THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
11:40 A.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: I start with lots of pieces of good news, including welcoming back the famous Colonel Crowley, who did yeoman's work in Brussels for us. And the United States government is incredibly grateful for your work.
This morning I bring news -- at 8:56 a.m. this morning, we had the birth of Ana Claire Suzanne Sanfuentes --
Q Beautiful name.
MR. LOCKHART: Claire -- beautiful name. Seven pounds, four ounces. The proud parents, Antoine and Lisa, are doing well, and we're happy that our favorite internetwork family has a new addition.
Let me, since we didn't see each other this morning, let me just briefly run you through the President's schedule for the day. Right about now he'll be meeting with Elie Wiesel. As I think we've told you in the past, he went over to Macedonia and Albania as the President's representative to look and talk to people in the camps, get a better sense of the conditions there and the experiences they had. And he's sharing those now with the President. I expect when the meeting is done Mr. Wiesel will be available at the stakeout, so I will try to be out of here by then so you can go talk to him. We will release a photo on that.
At 12:45 p.m., the President will go over to the civil rights-law enforcement roundtable discussion that we talked a little bit about yesterday. He'll have some remarks at the top of that that will be open to the pool, and then they'll have a roundtable which will be closed. He will top that with some remarks about the House moving forward on gun legislation and some of the efforts that are being made currently to water down that legislation, which he will roundly oppose. And then he'll talk a little bit about some of the things he said in the past about police brutality, which is the purpose of this discussion, to get civil rights leaders and community and policing and law enforcement officials together for a discussion about police brutality and a little bit about racial profiling, which we will release some paper on, if we haven't already done, shortly, which will detail it.
And then at 2:45 p.m. he'll go to the dedication ceremony for the Dale and Betty Bumpers Vaccine Research Center at NIH. Then he comes back and has some phone and office time in the afternoon.
Q Where does he stand on Kosovo now? I mean, what's happened? Do you know any late news?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, as I was walking out I saw a report that the Serb delegation had left to do some consultation with Belgrade. I can tell you that they continue the work on trying to reach a military and technical agreement. Our position on that is well known, so I won't repeat it. But they have yet to reach an agreement and we'll continue working until we do.
Q Joe, the Germans seems to be under the impression that the bombing has effectively been stopped because you're near an agreement. Is that the case or are the Germans mistaken?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think there was one comment from one minister in the German government; that is not correct. The bombing campaign continues and will continue until we have an agreement, a military technical agreement, and until we see the beginnings of a verifiable withdrawal.
Q Have the Germans stopped participating in the military campaign?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q But has it at least let up a bit?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, as you know, I'm not going to get into what the targets are, what the levels are, but I don't know that there's been any kind of change since the last time we spoke about it or, more relevantly, the last time the Pentagon talked to you about it.
Q Are the allies united in the belief that it should continue until there's a withdrawal?
MR. LOCKHART: Absolutely.
Q Joe, what are the President's plans? There's talk on the Hill that he's going to go on television tonight to give remarks, if there's an agreement; there's some speculation that he may take a trip this week.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any scheduling announcements for you. If there is an agreement, I'll come back to you and if there's anything that we add to the schedule, I will tell you promptly.
Q Joe, on the police brutality issue, there are several civil rights leaders that say that they're going to bring up the issue of reopening some of the old police brutality cases again to the President. What is the President's thoughts? Has he thought it about it since early this year --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have anything new to report to you since the last time we raised this. The Justice Department is currently involved in a number of civil rights cases. They're very aggressive in pursuing them. The President had spoken about, and in the juvenile justice crime bill that went up, had a number of initiatives that had to do with training to try to avoide incidents of police brutality. He is looking forward to today's session to really sit down and hear from law enforcement officials from around the country and civil rights leaders from around the country to see what else needs to be done.
Q To follow up from yesterday, did the President ever say anything about the Louima situation? Did he feel that the verdict was fair?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's important that the President believes that it's important that in this case, a strong message be sent that those who abuse their power and their position and act in a corrupt way will be punished very strongly, and that's what's happened here.
Q Joe, there's another domestic policy -- the juvenile justice bill. You mentioned the President opposes some of the provisions. How would you forecast the fate of the bill at this stage?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'll tell you, it's a little hard to understand why the Republicans in the House would want to hitch their star to the NRA, like many in the Senate did. I think the public expects Congress to do sensible gun control legislation. In the Senate we had to go through the loopholes one after another. We had to take them up for a vote and make people vote and close the loopholes.
It now appears from the legislation that the Republicans in the House are talking about that the NRA has had their influence again. They've put in a number of new loopholes and will vote on them one at a time. I think in the light of day, with the public as strongly supportive as they are on these issues, these are votes we'll win.
Q Joe, with the gun show provisions in these proposals, is the bill dead on arrival?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we can do this the easy way, which is to vote on what the Senate passed, or we can do it the hard way, where vote by vote we have to close these NRA-inspired loopholes. But I think one way or the other we're going to get sensible gun control legislation. We're going to get a real closing of gun shows without fooling around with the definition of what a gun show is, and we're going to pass some of the other things that the Senate moved forward on.
Q What about the rest of the bill, making it impossible for minors to get certain kinds of violent and sexually explicit material? Does the President approve --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I haven't heard any discussion of that particular amendment yet, beyond what I expressed yesterday, our hope that this isn't some sort of poison pill to try to bring the whole thing down. I think the President's approach to this multifaceted problem is fairly clear. We need to go out and do things, like we did yesterday with the theater owners, with the FTC, with gun manufacturers -- he's going to continue to do that.
Q Is the President's concern that this is -- I mean, Henry Hyde is not doing this as a poison pill, he sincerely believes that minors shouldn't have access to certain kinds of --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I don't know to what degree we've had consultation on this particular amendment, but I can only repeat that there was some concern when I asked about this yesterday that this might be used as a way to try to bring down the whole process.
Q How could that work?
Q Yes, because the Democrats would say this was sensitive -- I mean, why would this bring down --
MR. LOCKHART: In trying to move this as part of the legislation when there might be some serious constitutional issues.
Q Some Republicans are saying they're going to hold up nominations for a whole bunch of presidential appointments in the aftermath of the recess appointment of Ambassador-designate Hormel. What's your reaction?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we should be pretty clear what this is about. We shouldn't say "some Republicans," and we shouldn't say it's about a process. This is about Senator Inhofe who believes that Mr. Hormel should not be able to serve as Ambassador to Luxembourg for one simple reason; because he's gay. The President thinks that's wrong and discriminatory. This is a gentleman who enjoys the support from people in the foreign policy community as far afield as Madeleine Albright and George Schultz. The government of Luxembourg has said they would welcome the appointment.
A majority of the Senate, more than 60 senators, support it. But for two years they haven't been able to get this to the floor. I think that if Senator Inhofe wanted to really judge this on his merits he could get it brought to the floor, and senators could vote yes or no. So I don't think this is about sort of procedural things, because I think if you look at the numbers, we've used recess appointments much more judiciously than the previous two administrations. I think the Reagan administration did four or five times the number.
We've consulted with Congress about these, and we will continue to. I think, ultimately, that this will be a test, though, for the leadership. Are they going to allow the Secretary of Treasury's nominee to be held up for this? Are they going to allow the U.N. Ambassador? Are they going to allow all the many positions that are important to the running of this government because someone in their party decides that because an ambassadorial nomination's sexual orientation is not to his liking? Ultimately, the test will be whether they want to be constructive and get the American people's business done, or whether they are once again going to be held hostage to their worst instincts.
Q A follow-up on that, Joe. If there is a Senate vote after you've made this recess appointment and after he's sworn in, if the vote goes against Hormel, then what will you do?
MR. LOCKHART: Pardon?
MR. LOCKHART: No, there is strong support for him. More than 60 senators have expressed their support for this nomination, and if they feel so strongly about it, they ought to take it to the floor and vote on it.
Q In the meantime, he will be sworn in this week, next week?
Q Is the United States contemplating establishing some sort of diplomatic relations with Kosovo? There are reports that we are --
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't seen anything to that effect.
Q It's been a week since Milosevic agreed to pull out, and the fact that they are still talking about the little details of the military -- doesn't that indicate that the allies are in some way retreating or giving some concessions to Milosevic?
MR. LOCKHART: No. In fact, we are not negotiating. We've made it clear. I think General Jackson, on the ground, has made clear what we need to get done. It's in some ways inexplicable that they would want to slow this process down, because time is not on their side. While they delay, while they sit and try to pore over details the air campaign continues. And to put it bluntly, his military machine has been taking a pounding in the last few days.
So can I explain why they might want to do that? I can't. But we are not negotiating here. We've made clear what we need to see to bring this campaign to a conclusion and we'll continue to do it. And all the maneuvering that Milosevic can come up with is not going to bring this campaign to a conclusion until he makes the fundamental decision that it's time to leave.
Q As you mentioned, there have been some concentrations of troops, reports that those were troops assembling to leave, and they have been hit more than once. Is President Clinton confident that NATO is or is not targeting retreating troops?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think there's any evidence that I'm aware of, or that anyone else has seen, credible evidence that people are getting ready to leave. So I wouldn't --
Q The Pentagon says there appear to be assemblings of buses and trucks and --
MR. LOCKHART: That's a far different issue than the fighting that's going on, on the ground, and the targets that we have on the ground.
Q Joe, wouldn't it be reasonable for Milosevic to think that delay does work when you have the German Defense Minister today declaring the war over?
MR. LOCKHART: I think if Mr. Milosevic is -- if that's a reasoned thought from Mr. Milosevic, he has once again miscalculated.
Q NATO says that the talks have basically broken off and will resume Thursday morning. Would you expect the President to have any comment about Kosovo today at any point?
MR. LOCKHART: I have not seen that report, but I don't have any information that he'll address this at any time today.
Q Also, Kofi Annan says that it is expected that NATO's bombing would be put on hold when the U.N. Security Council prepares to vote on the resolution drawn up by the G-8 yesterday. Is that an accurate --
MR. LOCKHART: Again, there are a variety of sequencing issues. I'll remind you again that the NATO air campaign will be suspended when there's the beginnings of a verifiable withdrawal. We'll see that only after there is a military and technical agreement.
Q Do you see any evidence that Milosevic's delay might be used by him to cover up evidence of war crimes?
MR. LOCKHART: I have not heard that speculation. I can only say that we continue to gather information of potential war crimes and we'll be sharing those with the War Crimes Tribunal.
Q Can you have verification without observers on the ground to verify? Meaning, will you be content with verification from the air?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into the practical details here. You might have better luck at the Pentagon. But we have made very clear to the Serbs what we need to see and on what schedule. They know what they need to do; they need to make the decision to do it. And the air campaign will continue until they make that decision.
Q Joe, what do you mean by evidence of a verifiable withdrawal? The troops actually have to be leaving the province, or could there be some sort of something going on within Serbia that indicates there's going to be a withdrawal?
MR. LOCKHART: We've made clear to the Serbs what we need to see in these discussions surrounding the military technical agreement where there's a clear timetable and benchmarks of what they have to do, and now it's a decision for them.
Q Can you tell us, too?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Do you think the Serbs are negotiating in bad faith on this military technical agreement?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know what we get out of speculating. They know what they need to do. They face a decision here, and as I said a few moments ago, time is not their friend. We will continue this air campaign and continue going after their forces in the field until they make the fundamental decision that it's time to get Serb troops out of Kosovo and allow the refugees to return.
Q Joe, you made clear before that the U.N. Security Council resolution wouldn't go forward until there was a halt in the bombing. Is there any reason to expect that the Security Council resolution go forward today in the absence of any NATO --
MR. LOCKHART: I think Russia's made their position on this clear, and I have not heard any change in it.
Q When is the U.S. delegation going to be going to Beijing to discuss the embassy bombing? What's holding that up?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any update on that.
Q Joe, the agreement between the G-7 nations on the U.N. Security Council resolution apparently does not have a provision that would say that NATO has to be at the core of the peacekeeping group. Is that going to be a problem?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think if you look at -- it's paragraph four, right, of the Chernomyrdin-Ahtisaari agreement, which is an annex to the text of the U.N. Security Council resolution. They're very clear on NATO's role. We would not be moving forward unless we were certain that this would be a unified command with NATO at it's core, being an effective force, there would be robust rules of engagement.
We know what we need to see and we're not going to change our policy until we get what we need. And we think, if you look at the Security Council resolution, the Chernomyrdin-Ahtisaari agreement, which is part of that, then getting what we need to see in a military technical agreement, which will be part of that, that will be sufficient.
Q Joe, what reaction did President Clinton have today to President Bush celebrating his 75th birthday by jumping out of -- parachuting out of an airplane? And, secondly, does he feel any pressure to demonstrate that the Clinton-Gore team has as much spunk as the Bush family by, perhaps, staging his own jump? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I think it would be fair to say the President is encouraged that he's got at least 20 years to go before he has to engage in such dynamic activities.
Q Joe, going back to the race situation, is this event today going to help President Clinton kind of get motivated again in writing his race book?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I'll reject the premise of the question outright. The President has been working on the race book. It will be done sometime soon. He's certainly had a number of competing pressures over the last few months, with the situation in Kosovo and some other things. But I expect the report to be done soon and to be a very valuable piece of work.
Q What do you mean by soon? I mean, this summer or this spring?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect that we'll have it before the summer is over.
Q So do you deny the claims by some administration officials that there are some people in this building that are saying they really want this off the radar screen, that they don't want it to be touched anymore --
MR. LOCKHART: I would say that anyone who would say that is out of touch with what the President thinks. And I can show you where they sit. (Laughter.)
Q Archer is holding his Social Security hearings today and in order for a plan to qualify it has to meet certain conditions. Apparently, the President's plan does not meet those conditions. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me just say in general that the President feels very strongly that Chairman Archer and Representative Rangel are working in a constructive way. The President met with Chairman Archer sometime ago now, a couple of weeks ago. They have differing views on how to best move this process forward and what's the best way to preserve Social Security and Medicare and boost savings. There are some fundamental disagreements there, but it is a vast contrast to some of the other Republican leaders who have pronounced Social Security reform and Medicare reform dead for the year for political reasons.
While there remains some fundamental disagreements on how we do this, I think it's important that Chairman Archer and Representative Rangel are working together in a constructive way to move this process.
Q How is Sandy Berger going to respond to Senator Shelby's request that he come testify on the Hill?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me say that Mr. Berger and others have kept that committee and other relevant committees fully briefed on the issues of China and many other national security issues over the last six or seven years. That will continue, and consultation and briefing is something that we take very seriously. As far as I know, there are no plans now for any formal testimony.
Q Rangel and Gephardt were going to put the President's Social Security proposal into legislative form. Is that done or when can we --
MR. LOCKHART: Still ongoing.
Q Do you know when it might be ready?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have a precise time line.
Q Joe, going back to another investigation, do you know why there is a veto threat out on this bill to prevent so-called frivolous lawsuits on Y2K computer --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we have some policy disagreements, particularly on -- we think as the bill is written now it not only doesn't provide incentives for companies to go and try to do Y2K fixes, there's almost a disincentive to do a Y2K fix. Both in the Senate and the House are amendments that would fix those problems and make them supportable -- I can't remember in the House who's the author of the amendment.
MR. TOIV: I'm not sure. It's Kerry in the Senate.
MR. LOCKHART: Kerry in the Senate, and the House, there is an amendment which would fix it and we think that -- it's our hope that we can get this amendment adopted, because as you know, the President was one of the first to speak about making sure that we don't let liability problems get in the way of -- whether it be small companies or even large companies -- do the kind of work they need to do in preparation for the Y2K --
Q To follow up on that, the bill is going to be on the floor today. Would that bill be vetoed, this legislation that McCain and Dodd have agreed to?
MR. LOCKHART: I think without the amendable fix -- I think we have a SAP up -- there's an advisor's -- let me check with the SAP, because we certainly did on the Senate side, and these are almost mirror pieces of legislation, including the fixing amendment, as I understand it.
Q As a matter of policy, at DNC fundraisers President Clinton has allowed some kind of, albeit limited, coverage on the grounds that these are part of his function. Why would that same policy not hold true for the First Lady, who is doing a DNC fundraiser in New York tonight, and does it have anything to do with the nature of the group in Greenwich Village?
MR. LOCKHART: I have no idea. I didn't know she was doing a fundraiser. I would put the question to her office. I don't make --
Q We've done that.
MR. LOCKHART: Good. I don't make policy for her.
Q But it's President Clinton's policy, is it not, to allow that fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee, when he appears at those, that there is some --
MR. LOCKHART: Is this one of those policy differences people have been warning me about?
Q I don't know; is it?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know what their policy is. You'll have to ask them.
Q The First Lady would not allow any coverage at a fundraiser of this nature?
MR. LOCKHART: I actually don't know.
Q Joe, on Berger, would he answer a subpoena? Would he respond affirmatively to a call like that?
MR. LOCKHART: Now, there is a hypothetical that I'm not getting anywhere near.
Q Joe, one more on Kosovo. Will American troops be called on to clear those land mines, or are those going to be strictly Serbian troops or NATO troops?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. I know that -- I think Ken Bacon was talking a little bit about the logistics of some of this yesterday, and I'd refer you to what he said.
Q Joe, another one on Kosovo. The Serbs were reporting that they pulled out some troops to some central Serbian location. Is there any indication that's true?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure that I've seen anything that indicates there's any sort of real withdrawal going on. Again, I think it's important that we do have this technical agreement so that we know when they're going to withdraw and how they're going to withdraw -- because until we know that, the air campaign will continue.
Q Joe, what is the administration's view on having the National Security Advisor testify before Congress?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there is a traditional and constitutional argument that many administrations have taken about White House staff testifying versus other members of the administration that are confirmable, and I think we take the same basic view as the previous administrations in recent memory.
Q Which is --
MR. LOCKHART: Which is that we -- this is a shorthand of it -- that confirmable members go and represent the President's policy, whether it be in the Cabinet or sub-Cabinet, in formal testimony.
Q When are the dates of the President's trip abroad?
MR. LOCKHART: The 15th through next Tuesday, through the following Tuesday. Yes, the 15th through the 22nd or 23rd.
Q Isn't Slovenia going to be the last stop, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: It's the last stop that I know about.
Q Is there any chance that that might change? Any reasonable, serious chance that that might change?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to speculate on what might happen.
Q So I take that as a yes?
Q Beyond the flare-up over Hormel, is there broader concern in the administration that the Congress is not confirming nominees --
MR. LOCKHART: We've got some issues that we're currently working on and trying to get through. I think Chief Justice Rehnquist's admonition to the Senate remains in effect and it is as wise today as it was last year when it was issued. I think there is a fundamental decision that the leadership needs to make, which is whether they want to be constructive, whether they want to get the people's business done, which I think redounds credit on both parties and both institutions, or whether partisan politics is the name of the game from this point on. They can make that decision. I can tell you, with my limited political instincts is, that would be a big mistake.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:10 P.M. EDT