THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The Briefing Room
1:16 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: I want to officially announce what I told you this morning -- the President has accepted an invitation from Representative Elijah Cummings of Baltimore to attend church services this Sunday at the New Psalmist Baptist Church in Baltimore. The travel pool will accompany the President to Baltimore.
Following up on --
Q What time are his remarks?
MR. LOCKHART: Do we know what time? I think it's some time in the morning, but I don't have an exact time.
Q And will they be piped in here, do you know?
MR. LOCKHART: We should be able to do that, yes.
Q His remarks be before Late Edition. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Is that -- wait a second. Is that the 90 minute version of Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, or is that 60 minutes. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, since he's going at the invitation of a Democratic candidate, is this a political appearance?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. In fact, most of the things we've done since Labor Day have been classified as political, given the time of year we're in.
Q And are there other political events scheduled other than the President's travel this week -- are there other political events scheduled over the weekend or before Election Day?
MR. LOCKHART: I have nothing new to report from what I reported to you yesterday about additions. This is the one addition.
Let me do one more thing, because I'll forget to come back to it. Just following on the very successful idea of yesterday of letting you know the bills the President is going to sign, I know you were all intrigued yesterday with some of them -- he will sign probably a dozen or so. But we'll do statements on the Community Opportunities Accountability and Training and Educational Services Act of 1998. The primary focus of the statement will be the Head Start reauthorization.
He'll sign the Curt Flood Act of 1998, which is a bipartisan bill that was supported by Major League Baseball and the players that does a limiting of their antitrust exemption. He will sign a bill that authorizes the use of Community Oriented Policing Services, COPS, to fund local police to prevent crime in schools -- you've heard him talk about that this year. And he will also sign the new State Department Office and U.S. Commission to Examine International Religious Freedom and a new sanctions regime for use against countries that violate such freedom, the Religious Freedom Act -- that we worked hard on Congress to craft a bill that the President could support. So you will see statements on those subjects.
Q Just on the church event in Baltimore, you're taking a pool, but if somebody drives to Baltimore is it something you can walk into?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think so.
Q Is the governor of Maryland going to be there?
MR. LOCKHART: He will be there and attending.
Q Happy? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: And happy and working hard.
Q Why this particular invitation? Would it have anything to do with an overall, get out the vote thrust for African American voters?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, if you look at the calendar, Sunday is two days before the election and the President wants to make sure that people are motivated to get out to the polls, because you've heard him talk a lot in the last few days about the importance of people actually going to the polls and sending a message about whether they like the Democratic agenda and the Democratic approach or the Republican agenda.
Q Will he be making in the final days of the campaign a general get out the vote address on TV?
MR. LOCKHART: Not a specific address. I mean he's not going to address the nation or anything like that. But he will be talking as we get closer to the election about the importance of people exercising their democratic rights.
Q Joe, of late the President seems to be talking a lot more about religion. But how is he going to encompass -- incorporate rather, religion and voting together Sunday? Could you tell us a little bit what he could be saying?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it's quite traditional as you lead up to election to go out and talk to a variety of audiences including church on Sunday. So I think he will talk about the importance of people who have a stake in the system and have reasons to be involved in government and in the democratic system to go out and exercise their rights.
Q Will he bring up history as far as voting? Because many persons that the White House has galvanized for this -- like Charles Rangel -- were saying that many African Americans have died just for African Americans now to go to the polls. Will he bring that into --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't want to preview with any specifics what he's going to say. But I think he'll talk about the importance of voting, the crucial role that our rights to vote play for all Americans.
Q Is the President going to address Kosovo this afternoon, and in what forum and what's he going to say?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I expect that he will have something to say at the 4:00 p.m. event where he speaks to his regional appointees. As we speak the NAC is meeting in Brussels, and if they have some news between now and 4:00 p.m., the President will have something to say about that.
Q For now, Joe, what's your assessment of the situation on the ground?
MR. LOCKHART: It's very similar to what I said this morning, but we believe that as a result of NATO pressure and determination, very substantial steps towards compliance have been taken. Well over 90 percent of the security forces have moved in compliance with what NATO demanded. Major road blocks have been dismantled and heavy weapons returned to garrison. KDOM has been given good cooperation and access in monitoring the withdrawals. We believe that -- we and the NATO allies are currently assessing the latest information on that withdrawal, and the NAC is meeting right now to make decisions on further steps.
I think, importantly, we need to focus both on the compliance now and into the future about keeping President Milosevic in compliance. So those are things that they'll be discussing this afternoon.
Q Does the action order for a military strike still remain in effect, even if there are no strikes ordered? I mean, the gun is still cocked, is it not?
MR. LOCKHART: That is precisely what the North Atlantic Council is discussing right now, and I don't want to preempt any announcement they may have on what further steps --
Q Well, what does the President want? He still wants the threat out there in case --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, as I said, we need to make sure that they have come into -- that they are complying with all levels of the Security Council resolution, and that there is some mechanism to compel compliance into the future.
Q Joe, I see the release you put out on the retirement security for women announcement. Does the administration have any specific plan to announce an overhaul of the Social Security program in the coming year? Do you have specific steps to announce?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the President has said that we were using this year to reach out, and we've had a series of forums around the country. We announced in November 8-9, I believe, the White House Conference on Social Security, and we expect that we will take up when Congress returns specific ideas of how to provide a long-range fix for Social Security.
Q That's what I mean. Do you know what they are and when --
MR. LOCKHART: December -- yes, I'm sorry.
Q Do you know what they are yet and when you will announce them?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that we're certainly continuing to examine the options. We're consulting with experts, and there certainly will be a lot of the things that will go into this discussion next year on the table in December when we bring people here for the conference.
Q The Senate Majority Leader, Trent Lott, said he may have to wait for a new President because he said, I don't know that I have enough trust in this President to work with him on Social Security.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me tell you, that is one of the more regrettable statements we've heard recently from Congress. This is a Senate leader who found a way to work with tobacco companies to kill tobacco legislation, who found a way to work with insurance companies to kill the health care bill of rights. This is an important issue. The President stands ready to work with the Senate Majority Leader, and it's very unfortunate that he would make a comment to say that he doesn't think he can work with the President on an issue as important as Social Security.
Q Well, doesn't it make it hard to have a solution on Social Security if the Senate Majority Leader won't work with the President?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it certainly doesn't make it any easier. But this is an issue that we have to face. That's one of the reasons that the President stood so strongly for reserving the surplus to fix the long-term solvency of the Social Security problem, and I think the public expects their leaders to stand up and face the issues. And it's not helpful for the Senate Majority Leader to make statements like that, to say that he doesn't plan to work with the President on an issue that's going to impact all Americans.
Q Joe, do you know that he -- in other words, has the President invited the Republican leadership to this conference on December 8th and 9th, and has he gotten acceptances from them, or not?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know what the plans are. We've been working, as you know -- for those of you who have followed us around the country at these forums, they've been bipartisan. I remember Senator Santorum and the representatives from the leadership -- the leadership designated people for these forums throughout the year, so I can't speak for any specifics for where we'll be in December. But this has been a bipartisan process this year.
Q But does the President -- you've been talking about this December conference for at least a year. I mean, was your concept to have all the leaders there or what?
MR. LOCKHART: We are working now on how we'll set up this conference, but from the beginning we have tried to structure this in a bipartisan way, which is all the more reason why it's disturbing that the Majority Leader would interject at this point that he's not sure he can work on this problem.
Q But you haven't actually invited him to the conference?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't believe any -- we have from the very beginning worked with the Republican and Democratic leadership on both sides of the Hill to structure a process where we can find a long-term solution to this problem, and we will continue to do so.
Q You anticipate inviting the Senate Majority leader to take part in this, even though he has expressed these doubts?
MR. LOCKHART: I certainly anticipate having the Majority Leader playing a role, whether it be through his personal involvement or through input or his representative.
Q And what exactly is the goal of the December 8th and 9th conference on Social Security?
MR. LOCKHART: The goal is it's the culmination of a year of outreach to gather all the different experts and ideas that we've spent the last year talking about to figure out how we're going to address the problem, on how we're going to move into next year and hit the ground running next year to find a long-term solution.
Q Joe, did Lott's comment signal to you that the debate next year's going to be about tax cuts rather than Social Security reform?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we had that debate this year, and I think we know how that debate resolved itself. The Congress voted to reserve the surplus to save Social Security and not to pass tax cuts that weren't paid for. I fully expect that debate to return at some point, but I think the clear message from this year is we've got to deal with Social Security first.
Q Joe, so far the President's role has basically been to kind of referee the debate on Social Security, and I guess that's what's going to happen at the conference. But is it a certainty that he is going -- that the President's going to have his own proposal on what to do about Social Security?
MR. LOCKHART: We're going to do what we think is most effective to find a long-term fix. And one of the things we're not going to do is prejudge the exact effort until we've had the conference and had the benefit of what we'll learn at the conference.
Q So you're saying it's not certain that the White House will have a Social Security --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm saying we are going to do what we believe is in the best interest of getting a long-term fix for Social Security, working with both parties. And again, we're not making decisions like that until we've had the benefit of this two-day conference.
Q Well, that may not include White House proposals then?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think that this conference is going to be looking at the specific -- a piece of legislation or a fix. It's an idea to bring in and gather the people that we think need to be here, both Democrats, Republicans, academics, experts, to figure out how we move into next year and into the next legislative session on fixing this problem.
Q What do you think President Clinton could do to regain Trent Lott's trust?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the President, since he was elected and elected again, has worked hard at working at the issues that the public cares about on a wide variety of issues. I think this is an issue that the public all has a stake in and the President will continue to work on, and our hope is Senator Lott will try to work with the President in a bipartisan way.
Q Once again, if the Republican tax cut had gone through, how would that have impacted on the future of Social Security?
MR. LOCKHART: What the President said in his State of the Union was Social Security over the next 30 years can't remain solvent, and what we need to do -- and this was, as you'll remember in January, this was a new idea -- that we should reserve the surplus, should it materialize this year, which it has, and use it for any long-term fix, rather than using the surplus and beyond for unpaid-for tax cuts.
Q Do you believe that Congress did coupled with the administration reserve the surplus?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q The entire surplus?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q What about all the emergency spending?
MR. LOCKHART: We've gone through this time and time again, and you know what our position on that is.
Q But the White House view is that the entire surplus has been saved for Social Security.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Is this conference designed -- since it's a culmination of this year of conversation, is it one that's designed to bring together Lott and Daschle and Gingrich?
MR. LOCKHART: Obviously, this conference has taken on great importance to you all today. Let me get some information and we'll talk about it tomorrow. I've sort of vamped as much as I can on what I know about this conference.
Q Prime Minister Netanyahu put off indefinitely Cabinet consideration of the Wye River agreement, saying that the Palestinians -- he wanted the Palestinians to submit a plan to fight terrorism first, that they were delaying on that. Is there any U.S. position on that delay?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not familiar with that. I think my understanding is there were some security plan elements of the Wye agreement, but I'm not familiar with those statements. I'd need to check them before I comment any further.
Q Joe, since there's a fairly public row among Democrats over how --
MR. LOCKHART: You mean fight?
Q Yes -- over how they're going to do in the November election, what's the White House position as to whether or not you can, for example, retake the House?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I mean, it's impossible for me to stand here and predict seat by seat. There's 435 elections out there. We hope the Democrats will do well and we base that hope on the robust agenda the Democrats are campaigning on -- more support for education, supporting the environment, health care bill of rights, and saving Social Security first. We are realistic in our hopes, based on the amount of money that Republicans are spending to mitigate that Democratic agenda. The New York Times estimates that the RNC and the different committees on the Senate and the House side will spend at least $100 million more than the Democrats this year, and that doesn't take into account the other industry or issue -- independent issue groups.
So we plan to very aggressively, Democrats around the country, go out, campaign on the issues, what we're for. I think what we've found in this election cycle is what you're not for, which is campaign finance or tobacco legislation or health care bill of rights, is probably a good fundraising tool, but we'll have to put it to the voters if it's a good -- if it's an effective campaign tool to run on.
Q Joe, the President of Colombia comes tomorrow for a state visit. Can you give us a readout of the event schedule for tomorrow, and what it is the President expects to get out of this visit?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I believe he arrives at about 9:30 a.m. and we'll have a state arrival. And then -- I'm working off memory here, but I think there is a meeting between the two Presidents and then an expanded with the advisors. We will do a meeting with the press at 3:00 p.m.
Q At the State Department?
MR. LOCKHART: No, it will be here at the White House. As far as what the goals of the visit are, as we said yesterday, this is the second meeting since last June between the two Presidents. They will both seek to further the comprehensive partnership between the United States and Colombia, promote democracy, economic growth, fight illicit drugs, strengthen respect for human rights, and extend the rule of law, and help bring an end to the armed conflict in Colombia.
Q Joe, back on the election. You're still sticking by your statement of this morning, however, aren't you, that there is a possibility, the President believes, to recapture the House?
MR. LOCKHART: We think, given the issues the Democrats are running on around the country, that we have hope that the public will respond positively to it, those are listening to this message will get out to the polls. And when you have a good message and you have people motivated to vote, anything can happen.
Q Joe, getting back to Colombia, you mentioned a comprehensive partnership, but the partnership on fighting narcotics has not always been all that comprehensive, especially in the previous regime. What is the current assessment of the level of cooperation from Colombia on --
MR. LOCKHART: We think we've had positive levels of cooperation with the Colombians on eradicating the drug trade, and we're hoping to build on that record with the new President and the new administration.
Q What specifically does the President hope to achieve in this area tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: I think this is a state visit, the first time that they will get together as an official head of state. So I think they are hoping to just build on the strong -- build on the ties that they have between the two countries, build on the strength of both the economic -- the U.S. is the largest trader with Colombia -- and the cooperation we have in the drug trade.
Q Joe, does the President have any objection to apparent plans by the House Judiciary Committee to call Bruce Lindsey and Bob Bennett?
MR. LOCKHART: I really can't comment on apparent plans or things that get leaked to the newspaper. We have reached out to the committee on a number of occasions and asked them to -- and asked to get some sense of the scope of what they're looking at, the timetable, what standards they may be using. We really haven't heard anything affirmative back, nor have we heard on the subject you just mentioned.
Q Has there been another meeting scheduled between the White House lawyers and the investigators?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Would you like another meeting soon?
MR. LOCKHART: Sure, if we can get answers to the question I've just articulated, we'd be glad to. But as of now, those answers aren't forthcoming.
Q The President has said that he wanted to make the patients' bill of rights his first legislative priority next session. Does that make the Social Security reform his second legislative priority?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think we do best when we don't rank our priorities and talk about our top priorities.
Q I mean, he already said the patients' bill of rights was the first priority -- he's said the several times. So where does Social Security fall?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we have a number of issues that we're going to put at the top of the agenda, and you've just mentioned two of them.
Q Joe, can you elaborate on the initiatives that are coming out in tomorrow's health care event?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't -- only to tell you there will be an event tomorrow afternoon and we'll be, hopefully, more forthcoming tomorrow.
Q This will be on the HIV?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q What was that? What was the question?
MR. LOCKHART: He's asking what the event will be on tomorrow. He specifically asked me if I could elaborate on the hint I gave yesterday when April asked the question, and I can't.
Q But you said, yes.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I can tell you the subject matter.
Q The subject is HIV?
MR. LOCKHART: HIV/AIDS, yes. But I can't go beyond that.
Q Joe, is there any particular aspect of the Democratic base that the President is trying to motivate especially? Is it women voters? Is it black voters? Or is it just an overall, everybody come out and vote? I mean, if it is that, then why is he making such a concentrated effort on African Americans?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President, if you look at what he said over the last weeks, he's appealing to a wide audience. But that includes a particular and strong message to women, a particular and strong message to African Americans. These are people and groups that traditionally are strong supporters of Democrats, and I think one of the things the President can do in his position is frame the stakes in the election and motivate people to actually go to the polls and do something about their political beliefs and translate that into some action.
Q Why then not a nationwide TV appeal to get out the vote?
MR. LOCKHART: We'll consider it. (Laughter.)
Q Going back to Latin America, yesterday you said that there has been no final decision regarding the bailout for Brazil -- and apparently, there has been some delay on the announcement of the international financial package. What's holding you back and what are some of the conditions that the U.S. is imposing?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't really have anything to add beyond what I said yesterday except that this is an important issue and there are intensive consultations going on led by our team at the Treasury Department. And I'll leave it to them to comment on the specifics of where it is now.
Q Joe, getting back to an earlier question, yesterday we asked you if it was a make-or-break vote. Will you at least say that the African American community and the community of women -- they're important votes --
MR. LOCKHART: Sure, they're certainly important parts of the broad Democratic coalition. And as I said, it's important for that broad coalition, in order for Democrats to be successful, to turn out and vote on Tuesday. And that's one of the things I think the President can do, is help frame the issues and motivate supporters to get to the polls.
Q Is there anything these particular groups should be worried about -- the women's groups, the African American, the older American -- if the Republicans do really well on Tuesday?
Q The old, slow right over the plate. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, let me think about that one for a minute. (Laughter.) I think you need to look at the agenda. If you take an issue like education, there are vast differences between how Democrats approach the issue and how Republicans do. And there's an honest debate going on in this country, which we think the Democrats enjoy more public support for. The idea of 100,000 teachers -- if it wasn't for the President and the Democratic leaders in the conference, we wouldn't see that in the budget. The idea of modernizing schools, if it wasn't for the Democrats in Congress and the President pushing that issue, there would be no chance of when we come back next year of moving that along. The Republicans have killed it two years in a row. But we will be back next year.
When you look at Social Security, the President will talk this afternoon about how important the solvency of the Social Security system is for women, in particular, because of the fact that women live longer and depend more on Social Security than men do.
So I think there are vast differences, there are consequences. People need to understand that there are consequences to what happens on Tuesday. And the way to have your voice heard is to get out and vote.
Q Joe, why do always say, 100,000 teachers? You only have money for 30,000 and you don't have any commitment beyond that.
MR. LOCKHART: The concept is 100,000 teachers --
Q I know the concept, but the money --
MR. LOCKHART: I'll finish. We in this budget have made the first down payment on moving to that. The same way we did with COPS.
Q Joe, one of the reasons the DNC has a short -- somewhat less money than they thought they might have is because it's been forced to defend itself legally. And I'm wondering, how much of a difference in this campaign right now has the Republican campaign finance investigation made?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, one way to look at that is if you're asking if the strategy in 1997 to tie up the DNC through endless investigations worked -- yes, sure it did. They spent a lot of money answering to various congressional committees that still haven't found a way to -- some of them -- report on where they are two years after they started looking into this.
But I think the DNC's done a good job in the last two years. First, they're trying to put their financial house in order and this year in raising money and trying to get it out to candidates who are on the ballot.
Q -- small business-related event at 4:00 p.m. today?
MR. LOCKHART: Actually, the President has regional appointees in from around the country who come in. They're regional appointees from SBA, HUD, EPA, various federal agencies. So that's the group he'll speaking to at 4:00 p.m.
Q Thank you.
MR. LOCKHART: Thank you. Oh, I'm sorry, the church service is at 11:30 a.m.
END 1:42 P.M. EST