THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS GAGGLE WITH JOE LOCKHART
The Briefing Room
10:53 A.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: I wanted to come in before we went off, because I haven't been here in a couple of days. Let me make a couple of event and travel announcements and then I'll get to today.
On Friday, this Friday, October 23, the President will host a roundtable event in the East Room to discuss retirement security for women.
On Thursday, October 29, the President will travel to Florida. The President will travel to Cape Canaveral to attend the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery from the Kennedy Space Center. The President is attending the launch to recognize Senator Glenn's historic return to space and to recognize the importance of our nation's space program and the hard work of the men and women that make that program possible.
He will also attend a reception for Congressman Peter Deutsch and Lt. Governor Buddy MacKay in West Palm Beach that day, and return late that evening.
Friday, October 30, the President will travel to New York City to attend an event for Chuck Schumer. The times on that are still TBD.
Q Is he going to California at all?
MR. LOCKHART: We are working to reschedule the events that needed to be postponed today and tomorrow. I expect we will reschedule those and that may come as early as this weekend.
Q There are no surrogates doing this, those events are --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think our focus right now is to try to reschedule. But we are working with the candidates now.
Q The President may travel this weekend?
MR. LOCKHART: He may.
Now, to today. The President will be in the Rose Garden at 11:30 a.m., where he will make a personnel announcement. I then expect him to leave at about 12:45 p.m. to return to the Wye Conference Center for the Middle East peace talks.
Q To meet King Hussein?
MR. LOCKHART: My understanding is King Hussein will be arriving on the Eastern Shore shortly after noon today. We asked the King to come -- he's been in the area for the last several days -- to come to the talks. We believe he can play a constructive role in the process there. As you know, the King enjoys enormous respect in the region and has played an important role in the peace process.
Q So what time do you think he'll get there?
MR. LOCKHART: King Hussein? I think sometime probably between 12:00 noon and 1:00 p.m.
Q Does his arrival signal a turn in negotiations in any way? Does it brighten prospects for an agreement?
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't try to read any conclusion into his arrival and his participation.
Q What are the prospects?
MR. LOCKHART: I'd say, obviously, that there is seriously work that's going on. The President was there again last night until late in the evening. Meetings have already begun there this morning with the Secretary of State and the delegations. But there are significant gaps between the parties, and the President is determined and focused on helping the parties make the tough choices they need to make to move the peace process forward.
Q The President has invested a lot of time, Joe. How is he helping the talks along? What is he doing with all of this time?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, without getting into the specifics of the talks, we have said to you that the President and the U.S. plays a unique role in helping the parties understand each other's position, helping them make the tough choices that need to be made. And I think the President enjoys a reservoir of goodwill and trust between the leaders and can help them in that respect.
Q But he's been at it for more than 40 hours and does not seem to have gotten anything out of it.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, Scott, I'd suggest that this peace process -- the President's been working on this since the day he came into his. There are difficult issues here, and I don't know that we can measure -- we should measure progress by hours spent.
Q What's the outlook for success?
MR. LOCKHART: I think I just answered that as best as I could.
Q Joe, is today the last day, or will it bleed into tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we are taking this, as Mr. Rubin said yesterday, day by day and meeting by meeting. So the only thing I can tell you is the President will go out there this afternoon.
Q There are reports from Maryland --
Q You really have had a blackout on the news at Wye.
MR. LOCKHART: That's correct. That's correct.
Q And there's been no sense of where the talks are going, so where are they going?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that's why we have the blackout. (Laughter.) I'm not trying to be --
Q What good does it do you? I mean --
MR. LOCKHART: We believe that the important work should be done at the negotiating table and shouldn't be influenced one way or the other by a report by a significant --
Q By the people involved?
MR. LOCKHART: By reporting or play-by-play of where things are.
Q You have had a blackout, but the Palestinian and Israeli delegations there have leaked like sieves to all news organizations and they both say they think there's going to be a signing ceremony here tomorrow morning.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me repeat what I said. There's obviously important work going on, but there is significant gaps between the parties.
Q Where are the gaps?
MR. LOCKHART: The President will return this afternoon to remain engaged --
Q But you don't rule out a signing ceremony, do you?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not ruling anything in or out.
Q The President will return this afternoon?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, the President will return to Wye this afternoon.
Q Joe, can you give us any fuller characterization of King Hussein's role? Will he be sitting down with the President and Netanyahu and Arafat at the same time? Will he be meeting individually with the various --
MR. LOCKHART: I can't give you a specific sense of what he'll be doing other than that we felt he could play a constructive role in the talks today and we thought it was important for him to come out to Wye.
Q Did the President ask him, or did he ask whether he could come?
MR. LOCKHART: I believe the invitation, the formal invitation came from the Secretary of State.
Q How's his health, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any recent update. As you know, he's just come from Minnesota, from the clinic, and has been in the Washington area for the last few days.
Q Joe, is a complete interim agreement still within reach, or are we now to a point where you're trying to pick and choose items where an agreement can be brought?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, without getting into the substance of what's being talked about, our objective remains the same, which is to reach an agreement on the interim issues so we can move to final status talks.
Q All of the interim issues?
MR. LOCKHART: That remains our objective.
Q Oftentimes it comes to a point where negotiators might just throw up their hands and say, we can't reach agreement. Do you see any point along the way or any deadline that you might want to set?
MR. LOCKHART: Oftentimes negotiators reach that point. We have not reached that point.
Q Joe, back on California, why does the President still feel it's important to go out there and campaign for Boxer and the remainder of these candidates?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, as we've said from time to time, the President thinks it's important to help Democrats obtain the resources they need to compete. If you look around the country, particularly in -- you'll see in the next few remaining days between now and the election, the Democrats will be out-raised and out-spent by three or four to one. And I think he thinks it's important to lend his support to Democratic candidates around the country, and California is a very important race.
Q Do you have any comment or explanation for the trade deficit figures announced this morning?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think what we're seeing is some of the residual effects of the Asian financial crisis and some of the global turmoil. If you look at the numbers, you'll see that primarily we've seen a reduction in our exports, and if you look at where, you'll see that the primary drop is in Asia. So I think in a large respect, it has to do with what's going on the world -- the financial community. And I think that lends importance to what the President's been talking about -- about putting in a short-term strategy to restore economic growth around the world, a longer-term strategy to develop a new financial architecture for the 21st century, and his emphasis on Japan -- restoring domestic growth in Japan, as the leader in the Asian economy.
Q Joe, how do you think the resolution of the budget talks last week, the way in which they were resolved, is going to affect the November 3rd elections? Has that changed the political environment?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think -- I'm not sure how it changes the environment. I think it sharpened the focus on the differences between the approaches between the two parties, particularly on the issue of education and the environment and protecting -- saving Social Security through protecting the surplus. I think there may be just as much focus on what didn't get done as far as the Democrats pushing forward on health care bill of rights, campaign finance reform, tobacco deal.
So, to the extent that the focus was sharpened between the different philosophies of the party, that probably will be helpful to voters who are trying to make their decisions.
Q Will it be helpful to Democrats?
MR. LOCKHART: We believe that we've made a strong case for these issues, so if you look at these issues, it's certainly our hope that it will help Democratic candidates. I can't predict the future, though.
Q Joe, does anybody in the White House take issue with the remarks made last night in Pittsburgh by a predecessor?
MR. LOCKHART: Who's that? (Laughter.)
Q Mike McCurry last night.
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, him. Yes. (Laughter.) I think Mike, if you look at the whole remarks, paid a pretty extraordinary tribute to the President and his ability as both a domestic -- I think he called him an "exceptionally gifted" domestic leader and foreign leader -- as a world leader with the respect he gets around the world.
As to the subject of personal behavior, there's no one who can be tougher on the President than the President himself.
Q It appears as if he's letting off some steam or that he's angry at people here for some reason.
MR. LOCKHART: That's not the impression I took from the wires story I saw. That's all I saw.
Q You say no one can be tougher. There was some tough talk by General Colin Powell who said that the President disappointed him -- he said that the President disgraced himself and his office. The President agrees with that?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President has been -- no one has been tougher than the President has on himself, and others have been --
Q Why do you say that?
Q I mean, to say that you're a disgrace to the office as well as yourself --
MR. LOCKHART: I think he's entitled to his opinion, and I think if you go back and look at the remarks the President made at the prayer breakfast, he was awfully tough on his own behavior.
Q Has the Pentagon put a muzzle on people, on members of the military or retired people about saying unflattering things about the President?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of anything along those lines except for something I saw on a news story this morning. So you'd have to check over there.
Q Well, that's what I mean. What does the President think about these reports that say that the Pentagon, the military is muzzling officers, anybody who says anything about the President?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, I'm not aware of what's going on there. And I haven't talked to the President about that.
Q Is the President concerned that his behavior is affecting the morale in the Armed Forces?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. I think the President has enormous respect for the men and women in uniform in this country and I think that respect is reciprocated.
Q As a matter of policy, should they have the right to criticize the President?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, as a matter of policy, you should ask the military services on what their policy is. I'm not expressing a view here.
Q Joe, would the White House prefer, though, that the rank and file of the military, that the officers and enlisted people not comment publicly about the President's controversy?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that that's an internal matter for the military services, and we respect their right to --
Q But the President is the Commander in Chief of those military.
MR. LOCKHART: I understand. But we respect their right to make their own decisions.
Q Joe, is the White House Counsel's Office still planning on meeting tomorrow with counsel for the House Judiciary Committee? And if so, could you tell us what's on the agenda or what the White House hopes to achieve at that meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: My understanding is there will be a meeting tomorrow, although I don't have a time. But we'll get that for you, obviously. I think it's a preliminary meeting to go up and find out what the rules of the road are, to find out how the committee is planning to move forward over the next weeks and months. And I think the message that we will bring is that we hope this process is fair and that the process is constitutional and that we will have a serious discussion sometime soon on what the standards are. I think that's very simply what the message will be, and they'll go up to listen.
Q A Navy destroyer captain apparently has been relieved of his command because of an alleged sexual impropriety that the Navy says it's going to investigate. Spell out the difference between that type of action and the Commander in Chief when allegations about alleged impropriety is made against him.
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not familiar with the military code, so I can't. And if it's something that they're looking into, it wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment on it.
Q Well, I'm not asking you to comment on the case, Joe. I'm asking you the case about tell us what the difference is of standards.
MR. LOCKHART: Sam, I don't know the details, so I can't draw a distinction on what the differences might be.
Q At tomorrow's meeting, Joe, is it still the intention of the White House to press for a subcommittee hearing on standards?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it had been our hope that there would be some discussion of that. I believe the latest information is they're not going to have any meeting, whether it be a full committee or subcommittee, any discussion on standards before the election. So I think it certainly was our hope, but I certainly think we -- I think we know we're going to be disappointed on that hope.
Q Are you about to name John Podesta's as Chief of Staff?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm going to let the President make the announcement, but I can tell you that it is bittersweet for the person who is leaving, but everybody here at the White House is excited about the person who is staying.
Q Does the White House have a position on some of the Democratic members on the Judiciary Committee trying to bring Kenneth Starr to testify?
MR. LOCKHART: There's been lots of talk about what might happen, who could be called, whom might not be called. We're actually looking forward to moving forward to the meeting tomorrow, getting a sense of where the committee is going and having a real conversation between the White House Counsel's Office and the committee, rather than some of the stuff that has been in the paper.
Q Is it only going to be White House Counsel, or is Mr. Kendall going to go also?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know the answer to that. I'll get it for you. I assume that Mr. Ruff will be taking along some of his colleagues.
Q What's the President's personal view about the appeal's court case this morning in the Paula Jones suit that's being argued in St. Paul?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President believes his counsel will make strong and compelling arguments why the lower court ruling should stand.
Q Is settlement still possible?
MR. LOCKHART: You'd have to ask Mr. Bennett. He's involved in those talks.
Q Would the President like to settle, I mean, get this out of the way?
MR. LOCKHART: That is something that the President has talked to Mr. Bennett about, so you should talk to him.
Q I'm asking you what the President's view is.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm telling you that the President has spoken to his personal attorney on this matter, and he can express his view on that.
Q Has the President made any comments about the two young white men who were let off after that beating of the young black bicyclist, especially since when that incident happened, it kind of sparked the race initiative?
MR. LOCKHART: Right. I need to check with him, April, because I have not talked to him about it in the last couple of days. So let me check with him and see.
Q What's the administration's view then?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I haven't seen the reporting on that, so I'll check into that and try to come back to you.
Q Are they going to attempt to bring on stipulations tomorrow, where they agree on certain facts of the case? And also are they going to discuss witnesses at this meeting tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't believe that either of those issues have been raised by the committee as items on the agenda for tomorrow.
Q Are they going -- did the President find some surrogates for the trip?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that we're focusing on trying to find a way to reschedule at this point.
Q Joe, if you are familiar with the agenda for tomorrow, what is on the agenda?
MR. LOCKHART: Just what I said, which is it's a meeting to discuss where they're going to go from here. There was some suggestions last week that the committee was going to come with a list of stipulations and things like that, and we have not heard that from the committee; we've only seen it in press reports.
Q Joe, on the Jones matter, are there any circumstances under which the President would involve Abe Hirschfeld in the settlement of the Jones matter? Does the President want Hirschfeld to butt out, is what I'm getting at.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think there's been any real contact between Mr. Hirschfeld and Mr. Bennett. As I think I reported to you last week, his representatives attempted to get in touch with Mr. Bennett to talk to him, and the message back was he didn't feel it was appropriate to have those contacts.
Q Joe, you were asked yesterday at the gaggle, can we get you on the record as far as the tension of General Pinochet and London?
MR. LOCKHART: Sure, we believe that is a matter for the U.K. -- United Kingdom -- and the government of Spain.
Q But you added --
Q But you added something yesterday --
MR. LOCKHART: Oh. Without commenting on the specifics of this case or the allegations in this case, the U.S. does believe that people responsible for crimes should be brought to justice.
Q Joe, on the John Glenn visit, in the past, President's have been criticized for going to launches, that that might put extra pressure on folks down there to launch. Is that not the case here?
MR. LOCKHART: I think NASA will make their decision based on what they always make their decision, which is science and safety. So I don't think we're going down -- I think we'd have to dig really deep to find something wrong with the President going down and celebrating this great achievement both for NASA and for Senator Glenn.
Q Senator Glenn, himself, said, he thought the focus should not be on him so much, it should be mission. He was upset with the media for focusing so much attention on him.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that sounds like the John Glenn I know to say that, and I understand exactly his sentiments. But I think one of the things that's being done here is it's focusing very positive and favorable attention on NASA and their programs and the space shuttle program. And I think it's good for John Glenn, but I think, more importantly, it's good for NASA.
Q Joe, in paying for the home health care agreement that was reached, why did the administration find it more acceptable to provide a tax break for the gambling industry than to expand Roth IRAs?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we had problems with the structure of the way the Roth IRA pay-for was. I think, and as I remember, it sought to -- it provided benefits for people, I think, that had incomes in excess of $100,000. And we felt that the pay-for that was finally agreed on was more acceptable.
Q Joe, do you expect today's continuing resolution to be the last one and to be able to finish the whole thing tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: Boy, we hope so. Yes, I expect that we'll get -- I think there's a vote scheduled for late this afternoon in the House, a vote tomorrow morning in the Senate. We expect that legislation to get here sometime late tomorrow.
Q But today he will sign a continuing resolution?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, a 24-hour extension.
Q Until tomorrow at midnight?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
END 11:15 A.M. EDT