THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
2:40 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: Let me do a couple of pieces of business first on the Slovenian visit. Just give you a quick readout of the visit. President Clinton and the Prime Minister met today at the White House to review ongoing efforts to strengthen bilateral relations, increase mutually beneficial trade and investment, and enhance stability in Southeast Europe. They also discussed Slovenia's aspirations to join NATO and the EU.
President Clinton commended Slovenia's engagement in the international peacekeeping, on efforts to develop the International Trust Fund for de-mining in Bosnia Hercegovina. The President also welcomed Slovenia's very constructive role as a member of the U.N. Security Council, including its stances on Iraq and Kosovo.
On Kosovo, the two leaders noted the key role being played by NATO to bring about compliance with the U.N. Security Council resolutions, and the necessity of reaching a political solution as quickly as possible.
The two leaders discussed the upcoming NATO summit in Washington and Slovenia's efforts to join the Alliance. President Clinton reaffirmed NATO's commitment to keep the door open to additional members, and the U.S. government's willingness to work with Slovenia to make it as strong a candidate as possible for future membership.
Q When is the NATO meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: April.
Okay. I can make one other announcement, given the time -- which I will do if I can find -- a statement by the President.
"I am pleased to announce that a U.S. team will begin today to finalize an agreement with the government of Russia on a program to provide at least 3.1 million metric tons of food. This program will help sustain Russians through a serious food shortage this winter, as well as their country's continuing economic distress.
"In addition, this agreement will bolster American farmers and ranchers, who have been hit hard by the agricultural crisis here. We will be prepared to consider additional assistance if necessary.
The program is being developed under the auspices of a binational commission, chaired by Vice President Gore and Prime Minister Primakov. Our negotiating team will work with their Russian counterparts to ensure that our assistance is distributed properly and exempted from taxes and custom duties. These are key elements to a successful program."
Q How much is it costing?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have an exact figure -- half a billion.
Q Who pays?
MR. LOCKHART: The U.S. government.
Q Would it come out of currently allotted funding or would it have to be a new request?
MR. LOCKHART: I believe it's going to come from a variety of places, including through a concessional loan under PL-480, the Food For Peace program. I think that's what PL-480 is. It will also be a million and a half metric tons would be provided as a grant for food-deficit regions and needy people. And some of it will go through non-governmental organizations.
I'm not sure -- the Department of Agriculture, I think as we speak, has finished a briefing on some of the budgetary impacts of that. So I think if you can get with your colleagues there they can fill you in on that.
Q Have the Russians agreed to any concessions or made any gestures in exchange for this food?
MR. LOCKHART: No. You know, we have a long history of helping countries that are in need of food aid. The Russian harvest this year -- which they came and made the request based on a harvest that they haven't seen since the early 1950s. We have verified the extent of the problem. And in a tradition that is long-lasting, we're coming to the need of a country that is in need of food aid.
Q The Russians asked for the help?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q How did they do that? Was that Yeltsin to Clinton or some lower level?
MR. LOCKHART: No, that was done from government to government. I'm not precisely sure how the request came through, but I'm not aware that the leaders have spoken directly on this.
Q It's a one-shot deal, right?
MR. LOCKHART: There's a team there now, they're looking at least 3.1 million metric tons. But we have, as the statement indicates, said that if additional food is required we will stand ready to work with them.
Q Can you give us any idea of what type of food this is? Is it wheat or meat or is it a mix of everything?
MR. LOCKHART: This is wheat.
Q Are these commodities the U.S. already owns or are you going out in the market to purchase them?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think to get the details of how they're going to procure the stuff I'd go to USDA, which will be running the program.
Q Joe, there's a lot of corruption in Russia and a lot of aid has found its way into wrong hands and has sold for exorbitant prices. Is the United States going to do something to make sure that the people who need the food get the food?
MR. LOCKHART: As the statement indicates, we're going to make sure that there's a sound plan for distribution, monitoring and counting for the food that we provide, to make sure that there isn't anyone who tries to take advantage of the situation and that the food gets to the neediest people.
Q Will it be sold or given away? Will the food be sold or given away?
MR. LOCKHART: In Russia? I don't know how -- I know we'll be working extensively through some NGOs and the Russian government. The Ag Department can tell you how that's split up. But a condition for moving forward is our knowledge that it will actually get to the people who need the food.
Q Joe, the President this morning, talking about the election, went to pains to say "they," "they" accomplished this, "they" had the message. How much political capital has the President himself gained from this election?
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't put it in the sense. I think the "they" was a self-conscious reference that this is about the Democratic Party, this is about the Democratic agenda. The President is the leader of the Democratic Party, so to the extent that elections are interpreted as positive for the party, I think you can naturally extend that as something that's positive for the President.
But I think the point that he was trying to make today was that we worked, from very early on this year, on a common theme, a common agenda with the party. You've heard the issues from Social Security, education, environment, health care bill of rights. We worked on that all year. We got things done. There were items left on the agenda that are unfinished. And the Democrats ran a very positive campaign on those issues. So I think he was indicating that there were a lot of people that had a hand in this, including and especially, the Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate.
Q How much of an impact did the First Lady have on these elections? And specifically, which contests did she have any impact on?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I can't tell you going through. I can tell you that the First Lady is the best surrogate for the President, makes a very forceful case, and made a very forceful case for the Democratic agenda around the country. I'm certain she had an impact in all the races where she campaigned. But it would be impossible for me to try to quantify what that would be except for we believe, and I think the candidates believe, it's a very positive impact.
Q On Social Security, the President said he has spoken to all the congressional leaders, including Lott and Gingrich. Are they going to be at this conference? Are they signed on here?
MR. LOCKHART: We're putting together the conference now as we speak, and one of the things that was discussed in the meeting today is how we move forward, including the conference. We certainly will make every attempt and effort to make this bipartisan. We have worked through the conferences, the regional forums that we've done over the last year, with the bipartisan leadership of Congress, with their designated representative.
So I can't say right now that they would actually participate, but we are going to work very hard to make sure that this is a bipartisan conference.
Q What did they say to him when he got them?
MR. LOCKHART: We are putting the conference together as we speak now. We will be reaching out to them. I'm certain that, to the extent that they want to participate personally or want to participate using representatives, that that will happen.
Q Joe, what did they say to him when he talked to them? You said he called them. What did they say to him when he invited them?
MR. LOCKHART: The President just made the case that it's going to be important over the next months and going into next year to work on a bipartisan basis on Social Security. And I think he felt positively that he will be able to work over the coming months with both Democrats and Republicans and Congress.
Q But he specifically invited them to this December 8th conference?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think he -- they certainly discussed -- actually, I'm not certain that the specific conference came up. What I'm trying to say on the conference is that we haven't put together the format, what the different sessions will be. So as far as I know, invitations, per se --
Q Joe, why does he think he's going to be work successfully with opponents --
MR. LOCKHART: Hold on a second. Is there some part of this you don't understand?
Q I thought you had said earlier that he was asking them to participate in the December 8th conference.
MR. LOCKHART: Again, I don't think we've sent invitations out for particular times, but certainly we will want the leadership to participate -- whether it is Senator Lott and Speaker Gingrich, or their representatives, as we've done in the forums.
Q Why does the President think he'll be able to work with Republicans when he basically accuses them of being partisan every single chance he gets?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that the only way we believe we can move forward with a long-term realistic fix for Social Security is if it's done in a bipartisan manner.
Q But if they have been so partisan, why does he have optimism that things will change, if that's his view of --
MR. LOCKHART: I think if you look at the work that has been done over the last year, particularly in the regional forums, those have been done in a very bipartisan way. We've heard from academics. We've heard from real Americans who have concerns about Social Security, not based on ideology or party affiliation. So I think we have some reason to believe we can do this and move forward in a bipartisan way.
Q We went over this a little bit with Podesta, but I wanted to come back to it, on the impeachment inquiry. You have said from the beginning that the White House intends to cooperate with the committee. Does Tuesday's result make you somewhat less inclined to be cooperative --
MR. LOCKHART: No --
Q -- since your hand is strengthened somehow by --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't view it that way. Our view on the committee and the proceedings remains the same. We want something that's fair, nonpartisan, focused and timely. And we will work with the committee to try to pursue that goal.
Q The President made a real major effort in the past few days to reach the minorities, African Americans, Hispanics. What are your polling numbers telling you? How did it work out?
MR. LOCKHART: I honestly don't know exactly what our numbers have -- to the extent we have any. I know I saw a lot of things on television last night from exit polls, that I think all of the news organizations had, which said that women, in particular, seemed to support Democrats, which provided a big lift for Democrats around the country -- and also African Americans and Hispanics.
Q Can you talk about how the President used the Internet last night and what impact that may have had, what sites he went to?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know the affiliation of the site -- there are so many good ones. (Laughter.) But he was able to, like anyone can through some of the great sites that are out there that do political news, look at, as races unfolded, particular people who he knew or races that he had paid some attention to or actually gone in and campaigned for -- sort of check around in a very real-time way, which through the power of the Internet we're all able to do now.
Q Did he personally -- was he typing away, or was he standing behind someone who was typing away?
MR. LOCKHART: Both.
Q Did he channel surf at all?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, he went between some of the sites and was looking at particular races around the country. I mean, there was a lot of -- there were several high-profile, very close races that people were checking in on from hour to hour to see how the numbers were coming in.
Q Is this the first time he watched the result on the Internet?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that's fair, yes.
Q And did he get more useful information from the Internet or from TV? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Somebody hold me back. (Laughter.) Have I done a promo for a Late Edition on Tuesday night, 90 minutes, all the news? (Laughter.)
Q Somebody is interested in this subject of computers. I personally am not. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Let me try to do this in a serious way and then we'll move on. The beauty of the Internet is you can go around and check on the races that you're interested in and move and make the editorial decisions you're interested in from race to race. But it certainly does not supplant the excellent coverage that was done in the broadcast media; it complements.
Q But on the minority question, when the President said there would be efforts by Republicans to keep African American and other minority voters from voting in six or seven states, what did you find in terms of voter intimidation?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, talking to the DNC this morning, who followed this, while I can't rule out that nothing was done anywhere in the nation, in the areas that they highlighted, I think they found that the attention they tried to draw to it, plus the media -- subsequent media attention, tended to dissuade people from participating or perpetrating any kind of voter intimidation. So I think that's very positive.
Q How do you know that that was the case, or maybe they weren't going to do it all?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that's a judgment the DNC has made, and you can disagree with it or you can agree with it, but that's their judgment.
Q But the bottom line is they're saying it didn't happen?
MR. LOCKHART: The bottom line is in the areas that I think they highlighted, I think what they found -- and I think Mr. Grossman has spoken to this today -- is that they didn't see some of the incidents which they've seen in the past -- which is positive.
Q But take that a step further. They didn't see it because the President warned that they shouldn't do it?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think what they highlighted was a combination of some of the efforts of the DNC themselves and some of the media attention. Now, if the media attention resulted from the President's comments, that may be.
Q This morning you said there was going to be a more positive atmosphere in dealing with Congress. Why is that? Why do you think that will be?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think there was a message in this election that voters responded positively to Democrats who had an agenda, who had issues that impacted real people's lives -- whether it be education, the environment, Social Security, health care bill of rights. And it's our hope that that message can translate into an atmosphere that decreases some of the partisan rhetoric and partisanship, and allows both political parties to focus on progress.
Q Tomorrow is the President going to meet with steel industry and union officials when they come here?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, he has a meeting -- I don't have a time or any of the details of who is coming. Let me try to get something for you.
Q Back on impeachment. What have you heard lately from the House Judiciary Committee about their plans? Is there still an open line of communication?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, there's an open line. I think the parties sort of certainly speak when they need to. I don't want to create any illusion that there's any friction from the parties. But we haven't heard a lot. We're waiting to get a sense of what their intent is, what their timing is. I think Chairman Hyde, before the election, suggested that he wouldn't have anything more to say until at least today. So I suspect that sometime in the coming days we'll hear some more.
Q Are you still pressing them to have hearings on standards?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there's nothing that's gone on in the last 24 hours that changes our view from before yesterday, which we believe that we're looking for something fair and focused and timely and spends the required time on setting a standard for what you judge allegations against.
Q Joe, you said yesterday you would watch the punditry of your predecessor. Did you get to watch Mike in action?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I did. Wasn't he great? (Laughter.)
Q Everybody was joking about the Minnesota race, but Japanese viewers are interested in finding out why indeed a former pro wrestler was able to win the governorship despite not having one of the established parties backing him. How would you explain this?
MR. LOCKHART: Very difficult to explain why a former professional wrestler would have so much appeal to voters. I can only guess that the voting public in Minnesota was looking for a choice that was outside that they're normally afforded between Democrats and Republicans. And the Governor-elect ran an effective campaign. He certainly seemed to come out of nowhere within the last couple of weeks, at least to people watching from outside the state. And it's hard, not being there, to really be able to unravel what was clearly one of the most interesting stories of the night.
Q Begala didn't go up there, did he?
MR. LOCKHART: Mr. Begala will be appointed later today as our official envoy to the state of Minnesota. (Laughter.)
Q There has been a group for the last couple days representing the disabled who have been demonstrating and saying that the administration is spending money -- or channeling money toward Medicaid, toward nursing home care, at the expense of home care for the disabled. Is the White House aware of this complaint, and is there anything --
MR. LOCKHART: I am certainly not aware of it, but let me check into it and we'll get somebody to get back to you.
Q Joe, the President made a lot of phone calls last night. Can you give us some of the names of people he called?
MR. LOCKHART: He talked to a good cross-section of Democrat winners around, some of the Democrats who came up short. Let me sort of try to go through it in my head -- Senator Daschle, Senator Graham, Senator Dodd, Senator-elect Schumer. Is that the right way to say it Senator-elect? To some of the -- Edwards from North Carolina, some of the gubernatorial successful candidates, also to his good friend Garry Mauro and to his good friend Buddy MacKay in Florida, who did not prevail. So I think he ended up probably making a couple dozen phone calls and was very happy that most of them were congratulatory calls rather than condolence.
Q Has President Clinton set a $5 million price tag on the head of Bin Laden, who is being indicted this hour in New York?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect that there will be some news very soon from the U.S. Attorney in New York, and I'm going to withhold comment until she makes her announcement.
Q Will you make a statement later about why the President is willing --
MR. LOCKHART: Certainly be available to discuss whatever it is she announces afterwards.
Q Has the President taken action on this?
MR. LOCKHART: I'll be available to discuss that once she makes an announcement. It would be improper for me to discuss it before she does.
Q Back on the minority issue. The RNC said that this voter intimidation thing before the vote even happened was a Democratic scheme. Now you're saying that you don't have any information about it. I mean, could you --
MR. LOCKHART: Let me just take this from personal experience. I'll tell you, I've done a few campaigns in my life and I've been in campaigns where people have tried to intimidate voters and keep them from voting. And I went to a polling site or had someone bring me a poster from a polling site in a congressional campaign I went to where they had off-duty policemen holding signs saying, call this number if you know of voter fraud -- and the number was to the Republican National Committee.
So I don't accept the idea that this hasn't happened in the past. I don't see, according to the DNC, evidence this time and I think that's a very positive development -- if, indeed, that's the case.
Q That brings me to the next question. Some people are saying that it was a ploy to get the black vote out and the African American voter was used by the Democratic Party for these Democratic wins. What are your thoughts about that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that's an extraordinarily cynical view of the world, to somehow view the fact that a particular group or number of people got out to the polls to exercise their democratic rights as somehow using a group. I think that's, frankly, insulting both to the group and to the people -- to us who are being accused of it.
Q This issue was first raised in response to a question in a gaggle that was completely unrelated, it was on Social Security --
MR. LOCKHART: No, actually, it was first raised Saturday, when the DNC put out a press release announcing some legal action -- announcing some legal action that they were taking in various places. And having seen that and having seen things happen in the past, I think it was appropriate to raise the issue.
Q The announcement has been made in New York, 238-count indictment against Osama bin Laden and six others, $2 million reward, I gather, for information leading to arrest and conviction. Can you explain to us what the deal is here?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't at this point. I'm waiting for the announcement, but I don't have what I need here to discuss with you. I'll get with you when I can.
Q What did you find out about the roundup of Moslims in this country?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any specific information about that, beyond putting you over to the FBI.
Q Can I ask you something about Social Security, one other question on Social Security? The President came pretty close to saying this, and a lot of Democrats basically accuse the Republicans of trying to destroy Social Security, not just on the question of the surplus. What is your view at this point about what the Republican outlook is on Social Security? Does the White House believe Republicans are trying to destroy the system?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there are a lot of ideas out there. And what we have now is almost a broad menu of particular ideas about things that might work and might be part of a long-term fix for the Social Security system. There are some ideas that may have some merit, depending on how they work in with other ideas.
What we haven't really seen is a comprehensive view. And that's certainly not a criticism, because I think we have talked at length about how this year was the year that we reached out and really was a time to explore ideas, have academics and people with in an interest in these things have a chance to make their case. And we'll be moving more now to try to put together, whether it be principles or some legislative package, that we believe the Democrats and Republicans can support.
Q Do you think Republicans are trying to destroy the system? I mean, the question is, the people you're going to sit down and try to work with, are they out to destroy the system?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think that -- we believe that the parties have a long-term interest and stake in fixing the system. The task in front of us now is to put together the best ideas from across the spectrum and get a Social Security fix that meets the five principles that the President laid out in Kansas City.
Q So you think you can work with Republicans then?
MR. LOCKHART: We do. And I think the President expressed that today.
Q Do you have any concerns that some of the things that were said during the election might make bipartisan cooperation more difficult?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. I think if you look at what we said, we certainly made our case forcefully, talked in particular -- I think when we talked about Social Security, it was in context of whether there would be an across-the-board tax cut with no way of paying for it. I think that obviously went nowhere this year. There is some sentiment that that's going to come on.
But if you listened to some Republicans today, there is now some discussion about doing Social Security first, which is a move in the right direction, and we are hopeful at this point that we can do this in a bipartisan way.
Q Joe, anybody who knows politics and history and watched last night's election returns was probably surprised as the evening wore on by the way -- vis-a-vis, the Democrats holding their own and actually gaining seats in the House. The President, was he surprised as the evening went on, about what was happening?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there was probably a little bit of that. When we talked about the historical precedent and the money being spent, I think many interpreted that as just a way of trying to play the expectation games, but those numbers are real. You can look back and say that not since 1934 did a party in power gain seats, and certainly not since, in a second term and a sixth year, not since 1822. So these things don't happen very often.
There is a reason for that, a reason sort of inherent in our political system, that tends to in off years reward the party that's not in the White House, which you could spend hours looking at the reasons for. But I think that makes the results all the more encouraging and gratifying.
Q But was he -- did he seem surprised?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there were so many close races, and that's really what marked yesterday as something that set it apart from some of the elections that I've seen. So I think there certainly were, in the very close ones, pleasant results, pleasant surprises for Democrats who prevailed, and actually some of them that were thought to be very close that turned out in the end not to be that close.
That certainly was one of the stories in some of the bigger races that we all thought -- and I think all of the experts looking at them going into the final weekend thought -- that they were going to come down and go late into the night, that ended up not being very close at all.
Q Joe, the President referred the day before yesterday and yesterday to the tragedy in Central America. Yesterday he was talking of 7,000 dead. The latest figures are over 9,000. And just in Honduras alone there is 7,000 dead, and I think over 11,000 missing. Who is apprising the President --
MR. LOCKHART: Let me give you a little bit of what we know about the situation on the ground, what we're doing. And I think we're going to try to bring some of the people who are coordinating this effort over here tomorrow morning to give you a more knowledgeable briefing about what the U.S. is doing and what we're trying to do in coordination with the other affected countries.
But as far as the situation, the death toll in Honduras has risen now to an estimated 7,000. There are about 1,350 confirmed fatalities in Nicaragua; thousands of people in both countries remain unaccounted for. About 10 percent of Honduras has been or remains under water, and flood waters have displaced more than 250,000 people.
In Nicaragua, 415,000 people have been displaced from their home. Belize City residents are returning to their homes now, following their evacuation, which caused only limited damage in Belize. In Guatemala, up to 14,000 people have sought refuge from the flooding. Flash floods in El Salvador resulted in 144 deaths. Costa Rica, seven people died and 4,000 are homeless due to the flooding.
USAID has deployed, as we've said before, the disaster assistance response teams. DOD has deployed 12 H-60 and four MH-60 helicopters and four cargo aircraft to the region to support the logistics of the relief operation. These air assets are used to deliver relief supplies to remote areas and are conducing over-flight assessments.
USAID is working with the government of Venezuela to transport temporary bridges to Honduras to re-establish the link between the port and the capital. USAID has sent three airlifts of shelter materials and water containers to Honduras. Today the U.S. government airlifts will deliver similar supplies, along with blankets and water storage tanks to Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
As we've said before, there is $3.5 million in initial funding to support air operations and to meet immediate health care needs. And we will be looking at additional needs as they are identified. The latest information I've got is that 73 missions have been flown; 30 more are planned. Six hundred fifty people have been rescued, including, I believe, the President of Honduras. Apparently, the President of Honduras was out doing some relief operations --
Q -- three days ago.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes -- was out doing relief operations and got caught in some of the flooding and was extracted.
In any event, we will have a group coming over tomorrow that are helping coordinate this to give you some more detail.
Q What is the President hearing from Cohen's mission to the Gulf so far in terms of support for any possible military action or military pressure against Iraq?
MR. LOCKHART: Secretary Cohen has been today in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar, where he is spending the evening. The meetings have been productive and gone well. We expect we'll have the support we need to pursue any further options in Iraq.
Q On the Middle East, what's your sense of the second cancellation of the Israeli Cabinet meeting to consider the Palestinian plan to fight terrorism?
MR. LOCKHART: We believe that the Palestinians have met their obligations under the Wye agreement, as we said yesterday. The Prime Minister has sought some additional clarifications and we are working with them to work through those issues. But we're optimistic that both sides will implement the agreement that they negotiated in good faith, because ultimately we think it's in the interests of Israel, the interests of Israel's security, and the interest of Palestinian economic prosperity, and in the interests of the peace process.
Q The deadline set at Wye have threatened to slip and pass without completion. What's the sense of the White House that this may scuttle things?
MR. LOCKHART: We think that both parties -- while the Prime Minister is seeking clarifications on some points, that our sense is that we will be able to implement the accords reached at Wye.
Q This came up once before and you didn't give a very complete answer. Why does the President refer in his comments today to the Democrats in the third person, as "they" repeatedly. Isn't he the nominal head of that party?
MR. LOCKHART: He certainly is, but his name wasn't on the ballot. So there were a lot --
Q He was out campaigning for --
MR. LOCKHART: John, I think if you want to work that up into some deeper meaning, it would be incorrect.
Q But he doesn't speak accidentally. He said it repeatedly, "they."
MR. LOCKHART: He was speaking about people who were actually out on the ballot yesterday, who either were successful because they ran a good campaign, or came up short for whatever reason. He is the head of the Democratic Party. He is involved -- it is the agenda he shares with the leadership in the House and the Senate and with governors around the country. So I wouldn't read too much into it beyond that the President was speaking particularly about how proud he was of the people who were actually out running and making their case directly to voters -- which he ultimately, in this case, didn't do himself.
Q Joe, several initiatives were approved in different states yesterday, among them -- in California. And another initiative to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Do you have any comment?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think there was a mixed result on legalization of medical marijuana. There were some states that -- one state, at least, that I think approved some use of medical marijuana. Our position is well-known on that subject. General McCaffrey has spoken many times to it, that he believes that it lacks any scientific data and we are opposed to it. I understand he may have a statement -- put out a statement later this afternoon.
Q Joe, you spoke of the election being positive for the President, to the extent that he's the leaders of the Democrats. And you mentioned a number of initiatives -- education, Social Security -- that may have been affirmed by the vote yesterday. Can you specifically address whether the election was good for the President when it comes to the question of impeachment?
MR. LOCKHART: I think I've specifically addressed that. I think the President specifically addressed it and I think John Podesta specifically addressed it, which is we are focused here on moving the President's agenda forward. How this impacts the process is in the hands of those who are running the process, and they are more appropriate to try to get some results. They've said a lot of things about it leading up to the election; I'm certain they'll say a lot of things about it after the election. But it's really more appropriate for them to comment, as they will run the process.
Q Joe, there's already been some talk about a leadership struggle among Republicans over the election. How does the White House think that would impact the President's agenda -- or an effort to make --
MR. LOCKHART: It's impossible to predict. I've seen the same things you do. I don't know whether that's real or whether that's Monday morning quarterbacking of what might have been or what could have been. So I really don't know, so it's impossible to predict how it might have an agenda impact.
Q One change that appears imminent is Senator Graham taking over banking in the Senate. He, as well as Speaker Gingrich, have talked about these private savings accounts for Social Security. I'm wondering whether the subject came up in the meeting today and where the President stands on that.
MR. LOCKHART: Barry, who sat in on the meeting, is telling me there wasn't a lot of specific programs or policies discussed in an of themselves.
I think, as I said before, we're looking to put together the best plan available. We will be looking as we move forward at different components in there. But we're really not at a position now where we're going to judge any particular component until we've had a chance to put them together in a comprehensive plan.
Q What was discussed at the meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: It was a meeting to get a sense of where we go from here. We're now past the election. We have the conference coming up in early December. The President and his advisors had a candid discussion about the best ways to move forward and the various options that are available to us.
Q But, Joe, those components -- at least the ones that were most often raised at the regional forums -- either have to raise eligibility age, raise taxes, cut benefits or do some form of privatization -- some or all of those. Do any of them fit into your five principles? And given that none of them are all that politically palatable, when the President says you need bipartisanship, is that because neither party would want to take the blame --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to try to rate any components here or put together the package up here. We've had a series of forums. You've seen the subjects that have come up. You've had a chance to listen. We look forward to the White House conference in December. We'll have a two-day session with bipartisan leadership experts from around the country and it would probably be more appropriate then.
Q Joe, on the medicinal marijuana referenda, why doesn't the President recognize the will of the people in those states that voted it to make this judgment for themselves and not let the federal government interfere?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't know that -- I think in Arizona there was the one state that voted positively, and I'm not sure there's a federal government role. I may not understand the ballot proposition. I was expressing the view of the White House on this issue that General McCaffrey has taken the lead on. We are opposed to the medical use of marijuana.
Q Well, the President has spoken publicly about how he doesn't like the health insurance company accountants to tell doctors what they can or cannot do. But it's okay for the federal government bureaucrats to tell doctors in certain states what they can or cannot do to --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I won't tell General McCaffrey you called him a federal government bureaucrat. I don't think that's how he views himself. No, I think if you look at what he said, Mark, he doesn't believe there's any scientific evidence. There are a lot of people who support this who base it on scientific --
Q Well, there are doctors who believe that it helps certain patients.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, and I think that the administration and General McCaffrey as the lead player on this, believe that on balance that evidence isn't compelling. And we take the view in opposition to any effort to legalize marijuana for medical use.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:15 P.M. EST