THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
1:08 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: Some travel announcements before we get to your questions. The President will travel to Arizona, San Francisco and Los Angeles between February 25th and March 2nd. On Thursday, February 25th, the President will travel to Tucson, Arizona. In Tucson, he will speak to local residents about Social Security and Medicare and then travel on to San Francisco to attend a DSCC and DCCC dinner, and will overnight in San Francisco -- a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Overnight in San Francisco. Friday, February 26th, he'll have an event in the San Francisco area and then have an evening fundraiser in Los Angeles and will overnight in Los Angeles.
On Saturday, February 27th, the President will hold another event, TBD, in Los Angeles. He will remain in Los Angeles until the afternoon of Tuesday, March 2nd, with no public schedule for the remainder of his stay, and then return to D.C.
The second travel announcement -- we'll come back to the obvious question there -- travel to Arkansas and Texas March 12 through March 14. On Friday, March 12, the President will travel to Hope, Arkansas, to formally dedicate his boyhood home. He'll then go on to Texarkana to attend a dinner for Representative Max Sandlin Friday night. Overnight is to be determined -- either Texarkana or Little Rock. I'll let you know as soon as that is resolved.
And on Sunday, March 13, the President will attend a DNC fundraiser and State Democratic Party in Little Rock. He will stay overnight in Little Rock and return to D.C. Sunday afternoon. I'm sorry, that's Saturday, March 13. No public events planned for Sunday.
Q Would the President be planning to spend time with his daughter on her birthday?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect he will have some down time; I would not rule out it being spent with his family.
Q But not in the Stanford area?
MR. LOCKHART: No, in the Los Angeles area.
Q And he'd do that in a private home?
MR. LOCKHART: That is my guess at this point.
Q Joe, Senator Lott's office is taking issue with your characterization of the USA retirement accounts as tax cuts.
And they say that government subsidized savings account are not tax cuts and they're not a substitute for giving some of the money back to taxpayers.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I understand we have differences on tax cuts. We believe returning half a trillion dollars to the American public in a way that will help people save for retirement, in a way that's progressive, helps people who need the help the most is the right way to do it.
We are now engaged in a good, healthy public debate on what to do with the surplus. We believe that our proposals are pro-investment, they are progressive, they will save Social Security and Medicare for the long-term. We think that some of the ideas that are coming from the party opposite really represent the politics of the past, the across-the-board concept that will do nothing particularly to help extend Medicare. But it's a good debate and we look forward to joining that debate.
Q Joe, Senator Gregg says that the CBO looked at the President's Social Security plan and concluded that it would exhaust the surplus and lead to $803 billion in deficits by 2009. This is similar to what the Comptroller General's report -- do you agree with that?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not familiar with the particular study he's citing. I think we believe that if before the next 15 years, you put 62 percent of the surplus, dedicate that toward Social Security, 15 percent's for Medicare, you're going to extend the system out until at least 2055. And I don't know exactly what Senator Gregg, what his figures -- yes, which, as Barry reminds me, the actuaries who looked at this, Social Security actuaries looked at the President's proposal and agreed it would go out to 2055. I mean, what we're doing here, in effect, is paying down the debt and reserving the savings.
I think one of the most startling statistics, if you look at it, and a statistic that you don't have to be a budget expert to understand, is when the President took office in 1993 -- and I think it's something like six years ago today that the President made his first major economic speech -- if you had used the projections of CBO and OMB then, in 1999, today, we'd be spending 27 cents on every dollar on interest payments.
The reality is, because we've been able to turn around the fiscal policy of deficits to a fiscal policy of surpluses, it's now around 15 cents. And if we get to the end of this 15 years and follow the plan the President has laid out, we're going to get to about 2 cents. That is a remarkable turnaround, and it means that taxpayers' money is being used for investing in people, investing in programs that help people educate their families, help keep their families safe on the streets, keep their families in good health; not paying the interest on debt.
Q Joe, both Judd Gregg and Bill Archer are worried that the national debt ceiling is going to have to be increased during the course of the next 15 or 20 years, by their understanding. Is that not your understanding, as well, that the debt ceiling, even though we're going to have year after year of surplus, will still have to be increased?
MR. LOCKHART: My understanding is that if we embark on the plan the President has proposed we're going to begin paying down the national debt, rather than increasing the national debt.
Q But, Joe, we don't, because we add IOUs to the Social Security trust fund and not dollars, as Archer points out in a letter he sent to the President. Is the President prepared to respond with how much the total national debt is going to be increased under his proposal?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, you are getting into some broad accounting areas that I will leave to OMB to do the sophisticated math that needs to be done. The bottom line on this proposal is, under the unified budget -- Social Security and budget -- is if we reserve these surpluses to pay down debt, reserve then the savings for Social Security and Medicare, we're going to extend the life of both of the programs.
Q Joe, this morning you characterized Republican embrace of the 60 percent of -- of devoting 60 percent of the surplus to Social Security as fake. What did you mean by that?
MR. LOCKHART: Say again?
Q You said that the Republicans embracing the idea of 60 percent of the -- using 60 percent of the surplus for Social Security was fake, you said this morning.
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think I said that. I said I've seen some -- some Republicans have said that they've agreed to 60 percent or 62 percent, but we haven't seen a comprehensive program.
Q But the President hasn't outlined a comprehensive program either about what he would do --
MR. LOCKHART: But I didn't say that it was fake. So I can't respond to the question.
Q Joe, when is it that the administration will actually release details of what the USA accounts are? I mean, we haven't -- we don't know who qualifies, nor how many --
MR. LOCKHART: Treasury is working through those details and when they have finished their work we will share that work with you.
Q How long would you estimate that --
MR. LOCKHART: It's impossible for me to tell.
Q Also, Senator Lautenberg is going to announce today that he's going to retire. Do you have any response to that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think -- and I expect to have some words later in the day from the President himself, but Senator Lautenberg has been a leader in Congress, and while we respect his decision to move on, we will miss him here. He's been a leader on issues of tobacco, in trying to raise the drinking age and the blood level alcohol in fighting drunk driving. And he also was a real leader in 1997 when we passed landmark legislation to balance the budget. So I think his leadership, particularly on budgetary issues, will be missed.
Q Joe, why did the President pick New Hampshire for tomorrow's trip, of all the other states he could have gone to?
MR. LOCKHART: Because there are a lot of great Democrats in New Hampshire. They once a year hold a fundraising dinner to help New Hampshire Democrats, and the President wanted to help.
Q Joe, there has been some speculation that tomorrow will be the 7th anniversary of President Clinton calling himself the "Comeback Kid" in New Hampshire, and there are some who are suggesting that this is part of his gloating, that he is going to use this occasion --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, Wolf, I'm sure that you, being the good reporter that you are, will disabuse people of that since we told you about this trip before this thing was over. So -- we're not that smart.
Q Well, will he at all get involved, into that whole area?
MR. LOCKHART: Into what area -- gloating? No.
Q -- referring to himself as the Comeback Kid?
MR. LOCKHART: I'll leave that to you to do.
Q Where do we stand with Milosevic? He's still adamant that NATO can't go in. Are you going to -- what can you do, or is there anything you can do to get this sorted out, short of bombing?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we hope so. We're in a crucial period of these negotiations. We think it's time for the Serbs to stop posturing. I think it's well understood that a NATO post-implementation force is part and parcel to a political settlement, and we have have only until Saturday now to work out these issues. We think it's important for them to come to the table and bargain in good faith and work out a settlement so we can move forward. If that's not the case, then we're back where we started, where NATO and military action is a real possibility.
Q Well, at this point, you're fully prepared to bomb Serbia if they don't change course?
MR. LOCKHART: Our views have not changed since we first discussed this, and short of a political settlement, a NATO military action is a real threat.
Q Joe, the First Lady said yesterday she's giving serious thought to a run for the Senate in New York. Is the President urging her in one direction or another?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. The President, I think, has expressed to me the views that he expressed to the pool on Monday in Mexico, that he believes she would be a great United States senator, but it's a decision she has to make. She hasn't had the time that one would need to look at this, but he thinks it's her decision to make.
Q -- together?
Q In terms of timetable, is he urging her to come to a fairly quick decision about this so that if the answer is no, other Democratic candidates --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm certain that he will leave that to her, both on the decision and the timing.
Q Joe, are they discussing it all, do you know, together?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that they've discussed it in any great detail.
Q On the Kurdish situation, would the United States ever support negotiations with an eye toward a possible final status Kurdish state, such as you have --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the United States' view on a Kurdish states are well-known and I don't know of any --
Q Can you elaborate, because I really --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I gave you as much as I know yesterday.
Q Well, why does the U.S. support rights for Palestinians and others, but not for Kurds?
MR. LOCKHART: You're asking about something that's apples and oranges and I don't think you can compare the two.
Q Can you give us a bit of a rundown on the agenda for the Jacques Chirac visit on Friday?
MR. LOCKHART: Okay. They'll meet for -- I don't have the exact times here, but I believe there will be a small bilateral meeting. They'll do, then, a larger group; some lunch between the two Presidents; and then a press conference. As far as the agenda, I expect that they'll discuss the situation in Kosovo, getting the latest on the talks that are ongoing in France.
They'll have, I think, a discussion on the upcoming NATO summit in Washington -- as you know, at the end of April we'll have NATO leadership coming to Washington for their annual summit -- Iraq, the situation on the ground, how we can best move forward in containing the threat of Saddam Hussein. I think there will be a series of G-7, G-8 issues; some issues of international financial architecture; how we continue to work on problems that face world economies, how we continue to promote growth within G-8 countries, and I think also they'll spend some time on Russia.
Q Will there be any discussion of currency -- there is a specific idea that is coming out of Europe.
MR. LOCKHART: That may well come up in the meetings, but as far as commenting on that, I'm going to leave that to the Treasury Secretary.
Q Any trade issues?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I'm certain that it's certainly possible that the wide range of trade issues between the U.S. and the EU may come up in the meeting.
Q Does the President anticipate a vigorous defense in Judge Webber Wright's court on the contempt issue?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that issue is being handled by Mr. Bennett, and I'd refer you to him.
Q Joe, is it conceivable the First Lady would run for the Senate from New Jersey? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I'll have you put that to her excellent spokesperson.
Q On the contempt question, Mr. Bennett -- say nothing at all, which leaves us with nothing said on that situation. Is that what you and the President would prefer?
MR. LOCKHART: I'd prefer to leave it to Mr. Bennett, and I'll let him make a decision on whether he would and whether he wants to speak to it.
Q Why wouldn't the President address this?
MR. LOCKHART: I'll leave it to Mr. Bennett.
Q What's the President's reaction? How does the President feel about this?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't talked to him about it today.
Q What Mr. Bennett said was that the President did not tell the truth in the Paul Jones deposition. Does the President agree with that?
MR. LOCKHART: This is an issue that will come before Judge Wright. Mr. Bennett will represent the President and I'm going to leave him to make any comments that he feels are appropriate.
Q Have you settled on a date next week when the Republican leaders or congressional leadership will be here, and does the President have any trepidation about meeting with these people who wanted him ousted and don't think he's fit to hold his office?
MR. LOCKHART: On the first question, no, we don't have a date yet as far as I know. I expect it to be sometime early next week. On the second, I think the President's spoken directly to that. No, he does not feel trepidation. The President believes, as President, it's his job to do the people's business; as a Democratic President in a time of divided government when Republicans control both Houses of Congress, he feels that he will work -- looks forward to working with the Republican leadership and with the rank and file from both parties.
Q Joe, on Kosovo, in Bosnia in the past, we've only had the will to act militarily in the immediate aftermath of either an atrocity or some extreme act of provocation. Are you saying that we would now be willing to act simply because the Serbians won't sign a document, we're ready to bring out bombs on them?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think that there is a much broader context which the President has spoken to and I'm glad to. I think we have a stake and interest in the area. We have important interests in protecting regional stability, including the important work we've done in Bosnia. We believe that escalating violence in Kosovo would further the exodus of refugees, which could potentially destabilize other areas, other nations in the region.
We think that Albania would increasingly become a staging area for the KOA and, thus, increasing the risk of cross- border conflict. We think the massive refugee flow could spread instability to the fledgling democracy of Macedonia. And we also think that violence in Kosovo could reduce the prospects for political reform in Belgrade, which we think are important. Beyond that, we have issues that we discussed last year of a humanitarian catastrophe which we could face again.
Finally, there is the very real issue of NATO as an organization and its credibility. So we think it would be myopic to look at this as just whether they would accept troops or not; there's a much broader issue here that we've been addressing here for many months.
Q Well, Joe, the Kosovars are refusing to disarm -- how do you bomb Serbia when the Kosovars are refusing to come to an agreement?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the Kosovars have gone to these peace talks in good faith and have been working hard. We've had some movement. We've brought the two parties together for the first time, and we think it's important for both sides to come to an interim political agreement and then live up to it.
Q Joe, if there's not an escalating level of violence, there's just a steady level, will there be support among our more dovish allies for taking military action?
MR. LOCKHART: I'll leave it for other people. But I think if you look at the last four to six weeks there has been escalating violence and it's been of enough concern that we're at the point where we are now, where we've got both parties sitting together trying to reach an agreement.
Q Joe, if the U.S. were to launch, or NATO were to launch military strikes on Kosovo, that would mark the fourth country the U.S. has attacked in the last year. Are there concerns in the White House about resorting to military force this frequently?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think that no military force or no military operation is taken lightly, but we do have interests around the world and there are times where we only have one choice and we exercise that choice as cautiously and sparingly as we can.
Q Joe, getting back to the questions about New Hampshire -- although, as you've said, this was scheduled some time ago, it still remains the first political trip he's taken since the acquittal. What political message does that fact carry and what political message does the President intend to convey to the Democrats?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think he'll talk in part on the trip to New Hampshire about health care and his proposal for a long-term care targeted tax cut. He'll also talk a little bit about what we believe and the Democrats believe is the right way to approach tax cuts -- in a way that invests, in a way that looks to future generations rather than looks at consumption now and putting off decisions about future generations. So I think that's a potent political message and I think that's what you'll hear tomorrow.
Q I was thinking more in terms of when he talks to the party faithful in the evening. What's that all about?
MR. LOCKHART: I think what you'll hear is what you've heard in the past about we have a very aggressive policy agenda, it's important for us to move forward with it; we're going to find areas where we agree, we're going to find areas where we disagree with the party opposite, but it's important we keep this about the people's business, about giving people the tools they need to succeed at home and work. And that's a message you've heard before.
Q Does the trip hold any nostalgia for him at all?
MR. LOCKHART: I've been with the President now a couple of times when he's gone up to New Hampshire, and it's a special place for him because of the primaries, the process in '92. So, sure, I think it does. I think it's coincidental that we're coming out of it and you're all looking at this as the first political trip. But I think there is something special about New Hampshire for the President.
Q Is Mrs. Clinton going with him?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. Let me check. I don't know the answer to that.
Q Joe, the President talked on Monday about performing some kind of public service after he leaves office. Has he ever talked about practicing law or do you know if he has any intent to practice law after he leaves?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know what the President plans to do after he leaves the White House, except for, I think what he's told many of you, which is he plans to stay involved in some way in the many public policy issues that he has spent -- well, he's, frankly, spent all of his adult life involved in, whether it be education or health care. I think some to much of what he'll do will revolve around the library, because that will provide a base for the President. But beyond that, I don't have any specific plans.
Q Joe, does the President intend to name Robert Lawrence to the CEA to replace Jeffrey Frankel?
MR. LOCKHART: My understanding is, Mr. Frankel will end his long and distinguished service at the end of this month, and I expect to have an announcement of a replacement very soon.
Q Joe, at the joint press conference on Friday, how many questions per side?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it will be three and three, which means six and six, and -- (laughter.)
Q Joe, is the United States ready to lift restrictions for India to get a World Bank loan?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any announcement on that. Just as I came out I saw a wire story, but I haven't seen anything that backs that up.
Q Following up on Josh's question, does the President -- after he leaves office, will he feel any restrictions on his ability to earn money if the First Lady were in office at that point? I mean, given that that might be seen as a conflict, if he's taking large sums to speak for organizations that might have an interest in --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware that that's an issue that the President has really examined yet, so I don't know the answer.
Q Will he examine it as they go through the process of deciding whether she would run for --
MR. LOCKHART: Could be. Could be, but I think they'll do that -- that process will not be a public one. I hope.
Q On India and Pakistan, has the President made any effort in the last week to get the two sides to get together and sign the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I know the President had the opportunity, while in Jordan, to talk to Prime Minister Sharif, but I'm not aware of any new steps or announcements that are coming out of the region on their disposition to any of the non-proliferation issues.
Q There's a story out that the President sent two letters -- one to Prime Minister Vajpayee and another to the Pakistanis -- offering different incentives to sign the treaty.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, well, again, I can check further into it, but I'm not aware of those offers.
Q Anything new on Bill Lann Lee?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, as some of you who asked yesterday after the briefing, the President plans to resubmit his nomination to the Senate soon. The President believes he's done a very good job since assuming this role. Those who follow the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department will understand that he spent much of his time dealing with issues involving the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and progress in the struggle on issues involving abuse of workers. So I think the President wants him to continue the important work he's doing, and plans to resubmit his nomination soon.
Q And can he still keep working as acting director for --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Joe, does the President believe that constitutionally a President can be held in contempt?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that the President has a view. I don't know that there's a constitutional issue involved there.
Q Are the White House lawyers researching that question at all, do you know?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I know of.
Q A constitutional issue would be whether the Judicial Branch could fine the Chief Executive of the Executive Branch.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I don't know -- I'm not aware of any constitutional research that's being done on this.
Q Would you ask?
MR. LOCKHART: Sure.
Q Thank you.
Q The meeting with the congressional leadership, is there anything in particular that he wants to press with them, or is it just a general look at what's coming up?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I mean, it's important for us to get to work on the legislative agenda. Our priorities are pretty well-known -- we want to make sure that the surplus is used to protect Social Security and Medicare, talk about USA accounts, and other issues ont agenda, from education to health care, patients' bill of rights. So I think the President looks forward to the chance to sit down, get a sense of the issues that the Republicans consider their top priorities, what our top priorities are and how we're going to work together to get the legislative year going.
Q On the patients' bill of rights, Joe, how does the White House feel about Republican ideas to pass portions of that bill without dealing with the liability issue?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think there's already a bill that's been introduced by Mr. Dingell and Congressman Gephardt, which I think will have strong, if not unanimous, Democratic support. I think there's also been a bill that Congressman Ganske has introduced which has a slightly different language on enforcement, but I think language that gets the job done.
So I think there is very strong support for moving forward on a patients' bill of rights that does have a strong enforcement element. So I don't know that we'll need to face that choice this year.
Q -- a worldwide terrorism alert involving Americans. Can you tell us anything about that?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I can't.
Q Does the President think that Judge Wright should recuse herself, given that the affidavit that popped up during the --
MR. LOCKHART: That's a question to be put to Mr. Bennett.
Q Joe, can you say generally, though, whether the White House is disappointed that all of the issues involved with the impeachment may now resurface because of this report?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President made clear his desire to put all of this behind us, so I think you can interpret a meaning from that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:35 P.M. EST