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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 16, 1999
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                             JOE LOCKHART 
                           The Briefing Room    

1:15 P.M. EST

MR. LOCKHART: What are you scheming about, Sam?

Q Geraldo gets an exclusive interview with the President, and discovers Mrs. Clinton's going to march --

Q -- march in the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

MR. LOCKHART: It's not the first time he's beaten you guys this year.

Q Can you confirm that, that Mrs. Clinton will be marching in the New York Puerto Rican Day Parade with Mr. Rivera?

MR. LOCKHART: I can't. I missed 60 crucial seconds of that interview, between the 18th floor and the 1st floor. The elevator wasn't big enough.

Q Well, it was reported in the Hotline this morning, I mean -- the President said he thought it would be a fine idea.

MR. LOCKHART: I think he told you that yesterday, in front of rolling cameras --

Q Marching in the parade.

MR. LOCKHART: Oh, marching in the parade. I just don't know about that. I'd refer you to Marsha Berry and her fine staff.

Q But he suggested the interview was on the elevator between the 18th and the 1st floor.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, that was just part of it.

Q Part of it was on the stairwell.

Q Where was it?

MR. LOCKHART: It was on the elevator between the 18th and the 1st floor, and then walking to the car.

Q I know nothing.

MR. LOCKHART: Me, too. We'll have a pact on that.

Q Was that a payback?

MR. LOCKHART: No, it was a response to some of the well-placed criticism of me that the President wasn't accessible, so I thought -- (laughter) -- I think you've all weighed in on that.

Q I'll even go up, rather than just down.


Q -- in the elevator.

Q How do you feel about your role of blocking the news for 10 months?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm looking forward to not playing that role anymore.

Q Could you tell us what you're talking about, please?


Q Mr. Rivera had an exclusive interview with the President yesterday, apparently, on the elevator.

MR. LOCKHART: Okay, moving on. I have no announcements to make, so I'd be glad to take all of your questions.

Mr. Blitzer?

Q Is the President planning on renominating, or nominating, Bill Lann Lee to be the civil rights chief at the Justice Department?

MR. LOCKHART: I have not checked on Mr. Lee's status recently, so I'll do that for you.

Q Apparently Senator Hatch is about to put out a statement asking the President not to reappoint Mr. Lee.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President believes that Mr. Lee has done an excellent job in his status as the head of the Civil Rights Office, but I will have to check on where the nomination stands, or how it will move forward. I just don't know.

Q Some conservatives accuse him of being what they call "the quota king."

MR. LOCKHART: And I think those conservatives would have an impossible task to demonstrate what they mean by that. I have heard that several times, having worked on this nomination, from people who I think speak with demonstrable lack of knowledge of Mr. Bill Lann Lee's background, his abilities, what he's been able to get done before he came to the Justice Department and at the Justice Department. I think it's a political slogan, rather than an attempt to understand the impact and the importance of the work he does.

Q Are the Kosovo talks on the verge of a breakthrough?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the talks have been extended through Saturday, for an extra seven days. I think there's a lot of tough work. I think Secretary Albright was successful in bringing the parties together for the first time. But I think there should be no illusions that there's important and hard work ahead. But, again, we think the stark choices that the parties face between a interim political settlement and what could be an escalation of the violence in Kosovo should serve as a reminder of how important it is for getting this work done.

Q Joe, could you talk a little bit about Chirac's visit on Friday? And aren't relations strained over issues such as Iraqi sanctions and Kosovo deployment?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think relations are strong. The President looks forward to meeting with President Chirac to talk on a wide variety of issues. I think our government, the French government and other governments are -- stand together as far as the importance of containing Saddam Hussein. I think the statements that have come out of Iraq in the law few days should serve as a reminder -- threats against Kuwait, threats against Saudi Arabia, threats against Turkey -- a reminder of how important it is for the international community to stay united. I expect those subjects and many others to come up during the meeting.

Q Chirac is bringing a specific deal on lifting sanctions against Iraq, easing that for oil sales. Will the President give that serious consideration?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think our position on sanctions on Iraq is well-known. I think the President will give any ideas that President Chirac comes with due consideration. But I think we'll wait until Friday rather than trying to comment on the advancing press stories.

Q Is there any decision to be made between the two on Kosovo on Friday that would sort of sweeten the pot or push the two parties over the edge to some sort of an agreement?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't expect Friday to be a decision point for Kosovo. The important work there is going on back in France among the parties. They have a choice to make. They now have a few days to sit and work out a settlement that is acceptable to both parties. And again, the consequences of the choice they make are quite clear.

Q Joe, The Washington Post did an extensive page one story on the widespread growth of jury nullification which is being advocated at George Washington Law School, but has been ruled obstruction of justice in Colorado. And my question is, is the President at all concerned about this, and if so, what has he said about it?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware -- I have never had that discussion with him, so I just don't know.

Q Is he not concerned?

MR. LOCKHART: I know of nothing.

Q Linda Tripp made a series of allegations last night, among them that, A, the President is still fooling around; and B, that she is afraid for her life because of some sort of retaliation against her that could be orchestrated by the President's friends.

MR. LOCKHART: I'll stand by my "ludicrous" line.

Q Well, there's a filing of a -- suit this afternoon, Joe. Did you know about that?

MR. LOCKHART: No. Tell me about it.

Q -- Browning and the head of Judicial Watch, Larry Klamen, says Bill Clinton's demonstrated pattern of threatening women must end. What's your reaction to that, Joe?

MR. LOCKHART: As much as I'd like to react to that, the idea of having to spend eight hours in the room with Larry Klamen precludes me from reacting to that -- (laughter) -- because anything I say earns me a subpoena.

Q Anything new on the Lockerbie suspects?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't have anything from this morning. There's been some discussion over the weekend, but again, as I said this morning, I don't know that we can read too much into it or take too much encouragement. I think Libya knows what it needs to do. The time has long passed come to produce the suspects, allow them to go to an impartial court, and we think the time has passed for discussions and the time -- words are meaningless here, we need actions.

Q If found guilty, does the U.S. insist that they stay in a Scottish jail, or doesn't it care where --


Q Joe, yesterday the President flew back on the plane with more of the Republican congressmen. Did he have any conversations with them you could tell us about? Is he more optimistic, less optimistic about cooperation with the Republican Congress?

MR. LOCKHART: I think he's optimistic, period, about moving forward. He had a chance to sit and talk to -- there were some 25 members, 24 or 25 members, including some Republicans, on the plane. He spent some time with them. But I think he's optimistic because he understands that it's in the interest of both parties to work together. The public wants us to get their business done, the President understood that all through 1998, understands and thinks as we move forward that we'll have a real chance to enact some of the important parts of his agenda.

Q Senator Lott, in his final post-acquittal vote interview, suggested that there is a feeling among Democrats that a smart political strategy for Democrats -- not the President himself, but for Democrats on the Hill -- would be to block a lot of things and label the Republicans a do-nothing Congress, which has proved a successful strategy.

MR. LOCKHART: I guess I'd suggest that it always is a little suspect when you hear one party talking about what's in the best interest of the other party. So I think we should all just stick to our own -- pardon?

Q You just did it.


Q You just said it's in the best interest of our party.

MR. LOCKHART: I think what's in the best interest of the public is to work together. I think to have a leader of one party talking about an obstructionist agenda being good for the other party should be seen as a good sound bite, but that's it.

Q Has the President talked to any of the members of Congress about Hillary Clinton running for the Senate from New York?

MR. LOCKHART: Not in my presence, so I can't completely rule that out. But I didn't see that and none of that was reported back to me.

Q Has he talked to you about it?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, we talked a little about it yesterday. I anticipated the question coming yesterday morning, because Mr. Hunt, it's all he wanted to talk about yesterday -- but, so we talked about it a little bit, and basically what he told us is what he told you.

Q Senator Biden and Charles Rangel both said that they think there is a time deadline that Mrs. Clinton has said she'll make up her mind. What is that deadline?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. Senator Biden had seemed to indicate that she indicated to him of some deadline, but he wasn't going to talk about it. I am not aware of that, so I can't provide any more enlightenment.

Q Joe, on this subject, the President said she'd make a terrific senator if she decided to run. But is he actively encouraging her to run?

MR. LOCKHART: Everything that I know about this is what the President said yesterday, so I'll leave you to interpret his words rather than me interpreting his words.

Q Back on the President's comments with lawmakers, Joe, is Mr. Clinton concerned at the couple of Republicans who say they do not trust him now? Does he feel it's a valid comment? And if not, why not?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the lawmakers who say that will have to articulate what it is they're talking about. I'm not certain. To me, it sounds a little bit like a rationalization for not working together or a set-up for moving forward with some of the issues that we're going to disagree on. But I think what's important is we get past any name-calling, get past issues that have nothing to do with the people's business, and get to the debate that we need to have. We will agree on things; we will disagree on things. When we get to the end of the year, we will have, I believe, gotten significant things accomplished. There will be things at the end of the year that will be unresolved because we couldn't come to agreement. But that's the way the process is supposed to work.

Q But surely you admit there's a credibility problem, don't you? Surely, you must admit that?

MR. LOCKHART: I believe that the American people trust the President to do their business. I believe that the majority of members of Congress want to work with the President and believe they can work with the President.

Q So the President on that doesn't feel that he needs to do anything to address some of the concerns about trusting the President among leading Republicans who have said that they don't necessarily trust him?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President believes that what he needs to do is keep doing what he's been doing, which is doing his job and promoting his agenda.

Q Joe, on the Ocalan arrest, is there any -- have you had any reports of threats against attacks here, protests here, against diplomatic missions --

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any specific information about threats. I can tell you, as I think the State Department is telling people this morning, that some increased security has taken place, but I'll leave it to the State Department to detail that.

Q May I follow up on that? I asked you recently about a Kurdistan, and you said --- still U.S. policy against a Kurdistan. Why? Is it just to appease Turkey, Greece, Iraq and Syria? I mean, why is the U.S. so adamantly opposed to a Kurdistan?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the U.S. policy is that we support the territorial integrity of the states in the region. And we don't favor the establishment of a Kurdish state, but we certainly do support the protection and promotion of human rights of the Kurds, whatever country they may be in in that region.

Q But do the Kurds have any rights at all?

MR. LOCKHART: Certainly. And we believe they have rights, and we believe those rights should be respected. That doesn't mean that we believe it should be our policy to support the creation of an independent state.

Q Joe, the President yesterday said he will certify Mexico as a country who collaborates with the United States in the fight against drugs. But it's also a known fact that there's opposition among certain members of Congress. Did the President take the opportunity yesterday when he was talking to congressional leaders to ask them for their support in convincing some of their colleagues?

MR. LOCKHART: I think more importantly the 25 or so members got a chance to talk to President Zedillo and his Cabinet. There were some extensive conversations that went on yesterday. And they got a chance to see firsthand the commitment that the Mexican government has to fighting this problem, which President Zedillo himself has called the number one national security problem or concern for Mexico. So I think the President in his meetings with both the Mexican and American delegations and congressional leaders talked about the importance of fighting the narcotics trade and the importance of continuing to work together with the Mexican government. But I think, as, or more importantly, our congressional leaders who went down got a chance to hear directly from the Mexicans.

Q Joe, does the President still have full confidence in Lanny Davis of Maryland as one of his defenders? No, I mean as his defender -- he speaks frequently for the President. Does he have full confidence in Lanny?

MR. LOCKHART: The President appreciates some of the kind words Lanny said about him over the last year.

Q The reason I ask is that there was a news mag story that I double-checked with WLAC in Nashville, and they confirmed -- they have on tape that they asked Mr. Davis if the President would be exempt from prosecution while in office, if as in an activity not part of his official duties he were to hold up a liquor store; and Mr. Davis said, absolutely. Do you agree or disagree with Mr. Davis? (Laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: What station was that again?

Q WLAC - radio.

MR. LOCKHART: This is radio or TV?

Q The senior electronic medium where active Americans can do dozens of things while they listen, instead of sitting paralyzed in front of the tube of a vast wasteland --

Q You can talk on the phone and do dozens of things.

Q They verified that they have this on tape. I'm not suggesting the President is going to hold up any liquor store -- (laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: Far be it for me to disagree with Lanny, but I am not a lawyer, but that sounds a little squirrely to me. (Laughter.)

Q So that's the official word.


Q Who is the President playing golf with this afternoon?

MR. LOCKHART: I think he's playing with his brother-in-law, Hugh Rodham, and, I think --

Q Because of the box of chocolates?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. And I think Terry McAuliffe.

Q Joe, can you expand on the arrest of a terrorist organization -- PKK's head, Ocalan, today in Kenya, and is there any information how come he was for 12 days with Greek Ambassador in Kenya and nobody knew about it?

MR. LOCKHART: I can't really expand on the circumstances. I think you would need to go to the parties involved. I can tell you that we're pleased that Ocalan is in custody. The United States designated the PKK terrorist organization in 1996, I believe, and we have urged for Ocalan to be brought to justice since his arrest late last year in December. But as far as the details of the apprehension and the transport, I think that there are other parties that are more able to give you the details.

Q And you will say once again that the United States had no role in the capture or the return?

MR. LOCKHART: I can tell you the transfer of Ocalan to Turkish custody was accomplished by the Turkish authorities. U.S. personnel were not involved in the arrest or his transport to Turkey.

Q Then the question is -- counterintelligence agents?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't discuss intelligence matters.

Q Why is it a terrorist organization? Why is it not a freedom fighter organization?

MR. LOCKHART: We think they have very much earned the membership in the terrorist club through countless and vicious attacks on civilians.

Q How serious are you taking the Iraqi threat against --

MR. LOCKHART: I think we take any threat made to U.S. servicemen abroad or at home very seriously. I think that, as we've said before, if Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi government carry through on a threat like this, the response will be swift and commensurate with the action they take.

Q You have a Social Security event tomorrow, is this the first post-impeachment order of business, and how quickly does the President think that he and his newfound friends in the Republican Party can move ahead with this?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think Social Security -- saving Social Security, Medicare, the USA accounts, which are basically a $500 billion tax cut for the American public -- were at the center of the State of the Union, and at the top of the President's agenda. We believe we -- and look forward to the debate that we're entering now, with those who have a different view, those who have articulated the view that we ought to have an across-the-board 10 percent tax cut that really does nothing for extending the life of the Medicare trust fund, and provides, you know, a very modest return for most middle-income people.

We'll have that debate. Congress returns next week; I expect that that will be first and foremost on many legislators' minds, and we believe that the President has put forward a strong program that has already garnered a lot of support in Congress, and that support will continue to grow.

Q What's the focus of tomorrow's event, specifically?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'll leave it to the President for tomorrow, but you can expect him to talk about Social Security, and the idea that he will be talking to a younger audience, and it's somewhat -- most people, when they think of Social Security, think of speaking to older Americans. And the President's idea here is that we pay down the national debt, reserve the savings for Social Security and Medicare, which will actually impact younger people's lives. Whereas alternative plans, we don't believe do that.

And most older Americans, those who are eligible for Social Security within the next few years, the trust fund is in good shape. It will serve them well. We think that we need to make the case to younger Americans that this is a choice that impacts their life, the life of their children, and that the choice we make is between paying off the debt that the '80s rang up for America, or whether we're going to keep that debt around.

Q The Republicans have agreed to set aside a portion of the surplus that he wants set aside. What is the argument?

MR. LOCKHART: There are some Republican plans that say that you might set aside Social Security, but you can do tax cuts first, which we think reverses the sequence, because we don't know what would happen afterwards. Secondly, neither --

Q First or as part of the deal --

MR. LOCKHART: We believe that as we move forward, the first thing you have to do is make sure that the 62 percent is reserved for Social Security and the 15 percent for Medicare, which leads me to my second point, which is, there is nothing in any Republican tax proposal that I've seen that even addresses Medicare.

Q Is that what he's talking about tomorrow -- Medicare or Social Security? It seems like the debate is about Medicare, not Social Security.

MR. LOCKHART: I think the debate is about both. There's frankly a debate going on within the Republican Party about taxes, and they will resolve that --

Q One more question. When does the President plan to explain how you get to 75 years? In other words, how you get to the --

MR. LOCKHART: We plan to engage with Congress. Again, we plan to engage with Congress to work out what the best solution for that will be.

Q Is he going to submit this specific legislation, as the Republicans had earlier demanded? Is he going to come up with a specific legislative package?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have anything on whether we'll have a legislative package or how that will get worked out. I'll let you know once we do.

Q Joe, you folks have taken to calling this USA account a tax cut. So does that mean that there's $500 billion available for a tax cut and it's just a question of what kind of tax cut it is?

MR. LOCKHART: It means that if you take 62 percent of the surplus and reserve it for Social Security and take 15 percent and reserve it for Medicare, you then have some left. We have some military priorities that need to be funded, but we also believe that if you take about 12 percent of the surplus and put it into these USA accounts, you'll get a progressive tax cut that will encourage savings and will help people plan for their retirement.

Q I understand what you're saying. What I'm saying is, in trying to label this, it really isn't a tax cut, it's government-sponsored retirement savings. By trying to label that a tax cut, are you now saying we're willing to spend this $500 billion on a tax cut, let's just argue about what that's going to look like?

MR. LOCKHART: I think what's been clear since the President laid out his State of the Union, that the bulk of this was for Social Security and Medicare, but there was room for what is a tax cut or a tax credit in setting up these USA accounts. And I think we will have a real debate of what the best way to do it is, whether to do it in a progressive way that helps people save for retirement and promote individual savings, or whether to do it in a way that isn't progressive, that puts off and doesn't pay down some of the debts that we've run up.

Q Joe, last year the Republicans said they wanted to put aside 90 percent of the surplus and just use 10 percent for a tax cut. Isn't that exactly the kind of math that the President has laid out this year -- or 88 percent -- aren't you doing exactly what David just asked?


Q You're arguing about what to do with 12 percent of the surplus.

MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think that's what we're doing at all. I think what the Republicans talked about last year -- well, the Republicans talked about a lot of things last year, and you have picked up one. There was, I think, a $5-trillion tax cut program out there at one point, there was all sorts of things. To the extent that there was one of these, there is a difference between how you do this and whether it's across-the-board or whether you look at tax cuts that we've supported which are targeted and are progressive. And that is a debate we're going to have.

Q -- just going to follow up, and explain why it's not a good idea to simply let the American people decide how they want to spend their money if there's going to be a tax cut.

MR. LOCKHART: I think the real debate here as we move forward is whether we're going to spend -- pay off the generational debt that we've accumulated in the decade of the '80s and the first couple years of the '90s -- whether they were going to pay that off or whether we're going to pass it on. That is at the center of this debate. Now, when it comes to the debate over tax cuts, we're going to have a debate over whether across-the-board or targeted, and progressive is the way to go.

Q Joe, does the President's plan indicate any of the tough measures that he might support to reform Social Security, whether it's raising the retirement age, or cutting back on benefits, or increasing taxes in some way? There's been no comment at all on that. Is he going to introduce those --

MR. LOCKHART: I think we look forward to entering into a cooperative effort with Congress to deal with those issues.

Q So that's a no, he won't propose any of these things to give an idea of where he is going?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm going to repeat my answer without repeating it.

Q Over the last year, President Clinton has guardedly answered questions in one form or another on the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but has never really given the American people a full and forthcoming explanation of exactly what he did and why he did it. Will he ever do that, or will that be denied to historians now that the trial is over?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the American public who sat and watched four and a half hours of grand jury testimony, who saw everything that was -- if there is a desire out there to know more about this, and to talk more about that, I don't expect that we're going to satisfy that.

Q Joe, does the President think he should win the Nobel Prize?

Q Of course. (Laughter.)

Q But do you think he should win the Nobel Prize?

Q -- has he seen --

MR. LOCKHART: He has not. I saw that story yesterday, and as far as I know, that didn't get passed on to him, so --

Q Joe, on Central America, the administration is proposing $1 billion in supplemental spending. There's a bill pending in the Senate that provides just about that kind of money, but links it to trade. What's the preference of the White House in terms of that?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the preference clearly is, we'll send up the supplemental package that the First Lady and Mrs. Gore are announcing today, and then the trade initiative for the Caribbean basin will be -- we will have some news on that next week.

Q Why divide the two?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we have made the decision that that's the best way to move forward, to do this as part of emergency aid, and then deal with the trade issue separately. And I think we'll have some more to say about that next week.

Q What does the White House hope the Vice President will accomplish on this trip to Africa, and why is he making this trip instead of the President?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, he's making it because he is the head of the -- what do we call it -- the binational commission with the Deputy President Mbeke. This was set up in 1994, I believe. This is the fifth meeting of it. And it's been a very useful organization for promoting U.S.-South Africa ties as with -- I mean, the Vice President is taking with him three or four Cabinet members -- and it's an ongoing effort to strengthen our ties -- trade, economic. And the Vice President is very much -- looks forward to this trip.

Q Who else besides Attorney General Reno is going?

MR. LOCKHART: I will tell you. Page two, thank you. There is no page two on mine. (Laughter.) Secretary Glickman, Babbitt, Richardson, Daley, and Attorney General Reno. What do you got -- I got this one -- just one page.

Q Reno, Glickman --

MR. LOCKHART: Glickman, Babbitt, Richardson, Daley, Reno. I expect that -- let me give you a little bit on the trip. He will meet Wednesday with President Mandela. They will be holding an afternoon roundtable on job creation --

Q Is that tomorrow.

MR. LOCKHART: That's Thursday. On Thursday will be job creation. Thursday they'll do a press conference, and they will also announce a new trade and investment framework agreement, which will create a bilateral council on trade and investment, composed of representatives of both countries.

Q Does the Vice President intend to raise any issue, any question about the 200,000 blacks who are slaves in Mauritania, Ghana, and Sudan?

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I know of.

Q What does the President think of the front page of the newspaper that said "Tension at the Top," and beneath the fold --

MR. LOCKHART: I saw that.

Q You saw that, huh? (Laughter.)

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:48 P.M. EST