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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 21, 1998
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY
                             JOE LOCKHART 

                           The Briefing Room 

11:15 A.M. EST

MR. LOCKHART: Good morning. As you know, because of the President's schedule, we're doing things slightly differently today. So let me just take a minute to run through his schedule like we normally do at the gaggle.

The President started today at about 9:30 a.m.; he had a meeting with Senator Kennedy on some budget issues. The Senator wanted to come down and get an update on where we were, and I think make the case on some issues that he has some concern about and has an interest in.

Q Talk about anything else?

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I know of.

At 10:30 a.m. the President had another of his budget review meetings, which he's been doing over the last several weeks. At around noon the President will go over to the D.C. Central Kitchen to highlight the importance of service in America. He will, at 1:45 p.m., speak on the 10th anniversary of the Lockerbie Pan Am 103 disaster. And then he will spend the evening with you all.

Q He has remarks at the kitchen, right?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, he will speak to some of the people who work there after doing some serving.

Q What's he doing on the impeachment front?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know of anything he's doing today specifically.

Q Joe, are the President's lawyers going to try to head off the Senate trial before it begins?

MR. LOCKHART: The President's lawyers, as you can expect, are looking at a whole series of legal and constitutional issues. They've come to no conclusions about anything. I think, by and large, you should know from being around here that our view, the President's view is that we need to work hard to find a bipartisan solution to put this behind us. I think the President's view, is that we need to work hard to find a bipartisan solution to put this behind us.

I think the President's lawyers, as is their obligation, will prepare an effective and persuasive defense if it does move to a trial. And I think, even with the talks of potential actions that fall short if it, they need to do that. It's their obligation. There were a lot of promises made at the beginning of the House process -- promises that it wouldn't move forward if it wasn't bipartisan. It wouldn't move forward --

Q Joe --

MR. LOCKHART: This is a long answer, so let me get this all out. (Laughter.) So just relax for a second, got a lot here. (Laughter.) It wouldn't move forward if it wasn't bipartisan. It wouldn't move forward if there wasn't public support. It wouldn't move forward -- or members should have a vote of conscience, which Mr. Livingston said. None of those things came through.

So I think it is their obligation to fully research all of the constitutional issues that are before them and prepare what we think, if necessary, a persuasive and compelling defense. But our emphasis again is on doing what the American public has overwhelmingly demanded of their leaders here in Washington, which is finding a way to put this behind us quickly.

As to the specific idea, there are dozens of legal and constitutional issues that they'll have to sort through. They have not made decisions on any one of them, and anyone who reports that this is something that they've decided on or have come to some conclusion that they'll put forward is way ahead of themselves.

Q You're not saying the President's not involved, are you?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm just not aware of any engagement he'll have in this himself, personally, today.

Q What does he think of the two former Presidents and their suggestion on a bipartisan compromise? Do the elements that they set forth, are those elements that the President could accept? And did the White House, in any form, ask the Presidents to put forward this kind of compromise?

MR. LOCKHART: Let me repeat what I've said on many occasions, that the criteria is the President certainly welcomes people who come forward in good faith and who come forward with reasonable ideas to put this behind us. I think both Presidents have done that, come forward in good faith. I think they expressed it quite eloquently in their piece that was in the newspaper.

But as I said before, again, I'm not going to get into a position of negotiating terms from here at the podium. That's something for the Senate to do. And I think you heard a good bit of talk yesterday, on the Sunday talk shows, from senators of both side of the aisle who believe that this is something that may be worth exploring -- whether it's one idea or another idea. But it's most appropriate for the senators to move forward with this.

Q Did the White House contact them and in any way tell the former Presidents to come up with this?

MR. LOCKHART: I can't give you a definitive answer on that. I know that the President didn't speak to them, but I do know the Vice President and Secretary Cohen spoke to them about the situation in Iraq and I believe I'm right in saying that this subject didn't come up.

Q Is that a normal that the Secretary of Defense and Gore would speak to former Presidents about Iraq?


Q That happens in every military --

MR. LOCKHART: I think if you go back and you look at where we were in November, they reached out to former Presidents, they reached out to the leading figures in the national security dialogue that we have in this country -- Mr. Scowcroft and Mr. Baker. I don't want to say that each one of these people were called, but these are people who are important voices in foreign policy and we try to make sure that they know what we're doing and can articulate the rationale behind American foreign policy.

Q Did they also speak to Bush?

Q Has the President --


Q Did they also speak to President Bush?

MR. LOCKHART: I believe so, yes.

Oh, I'm sorry, the Secretary of State spoke to Carter. Secretary of State Albright. It was Secretary Cohen who spoke to Bush and Ford.

Q Joe, has the President spoken lately --

Q Who did Gore talk to?

MR. LOCKHART: All three, all three.

Q Has the President spoken lately to Senator Dole or to Senator Mitchell?

MR. LOCKHART: I believe that the President has spoken to Senator Dole within the last several weeks. I think he speaks to Senator Mitchell on a regular basis. Senator Mitchell is someone who, on the issues before the Senate now, the impeachment issue, has offered valuable advise on an informal basis and also on other issues. So he speaks to Senator Mitchell on a regular basis, including Senator Mitchell's important role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Q Joe, are you trying to beef up the legal team for the fight ahead in the Senate?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any plans to bring in a new group of lawyers. The lawyers here I think did a good job of presenting the facts of this case to the committee. I think, unfortunately, the committee was more interested in the politics of this case than the facts.

Q Has the President given any consideration to doing what Presidents did in the last century, including, I understand, Andrew Johnson -- that is, instead of going up to deliver the State of the Union, send it up?


Q Well, what if the --

MR. LOCKHART: The President has a request from the joint leaders of Congress to come up and deliver the State of the Union on January 19, and he intends to give it.

Q If the Republicans behave like the Democrats who booed and told Livingston to resign, they shouted at him, and then they all walked out -- what if the Republicans behaved like Democrats, Joe?

MR. LOCKHART: I expect that both Republicans and Democrats will show respect for the President that he deserves.

Q Does the President want the Senate to handle this with a degree of dispatch, number one; and number two, does the White House believe that the Senate can consider whether these articles of impeachment, these offenses, rise to the level of impeachable offenses or is that reserved to the House to decide and the Senate only decides if he's guilty or innocent and charges the House brought?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, the answer to the first question is absolutely yes, there is every advantage I think to all parties -- including the American public, the Senate, the White House -- to moving forward quickly on this process. The overwhelming majority of Americans want this over with and they'd like it over with soon. I don't seen any advantage, nor does anyone, that works here see an advantage in not finding some way to quickly dispatch this.

I think the Senate is in the best position to decide what they can do. I think Senate rules will allow some flexibility for how they deal with this. I think you heard that from members of the Senate yesterday and so I think they will have to speak to that more directly.

Q Joe, since you and the President and others have called for an end to the politics of personal distraction, is the President prepared to call Larry Flynt and James Carville and others who are vowing to pursue those who supported impeachment?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'd hardly put Larry Flynt and James Carville in the same category.

Q Why?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think we have any control over what a news magazine publisher does. I think you would be --

Q A news magazine?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm sorry, a magazine. I didn't mean to --

Q It's not a news magazine --

MR. LOCKHART: Exactly. (Laughter.) I'm sorry - what a magazine publisher does. You can't expect him to get personally involved in that. But he has -- and you all know this, because from those of you who have covered him, he has spoken for years, long before any of you knew what the name Monica Lewinsky, the President has spoken out about the dangers of allowing this political system to spiral down into a place where personal destruction rules the day. And he believes that as much today -- more today -- as he has throughout his time here in Washington. And I think he is hopeful that people will focus on that and they will heed his call.

Q So is he going to urge Carville to back off?

MR. LOCKHART: As you all know, James has strong opinions, which he expresses freely. He has expressed the view that this process is illegitimate and was unfair. We're going to leave it to him to decide what he wants to do about that?

Q Joe, you don't disagree with his opinion as you've just expressed it?

MR. LOCKHART: No, no. But I'm not going to offer an opinion on what he should do about it.

Q In the past we've asked these questions about James Carville's statements on other matters and he is an absolutely devoted follower of the President's. And are you saying if the President asked him to cease and desist doing something, wouldn't --

MR. LOCKHART: You know, I think it's an entirely open question what his response would be if the President asked him to cease and desist. But he is free to go about his business, and he will continue to do that.

Q Joe, given the answer that you gave to a previous question that the President absolutely, yes, wants to get this over with as soon as possible, that the American people want that, I wonder what the benefit the White House sees in pursuing a lame duck strategy, which might extend for weeks or months and both --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, David, David, David, when we begin to pursue that strategy, I'll address that question; but we're not.

Q Joe, you just said a few minutes ago that the White House is looking at all of its legal options.


Q My question is --

MR. LOCKHART: There's a difference between looking at and pursuing. And when we are pursuing it, I will address the question.

Q Let me ask you this question -- what would be the merits of pursuing an option that at best would knock out only one of two counts and might delay things for weeks or months?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, when the lawyers have had a chance to look through this and look at the pros and cons of an entire range of legal issues, we can discuss it. But I'm not going to get into defending a legal decision that hasn't been made.

Q Joe, is it the hope of the White House that you'll be able to work out a compromise sometime before the actual trial begins?

MR. LOCKHART: You know, again, that is something that -- our view is that we would like a bipartisan solution to this as soon as possible. The ultimate timing of that will be up to the Senate.

Q Joe, you expressed on Saturday that the President had asked Bob Livingston not to resign, didn't want him to resign. Has the President contacted Bob Livingston?

MR. LOCKHART: No, not that I'm aware of.

Q Joe, in the sense that you are looking for some way to find a compromise out of this, most people who you listen to up on Capitol Hill say one way would be for the President to say that he lied under oath. Is it still the position of the White House that he will, under no circumstances, do that?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any change.

Q You said this was an illegitimate process. Is part of that the fact that the House may have to take this up, the new Congress may have to take this up again, the House may --

MR. LOCKHART: That is a legal and constitutional issue which I don't need to make the case that this was an illegitimate and unfair process. Let's look at the process, let's look at a string of broken promises. They promised not to move forward unless there was bipartisan support for this -- they didn't keep that promise. There were promises that we could never do this unless the public was behind us. The public has never been behind this. Then there was a promise of a vote of conscience on the issue of censure. Unless I missed something, there was no vote of conscience on Saturday.

This process was not about the facts. There was no fact-finding that took place within the Judiciary Committee or within the House. It was simply a regurgitation of the referral that came from Mr. Starr. And what it was more about was politics and the determined leadership of the Republican Party to push this process forward and try to remove the President from office.

Q So you haven't really decided whether to ask the House to take this up again, in the new Congress?

MR. LOCKHART: Let me try this again. There are a series of legal issues, constitutional issues, that the President's legal team are reviewing -- that's their obligation. The Senate leader has said that he plans to put this to a trial. I think it would be malpractice if they didn't do legal research. But that's what they're doing right now and any contention that there is something that's been agreed upon, there's some strategy that's going to be pursued is premature, at best.

Q When you said, malpractice -- you're referring to the consideration, at least thinking about --

MR. LOCKHART: Research. I think I'm being very clear here.

Q You talked about the political atmosphere in Washington, maybe the country spiraling out of control. On Saturday at the stake out, Minority Leader Gephardt spoke about -- he said things were coming to the point of political violence in this country. Would the White House agree with that assessment, that the rancor has moved perilously close to the outbreak of violence --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I would say that we have reached something that's unprecedented for people who live in this century, where because of politics the House majority party has impeached the President because they could do it, because they had the power to do it, and without making an effective case for it.

Q Joe, is the President convinced --

Q Do you not concede that the President was impeached for cause?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't.

Q The President did not do anything to bring this upon himself?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President had certainly behavior that was wrong and he has taken responsibility for that, apologized for that to the people he has hurt and to the people he has misled. As far as the case and the articles the Congress laid out, we made a compelling and persuasive case that, A, they didn't make a case on either perjury or obstruction of justice; and B, according to every constitutional expert out there -- bar a few -- even if they had made the case, there was nothing here that rose to an impeachable offense, there was nothing here that was a grave offense to the state.

Q Joe, you call the President's defense case compelling, but you lost.

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, because Congress is controlled in the House of Representatives by Republicans, a determined majority to use their political power to pursue their political game.

Q Joe, do you feel you were hoodwinked by these promises made and broken?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me put it to you this way -- I don't know how useful it will be to characterize looking back, but I don't think -- I think we'll take a skeptical view looking to the future.

Q Would you repudiate, Joe, Mike McCurry's description of the President as reckless, as well as Stephanopoulos' statement, as well as "Toes" Morris?

MR. LOCKHART: Who? (Laughter.)

Q All these high-ranking aides have deplored the President's conduct. Do you repudiate that, Joe?

MR. LOCKHART: The President has taken -- is second to none to repudiating his own personal behavior.

Q Joe, is the President convinced he'll get a fairer shake in the Senate than he did in the House? The Senate, after all, has a majority of Republicans. He'll have a Republican judge and Republican managers.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that hope springs eternal. And certainly the rules in the Senate are different. I think you've seen some senators on both sides of the aisle making statements that indicate they're looking for a way to fulfill the will of the American public and find a way to put this behind us. But the true test will be the actions of the Senate. We remain open-minded and willing to work with them.

Q Joe, President Clinton said on Saturday -- he laid out a whole series of things that he wants to try to get done, despite the enormous difficulties of doing that with the prospect of a Senate trial. What can you tell us about the next couple of weeks in terms of trips or in terms of events, in terms of things he's going to try to do to get his agenda out there?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, obviously, as we move into January, you'll see the run-up to the State of the Union and the budget. As far as this week, you all know what the President is doing today. Tomorrow he'll do his annual Christmas reading, which will be, in addition to the festiveness of the Christmas season, a pitch on the issue of literacy and the importance of giving children the reading tools they need.

Wednesday the President will travel to Baltimore to do an event on --

Q What's he going to do in Baltimore?

MR. LOCKHART: He will be doing an event highlighting the importance of housing and the important work that Secretary Cuomo is doing at HUD in providing leadership in the area of housing.

Then we obviously have some time off for Christmas.

Q Is he going to visit the troops at all during this holiday period? There's been rumors that he might make some --

MR. LOCKHART: I think the Vice President goes to Norfolk tomorrow to visit the troops. I think the President will do his annual Christmas Eve phone call to troops. But I'm not aware of any addition to the schedule.

Q Joe, this drama may be over soon at home, but when you think the drama in Iraq will be over? Because President Saddam Hussein said U.S. Presidents will come and go, but I will be here. Also, many Islamic organizations have renewed for attack on the U.S. facilities or on Americans abroad.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, the drama -- your word -- will continue because we will continue to keep a strong policy of containment against Saddam Hussein. We believe we made a serious strike and degraded his ability to deliver weapons of mass destruction and threaten his neighbors. The sanctions policy that's cost him $120 billion since the end of the Gulf War remains in place. So we will continue to be vigilant with a robust military force to pursue that policy, and looking to the future, as we've said recently here, we are stepping up our engagement with Iraqi opposition groups to look forward to a day where the Iraqi people can have a leadership that looks out for their interests.

Q Joe, how about the claim of Saddam Hussein that stopping the bombing is a victory for the Iraqi people?

MR. LOCKHART: I'll leave you to decipher that.

Q Is the President considering a trip to the Gulf next week instead of Hilton Head?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any travel schedule addition, and any addition to what we've already told you.

Q Is he considering any trip to --

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware. That's the only way I can answer that.

Q When you say that you hope the Senate will conduct a trial or will proceed with all dispatch on this, does that mean the President might forego calling witnesses to testify --

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into today, tomorrow, up until the point where this process is concluded, a running commentary on what our legal strategy may or may not be. I think you can fully understand the reasons for that.

Q How about giving us the rest up to his -- is he going to Hilton Head and take his family and so forth?

MR. LOCKHART: As far as I know. It remains on the guidance that I gave you --

Q When does he leave?

MR. LOCKHART: I think we said the 29th through the 30th, coming back the -- I'm sorry, the 30th or the 31st, coming back the first or the second.

Q Will he have a schedule between Christmas and Hilton Head?

MR. LOCKHART: If he does I don't have it. I'm sure there are some things, but you can check with any of the people here.

Q In listening to the various options presented by Senator Dole and by the two former Presidents, and listening to some senators talk about their opinions on censure over the weekend, did any of this -- well, what was the President's personal reaction to any of this? Was he relieved to hear this talk, or has his emotional condition changed any since the vote?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think, clearly, putting the idea of censure, coming to some bipartisan compromise that is short of impeachment is something that the President and people here at the White House advocate. But as far as the specifics of it, I think it's best for senators to talk among themselves and to come to us with whatever ideas they might have.

Q If I could follow up, what's his personal view of it and his personal sense, emotionally, of it? Surely, it had to be a relief to him.

MR. LOCKHART: I think, taking a slight step back from the question, I think that the President believes that what went on in the House brought no credit to the House. And now that this has moved to the Senate, there's a hope that this will be dealt with in a serious, constitutional and fair way.

Q Joe, following up on that quickly, many are saying that there is a perfect hatred after what happened Saturday -- that the Republicans have a perfect hatred for the President, and that will trickle over into the Senate. How can you seriously say that there are options that you have and that perfect hatred may not spill over --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I mean, I can't speak for the United States Senate. I can tell you that the President, as he told the nation on Saturday, wants to put this behind us, wants to work in a bipartisan way with leaders of both Houses to get the people's business done. And that's what we're going to continue doing.

Q Joe, does the President believe that Congresswoman Connie Morella of Maryland was fairer in her stance than J.C. Watts?

MR. LOCKHART: What was her stance? I'm sorry, I don't know.

Q She voted against impeachment on all four counts, and she is an alleged Republican. Was the President grateful for that?

MR. LOCKHART: I think certainly the President is grateful for anyone who looked at the facts and drew the conclusion that this wasn't impeachable.

Q Do you think that J.C. Watts was wrong and bad in his statements?

MR. LOCKHART: He has not singled out J.C. Watts to me for any particular commentary.

Q The President assured his cooperation with the Starr investigation. Of course, we know what happened after that.

MR. LOCKHART: What did happen?

Q Well, the White House, for about eight months, used all of its resources to try to thwart the Starr investigation every way it possibly could.

MR. LOCKHART: So it's interesting that you'd make that editorial --

Q You asked me for that.

MR. LOCKHART: Okay. No, and I'm going to answer that, because it's interesting that you would take an editorial position on the assertions of legitimate privilege.

Q I understand, but in terms of cooperation the President declined to appear to the grand jury six times. That's not cooperating with the Starr investigation.

MR. LOCKHART: And then he went in and participated.

Q After the President became the first President to ever be subpoenaed to appear before --

MR. LOCKHART: What is the basis for your editorial decision on the assertion of privilege?

Q The question is, what will --

MR. LOCKHART: Okay, we'll get to that later.

Q What can the Senate expect from the White House in terms of cooperation?

MR. LOCKHART: The Senate can expect the President and his legal team to cooperate. And if you want to answer the other question, feel free.

Q Joe, Senator Hatch suggested over the weekend that the Senate ought to be doing a head count to see if there are 34 senators who would never, under any circumstances, support the impeachment of the President or vote to convict. Is the White House doing its own head count or getting help from Democratic senators and doing a head count to find out whether or not those votes simply don't exist?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware that there's any head-counting going on. There are certainly conversations going on between members of the Senate and the White House, but I'm not aware there's a head count going on for that purpose.

Q Joe, in relation to that, in the House basically you took the stance that we're not going to actively lobby, but if you have questions, we have answers. What will be your approach to dealing with the Senate in this regard?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we will deal with senators, we will deal with them directly. And I'm not going to do a lot of talking about it here.

Q Joe, in terms of the center proposals, you say you want a bipartisan compromise, but the specifics are up to the senators. One of the specifics that comes up again and again in the proposals is that he should admit to lying under oath. Is that a specific that you have ruled out, or are you still open?

MR. LOCKHART: Again, we will deal with the Senate, which has been discharged with this duty. And I'm not going to get into specific elements of any proposal from here.

Q That he's open to that?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not saying anything.

Q Joe, what does the White House think of the polls? The President was impeached on two articles Saturday, yet the polls late Saturday and on Sunday he went up to tying his record high approval in The New York Times-CBS News survey.

MR. LOCKHART: I'd suggest two things. One is, the American public understands that this President has remained focused on the job they sent him here to do and they approve of the job he's done. Secondly, I think the polls indicate that the American public has a full understanding of what the House did, that this was a partisan effort which had more to do with politics than it had to do with the Constitution, and that they did do a disservice to the House. That's why the public has reacted the way it has.

Q Can I follow that, Joe? If the Republicans did this for political reasons, clearly it was a failure, with something like 27 percent of the public supporting them. Is it possible -- have you ruled out completely that Republicans did a politically unpopular thing because they actually thought it was the right thing to do?

MR. LOCKHART: That's not my assessment of it.

Q Can I follow up on that on the polls, Joe? If those polls change in the next few days, next few weeks, and indicate that there is a shift of the American people in favor of resignation on the President's behalf, will those polls still hold weight in the White House view?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I was commenting on what they might indicate, not what people should do. If that does indeed happen, it's a legitimate question to put to me. I don't look forward to you doing it.

Q Joe, do you think that the Republicans were not voting their conscience?

Q Can I follow up on polls? What does it indicate when the polls continue to show that the American people don't believe the President told the truth and they don't think he represents high moral character?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think if there is any advantage at all to there being a trial, it may be that people will have a more reasoned look at the facts. I think if you ask people, a lot of people will tell you that the President -- they say the President lied in the grand jury because he denied having a relationship with Monica Lewinsky. If you look at his testimony, he clearly did not do that. So I don't think there's been a serious examination of all of the facts in this case. If it comes to that, the President's lawyers are prepared to make that case.

Q So the people are right to say they don't think the President should resign, but they're wrong to think that he's not of high moral character and that --

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think that people have the right to make their own decisions, and we have the right to make the case. They will have to make up their mind based on facts.

Q How does he like being on the cover of Time Magazine?

MR. LOCKHART: Am I allowed to? They told me I couldn't say this, but I'm going to say this anyway. I thought it was a perfect bipartisan cover -- the leader of the Democratic and the Republican Party. (Laughter.)

Q Joe, so there's not any misunderstanding, if I could follow up on something Mara was asking -- I just want to make sure there was no misunderstanding. The President, his lawyers, and I believe you on several occasions have said that the President is not going to admit to perjury. Now, Mara essentially asked that question and you declined to answer. I want to make sure you're not signaling any kind of change.

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not signaling any kind of change.

Q If this was a political attack, all politics in the House -- the impeachment -- wouldn't the President welcome a Senate trial and be vindicated? A full-blown trial -- wouldn't he welcome that?

MR. LOCKHART: I think there's certainly an element that people hear the President -- would welcome that kind of vindication. But I think that the public is looking to get this behind us. We've got a lot of important work to do here, and I think that's more important, frankly, than whether we take six months in order to clear up every last issue here. There will be time for that. The history books will judge this in a way that I think will speak well of the President. We think what's most important here is to move forward quickly and find a way to put it behind us so we can get back to business.

Q Joe, on the budget --

Q Are you saying you can't get work done until the trial ends? I mean, is it possible to just do work part-time by Congress in the morning on --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, that's an issue for the Senate. I mean, we work here every day, no matter what's going on in the world, and will continue to. But I think a large number of senators have begun to express the view that they want to get this done first. That's an issue for them to determine. We certainly would concur on that, if we can get this done quickly.

Q Joe, on the budget for a moment, now that the Iraq attack has momentarily stopped, has there been any agreement reached between the White House and the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the military budget? As you know, the Joint Chiefs wants a very much larger budget and I'm sure --

MR. LOCKHART: If there has not been an agreement, I know that they are very close and they could have reached an agreement. But I'm not going to tell you what that agreement is.

Q Joe, when bombs were falling, Russia's relations with the United States became very strained and there was talk of a conversation between President Yeltsin and President Clinton. Is that still in the cards?

MR. LOCKHART: The two Presidents speak on a pretty regular basis. I wouldn't rule out them speaking at some time in the near future.

Q Can you confirm, Joe, along that line, that the Russian Ambassador to Washington is on his way back now?

MR. LOCKHART: I certainly saw the press reports that he was being recalled. I also knew that he was scheduled to go back very soon, so -- I mean, I don't know if he's physically left yet, but I know he's leaving.

Q Joe, just to clarify what you had said earlier, do you believe that all those Republicans and the five Democrats who voted with them were doing it only for partisan reasons and not because of their conscience?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think that the leadership which ran this process in the House had more politics than -- that this was more about politics than it was about anything else.

Q The President and the First Lady seemed very loving Saturday --

MR. LOCKHART: Sorry -- we've lost half the crowd. Anytime -- sorry, April. Go ahead. (Laughter.)

Q The President and the First Lady seemed very loving Saturday. They were holding each other's hands, comforting each other. We're close to Christmas -- have you heard anything about them buying gifts for each other? People want to know, knowing that they've had their share of problems, the people want to know if they're really coming back together, if the healing is over, things of that nature.

MR. LOCKHART: I don't really know anything about the Christmas shopping prospects or what they've got, and I'm not going to get into from here the other issue.

Q Joe, no doubt, the U.S. economy is still the strongest in the world, but still many imports and many businesses are hurting. Is that because of the Asian economy or the Iraq war?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think that the Iraq war has anything to do specifically with the economy. I mean, the President has spoken at length about the impact of the Asia financial crisis on the U.S. economy. There certainly are -- our exports to the region are down and our imports remain high, which creates some trade deficit problems. But I don't think that has anything to do with the Iraq war.

Q Thank you.

MR. LOCKHART: I've lost everybody. (Laughter.) Were you guys at least listening? Did you get the last answer, or did you lose interest, too? (Laughter.)

Q Thank you.

END 11:50 A.M. EST