THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The Briefing Room
MR. LOCKHART: Let me, before you get on me, having not been here for several weeks, let me talk about a few things. Let me do a quick read out of the meeting with the Australian Prime Minister.
They had a 20 minute private meeting this morning, before they went into their lunch. As the Prime Minister, I think, told you outside, they had a discussion of the lamb issue, the trade issue. They also talked about the importance of China in the context of getting a WTO agreement, and I think the Australian Prime Minister accurately reflected the President's desire to get that done.
At lunch, the conversation first started on a lighthearted note, talking about the upcoming Davis Cup Match between the United States men's tennis team and the Australian's, which will take place in Boston, I'm told.
They then discussed, for a brief period, Kosovo. The Prime Minister passed on his personal congratulations to the President for the U.S. role and his leadership in the conflict in Kosovo. They talked a little bit about the WTO meeting that's upcoming in November, in Seattle; discussed Indonesia and East Timor, about steps that need to be taken to create a positive security environment there.
Then they also discussed the agenda for the APEC meeting. I think Prime Minister Howard made the case, and the President agreed, that they need to build momentum starting at APEC to go into the launching of the new round of trade talks at WTO in November, in Seattle.
Q Did they have lamb for lunch? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: No, they did not. I'll let you barbecue me, instead. (Laughter.)
Secondly, Thursday, an addition to the schedule. Thursday morning the President will meet with a group of high school students from the Denver area to discuss gun control legislation. Handgun Control is bringing a group of approximately 80 students from the Denver area, including some from Columbine High School, to encourage Congress to enact gun control legislation that was passed by the Senate last month.
The President will meet with the students and will make a statement at the South Portico following the meeting. Later in the day the students will travel up to Capitol Hill to personally discuss their views and their support of this legislation with members of Congress.
Third -- and a shameless attempt to get on ESPN's Sports Center one more time before we finish covering the World Cup Soccer -- the President and President Jiang of China exchanged messages of congratulations after the final -- Saturday's final. Both Presidents expressed their nation's appreciation for the two teams' exemplary skills, sportsmanship and friendship.
Q What did Jiang express congratulations for?
MR. LOCKHART: To say thanks.
Q He lost.
MR. LOCKHART: It was a good game. There were no losers; there were only winners. (Laughter.) I'm selling -- you don't have to buy, but I'm selling. (Laughter.)
Q I think you're putting down the wonderful women who won the United States championship, Joe.
MR. LOCKHART: They were just bigger winners.
Q Is that the agenda for Thursday?
MR. LOCKHART: That is an event that we will add in, in the morning. The Barak visit will happen in the afternoon.
Finally, before we get to the questions, I have one personnel issue to deal with. Today is Michael Teague's last day in the Press Office. (Applause.) As you all know, as I told Michael at the little party we had for him last night, when I joined the Clinton-Gore administration the first two people I met were Michael and Kris Engskov. And I stayed. I mean, I didn't turn around a leave.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. Michael has proved to be an invaluable asset to the press office here, and I think to all of you who have traveled, both in his role in the Travel Office, and then in his role in the Press Office. I think his long-time colleague friend, Mr. Engskov, put it best yesterday -- and I'll repeat a story he told, which was, he got Michael involved in 1991 with the President's -- or the Governor's campaign for president, and they all went to Missouri to campaign for the President and try to win the primary there, when they did.
And then Kris called again when he came and was working for the Travel Office, and called Michael and said I want you to do some advance work, it's very important. And Michael said, where? And Kris said, Paris. And Michael said, I'll get in my truck and I can be there in two hours. And Kris said, no, Paris, France. (Laughter.)
And as part of that trip, and in celebrating the success of that trip, I understand from sources that at one point they ran out of things to drink, and Michael got on the phone and called down to a very fancy French hotel and said, send up a bottle of your best champagne. And showing that he really knew how to get around, signed it to Kris's room. (Laughter.) So it's that kind of skill and leadership that has distinguished Michael.
To be serious, as I said to Michael and some of his colleagues last night, I think the test of anyone's abilities is to go into a job and leave the job with both the respect and affection of the people you work for, the people you work with. I think Michael has that, and has demonstrated time and again and has been a real asset to us and to you, and we're going to miss you greatly -- as the new press secretary to the Attorney General of Arkansas. (Applause.)
Now, with all bad news, we have good news.
Q Do you happen to know the Attorney General of Arkansas name? Is there a precedent here?
MR. LOCKHART: Attorney General Pryor.
Q Oh, we know the family name.
MR. LOCKHART: We know the family. As with any bad news, we have some good news, which is the joining of the staff over here of Mark Bernstein, who you all know, who's been with the Travel Office now for some time. As a measure of Michael's achievements, we really had to set the bar high, and he was the only person who applied with both an MBA and a law degree. (Laughter.) And we expect him to use both of them in the very difficult circumstances and challenges that face him. But we welcome you and I think everybody here already knows you, and knows that you'll do a great job. (Applause.)
Lester, that was for Mark, not for you. (Laughter.)
Q I appreciate that clarification, Joe. To your knowledge, did Mrs. Clinton ever at any time speak out for "Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel" until after she set up her exploratory committee to run for U.S. Senator?
MR. LOCKHART: I would put that question to her office. I'm not familiar with any writings or any speakings, but I would put that to her.
Q Was the President happy or sorry about this, and her unprecedented call for the U.S. Embassy to be moved to Jerusalem? And I have one follow up.
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President is happy that she has a chance to go and listen to the views and opinions of New Yorkers and express her views.
Q Is Mrs. Clinton aware of two Jewish demonstrations this week to protest what they call her pandering and her being given a Hadassah as Zionist award --
MR. LOCKHART: It's hard for me to know what she's aware of. I'd put that to her spokespeople.
Q Joe, does the President agree with her?
MR. LOCKHART: No, the U.S. government's position on the issue of Jerusalem is quite clear; it's an issue of final status negotiations.
Q Joe, there's a hate crimes meeting over in OEOB. Could you tell us a little bit about that, and who's in attendance?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there's some -- I think 130 civil rights groups who have come together today to meet with some of the staff here -- Bill Lan Lee and others -- as part of an ongoing effort to promote the President's hate crime legislation. The President put forward this legislation after the hate crimes conference we had here in 1997. And I think, unfortunately, we've seen since that time enough incidents to make the case that this kind of legislation is needed, and has growing support among various groups, including civil rights organizations.
Q -- few shootings the catalyst for this --
MR. LOCKHART: No, this has been an ongoing effort to continue to push this legislation. The Office of Public Liaison here has been pushing this now for some time. But it certainly -- incidents like that point out the importance of this legislation.
Q If this is so high on the President's agenda, why is he not taking part?
MR. LOCKHART: Because we do a lot of things here, as far as building support for things. The President spoke out on this last week, he will continue to speak out on it. But he doesn't attend every meeting we have here.
Q Well, what basically are you trying to do, then, with this meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: There's a lot of support among civil rights groups for this legislation. We are gathering and discussing with them how we can continue to make the case for the hate crimes legislation and the status of that legislation on Capitol Hill.
Q Are they coming to the stake out after the meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there will be some representatives. I don't think everyone will come, but there will be a good group that will come.
Q Did the American President express any regrets to the Australian Prime Minister about the lamb decision?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President believes he took the proper and prudent steps. I think it's an issue that he consulted with both the Australian Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of New Zealand. So I don't think it was a matter of expressing regrets.
Q Joe, in terms of this meeting this afternoon with -- I assume -- try to explore if there is some kind of a consensus that could be reached for a deal on Medicare and taxes. Why is it a good idea to start out by bashing the Republicans and accusing them of all the things that Gene and Larry -- I mean, how does that create a --
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's important that they understand what the President's priorities are. The President wanted them to come down, and invited them down to discuss his proposal for Medicare and how that fits into the budget debate that's ongoing this year.
The President's priorities I think are fairly clear. We put down a budget that's quite specific and quite clear on what he wants to get done. And I think that it's important that they understand that we think some of the things that have come out of the Republicans, as far as what their plans are, we think are headed in the wrong direction.
Q Was the President able to give the Australian Prime Minister any commitments regarding what he could do on behalf of the Australian aide workers that are in prison in Yugoslavia --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think they had a short discussion on the aide workers and the process for their release. I think there is an appeal that will be held tomorrow. So they discussed that and discussed the continuing efforts to work for both the reconstruction of Kosovo, with the UN civilian authority there, and efforts to -- the ongoing efforts to secure the release of the aide workers.
Q Are you saying that the briefing that we just had was actually timed to coincide with the meeting this afternoon?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the meeting that -- I think it's probably more closely timed to the legislative calendar, which moves inexorably forward with, I guess, the Chairman's mark tomorrow in the House and the fact that we're in July, the year is half over.
Q What's the difference? He invited them up here today because of legislative --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, and the fact that we talked about before we left for our trip, the Medicare proposal and wanted a chance to talk to them about it. They're not mutually exclusive.
Q There's one thing I don't understand about your differences with Republicans, especially on Social Security. Aside from the intricacies of the lock box proposals, isn't it true that both parties are setting aside $2 trillion to deal with Social Security? I mean, it seems that both parties agree that there is a big chunk of money set aside for Social Security, so that's not really in jeopardy, in what the argument over the remaining trillion?
MR. LOCKHART: I think both parties agree on the principle of setting aside some of the surplus for Social Security, and that's something the Republican leaders have joined the President on. There are some differences in how that's done, and I think the group that was here before me are the experts and what the problems they're in are.
I think more broadly, if you look at the proposals that have come forward, particularly over the weekend, they leave Medicare alone -- they budget out for the next 10 years without taking into account the need to extend the solvency, to strengthen Medicare, to provide for prescription drug benefit.
And then there's a whole series of questions about what are the trade offs. They have not stepped up to the plate yet in a serious way to talk about the trade offs. You have a situation where Republican budget leaders say one thing and the Republican appropriators say that what the budget leaders are saying is not realistic. So at some point in time there will have to be -- you know, an end to moving the shells around on the table and we'll understand what the plan is and that's part of the process.
Q You're accusing them of walking away from Medicare, but you're not accusing them of walking away from Social Security.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, there has been some commitment on their point; there has not been what we need to see on extending solvency the way the President has talked about on Social Security. But I think the other areas that we've talked about raise serious questions.
Q Yes, but you've taken them on, on the question of Medicare. You're basically -- your economic team was up here basically accusing them of wanting to cut taxes rather than save Medicare -- nobody put it quite that boldly, but --
MR. LOCKHART: I think what we're saying here is that if you have an $800 billion tax cut, you face choices and consequences from doing that, which they haven't addressed yet. One of them is Medicare, another is discretionary spending, another is defense spending. Unless you're willing to revert to deficit spending -- which they may be willing to do -- you have to face these choices.
And I think one thing we've learned in the last six or seven years is that it's worthwhile and useful to put the numbers out on the table, let people make decisions and get away from the smoke and mirrors that characterized the previous era.
Q Joe, what does the President expect to get out of this meeting tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he wants to build on some of the momentum we feel has been generated on the Medicare proposal. We received a lot of positive statements from Democrats and from some Republicans, too, on the importance of that proposal and what it would accomplish.
And then I think, you know, we are entering a season where decisions are going to begun to be made as we move towards the end of the session. The President wants to use this as another time to reiterate what his principles are, what he thinks we can get done, how we can cut taxes the right way, how we can pay down the debt and secure this economic recovery for the next generation.
Q The Senate Democrats are coming up with a plan -- their own plan, that will probably cost about $350 billion. Does the White House -- was the White House consulted on that plan, and does that imply that there is some room for negotiation, or the size of --
MR. LOCKHART: I think -- the President has said that we've got to get first things first: secure Medicare, Social Security first, then we can have tax cuts. The President has put down a targeted set of tax cuts that he thinks is the best way to cut taxes. We will talk to Democrats and Republicans about how we can do that, once we've done first things first. I'm not familiar with the Senate Democratic proposal that you're referring to, but we're willing to talk to Democrats and Republicans. I think what the President is not willing to do is to endorse an exploding, across-the-board, $800 billion tax cut before we've addressed Social Security and Medicare.
Q Joe, Governor Bush is going to be in Baltimore the same Wednesday afternoon as the President, and Governor Bush said he'll be available for questions from the media. Will the President?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, maybe you can ask him where he stands on some of these tax and budget issues. I haven't heard much.
Q Well, I have one follow-up on this. Isn't the President at least grateful that for six months after his impeachment, there was vice presidential omerta about what Mr. Gore now calls inexcusable conduct?
Q It's an old Sicilian phrase.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I caught that one. It took me a minute, but caught that one.
I think the President, as he said on the subject, there's no one who said anything more critical of his personal behavior that's more critical than what he said about himself.
Q He's grateful for the silence, isn't he, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: I have no idea.
Q As far as the Vice President's concerned, today he proposed -- he proposed photo licenses for everyone in America who owns a handgun. What is the White House view of that?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President thinks the Vice President put forward a solid package of new crime initiatives. The President has talked, himself, about the need -- his belief that there's value in having some sort of gun registration. I think the Vice President actually put some details to a proposal like that.
I think, unfortunately, these are ideas for the future. The President is very realistic about what he thinks we can get done this year, and that's what was passed in the Senate bill and some of the things that were talked about on the House side, very anxious to get a realistic gun control legislation through that he can sign, rather than go into issues that in this Congress are just not going to go anywhere.
Q So, philosophically, the President doesn't have a problem with getting photo licenses, which means registering all gun dealers?
MR. LOCKHART: No. Philosophically, he doesn't. I think he's talked about this.
Q Refresh my memory. Did the President ever call for a registration of handguns?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President, in a couple of media interviews, has talked about how he thinks it's a good idea, but he's also followed that with the recognition that that has a zero chance in this Congress of passing. And what he's interested in, in this Congress, is getting through the proposals that have passed the Senate and have languished in the House.
Q What is he expecting the kids from Columbine to do? To lobby members of Congress?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I think they're coming here as spokes-students in Columbine and in the Denver area. They've got an important story to tell and they want to make sure that members of Congress hear it directly from them; that they support the gun control legislation that the President has put forward, the ideas that he's put forward, because they've had real-life experience to tell them how serious this is.
Q What's the status of the proposed meeting in Sarajevo?
MR. LOCKHART: The status is, the work continues, as you know, in the aftermath of the G-8 meeting. The European Union, the United States and others have been working on putting together a meeting in Sarajevo for some time in the next month or so. The logistics are currently being worked out and when I have an announcement I will make it.
Q The President will attend this meeting, or that's not clear?
MR. LOCKHART: No, it's a leaders' meeting. They've talked about having a leaders' meeting, yes.
Q Are you talking about a several-day meeting or a couple of days?
MR. LOCKHART: I think shorter, rather than longer.
Q Is it looking good for this month, or next?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't handicap announcements before they come out.
Q For this month or next?
MR. LOCKHART: I'll come out and talk to you afterwards.
Q Joe, last question?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. Thank you. That was the last question. You heard that, right?
Q Helen will decide that.
Q Does the President agree with Assistant Secretary of the Interior in his comparison, comparing both the Declaration of Independence and the Battle of Gettysburg to the Stonewall Riot in Greenwich Village?
MR. LOCKHART: I would have to both look at what he said in its full context and discuss it with the President.
Q Joe, there's an article in The Washington Post today that some top Democrats, like Gephardt, are maybe more focused on 2000 and perhaps just as happy not to see some of this legislation, such as gun legislation, pass as they would be to see it actually passed? Do you sense any frustration here at the White House with the Democratic leadership --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President has addressed that directly and I think there is agreement between he and the Democratic leaders that the best politics for 2000 is promoting the best policies to get as much as you can get done, because there are substantial differences that remain between the parties. There will be enough to fight about in 2000 no matter how much we get done this year.
So I think he's going to continue to work hard to get things done, and I think he looks forward to the leadership from the leaders of the Democratic Party in both houses in order to meet -- in the Senate this week they're pushing very hard on a patients' bill of rights. We will continue to have these fights, and I'm certain there will be enough no matter how much we get done to fight about in 2000.
Q So there's not frustration with them here --
MR. LOCKHART: No, there's not.
Q And to follow up on that, what are Democrats and Republicans to make about the two messages that are coming out of the White House today? One is, it sounds like you want to bash the Republicans for cutting taxes instead of saving Medicare, but then he's inviting them up for some talks that are supposed to end up with a big deal on taxes and Medicare. I mean, which does he want? Does he want --
MR. LOCKHART: I would not say we're bashing Republicans. We're taking issue with things we think are bad ideas. We've had a fundamental economic debate in this country for the last seven years, which it seems to me there's a lot of evidence on the side of the position the President has taken. If you believe what you read in the newspaper, we're going to have this debate again this year. It's a healthy thing to do, but we can disagree on ideas, whether they're economic or on other programs. That doesn't mean we're not going to work together and get the country's business done.
Q Joe, I still don't understand on this afternoon's meeting, I mean, the leaders who are coming up here know exactly what the President's positions are, they know exactly what he wants to do. Can you give us some idea, without putting words in his mouth, what it is he's going to say to him that will make any difference --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, as you all know, sometimes the President can be quite persuasive in small groups. So he wants to make the case in a small group to the leaders about what his program is.
Q Do they know what he thinks and he knows what they think.
MR. LOCKHART: And this is part of the way we get business done here in Washington.
Q Will he veto it if they pass a big tax cut?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me just say I haven't seen any piece of legislation yet, so I'm not going to get into veto threats. But I can tell you the President won't --
Q It sounds that he would.
MR. LOCKHART: The President is not -- the President will not sign a large tax cut that squeezes out the military, that squeezes out important education, environment programs, and that squeezes out Medicare.
Q Are you going to have any kind of read out or anything like that after the --
MR. LOCKHART: We'll try. We'll try to do something.
MR. LOCKHART: It's scheduled for an hour. It could go a little bit longer.
Q Going back to that hate crime meeting, President Clinton a year and a half ago started the race initiative, and there was no powder keg racial issue at that time. The initiative has been over for several months. Does the White House see any kind of relation with the fact that the dialogue on race is over and there have been several serious racial crimes --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I wouldn't. And I wouldn't accept the fact that the dialogue is over. I think you'll find that the dialogue on local levels have perpetuated itself around the country. Those of you who attended the event we had at Georgetown University -- what was the name of the organization at Georgetown? Whatever -- that the person who introduced the President, the young woman from Alabama, mentioned to the President as they were talking that she got interested in Washington and what goes on here by participating locally -- recently in a dialogue on race relations.
So I think the legacy of that kind of dialogue continues. So I don't know that there's -- I wouldn't draw any direct line between that and some of the unfortunate incidents we've had.
Q Joe, I don't know whether it's the tour of depressed areas last week or maybe just my imagination, but you look a little older today.
MR. LOCKHART: Not today.
Q White House --
Q When? When is your birthday?
MR. LOCKHART: Something like that. This is actually the last briefing I'll do in my 30s -- unfortunately. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: And I'm not coming back tomorrow.
Q Life begins at 40.
Q Joe, is the President going to do a fundraiser for the First Lady in the Hamptons next month, or contemplating any other fundraisers --
MR. LOCKHART: I know the President has got a DNC -- the DNC, traditionally, in the summertime does a fund raising retreat, and I think the Hamptons was the site last year, and again this year. I'm not aware that there's a First Lady fundraising component there. I'll check.
Q Will he be going if he's asked?
MR. LOCKHART: If that's what they believe is the best way to go out and raise the resources she will need for a campaign, if she runs it, then he will be there.
Q Do you know the date of that Hampton retreat?
MR. LOCKHART: It's at the end of -- it's not for another month or so. Somewhere around there. Barry reminds me that we haven't announced that, and I probably shouldn't have said all those things I said. Strike that.
Q Will we get the chance to speak with the President and Barak after they --
MR. LOCKHART: We're still working on the schedule for this week, so come back to me -- probably Wednesday I'll know for sure.
Q Joe, the meeting on Medicare reform, given that one of the main problems seems to be the scope of the prescription drug benefits, why is it that the administration is in favor of targeting tax cut proposals, but is opposed to targeting prescription drug benefits?
MR. LOCKHART: Because we think that the Medicare program has always been universal and should continue so. And I think the vast, vast majority of those -- I mean, it is a program where you pay in proportional to your earnings and receive a benefit -- and the vast majority of those who receive the benefit are those at an income level where they will actually need it.
I think the President has said -- this is kind of old ground, but I'll go over it again -- that means testing has been an issue that he thought had some merit, but he also believes that getting a prescription drug benefit, reforming and modernizing and strengthening Medicare is important and there isn't support either on the Republican side of the aisle or the Democratic side of the aisle for any means testing at this point.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:05 P.M. EDT