THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The Briefing Room
1:49 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, what can I do for you all?
Q On Sunday the President goes to an African American church and pushes his message to get out to vote. What can we expect to see from him, and in his speech what do we expect to hear and what do we expect to see? The President has been, as you said and he said, an atoning man right now. Are we going to see Reverend Bill Clinton Sunday?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, as you know from watching him, the President enjoys going in and talking in church on Sundays. He's done it from time to time. But I think the message you'll get is very clear that this isn't an ordinary time, that the stakes are very clear, the issues are very clear. And it's important for all Americans, whatever their political view, affiliation, to get out and exercise their right to participate in the election.
Q But, Joe, it's been noted that whenever he goes to certain communities, primarily African American communities, you start hearing this -- he starts quoting scripture more so versus when he's with other groups. Are we going to hear him do that kind of preachy thing again?
MR. LOCKHART: It's a technical phrase, "preachy thing." I know what you mean. I think he'll give remarks that are appropriate for a Sunday church service, so I imagine he will reflect on some of his favorite passages. But I think the overriding message will be the importance of participating and just what the stakes are for people and what the issues are, and that's what you'll hear over the next couple days, including Sunday.
Q Is there a danger in good economic times that voters would be less likely to come out and vote if they are not feeling discomfort?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there's a danger in not listening to the message that the President and others have said. We didn't get here by accident. We got here by hard work from Americans and turning our economy around, and by the kind of fiscal discipline that was brought to this White House and brought to this government by the President in 1993. And the Republicans make no secret of the fact that they want to abandon that fiscal discipline. Budget Chairman Kasich was out just earlier this week talking reviving the plans for the $700 million or trillion dollar unpaid-for tax cut.
So I think the reason we're here, in large part, is because of the fiscal discipline the President's imposed. That's the reason we have the robust growth that we have in this quarter, and we've had over the last six years. And I think it's important for the public to take a look at the differing approaches that they face on Election Day and to make a decision about whether they want to stick with the kind of economic approach the President has laid out -- of investing in people, but doing it in a fiscally disciplined way -- or whether they revert to ideas that have been tried in the past that have failed.
Q Joe, you mentioned earlier in the week that the White House feels that all votes are crucial. But you've got the President doing a black oriented radio show Monday morning, a black oriented television show Monday evening, and you have the church event on Sunday. Has the White House determined that the black vote will be the crucial vote in this election?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think all you need to do is look at our schedule to see that we're going out into all kinds of communities. Later this afternoon we're going into Queens to a Catholic community center where we'll talk to a wide variety of people. There are obvious components to the traditional Democratic coalition that we want to motivate to get out to the polls, but that includes many groups. And the President's really been talking about issues that affect all Americans.
Q Is there a concern that blacks might stay at home in numbers without some prompting?
MR. LOCKHART: I think -- this is an election. Getting out is important, and we're going to do what we can to prompt everyone to get to vote.
Q If Social Security first is addressed early on in the year, is it possible to seriously consider and enact an across-the-board tax cut next year? I mean, can you have both next year if Social Security first is --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we had tax cuts in the President's budget for this year. And our view on tax cuts is clear, that we're for providing tax relief, especially for working families in America. But they have to be paid for. We're just not going to go down the road that we've gone down before, where you just assume that somehow you'll find a way to pay for it. We think that the key government -- the key fiscal element of the economic recovery that we've enjoyed, which is the strongest than anyone can remember, is that we've done it in a fiscally responsible way. And we're just not willing to abandon that.
Q Are you saying that if you address Social Security and use any of the surplus to address that and as a result you won't consider using any of the future surplus for tax cuts?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm saying that there is a two-step process here; that first we have to address Social Security, and that's what the surplus is being reserved for. And then we'll take the next steps of what we do if there is surplus additional. But we will go with a principle that the Democrats are united, and we've got varying views from the Republican Party, that says that if you're going to have tax cuts, then you need to have a way to pay for them.
Q That could be the surplus though as long as --
MR. LOCKHART: Down the road it could be.
Q Joe, what can you tell us about that ambassador that was recalled? Why was he recalled, and doesn't this seem to suggest a double standard?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I can tell you that on August 26, 1997, the Inspector General at the State Department transmitted to the Secretary of State a report concluding that Ambassador John Hicks had engaged in sexual misconduct. The Deputy Secretary of State discussed the conclusions of the report with Ambassador Hicks. And on September 15, 1997, he submitted his resignation as the ambassador. Due to privacy concerns, I can't or the State Department can go into any of the details any further.
Q Was the President informed of it?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Was he aware that there was an ongoing problem with the ambassador?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q But does it suggest, though, that perhaps there's some kind of double standard. I mean, what's the difference between this guy and --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know the details of this case, so it suggests nothing to me.
Q Joe, getting back to Bill's question quickly. Do you know in the past if the White House has specifically courted the African American vote? We know that you've courted the youth before in a big effort.
MR. LOCKHART: We have gone out of our way to try to motivate people to get to the polls, whether they're young people, whether they're African Americans, whatever particular part of the population they might identify themselves with. But we have done this in past elections.
Q Joe, you've had your Republican Lewinsky flight of ads, you've had the Democratic response ads now. What's your best judgment as to which way this has pushed the electorate? Is there a backlash?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that backlash is the right word. I think that it has brought into sharper focus the choices voters face next Tuesday, or they're being presented with. We find out this morning that Speaker Gingrich was intimately involved in putting these ads together, dealing with the focus groups. And that reminds us that this is really the end game of their strategy, that that's been played out over the last few years.
We want to talk about issues like eduction, Social Security, protecting the environment, health care bill of rights. And the Republicans want to talk about investigations. And we all, going into the last week, put forward what we though the best arguments were to the voters. Republicans have said they'll spend $10 million to talk about investigations. The Democrats are doing what they can to talk about education and issues that impacted American's lives.
We won't know how this plays out until Tuesday, but it certainly makes the choice clearer, and it certainly indicates to voters what Newt Gingrich and the Republicans are interested in and what they want to do here in Washington, and what the Democrats and the President want to do.
Q You're not willing to venture a guess as to who gets motivated more by these ads?
MR. LOCKHART: Impossible to tell. As I said, in a sense, it's always good to have clear choices. And the news of the last few days certainly makes the choices fairly stark.
Q Joe, back on Hicks, for clarification. Are you saying that the Washington Times story is wrong and that the President fired Mr. Hicks?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm saying that you should read from what I said that, yes, they got the sequence of the events wrong.
Q How do you explain why it is that the President has been largely out there raising money for Democrats, whereas the First Lady, the Vice President and others have actually been going in, talking to the voters, shaking hands, that sort of thing?
MR. LOCKHART: I'd go to probably Tuesday's, Monday's, last Thursday's and last Tuesday's briefing and you can find plenty of stuff on that.
Q Based on those questions raised from the last briefing, how come he is out campaigning now? I mean, you mentioned he's on one side Queens, he's going out to the church on Sunday. We were told in previous weeks that there's this Rose Garden strategy, that it doesn't do any good to have a President go out there during a midyear or an off-year election. And now --
MR. LOCKHART: And we told you he would do some limited traveling and campaigning. This is exactly what we had planned to do all along.
Q Is the President going to give a billion dollars in food credits to the Russians?
MR. LOCKHART: I would have to refer you to the Secretary of Agriculture on that one. I don't have any information on it.
Q Is the President aware of this being announced?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm sure he's aware of whatever it is we're planning to do. I hope he is, because I'm not.
Q Can you give us a quick rundown on the First Lady's schedule between now and Election Day?
MR. LOCKHART: She's out in, I think, in six or seven states over the next three days. The First Lady's Office can give you the actual schedule.
Q He's back in New York. Do you know whether or not New York has been the city they've visited most this election season? It seems like they've been up there, either him or her, at least once a week?
MR. LOCKHART: Particularly in Newsday's audience -- we've been there because for Newsday this is the biggest race. No. (Laughter.)
Obviously, the President has spent a lot of time in New York, both as far as raising resources for Democrats around the country and working on what has probably become the most high profile race. You know, some people are paying a lot of attention to California, a lot of people to this race in New York. So it's very important.
Q Is the President -- GDP figure today as good. Is there any concern at all about some other indicators? Like, for example, temporary hires are down and that's usually an indication when your work force is pretty much in capacity. In fact, temporary workers aren't being hired --
MR. LOCKHART: Can you believe she had Bob Rubin up here and she's asking me this? (Laughter.)
No, we think, overall, the numbers are good. They reflect a strong, growing economy here in the United States. There are obviously issues that the previous briefers addressed about concerns on the international front. But we believe that the fundamentals of the U.S. economy remain very strong.
Q What's the President doing to get ready for the coming impeachment hearings?
MR. LOCKHART: I think you've seen what the President's focus has been on the last few days -- on international economics, on issues like education and Social Security, and trying to sharpen the focus to help voters understand the difference between what the Democrats want to do and what the Republicans want to do. I think what's become abundantly clear in the last few days is the only people who are spending a lot time worrying about that issue are the Republicans.
Q Do you think the Republicans are dragging their feet now on this impeachment process?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's hard to tell what they're doing since we don't really know.
Q Is the White House heartened by the statements from the historians -- the foreign historian had signed a letter --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think it echoes statements and remarks that have come from people here at the White House that there's no proportionality in the proceedings that have gone on. There have been no fairness. There hasn't been any serious consideration of standards. So I think they make some very important points.
Q Joe, today marks the end of four weeks on the new job for you as Press Secretary.
MR. LOCKHART: Really, it seems like four years. (Laughter.)
Q Any thoughts? I mean is it what you thought? Any reflections on your first month?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, to reprise an earlier line, when I started, this room was full. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you.
MR. LOCKHART: Thank you.
END 1:02 P.M. EST