeLay was quoted widely saying that it's time to punish our enemies and reward our friends. He specifically brought groups into his office and sent a very clear message that if you want to do business with us you shouldn't have Democrats working for you. I think that that's a troubling attitude for a member of Congress to take, particularly when he's talking about one of his former colleagues. And I just think that Congress has enough work to do up there without seeking to get into the personnel departments of industries around town here.
Q Joe, if you should reach a budget deal this afternoon or early this evening, can we expect the President down here to talk about it?
MR. LOCKHART: I would expect that when we reach an agreement the President will probably have something to say about it.
Q Joe, just for the record, can you give us the schedule -- the President is going to participate with the leaders of Israel and --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I can give you a sense for tomorrow, and that's probably about it. The President will meet with the two leaders tomorrow about 10:00 a.m. here in the Oval Office. They will meet for about an hour. The President will then bring the two leaders to the Rose Garden, where the President will make a brief statement. The two leaders and the Secretary of State will then go off to the Eastern Shore to the Wye Plantation.
I expect sometime that afternoon, maybe around 3:00 p.m., the President to travel out to the Eastern Shore. He will open the plenary session at the Wye Plantation and then have a bilateral meeting with both -- with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Mr. Arafat. After that, I expect the three leaders to have dinner together, including the Secretary of State. And he will return here.
He will remain in close touch over the weekend, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, as necessary. And I would expect that he will probably make -- take some time to go out there over the weekend.
Q How about the trip to Chicago on Friday? Is that still on?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q The bilateral meetings, they will be separately with each leader, right?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Joe, this seems a tad inconsistent, because on the one hand you're saying you want to just put them in a room and let the two of them get things resolved. On the other hand, you describe the President as being actively involved in this, prepared to come in at a moment's notice. Isn't that --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think it's inconsistent. I think the United States plays a unique role in a dispute that's gone on for a long time. We can play the role of helping each side understand each other's position. But ultimately, you're right, it is up to the parties to make a peace. The U.S. cannot impose a peace. The parties must make a peace that they believe is in their interest.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. LOCKHART: Thank you.
END 2:26 P.M. EDT