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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 7, 1998
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                              JOE LOCKHART 
                           The Briefing Room            

1:40 P.M. EST

MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon. One brief announcement before we get going. I just have to find it here. At the invitation of Congress, President Clinton will deliver a State of the Union Address to both Houses of Congress and the nation on Tuesday, January 19th, 1999.

That is it for announcements today. What can I do for you all?

Q From the letter that the Counsel's Office has sent over to the House Judiciary Committee, it says that Greg Craig will introduce the panelists and Charles Ruff will make the presentation at the end of the session. So what happens to David Kendall?

MR. LOCKHART: I think Mr. Kendall will be there and available if there are any questions, but we felt that it was most appropriate for the White House Counsel to make the summation in the middle of the second day, Wednesday afternoon.

Q Can you give us any help on how to look at this? There are two panels that talk about the evidence -- how to evaluate the evidence and the prosecutorial standards for obstruction of justice and perjury. Are these philosophical panels, or will they actually say, now, when he answered 'not that I can recall,' it really wasn't --

MR. LOCKHART: I certainly don't expect people on those panels to do it, but these are historians, former prosecutors, people who can talk about the standards by which we judge either this information or the allegations.

Q So they might say an answer has to be material. In other words, they would talk about the standards rather than his answers themselves?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't expect -- it's not my expectation that they will come in and try to make a particular case, one way or the other, on a particular fact. These panels, as described in the letter, are more speaking to issues of historical precedent, constitutional standards and how each of these allegations as they've been laid out there in the three categories that the committee has discussed articles in, whether
it be abuse of power --

Q -- to specifics as to the allegations.

MR. LOCKHART: Right. Let me finish. Whether it be abuse of power or misstatements or perjury. I think that you'll see that in the President's Counsel's presentation, we will look at both the constitutional standards and the allegations and the facts and the law in that context.

Q Why not call any witnesses who might refute the facts that are alleged against the President?

MR. LOCKHART: I think that what we want to do here is lay out a serious case in defense of these allegations, and first and foremost at the beginning, talking about the constitutional standards and then move towards the President's Counsel alleging the facts. I think one of the things you have to recognize is that the committee didn't call anyone, so there is no one necessarily to rebut. We have the report from the independent counsel and we will address the allegations that are raised in that report.

Q All along David Kendall and other lawyers are saying that the grand jury process was unfair because witnesses were not subjected to the adversarial cross-examination and once we were to do that we would have a better sense of the facts in the situation. What's happened with that philosophy or that complaint?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think you'll find at a minimum that when you look at the referral, even without testing the minimal testing of witnesses, there was a good bit of information that either contradicted or was exculpatory. And that we will discuss.

Q Why not try to get at more of that?

MR. LOCKHART: Because we don't believe that even the case that the independent counsel and some members of the Republicans who have embraced it rises to the level of impeachment. We have two days to make a case here and we will spend a good bit of time talking about the constitutional standards because that's what we're in right now. We're in a very serious constitutional issue between the White House and Congress.

Q You're saying that Starr's referral was one-sided because he didn't get at the facts. Well, here's your chance to get at the facts.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we will discuss what our view of both the facts and law are in great length in Mr. Ruff's presentation.

Q In this letter it says that Professor Ackerman will argue that a bill of impeachment approved by the House would expire on January 3, of 1999. Is that the White House argument?

MR. LOCKHART: No. I think we are most concentrated at this point on avoiding moving to any circumstance like that, but I think you'll find that there are people here who are constitutional experts who have written extensively on subjects and will be expressing their views.

Q Well, why would you call a witness who would express the view that regardless of what the House vote is, it's irrelevant because it's going to expire January 3, 1999, if that wasn't your view?

MR. LOCKHART: I think Professor Ackerman has a lot to offer as far as what the founding fathers were thinking when they developed the constitutional standards for impeachment.

Q Does that mean that there is no discussion or consideration at the White House now that if there is impeachment from the House that you would not move to quash it before --

MR. LOCKHART: I haven't heard a single mention of that until -- and I believe that we have accurately reflected the writings and thinking of Professor Ackerman.

Q So are you willing to say right now that you would not move to --

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not willing to speculate about what's going to happen down the road. We've got enough going on right now that is real that I'm glad to take questions on, but I'm not going to look into the future.

Q This is your witness. It doesn't seem to make any sense that you would call a witness that you would disagree with.

MR. LOCKHART: David, let me just tell you that the Republicans called a series of witnesses last week who all to a person said the President shouldn't be impeached. People have independent views and part of the process is to explore what constitutional scholars believe.

Q Joe, do you believe that this lame duck House of Representatives should be in a position to decide whether or not to impeach the President?

MR. LOCKHART: I think that we're not in charge of this train and I'm not sure the relevance of what we believe about this Congress or the next Congress.

Q Is there any plan for the President in the next several days, before a vote on the House floor, to address the country or in some forum express himself again on this subject at some length?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any particular plan to express himself. I will reiterate, though, that the President is second to none in recognizing what was wrong in his behavior and apologizing to those who he has affected and hurt. He has spoken I think on many occasions to that and that view has not changed. There's been some speculation that that is no longer the case, but I can tell you with great certainty that it is, that he is well aware, keenly aware, of what he has done wrong and has apologized to those who were affected.

Q Does that awareness include perjury, Joe?

MR. LOCKHART: No, it does not.

Q Wouldn't it help him at this point to come forward and restate that view then, because many people have said if the President comes forward and confesses what he's done he'll get a pass?

MR. LOCKHART: Let me -- as long as were in the realm of many people, many people say that the President is not contrite enough and when he expresses his sorrow for this they argue, but it's about the facts, you're not arguing the facts. And when you aggressively dispute the facts, some people argue, well, you're not being contrite. So I suggest that there is some politics involved in some of the many people who are saying things.

Q When you said, I am not aware of any particular plan for him to do that, I wonder if that was a particular choice of words, because are there now discussions at the White House about the President doing something along those lines?

MR. LOCKHART: We are certainly aware that some people have the view that have been articulated by some of you here. The President gets asked about these matters on a pretty regular basis. He has, I think on most occasions, expressed the view that he takes responsibilities for his actions and he's working hard every day to put things right with both his family, his friends, the American people. I have no sense at this point of a particular idea to do that again in a specialized forum, but I can't preclude it because he was asked about this last week.

Q One of the problems is, is that since the President last made any expression on this -- and for obvious reasons you've had him concentrating on other issues -- but the lawyers in their exchange with the committee have been defiant, critical, you talked about them being partisan, unfair. All the exchanges since the President last made any statements on this have been in the form of a confrontation with Congress and have suggested that you thought none of the facts were relevant because either they were tainted evidence, as they suggested last week, or that it was the result of an unfair process.

MR. LOCKHART: I think that is -- you are expanding comments into a much broader spectrum than the comments were meant to. There have been questions that we've raised about the fairness of the process in the committee. I think those are legitimate, they stand. That has little to nothing to do with the President accepting responsibility for his behavior.

Q But you have a number of people who are moderate Democrats, moderate Republicans -- Democrats, who are saying they need to see some sort of sense that there is contrition here, there is not just blaming Ken Starr for what happened to the President.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I can assure you that the contrition is real and is there, and that our hope is when we have a chance to present a defense over two days, they will see something that is serious, that doesn't attempt to lay blame with someone else, and makes a case that both on the facts and the law and on constitutional standards argues that the President shouldn't be impeached.

Q Did I hear you correctly when you said in the referral that there was a lot of information in there that either contradicted the allegations or was exculpatory of the President?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I think if you look, as we've said in the past, if you look in just the referral part there are certainly relevant pieces of testimony and information that have subsequently become available that do not support conclusions reached in the referral and, in fact, in some cases contradict.

Q Can you give us some examples of that?

MR. LOCKHART: I think I'll wait until Mr. Ruff gives his presentation.

Q You say that the President is aware, he recognizes what was wrong with his behavior. Is he also aware of the impact that the defiance in the answers to the 81 questions has had on people on the Hill?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I believe, as I've said, that we answered those questions in a good faith way, and as I said this morning, for those people who are fairminded and are trying to keep an open mind about this process, we would certainly regret that they saw it that way.

Q In the past, when he made the first speech after the day of testimony, clearly that came from the heart. When he understood that people didn't feel it was contrite enough he made an effort to be more contrite. Here you have people on the Hill saying that the answers to the 81 questions were arrogant and defiant. I'm wondering if he has heard that message and plans to respond to it.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I certainly believe that everyone here in this building has heard a wide variety of views including that one, and to the extent that people have concerns we're doing our best to address them.

Q Was the White House pleased that yesterday The Washington Post, which immediately fired its reporter, Janet Cook, for lying, has called for President Clinton to be censured rather than impeached?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't we've expressed a view about any one particular editorial.

Q Do you, as the President's top media advisor, believe that it's more important to have truth at The Washington Post than in the Oval Office?

MR. LOCKHART: I think that's apples and oranges.

Q They're both round, they have seeds, they have juice.

Q At this point, is there any plan for either perhaps in the closing summary that a statement from the President would be read to the committee?

MR. LOCKHART: I have not seen what Mr. Ruff plans to present to the committee. It's two days away; we'll all just have to wait.

Q So that's not a yes or a no, you're not --

MR. LOCKHART: I'll repeat, I have --

Q There is no opening statement?

MR. LOCKHART: There is. As the letter indicates, Mr. Craig will open the proceedings with an overview of what you're about to see, who you will hear from, and Mr. Ruff will close them with a summation which will begin at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday. But I have not seen it, and even if I had I would not preview it here.

Q Is it possible then, Joe, that the President is going to say nothing in his own defense, either to the committee or to the people?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President has said quite a lot about this matter, both -- everyone has access and if they have a television they saw his grand jury testimony. He's spoken to the country on several occasions on this matter. If it's appropriate to say something he will say something.

Q Do you have a vote count now, do you have a sense of how it's shaping up on the floor of the House?


Q The President could lose it?

Q You have no idea?


Q Can he lose --

MR. LOCKHART: He certainly can if enough Republicans vote to make the decision that he should be removed from office.

Q Joe, what's your strategy, how are you trying to avoid this impeachment thing? Who are you working with, what are you --

MR. LOCKHART: Our strategy is self-evident. It's in the letter that you have before you that we provided for you. We are going to present over the next two days a very serious case for why the allegations as raised do not meet a constitutional standard for impeachment. We'll go through from an historical perspective each of the articles that have been articulated in the media, so we assume that that is what the committee has in mind. And the President's counsel will do a summation based on the facts and the law about why this doesn't rise to the level of impeachment.

Q Will you propose an alternative to impeachment?

MR. LOCKHART: No. I think we've said in the past and I have no reason to change what we said, members in good faith who come forward with an alternative, we will look at it here, but this is more appropriate for the members to do. This is an issue for Congress to decide.

Q Republican leaders have said that this is a vote of conscience for their members. Do you believe that that is the case?

MR. LOCKHART: I think there is anecdotal information that pressure is being put on Republicans that this is an issue of party discipline rather than conscience. And I think you can just read the paper to see the quotes of senior Republicans without names. There have been other stories about members who have said that if you stick your head out and say that you might be for censure, your office will get lit up with phone calls, however spontaneous, to protest that decision. So I think it should be a vote of conscience, I think it certainly is among Democrats. And the leadership -- I don't think they're trying to put any pressure on any members to influence the way they vote, but I don't think it's a clear-cut case that that same tone is being followed within the Republican leadership.

Q Isn't there a shift in tone here at the White House today? In previous days you've come out with guns blazing; today I hear a much more softer, conciliatory tone.

MR. LOCKHART: I just had a good weekend, Jim. (Laughter.) I'm feeling good, I'm feeling better. No, I think we've been in the position for the last three months of sort of arguing about how we're going to argue, and I think we had a good case to be made for why the President deserved a fair chance to make his case.

We're not satisfied with how it's gone and even with the time we're allotted, but we're going to make the best of it. And now we're moving into a different phase which I think, given the serious nature of it, given the fact that what the House of Representatives is discussing is removing the President and removing him from office, overturning the will of the people, it's important that this be done in a serious way. And our time has come; tomorrow and Wednesday is our time to make our case. And we plan to do it and we plan to do it in a serious way and we plan to do it in a way that brings credit to the process. And I hope that we can accomplish that.

Q Is that why the lawyers dropped the third panel that was requested in the letter? On Friday there was going to be a panel devoted to --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, given four days there were certainly issue to be explored there. We're in two days now; I think our team felt that some of those issues were raised when Mr. Kendall had a chance to question Mr. Starr. And we thought that, given two days, this is the best way to present a positive case both on the historical and legal fronts.

Q Didn't you also get Democrats complaining to you that attacking Ken Starr would not help the President's case at this point?

MR. LOCKHART: There's a lot of noise out there. I'm not aware that there was any particular complaint.

Q Joe, you could have taken more time. In other words, they offered you many, many --

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, they offered us the chance to go well into the night, and we chose to use the daylight hours.

Q Right. But your choice to drop that third panel is not because you wouldn't have had enough time.

MR. LOCKHART: No, our choice to move forward was we felt that this was the best way to make an effective case for the President in the context of being able to talk for two days, rather than four days.

Q Joe, is there any feeling around here that the President might be alienating some of his staunchest supporters or at least letting them down by not making a personal case in his defense --

MR. LOCKHART: I think that the President has made a personal case and has made it several times. I certainly -- it's not my intention to preclude that he will never revisit this. I'm not aware of any forum at this point that is known to me that will elicit that.

Q Joe, is the President talking to members of Congress about impeachment?

MR. LOCKHART: Not in any sort of formal way that I'm aware of. I mean, he sees members here at the events. I think -- I'm certain that he'll see lots of members tonight at the Congressional Ball. I can't preclude the fact that the subject doesn't come up. It certainly is a subject of great conversation in this town. But I'm not aware of any effort to systematically or formally reach out to members.

Q The President is not lobbying then on this issue?

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.

Q And do you anticipate that he will over the next two weeks?

MR. LOCKHART: I can't predict the future.

Q Will he spend any time today talking with his lawyers? You said that last week he spent 30 minutes or so on this.

MR. LOCKHART: He spent 30 minutes on one particular issue that I was aware of.

Q Any time today?

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. I assume that he's probably had a chance to look at this letter.

Q Are the Republicans going to the ball tonight?

MR. LOCKHART: I certainly hope so. I mean, this is a tradition here at the White House to on Christmastime bring down members on a bipartisan basis. This is the people's house, it's not a Democratic White House or Republican White House. And I certainly hope that Republicans feel welcome to attend the ball.

Q There was a promise from David Kendall's response to the answer that there would be another memorandum -- is this happening today or as part of the presentation?

MR. LOCKHART: No, it will be part of the presentation, just a written summary.

Q A written summary that will be like Ruff's final statement?

MR. LOCKHART: I suggest it will probably be more comprehensive than what Mr. Ruff can do in the time allotted to him, but I would expect it to track the areas that it addresses.

Q On that specific issue, Joe, would it be fair to assume that there would be more details in the written memorandum as opposed to the oral presentation, as far as some of the facts of the case?

MR. LOCKHART: Having not seen either of them in their final form, we can wait until Wednesday to find out.

Q And can I ask one follow-up on one point? Why was it appropriate for David Kendall to do the questioning of Ken Starr but now it's more appropriate to have the White House counsel do the final summation before the committee?

MR. LOCKHART: I think Mr. Kendall was best placed to raise issues of concern with the independent counsel. I think, first and foremost, what we'll do Tuesday and Wednesday of this week is in a very serious way address serious constitutional issues, and it's more appropriate for the White House counsel to do that.

Q So this doesn't indicate any lack of confidence in the job that Mr. Kendall might do, or maybe unhappiness with his last performance?


Q Joe, does the White House have an official statement on the election in Venezuela yesterday?

MR. LOCKHART: The White House applauds the Venezuelan people for their display of democracy at work in electing their new President. The elections were peaceful and the results were reported -- tabulated and reported promptly. We congratulate Mr. Chavez on his impressive victory.

Q Did you formally relay to him that the White House supports him?

MR. LOCKHART: I believe -- I'm not sure if there's been any particular communication, but the President certainly endorses the ideas that I've just expressed here.

Q In view of last week's American Social Health Association report of 5 million new cases of human papilloma virus, 3 million new cases of chlamydia, 650,000 new cases of gonorrhea and 1 million new cases of herpes, has the Secret Service --

MR. LOCKHART: Wolf, are you sure you want to take this life anymore? Okay, good.

Q Has the Secret Service in their obligation to protect the President asked that Monica Lewinsky be tested?

Q Ohhhh.


Q Doesn't the Secret Service have an obligation to protect the President? Don't they, Joe? Would you like to ignore this, it's embarrassing? Okay.

Q Chavez is a person who has been denied a U.S. visa in the United States. Is the White House -- his mind --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, my understanding of this -- and you really should talk to the State Department about the particulars of visa applications -- is that heads of state apply in their capacity as a head of state and those visa applications are routinely processed and accepted -- granted.

Q Venezuela is what, the number two oil supplier to the United States --

MR. LOCKHART: I think it's the number one.

Q I stand corrected.

MR. LOCKHART: I can't take your question seriously at this point, Randy. Next? (Laughter.) Sorry.

Q Are you concerned, though, that Chavez may take some steps to nationalize the oil industry, restrict trade --

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think we have a good relationship with Venezuela and we believe that he will constitute himself in a manner consistent with the Venezuelan Constitution and remain cognizant of the need for continued fiscal responsibility.

Q If he applies for the visa, would the United States grant it?

MR. LOCKHART: I refer you to the answer I gave you. And I think if you need more specifics you should ask at the State Department.

Q Is Mrs. Clinton participating in any way in the defense of the President? I mean, she is a lawyer.

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any formal role and it's certainly not something that's evident to me in my limited participation of trying to figure out what's going on so I can report to you. I just can't -- I suggest you talk to her staff if you wanted to explore anything on an informal basis.

Q Wouldn't that be unusual, though, Joe, because she is one of the President's top legal and political advisors?

MR. LOCKHART: I answered that way on purpose.

Q Has the President spoken to Mike Espy since the verdict? What was his promise he made him? And is he considering him for an administration job?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know whether they've spoken. The promise that he made, as Mr. Espy said, was something that was done in confidence, so I'm not going to detail it. And I think the President's statement indicates that he believes that Mr. Espy has a future in public service.

Q Well, does that mean, yes, he is considering him for a job?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President indicated that he believes Mr. Espy has a future in public service and I'm not going to go beyond that.

Q A follow-up on the Espy question. Did the President apologize to Espy for his standoffish behavior during this whole escapade?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know whether they've spoken.

Q No, they didn't speak -- Espy said they did not speak during that whole time when he was going through this process. So did the President apologize, do you know at all --

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know whether they've spoken, so I can't answer the question.

Q Joe, on North Korea, is the administration considering abandoning the agreed framework with North Korea if it does not get access to the suspected underground nuclear facility? And will it express that view to the North Koreans this week?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we've expressed in the past the view that we believe there are some serious questions about the site and we need the ability to inspect and to look for ourselves; and that if there does prove to be something that would violate the rules, that there would be serious consequences.

Q Are you optimistic about getting access to the site --

MR. LOCKHART: I think we will be pressing our case vigorously.

Q Joe, on Ruff's final summation, how long would you expect that to go?

MR. LOCKHART: Let me check, I don't know for sure.

Q You know those late evening hours are not particularly useful to some of us, to quote a White House official.

MR. LOCKHART: I think there is some restriction from the committee on the length of it. And I think just as far as doing a comprehensive presentation there would be some limit on it. By putting the 1:00 p.m. time frame on beginning, there is certainly some intention of the committee to getting done early on Wednesday.

Q Joe, does Mr. Ruff expect to be questioned and will he allow that?

MR. LOCKHART: I expect the committee has said that it's part of their requirements and --

Q And the White House is good with that at this point?

MR. LOCKHART: Those are the rules.

Q Would the President, if he's impeached by the time before January 19th, would he be the first impeached President to -- or do you know whether Andrew Johnson --

MR. LOCKHART: I have no idea.

Q No idea?

Q Your statement that it's up to Congress, are you implying that the President is not interested in negotiating any terms of a possible censure and would sign any bill that came his way?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm saying that we believe it's more appropriate for members of Congress to make the determination of what they believe is an appropriate forum for whatever form of censure it might be. And we'd be willing to listen to those who come forward with proposals in good faith.

Q Joe, have you been able to find out yet where the Paula Jones --

MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm still working on that. As soon as I have an answer I'll let you know.

Q Is the President concerned about the lack of enthusiasm shown by Prime Minister Netanyahu about the President's trip? The Prime Minister said today, what am I going to do, tell him not to come, don't come; I'm not accustomed to refusing someone who wants to come.

MR. LOCKHART: No. I would draw your attention to Minister Sharon's statement this morning at the State Department, where on several occasions he quite enthusiastically welcomed the President's visit.

Q Let me ask another thing about this Cabinet meeting that was reported. Some U.S. officials have said the idea for going to Gaza originated with the Israelis. But, as I understand it, Prime Minister Netanyahu denied that he was the one who had invited the President to Gaza. I mean, they may just be playing with words there, but who do you think originated the idea?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't know the precise genesis of the idea, but both sides agreed that it would be in the interest of the peace process and in the interest of both parties for the President to make this trip -- for the Israelis to take the steps that they committed to and for the Palestinians to take the steps that they committed to, to moving this peace accord forward.

Q Is it your understanding, Joe, that when the Palestine National Council meets on Thursday, they need to have a roll call vote on the articles in the Palestine National --

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure of the logistics, of how the vote happens. I believe there are several steps in the process. The President will be in Gaza at or about the time of the third step, which is a wider vote. But I don't know the actual logistics. The first vote has already happened. I don't know, the second one, what the logistics of that are.

Q What will the President do if the vote is against revoking or changing the charter. What is he prepared to do?

MR. LOCKHART: We expect both sides to implement what they agreed to at Wye.

Q I understand but, I mean, what are you going to do if they don't?

MR. LOCKHART: I try to at least duck at least 30 percent of the hypotheticals that I get and this will be in that category.

Q Will there be a summit in Gaza?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have the details yet of the precise schedule -- when we do, I'll make them available to you.

Q Would you reiterate for the record here what you told us this morning, that there's no substance to the story that Secretary Rubin intends to -- has told the President he intends to resign?

MR. LOCKHART: I certainly am not aware of that. I traded phone calls this morning with the fine spokesman for the Secretary, but this is a subject, or a rumor, that seems to rise about every two weeks.

Q So it's not true?

MR. LOCKHART: I have no information to lead me to believe it's true.

Q Joe, how will the President travel from Israel to Gaza?

MR. LOCKHART: I'll refer you to my previous answer, which is, when I have all those details I'll give them to you.

Q Is he considering having Air Force One land --

MR. LOCKHART: When I have the details, I'll give them to you.

Q -- was sent today from the White House today to Capitol Hill on certification process, drug certification. It seems that -- they say that Cuba needs to look for more cooperation to fight narco trafficking. That seems to me that the United States is trying to convince Cuba to get help from this country. Is that true?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm sorry, the last part again?

Q You are trying to convince Cuba to get economic aid from the United States to combat narco trafficking.

MR. LEAVY: We were concerned about Cuba's drug trafficking, but we're still looking for more information.

MR. LOCKHART: I think if you look, there's broader information that was released today on the drug majors list. I think there's information on a wide variety of countries. And I think, in particular, on Cuba there is certainly concern about the issues that were statutory -- by statute required to look at as far as drug trafficking and drug production. But we are looking for more information.

Q Chairman Archer again today called on the President to submit some kind of plan on Social Security, saying there's a cacophony of voices out there, interest groups, which is muddying the debate and dividing up the debate. Does the President believe that there is a basic consensus among the American people now on what should be done about Social Security? Or does that need to be developed over time?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we've spent the last year trying to work through some of these issues. And starting tomorrow, for the next two days, we will have leading experts from around the country, members of Congress here at the White House at the Social Security conference. We are moving forward in the process of trying to develop a consensus and, first and foremost, trying to create a long-term fix to make the Social Security system solvent.

I think some of the debate in recent days has degenerated into a game of who goes first and I don't think that we want to play that game. What we want to do is take a serious attempt to look at the issues -- which we'll do over the next two days -- and then work very closely with Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill in order to forge a bipartisan consensus around many of the ideas that are out there, to forge a solution for a long-term fix.

Q May I follow this, Joe? Beginning in April, as the White House went along this process you just described and culminating tomorrow, you're confident you can forge a consensus. But I'm unclear as what would be the vehicle that that consensus would then be transfigured --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're still continuing to talk. I mean, we have spent a good part of last year focusing on this, but many members of Congress have only begun to tune into this issue in the last month or so, as they were preoccupied with budget issues and other business before the Congress. So we will look forward to trying to find a vehicle.

Q Do you anticipate the White House actually sending legislation or, rather, associating itself with someone else's --

MR. LOCKHART: I think as we've said, what the White House will do and what the President will do is what we think is in the best interest of getting a long-term fix to the Social Security system. And that could include, but does not preclude, sending legislation. It could include finding some working group to work through this with Democrats and Republicans. We'll have to see as we go into the future.

Q When does he speak?

MR. LOCKHART: 9:00 a.m.

Q This is a follow-up of the President's letter to Congress on drug -- countries that use drugs. Have you seen any increase in the past year in drug trafficking in countries like Mexico and Colombia?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the list that we released should give you some information about where we see it. There are very few countries that have moved from one tier to another. But as far as particular countries, I think your best bet is to ask at the State Department, because that is the basis of the Secretary of State's recommendations that the President made his decision.

Q Joe, last week Secretary of State mentioned that the U.S. has committed some mistakes in Latin America. Do you know what kind of mistakes she was referring to and was it support to Pinochet in 1973?

MR. LOCKHART: I am responsible for the Executive Branch, the President's mistakes. I'll leave it to Jamie to do others. (Laughter.) No, I'm not familiar with the speech.

Q Joe, does the President's decision to remove Iran from the list of countries that engage in bad drug policies, does that represent another signal of the desire to improve U.S. relations in Iraq?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think these decisions on the drug list are done by statute and there's a specific criteria set forth by that statute of how you make the list or how you move off the list, and it does not include political considerations.

Q Does that suggest that maybe Iran is taking steps that would make it a more --

MR. LOCKHART: I think, obviously, we welcome any state -- whatever the state of our relations are -- taking positive and proactive steps to deal with drugs and drug trafficking. So I think there certainly is a reflection we take as a positive sign on the issue of drugs from the state of Iran. But as a matter of whether there were political considerations in making this move, it's done by statute.

Q Is the President speaking at the services in Nashville tomorrow?


END 2:20 P.M. EST