THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The Briefing Room
2:45 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon. What can I do for you?
MR. LOCKHART: Okay. Thank you very much. We're not going to pursue that, Mark. (Laughter.)
Q Is that the only punishment the President is going to give in Malaysia, just not have a one-on-one with --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we've expressed our views through Assistant Secretary Roth and others and we believe that they are aware that we have serious concerns about the use of the Internal Security Act against the Deputy Prime Minister. But the President is committed to what the APEC group is all about and wants to go forward with the meeting.
Q Was any thought given to changing the venue of the APEC meeting this year?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, given the late date and the plannings, I'm not aware of any serious thought to trying to relocate it.
Q You did get a letter from senators asking you to?
MR. LOCKHART: I vaguely have some memory of some communication. I don't know whether it came from senators or whether it was from interest groups -- I don't know.
Q Joe, yesterday the President said, we got some reports yesterday that some unusual steps were going to be taken, which I think you could only conclude would constitute utter intimidation here in Maryland. And my question is, why did we get a transcript of this 11th hour election eve Clinton claim with no accompanying evidence such as copies of the said report, who made them, upon what actuality in Maryland this is supposed to be based?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, Lester, I don't want you to interpret this as an invitation to the gaggle, but as I said at the gaggle this morning -- (laughter) -- the DNC is, I think at this hour, holding a press conference with Delegate Norton and they have compiled information of potential efforts to either suppress some voters or intimidate voters. And this is compiled in some cases from news reports, in some cases from the state parties. And they will be discussing that -- I believe they are discussing it now in the Capitol, so I will defer to them.
Q To follow up on this, did the White House check in advance to see if Baltimore's New Psalmist Baptist Church is one of the 170 churches that belong to the United Missionary Baptist Convention, whose president, the Reverend John Wright, reports The Washington Post, offered in writing their support to Governor Glendening's reelection for $9,300,000? Did you check on that, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: I didn't follow all of that. I wasn't -- I'm certainly not aware of whatever it is you've said.
Q Well, it was reported in The Washington Post. I was wondering, does the President believe a 501 (c)(3) tax exempt church should have their pastor offer to sell his votes for $9,300,000?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I sincerely doubt that that's what's happened, so I'm going to withhold comment.
Q Joe, when, specifically, did the President himself find out about these allegations of voter intimidation?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the DNC did some work late Friday and Saturday. That's when they certainly were brought to my attention. They put out a release to the press, which they made available to us. That was the first time I had heard about anything specific in this election cycle.
Q And which incidents worried him the most?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, as you see from the DNC -- they cite six different examples of potential situations where this can be perceived as trying to intimidate voters, like in North Carolina, in Kentucky, places where they are sending some deputies from the police force or from the sheriff's force into minority -- primarily minority districts, and also places where they're sending in video cameras as an attempt to intimidate. I'm not making this judgment. I think in North Carolina, one of the Republican members of the Board of Elections said that they thought this was an attempt to intimidate.
Q Did the President ask the Justice Department to look into it at all?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the Justice Department has put out a statement from Attorney General Reno, not in particularly in response to this, but as a statement about what they do and how their Election Day activities -- in terms of enforcing the Voting Rights Act.
Q Joe, has anyone filed a complaint with the Justice Department?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that that's more appropriate to come from the Democratic National Committee, from a political party. I think that's how that's normally done.
Q Joe, to what extent does the President view tomorrow's election as a referendum, as an impeachment referendum of some sort, a referendum on his own fate?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President said over the last few days, and even over the last week, that this should be a referendum on our future and how we view issues, from Social Security, education, the environment, the health care bill of rights. I think there are some within the party opposite that have run commercials that have sought to make this a referendum. But I don't think the President -- the President has said repeatedly that this isn't about him, it's about the American public.
Q He's not concerned about the outcome and how it could ultimately affect the makeup of Congress and ultimately affect his own fate?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he is concerned about the outcome, but I think his concern is more focused on whether he's going to have a Congress that wants to do the work of getting a health care and a patients' bill of rights, wants to save the surplus, or reserve the surplus to fix Social Security, and wants to invest in education and wants to modernize 5,000 schools.
Q Joe, why has he done so little campaigning, in contrast, for example, to four years ago at the midterm election? We've seen pictures of him out there with Mrs. Clinton four years ago, campaigning in traditional campaigns --
Q He saw the outcome of the midterm --
MR. LOCKHART: Thank you, Helen. You keep me from having to say that. Listen, I think we've talked about this --
Q What is the answer, please?
MR. LOCKHART: Bill, I'll repeat the answer that I've told you day after day, so if you sense some disingenuousness -- I mean, I think the question begs a little bit, too, since I've answered this question repeatedly. And if you have some need for me to answer it again today, I'll be happy to.
MR. LOCKHART: We have looked at what we think is the most effective way for the President to help Democrats, and we think the most effective way is to do things like he did today, which was highlight what this government, what this administration, has done to extend the health care bill of rights to some 85 million Americans, and to highlight the problems when the Senate and the House kill a health care bill of rights so it can't be extended beyond that.
We've used -- the President has gone out and tried to help Democrats raise resources they need to compete. He has helped Democrats raise money around this country. They are still being outspent. And we've gone into selected races around the country where the President feels, and we feel, that he can have an impact.
We've also said that we don't believe that three or four days out, the most productive thing for the President to do is to go out and go race to race, county to county; that the best thing for him to do is to highlight on a national basis what the Democrats are, what the Democrats' policies are, and the clear choices that the voters face tomorrow.
Q How do you think Democrats will do tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, as the President said, a lot depends on who shows up to vote. If the people who are for health care bill of rights, who are for investing in education, who are for protecting the surplus to save Social Security, if they get out and vote and exercise their democratic rights, Democrats will do well.
Q What will the President do tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: He's got some meetings on his schedule -- I believe, one meeting on -- a meeting with his economic team. He may -- we were also looking at maybe doing one more event. But I think it will be a normal day here at the White House. He'll probably stay in tomorrow night and I'll be able to give you later today or first thing tomorrow some sense of what his exact plans are to watch and react to the vote.
Q Joe, in his interview with April over the weekend, the President spoke again about his own privacy and declined to give a full answer to a question, saying that it implicated his privacy, his family's privacy, and that too many people's privacy had been invaded. Should we see that as him returning to the August 17th speech and saying that the whole Lewinsky matter is simply an invasion of his personal privacy and is not a legitimate --
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think there are some questions particularly about his family that he doesn't feel the need to share or air publicly. And I don't think that's anything new. I think that's a longstanding position, and I think it's a position that all Americans can respect.
Q What's the impact of this check that Abe Hirshfeld gave Paula Jones? What is the impact of the settlement that the President may or may not be able to get with Paula Jones from that Abe Hirshfeld check?
MR. LOCKHART: Wolf, I don't have the slightest idea.
Q Would it help the White House, though, on that? Do you see some benefit in actually settling this case?
MR. LOCKHART: I think any impact that may have or anything on this case is best addressed to the President's private attorney, Mr. Bennett.
Q Joe, going back to voter intimidation quickly, the President said in the next 24 hours his main focus is to deal with getting everyone to the polls. Now, the Republican Party is calling for the President to apologize for his comments made in the interview yesterday about voter intimidation at their hands. Now, wouldn't it seem kind of self-defeating if the President does not try to work this situation out with the Republicans, maybe lay down the boxing gloves and just get together and say, look, let's make this push to get the voters to the polls?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think there would be anything that could make the President happier than to know that everyone could go out and have the right to exercise their democratic right to vote without fear of some intimidation. Unfortunately, I think we've seen over the years that's not something that we can count on.
Now, if there is nothing to any of these issues and if the head of the RNC can come out and definitively show that what the state party's doing and what some of their affiliates are doing around the country is not happening, that would make us very happy, because what the President has ultimately said is he wants people to get out and vote.
Q On a follow-up, could the President be working with the RNC, call them and try to settle this issue for right now to get people to the polls?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the President has made very clear what he thinks, and I think it should be very clear to anyone within the Republican Party what they should do. I haven't seen any public statement or any forceful statement from their leadership saying that people shouldn't engage in this kind of behavior.
Q Joe, racism has been practiced by Democrats and Republicans. What you seem to be saying here today is that this is a Republican phenomenon. This is the blame -- the blame belongs to the Republican Party. Are you blaming -- are you identifying as people who are perpetrating these things as being just an organization here and there, practicing on their own? Or are you saying the Republican Party here in Washington, the national Republican leadership, is responsible for this?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm saying that if you go around the country -- and again, this is better put to the DNC who's done this research -- but if you go around the country, you see that there are state parties that are involved in this kind of behavior. And I think the Republicans owe it to themselves to send a clear message to their state parties and to the other groups that they work with and are affiliated with that this kind of behavior isn't acceptable.
Q Just to follow up on that, Joe, there are some Democratic ads that suggest that voting for Republicans is the equivalent of voting for cross burnings and other racist tactics. Is that the kind of thing that the DNC should somehow say is wrong for Democrats to use as well?
MR. LOCKHART: I am not familiar with the ads, so I can't really offer -- I mean, that would be a good question to put to them.
Q Joe, does the President believe that it was wise for Governor Glendening to visit as many as six black Baptist churches this Sunday, while visiting not one of Maryland's many Catholic churches? Or was this due in his view to what Catholic Bishop Thomas Dailey told his flock of more than one million New Yorkers about President Clinton?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think that we would try to offer Governor Glendening any campaign advise.
Q How do you assess the status of the presidency in the wake of the events of this year? Is it held in as high esteem around the world or has it been diminished?
MR. LOCKHART: If you're asking for my opinion, I think if you look at the goings on and what's happened in the last month alone, the President has been strong and forceful for getting a budget deal that has unprecedented investments in education as far as 100,000 teachers and Pell Grants, Head Start, things like that -- to the agreement that they reached on the Eastern Shore of Maryland between Israel and the Palestinians. So I think if you look at the results and try to peal away some of the partisan rhetoric that seems to pervade the dialogue recently, you'll see a President that is leading and that is strong.
Q Is the President going to be talking to any foreign leaders on Iraq, or has he done so already today?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't believe he's had conversations today. I think you can assume that conversations are going on throughout our government with our allies. Let me tell you a little bit. The President met with his foreign policy team for about an hour, starting about noontime. The meeting was -- participating in the meeting were Sandy Berger, the President's National Security Advisor; Secretaries Albright and Cohen; CIA Direct Tenet; Joint Chief Chairman Shelton; John Podesta; Jim Steinberg; and some others.
They reviewed the situation on the ground, discussed the new Iraqi position as articulated over the weekend, and discussed the strong and unanimous reaction from the international community. The President and his team reviewed and discussed potential options for next steps. No decisions were made beyond the President asking the Secretary of Defense to travel to Europe and to the region to consult with our allies. The details of that trip you can get from the Pentagon.
Q Are military strikes among the options?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we have said repeatedly that all options are on the table, and that means all options are on the table.
Q Do you feel that the allies in the region, the Saudis and the others, will support the use of force, if necessary?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to speculate on a hypothetical.
Q We've heard the President say that all options are on the table many times before. Isn't there a danger that Saddam Hussein could just view this as more empty threats from the United States?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that we're going to review the situation. The steps he's taken are unacceptable. The threat and the inhibiting and restriction of long-term monitoring is a very serious situation. But I'm not going to get into what the options are that are being considered.
Q Does the U.S. think it has, currently, the authorization to engage in a military strike against Iraq should it so decide that that's the proper course of action?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Joe, with President Clinton facing impeachment proceedings in perhaps two weeks, is there any concern that Saddam Hussein might be emboldened to engage in adventurism because of his perceived weakness?
MR. LOCKHART: You know, I think Saddam Hussein has a history of miscalculations on a very grand scale. I think if you look at it from his situation, what he's been trying to do this year is get out from under the punitive sanctions that the international community has placed upon him. And he's trying to do that by dividing the international community. And every step he takes, he gets the opposite result. We know that the U.N. articulated a very strong statement in August when they withdrew the six-month review of sanctions, and they acted decisively and unanimously over the weekend in issuing a statement. So what he's trying to do to get out from under the sanctions is just not working.
Q It doesn't enter into the mix then?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, you're asking me to get inside his head, and I think that's a very precarious and not necessarily fruitful venture for me.
Q Joe, you say he hasn't been successful with each of these steps he's taken. But at the same time, there's been no adverse action against him. I mean, the sanctions haven't been lifted --
MR. LOCKHART: I think there has been an adverse action. If you look at where we were earlier in the year, there was some belief -- there was some split in the international community, and his actions against UNSCOM brought the international community back together firmly committed to getting cooperation from him. And as his end game -- his end game is to get from underneath these sanctions. And the U.N. in August suspended the sanctions review, thus creating a serious problem for him.
Q What makes you think that's his end game? Why couldn't his end game just be an end to the U.N. inspections that let's him reconstitute his weapons program?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we'll take him at his word on what his end game is because he's repeatedly and clearly articulated that he thinks the sanctions are unfair and need to be lifted.
Q His Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, said that the reason they suspended this cooperation is because the U.S. has decided -- the Clinton administration, like the Bush administration before it -- that no matter he does, as long as Saddam Hussein is in power, the sanctions will never be removed. Is that the Clinton administration's position?
MR. LOCKHART: Our administration and I think the international community's position is that he ought to cooperate fully with UNSCOM, that we need to deter his ability to threaten his neighbors and to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction. And they can play all the word games they want, but none of it matters until they actually do what they agreed to do at the end of the Gulf War.
Q Can they be removed with Saddam Hussein still in power?
MR. LOCKHART: We need to have cooperation and compliance before that discussion happens. As you'll remember, what may have precipitated some of the things over the weekend is the U.N. Security Council said come into cooperation with UNSCOM, and we'll review the sanctions with or without any predetermined idea whether they could -- whether they were in compliance or not. But that's a discussion for down the road.
Q Joe, is the administration now having to fix a problem that it handed off to Kofi Annan last February?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. I think the international community is united from the Security Council, Kofi Annan, the U.S. government, that we need -- UNSCOM needs cooperation and Saddam Hussein needs to get that message. And until he does, there will be no further discussion of lifting any sanctions or reviewing sanctions.
Q Do the allies, Joe, have adequate military forces in the region now in case the military option has to be exercised?
MR. LOCKHART: Without speculating about what options might be used or might not be used, you'll remember from earlier this year we talked about reconfiguring the forces in the region so that they could act quickly and forcefully.
Q Joe, you've made a point of saying that no options are off the table. As long as the inspectors remain inside Iraq, though, it would seem that at least one option is constrained while they're there. Does the United States feel that it's time to remove those inspectors since they are not able to inspect at this point and are --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the United States believes it's time to let those inspectors do the work they were sent there to do, and I'm not going to go beyond that.
Q If Iraq moves against Israel again, would the President ask Bibi to sit it out? And if he did, do they have that kind of relationship?
MR. LOCKHART: We're getting way too far down the road and I'm not going to speculate on hypotheticals like that.
Q Joe, the President mentioned in the interview with the Hispanic reporters that there would be some AID monies going to recovery from Hurricane Mitch in Central America. Was he aware at the time that the death toll is expected to reach at least 7,000 people?
MR. LOCKHART: I know when he was briefed this morning he was briefed on the numbers -- there were at least 1,000 -- and briefed on the situation, the terrible and horrible situation on the ground.
As far as the U.S. government is concerned, the embassies in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica, and El Salvador have all declared disasters. That has led to the U.S. Agency for International Development's deploying disaster assistance -- I think $3.5 million to fund those efforts. DOD helicopters and cargo shipments have already gone through. Two airlifts have already arrived in Honduras. And we expect more over the week.
Q The stranded American doctors, have they been rescued yet?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have information on that.
Q Joe, does the President agree with Kurt Schmoke in refusing to put out a commercial suggesting that Ellen Sauerbrey is guilty of racial discrimination in voting against the Civil Rights Act of 1992, which all the Democrats in the Senate voted for -- against?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that the President is aware of that commercial.
Q Bishop Dailey has said that the President's moral authority is crippled, his negative example will only confuse our children, who struggle to remain chaste against great odds. Since adultery and lying destroy the integrity of human life, they can never be defended or excused. Is he grateful that the major media refuse to report this statement by the leader of 1.3 million New Yorkers?
MR. LOCKHART: Grateful that the media failed to report something? I'll have to ask him about that.
Q We pretty much know what's happened in the last few interviews, this round of interviews with the President. There's one that we don't know about, the BET interview this evening. It was much ballyhooed that it could be the "tell all" -- the first "tell all" interview with the President. Was that the case this morning? Was the interview --
MR. LOCKHART: You're going to have to tune in and watch.
Q No, no, no.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, how much can we promote viewership here? April, I've got to tell you, there were some rough moments there, but he did fine.
Q Seriously, Joe, come on.
MR. LOCKHART: I can't talk about an interview that hasn't gone on the air yet. I wouldn't do that to an interview you did, and I won't do that to someone else.
Q Well, he's on TV talking about his interview right now on Talk Back Live.
MR. LOCKHART: Tavis?
Q Yes, Tavis.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, then he's telling the truth. Go watch.
Q And miss your exciting briefing? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I'll go watch Tavis.
Q The President signed a bill -- to establish a Mahatma Gandhi statue in front of the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC. But there were no -- and he never made any statement, even though in the past he called him as the champion of peace and non-violence. So is he going to make any statement?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President's admiration and respect for him are well-known. And I think your colleagues will remind you that I personally highlighted the signing of that bill. Right?
Q Nobody from the Indian community or from the Indian Embassy or from the -- there are so many Indian associations here, they are all complaining that he should have -- they should have invited somebody if he thought it was a great work --
MR. LOCKHART: Helen will invite them to the ground-breaking.
Q Does the President approve of the FBI's indiscriminate sweeping of Moslems in this country and stereotyping them and jailing them as potential terrorists and so forth?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not familiar. I haven't talked to the President about them. I'm not familiar with the effort -- I've seen a couple news stories. I think, I would need to find out some more about it from the FBI and Justice before offering any comment.
Q Joe, in a similar vain, since the Middle East peace deal was signed, the Palestinian Authority has been rounding up dissidents there, has been cutting the phone lines of other dissidents. Normally when that takes place, the U.S. denounces it as a human rights violation. Here, it seems like it's part of the peace process. Is this supposed to be part of the peace process?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we have articulated that both sides have made commitments on the issue of security and that both sides are working toward fulfilling those commitments.
Q What about the usual free speech concerns or freedom of association or advocating a democratic process?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we certainly don't move from those principles. But we also understand the security issues in the region.
Q Does that mean denial of civil rights?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I don't have any evidence that's been made available to me that indicates that there has been anything that violates those principles.
Q Joe, does the fact that Paula Jones has lowered her demand to $900,000 from $1 million make the prospects of a settlement more likely?
MR. LOCKHART: It still makes Bob Bennett the person to discuss that. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, Chairman Hyde has put the impeachment process on a fast track. Is this a welcome development to the President?
MR. LOCKHART: It will be welcome when and if we find out officially, by talking to the committee, and not reading about it in the newspaper. We don't know from the committee how they plan to proceed, what standards they'll use, what the scope, what the timing is. We've seen some articles. We've seen from some local articles in Illinois that the Chairman has made up his mind on a few things. But we'll wait until we hear from the committee and we'll discuss it the proper and authoritative way.
Q But the President is still eager to get this over with as quickly as possible?
MR. LOCKHART: We are eager to do this the right way, but also in a timely way.
Q A follow-up on that question asked earlier about Israel. In any offensive action against Iraq, would Israel be considered an ally for the U.S.? Would Israel be asked to help in any way?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm just not going down that speculation road.
Q The President has made a strong pitch for high voter turnout. If, in fact, voter turnout is low, as many analysts are predicting, what kind of message does the White House get out of that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we get out of that that people are turned off by the bipartisan nature of the political debate. And I think the President has worked hard to try to, as he says, put progress over partisanship. But this has been a year where partisanship has ruled and negative campaigning and negative tactics have been quite prevalent. But I think the President makes the point that tomorrow is the day where all votes count the same, everyone has their right and they should exercise it.
Q Joe, the President has invited the Prime Minister of Pakistan and I believe they will meet here in the White House on December 2nd. Is this something that you have an agenda or is something to do with the CTBT to be signed here or --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any particular agenda. We obviously have both economic and security bilateral issues that I expect will be on the agenda. And as we get closer to the time I'm sure we'll be able to articulate them.
Q Thank you.
END 3:15 P.M. EST