THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The Briefing Room
5:00 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Okay. For those of you who thought we were going to continue briefing until the Medicare benefit actually became available, that rumor is wrong. (Laughter.) Questions for me?
Q I have one. The President sounded awfully sloppy and tentative in his speech delivery -- tripping over words, saying the wrong words. Is his health okay? Did he not read the speech? Was he up late working on it?
MR. LOCKHART: No. He came back, as all of you know, about 1:30 a.m., took the morning off, worked on his speech early this afternoon and delivered an excellent speech.
Q The Greek foreign news reports that Yeoryios Papandreau is seeking now a political solution to exclaim over the -- city and then ratification of the political agreement with the international --. Any comments, is your country involved? And the President has --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I understand that the two foreign ministers will meet in New York at the margins of the UN meeting on Kosovo. We welcome the meeting, which was arranged between the two countries. We continue to believe that the best resolution of these issues is through the mutually agreed process, such as the ICJ or other peaceful methods of dispute resolution.
Q And one more question. Cyprus and -- any comment on the Greek/Turkey agreement with your participation on the removal from Cyprus all the U.S. weapons -- illegally, in violation of the U.S. law?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, without accepting the premise of the question, let me say that there has been a State Department Report to Capitol Hill responding to allegations that some U.S. government military equipment was inappropriately on Cyprus. The Greek and Turkish sides have both agreed to withdraw the equipment in question. Any additional questions should be best asked of the State Department.
Q Joe, are you aware if there is a deal on the Year 2000 legislation, whether or not the White House is going to accept that?
MR. LOCKHART: I understand that -- as I've articulated from here, we have a number of concerns about the legislation as written. There have been some intense discussions going on over the last few days between members of the White House staff, Senator McCain, Senator Dodd. As of a few moments before coming out here, I was told that we're very close to reaching an agreement.
There are still some language issues that they're working on; but as the President said, he wants a bill he can sign, he wants to deter frivolous lawsuits, he wants to protect investors, consumers. So I think we're encouraged that we've made some progress in the last 24 hours and it's our hope that we will have an agreement soon.
Q Can you describe tomorrow's Medicare event?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. The President is going to go to Chicago and speak to some seniors who are currently using the Medicare program, talk about the improvements we'll make, talk with others who are Medicare providers -- whether they be pharmacists or doctors. And I think he wants to have a chance to talk to some people in the midwest, in Chicago, about why it's important to modernize, strengthen and secure Medicare.
Q Joe, on Northern Ireland, this deadline is coming hot and fast. What is the latest you can tell us? And does the President attribute blame to either side on this?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think, as the President has said -- as he said in an interview yesterday, both sides need to make tough decisions for peace, but he thinks we've come so far here that we can't abandon the progress that has been made and we need to move forward. I don't have any particular update or news from there, beyond that the President remains ready to engage in any way he can, or is appropriate, to help move this process forward.
Q Is he still having conversations with the sides, does he expect to have any further talks tonight?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, if it's appropriate and will help move the process forward, the President stands ready. I think he has a history on this subject of being willing to work 24 hours a day. I'm certain that if it can move the process forward he will repeat that.
Q Joe, does the President have any thoughts on the expiration of the independent counsel law?
MR. LOCKHART: I think our view on the independent counsel law was expressed very well by the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General. We think it's broken beyond repair and it ought to expire.
Q Well, has he spoken to you about it? The deadline, as you know, is tomorrow.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I haven't spoken to him in the last couple days, but I think the Attorney General and Mr. Holder spoke at length on Capitol Hill representing the administration's position on the problems with the independent counsel law. That hasn't changes. There's nothing that's happened that's changed that and our view is it ought to expire.
Q So it ought to expire rather than be renewed and fixed?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think -- no one that I know of has come forward with a fix at this point. There was some discussion yesterday of a fix. I don't think we've seen the details of that, so I can't tell you that that's something at this point we could support. But I think our views on this are well known.
Q When does it actually expire?
MR. LOCKHART: Probably July 1st -- probably the end of tomorrow, that's when a lot of things phase in and out.
Q But Ken Starr stays in business as long as he wants?
MR. LOCKHART: As long as he deems appropriate.
Q Joe, on the Medicare legislation, how willing are you to negotiate on Medicare? I mean, Republicans seem willing to deal with the administration, so they've got to make movements on competition and other issues.
MR. LOCKHART: You know, I think the President looks forward to working with Congress on this. But I think he's laid down some important principles about how we can strengthen and secure Medicare. So I think it was an important moment today, that you had bipartisan attendance at the event -- Senator Breaux, Congressman Thomas were both there, who have done important work on this subject.
So I think he looks forward to it. I don't look into where -- at this point I don't know what particular areas that they'll want to discuss. But I think the President's principles are clear and we will work with Congress in order to have real Medicare reform.
Q Joe, have you decided in the prescription drug plan whether certain things would be covered? For instance, birth control pills; for instance, Viagra -- other controversial type of things like that. Have those already been laid out?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know the answer to that question. I mean, I know they've laid out the eligibility and how the prescription -- would work. But on particular items, I don't know what the process is. I think HCFA would be probably the best place to pursue that.
Q You just talked about getting off to a really good bipartisan start, but I think Bob Dole remembers well what Medicare did to him in '96, and he would argue what the President did to him, with what he called "Mediscare." As the President goes around the country, can you pledge that he's not going to set this up as an "us versus them" political issue?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that the risky political issue is to come out with a detailed plan. It's a pretty large target for people to shoot at. But the President thought this was important. He thought it was important to build on what Breaux-Thomas did, but to address the concerns and have a really strong plan that he could get behind. That's what he's done, political risks aside. So I really don't think that's a concern.
Q Joe, have the staffs of the President and Vice President resolved their differences over the President and Vice President's public statements about one another?
MR. LOCKHART: If there were differences, they're resolved.
Q Are you saying there weren't?
MR. LOCKHART: I said, if there were. I don't have any differences with those who I work with there, so I didn't have any to resolve. If there were those who had differences -- see, I can answer hypothetically, too --
Q Well, how do you know that? How do you know they were resolved, if you don't even know that there were differences?
MR. LOCKHART: Because if there were differences, they were told to be resolved.
Q Well, it's almost time for the gaggle, so --
MR. LOCKHART: I can get another briefing down here if you want? (Laughter.) No, no briefing?
Q They were told to knock it off, stop talking about it in public?
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't dispute the accounts I read in the paper this morning.
Q Anything on the EU-Latin trade summit conference in -- the other day? And how do you comment on the fact that President Clinton was not invited?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have anything on that.
Q Thank you.
END 5:10 P.M. EDT