THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
11:12 A.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: Questions. I have nothing. I'll take questions.
Q Is the President prepared to react in any formal way after the vote tomorrow or Friday?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm certain that he'll have some reaction. I don't know what the forum or where it will take place. I'll let you know once I do know.
Q Is a speech being drafted today for the President?
MR. LOCKHART: I assume that there is somebody someplace in this building who is thinking about it, but I haven't seen anything. And I would assume on something like this, this would be an issue that the President would spend some time and consider carefully what he wanted to say.
Q What kind of message would he want to impart after this?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we'll wait until the vote is taken and then you'll know for sure.
Q Do you suggest, though, that it will be something that he'll say in person, rather than a written statement?
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't rule out a written statement, but I suggest you'll have some sense whether it will be written or in person what the President thinks.
Q But you act like it could be somewhere else outside of the White House.
MR. LOCKHART: No. No, I'm just suggesting that I don't know. I mean, there has been lots of speculation, but there has been no decision. So I'll just have to leave people to speculate.
Q -- tomorrow night?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect that it will be whenever the vote is. I mean, I don't know what the time elapse between the vote and the reaction will be, but if the vote is tomorrow, I expect something tomorrow.
Q Do you think there is any doubt about the outcome of the vote?
MR. LOCKHART: I think a lot of senators have spoken to this. I think a lot of senators have kept their own counsel. And we will respect their right to keep their own counsel and make their views known tomorrow.
Q Has the President met with any of his lawyers since he came back from Jordan?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Has he had conversations with --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think he got an update. I'm not sure who gave it to him. We were in the air when Mr. Ruff made his fine and eloquent closing statement. So he did get an update on that, but I don't know that he's had any meetings.
Q How does the President feel about the Senate taking up a censure resolution after the trial?
MR. LOCKHART: I think as we've said for many months now, the President -- and the President has said -- he would be open to some censure. He understands the wrongful nature of his behavior. But it is up to the Senate to make decisions on censure -- whether they want to do it, how they want to do it, what the censure would be. And we'll leave it to the Senate to make those decisions.
Q Would it also apply to the so-called censure plus, things that would have, beyond just admonitory language, it would have some obligation on the President's part -- is he open to that?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, we believe it's the Senate's, and if they take a different route, the House position, to prescribe what they think the censure should be and I don't think it's appropriate for us to indicate or to try to prescribe.
Q Well, Joe, you said you were open to censure. And there is just different varieties of censure --
MR. LOCKHART: That's right.
Q I just wondered if that includes all varieties of censure that you're at least open to.
MR. LOCKHART: We are open to the idea of censure and we will react to any ideas as they become more real.
Q Would the President be disappointed if censure never even comes up? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I'm going to leave that weighty decision for the Senate to make.
Q Why do you think his own party is pushing this harder than the Republicans? I mean, is that a hand of a friend?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President has indicated that -- again, that he doesn't think -- or he is open to this. He has recognized the wrongful nature of his behavior. And I think it's a question to put to the Senate Republicans and Democrats on why they're taking the positions they're taking.
Q Joe, is the White House not working with Democrats on censure language or telling Democrats in the Senate what is and is not acceptable?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Would the President be willing to sign a censure motion?
MR. LOCKHART: That's a hypothetical.
Q Joe, accepting your position that it's obviously the choice of the Senate and perhaps also the House, whether to pass censure. Does he think that it would play a constructive role in bringing closure to this episode, thus bringing him to govern more effectively for the balance of his term?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he believes and the White House believes that the Senate is in a better position to decide what constructive role they can play to bring closure and it is up to the Senate to decide on censure.
Q Does he think it's going to be tough going?
Q -- yesterday suggested that the White House would meet with Republican leaders after this. Is there anything in the works on that? Has the President made any response?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President -- if you look at the State of the Union address, where he both literally and figuratively reached out his hands to Denny Hastert and the Republican Party -- we have a very ambitious agenda that we're looking forward to working with Congress on, both Republicans and Democrats. There is nothing in particular in the works, but I expect as the legislative season moves on we will have an opportunity to sit down with the Democratic leaders, the Republican leaders, and move that agenda forward.
Q But don't you think it would be a good idea to try to sit down with the leadership, particularly after this?
MR. LOCKHART: Sure, sure. It would be a good idea. Now, how that will move forward I'm not sure. I mean, we're about to go into a recess, so I think most of the members of Congress will be going back to their districts by Friday afternoon, if not sooner. So the logistics of when we set that up are open, but I think the President believes it's important to work with both Republicans and Democrats and we'll do that.
Q From the President's point of view, does he think he could now sit down around the Cabinet table or somewhere else and talk issues with the members of Congress as if none of this had ever happened?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't know that you could ever pretend that none of this ever happened, but the President said very directly in the State of the Union that it's the people's business that comes first, and in order to do the people's business the President has to work with Democrats and Republicans in the House and in the Senate. He plans to do that.
Q Joe, given the fact that the atmosphere has been somewhat poisoned by this whole thing, how do you move beyond this when it's all over?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'll leave the President's words to speak to that rather than mine. He very directly addressed that in the State of the Union. He believes he has concentrated on doing his job over the last year; he's going to continue to do that and in order to do that, the reality of the world is Republicans control -- have a majority in Congress and we need to work with them, and we plan to.
Q Joe, is it fair to say that the President fully expects to be acquitted?
MR. LOCKHART: It's fair to say that I'm going to do my best to leave the Senate to make that decision and not make a lot of comments today that look forward to tomorrow.
Q Do you think that the President will ever hold another new conference? He held his last one on April 30, which is a little bit of time.
MR. LOCKHART: It's fair to say that, yes, I think he will hold another new conference.
Q Will he hold one in Mexico, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think there is a news conference. I think there may be an opportunity to talk to the two leaders in the bilateral session. But there is not a news conference scheduled.
Q Schroeder is tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: Schroeder's meeting tomorrow is an informal working visit, so I don't expect that you will see him tomorrow.
Q How about --
MR. LOCKHART: In the works, a possibility.
Q How does the White House feel about the Justice Department investigating Ken Starr's office on the initial contacts with the Paula Jones lawyers?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think -- I assume you're referring to newspaper stories this morning. They raised some serious issues. But given the fact that according to the story that the Justice Department is looking into these issues, I don't think it would be appropriate for us to comment.
Q Well, how about -- Lott has asked Starr to look into the possibility of tape recorded conversations.
MR. LOCKHART: Right.
Q Have you looked into it? Can you say flatly there were no tape recorded conversations?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me do this -- first off, I think Senator Lott needs to watch my briefings more closely. I think we did this last week. But from everything that I've been able to gather from talking to people within the administration, there is no recording system, there are no tapes, there are no transcripts.
Q They would tell you the truth -- what do you mean for everything --
MR. LOCKHART: I expect that my research into this has both been complete and that people have told me the truth.
Q Joe, is fair to say that when Ken Starr subpoenaed the White House for documents and other evidence he asked if there was any taping system?
MR. LOCKHART: Without getting into the details, he asked for all relevant records. If there was such a system, those would have been relevant and they would have been turned over. It's also fair to say that we went through this same thing with the Fred Thompson committee and we can rerun it next year if you want, just pick a date.
Q How about recordings done not here at the White House with any kind of built-in system, but the monitoring of --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any system that's either built-in or not built-in. I'm not aware of any recordings that exist. I'm not aware of any transcripts of recordings that exist.
Q Joe, the Serbs are adamant that foreign troops cannot be put on Yugoslav territory. They maintain that position. Is there any right that the United States has under international law or anything like that to go into a sovereign country against their will?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it's an unfortunate position for them to take in these talks. There's obviously difficult issues that have to be worked out across the negotiating table. But there has been some discussion about the need for a post-implementation force of a political settlement. And if they continue to hold fast to this position then we may be right back where we were some weeks ago, as we were some months ago -- with NATO poised to take military action to enforce some decisions.
Q Well, what will you appeal to as a right to put foreign troops on another country's soil, against that country's will?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we clearly have interests as far as the stability in the region. I think NATO has spoken directly to this and it is our hope that if a post-implementation force proves necessary to reaching a deal that the Serb position will change.
Q Joe, with regard to your comment before about tape recording -- so that we're clear on what the meaning of word "is" is, there are not now, and never were, tape recordings, never were transcriptions, never was a recording system --
MR. LOCKHART: That's certainly my understanding.
Q Joe, is the White House worried about certifying Mexico when the time comes up?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, as you know, there's an ongoing process. We expect some time within the next two weeks to receive a recommendation from the Secretary of State. And once we've had that recommendation the President will make a decision.
Q Joe, is it clear to the White House Counsel's Office that a censure resolution would require some participation by the President; that is, a signing by the President? Or is it possible that it would not require any action by the President at all?
MR. LOCKHART: I think both of those possibilities are possible.
Q And the President is not against signing a censure?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we'll have to see what the Senate, in their wisdom, decides to craft. We don't know, so I can't offer any enlightenment about what his view would be.
Q Will certification come up on his Mexican trip?
MR. LOCKHART: I certainly think that our joint efforts on countering drug trafficking will be part of the agenda on the trip to Mexico this weekend and early next week. But it will be one of many subject that are part of our bilateral relationship.
Q Joe, can we talk for a minute about gloating? There's been a lot of stories in the last couple of days about whether the President is privately gloating, or that he's not going to gloat. Can you tell us, does the President feel some sense of frustration that he's going to get slammed on this thing no matter what? I mean, if he dares to smile at any point in the next two years and he doesn't wear a -- people are going to accuse him of gloating? Is that a frustration that he has?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that there are people here who understand that some of this game isn't on the level. But the President, as I've said to you many times before, I think the sentiment he'll feel if this moves forward without -- with an acquittal is relief an and anxiousness to continue doing the job that he's been doing.
Q What part of the game is not on the level?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think I've spoken to this before. I don't have anything more to add to it.
Q Would acquittal mean that the impeachment itself was invalid?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think people will be left to interpret it any way they want. We've been very clear, I think, on the fundamental faults of the House process. There is nothing there that has changed. The Senate has taken a different approach to this. And I will leave it to others to make judgments over the long-term on the validity of the process.
Q Joe, does the President stand fully behind Sidney Blumenthal and the controversy over his testimony?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that there are some issues there that the Senate is continuing to look at, but I'm not aware that the President has any reason to not support Mr. Blumenthal.
Q Does he believe all of Sidney Blumenthal's testimony?
MR. LOCKHART: Sidney has so stated that it was accurate and I have no reason to believe that no one here doesn't believe that.
Q Well, then, the President would agree that he did say that Monica Lewinsky was a stalker?
MR. LOCKHART: His testimony is very clear.
Q Do you think the President believes that, Joe?
Q There are also sworn affidavits?
MR. LOCKHART: Pardon?
Q Christopher Hitchens and his wife are also sworn affidavits.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, first off, the two of them aren't necessarily on the same page, there are some discrepancies between them. But I'll leave that to the senators who are looking into this to see if there's anything there.
Q Jeffrey Birnbaum said on the Fox News channel that he had heard the First Lady --
MR. LOCKHART: You shouldn't say that, Wolf, you're with CNN. (Laughter.)
Q Just trying to be precise.
MR. LOCKHART: There's MSNBC commercials on CNN, but I didn't see the Fox stuff.
Q Just trying to be precise.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay.
Q He says that the First Lady is seriously thinking about running for the Senate for New York State and may even be looking for an apartment in New York after May to start raising money. Presumably that would mean she, at least in part, have to move out of the White House. Is that what you're hearing, that the First Lady is very serious about running for Senate from New York?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm not hearing any of that -- but I wasn't watching Fox News yesterday.
Q What are you hearing about the First Lady?
MR. LOCKHART: What I hear I leave to Marsha Berry, the fine spokesperson for the First Lady, to talk about.
Q Who never tells us anything.
MR. LOCKHART: Better than me not telling you anything, Helen.
Q That's why she is a fine spokesperson. (Laughter.)
Q How important are the numbers in the ultimate Senate vote? In other words, how hopeful is the President that he might be able to prevail by a majority and not just a one-third needed to block --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into a numbers games. This reminds me a little bit of what we did in the last couple of weeks before the election, when there seemed to be a magic number. The Senate is going to go forward, make a decision, whether it be Thursday or Friday. It is our fervent hope that our counsel has made a case that the House managers have not made their case and that more than one-third of the Senate will vote to keep the President in office.
Q Joe, you just said that you had no reason to doubt Sidney's testimony. Does that mean that you are now acknowledging that the President told Sidney Blumenthal that Monica was a stalker, that she -- and that she made an advance on him and he rebuffed her?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, I have no reason to doubt that Sidney did not testify truthfully in his grand jury testimony and his deposition before the Senate.
Q And the President feels the same way?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't talked to the President about it.
Q You either believe his testimony is truthful or you have doubts, it can't be both.
MR. LOCKHART: And I think I just so stated what I believe. So, next.
Q Well, why don't you restate it for us because it's a little unclear.
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think I've stated it twice and that's enough.
Q So you're saying that the President did say that Monica Lewinsky was a stalker?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm saying that I haven't had this conversation with anyone, but I have no reason to doubt that Sidney didn't testify truthfully.
Q Joe, both Mr. Bowles and Mr. Podesta said late last year that they want a policy of zero tolerance or no tolerance for character assassination. Do you believe that Mr. Blumenthal's discussion of the stalker remarks with people outside the White House would constitute improper --
MR. LOCKHART: Again, I don't have any way of knowing until the Senate finishes their work. So I have no reason to believe at this point that there is any violation, but if others have evidence, they should bring it forward.
Q But, Joe, they have.
Q Has the White House engaged in any sort of whip count or discussion with Democratic leaders about how they think the vote is actually going to turn out?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I don't believe that the Democrats have done a whip count on this. I think generally, the majority of the Senate has in some way indicated where they might be, but we won't really know until the vote happens tomorrow or Friday.
Q The President has not asked the staff for an appraisal of what his prospects are?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we have some sense and we've shared it with the President. But I'm going to leave that between us and the President and not share it with you.
Q Joe, is the White House concerned that Republicans may filibuster the censure motion, maybe try to take that off the table and thereby induce more people to vote in favor of conviction, as happened in the House -- you said happened in the House?
MR. LOCKHART: I think this is really up to the Senate and the last thing we want to do is inject ourself into this process. I think any --
Q But you did so with regard to the House on that.
MR. LOCKHART: I think it was a -- there is a clear difference in what was going on in the House where it was a choice between sending over articles of impeachment in a partisan way to the Senate, or voting, which is what we believed was what the majority of the House wanted to do, was on a censure proposal. This isn't an either-or. They're going to have a vote. There was a trial. They're going to have a vote. It's a question of what they do after that, and that's up to the Senate.
Q Joe, now that the President has decided to nominate Mr. Holbrooke when does he expect to send the name forward?
MR. LOCKHART: Soon. When the paperwork is done. We'll let you know.
MR. LOCKHART: Soon.
MR. LOCKHART: Please don't make me tell you what we think soon -- what soon is soon. (Laughter.) Is soon soon enough?
Q -- to keep somebody else from writing another anonymous letter accusing him of something so that it will stop it again? Is that soon enough? Is that how quickly it's going to be done?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't tell you. Clearly in this town writing an anonymous letter doesn't take much time.
Q Joe, the GAO yesterday criticized the President's plan on Social Security as being a complicated bag, and also at the same time they said it may hamper efforts to fundamentally reform the system. Do you have a response to their criticism?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that there were other people at that hearing who spoke a little bit to that, and I think other people here -- I know Gene Sperling talked to many of you yesterday who were following that story. The budget rules and the budget process is by nature somewhat complicated. But we don't think that the President's plan further complicates or does anything to the fundamental reforms.
We've said since the State of the Union that the President has a two-pronged approach. One is to basically pay down the national debt and lock those savings in that will make for the long-term solvency of the Social Security system, while at the same time working with Republicans and Democrats on the Hill at some of the structural issue that we have to face.
The President, as he said in the State of the Union, thinks that using the surplus for Social Security can extend the system through 2055, and with some other -- as we work together we need to find a way to extend it another 20 years beyond that.
Q Well, one of the specific criticisms, though, on that is that it could be a dangerous thing to start tapping general revenues for Social Security. Previously that had just been done on Social Security taxes and that it creates essentially a new entitlement for Social Security.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we think we're in a unique period here and we have a unique opportunity to both pay down the national debt and provide for long-term solvency for Social Security. So I think the President's proposal follows on six years of fiscal discipline and builds on six years of fiscal discipline. So we think it does make sense.
As Barry mentions, it's not a new entitlement, it's one of the oldest entitlements. Social Security is a system and we're going to continue to pay out because that's the entitlement.
Q Following up on all of this, have you ever been able to resolve whether the total cost of the President's proposal? Because some people have said that there's double accounting because of the way the unified budget is set up, and that the real cost is going to be $6.7 trillion and not $4.5 trillion.
MR. LOCKHART: No, I actually think that that's -- I understand the debate -- or I've had it explained to me. I can't say I understand the double counting debate because there are only nine people in Washington that do understand the entire budget process, everybody else is just pretending. (Laughter.) But I don't think that's the double counting debate, that it's somehow going up to $6.7. I think that the budget system is somewhat complex and there is money now that's being loaned from the Social Security trust fund over to the budget. But I think that what we're faced with here is a choice of whether, as we pay down the debt in this era of surpluses, we save the money for Social Security, or we don't. And we think it's the fiscally responsible thing to save it.
Q Does that mean that you have a total price tag that you could say, well, this is how much the program is going to cost?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I mean, the surplus over the next 15 years, I think, is estimated at $4.4 trillion. You're looking at -- what you're really looking at is savings on interest payments, and the question is, what are you going to do with that savings? And I think the President believes that Social Security, Medicare, and refunding money through the USA accounts, which invests in people and will increase the savings rate, is the right way to do it.
Q What is the President doing today? This morning?
MR. LOCKHART: The President was quiet this morning, and he goes out to the University of Maryland --
Q Does he have jet lag?
MR. LOCKHART: No, he had the morning down, and -- okay, "quiet," "down," whatever words you want to use. But he goes out to the University of Maryland shortly for his Americorps event, which I believe you all have the paper on.
Q Joe, the President said that he wants to help Democrats regain the House in 2000, and he wants to work with the Republican leadership to get things accomplished in the next two years. Aren't these two propositions somewhat mutually exclusive?
MR. LOCKHART: Not necessarily. I think we -- the Democrats have ideas about how to move forward, starting with what the President laid down in the State of the Union -- saving the surplus for Social Security, saving the surplus for Medicare, the USA accounts. Republicans have some quite different ideas. But that's not going to stop us, on a range of issues, of continuing to work with them. And I think, as we move around to the elections in the year 2000, both parties will have a different approach that they want to put forward, and it will be up to the voters to decide.
Q Joe, given that the President, by most accounts, acquitted himself pretty well in the Blair press conference and the one that was after it, why hasn't there been a press conference in about 10 months, or whatever it's been? It's got to be a record for a President not to have a press conference.
MR. LOCKHART: If we did that well, will you accuse us of gloating? Will that work? No, I think the answer's obvious for the last couple months. The President has been available in a number of different settings prior to that, and will have a press conference sometime soon.
Q Will there be a press conference on February 24th, for the state visit?
MR. LOCKHART: That's not clear yet. We're looking at the press coverage for that trip.
Q Would the press conference then be before the Holbrooke nomination is sent up?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it will be sometime after the Holbrooke nomination is sent up.
END 11:37 A.M. EST