THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The Briefing Room
1:25 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon. Welcome back, for those of you who traveled to the Middle East with us.
Q How's everything with you today?
MR. LOCKHART: Everything is just fine. Did you get enough sleep, Sam? Which plane were you on?
Q I'm fine, ready to do whatever work needs to be done.
Q He was quiet until we almost got off the plane. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Good, glad to hear it.
Q Are we going to bomb Iraq, air strikes?
MR. LOCKHART: As I've told some of you who have talked to me today, clearly, the report from Chairman Butler and UNSCOM raises a serious concern about Iraq's willingness and ability to comply with the commitments they made in mid-November. The President met this morning with his national security team to review the situation, but beyond that I'm not going to get into the details of any decision-making or any options that may or may not be available to the President.
Q Is he meeting again with the national security team today?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q You're not going to get into details, but surely we have the President's words from three weeks ago when he warned Saddam that if he didn't comply the military option might be used without warning.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I'm not going to get into the details of the decision-making, nor speculate on any of the options.
Q But can we go with that understanding that a military strike could begin without warning?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into the decision-making process or what decisions -- or what options may or may not be available.
Q But he did make a decision, obviously, if they're not meeting again.
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into the details of the President's decision-making.
Q Do you feel you have sufficient force out in the region to handle any problem you might want to take care of?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, that strikes me as a question that goes to options, and I'm not going to discuss that.
Q Would the White House think it was appropriate for the House to go delay the debate or the vote if military action was imminent?
MR. LOCKHART: That's clearly an issue that the House needs to make.
Q Would that go into the calculations here at all?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into calculations or things that go into decisions.
Q Was there any contact with Hyde on that?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any.
Q So you're saying you're not ruling out that it might go --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not ruling it out. What I'm saying is I'm not going to get into what goes into a decision or what options are available. That doesn't mean that I'm ruling it in or ruling it out. I'm saying that I'm not going to get into what goes into a decision.
Q Has the President called the leadership on the Hill and consulted them about Iraq?
MR. LOCKHART: The President and his national security team have had consultations in light of this report from Chairman Butler with the leadership of the Hill.
Q The President personally or just the team? Has the President had a conversation?
MR. LOCKHART: It's a combination. The President has spoken to some members, the team has talked to some members.
Q Who did the President personally speak to?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into the details of who he spoke to.
Q How long have they been speaking with the congressional leadership on this particular situation?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the report was made available to the Security Counsel yesterday. So there has been a series of consultations since we've had this report available to us.
Q Which leadership in the House do you deal with at this point, the old ones or the new ones?
MR. LOCKHART: Both.
Q Joe, what do you say to those -- and there will be those critics who will argue that the timing of this is just too cute given the pending impeachment proceedings in the House --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into timing or what goes into decisions.
Q Joe, has the President spoken with Blair or any other foreign leaders on this?
MR. LOCKHART: The President has been consulting with both congressional leaders and with allies. I'm not going to get into a list of those allies, but he has spoken to allies and to congressional leaders.
Q Is it still the President's view that Saddam Hussein must comply with the appropriate U.N. resolutions?
MR. LOCKHART: That view has not changed. And let's remember some of the history here. We, in mid-November, were in a situation where, faced with a credible military threat, Saddam Hussein backed down and agreed to fully comply. Chairman Butler of UNSCOM set about immediately to test that contention that he was willing now, after non-compliance, to come into compliance with what UNSCOM needs to be effective.
Chairman Butler consulted widely with members of the Security Counsel on how he was going to do that. There was a series of test inspections which, again, tested this question. Those ended Sunday. And we now have available to the Security Council a report that raises serious concerns about Iraq's intentions and about UNSCOM's ability to do their job.
Q So why are you saying that the timing is not of President Clinton's making?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm saying the timing is of Chairman Butler and UNSCOM and the timing is of the agreements that were made in mid-November, when Saddam Hussein agreed to fully comply with the United Nations and UNSCOM.
Q Does the U.S. feel that it can act unilaterally, the U.S. doesn't have to have the U.U. okay?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, as we've said in the past, the U.S. reserves the right to act unilaterally to protect the interests of the United States.
Q Joe, would you describe this as a crisis?
MR. LOCKHART: Pardon?
Q Would you describe this as a crisis? Very serious?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not in the headline-writing business.
Q Joe, is there a feeling that Saddam Hussein is doing this again to test the President's might in a time of weakness?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm also not going to be in the speculation business today.
Q Joe, what would the President like the nation and the world to know about how the impeachment challenge that he faces affects his deliberations on this matter?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I'm not going to speculate on the decision-making process here. I will say that the President of the United States makes national security decisions based on the best interests of the United States of America.
Q Joe, let me ask you, will you attack --
Q So the impeachment challenge has no effect on --
MR. LOCKHART: Let me repeat. I'm not going to get into the decision-making process, but I will repeat that the President of the United States makes national security decisions based on the recommendations of his national security advisors and on the best interests of the people of the United States.
Q -- your view, will an attack on Iraq put an end to the inspections?
MR. LOCKHART: Pardon?
Q Would an attack put an end to UNSCOM inspections?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to speculate.
Q Joe, was it a mistake, a month ago, for the President to hesitate in ordering the air strike?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. I think at that time we received a commitment which we said we'd test, that we wouldn't trust, but we'd try to verify. And Chairman Butler's report raises serious concerns.
Q But you say you're not going to get into questions of delay, that's up to the Hill if the Hill should decide to delay its proceedings. This Congress expires at noon on the 3rd day of January. Would you expect, though, that this Congress sought to or would complete its proceedings in the House before it expires?
MR. LOCKHART: I have no reason to speculate or expect anything other than what they tell you they're going to do.
Q May I just ask, because there are some suspicious people there who believe somehow that the bombing of Iraq will not be a one-time incident, that there would need to be a sustained and continuous effort if Saddam did not comply, that this effort might run over a number of days. Chairman Hyde has already said, as long as the bombs are falling, he doesn't think that Congress ought to proceed. That would have the effect of running out the clock. I mean, I'm just asking you to respond to what some people are saying up there.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I'm not going to speculate based on the views or musings of those who have other responsibilities.
Q Can you tell us when the President learned about the content of the U.N. report, the conclusions of it, and also the decision by the U.N. inspectors to withdraw? Give us a sense of when he learned.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know precisely, but I know that there was some work done on the flight back from the Middle East. But I don't know precisely the timing of how information was transmitted to him.
Q Joe, in light of these developments, will the President now suspend his efforts to persuade members of Congress not to impeach him?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, as you know, the President has a couple of meetings today on that subject. The President is meeting with Representative Houghton, of New York, and will meet sometime later today with Representative Shays.
Q Did the White House at any point advise Chairman Butler to get those inspectors out of Iraq?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think Chairman Butler certainly makes his own decision based on his people. I think the White House -- not the White House but the U.N. representative made it clear about the concerns we had about this report.
Q How much of a factor is the start of Ramadan this weekend, if any?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, you're asking me to talk about factors that may or may not go into presidential decision-making and I've already told you I'm not going to do that.
Q Joe, why are all these moderates coming out in favor of impeachment? Do you think they're being pressured by the GOP leadership or are these conscience?
MR. LOCKHART: That's a hard question. I think many of them -- you should listen to what they say. I don't know that there is other evidence other than to take it at face value. I will say that based on the reports that I got yesterday there were several members who came out who had serious difficulty articulating the reasons based on the facts and the evidence of why. I think there was a member who specifically mentioned perjury and was asked which statements was he particularly concerned about and couldn't identify a single one.
So I think that ultimately the members will have to speak for themselves, but it's been our view that for some time now that this is partisan. It's partisan in nature, that if you look at the process you see that the leadership has not reached out to try to get a bipartisan solution that can put this behind us.
Q Are you saying that they're twisting their arms? Is the Republican leadership twisting their arms?
MR. LOCKHART: I think you have to ask them.
Q What is the President expecting to accomplish with the Shays meeting this afternoon?
MR. LOCKHART: Representative Shays requested the meeting. I know he has talked to many of you about what he hopes to get accomplished and we will see what happens.
Q What time, Joe, is that meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. But let me tell you what, in general, we're hoping to do. I mean, we remain committed to finding some bipartisan compromise that allows us to put this issue behind us short of impeachment. We will continue talking to members and seeking to push forward a way that we can do that.
Q Do you think you have enough votes to avoid impeachment?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't seen a vote count. I think the vote is for tomorrow. I think that on a matter that is so important as this, members generally do what's in the best interest of this country. And that's what we believe should happen tomorrow.
Q The President called Houghton, did he not, and asked him to come?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know if it was the President, but I know we sought to set up this meeting as a way to continue seeking this bipartisan compromise.
Q Why did you call it? What is it that you hope to accomplish in that meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: We continue to try to reach out across party lines to find a bipartisan solution or compromise to put this behind us. This is what the majority of American people want. This is what I think is manifestly in the interest of this country. And right now there is a small group blocking the consideration of any other alternative to impeachment. I think it's been a partisan effort to do that based on this group's -- not so much on the facts and the evidence, but on their desire to damage the President or remove him and to their desire to exercise the power that they have of the majority.
Q What about Castle? Are you going to call Castle today? Do you expect him to come up?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know.
Q Will the President address the nation?
Q Does anybody at the White House agree with Betty Freidan, the statement reported by Reuters at her press conference yesterday, the feminist press conference?
MR. LOCKHART: What's her statement?
Q Her statement was, even if he did what he's alleged to have done, what's the big deal? To have our will overthrown by a bunch of dirty, old white men trying to use sexual issues wrongly to impeach a President, this is a disgrace. Does anybody at the White House agree with this -- do you?
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't agree with some of the sentiments that were expressed there.
Q And there was another at the press conference that --
MR. LOCKHART: Can I tell you why --
Q Yes, oh, please.
MR. LOCKHART: -- if that's okay? Thank you. I think that there's no one that has been more critical of the President's personal behavior than the President himself. So I wouldn't say this is no big deal. But there's a vast difference to taking an issue that the President has recognized and apologized for and somehow trying to argue that it's a grave disservice to the state, and somehow trying to argue that this is an issue that warrants removing the President from office. And there's a big difference there. And I'd say that people in this country recognize that difference and don't believe that the members of the Republican leadership and those who plan to vote for impeachment are taking this issue or this country in the right direction.
Q Will the President address the American people on this issue?
MR. LOCKHART: I have no information on that.
Q Will he make an address on television to the American people?
MR. LOCKHART: I have no information on that.
Q Joe, you've talked a lot about the trauma of a Senate trial and how that should be avoided at all costs. One thing that's showing up in a lot of the public opinion polls -- and you cite polls repeatedly that say the American people don't want this to happen -- is that if the President is impeached, a number of people who think at that point he should resign go up. That's one way to put this matter behind us. Is that completely out of the question.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, you've heard from the President on that. I'd also call your attention -- there's a wide disparity in some of those polls, and particularly on how those questions are asked. And I think if you want to hang your hat on one poll that is an aberration to the rest of them, that's fine.
Q That's our poll.
Q Well, can I follow up? So maybe --
MR. LOCKHART: That's correct, Sam. It is your fault.
Q -- going to a trial wouldn't be that horrible?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not saying that. I think this would be a traumatic event, and I think that as Republicans, particularly the leadership, look at this, they should take into consideration the disruption to the country while they try, for partisan reasons, to move this forward to the Senate, to, in a sense, pass this over to the Senate.
This has consequences. Can I quantify exactly what those consequences will be? No, I can't. But the country has the right to have their voice heard, and the country has the right to expect that Congress will act in their best interests. And I think, in this case, they're being disappointed on both fronts.
Q -- have criticized the President for not going far enough in his acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Is it true that in these private, one-on-one meetings with individual members, he is willing to go further than he is publicly? In other words, is it true that he's willing to say to them, yes, I lied, or "yes, I committed perjury?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q The President met this morning with his National Security Council -- can you tell us who was there? And second, is he intending to meet with them again today?
MR. LOCKHART: He met this morning with his National Security Advisor Sandy Berger; the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright; the Secretary of Defense, William Cohen; General Shelton, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs; John Podesta, the Chief of Staff here; and Leon Feurth, who is the National Security Advisor to the Vice President. I don't -- sorry? I'm sorry, and George Tenet, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. I don't have any information about a further meeting today.
Q Joe, did his national security team give the President a specific recommendation?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into the details of what goes into the President's decision, nor the options he may or may not have.
Q Joe, is there any concern that all this reporting in advance of any air strike is giving Saddam Hussein advance warning?
MR. LOCKHART: Good try, Wolf. (Laughter.) It was, it was good. (Laughter.)
Q It was actually -- never mind. (Laughter.)
Q Also this morning, did the President have time to sit down and talk to his lawyers and Podesta and others about the impeachment situation, what his options are?
MR. LOCKHART: He did spend some time with John this morning. I don't know that he spent any time with his legal team. I mean, I will tell you that the President did stop by our normal meeting this morning, basically to say that the important thing for all of us here, as White House staff, is to concentrate on the jobs we were sent here to do, that ultimately the American people get it right, and he believes they will here.
Q If I can follow up on that. You talked about how there would be some consequences you couldn't talk about, you didn't know what they were going to be, of the Senate having a trial. Since the President is the chief executive, can you tell us, are you working on any contingencies, any plans to try to prevent any trial from having too many negative -- having a negative impact on running the government?
MR. LOCKHART: Our focus now is working very hard to try to forge a compromise that avoids this. And that's where our focus is, and we will continue to make our case to members, to the public, that we don't need to do this, that in all seriousness, I don't think people around here -- people in this town, people in the Capitol -- believe this is about removing the President for the articles that have been articulated. This is about trying to gain partisan advantage. And the point we are making over and over again is that's not in the best interest of the American public and we need to find some sort of compromise short of that.
Q You have not given up on this vote that's going to occur in the House?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q If the White House can't articulate what the consequences might be and, in fact, doesn't know what these terrible consequences are, how is it right or responsible for them to sort of issue these dire warnings to the American people that there will be all these horrible consequences?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think if you look at a trial in the Senate, which no one knows how long it will take, but it will be very difficult to get any other business done in the Senate, and unless you start this proposition from the point of view, which we don't, that it doesn't matter what happens in the Senate, there has to be by nature some disruption.
I think we can also see the disruptive qualities of going through these issues over and over again. We have seen what this case is about. We have seen the so-called evidence that's been laid out. And it strikes us as hard to define what good can come out of going over it one more time.
Q Joe, there was a time when Henry Hyde said impeachment could not be partisan, that it needed to be bipartisan.
MR. LOCKHART: He most certainly did.
Q Considering the committee vote and what might be expected with the House vote, what are the consequences of a partisan vote on impeachment?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, as the Vice President said this morning, the framers of the Constitution were very clear when they set about writing the articles of impeachment that this shouldn't be about partisanship. And I think it has potential serious consequences as we move forward, when a party of the majority can take steps to remove a President in the minority because they're mad at him, or they don't like him, or they don't like the way he comports himself, or they don't like the way he speaks.
The framers of the Constitution discussed a "grave disservice to the state." It is beyond my imagination to see how this case is being made here.
Q But the committee majority said it was about crimes.
Q They said it was about lies. They may not like him, but they say he's a liar.
MR. LOCKHART: Well --
Q They accuse him of committing crimes in the criminal code.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, what's interesting, I think, is they heard from many constitutional scholars and historians -- people who spend their lives trying to understand the Constitution, who have said, even if they're right, this isn't impeachable. That advice fell on deaf ears.
Secondly, if this was such a compelling case, why could member after member yesterday not articulate what the case was, when they discussed what they're decision was? I --
Q That's a different argument that you just made, isn't it?
MR. LOCKHART: Okay. What's the question?
Q You've been making the argument that there was nothing there, but you're now making the argument that was made before the committee that it's not impeachable even if there is, as Mr. Schumer said, perjury.
MR. LOCKHART: Sam, that's not a new argument. If you've read any of the briefs that we --
Q No, the one that you were just making --
MR. LOCKHART: If you've read the briefs that we've sent up to the Hill, that argument is clearly made -- in conjunction with the other arguments about the merits of the case.
Q Joe, how would you characterize Tom DeLay's "hammer" role in all of this? And when you have dealt with that, can you tell us what the President has on his schedule for the rest of the day? Are there social events this evening, other than the things we've talked about already?
MR. LOCKHART: As to his role -- I'd say, given the results, whatever he's saying, it must be awfully effective. I mean, whatever power he has over members, he's certainly proved to be a persuasive fellow.
Q Does he have leverage? I mean, is he -- are there threats, or warnings?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know, but there certainly is leverage. The leadership decides committee assignments; there's a lot of political power within the leadership.
Q Do you think it would have gotten this far without DeLay?
MR. LOCKHART: I think you should talk to the Republican members about that.
Q Joe, so you're saying the Republican members are not acting out of conscience?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there's certainly evidence from reading the press reports, from unnamed members talking about the pressure they've felt.
Q Joe, is the White House --
Q Joe, in the back?
MR. LOCKHART: I'll come back there. He's got the Shays' meeting --
Q What time is that?
MR. LOCKHART: Unclear. We're trying to arrange it. Probably late. That started at about 1:00 p.m. And that's it for the day.
Q No Christmas parties or --
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q So Shays was arranged -- I mean, --
MR. LOCKHART: Later this afternoon. That's the best I can do. It's not set.
Q Joe, the President talked about his willingness to accept censure, but does he actually believe that his conduct deserves censure, and would he back that even if the threat of impeachment proceeds?
MR. LOCKHART: He said so when he spoke to you on Friday.
Q But he would certainly want to or expect to be censured even if impeachment were to fail on a vote.
MR. LOCKHART: He spoke to that directly on Friday.
Q -- a fine of $2 million dollars --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I'm not going to negotiate a fine from here.
Q Is the White House also concerned that were the House to impeach the President on Thursday or Friday, it would have thereby lowered the bar for what was considered high crimes and misdemeanors --
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I think this was --
Q -- and it would have pushed us toward a parliamentary system where a simple vote of no confidence can bring down the country's executive. Is this of concern?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, I don't -- maybe I didn't articulate this effectively and I was too casual in my terms. But this does lower the bar. There's clearly nothing here that reaches a historical standard of impeachment.
Q Joe --
Q It takes 67 votes, doesn't it?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me finish the answer, okay? There's clearly nothing here that reaches the level, the historic standard of impeachment. And I think if you read closely what many of the members who are coming out and are saying, that they view this vote as some sort of mechanism to punish the President because they don't like him, and they don't like the way he does business. There was one member who was quoted as saying, well, this will settle the score from 1993 -- from a budget dispute. And I think that's a serious, serious problem moving forward if members in the majority, simply because they have a partisan advantage to gain, feel they can use the impeachment process as a tool in promoting their partisan efforts.
Q Joe, do you want to confirm for us what Mr. Ruff told the House Judiciary Committee that the President would not accept a pardon, nor would he pardon himself?
MR. LOCKHART: Mr. Ruff's testimony was complete, persuasive, and I don't disagree with a word he said.
Q Joe, would you agree with Bishop Imogene Stewart at the press conference yesterday? She's the President of the African American Women's Clergy Association. And she said if President Clinton's political Arkansas friends had helped him years ago, we wouldn't be at this point. Even all these so-called pastors and spiritual advisors of the President have been yes-men and have looked the other way. Would you agree with that, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q What can the President say to members today that he hasn't already said?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he can continue to make the case that they should look at this and base it on the facts, on the law, on the Constitution and do their best to strip away party politics. And sometimes a message is more effective when it's delivered in person. But that will be the message.
And further, the President will talk again about how it's his hope and it is the hope of the American people that we can find some bipartisan compromise short of impeachment.
Q Is he willing to fine-tune what he has said about what he did wrong?
MR. LOCKHART: Say again?
Q Is he willing to fine-tune what he has said about what he did wrong in response to concerns?
MR. LOCKHART: The President has said what he said on that subject and he's not going to fine-tune something to meet the particular concerns of someone.
Q You said he would talk again and we're very interested to know when and where.
MR. LOCKHART: We were talking about his conversations with members. He'll speak with Mr. Shays.
Q You don't expect him to address the American people?
MR. LOCKHART: I answered that earlier -- or I didn't answer that earlier.
Q You didn't answer it.
MR. LOCKHART: You got me.
Q Granted the administration is saying it's not a crime against the state and some of President Clinton's supporters, like Jesse Jackson, who is supposed to be having a rally tomorrow on Capitol Hill, even said it was a discrepancy and many Americans -- his supporters are saying it was a discrepancy -- that how can you trust someone who said that he misled the country and his family?
MR. LOCKHART: It's like any situation where someone admits to misleading -- where the President works hard every day to try to rebuild the trust that he has with the American people. And he is firmly committed. And he has talked to you, or talked in public, about how he has redoubled his efforts to do everything he can to do the best job he can because he thinks that's the way to rebuild the trust with the American people.
Q Joe, you said earlier that the Republican leadership is basically thwarting the will of the people. But the fact is that there is no real substantive evidence that there is a groundswell of feeling among the public at this point, all the information where all the numbers are coming from polls taken in batches of 1,000 at a time. What do you guys anticipate Friday morning --
MR. LOCKHART: You clearly have a view on the census issue, don't you? Statistical sampling is no good, right? (Laughter.) Given that most of your organizations rely on the statistical sampling methods for polling, I'm going to so stipulate here that they're a relevant measure to discuss.
Q Including our poll?
MR. LOCKHART: Actually, it depends on how a question's asked.
Q Including the ABC poll?
MR. LOCKHART: That one probably accurately reflected the public, based on the way the question was asked.
Q Joe, let me ask you -- the whole world is watching this live drama, and many --
MR. LOCKHART: Are we live?
Q -- world leaders have been in the White House, including recently the Pakistan's Sharif --
Q Yes, Joe, you are.
Q -- do you think any view has changed about the President, about the world community or from the world leaders, on how they see this drama now?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that --
Q Do you think Saddam Hussein is not taking seriously the United States because of this, what's been going on here?
MR. LOCKHART: I will pass on the second one. I think, first off, they see too much of it, this drama, as you call it. But I think, if you travel around the world with the President, like we do as a group, you can see that the country -- that the world still looks to the President of the United States for leadership. The United States remains the indispensable nation. Just this weekend, it was the President who participated in a historic step from the Palestinian Authority. It was the President who sought and worked hard to get these parties back on the track of peace.
You see it around the world, whether it's Bosnia, whether it's Northern Ireland, whether it's in Africa. The President of the United States plays a unique role. The world looks to his leadership and the world knows that they can count on his leadership.
Q -- President is more effective in person? Does that mean that there's a chance that he'll be going to the well of the House to talk tomorrow, the way that some people have suggested -- people like Lanny Davis?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't -- Lanny often gives good advice, but I haven't heard any discussion of the President going to the well of the House.
Q Joe, with the confluence of Iraq and the impeachment, can you tell us what the mood of the President is? He's got two huge things hanging over his head. How's he handling this?
MR. LOCKHART: The President, as he said to you all yesterday -- although it seems like two weeks ago, yesterday -- he does his job by focusing on his job. And he goes to work every day and believes that it's in the best interests of our country and the American people to focus his full attentions on the job at hand. And that's what he does.
Q Joe, may I try this question? The President is a religious man. Does he have any second thoughts, any doubts, about the possibility of conducting air strikes during Hanukkah, Ramadan and Christmas? It's a very serious --
MR. LOCKHART: I think my previous 10 answers on that about not speculating covers that one.
Q Joe, is there any published revision of the 34-year-old Palestine National Charter that we can see, rather than having to rely only on a mere show of hands?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the acceptance of the Israeli government means a lot more than anything else.
Q Anything in writing, though? Is anything in writing?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the acceptance of the Israeli government of the historic move by the Palestinian Authority should satisfy everyone.
Q Has the President begun discussions with Senator Daschle about some kind of a deal that could go on in the Senate to cut off a trial?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Do you plan for a speech, Joe?
Q Did you know if Mr. Butler, Richard Butler, obtained the okay from his boss, Kofi Annan, prior to the pulling out of the inspectors?
MR. LOCKHART: You would have to ask Mr. Butler that question.
Q Joe, is there any more you can tell us at all about the President's options that he's considering in the next 24 to 48 hours to stave off impeachment? We've talked about going to the well, and you've said no. What can you tell us that he is thinking about doing, another televised speech, some kind of an address?
MR. LOCKHART: I think I've made it pretty clear that to the extent options are being considered I'm not going to discuss them from here.
Q Russia has always opposed any type of action against Iraq. Are there any special contacts now between Washington and Moscow?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think Mr. Rubin at the State Department detailed some conversations between the Secretary of State and her counterparts around the world. So I would refer you to that transcript.
Q What about the President and Yeltsin, any messages?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into the President's consultations with allies.
Q To follow up on that, the Russians have already expressed alarm about the inspectors going out and have made clear that they oppose what seems to them like an imminent military attack. How concerned is the President about this apparently new rupture in what's been a longstanding tension over this issue?
MR. LOCKHART: Well again, I'm not going to speculate on what may happen or may not happen.
Q Never mind what will happen, the disagreement between the United States and Russia is apparently here now in the present tense, so if you could address that.
MR. LOCKHART: No, you're asking me to speculate on whether there will be some sort of rupture and I'm not going to do that.
Q Would it wait until there is some kind of consensus with the United Nations, would it wait until there is some kind of consensus on the security?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to speculate on that.
Q Joe, it's generally viewed that if anything is going to be done in Congress next year it will have to be done in the first six to nine months, the President has made that argument himself about Social Security, et cetera, does the President feel it's more important to remain in office and to face -- possibly with a Senate trial than to advance his own agenda, an agenda that Vice President Gore could perhaps advance?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think there has been anything that's been said or done, particularly in the months where the Judiciary Committee basically recycled the referral, that would suggest that the President should consider that option.
We keep losing lights.
Q It's the bombing.
MR. LOCKHART: It's just going to get dark eventually? (Laughter.) We lose light in three hours.
Q If the President does use military action would you brief us after that? Could we count on a briefing?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to answer a question that starts with "if."
Q Will you brief us after the impeachment vote?
MR. LOCKHART: When is that going to happen?
Q Whenever it happens. It's bound to happen sometime.
MR. LOCKHART: I plan to be back here tomorrow at around 1:00 p.m.
Q Would you do it after the impeachment vote?
MR. LOCKHART: Would I hold a briefing? I doubt it.
Q The Middle East trip didn't seem to be hampered by the President facing impeachment. Can you make the comparison with Iraq? How would things be disrupted if the Middle East peace process wasn't disrupted --
MR. LOCKHART: I could make the comparison, but I won't.
Q Joe, why isn't it advisable for the President to pick up the phone and talk to fence-sitters, even if they haven't said they want to talk to him? Why isn't that a good idea?
MR. LOCKHART: We believe that -- what guides us is what we think will be effective. The President has talked to some members, but if we make the judgment that it would be effective for the President to do it, he'll do it. If we make the judgment that it's not, then he won't.
Q Do you know of any plans today for him to pick up the phone, other than the meetings you talked about?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't, but I certainly wouldn't rule it out.
Q Joe, how concerned is the President that the tension and mistrust that has developed between the White House and the Republicans in Congress will effect the decision-making regarding Iraq? Is he concerned that whatever he does he'll be criticized for because of the atmosphere?
MR. LOCKHART: The key word there was the decision-making on Iraq, and I think I've already indicated that I'm not going to speculate on that.
Q The President said it wouldn't be appropriate for him to call members, but now you're saying that the calculus is whether it would be effective or not?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think there are certainly some members that have sought to talk to the President who are trying to make up their mind. There may be some difference between appropriate and effective. And I will defer, obviously, to the President's views.
Q Joe, experts such as Scott Ritter and others have said this Butler report could have come at any time. Are you saying it's an absolutely total coincidence that it's all coming to a head on the day of the impeachment --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm saying if you look at what Chairman Butler said and you look back to November 15th, you'll see that he, in the aftermath of the agreements that he reached on November 15th, and in consultation with the Security Council members, he started a series of inspections that were designed to both explore the Iraqis' ability to reconstitute their weapons of mass destruction and also to test their compliance. Mr. Butler went about setting up a series of tests which he consulted on widely beforehand, which started last week and ended on Sunday. He then reported back to the United Nations Security Council last night. This was an operation based on the best thinking of Mr. Butler and UNSCOM and based on the starting date of when Saddam Hussein and Iraq agreed to come back into compliance with the United Nations.
Q But you don't have to deal with decision-making in any way to tell us if the President feels limited or hampered in any way in his ability to deal with Iraq by the pending impeachment vote in Congress. And what effect, if any, it's had on his ability to deal --
MR. LOCKHART: You were asking me a question that goes to decision-making, and I've told you I'm not going to get into that area.
Q Joe, apparently the Vice President is making calls. Why is it more effective or more appropriate, whichever you choose, for the Vice President to make calls than it is for the President?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the last time I checked, this process was directed at the President and not the Vice President.
Q I don't understand. Why is it better for Gore to make calls if that would suggest the President should be making calls?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I'm not -- I've been in the Middle East for the last several days. I'm not up to speed on what the Vice President is doing. But again, you can pose that question to him.
Q Joe, tomorrow, once again, Reverend Jackson is going to be holding a prayer vigil on Capitol Hill. Has Reverend Jackson talked to President Clinton? And what is President Clinton saying to the administration about this vigil? Is he trying to help galvanize people -- because Reverend Jackson is looking for thousands to come out.
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware that the President has talked to Reverend Jackson on this subject, so I don't --
Q Does the President know about this? Is he --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know whether he knows.
Q Well, the American people will be speaking, apparently, tomorrow from the Democratic side when they go to Capitol Hill. So, I mean, is he --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President in his comments has encouraged people to make their views known. So I think it's a positive expression of the majority will of the American public.
Q Any chance the President would attend that prayer vigil?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I know of.
Q Joe, what is the President going to be doing tomorrow? Where will he be? Is he going to listen to any of the debate?
MR. LOCKHART: What's he doing tomorrow? Let me see if I've got something on that. The President will hold budget meetings with his economic team tomorrow. Thursday evening he and the First Lady will host the Special Olympics Dinner at the South Lawn Pavilion with an all-star musical cast. Be there if you can.
Q No delay because of events?
MR. LOCKHART: It says it right here, Sam. There's no asterisk or anything.
Q I'm asking if there are events on the Hill or Iraq that would delay that.
MR. LOCKHART: You're testing my patience. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you, Joe.
Q That's what we pay you for, Joe, is to test your patience.
MR. LOCKHART: Not nearly enough. (Laughter.)
END 2:05 P.M. EST