View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 22, 1998
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                             JOE LOCKHART 

                           The Briefing Room 

12:47 P.M. EST

MR. LOCKHART: Today's the last briefing and gaggle you'll have until the new year. Christmas Eve here will be a half day, and lower press will close at 12:00 noon. It says here that I will not be in on Christmas Eve. That's good. But, of course, I will be available by phone at my house. Wait a second. (Laughter.) Who wrote this? Let me read to you what it says. "Please give the press your home number by announcing it on live television." (Laughter.) "Let them know it's okay to call in the middle of the night, even if it's just to check on a clearance. That number is" -- I think I'll stop there. (Laughter.)

Q Did you really mean it, that until --

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I'll be around, I'll be working -- I'll work through Wednesday of this week. I'll be in next week, but we're going to kind of keep a weekend schedule between Christmas and New Year's.

I can tell you, you have a full lid for Christmas Day. The President will spend the day with his family and friends here at the White House and will not be traveling. As far as Hilton Head is concerned, the President and the First Lady will travel to Hilton Head, departing on Wednesday, December 30, and returning on New Year's Day, Friday, January 1.

I also, since this is the last briefing we'll do this week, have a week ahead for next week, which I can do at the end or do now -- whatever.

Q Do it now.

MR. LOCKHART: Do it now? Okay. Very good. Tuesday --

Q What about Friday, Saturday --

MR. LOCKHART: I'm on this Tuesday. You know what we're doing Tuesday. Tomorrow he goes to Baltimore. Christmas weekend, the President and the First Lady will remain at the White House through the Christmas weekend, no travel schedule at this time. Again, a full lid for Christmas Day.

Q And do the radio address?

MR. LOCKHART: He will record the radio address, I believe, Thursday, and we will make the transcripts available on an embargoed basis as early in the day Thursday as we can. If, for some reason, we do it earlier and we do it Wednesday, we'll make it available.

Monday, the President will participate in an economic event. Is that here at the White House? Here at the White House. Tuesday, the President will have an event on his crime agenda. Wednesday there's no public schedule, and the First Lady then will go off to Hilton Head for the weekend.

We'll be back on Friday, which is the 1st, and then we'll spend the weekend here I believe. That's what I've got.

April. April, you've moved up.

Q Yes, for Christmas. As a Christmas present I've moved from the back to the front.

MR. LOCKHART: Who's in the back now?

Q Lester gave her his seat.

MR. LOCKHART: That is Lester's seat. (Laughter.) Okay, April, the answer to your question is, next question. (Laughter.) It's just the seat, it's not you, it's nothing personal.

Q Joe, seriously, speaking of the First Lady, the President commented on her condition last night. Do you have an update?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't. I have not talked to the First Lady's staff this morning. I'd suggest you give them a call for an update.

Q Can you at least confirm that it is her back?

MR. LOCKHART: I'd confirm whatever it is the President said.

Q On Christmas Eve, what is the President going to do?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, Christmas Eve, he's got no public schedule. If something changes and he needs to go out and do some last-minute activities that he frequently does on that day, we'll let you know.

Q He goes several places.

MR. LOCKHART: He has in the past.

Q We want to know if he's going to do the same thing this year?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know yet. I don't know. He may get it done before that.

Q Has the President done his Christmas shopping?

MR. LOCKHART: I think not.

Q In Baltimore, possibly?

MR. LOCKHART: What an idea? Is there any place to shop there?

Q The Harbor, the Gallery.

MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't --

Q Send him there, will you?

MR. LOCKHART: Send him there. (Laughter.) Now I see what we're getting at here. (Laughter.) Mr. President, Helen wants to go home early on Thursday. Please get your shopping done, if you're listening. (Laughter.) It's Helen, Helen Thomas, UPI.

Q He is going to a midnight service -- he goes to Vernon Jordan's, he goes to church?

Q Four congressman have written to the Senate saying they believe, despite the fact that they voted for impeachment, that they believe censure is the right approach. Your reaction the that and why -- you said earlier today it shows they could have done it in the House. Yet, these gentlemen said that they didn't think it was appropriate in the House, only in the Senate.

MR. LOCKHART: I think my reaction would be that it adds important voices to the call for a bipartisan solution to this matter, and calls for a solution as quickly as possible. I think it does, as I said earlier, put an asterisk on the actions taken by the House in the sense that it underscores the wrong decision that the House leadership made in not offering their members a choice on the floor of the House.

We thought it was appropriate for members to have that choice -- a choice of censure. The Democrats unanimously, or nearly unanimously, thought that they should have a choice. And I think when members come out after casting this vote with the weather like this, it does point out that they certainly didn't believe the President should be removed from office and they ought to have been given a choice.

Q Why didn't they have more courage then?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the real question is why didn't the leadership offer them a chance to vote their conscience. And they were denied that. And I think this letter indicates they were denied that.

Q But these numbers also say that they think that censure is more appropriate in a Senate setting. Will President Clinton signal in advance, or hasn't he already signaled in advance, that any censure language that suggests that he acknowledge not telling the truth under oath, that he will not accept that -- that is not what you would call reasonable?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President is not sending any specific signals, nor do I plan to send any for him.

Q Reaction to Byrd?

MR. LOCKHART: I think he makes the point that I have been making from here -- whether it was the House or the Senate, that censure and prescribing the details of censure is a matter for the Senate. And I think that's a valid point. I think he also acknowledges in his statement that there is a growing sense that we should find some quick bipartisan solution to this situation that falls short of a long, protracted trial.

Q But what does he expect you to do, stand mute for weeks and so forth while they work up something against the President?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think that the Senate leadership will be -- has it within their power and within their abilities to find a solution to this, to put the best interests of the country forward, to reflect the will of the American people. And it's our hope that they'll do that.

Q Joe, you said that you're not sending any signals, but the President has stated quite explicitly, he did it while he was in the Middle East, he does not believe that he committed perjury, and hence, can't say that he committed perjury. So that being a constraint, is it still the White House perspective that any censure proposal would have to operate with that as a known constraint?

MR. LOCKHART: I have said that censure proposals will be considered based on the deliberations of the Senate, and those that come forward in good faith and are reasonable the Senate should look at. But we're not in the position to prescribe the details of those. And I'm not going to get in the position of speculating on what they might be or might become.

Q Let me follow up, if I may. Can you conceive of a circumstance where the President could change his mind and decide "I did commit perjury"?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into conceiving the future.

Q Yes, Joe, but you're not changing what the President has said --

MR. LOCKHART: I have not changed -- I have not.

Q -- that he does not believe he lied under oath?

MR. LOCKHART: I have not.

Q The Kremlin said today that President Clinton sent a message to Boris Yeltsin --


Q -- explaining last week's attacks on Iraq. Did he do so, and what was in the message?

MR. LOCKHART: He sent a letter which I think I described in great detail last week -- sent a letter Thursday -- Thursday or Friday --

Q There's been no further communication, though?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, there's been diplomatic contact. But it is the letter that I described. I mean, it's nothing that goes beyond what I said last week.

Q Can you give any details why Carol Moseley-Braun was chosen Ambassador to New Zealand?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any announcement to make on that subject. I know the President, as those of you who have traveled around with us, you know what he thinks of her abilities and her capabilities. He campaigned strongly for her, thinks she has a future in public service. But I don't have any announcement to make on that subject today.

Q On ambassadorships, has the President decided to appoint Brian Atwood, the Director of AID, Ambassador to Brazil?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any announcement on that yet either.

Q Or Carol Moseley-Braun --

MR. LOCKHART: That was the first one.

Q Can I ask you about Senator Byrd? He said on the Senate floor not long ago that the President should not tamper with this jury, when the President speaks, even informally, to members like Senator Kennedy who was in to talk, and if the subject of impeachment comes up. Does the President feel that he is unable to speak freely with them, or does he guard his words with them because --

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President knows what would be appropriate and what isn't, and he will heed the warning not to tamper with the jury.

Q But doesn't that restrict some of his conversations on substance as he's looking forward to develop a legislative plan for the next year?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so.

Q Joe, the L.A. Times reported that the President thinks his biggest mistake in terms of the impeachment of the House was that he didn't press moderate Republicans to come out and commit right after the election when there was a strong momentum for some alternative solution. Given that, doesn't he feel that he needs to do whatever he has to in terms of the Senate?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the facts and the defense is available -- it's actually not well-known, unfortunately. I wish it was better known. But they are available, and we'll continue to make the case publicly and privately on the facts and the law, and more in the area of politics, that the country is looking for leadership to bring this to a bipartisan solution quickly.

Q So did that accurately reflect his views, that comment cited in the L.A. Times?

MR. LOCKHART: On that specific issue, I have no reason to differ.

Q Joe, getting back to Ann's question, can you tell us definitively whether or not the issue of impeachment came up in conversations here at the White House with Dodd and Kennedy?

MR. LOCKHART: I can't.

Q Joe, at the time in 1995, a lot of people at the White House responded with indignation to the idea that the President might use the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing as a way of lifting himself up politically and making that a contrast with Republicans. Dick Morris's book says there was within a week of that a whole meeting devoted to that subject. How do you --

MR. LOCKHART: I wasn't here for that meeting, so I can't report on it.

Q Joe, back on the censure issue, does the President agree with Mr. Ruff that reasonable people could conclude that he stepped across the line and did lie under oath?

MR. LOCKHART: I think I've answered that question before in the affirmative.

Q On Baltimore, could you outline the importance of why he's going to Baltimore, what he's going to be doing, the importance of his actually going there to the housing site, and what announcement he's going to be making --

MR. LOCKHART: I won't tell you the announcement he's going to make, I'll let the President do that. But the President has long been committed to important housing issues, particularly as it relates to getting homeless people into homes and rebuilding their lives. I think Baltimore is a positive example of the Mayor and the local government using innovative solutions, working with the federal government under the leadership of Secretary Cuomo.

The President will be highlighting those things tomorrow, as we move forward next year into the budget season, and I think, given the time of year it is, the spirit of charity and Christmas, that we often reflect on this time of year.

Q Joe, would censure be a repudiation of the House for impeaching this President? In other words, would censure be a message saying, look, the House went too far and would effectively dilute the effect of the impeachment?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not sure that is how the House would see it, but we certainly are of the belief, whether there is censure in the Senate or not, that the House did go too far. I think there's some indication today, based on a letter from moderate Republicans to the Senate, that given a choice we may have had a different choice in the House.

Q Joe, if there is some momentum building for censure, do you folks agree with Senator Dodd that the next three to five days are critical to sort of lock down some sort of process?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think there are deliberations going on in the Senate and, as Senator Byrd pointed out, that's appropriate, that's where it should be. What their timetable is, what Senator Daschle and Senator Lott, what calendar they put on trying to sort some of these through I think is up to them. I'm not in a position to calibrate what days are -- what the time frame is, what the window is.

Q Joe, following up on that question, does the White House have any role in communicating to the Senate what the President would find acceptable in a censure?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the White House is willing to work with the Senate. And to the extent the Senate is interested in knowing what our position is on this case, what the President's views are, we will be happy to engage in discussions.

Q Can the American public really make a difference with censure in the Senate, because apparently, the Republicans didn't look at the polls in the House as far as what to do with the President? Do you really think that the American public can play a part this time?

MR. LOCKHART: I think that that's really a legitimate question to ask senators who are facing these decisions. I would limit -- in answer to the question, I'd also point out that if you look at the facts and the law and you look at the Constitution, wherever the American public was -- and I do think they can consider that -- but wherever they were, there was nothing here that reached an impeachable offense.

Q Can you also look at the polls, though? Polls are saying that the President has one of the highest approval ratings right now; it's rivaling --

MR. LOCKHART: They're very easy to look at right now. (Laughter.)

Q Did the President try to reach Prime Minister Obuchi of Japan about the air strikes against Iraq?

MR. LOCKHART: A diplomatic note was sent from the United States government to the Japanese government concerning the timing and the rationale for the air strikes against Iraq.

Q Did the President try to talk to him?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware that he's tried to speak to him personally in the last few days.

Q If I may follow up on Scott's question, you said that the White House or the President is open to engage in those kind of discussions. Have those discussions taken place as yet? Have White House lawyers and the President been sounded out about what might or might not be acceptable --

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of anything formal going on. We speak informally to leaders of the Senate all the time, so I can't rule out any conversation. And I know that there are conversations going on back and forth all the time. But I think the important work that's going to be done is going to happen between the Senate Majority, Senator Minority Leader, and those that they detail to be assigned to this project, and we'll look to those discussions to see where we go from here.

Q Joe, if Israel freezes troop withdrawals from the West Bank until after the spring elections, how does that affect the Wye and the Oslo peace accords?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, the elections in Israel are clearly an internal matter for the Israeli people and the Israeli government The United States is a strong ally of the government of Israel and will be -- whoever runs the government, whatever political party runs it. And I think notwithstanding that, we believe both parties will implement the commitments they made at Wye River.

Q So the Clinton administration won't take -- doesn't think one side or the other will be -- would help the process more or less?

MR. LOCKHART: I think that's an internal matter -- that's an internal matter for Israel, and we believe that both sides will implement the Wye agreement.

Q Hasn't it been halted?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, as the President told you last week when he was there, we think it would be unfortunate if there was any extended delay to implementation. We believe both parties will. It's in their interest and they will implement.

Q On Iraq, could you again talk about the Iraqi report of the stray missiles? And is there any chance of any activity by U.S. or British?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, as we told you this morning, the planes began flying again today in the -- patrolling the no-fly zone in the south. We have no information or evidence that anything like what has been reported in the Iraqi press happened. So I have no further information. It will be an interesting segue, but the note here says I have to announce no bus to Baltimore. Try to figure out what that has to do with the no-fly zone, but no bus to Baltimore tomorrow. (Laughter.)

Q Just going back to Iraq. The U.S. has no information of any activity or --

MR. LOCKHART: No. No. I would suggest that that report is erroneous.

Q While you've spoken out against the party-line vote in the House, wouldn't you like to see a party-line vote in the Senate?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I'd like to see everyone look at the facts and law and see 100 senators stand up and say the President -- this is not an impeachable offense.

Q Is the President pretty convinced that he can win in the Senate?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President and his legal team is convinced that there's a compelling and persuasive case to be made. And they are preparing to make that case if the Senate moves forward. The President also believes that it's in the best interest of this nation to find some bipartisan solution to put this behind us.

You've moved up, too.

Q Yes, the basement is moving up in the world. (Laughter.)

Q That's right.

Q Have the President or John Podesta talked to Dennis Hastert in the last few days? And is there any game plan on how to try to work with him to get some sort of policy consensus --

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think there's been any formal discussion. I think it's probably wise to wait until this process works itself through on the Republican side. I think, as you all saw in the paper today, Representative Hastert is an old friend of John's brother and an acquaintance of John. And I think he looks forward to, if the Republicans make the decision that all are speculating on, working with him in a bipartisan manner. But I'm not aware that there's been anything formal done.

Q How about the President's relationship to him? He took him on a trip to Latin America, did he not?

MR. LOCKHART: You know, I don't know how well the President knows him. It's a good question. I should ask him about that.

Q Joe, you don't mean to leave us with the impression, do you, that the President might be willing to negotiate whether or not he admits he lied under oath or not?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't mean to leave you -- I don't mean to leave you with any impression beyond what I've said in the past.

Q Where's the President getting all this spirit of bipartisanship that doesn't exist? It doesn't exist.

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I think that the President believes and always has believed that you can always put aside politics. He has worked with the Republicans over the last six years to get an enormous amount of work done. There are some issues, like the budget of '93 where it was a partisan vote. It was a straight party line vote. It was the right thing for the country. And I think the Democrats actions -- the actions that the Democrats took have been vindicated.

There have been other issues that we've reached across party lines, like the balanced budget agreement that was done on a bipartisan basis. So I think the President believes that you can take steps at any time to try to put politics aside and really believes that -- and I think on Saturday reached his hand out to say that despite all that's happened, we still should work on a bipartisan basis.

Q Does he think the four congressmen were influenced by the polls?

MR. LOCKHART: The polls haven't changed much, so I don't know that you can make an argument that the polls influenced them. I think beyond what they said there -- I think it reflects their, perhaps, frustration with the lack of choice they were given; that they were faced with perhaps the most important decision of their congressional career and they were told they could only have it one way, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the Democratic Party argued for a censure option, and the American public were, in effect, by nature of the public opinion polls that you all take and publish, were looking for a censure option. And they were denied that.

Q Do you think the leadership deliberately denied them this right?

MR. LOCKHART: Absolutely, yes. I think they deliberately denied them the right, because I think that they know what would happen if they had -- we wouldn't be sitting having this conversation today.

Q Joe, wouldn't it be essential to the reconciliation the White House has been talking about to acknowledge that some Republicans may have voted their conscience on impeachment, that it may not have been completely partisan on the part of all --

MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I'm certain -- listen, there are some Republicans, like Representative Barr, who have been trying to impeach the President for three years, long before anybody knew about Monica Lewinsky or what Ken Starr was doing. So, sure, there are certainly those. But I think there were a perhaps pivotal number -- and I think you get some reflection of that by the letter this morning -- that felt that censure should have been an option and should have been an option that they had available to them, and that they don't believe that by virtue of the facts or the circumstances that this is something warranting the removal of the President. But they weren't given that option.

Q Joe, the President met with Sir Leon Britton on Friday on this face-off between the United States and the European Union on bananas. And from yesterday, the United States announced retaliatory measures of $500 million -- 100 percent tariffs. Does the President feel -- I think the date of cutoff is around February. Does the President feel there's still a chance of making a deal?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we've made several efforts to try to resolve this issue of the European Union and market access for bananas. I think on three different occasions we've tried to get the European Union to comply with the ruling of the World Trade Organization. Now, this -- to put into some perspective, this is only a slight fraction of the trade the United States does with the European Union -- it's about $300 billion a year.

But there's an important principle here. And it's important that leaders in world trade, like the United States and the European Union, send the right message on this issue. The World Trade Organization was set up to promote free trade and to litigate issues of dispute. And there are going to be issues of dispute that come up from time to time. And when countries like the European Union have a ruling that's against them and then they don't implement it, we have to ask what kind of message does that send to all other traders around the world. We have an incentive to open markets for the benefit of American workers and American families. We have an incentive to make sure that the World Trade Organization works.

So this is an issue that goes far beyond a narrow trade dispute of bananas and the European Union and goes to the heart of whether the World Trade Organization will be effective and whether we will be able to enforce and implement the decisions that organization makes. And that goes to the heart of our belief that free trade is in the best interest of all economies.

Q To what extent, Joe, is the administration influenced by a major stockholder of Chiquita, Karl Lindner, who is a major political contributor?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the administration was influenced by what I've just discussed -- that the World Trade Organization made a ruling here, not the United States government, not any Caribbean governments or Latin American governments -- this was the World Trade Organization.

We have an interest; the World Trade Organization has an interest; the European Union, frankly, has a self-interest in making sure that the WTO can implement and can mediate these trade disputes. I think the European Union sends a powerful message if they continue along this effort of not complying with the decision and it could be a much broader problem if countries around the world don't believe the WTO is a legitimate place to solve these trade disputes.

Q How many U.S. jobs are involved?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know a number of U.S. jobs involved. I think if you look beyond -- sorry?

Q Not many.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we're talking here about a principle. And it's a principle of if the WTO doesn't work and if countries can opt out of decisions they don't like, then the WTO doesn't mean much. I think fully one-third of the job creation in this country over the last six years has come from exports. And if we don't have an effective way to make sure that we have market access and to open markets, then I think the economy here will suffer. So it's not a question of how many jobs come from the banana trade, it's a broader trade issue.

Q Joe, you talked about how Saturday's vote was partisan. I assume you're referring to the fact that 98 percent of the Republicans voted as a block to vote for impeachment. Would you also say that it was partisan for 98 percent of the Democrats to vote as a block, but against impeachment?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think if you look at the whole process, at the beginning of the process there were a number of Democrats who voted with the Republicans to sort of create this open-ended process that we saw. And as the process went along, Democrats were shown firsthand how unfair it was.

And they moved, and as they looked at the case and they realized that the Judiciary Committee was not doing anything but regurgitating what was in the Starr report, they realized that this was unfair; when they heard from constitutional scholars, I think they realized that this didn't reach the standard -- and when they heard from the bipartisan group of prosecutors that there was nothing in this case that would ever be taken to court.

So I think you saw a shift. You didn't start with 100 percent Democrats on one view; you saw the Democratic Party split and they united around the idea that this wasn't an impeachable offense.

Q In the final vote the Democrats voted their conscience, but the Republicans were partisan?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the process was partisan. The leadership presented this in a way that was partisan, I think, in not giving a choice. We found out today there were Republicans who may -- ultimately didn't do what they felt was in the best interest of their constituents.

Q You mentioned several times today and in recent days that the White House is looking for a bipartisan solution as quickly as possible. Do you have a time frame in mind?

MR. LOCKHART: No, it's up to the Senate.

Q You say it's up to the Senate, but you're the ones who keep saying that it ought to be as quickly as possible. So you don't have any sense of days or weeks or --

MR. LOCKHART: No. I mean, if the Senate can find a way to end this as soon after they come back, January 6th, that, we believe, would be in everyone's best interest. But I think only they control their schedule and can dictate how quickly they can do that.

Q So "quickly" doesn't mean, like, two or three days; "quickly" might mean early next year?

MR. LOCKHART: "Quickly" means "quickly." I can't get any more specific than that.

Q Thank you.

MR. LOCKHART: Have a merry Christmas.

Q Joe, is the President going to call the parents of the octuplets? He's called others with multiple births.

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware that the President plans to call them. I do know that his thoughts and prayers are with the family and all of the children who are in serious condition.

END 1:15 P.M. EST