THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The Briefing Room
1:02 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, Mr. Knoller. Would you like to ask the first question? I see you, April.
Q Are these good days?
MR. LOCKHART: Even my bad days are good days when you work here at the White House.
Q Joe, are you getting positive reports back from any of the election officials that the voter turnout is pretty good right now?
MR. LOCKHART: I saw the head of the Election Board for I think it was Chicago or Illinois, on television, who reported that the turnout was heavy. We've gotten some anecdotal reports from people around the country of good turnout, but I don't know that it's anything more than anecdotal. I think the President reiterated this morning the importance of everybody exercising their democratic right, and in order to make a difference and have your voice heard, everyone should get out and vote.
Q Any evidence of intimidation that you're seeing today?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't heard from the DNC. I think they are monitoring this through the state parties around the country, and you'd be better asking them for their assessment.
Q What does a heavy turnout mean?
MR. LOCKHART: It means a lot of people are voting.
Q In your terms.
MR. LOCKHART: I think you've seen the conventional wisdom that I'm not in a position to dispute that a light turnout could favor Republicans, a heavy turnout could favor Democrats. I think it's hard to determine at this point, particularly as this is an unfolding, ongoing event. And I think within the next six or seven hours we'll have some real assessment of what's going to happen.
Q Considering, as you said this morning, traditional losses by the party in the White House, what would the President consider a good high water mark for the Democrats in both the Senate and the House races?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into numbers. I think the President spoke this morning to what he hopes will happen today, which is as many Americans as possible getting out and voting. And I'm just not going to get into a numbers game of what constitutes -- I mean, I have studiously avoided trying to do that. There's lots of predictions out there from both sides of the aisle, from a wash, to the Speaker of the House saying up to 40 seats in the House side. I'm going to try to not fall into that trap today.
Q Do you have any more information on what the President -- how the President will monitor the outcome of the elections?
THE PRESIDENT: I think he will be -- the President and the First Lady will stay in tonight. I suspect they will watch some of the election results. He'll have some friends over.
MR. LOCKHART: I'll try to let you know this evening as I know. I do expect that he will be on the phone and will probably talk to some Democrats around the country as the election results become known.
Q Do you expect that we will see him at some point today?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't expect you will, no.
Q How about written paperwork of any kind of statement?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect that -- particularly with races going late into the West -- that we'll reserve judgment on what it all means. You'll see the President tomorrow.
Q Joe, if the Democrats lose many seats, are you prepared for the finger-pointing, especially you tried to get this minority vote out?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't speculate. The President, I think, has made a strong case based on the Democratic issues of education, Social Security, protecting the environment, providing a health care bill of rights. I'm not sure it's particularly useful to discuss what the tenor of the discussion will be tomorrow and the coming days.
I have one thing, let me just read. We will release a statement at the end of this briefing on an agreement in the apparel industry on sweatshop practices. Let me just read you a little bit of this.
Today's agreement -- from the President -- today's agreement on fighting sweatshop practices is a historic step toward reducing sweatshop labor around the world and will give American consumers confidence that the clothes they buy are made under decent and humane working conditions. I applaud the apparel industry, labor unions, non-governmental organizations and consumer groups who answered the challenge I laid out two years ago to find cooperative ways to reduce sweatshop labor.
It goes on -- in particular it thanks Senator Harkin for the important work he's done on this. We'll make this available at the end of the briefing.
Q Who is the agreement with?
MR. LOCKHART: With the unions and the businesses that make up the apparel industry. This is something that the President and the Department of Labor now, under the direction of Secretary Herman, have been working very hard on for the last two years. It was, as you remember, an initiative that Secretary Reich started in early 1996 and they have now reached an agreement.
Q Was there any agreements in the NEC meeting earlier today?
MR. LOCKHART: Any agreements?
Q Yes, any decisions made about Brazil or other --
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think there was some general discussion -- I haven't gotten a complete readout of that meeting, but I'm not aware that there were any decisions on the table, nor decisions taken.
Q When the President spoke he praised Japan today in his readout to the pool. And yet, yesterday a Japanese Cabinet minister came and said that there would be no tariff reductions at the APEC meeting this year.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're certainly concerned. I think one of the things that we're trying to do under the auspices of APEC is a global trade liberalization. We've done some work on that. We hope to do some more at APEC, and it is our hope that Japan will play a constructive role in that. I think the Deputy Trade Representative, Mr. Fisher, made some comments yesterday similar to mine, and again, we hope they will play a constructive role and put these trade issues on the table to be discussed at APEC.
Q Would a high voter turnout express dissatisfaction with the current leadership of the government?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think a high voter turnout would represent that the Democrats and the Republicans offered voters a clear choice between two different philosophies of how we should move this country forward. I don't think that people going to the polls should be interpreted as a repudiation of anything. I think what the Democrats have tried to do in the last three or four weeks is really provide a clear choice to voters, and I think if there is a high turnout, I think in some respects that will indicate that voters saw a clear choice and saw that it matters -- it matters to their lives to get out and vote and express your opinion.
Q And so a low turnout wouldn't express satisfaction with the way -- the current leadership?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think so. I think it's always difficult to interpret precisely what all these things can mean, but I think there are certainly some sentiment that things are going well in the country now -- the economy has grown now for six years running. I think people feel good about our position here at home and in the world. But the President has been very clear that there are important choices, there are important pieces of unfinished business on the agenda and it's important for people to get out and make a choice between the way the Democrats have framed the issues and the positions the Democrats have taken, and the positions the Republicans have taken.
Q You've got a President who faces an impeachment inquiry. How is it possible to maintain that this is not at least in some respect a referendum on him?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that you need to go out, rather than listening to the people that inhabit this city who spend a lot of time talking and telling the world what they think in an almost non-stop way, go out and talk to the voters. And I think if you go out and talk to the voters you'll find that that's not how they look at things. And as the President has said, it's the issues that they care about that they're looking at in this race.
Q Isn't that just another way of answering the referendum, though? I mean, maybe the voters are saying our view of this referendum is that it's not as important as you guys think it is. But, still, isn't that --
MR. LOCKHART: That could be. And there are lots of people who are well-qualified and some who are less than well-qualified to make their judgments, and I'm sure they'll all be making them in the next 24 years.
Q Joe, yesterday about 1,000 representatives of the narco-terrorist group, the FARC, overran a soldiers base in eastern Colombia, killing many of the officers and soldiers there. This is the same narco-terrorist group that President Pastrano wants to start a dialogue with, a policy which President Clinton gave his support to. Don't these recent actions -- aren't they leading to a reevaluation of the policy with regard to Colombia? And doesn't it really contradict the U.S. position with regard to not negotiating with terrorists and the war on drugs that is the official line?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not familiar with the facts that you've cited. I think both Presidents last week made strong statements about the need to cooperate and to fight the drug trade cooperatively, both at home and in the region. I'm not familiar enough -- or I am not aware that there's anything that has happened that has made us reassess that policy.
Q The President is going to be away during probably the start of the impeachment process.
MR. LOCKHART: So we think.
Q Who will be in charge here, keeping -- involved in the administration's role and so forth?
MR. LOCKHART: As you well know, the President has asked Gregory Craig to come in and help coordinate the efforts here in the White House to deal and to work, hopefully constructively, with the committee. And Mr. Ruff, the White House Counsel, will also be involved in that. So, again, we're not certain when that work begins or how it will unfold, because we don't know. But we believe that the right people will be here in order to work with the committee in any way that is appropriate.
Q In the President's opening statement today he mentioned that the U.S. has been pursuing this comprehensive strategy to fight the financial crisis. And he outlined several steps. One of them that he mentioned was interest rate cuts by the U.S., Japan, Canada and several European nations. Is it fair to say the President welcomes those decisions?
THE PRESIDENT: I think the President talked of one of the parts of the program that he articulated in both the Council of Foreign Relations speech, the IMF speech and at various points in between and after, is a need to return to a policy of growth around the world. And I think one of the recognized ways that we see growth in the economy is at times when there are lower interest rates.
Q Joe, also regarding the NEC meeting this morning, do you know if Japan's position on trade liberalization that you were talking about before was actually brought up in the meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect since it will be a part of the APEC Summit that my expectation is it did come up, but I don't know to what extent. And again, it was not my understanding that there were decisions on the table today, so I don't think there were any decisions.
Q Has Secretary Cohen checked in with the President from overseas?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think he has. I think the President and his national security team have being staying in touch with allies, most notably, the Secretary of Defense, who is now in the region. He's in Saudi Arabia today, and my understanding is he'll be in Kuwait tomorrow.
The Vice President earlier this morning spoke to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. I expect the President will probably, over the coming days, have calls that we will let you know about after they've happened.
Q What did he have to say to the Crown Prince?
Q Does he plan to meet with his national security team today, or has he met with them today?
MR. LOCKHART: He met with his National Security Advisor and the Deputy National Security Advisor this morning -- was briefed on ongoing events both in Iraq and some other places in the world.
Q Why did he call the Crown Prince?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the Vice President wanted the chance to talk to him before the Secretary of Defense was there to discuss the situation on the ground in Iraq and to pursue the conversation that we're having with our allies around the world on the situation and the options for next steps that are available to us.
Q Has there been any change that you could discern in the Iraqi position?
MR. LOCKHART: I have not been able to discern any change in their position, no -- nor have I had any reported to me.
Q What do you say to those critics like Scott Ritter who says that the U.S. and the U.N., in refusing to be more firm with the Iraqis, set the stage for this latest crisis?
MR. LOCKHART: I would disagree with the criticism and restate our position that Saddam Hussein has worked in a counterproductive way, if what his stated goal -- getting relief from sanctions, sanctions that have cost him $120 billion since the end of the Gulf War and trying to split the international community -- if that is his goal, because he's done quite the opposite.
Q Joe, in several of his recent interviews the President bemoaned what he's called his failure to change the atmosphere in Washington, to decrease the partisanship and so forth. Why has he been so unsuccessful at that?
MR. LOCKHART: Read The Washington Post Style section yesterday and you'll get a clue.
Q But that tells us that the problem exists, but doesn't tell us why he hasn't been able --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. That's really a question that as a non-member of the Washington establishment I'm not qualified to answer. I'm sure there's a salon in Georgetown where there's a good debate going on.
Q Are you going to be watching McCurry tonight?
MR. LOCKHART: Absolutely. I had the great honor of talking to him this morning because, as a newly minted pundit, I thought I could take the opportunity to maybe spin him a little.
Q Another Stephanopoulos in our midst?
MR. LOCKHART: I have to report that he was having none of it. (Laughter.)
Q Didn't he tell us he wasn't going to end up as a talking head at that lectern where you're standing right now?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't believe that he would have said something up here that wasn't absolutely, 100 percent accurate.
Q Was he calling you for inside advice or inside information?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I really can't reveal that.
Q Well, what were you trying to spin -- that same stuff you give us? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: He actually said he had just seen someone reporting on the historical trends that somehow made it out of the gaggle and into the mainstream press. (Laughter.) And he wanted to know more on that. He wanted more.
Q Why not call the reporter involved?
Q Joe, 10 months ago there was realistic talk among Democrats of retaking control of the House. Now the only question seems to be how many seats the Democrats might lose. How much responsibility does the President take for diminishing his own party's election prospects with the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment proceedings?
MR. LOCKHART: I think you could just as easily turn that question around to the Speaker of the House within the last three or four weeks, talking about taking 40 seats and now revising that. I think you haven't heard predictions from here at the podium, so I'm not going to be roped into having to respond to any prediction that may or may not have been made.
Q Does he accept any responsibility for hurting in general terms the prospects --
MR. LOCKHART: The President is the leader of the Democratic Party. I think he has done a fine job of articulating the agenda and the issues, especially where we differ from the Republican Party, and now it's up to the voters.
Q Can I follow up just quickly? This morning you seemed to be lowering expectations by citing historical examples of large losses in the House --
MR. LOCKHART: I was seeking to educate.
Q Okay, good, for fun facts, whatever they were -- large losses in the House and Senate. Yet isn't it true that any net loss of seats is a setback for whichever party that loses?
MR. LOCKHART: I think all parties want to win seats, rather than lose seats. But I think part of the culture that we all live in here in Washington is we analyze anything that moves. So I assume that others will analyze and come to the conclusions they think are right and responsible.
Q Why hasn't the President's leadership of the Democratic Party -- if as you say he's done a fine job -- translated into more seats in Congress, more Democratic governorships?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that's a fair question, and I think that's where history does play some role. If you look at the history of Democratic Presidents, Republican Presidents, six years into their term you find that they have a history of poor results. I think you couple that with an election cycle where Republicans are significantly outspending Democrats around the country -- from the party committees alone, something like $110 million -- and that makes the context a difficult one.
I think it's a credit to Democrats around the country that they are as competitive as they are. We don't know what the results are going to be standing here right now, but it's a credit to the way they've articulated their agenda in the face of an overwhelming spending majority and the historical context that we are where we are.
Q Joe, you said the President is going to spend the night here watching the results. Has he invited some friends and pundits maybe?
MR. LOCKHART: Some friends. (Laughter.) Some of them also may be pundits, but --
Q Do you have any more fun facts you want to share with us?
Q Is he sending in for pizza?
MR. LOCKHART: More fun facts? No, I think I've done quite enough damage already.
Q Can you elaborate on U.S. disaster aid to Central America and tell us what more may be in the offing?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I can. Let me just pull that sheet up in front of me. As I reported yesterday, the Ambassadors in Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala have declared disasters in each of those countries, which makes them eligible for the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance of U.S. AID's help. I believe that already authorized is $3.4 million to fund DOD helicopters and cargo aircraft to ferry relief supplies and to conduct search and rescue, and assessments.
I believe the first airlift carrying relief supplies arrived in Honduras October 31st, the second in Honduras November 1st. Three additional airlifts were scheduled to depart by today, so you've had, I think, a total of five airlifts.
As the President has said, we are now looking and working very closely with the governments there, with our embassies there, to see what kind of help we can provide. Again, as he said, I think, right now we have an immediate problem of trying to assist these countries in getting through the immediate crisis. And then we'll have a broader and potentially massive problem of rebuilding.
Q Joe, is the White House satisfied with the House Judiciary Subcommittee hearings scheduled for next week on the history of impeachment? Does that meet the concerns that the White House has raised that the issue of impeachment itself be examined by the Judiciary Committee?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, as I understand it, they are going to be looking more at the history rather than what standards they'll use. I think it's, to the extent -- I mean, it's useful as far as it goes to look at historical precedent. I don't think it replaces a real attempt to set some standard by which you'll judge these allegations. So I think it's useful as far it goes, but I don't think it replaces the idea that we've been pushing for, which is some serious, non-partisan look at the standards by which you judge impeachment.
Q Joe, given the degree of concern that the President expressed about voter intimidation, is there any special effort to monitor that today? And have you guys heard any reports of that occurring?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't. As I said earlier, the DNC is doing some work on that as far as monitoring with the state party's around the country. The Department of Justice has poll monitors around the country -- I think something like 140 around the country. So I think, certainly as expressed yesterday, it's our hope that this won't happen. But I think the organizations like the DNC have to remain vigilant in the extent that voters -- that there are efforts for whatever reasons or whatever motivations to suppress turnout or to intimidate voters from voting.
Q Is the President satisfied with his own fundraising abilities for the party this season, and will there be fundraisers in the future, either for the party or to retire any debt or individual candidates?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect the President to continue to help Democrats raise the resources they need to compete. I think the President worked very hard this year and I think he's satisfied with the help that he was able to provide to Democrats. I think it's difficult. We're in a difficult environment when -- for the principles that we articulate for a comprehensive tobacco legislation, or for a HMO bill of rights, or for supporting passage of an increase in the minimum wage -- there are strong and well-resourced opponents to that. And the Republicans have been able to take advantage, given their position and opposition to these three initiatives in particular. But I think the President did work very hard, as well as the First Lady and the Vice President. And we do the best we can to help Democrats.
Q How soon does he start up again?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have a schedule, but I think you can expect that you will have to endure a few more fundraisers before the year is out.
Q Are there some already scheduled?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there are, but I don't know when the dates are.
Q What is he doing this afternoon?
MR. LOCKHART: This afternoon? I expect he has phone and office time. If he makes any calls that are of interest to you, I will report on them faithfully. Otherwise, I think he's just catching up on some work and will probably knock off early and go back over to the residence, where they will prepare to entertain some friends.
Q How concerned are you about the implementation of the Israeli-Palestinian agreement? There seems to be some problems developing.
MR. LOCKHART: We believe that the Palestinians have done everything they're supposed to do for the agreement to enter into force. Prime Minister Netanyahu has raised some concerns, and we are working to try to work them out.
Q What are those concerns?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he's best to articulate what his concerns are. We are working with them. I will say, though, that he has indicated publicly that he intends to implement the accord, and he has expressed that view directly in conversations with Chairman Arafat.
Q But if you say that the Palestinians -- if you believe the Palestinians have done everything they're supposed to do, you're suggesting that you don't agree with Netanyahu's concerns.
MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm suggesting that the Palestinians have done what they need to do for the agreement to enter into force. The Prime Minister has raised other concerns and we are working with the parties to work through these issues.
Q Concerns outside the framework of the agreement?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm going to stick where I am on this.
Q Going back to impeachment real quick, when and why did the administration change their whole idea on the history of impeachment, because recently from that podium you said we didn't need a history lesson on impeachment?
MR. LOCKHART: I think what we need is some real examination of the standards. To the extent that the committee wants to look at the history, I don't think there is any harm in that. I think they're missing a more important issue, but I don't think we've changed our view on that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:34 P.M. EST