THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
2:40 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone. Sorry I'm late. Got very engrossed in Mr. Bacon's briefing, couldn't tear myself away. Questions?
Q Did the President promise Congress that he would formally make a request if he ever decided to -- ask for their permission if he ever decided to use ground troops?
MR. LOCKHART: The President made clear to Congress, first off, that he has no intention of introducing ground troops into a non-permissive environment. They did have a conversation about a hypothetical situation in the future, if that were somehow to change. And what the President said was that he would -- if that happened there would be plenty of time for debate and for consultation and he would seek their support.
Q Well, he did not say approval then?
MR. LOCKHART: No, approval -- I think the whole idea of approval and authority raises a series of constitutional questions -- I think the discussion recognized that, but the President did commit, and I believe he will commit in a formal letter to the leadership sometime later today that he will seek their support.
Q Did they ask for that in writing?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think he just wanted to memorialize the conversation.
Q Well, seeking support doesn't mean a go-ahead, a green light, per se.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it means that if we get down the road in some hypothetical -- and I emphasize again this is a hypothetical conversation because we have no intention to do this -- he would seek their support.
Q Would he go ahead with the military action if he did not have their support?
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, we're now -- this is a hypothetical on a hypothetical and I'm not going to do it.
Q Well, the whole thing deals with a hypothetical.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, well, I broke my rule in doing a hypothetical statement so I could accurately report what happened at the meeting, but I'm not going to take it any further.
Q The President broke your rule.
MR. LOCKHART: As he does on some occasions. (Laughter.)
Q If he is willing to ask Congress for support before he sends troops, if it comes to that, then why does he oppose Congress voting on something that says he needs to ask for their support?
MR. LOCKHART: Because we think at this point in time our intentions are clear, and our policy is clear, that we're pursuing an air campaign. And I think the President told the members of Congress that what we do here is watched very closely in Yugoslavia and Belgrade, and it's important that we not send a signal that somehow could be misinterpreted.
Q Could you just elaborate on that? When you say "not send a signal," meaning that Congress would be saying, even if the President wanted to send ground troops we might block him?
MR. LOCKHART: We have no reason in the world to want to send a signal other than we are going to continue to pursue the air campaign, that we believe the air campaign will work. And if we get to the point where Congress has certainly the prerogative to debate any new policy, there will be time to do that and the President will seek their support.
Q What is the bad signal that the Hastert amendment or -- the things that are on the floor right now that says the President has to come to Congress, what is the bad signal that that sends?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there are a series of things that are on the floor. I mean, one of them has to do with seeking authorization for ground troops. And we don't think that they ought to be having a hypothetical debate.
Q But does that mean that if that resolution passes that Congress would have to approve the troops that are going over to service the Apache helicopters, for instance?
MR. LOCKHART: No, no. Not as I read it.
Q What signal are you sending when the President allows Jesse Jackson and his group to go to Belgrade and discuss things with the leader that you have so condemned from that podium, the President has condemned -- with the prospect or the possibility that Jackson feels that he can change somebody's mind? Isn't that negotiating?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, no, and in fact, one of the reasons why Reverend Jackson will be here later today is so that we are sure that he understands and his delegations understand what the U.S. position is and how that position is non-negotiable. He has so stated that this is a humanitarian effort, it's a private effort. It's not one that we particularly support because, again, signals can be misinterpreted and misread. But we have made that case and they have come to the decision that they are going to go, but they will come here first so that we are sure that they understand what the U.S. government position is.
Q Why not just tell them not to go?
MR. LOCKHART: Because it's a private mission and we don't tell people in their private capacity what they can do and what they can't do.
Q Isn't Jesse Jackson a special envoy of the President?
MR. LOCKHART: He's a special government employee and special envoy for Africa, which has nothing to do with this subject.
Q Is his portfolio -- does it stipulate it's only Africa?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Now that he understands when you explain what the U.S. position is and he says he's already been told this before, is he expected to go there and act as your intermediary, to negotiate on that basis?
MR. LOCKHART: No. Let me try to be a little clearer, if only repeating what I just said. It is a private visit. This mission does not represent the United States government. It's private and it's humanitarian.
Q Joe, has the President said anything to Jesse Jackson just to say, stay out of this?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't believe the President has discussed this issue with Reverend Jackson.
Q Well, basically, almost how you're saying this, it's basically saying that he's for Africa, leave it alone, this is none of your concern, stay with Africa. That's what it almost sounds like you're saying.
MR. LOCKHART: No, I prefer to leave it in what I said.
Q Would it be helpful for him to carry a message to Milosevic?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I've been very clear on this. This is a private mission. It's not one that we support, but it's not one that we're going to stop.
Q Is the President going to Italy or Germany --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any travel announcements for you.
Q Is he going, though --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any travel announcements for you. When we do I'll make them.
Q The President told a very harrowing story today of people being tied up and set on fire. Do these fresh atrocities increase the pressure on him to at least consider ground troops in a sense that obviously the air war, after more than a month, isn't stopping atrocities? Is that maybe one of the reasons he talked at least hypothetically today with Congress?
MR. LOCKHART: No, no. I think it, once again, his comments are to represent what Milosevic has done and what he is doing, and what it is we're fighting for. And that is all. We continue to believe and we are more certain coming out of the NATO Summit that the NATO Alliance believes the air campaign is working and that the air campaign will meet the military objectives set forth from the beginning.
Q Just to follow that up, could I ask, is there at least a sense of frustration that these atrocities continue through the air campaign?
MR. LOCKHART: I think you'd be inhuman if you didn't have some sense of frustration. But we have to do what the President, the political leadership in NATO, the military leadership in NATO, thinks is the best course. The best course for getting Milosevic and his troops out, the refugees back in, are continuing to prosecute this air campaign, continuing to tighten the noose, as General Clark said yesterday.
Q Does the letter you're sending today, does "seek congressional support" mean seek a vote, or just sort of caucus people and ask for their support?
MR. LOCKHART: See congressional support I think is pretty clear. I think the way Congress normally does this is by getting together and voting.
Q -- flexibility --
Q -- seek not authorization --
MR. LOCKHART: Support.
Q Not authorization.
MR. LOCKHART: Correct.
Q Did the President in meeting today signal new flexibility on the funding request? Some of the senators came out saying that they think he would be pretty much amenable to almost anything.
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President made the case, and I think if I got this right, his phrase was, "we need something sooner rather than bigger." And he made the case to Congress that while he respects their role in this process and their prerogative in this process, the larger this gets, the more it becomes open to political debate. And when you start putting items on that really have nothing to do with the mission, like military construction in Europe and military construction in the Middle East, you start opening up. And what we can't afford to do -- and this is the point he stressed -- is allow this to get into some of the supplemental type debates we've had over the last few years, and really put at risk our military readiness.
Q But Durbin and some of the others came out -- Durbin said, he knows he's going the have to spend more than $6 billion.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it is our belief that $6 billion funds the mission. And $6 billion funds the mission and funds it sufficiently. Congress will exercise their role in this process and send something down. I'm not going to make any judgments on what the results will be, except that the President made the point very clearly that the bigger they try to make it, the more open it will be to a protracted political debate.
Q Joe, everybody that came out here today indicated that a pay raise was pretty much a done deal, and suggested that the President acknowledge that that was reality and he would have to accept that.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the pay raise issue is one that is in our budget and is something that, from a policy point of view, the President supports, because it was in his budget. We have concerns about the method in which this may get put through. We don't believe it's something -- we believe it's something that should be subject to the budget and the budget limitations that are in the normal budget procedure. Again, we'll see what they come up with and then we'll make a judgment. But what the President -- the point the President made strongly was we need to make sure that as we move forward, we don't succumb to the temptation of making this so big that it then becomes -- it descends into a protracted political debate, because that's something the mission can't afford.
Q The question is, did the President indicate today to the senators that he would accept a pay raise, or that he really had to.
MR. LOCKHART: The President indicated that he wasn't in a negotiating session with the senators in that room; that wasn't the purpose of this meeting. We know we'll get something down here. I think we understand that it won't be the exact thing we sent up there. We'll make a judgment when legislation comes down here. But again, I'll come back to our main point on this subject. The bigger this gets, the more opposition there will on the Hill, the longer it will take. And if this goes on for a few weeks it puts the mission at risk.
Q Joe, the President said today that the Army is building a refugee camp that will be large enough for 20,000 refugees. Is this the same 20,000 refugees that were first going to go to Guantanamo and then were going to come to the United States?
MR. LOCKHART: No, it's different. I think, if you remember the sequencing of this, when we first talked about 20,000 coming to Guantanamo, then there was a sense that we should work in the region. The Pentagon and our military planners went forward with plans that the President talked about today to build a camp in Albania which should be open sometime in the next week -- or should be willing to accept sometime in the next week or so. That will now be in addition to the 20,000 or so that we'll accept here.
Q And when will we start seeing the 20,000 coming to the United States?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I expect the team that has been over working on this to return tomorrow with a recommendation and a plan, and hopefully when they come back and we've had a chance to talk to them, we can talk with a little more precision. But the short answer is, I'm not sure.
Q When is he going to Littleton?
MR. LOCKHART: As I've expressed to you in previous days, I think the President would like to find an appropriate moment to travel to talk to some of the impacted people. I don't have any travel plans to announce to you. I know there's been some speculation about this weekend; I don't believe the President will travel there this weekend. But I'll let you know.
Q Joe, just getting back to the supplemental. A couple of the senators came out and told us, certainly while the President expressed his desires and wishes on that issue, that he indicated to them, really, no matter what came back to the White House, that he would not veto it, that he was not going to create a showdown.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that would be a very poor negotiating position to take, so I'm not going to take it.
Q Did they come away with a faulty impression?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think the President made it clear that he respects their prerogative and their ability. I think we went through some of the budgetary points of why some things should be an emergency and some things shouldn't. But I think his priority now is to get this done so that it doesn't impact the mission and that we don't -- we're not sitting here three weeks from now still debating this.
And I think the point he did make is, he has no reason to expect this will come back at precisely the same level that we sent it up, but they need to understand that as it grows and with each however worthy item gets put on, it raises the possibility that this could get bogged down, and that's something the mission can't withstand.
Q Everybody understands the delay question, but it is awfully hard to envision the President vetoing a military pay raise while American forces are fighting overseas.
MR. LOCKHART: That's one of the reasons why I'm not going to stand up here and answer that hypothetical. I'm not quite as dumb as I look, Jim. Close, but -- (laughter.)
Q If the bill came back at $13 billion, would that put the crisis at risk, the mission at risk?
MR. LOCKHART: If we don't have a supplemental signed, say, three or four weeks from now, the military -- our military leadership think our readiness will be at risk.
Q But what if it comes in three weeks, double the amount? Would that put it at risk?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, if we didn't have something signed, it would.
Q If it were signed.
MR. LOCKHART: If it were signed?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I mean, three weeks from now, if we sign, if we can agree on something, we sign it, I don't think there's a problem.
Q Joe, the President was very oblique when it came to the matters of the ground troop proposals on the floor. He said in terms of other legislation, I want the United States to speak with one voice. And putting aside the institutional prerogative, he feels the Constitution doesn't require him to ask for permission, what is, possibly, the signal that could be misinterpreted if Congress passed one of those resolutions? Is it that ground troops would be more of a possibility than they really are, or that Congress would be tying the President's hands? I'm still confused about what's the bad message.
MR. LOCKHART: Congress has a legitimate role to play in debating and discussing, expressing support or non-support for a variety of options. Our point here is that this option -- it is not our intention to use this option. And if that intention changes, the President has pledged that it will be done in a way where Congress will have time to consider it, time to consult with the military leadership and the President, time to debate and time to express support or non-support.
But their concern is now that we don't set up a number of straw votes that could be misinterpreted as some sense of disunity here in this country. We recognize that Congress has a role --
Q Role? The Constitution says it's the only role.
MR. LOCKHART: We recognize that Congress has a role in this process and that they have every right and prerogative to exercise that role. But we don't believe it's useful at this point to have a theory debate and a theory vote.
Q I understand the constitutional objectives, but is the signal that could be misinterpreted the signal that it sends to the NATO Alliance that maybe we are considering ground troops, or the signal could be misinterpreted by Milosevic?
MR. LOCKHART: We have ongoing conversations within the Alliance. The President just spent a productive three-day weekend with the Alliance. I don't think they have any doubt -- I don't believe they would. We know that the authorities in Belgrade watch what goes on here and we don't want to provide what could be a potentially misleading signal when we don't need to.
The bottom line on the subject is, is there going -- having the vote anyway. So this is -- you've asked for what our opinion is; I've expressed our opinion. It's clearly one that they've chosen to dispense with.
Q Joe, the President talked about good weather in June and July. Is he thinking that there's a strong likelihood the bombing campaign will continue?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think the President has any way of knowing when the military objectives will be reached, but I think he is sending a strong message that we'll stay at this until we've reached them.
Q What is he doing diplomatically?
Q Joe, going back to Reverend Jackson, quickly, Reverend Jackson is the special envoy for Africa, but he's going as a private citizen to Yugoslavia.
MR. LOCKHART: Correct.
Q Now, wouldn't his special envoy title allow him to have some kind of security, the White House to help push for some type of security measures that he be guaranteed safety there?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I mean, not unless we manage to geographically realign the continent.
Q The administration did try to discourage him from going, did it not?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't want to get into the business of having to provide advice for anyone who does anything. I've been very clear here that this is not something we support.
Q Joe, did the administration try to discourage members of Congress from going over on their own missions?
MR. LOCKHART: We've made the same case that we believe that when it comes to diplomacy, that we should speak with one voice.
Q Will Sandy try to dissuade him when he talks to him this afternoon?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think he's made up his mind.
Q But will Sandy try to dissuade him?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he's made up his mind.
Q What do you think of the firing of Vuk Draskovic?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that it speaks volumes for the Milosevic regime that those who represent dissent and speak the truth and recognize reality have no place in their government. I think it recognizes that there are some in some circles in Belgrade who understand the truth about this regime, that understand that NATO is united and that Milosevic is isolated. As far as the long-term implications, I think it remains to be seen.
Q Is the President specifically referring to that when he talked about signs of disunity?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that's certainly the most visible sign of disunity.
Q Can you give us some other ones?
MR. LOCKHART: No -- I mean, beyond some of the things we've talked about, I think there was an intelligence briefing Monday at the Pentagon that talked about some of the problems with reservists and conscripts. But beyond that, I can't get into some of the other reasons.
Q The President hinted that there were signs of disunity that he couldn't talk about.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q And I assume you probably can't talk about them, either, but can you give us -- (laughter) -- some sense of how serious those are, if they go beyond what --
MR. LOCKHART: The fact that there is no one who has a higher clearance than the President, so -- (laughter.)
Q Joe, is the President frustrated at all at the way the investigation of Wen Ho Lee is going, especially since he was out on record contending that there was no espionage under his watch?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me just say in response to -- without commenting on the investigation, which I can't, I think the President's direction to the Secretary of Energy was accurately depicted in The New York Times this morning where he directed him to get to the bottom of this.
Q Was, in fact, the President briefed on March 31st that, in fact, there has been espionage during his administration?
MR. LOCKHART: Without getting into the details of an ongoing investigation, he was briefed on the subject matter of what the article in the paper this morning was about.
Q Joe, to follow up, what's the latest on the situation with Ed McCallum, the man who is on administrative leave? Does the administration have any --
MR. LOCKHART: I would tell you to direct that question to the Department of Energy. I don't have any information.
Q Joe, Senator McConnell, who's the Foreign Operations Chairman in the Senate, said that he told the President today that the United States is now involved in a major new long-term humanitarian commitment in Southeastern Europe, and that it's going to require a lot more money, possibly another supplemental -- although he didn't say necessarily, but he indicated it might -- and really revamp the whole way we look at foreign operations. What's your view of that?
MR. LOCKHART: I was in for much of the meeting; I must have been gone by the time of that exchange. But I think, as far as long-term commitments on regional stability and rebuilding, I think if you listened closely at the summit this weekend, it's the European Union that's been in the lead, and, I think, will shoulder much of that burden.
I think, as far as the humanitarian effort that faces us now, the State Department, the people at USAID, the people at the Pentagon who are involved in humanitarian relief believe that we've asked for sufficient funding for the remainder of this fiscal year. And it's been one of the issues that there hasn't been -- I don't believe there's been any dissent on. I think that people believe that that's a realistic number, and will fund what we need.
Again, as far as a long-term debate about restructuring the way we do humanitarian relief, I'm certain that Senator McConnell will be an important voice in this, and we look forward to engaging in that.
Q Do you have any reaction to the Palestinian decision to defer a declaration of an independent Palestinian state, in the aftermath of the letter from Clinton?
MR. LOCKHART: I hadn't seen that there was a definitive statement on that. But I will repeat that the United States government position has been, and has always been, that we oppose any unilateral declarations that are not done through negotiation. We believe these issues need to be solved between the parties in the spirit of negotiation.
1987 -- (laughter) -- a little precocious, yet forward. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: '94, sorry. (Laughter.)
Q Anything going on in the diplomatic --
Q Joe, does the Archer -- Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Does the Archer Social Security --
MR. LOCKHART: I just can't get the word "bouquet" out of my mouth. (Laughter.) Sorry.
Q Does the bouquet of proposals from Congressman Archer -- (laughter) --
MR. LOCKHART: Well done. (Laughter.)
Q -- generate any interest in the White House on Social Security? Is it possible that that's going to jump-start some wheels turning?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me say that we're going to take a close look at what Congressman -- Chairman Archer put out. I think what's important here is this looks like a serious attempt to engage in a very important debate, and stands in some contrast to some others in the leadership who have sought to dismiss this debate for political reasons.
So we'll take a look. The President believes that he has a good proposal up there, but as we do a thorough analysis of the Archer plan, we'll probably have more to say.
Q Is the administration revisiting its own proposals, its own Social Security proposals?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think we're revisiting the fundamentals of the proposal. We've always been willing to work with those who want to work constructively to get a solution to this, and that remains the same. But as far as the principles the President laid out, those are ones that we still believe need to be met.
Q Well, the article said specifically that the White House was more willing to look at private accounts. Does that -- do you have any new information about that?
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't agree with that assessment.
Q Joe, does the President still believe that there was no espionage at U.S. labs on his watch?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President -- what the President believes, and what I can talk about, is that, one, we're under no illusions that there are those who are trying to acquire sensitive technology; two, it's a serious problem, and we have taken steps to increase security; and three, there are ongoing investigations, which I can't comment on or prejudge, which would go directly to your question.
Q But he said before that he was confident that there was no espionage --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think if you look at what he said, is that he hadn't been briefed on any ongoing issues. And I think there are a number of issues that are being looked at by the FBI and the Justice Department, and I'm not going to comment on them.
Q Joe, can I just follow up? What McCallum's charges are, that there were so many massive security cuts in the Department of Energy, that the labs are very vulnerable, and he's saying that the whole city of Denver could be blown up by somebody who goes into Rocky Flats and could detonate the 20 tons of nuclear weapons. I mean, if his charges are true, has anything been done in the past month or so?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, this is an issue that is separate and apart from the one that we were just discussing, and I'd direct you to the Department of Energy.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:07 P.M. EDT