THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Okay. Since we were together this morning, the only addition I have is, the President is meeting with about -- between 15 to 20 House Democrats, I think trying to build on yesterday's success in the Senate, trying to keep the momentum going for the common-sense gun measures that the Senate did approve yesterday, with the Vice President casting the deciding vote.
They'll be meeting, as we speak, to look at how we build on this success and how we can move this next week in the House of Representatives, to get these common-sense gun measures that are built into the Juvenile Justice Bill into law.
Q You say that next week -- Tom DeLay and other Republicans are claiming that Mr. Gephardt has reneged on what they say was a promise to go along with debating it in June, that now Gephardt is saying next week, and he's reneging on a promise. Do you know anything about that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that this bill moved a lot quicker than it was expected to in the Senate. I think there was some evolution in the position of some of the Republicans up there. There is some momentum for this. The country wants this to happen, and I don't think any delay would be in Mr. DeLay's interest.
Q That may be, but did Mr. Gephardt renege on a promise?
MR. LOCKHART: You'd have to ask Mr. Gephardt about the circumstances of when this was going to be brought up.
Q Joe, The London Guardian today had an article relating a discussion that President Clinton had with Prime Minister Blair on Tuesday evening, where they say there was something of a heated exchange over this issue of ground troops, and the way that the British press was attacking the President based on leaks coming from the PM's office. Can you say anything about that discussion?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the conversation was private. The President and the Prime Minister have a very good, positive, warm relationship. And if there were leaks coming from anyplace, I'm not going to compound it by standing here and talking about a private conversation.
Q Does that mean it's true?
MR. LOCKHART: No. It just means I'm not going to talk about a private conversation.
Q Joe, Jesse Jackson talked with the President; the President placed a call to him, apparently, from Air Force One yesterday.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q What was the conversation about?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President wanted to take the chance to congratulate Reverend Jackson on the work he'd done as far as brokering the cease-fire in Sierra Leone. So they had a discussion about Reverend Jackson's recent work there.
They also talked a little bit about the situation in Nigeria as they move toward the Inauguration of the new President.
Q Did the phone call mean that they've kissed and made up?
MR. LOCKHART: If you persist in believing that they needed to kiss and make up, I'll let you go on with this. But I think I've addressed that several times.
Q Why did you withhold information on the phone call?
MR. LOCKHART: I didn't withhold the information on the phone call.
Q Then why wasn't it announced?
MR. LOCKHART: Because we don't announce every phone call the President makes, we don't announce every meeting the President makes.
Q Even if he's congratulating someone on making peace?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, Helen, you're now accusing me of withholding something that might be to our advantage about making peace, so I can't figure out what the charge is here.
Q I'm not accusing you, I'm simply asking why it was suppressed. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: If I don't know something, it's hard for me to suppress it, and I accurately detailed for you as much information as I can. The President, from time to time, makes phone calls that I don't find out about, and if that is the charge, I plead guilty.
Q We know that's true.
Q Following up on this phone call yesterday, Reverend Jackson is apparently looking for a budgetary commitment to rebuild Sierra Leone after all the warring there, and he feels that it should be treated just as Kosovo is being treated with the humanitarian effort. Is there a strong possibility that the United States will give a budgetary commitment to Sierra Leone?
MR. LOCKHART: We have what can only be described as a dire humanitarian situation in Sierra Leone now. There are something like 150,000 people homeless and another -- over the last -- in the last short time, something like 700,000 people who are internally displaced. We have provided $38 million in emergency humanitarian relief, bringing our total in 1998 to $55 million, and we are going to continue on this effort, as far as addressing the humanitarian crisis there.
Q Has the British Foreign Minister been here yet?
MR. LEAVY: Yes, he met with Sandy this morning.
Q He's come and gone?
MR. LOCKHART: He met with Sandy this morning.
Q Does the U.S. believe that there is any need to send additional forces or materiel to the Balkans in preparation even for success, in the sense that if Milosevic backed down, the peacekeeping force needed to go in?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware that there's any in the pipeline right now. You could ask the Pentagon.
There are discussions, as you know, that are ongoing, as far as updating both the plan for a peacekeeping force, and an assessment for a force, a ground force that would go in a non-permissive environment. I think General Clark spent some time with Secretary Cohen, General Shelton, the Joint Chiefs yesterday, bringing them up to date, and said that those plans would be done somewhere in the near future.
Q Aren't both Clark and the British suggesting that there are time constraints, both on deploying a peacekeeping force, and, if it ever came to that, of sending in ground troops, and that there needs to be some effort ahead of time to keep those options open?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he -- as in any contingency plan -- it takes into account every factor, all of the various assumptions that can go into it, including the time of year, the situation on the ground. So that kind of planning and those sort of questions are being answered in the updating of the assessment and the plan.
Q Joe, is there no concern on the President's part that if the war ended next week or the week after, there is no KFOR force to move in and keep the peace?
MR. LOCKHART: I think General Clark has answered that question, which is he could deal with success quite quickly.
Q So the President is satisfied, is --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President is satisfied, and I think General Clark has spoken directly to that subject in that he could deal with success here.
Q Joe, why is the President signing this Kosovo funding package despite all the pork in it and the stuff that he objects to?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we have a real emergency here. We have an emergency funding need for Kosovo, and the operations that are there. We've had an emergency now for many months in Central America and in some of our farm communities around the country. I think the President believes it's unfortunate that Congress has sent down legislation that isn't clean, that has extraneous measures.
We've worked very hard to make sure that we took as many of them as we possibly could out and we had some success there. I think the President is particularly unhappy with the tobacco issue. We've done a lot of work over the last few years to try to reduce teen smoking. There is money that the federal government has a right to that the President is willing to give to the states as long as they use it for teen smoking issues, children's health issues.
But I think overall, the emergency need takes precedence and the President signed the bill. I think it's important, though, as we move forward in the budget process that we remember that the fiscal discipline of the last few years has brought us this prosperity. I think at the Treasury Department later today there will be some budget numbers and surplus numbers for April that will show that the fiscal discipline is really paying off, both in what it's done to our economy and the prosperity that we enjoy, and also in paying down the national debt, which is quite important for future generations.
So I think as we move now into the budget season and the budget process, it's very important that this kind of effort to put extraneous issues or pork things up comes to a stop, and we do everything we can to retain the fiscal discipline that we've had.
Q I mean, if he had vetoed this, do you really think that Republicans would have denied money to the troops in the field?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we made it very clear that we needed this funding immediately. I think as long ago as three or four weeks ago, we talked about Memorial Day as a cutoff point for getting this kind of funding and we're getting to that point.
Q Did he sign it, Joe?
Q Isn't the White House partly responsible --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think it's here yet.
MR. TOIV: It's here. He has signed it.
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, okay.
MR. TOIV: And I think we'll have a statement.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay. It is here, he has signed it and we'll have a statement for you shortly.
Q Joe, isn't the White House partially responsible for this for agreeing to a $20-billion emergency spending bill last fall?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think if you look at the spending bill that we sent up last year, it was probably less than half that size -- and again, fit the needs and the criteria for real emergency spending.
I think unfortunately, the Republican Leadership in Congress sees these emergency spending bills as a way to pursue a particular political agenda, and I think they ultimately are responsible for sending down things that have extraneous issues, but we all have to face choices. We live in the real world and the President believed that it was important to sign this legislation to get the funding we needed for these emergencies.
Q Joe, you just said as we get into the regular budget process, you hope they'll resist the temptation to pork things up. Are you assuming that the caps are going to come off, because the only reason they could pork this up is because the budget rules didn't apply --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm not assuming, and that's one of the real issues. We've sent up a budget that respects the caps, that invests in our priorities and is offset where we have new spending. So it's important that we don't turn around after six years of fiscal discipline where there are obvious benefits, and every time you turn around with government statistics and the real wages of people's lives, there are so obvious benefits that we don't turn around and go back to the kind of fiscal irresponsibility that we saw before the President arrived.
Q So you feel the caps should stay, no change at all in the caps?
MR. LOCKHART: That's correct.
Q What do you have, if anything, on the merger review?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, the merger review. The President asked Gene Sperling and the NEC to look at this about a year or so ago, and they are finishing up that process now. I can't give you a precise date for when the review will be finished, but I expect it to be sometime soon.
It's really not necessarily a review that will produce particular legislation or regulatory results, but I think the President wanted to make sure that the recent wave of mergers was something that was serving to make American companies more competitive globally and was not negatively impacting consumers through lack of competition here at home. So they've been working on that for sometime now. It's not in response to any particular merger, but with all of the mergers, the President thought it would be worthwhile for them to look into this, and they are finishing up that review now.
Q Is that a conclusion, that it's not negatively affecting --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm not going to prejudge the conclusion. They've been at this now for a while and when it's done we'll be glad to talk about it.
Q Two questions, please. Can you get a formal readout on the meeting with Robin Cook, or can you tell us some more details on that?
MR. LOCKHART: I'll have to look into that. I didn't check on that.
Q On Charlie Trie, do you want to make any comments on that?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Joe, on the caps issue, what the White House is talking about is only preserving the caps for this year. You don't have a position necessarily on whether or not they should be preserved in the out-years, is that correct?
MR. LOCKHART: We have a position that is preserve the caps this year, work on a solution for Social Security, and once that's done, there is some flexibility with the caps in the out-years.
Q Without getting into the specifics of the President's phone call with Prime Minister Blair, can you tell us in general, is the President at all displeased with Britain's portrayal of the ground troops issue? In other words, they are more willing to consider ground troops than the President; is he worried that they're sort of off the page with --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President believes NATO has taken a united position on this issue, and I don't know that he spends a lot of time worrying about everything that's written in the paper.
Q How is it a united position with the German Chancellor's comments the day before yesterday where he seemed to indicate that he would rule out the use of ground troops?
MR. LOCKHART: Because the united position that NATO has taken is that we're pursuing an air campaign, and we're going to continue pursuing the air campaign because we're confident through the air campaign, we'll reach our military objectives. And I think all NATO allies agree on that.
Q But he indicated that was off the table. The President said the other day --
MR. LOCKHART: You're talking about a situation and a circumstance that's a hypothetical and it's something that has not come to pass; NATO is united in their position.
Q The President himself helped raise this the other day by suggesting that he was changing his position, which you say he isn't.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, Sam, you may have interpreted that way and that's your right to do that, but he was not changing his position and he was accurately articulating his position.
Q So is it -- excuse me. Is it fair to say that the President's position is the same as it has been since the beginning of the air campaign?
MR. LOCKHART: That is correct.
Q So there was a false impression created that he was ruling out ground troops?
MR. LOCKHART: He said very clearly from the beginning, he had no intention of using ground troops. He --
Q That is still his position?
MR. LOCKHART: That is still his position. He said, also, and other administration officials have said, that you don't rule anything out completely, or take it off the table. We talked about this here in this room after the congressional meeting in the Yellow Oval. But the policy, and NATO's policy, now, is the President believes that the air campaign will succeed, will meet our military objectives, and we need to persevere until we prevail.
Q Joe, in some news reports, people identified as senior officials told reporters that the President intended to get out of a rhetorical box that he had placed himself in, that this was a message he intended to present in moving his position.
MR. LOCKHART: Well --
Q Those officials don't know what they're talking about?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know who those officials are. Let me just tell you what I know, which is, the President clearly stated the policy, and has from the beginning. The issue of ground troops is not the policy we're pursuing, but it has, for prudent reasons, never completely been taken off the table. He told that to the members, as we've talked about here. Other officials have said it, and that's what the policy is.
Q So when you define NATO unity, you're saying it's on the air campaign, and we're not talking about hypothetical things that might happen in the future. So when we talk about NATO being unified, we're talking about NATO being unified about what we're doing today, but not about what we might do a month or two from now?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, NATO is a consensus organization, and we continue to work through. We're doing -- we're updating assessments and plans collectively as a consensus organization. But we're pursuing a plan now and it's an air campaign. It's a policy that the 19 nations agree on.
Q So you're not denying that some of the NATO allies have a different view about the end game, which is not yet here?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not certain that there's any difference on the end game; the end game is clearly articulated in the Washington communique and in the G-8 ministers. You're asking people to look into the future and answer hypothetical questions.
Q No, we're not asking them to do anything. They're telling us.
Q And they're saying the future is coming in a couple weeks, and the British say, if you don't start planning for this, you'll miss your chance.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, if I remember, if I remember the bulk of the comments, they were done in press conferences, and I don't think they were doing a Karnac thing where they were anticipating the questions.
Q No, wait, wait.
Q On a related -- D'Alema, for instance, is laying out his ideas for this.
MR. LOCKHART: Sure. And listen, there are a lot of different ideas coming from both within NATO, outside of NATO, from the U.N., from Belgrade, from Russia, about different things that could happen down the road. As far as NATO is concerned, we have a policy and we're pursuing it.
Q You said they did it during press conferences. Are you saying they may have misspoke?
MR. LOCKHART: No. No. You're talking about things that could happen hypothetically down the road. And there's nothing wrong with people working through ideas, talking about ideas. We had a discussion some months ago about another German plan, about how things might play out. But as far as pursuing the military campaign that's ongoing, NATO is united.
Q So you're also not disputing, then, that the British might have differences with us about something that might happen two or three months down the road?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not.
Q Are these troops, even if they're peacekeeping troops, would be armed, would they not? They'd be able to defend themselves?
MR. LOCKHART: That is a central condition in the NATO, in the Washington communique, that these would be armed forces with NATO at its core.
Q Several weeks ago at a press conference, in answer to a question, the President said that when it came to Chinese spying, he did not believe it was going on during his administration -- at least, he said, no one had told him that.
Now it appears his own Secretary of Energy, Chris Cox, say that in fact he'd been briefed on the fact the Chinese may have been spying on his administration. Why did the President say what he said?
MR. LOCKHART: As I understand, the questions went back -- we were talking about nuclear espionage at the labs. There have been -- but the President did not speak, and I don't think it contradicts what the Secretary of Energy said.
First off, on what Mr. Cox has said, that report has not been released so I'm not going to comment on that. My understanding is it will be released on Tuesday, so I think there will be time to talk about that.
Q We'll be back.
MR. LOCKHART: I'm sure you will. But as far as any particular espionage at the labs, I think what we've said is that the President had a general briefing, but not anything specific to each of the allegations, and at the time was not briefed on any specific allegations.
There has been an allegation that has come forward since then, and the President has had a briefing and has been briefed in more detail on some of the allegations; but again, these are allegations and I can't really get into them --
Q The President left the clear impression that he had not been briefed on anything concerning Chinese spying at the labs during his administration.
MR. LOCKHART: I think you should go back and look at the words carefully, and I think that he is not -- what he has said was accurate and has not been disputed by what his Secretary of Energy has said.
Q What's the difference between a general briefing -- you mean a general briefing meaning there might be some spying going on and then later they were told --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the difference is that there were problems, security problems at the laboratories that need to be addressed, those were addressed with the PDD in February of 1998, done -- a more extensive effort that's ever been done within our government to look at the problems that have plagued the labs for the last two decades, so when talking about particular allegations of nuclear espionage at the labs, he had not been briefed.
Q Why would you have to take all these steps if there weren't espionage?
MR. LOCKHART: Because there is a lot of different ways things can get out of the labs in a lot of different security ways.
Q So people came to him and said, gee, there are kind of some problems and maybe we ought to worry about them?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think that's how it happened, Jim.
Q Could you tell us specifically when did he first know that the Chinese spying had occurred during his administration?
MR. LOCKHART: Say again?
Q When was he first told the Chinese spying had occurred during his administration?
MR. LOCKHART: He was given a briefing after that about some allegations of potential --
Q But to this day, has he been briefed that actual espionage went on during the administration?
MR. LOCKHART: We've got a situation where we have allegations. There is an ongoing investigation at the Justice Department. I'm not going to get into the details of that.
Q The Cox report reportedly says they're not allegations.
MR. LOCKHART: Listen -- and the Cox Report has not been released yet. So when it's released, I'll be glad to talk about it.
Q So if we ask you today if there had been --
Q So back to Kosovo and the timing issue, does the President -- is he sensitive at all to this timing window? Does he feel a decision on ground troops is going to have to be made within the next few weeks?
MR. LOCKHART: The President is looking forward to the assessment, the update being completed. Again, as I said earlier, there is obviously -- anytime you're looking at a variety of options, you have assumptions, time lines and things like that built in, but I don't sense that there is any imminent pressure right now.
Q You're saying that all of the suggestions about Chinese espionage are simply allegations and that the administration is not convinced that there has been any actual act of espionage by the Chinese against the U.S.?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm saying that there are allegations, there are investigations that are ongoing and it would not be appropriate for me to comment on ongoing investigations.
Q You say it's nothing more than allegations is what you're saying?
MR. LOCKHART: You heard what I just said.
Q Has the President seen the Cox report, or been briefed on it?
MR. LOCKHART: He met with Chairman Cox and Congressman Dix, what, three weeks ago?
MR. LEAVY: Yes.
MR. LOCKHART: And they briefed him.
Q Do the people who have been briefed on the report accept the conclusions?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm just not going to get into a debate about a report that is being leaked out day by day. When it's released and when it's declassified and when we're able to talk about it, I'll be glad to.
Q Joe, if further restrictions are put on the international cooperation at the labs, is there concern that this is going to affect the cooperation with the Russians? I mean, the focus has been on the alleged Chinese espionage, but the real cooperation has been set up with the Russians on their nuclear stuff.
MR. LOCKHART: I think the Secretary of Energy has spoken forcefully on this, which is there are important -- there is important work that gets done at the labs, and there is important benefits to cooperation. Climate change, for one, is an example of the kind of work where scientists get together and do work and it benefits people here at home.
So I think there is a balance that has to be struck. The President has moved aggressively to make sure that the security at the labs and the problems with the security at the labs are addressed. I mean, the budget has been tripled or quadrupled over the last couple of years. He's brought in a longtime veteran of the FBI. The Secretary of Energy has reorganized the way security is done, and we've moved aggressively.
So I think we have to strike the balance, but of course, we have to make sure that these labs are secure.
Q Joe, is the President prepared to accept and implement whatever recommendations are made in a NATO review?
MR. LOCKHART: Say it again?
Q Is the President prepared to accept and implement recommendations that may be made in the NATO military review?
MR. LOCKHART: These are -- this will be an updated assessment and plan for the two different environments, and we're going to wait to see what they say.
Q Joe, is the story this morning -- I think it was The New York Times -- accurate that said that Clark told Pentagon officials that the air campaign might not be successful?
MR. LOCKHART: What Clark told the Pentagon officials was the air campaign is working, it has been effective, that Milosevic is losing this campaign and that the Allies are winning.
Q So that story is inaccurate?
MR. LOCKHART: No -- what I just said is absolutely true and he also indicated that there is no way to guarantee success and that wouldn't be something that would be credible, and when he can say I can guarantee on this particular date that this will work, which is why the planning continues, but General Clark was very clear, and he said it publicly that the air campaign has been effective.
Q So his views are the same as the President's basically? The President would also believe that there's no guarantee that this can work?
MR. LOCKHART: We are very confident General Clark, the President are very confident that with perseverance and as we stay with this, we will prevail.
Q On gun control, several parts of the President's --
Q Because I'm not clear what part of the story you agreed with or in what part, if any, you disputed, is it also your understanding that he says that ground troops should be inserted into the region in preparation for the possibility that the air campaign can't guarantee --
MR. LOCKHART: My understanding from the Pentagon is he made no request or recommendation.
Q On gun control, there are still several parts of the President's plan that have not been approved by the Congress, including a three-day waiting period, limiting the sale of handguns to one year.
MR. LOCKHART: Right.
Q Is he talking to House Democrats and does he have assurances from them they'll take out the waiting period?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think if you look at -- it's Karen McCarthy, she has put forward some ideas, and there's a variety of others who've been involved. But we want to make sure that we get -- all of these things, the President believes, are common-sense proposals, whether it's the limit of one gun a month, or some of the others.
We think that we moved the ball significantly in the Senate over the last week, and got a lot done, but there's still more to be done. I think the House offers us an opportunity to both confirm what we got done in the Senate, and try to get some of the other common-sense proposals included in the bill.
Q Including the waiting period?
MR. LOCKHART: We've got the waiting period, we've got the one gun a month, and whatever other issues that come forward, whatever ideas that make sense.
Q I think the question is, is he going to try to move the ball even further than what the Senate has done? Are there additional --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I mean, we, at a minimum, will want to confirm the important steps the Senate took, but we will try to move the ball forward.
Q Are they meeting on that right now?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Is that -- what's the idea of this discussion now?
MR. LOCKHART: The idea of the discussion is to try to build on the momentum created by the vote in the Senate yesterday and see what we can do to move the process forward.
Q And you want to vote sooner rather than later on this?
MR. LOCKHART: Absolutely.
Q Joe, did these --
MR. LOCKHART: I would say that I can't see anyone who will benefit from delay except people like the NRA and those who have opposed these measures at every step of the way.
Q Joe, did these House Democrats express any concern about the political power of the NRA? It seems to me the last time the administration won a big battle, in the subsequent election a lot of House Democrats were knocked off. Did this come up, and was there any discussion about it?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the meeting's ongoing, so --
Q Joe, on Clark again, if he did not make a request or recommendation that troops were needed in the area, could he have given an assessment that there was such a need?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, let me -- General Clark gave an update on the planning and the assessments that are being updated there, with the details to date. But I'm just not going to get into detailing all of the information that went in there.
Q One of the things that Clark apparently is suggesting is at least you should start pre-positioning the peacekeepers so, when and if you get an agreement, they're ready to move. Is that true?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, the process of updating these plans and assessments is ongoing, and it'll be done in the near future. And then I'm sure he'll probably have more to say.
Q Joe, he said two things in his briefing -- one, that NATO's a consensus organization, and two, that the President said everything is on the table. Is the President so determined to achieve his objectives that ultimately he would be willing to do something unilaterally, or with Britain, at the expense of NATO consensus?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm just not going to answer a hypothetical question like that.
Q But you've already said -- the other thing you said is a hypothetical question, that everything's on the table. That's a hypothetical -- since you've already gone --
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, well, I'm choosing not to answer that hypothetical. (Laughter.)
Q As long as it's not a general principle, that's --
MR. LOCKHART: It should be. (Laughter.) I'm just not smart enough to remember it. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, repatriating nearly a million Kosovars would be a monumental task, requiring countless vehicles, bridging equipment, engineering battalions, on and on. What should we make of the fact that none of that is being assembled?
MR. LOCKHART: I think what you should make of it is there's important work going on now, that General Clark was here in the United States yesterday at the Pentagon, briefing Pentagon leaders about how he -- that process of planning and being ready for success is ongoing, and General Clark, I think, has assured NATO members and Pentagon officials that we will be ready for success.
Q So these pieces are beginning to move? Is that --
MR. LOCKHART: No, they --
Q -- I mean, should we be looking for ships landing with equipment in them?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think as I've made very clear here, Scott, the planning is in the last stages of updating these assessments and plans, and they'll have more to say about it soon.
Q Joe, is the North Korea economic embargo -- partial lifting?
MR. LOCKHART: Say again, sorry?
Q North Korea? A possible lifting, partial lifting of the economic embargo?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I can tell you that former Defense Secretary Perry, who is serving as the special envoy on this issue, will be undertaking a delegation to assess North Korea's views, as his policy review that has been ongoing reaches its conclusion. He will be going to assess their views, rather than in any kind of formal negotiation, and I think he looks forward for the opportunity to obtain firsthand authoritative information. I think I'll leave it there until he's had a chance to do his work and report back.
Q Joe, you talked about building on the momentum on the gun control issue. I'm just wondering, as a general rule, is it wise to enact sweeping legislation on any topic in the heat of the moment, in the wake of, or directly in response to tragedies that are still unfolding? Or would it be better to wait until emotions cool and you can sort of look at it more clearly?
MR. LOCKHART: That's an interesting argument, but let me just tell you that the ideas that were in the President's crime agenda, and sensible gun control laws were done before -- were in the process long before Littleton -- these are common-sense measures. You cannot solve the issues that surround school violence that we've seen in this country, tragically, over the last few years through legislation on guns alone; it's a more complex problem. I think the President is forcefully addressing all of the areas.
But we shouldn't let what's going on and any argument designed to distract let us, or keep us away from doing the common-sense business that the American public is demanding.
Q But have the recent shootings given the added impetus needed to enact some of this legislation?
MR. LOCKHART: That's something you'd have to ask the members on.
Q On Yugoslavia, are the natives getting restless? I mean, the Americans? Is there any feeling in the White House that the American people want this to end quickly and that they're getting a little unhappy with the situation?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. I think the American public understands what's at stake here, both for the U.S. and, in humanitarian, moral terms, what's at stake for the Kosovar Albanians. I think in fact, if you want to look for people who are getting restless, all you need to do is go to Serbia and to Yugoslavia. You've got situations now, over the last few days where you have soldiers deserting, you've got demonstrations in three towns. You've got reports this morning that anti-war activists are being jailed in Belgrade. You don't have a festive atmosphere in Belgrade and the surrounding environment these days.
I think you have a situation where the people there are fed up. They're fed up with not getting the information, not getting true and accurate information from their government and from state-run media. They're fed up with why this conflict continues.
Q So the White House is not feeling any pressure from the American people, per se, to wrap it up?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think so. I think the President believes, and I think the American public believes that we're doing this for the right reason and we should stay at it until the job is done.
Q Joe, in March, when the Medicare Commission stalemated, the President said he'd have his own plan in a couple weeks, or several weeks, I think it was.
MR. LOCKHART: I expect that some time in early June.
Q Joe, why was yesterday's event in the gym in Littleton not an open press event?
MR. LOCKHART: Because that was what the local community, in discussing with them the sensitive issues in bringing these kids together, the best way to allow media access, they felt -- and we agreed with them -- that the best way to do it was to minimize it rather than bringing in a whole group of media. And we agreed with that decision.
Q Who, specifically, from the local community --
MR. LOCKHART: I can't tell you that.
Q Joe, back on guns? You know the NRA --
MR. LOCKHART: I mean, if you don't believe me, you can call them.
Q Back on guns, the NRA sort of view on all this is, too many regulations and not enough enforcement. Does the White House at least agree with the not enough enforcement part?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, if you look at the budget that we've sent up to Congress, we're looking to beef up enforcement through more money for drug courts and prosecutors, and also providing additional funds to the Justice Department to enforce -- although the problem with the argument is, I think most of these crimes aren't necessarily federal crimes.
So I think we can do more on the enforcement front, but that doesn't excuse us from going after what we think is the tougher part of the problem and the more important part of the problem, which is keeping guns out of criminals' hands.
Q What's this retreat all about tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: I'll save that for the week ahead.
Q Joe, what about all the numbers that Senator Hatch has been showing around on talk shows, showing the number of people arrested for various things, included taking guns to schools, and the very small number of people who have been prosecuted?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, these are --
MR. TOIV: State and local enforcement.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, again, these are numbers he's using on the federal level. Most of these are done on the state and local level. And I don't know that he's used a lot of state and local numbers. And these are relatively small numbers.
I think we are certainly open to working with Senator Hatch and others to see what we can do. We have, again, asked for more money to try to, from a budgetary point of view, put more resources into this. But we think the real issue here is getting at keeping the guns away from criminals, which we've done through the Brady Bill, which we're trying to do through some of the common-sense measures that we've seen -- you know, closing the gun show loophole, for one -- and pushing through these items that are more preventative than something that's after the fact.
Q Week ahead?
MR. LOCKHART: Week ahead.
Q Joe, before you do the week ahead, could you talk about the commencement address for Chicago and Grambling, and what specifically is supposed to be the crux, the focus, of the Grambling speech, if you can?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think -- the two speeches, if put together, will be an attempt by the President to really try to put a human face on the dynamic of our prosperous new economy that is globalized and seize our economic fortunes very much interdependent with the rest of the world.
I think at Grambling, he will focus mostly on the challenges parents face in balancing work and home, as more parents are out in the work force. He will talk about some of the things that we have done as far as giving parents the tools to succeed at home and work. And he will also have some new ideas about further tools to help parents succeed at work and at home. I think at Chicago it'll be more of a discussion of international economics and the benefits to America to free trade and open trade and the importance of making sure that all aspects of our society are brought along in this new economy.
Q Will he deal with the issue of social tolerance and kind of relate it to racial tolerance, the kind of issues that he's been dealing with over the last year and a half or so?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the majority of the speech he'll spend talking about some of the economic challenges and, again, focus mostly on the parents and their ability to manage and to juggle.
Q Will he bring up minority issues at Grambling, like minority economic-wise --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think certainly, given where he's speaking, he'll pay some attention to the world economy, the economic changes in this country and their impact on minority Americans. But this is a message that I think is relevant for students graduating at Grambling, or students graduating anyplace tomorrow or Sunday, wherever they may be graduating from.
Q Will he deal with parents as a protected class, as far as parental discrimination --
MR. LOCKHART: We'll let you know on Sunday.
The week ahead, I've got it here someplace. Okay. Tomorrow, the President will attend the Senate Democratic Issues Conference at the Tides Inn, in Irvington, Virginia. This is the Senate Democrats getting together -- do they do it once or twice a year?
MR. TOIV: Once.
MR. LOCKHART: We did it last year. This was the event we did last year down in Williamsburg. But it's a closed session with all the Senate Democrats. The President will have a chance to review the legislative agenda, moving forward for the rest of the year -- Social Security, Medicare, a number of other issues. I'm certain they'll also spend some time talking about the situation in Kosovo.
The President will return here in the evening and will drop by and make brief remarks at the Sons of Italy Dinner, at the National Building Museum at 8:00 p.m., that is open press. Sunday, May 23rd, the President will depart the White House at 5:40 a.m. Sam, if you're late, we're not going to wait for you. (Laughter.)
He will deliver the commencement address that I've spoken about at Grambling State, return to the White House 4:20 p.m., I hope -- not 4:20 a.m.?
MR. TOIV: P.M.
MR. LOCKHART: Good. On Monday, the President will address the City Year Annual Convention at 6:00 p.m. at Howard University. City Year, many of you know, is one of the precursor organizations for the AmeriCorps program, one of the inspirations for the program. We spoke to them in Cleveland last year, I think, at John Carroll University.
On Tuesday, May 25th, and the --
Q Is that at a hotel?
MR. LOCKHART: Howard University.
Tuesday, the President will depart at 8:30 a.m. for Texas. He will address the Empowerment Zones Conference, along with the Vice President. He'll depart about 3:00 p.m. Central Time for Jacksonville, Florida, where he will have a few days off with his family through Sunday.
Q Radio Address topic?
MR. LOCKHART: Tomorrow? More discussion of school violence, and some of the common-sense approaches we can take towards curbing youth access to guns.
Q Have you figured out what the briefing situation will be in Florida?
MR. LOCKHART: Early and often. No, I'm going to go on the trip, and I think we'll just play it by ear. I'm happy to come down once a day if that's what everybody wants, and then we'll just --
Q And then he returns when?
MR. LOCKHART: Sunday evening. Probably Sunday, late in the evening.
Q For Memorial Day?
MR. LOCKHART: Memorial Day?
MR. TOIV: The usual --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, he'll do the Arlington Cemetery Speech and event. I don't know that he has anything else that day.
Okay? Thank you.
END 1:58 P.M. EDT