THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon. Welcome to the White House briefing.
Q What do you hear?
MR. LOCKHART: I hear nothing.
Q -- going to talk today do you think?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any news for you on that front. This is a first for me.
Q Is it even under consideration for today, can you rule out today?
MR. LOCKHART: I cannot.
Q In other words, it could happen?
MR. LOCKHART: Stand by. I'll let you know. If I have some news for you I'll let you know in another forum.
Q Joe, is there any consideration among the President's staff that he should say something more about the impeachment situation?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into the internal deliberations of the President's staff.
Q Is he watching?
MR. LOCKHART: No. No, he's been tied up most of the morning with the Presidents from Central America. He did a meeting beforehand. You saw him in the Rose Garden. I think he spent some time with the Ambassadors afterwards. But he's had a busy morning.
Q But earlier today it was clear that he was -- we were told that he was weighing whether he wanted to say something on impeachment. Is he still weighing it, as far as you know?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think he stopped weighing it.
Q Is the President aware that both Republicans and Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have today called upon the President to say something more?
MR. LOCKHART: Of course he is, it's in all the newspapers.
Q And what is his reaction to that?
MR. LOCKHART: I didn't get a specific reaction to that from him.
Q Well, you're leaving us with the idea that he has made a decision, but you're not at liberty to tell us?
MR. LOCKHART: I would lead you away from that, specifically, and without any --
MR. LOCKHART: -- spin.
Q Closing any options.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Isn't it a concern that the longer he waits -- for example, if he came back --
MR. LOCKHART: Why don't we stop here. I'm just not -- it's not productive. I think I told you this morning about what the state of play was, and I'm just not going to get into mindless speculation about what might or might not be going into any such decision.
Q Have he watched any of the proceedings today?
MR. LOCKHART: Not today, I don't think.
Q What is he doing for the rest of the afternoon? Is he consulting with aides about this, is he talking to his lawyers?
MR. LOCKHART: On this subject? I think he spent a few moments with some of his aides this morning. He's been, as I said, pretty busy on some other subjects through the morning. Is he making a call?
MR. LEAVY: Not that I'm aware of. But he may have some meetings on the trip later this afternoon.
MR. LOCKHART: He's got a meeting later this afternoon which will be, I think, a combination of a trip briefing and an update on the Middle East peace process. And he's got a couple hours of phone and office time.
Q Well, earlier today you told us, to the best of your knowledge, he had not made personal calls to people who were wavering or in that undecided category.
MR. LOCKHART: That's correct.
Q Is that still correct?
MR. LOCKHART: That is still correct. I checked before I came out.
Q Is he planning to make any calls today?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. I'll let you know, though, if that changes.
Q What is he planning to do with the rest of the afternoon and evening?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, he's got a meeting with the head of the Rotary International. He has about an hour-and-a-half blocked off for this foreign policy meeting that I talked about. He's got a couple hours of phone and office time. And I don't have the schedule, so I don't know if he's got any plans for this evening.
Q Joe, are you familiar with conversations the President had with congressmen during the Congressional Ball and the Social Security Conference?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm familiar to the extent that he may have had conversations while people were going through the picture line.
Q On the subject of impeachment?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know what the subject of those conversations were.
Q And any conversations with congressmen regarding impeachment at the Social Security Conference?
MR. LOCKHART: Not aware of any.
Q You're not aware.
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware. I'm not ruling out that he's had any, but I've been specifically asked here if he's made calls or reached out to people who are wavering, and the answer is no.
Q Do you have a list of the congressional delegation that is going to be accompanying the President?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I actually asked just before we came out --
Q Well, why wouldn't they call? Very important subject here.
MR. LOCKHART: It is certainly a very important subject and we'll do what we think is most effective in making our case. This week we've concentrated on making a case within the committee. I think we made a very strong and very effective case based on the law and the facts. That's what we thought was most effective, most appropriate this week. If there is some change in that or there is some additional activities, I'll let you know.
Q Joe, did John Podesta speak with Speaker Livingston this morning, and about what?
MR. LOCKHART: Not this morning, he spoke to him yesterday. I don't know if other subjects came up, but I do know that they did have a discussion about the concept of allowing a censure vote to come to the floor. John made the case that he thought it would be something -- that it was something that we believed that the House should do and the House leadership should endorse, and said that that is our belief and we'd continue to make that case.
Q Did the Speaker-designate give him any hope that that would be allowed to happen?
MR. LOCKHART: I think I will let the Speaker-designate speak for himself on that.
Q Joe, how is this affecting the President's demeanor? Is he somber about all this?
MR. LOCKHART: No, he's fully aware of what's going on, but the President is going about his business, as you would expect. I think in talking to him last night, he was pretty charged up about the events yesterday, both the portrait hanging, which was a very nice event over at the Department of Agriculture, and the human rights event. So he's going about his business.
Q Is the First Lady doing anything on this -- is she making any calls, talking to anybody?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of what she's doing, but I'm not as close to that to what's going on over here. So I'd point you over to her staff.
Q Joe, is the President aware that yesterday at a City Hall news conference, his close friend and very strong supporter, the Mayor of Baltimore, was asked if he could name one President in American history who has told more lies than Bill Clinton, and he couldn't?
MR. LOCKHART: Is he aware of that? I doubt it.
Q Can you name one President that has told more lies?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think I'm going to take that question.
MR. LOCKHART: You can report that, though.
Q Thank you. I will.
Q -- be willing to accept censure wording that was as direct as to say he lied under oath or made false statements under oath?
MR. LOCKHART: As I said yesterday, I'm not going to get into a negotiating position from here at this podium, and so I'm not going to address that.
Q Do you feel that the momentum is now on the President's side in winning this impeachment thing?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have the slightest idea. I think that I'll leave it to others to do the political analysis and to do the momentum checks. We had a chance this week to make a case for the President. We did it in a very serious way that I thought brought credit to the process to the committee. It was a case based on the facts and the law, and we believe that members with open minds and open hearts, when they look at the case, when they read our brief, the statement that was made by the Minority counselor yesterday and stack that up against the statement that the Majority counsel and the articles that they'll come to the conclusion that there is nothing here that warrants an impeachment of the President.
Q So you still think it's impossible to predict the outcome?
MR. LOCKHART: It's certainly impossible for me.
Q Will the President be speaking -- anything in advance of his departure for the Middle East, speaking about the Middle East situation?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't expect so.
Q Joe, you've spoken about calls not coming from the President's office going out. Has he accepted calls in the last couple of weeks from any of these undecided people? Has he spoken on --
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Joe, is he likely to begin making these calls to Republicans? Would that be likely?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't predict.
Q Joe, Representative Lofgren suggested there could be -- I believe her word was "economic devastation," if there was a Senate trial. Is it the White House's view that a Senate trial would have a serious economic impact?
MR. LOCKHART: I know that -- speaking for myself, I can't predict that without knowing the length and time and the effect of the psychology. I'm just not in any position to make any definitive predictions on behalf of the White House.
Q Are you reaching out to leaders of industry to encourage them to call members of Congress and say that that could happen?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know any specific pitch that's being made. We're certainly talking to friends around the country about the importance of this matter and how the case that's been made by the committee doesn't reach the standards of impeachment.
Q Well, wait a second. You've made -- your own representatives before the committee have talked about the horror and the nightmare and the terrible consequences that would fall to the country if there was a Senate trial.
MR. LOCKHART: It is certainly a possibility, but I have no way of quantifying what that might be.
Q What would be the consequences to the country of a Senate trial?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it would obviously be something that would be disruptive of the business of the Senate. It certainly would be hard to get any work done there. For me, I don't have any way of calibrating what the effects beyond that are.
Q It's pretty strong words to call it a nightmare or a horror.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not disagreeing with what they say, but I'm not able to give you any -- I can't tell you that this is going to have a .3 percent impact on the GDP, plus or minus -- you know , I'm not able to do that.
Q Joe, if there is no censure vote on the floor what view would you take of that, what would that say about the process?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the lack of a choice for members, I think members have spoken -- many members have spoken out and said they believe they should have some choice short of impeachment. If they were denied that choice I think it would say something about the fairness of the process.
Q Did Podesta get a final answer from Livingston, or are they continuing --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I'll let the Speaker-designate speak for himself. John did say that this is the case we believe in and we'll continue to make it.
Q Joe, you say that you're reaching out to your friends. Can you quantify, characterize what kind of friends you're reaching out to, who these people are? Are you talking about unions, business -- who are these friends?
MR. LOCKHART: We're talking to our friends and I'm just not going to get into the details.
Q They're unknown friends? Concealed friends? I mean, what kind of friends?
MR. LOCKHART: I think I just said I wasn't going to get into the details.
Q I remembered the question. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: -- remember the answer. (Laughter.)
Q These accusations from Lindsey Graham and from Congressman Bob Barr that people in the White House -- or a person or somebody working in the White House is behind a smear campaign of them and Mary Bono and others to undermine them.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I, frankly, don't know what they're talking about. I think we run the real risk when we get into an area where people are making charges without substantiation. We have taken some offense to some of the charges that have been leveled against us here at the White House.
But I think in the heat of the moment people make charges. One of the things, though, that is a little disturbing is if you look at the presentation that the Majority counsel made yesterday -- he talked about article after article, and he quoted from article this, article that, about people who were reporting about what the White House was doing. But if you actually go and look at the articles -- someone pulled out two for me, one is from a well-known columnist who was making statements not based on reporting, just based on what they thought.
Q That's what columnists do.
MR. LOCKHART: Right. But that's not based on any particular reporting, just saying, this is what the White House does, the White House will do this again. And another is from an intern who presumably wrote -- a former intern who wrote an article, presumably based on some of this, without any independent information, just quoting, "media sources say people in the White House are attacking" this person or attacking that person, saying that such-and-such a person shouldn't be attacked.
So they're making a charge based on reports that if you go and look at the underlying information, it doesn't back it up. And I think people should think seriously before they do that.
Q Could you address -- you've been asked to characterize the President's mood in all of this. I think there's a certain view out there that the White House either is in panic and is devastated, nervous to a degree, or at least ought to be -- you don't seem to be. What is going on?
MR. LOCKHART: This is a very important constitutional step that the House has got before them that they're considering. It would be silly if you said that this isn't an issue that concerns people at the White House. But we have important work to do here. And what would be tragic is if people allowed themselves to be diverted from the important work that they do supporting the President and the President doing the important work that he was sent here to do, obsessing on this subject.
So there are people here who work on this. They're doing their best to make our case. I think they're making a very effective case. And the rest of us, the rest of the staff is going about their business.
Q But, again, if the President is no longer here to do that important work because he's been removed by the Congress, it seems to me that would be the priority issue at this point -- to make sure that doesn't happen.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that certainly is the priority issue for Congress, and this is a decision they will have to make, a decision which has consequences, consequences they'll have to deal with.
Q -- taken the President's counsel up on their offer to come and visit them to talk about --
MR. LOCKHART: Let me check on that. I didn't get an update on it.
Q Joe, do you see what's happening here and what's happened over in the Middle East, isn't this a crazy time to be going to the Middle East?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think this is an important time to go to the Middle East as part of the hard-fought and negotiated agreement at Wye River. The President agreed to go and take this trip and speak to the Palestinians. It's important, especially at a time when we're urging both sides to move forward on implementing the agreement for the President to go. This is an important region of the world, both for the people who live there and for the American public, and I think it's a vital time for the President to go and continue the important peacemaking work that he's embarked on.
Q Are you reassured, Joe, by the announcement by Hamas that they're going to guarantee the President's safety?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't discuss issues of security.
Q Well, do you believe the President is going to ask, as was requested by the Zionist Association -- Organization of America that Arafat deliver the 13 murderers of American Jewish people in Israel?
MR. LOCKHART: What's the question?
Q Does the President intend to ask that those murders that they've identified, the Israelis have identified of American citizens who have been murdered --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of the request.
Q Will he request that the whole Palestine Council, the entire group endorse the revision of the Charter, or not?
MR. LOCKHART: What the President will do as negotiated at Wye, this is a three-step process. The President will participate in the event which will mark the third step in that process.
Q But they haven't done it yet, though, not the whole Council. It's those leaders. They claim it's been done, but I remember Mike McCurry said the same thing months ago.
MR. LOCKHART: Who? (Laughter.)
Q That very clever man.
Q Why were Congressmen Lazio and Forbes invited to accompany the President on the Mideast trip? They happen to be undecided on impeachment.
MR. LOCKHART: Congressman Lazio was designated by the House Republican leadership. I don't have a definitive answer on Congressman Forbes. Generally, the National Security Council and our Legislative Affairs Office works with the House Leadership, both the Democrats and the Republicans, to put together a congressional delegation based on the wishes of the leadership, based on the committee assignments, based on personal interest by the members, and that's the procedure we followed in this case.
Q When are you going to know if they're undecided --
Q Lazio's coming?
MR. LOCKHART: We will know when everyone's coming when all of them firmly get back to us, and then we'll put the list out.
Q Joe, have any congressmen or senators suggested that they can't go on the trip because of the impeachment business that remains here in Washington?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Can I ask you a question on Iraq? The issue keeps resurfacing and it's always being referred back to the U.N. and to UNSCOM. When are we going to have a U.S. ambassador here? Richard Holbrooke -- when is that -- months and months and months?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we are ably represented by Ambassador Burleigh at the United Nations. He's done a tremendous job. We plan to move forward with the nomination of Ambassador Holbrooke when the issues that are under discussion are cleared up. But I can't give you a time frame for that.
Q When Chuck Ruff said on the Hill that reasonable people could concluded that the President stepped over a line and lied in some of his statements, can we assume that he's speaking for the President?
MR. LOCKHART: You can assume his presentation was speaking as --
Q So the President thinks that reasonable people --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to try to take this line by line. He, who as the White House Counsel, was making a presentation for the White House.
Q That means that the President concedes that he lied.
MR. LOCKHART: No, it doesn't.
Q It doesn't? I thought you said Ruff was speaking for the President. I'm confused.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, get unconfused by going back and looking at what he said.
Q Joe, to follow up on an earlier question, isn't the President going to be terribly preoccupied while he is in the Middle East about what's going on at home?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think the President is going to concentrate on the job at hand. It's an important job, he has able people here to keep him briefed on what's going on back at home and I think it's enormously difficult work that faces him when he goes to the region, but it's enormously important work.
Q Joe, several more Democrats have said in the last 24 hours, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, that they believe the President lied in one of his testimonies, and then this morning, Representative Schumer says that he believes that the Chairman of the Committee, Chairman Hyde, has been fair -- do those kinds of statements disappoint the White House in terms of strength?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't -- I think the members are entitled and should express their views on these issues. We have made statements in the past that have questioned the fairness of the process, not necessarily directed at the Chairman, but we do have concerns about how the process is done. I won't bore you with going through the litany again because I think you're all aware of the issues we've raised.
Q Joe, with the Judiciary Committee voting today and tomorrow on articles of impeachment, the President hasn't had anything to say about this lately. What can you tell the American people about the silence of the President and the White House on that issue?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know what I can tell the American people about that.
Q Don't the American people deserve to hear from the President during a time when the committee is voting to impeach him?
MR. LOCKHART: I think you are well aware, based on the conversations this morning, that there are some conversations going on, so we'll just have to wait and see.
Q Speaking of the American people, Joe, last week you were concerned that the American people hadn't keyed in enough to what's going on in Congress. Are your concerns gone? Do you think people are engaged enough in the process and understand the seriousness?
MR. LOCKHART: This is based on anecdotal evidence, but I think it's a mixed picture. I don't think -- I think, certainly as we've moved forward, more people have begun to pay attention to the fact that Congress is considering removing the President. But I still think, based on most reporting by organizations represented in this room, that there are still a large number of Americans who don't believe that this process will go forward.
Q Is that a good thing or bad thing?
Q Why should the American people pay close attention if you are suggesting that preventing the impeachment of the President is not the highest priority of the White House at this point?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think I attempted or tried to put a priority list on what we are doing here --
Q Is it not the most important priority right now for the White House to prevent his impeachment?
MR. LOCKHART: The President has a series of priorities, this is certainly among the top, for obvious reasons.
Q And that's kind of incredible, to say that that's not the most important thing right now.
MR. LOCKHART: We're just not in the business of ranking things. This is --
Q Well, wait a minute. Many, many times you've come out here and said this is one of his top priorities for the year, his three top priorities -- yes, you are in the business of ranking things -- so where does impeachment rank?
MR. LOCKHART: It ranks as one of his top priorities.
Q Joe, if you would just allow me to go back to the question about reaching out to friends, because as I know you will agree in this matter, this House of Representatives really is acting as a jury. And if you're reaching out to friends and those friends are coming back and reaching out to members of the House, there can be some concern there. So who are these people, when you say you're reaching out to friend? Who are they?
MR. LOCKHART: I just on the way down was watching a little of the proceedings, and several members of the majority were strongly making the case that they were not a grand jury, and were strongly making the case that this was not a court of law. So I think you can chop this up any way you want, but I don't accept the premise that there is some inherent concern in making the case that we've made.
Q Can you tell me so that we have a clear understanding, just some description of these friends that you're reaching out to?
MR. LOCKHART: You certainly know who are friends are and I --
Q I'm asking you.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, well, do some reporting on it then, because I'm not going to get into what our strategy is. The best strategy is the one you implement, not the one you talk about.
Q What was the President's reaction to Dan Rather's suggestion of Hillary as the next President of the United States, and also, Time Magazine reports that they're going to make the person of the year?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know about the second, but I'm sure the President would commend Mr. Rather's judgment. (Laughter.)
Q He's going to support her instead of Gore?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I've really stuck my foot in it this time, haven't I? Get the Vice President's office on. No, I'm for Gore, we're for Gore.
Q You're for Gore, not -- you're against Hillary? (Laughter.)
Q Enter your foot.
MR. LOCKHART: This is so hard. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, if there are undecided House members on the delegation to the Mideast, is it reasonable to expect that the President will take the opportunity to reach out to them?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's reasonable to expect the President, if they're in the delegation, will talk to them. I don't know that he'll have the opportunity to discuss this subject. I have no way of predicting that.
Q Do they have to get off the back of Air Force One? (Laughter.)
Q It depends on how they vote.
Q In the White House view, what's the difference between reaching out to friends on this issue as opposed to a piece of legislation? Is there a difference in your mind? What's the difference?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it's two different kinds of conversation. All we can do is make the case that we don't think that it's reasonable that this rises to the level of impeachable offense. We can make the case on the facts and the law. There is certainly none of the negotiating that might happen, if you're talking about a large piece of legislation, where you would talk to members and in good faith negotiate and you could give a little on one piece of the bill in return for support on another, which goes on in big pieces of legislation. That is not analogous to the relatively unprecedented situation we find ourselves in now.
Q Are you looking --
Q -- there might be a more -- tempt or risk a backlash?
MR. LOCKHART: Sure. I mean, I think that's why -- I've been peppered for days and days about why aren't you calling, why aren't you calling, why isn't the President picking up the phone and calling these people. We want to do what is most effective. We want to do what addresses the legitimate concerns that have been raised by members who haven't made up their mind about the standards of impeachment, about the facts, about the law. And I think we did a very effective job of doing that this week.
Q Do you think that Gingrich and Livingston are passing the buck and defaulting their leadership duties?
MR. LOCKHART: To each other? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Back and forth like a hot potato? (Laughter.)
Q No, by not wanting to preside and turning it over to an underling.
MR. LOCKHART: I think that story is not finished yet. I think that this is in the committee, when it comes out of the committee there will be some leadership questions to be answered that they'll have to answer at the time.
Q Ray LaHood has been designated, has he not, to preside over the impeachment vote?
MR. LOCKHART: I read that, yes.
Q Do you know who Ray LaHood is?
MR. LOCKHART: He's a Republican member of Congress.
Q Joe, you said that Representative Lazio was actually invited by the Speaker's Office. What was the reason for the White House inviting Representative Forbes and when was the decision made to --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know when the decision was made.
Q Why was it made?
MR. LOCKHART: Based on the criteria that I laid out before.
Q And is it a fact that his role in this impeachment process -- it played no role?
MR. LOCKHART: That would be correct.
Q Are Mr. Hoyer and Mr. Dingell going as usual? They go on all the President's trips.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know.
Q Joe, you said the President is not talking directly to members of Congress, but how many Cabinet Secretaries do you have calling members?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any way of quantifying that.
Q Are Cabinet Secretaries making these calls?
Q Without getting into the details of the wording, which you don't want to get into, can you characterize where the White House is with members of Congress on it? Is there some sense of agreement? Are we really far apart on what censure might actually say, what the wording might be? Can you kind of characterize the gap?
MR. LOCKHART: The only thing that I've commented on is what was put forward before the committee. And I'm just not going to get into characterizing, describing or doing play-by-play on how this is going.
Q Thank you.
END 1:40 P.M. EST