THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
1:08 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Let me just tell you one thing about the event that I told you about this morning, the 2:00 p.m. East Room event. The President, at the top of that, will talk about some education grants that are being released today for teacher quality around the country, some $43 million worth. He'll also urge the Congress, when they vote today, not to try to move against not authorizing money for the 100,000 teachers program that we moved through last year. There's been some debate between the parties on this matter. The President will reiterate his commitment to getting 100,000 teachers in the classrooms.
Q Any opposition to that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the President will indicate he won't sign legislation that strips the money from this program.
Q So it's a veto threat --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, this is a two-step process between authorizing and appropriating, so this is early in the process. But he wanted to make the point of demonstrating his commitment in support of the program.
Q Joe, the President mentioned his conversation, was asked about his conversation with Jiang Zemin in the Rose Garden earlier today. Is the President satisfied now with the state of affairs with regard to China and Taiwan, or does he believe some intervention perhaps on his part would help things along?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President made the call because he was concerned about some of the rhetoric, and I think as he told you in the Rose Garden today, he articulated the U.S. position which has not changed, and China articulated their position. There's always some concern when you have this rhetoric, but the President made clear he believes the best way to resolve any issues between the parties is in the context of the cross-states dialogue.
Q The U.S. position hasn't changed and the Chinese position hasn't changed. It appears that Taiwan's position has changed. They now say they that they're going to pursue this state-to-state dialogue. Do we think that that's the kind of dialogue that Taiwan should have with Chinese --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we believe that anything that needs to be resolved between the parties should be done through the dialogue. But I will remind you, as I've done over the past week or so, that Taiwan has indicated to us that they have not fundamentally changed their one China policy.
Q What's all the talk about then?
MR. LOCKHART: I'll leave it -- you can ask the Taiwanese authorities to articulate or explain their views. Our view is, as the President demonstrated again today, is a one China policy, and we think that issues between the parties should be discussed directly in the dialogue.
Q Joe, the President used a diplomatic euphemism today -- he said we take it very seriously. What is that a euphemism for?
MR. LOCKHART: I think any rising tension in that area is something we do take seriously, and we do have concern about.
Q Is it our policy to use force to protect Taiwan if attacked?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think our policy is outlined in the Taiwan's Relation Act, and that has not changed.
Q Is that what it is?
MR. LOCKHART: It is - we have commitments as far as Taiwan's self defense, and it's spelled out clearly in Taiwan's Relation Act.
Q Is the U.S. one China policy consistent with state-to-state dialogue between China and Taiwan?
MR. LOCKHART: Our policy has not changed as far as one China, and in our conversations with Taiwan, they have indicated that their policy has not changed.
Q Could you also just explain why China clearly sees it in their interest to restate their policy, which is to use force if Taiwan declared independence. Why does the President not want to restate our policy, which is in the Taiwan Relations Act, that we would come to the military defense of Taiwan if attacked?
MR. LOCKHART: The President restated our policy and he restated what our view as far as one China is in the Rose Garden, openly.
Q But he seems to be wanting to go out of his way not to mention that we do have a defense commitment to Taiwan.
MR. LOCKHART: That is your opinion.
Q Joe, the Taiwanese started this when they talked about -- the leadership talked about having almost state-to-state relations with China. Have they explained what that meant, what that comment was?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm going to leave it to them to explain their own policy pronouncements. But as I've said in private conversations and also in public declarations, they have said that their fundamental one China policy hasn't changed.
Q Joe, does the President agree or disagree with what The Washington Post this morning describes as, quote, "public broadcasting stupidity," and given this behavior, does he believe PBS really deserves continued tax exemption and tax subsidy more than the Christian Coalition?
MR. LOCKHART: I think I wouldn't compare the two as you did. I think the reality of the situation is that, given the kind of opposition that PBS faces every year for the very worthy programming they do, for reasons that have puzzled many in this town for a long time, they need to take special care not to leave themselves open to the charge of being involved in politics, and it appears, and I think their management has recognized, that they didn't take enough care here.
Q One follow-up here, Joe. Republican Congressman Michael Forbes of New York whom the President welcomed into the Democratic Party, even though Mr. Forbes voted to impeach the President, has now had his entire staff walk out. Does the President think that this new recruit ought at least to withdraw his endorsement of George W. before any Democrats agree to work for this man?
MR. LOCKHART: The President has, in his conversations with Congressman Forbes, discussed issues, patients' bill of rights, budget taxes, that's where their focus was on. I think it's up to the Congressman who he wants to support and not support.
Q Joe, has the White House had any conversations with the Kennedys about a possible memorial service -- the timing, the place, for anything like that -- and has there been any discussion about maybe a memorial or something at Arlington?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't heard any on the second. I think Andrew Cuomo has been, I guess, the unofficial liaison between the family on a number of matters as he both serves here and a member of the extended Kennedy family.
The President has spoken directly with Senator Kennedy, with Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, but those conversations have not gotten into the details. I think we will await -- many will await some decisions the family will make and then we will act accordingly.
Q But the President plans to attend, if there is any kind of a memorial --
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's appropriate for the family to decide how they want to do that and then communicate with those they might want to attend or participate.
Q What's the timetable for the President's contact with Syrian President Assad now, following these comments yesterday?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect the conversation will happen some time in the near future, although I can't put a -- I can't pinpoint when that will be. I'll only tell you that when the conversation happens, we will report it faithfully to you.
Q Do you think that there will be some diplomatic contacts to lay the groundwork for that, to lay the foundation for that?
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't rule that out.
Q Joe, do you, as a knowledgeable --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't like where this is going. (Laughter.)
Q -- an experienced Press Secretary, do you believe that George W. was telling the truth when he claimed that Dave Beckwith was not fired?
MR. LOCKHART: Do I believe that George W. is telling the truth? Whew.
Q George who?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q He said this to a crowded press conferences over at the Reagan Building, and he said he wasn't fired. Now the Washington Standard says it wasn't as big of a whopper as we're used to, but it was not true. Do you agree? You know Dave, don't you?
MR. LOCKHART: I do, indeed, and I know him to be someone who tells the truth. And if he says he was fired, I believe he was fired. How's that?
Q Joe, what do you expect out of the news conference tomorrow? Is the President going to have a particular agenda item or something he's pushing for?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I'm not certain at this point what the President will open with. There are a number of issues, particularly concerning budget and taxes that are moving forward. I think the idea of having the press conference, though, is, as I've said in the past, an attempt to reinstitute a regular press conference schedule where once a month or once every four to six weeks the President has a chance to spend some time with you. So, nothing in particular.
Q What can you tell us about his meeting with Neil Armstrong?
MR. LOCKHART: Barry, did you go into that? Want to do this?
MR. TOIV: Yes. The President met for close to a half hour with the three Apollo 11 astronauts. They presented him with a moon rock, which is actually on loan to the White House, and a good time was had by all. Any specific questions you have?
Q On loan to the White House?
MR. TOIV: Yes, actually. It's not a gift, it's on loan. Mr. Armstrong said to the President, they won't give it to you, but just in case in the interest of science they need it back, they'll take it back. I have a feeling it will be here a while, though.
Q Where will it be displayed?
Q Who does it belong to?
MR. TOIV: I'm not sure, Jim. I'll have to check on that.
MR. LOCKHART: He put it on the table to the right of the desk in the Oval Office. Moved a picture and put it there.
Q It's his personal rock?
MR. TOIV: His? No, it is not. Because they couldn't give it to him. It's on loan to the White House.
Q From whom?
MR. TOIV: From NASA.
Q What did the President say to these men?
MR. TOIV: The President talked a little bit about -- first of all, about the launch, or lack of a launch last night, the fact that Mrs. Clinton went down with the soccer team. He talked a little bit about remembering their launch -- their landing 30 years ago. He talked about the importance of the space program and how he has fought for it. And, actually, Dan Goldin related a story of how the President, in internal meetings here at the beginning of the administration, insisted, despite the opposition of some in the administration on keeping the space station going, and that was generally the tenor. They ended up for some reason talking about space toys from the 1940s and '50s, and that was basically it.
Q Joe, on taxes --
Q Thank you.
Q -- on taxes, can you give us a read on what --
MR. LOCKHART: What are space toys? What kind of space toys -- I'm sorry, on taxes.
Q What happened with the meeting yesterday with the Senate Finance Democrats?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, the President met with Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee and there was general agreement on the approach that the White House has outlined as far as first things first, paying down debt, getting Social Security and Medicare protected and modernized, and then looking, once you've done that, at how you can cut taxes, at what level, how you do it.
I think the President and the Democrats are, again, in general agreement about the size, that once you've done all the numbers, you've looked at the commitment to defense, the commitment to education and the environment, out over the years; that the size you're looking at is somewhere between $250 billion and $300 billion, which is what the President has put forward in his proposal, and he committed to working with them as far as how you actually do that.
There are a variety of ideas. We believe that the real advantage to the proposal the President has put forward with $250 billion for retirement savings is, it addresses both the need to -- or the desire to cut taxes, and the need to increase retirement savings for a lot of Americans. But there are some other ideas within this context that the President will discuss as we go forward with Democrats, and I think, again, there was a general agreement that this approach represented sound fiscal policy as opposed to the approach that the Republicans had put forward, which represents what we think would be reckless fiscal policy going out over the next 10 years.
Q But the President's not embracing their tax plan?
MR. LOCKHART: No, no. But he committed to working with them every -- as he said, work with them every step of the way as we move forward within this context.
Q In what way? If he's not accepting their plan and insists on his plan instead, how are they going to work it out?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that the President believes his plan is right, but as long as you're in the context of getting first things done first and we get that done, we can have an honest negotiation where different ideas come in. The President is not saying that everything he has put forward represents -- or that there isn't some room for modification, but as long as it's in the context of the kind of -- the size which will allow you to do the paydown of the national debt and Social Security and Medicare.
Q That $300 billion figure does seem to leave room for some extras that the President hasn't proposed, is that right? He's conceding some additional tax cuts?
MR. LOCKHART: No, the President -- it depends upon how you look at the President's program. The President's tax cut proposal or budget proposes a gross number of $320 billion, which has things like long-term tax credit. The net number is $250 billion. So it is within that range. I think the important point is not the actual -- whether you're looking at $250 billion or $251 billion; you're looking at whether you can accomplish the things that we need to do first, and those are clearly paying down the debt, which there will be an enormous benefit from as far as the amount of money that goes to paying off interest payments, and strengthening and extending the solvency of Social Security and Medicare.
As differentiated from the Republican approach, we believe that this represents a much sounder policy option. You know, the Secretary of Treasury, Mr. Summers, will tell you that a one percent drop in mortgage rates for the American public over 10 years is like a $250 billion tax cut. We have low interest rates now; we have low unemployment; we have low inflation. That is all part of the virtuous circle of sound fiscal policy of not deficits, but surpluses. And we face a choice of whether we want to reverse that and try something different, or whether we want to stick with fiscal discipline. And we believe that the results that we've seen over the last six and a half, seven years will continue if we stick to the right course.
Q Joe, you talk about the President wanting to get into a routine of regular press conferences every four to six weeks. Last year he gave very few because of the impeachment scandal. Is it safe to say that he's making up for lost time as his administration begins to wind down?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't say that I've thought that much about it. I just thought it would be a good idea if we did one every four to six weeks.
Q What persuaded the President that that was a good idea?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President enjoys press conferences. It's a good test of his knowledge, it's a good test of your stamina, and -- but there are just times where they're not necessarily the most productive thing to do.
Q Isn't Bill on to something?
MR. LOCKHART: We can not do this. (Laughter.)
Q It used to be that you couldn't get him to go back to the podium; now you can't get him to go away from the podium. I mean, he seems to be so much more interested in answering our questions, talking to us at length. I'm wondering if he is trying to get the most out of the remaining time he's got on stage, or he feels suddenly different about the press. What is it?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think that our agenda has moved to something -- the questions you're asking on a regular basis are the issues that we're working on. He enjoys talking about these things, from -- all of you have spent time with him, you know how much he enjoys discussing the different policy proposals and the political aspects of the debate that goes on between us and Congress, and it's just something he enjoys doing.
Q Joe, you obviously would like your own tax cut package and its components. The centerpiece of the Democratic alternatives is this increased standard deduction, which would amount to about $169 billion. What is your view on that?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we believe that there's benefit in doing the USA Accounts because of -- I'm going to get to it -- because of its ability to provide a tax cut and increase retirement spending. I think what the President said to the Democrats last night was, we're having the right debate here; we're having a debate about a tax cut we can afford that won't ruin the economy, won't drive interest rates up, won't blow a hole in the surplus and create deficits again. And we're going to have discussions about how to do that. It's at least having the right debate, though. What's going on now, we believe, with the Republican proposals is something that there's no room for negotiating, there's no room for talking, because it's fundamentally the wrong policy.
Q You said that Secretary Summers had a one percent reduction and that that would be like a tax cut. Has he also projected -- you mentioned that there's a fear that a Republican tax cut would raise interest rates.
MR. LOCKHART: Right.
Q Do you have projections on that?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that they've done that kind of work. I know that they can look back over the last six years and look forward to the amount of money -- lower mortgage payments put in people's pockets. It is a concern, though. I mean, we look at the $4-trillion number that it will be the cost of the Republican proposal going into the second decade -- that if you add the two decades together, I don't think that accounts for higher interest rates, because it's not a tax issue.
But it certainly means it's higher costs on the American -- I think the overall point he's made, and I think it's a sound one, is that this kind of proposal, while it may seem appealing on the surface, will actually, ultimately mean higher costs for Americans, both in taxes down the road, because the government still has to run, and in payments as far as inflation, as far as higher mortgage rates, higher credit card rates, higher loan rates for other things that people borrow money for.
So, fundamentally, this is not an issue of politics or political philosophy, it's what's the right economic policy for the country.
Q The Israelis yesterday were saying that they were looking for some sort of commitment from the U.S. for multibillion-dollar assistance on relocating people from the Golan Heights and complying with every other aspect of the peace treaty beyond the money the President is seeking for Wye. Did that come up, did the President make any commitment to a large amount of new assistance.
MR. LOCKHART: I am only aware of the announcements and the discussions about the military aid that we've been providing, and also the President calling for expedited aid that relates to the Wye agreement. As far as beyond that, I'd just have to check. P.J., do you have anything?
COLONEL CROWLEY: Just like Wye, we will evaluate what the security impact is of a peace agreement that will cross other tracks, and we will work with Israel accordingly.
MR. LOCKHART: Part of the Wye agreement for both sides was what the implications were for the sides and how the U.S. could help. So, as P.J. said, I think that will be a factor as we go forward into final discussions.
Q But you were talking about phasing -- and the Israelis are talking about phasing out economic assistance. Now they get about $3 billion altogether -- you're talking about 10 years from now, being at $2.4 billion of military aid alone. That sounds like the U.S. is going to be reducing its aid to Israel.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think -- I don't have the numbers here in front of me, but we're certainly discussing restructuring the aid to focus exclusively at the end of this on the security issues, and we will work with them on what the appropriate level of aid needs to be.
Q Joe, is the President aware of demonstrations in both New York and Washington, plus cancellation of a $100,000 bequest in Baltimore because Hadassah is giving its top award to Mrs. Clinton, whom Jones Riskey (phonetic) of the New York Times describes as "embodying the most pernicious type of antagonism towards Israel"?
MR. LOCKHART: I sincerely doubt he's aware of that.
Q Could you make him aware, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: Probably not.
Q When the President goes on vacation, does he now think -- or when Congress leaves, the Congress goes on its vacation without you really knowing which way these issues are going to abe resolved, the big-ticket items -- tax cuts, Social Security, Medicare -- does he expect during that period of August and September, he's going to have to do a lot of speech-ifying to lobby for his position?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, judging from what we know now, a lot of issues will remain open. I mean, I think the great debate that's going on in Washington right now about taxes and the budget isn't between the Democrats and the Republicans -- it's between the Republicans. So they have some issues to resolve. And hopefully, as happens so often, members will go back to their district, they'll get an earful from their constituents about what they want to do -- I think it's pretty clear that people really want to see action on Social Security and Medicare, they want to see the debt paid down. They'd like taxes cut, but they want it done responsibly. So I think -- it's certainly reasonable to think that when they return from their vacation rested and having had a chance to talk to their constituents that we can make some real progress.
Q Joe, can you tell us what the President is doing in Georgetown tonight?
MR. LOCKHART: The President -- yes. There are two events tonight, and I just didn't get to them this morning at our morning session. The first one is a DNC fundraiser that there will be a print pooler representative. The second one is a meeting of people who -- young people, a mixed group, some -- I think mostly Democrats who have not, to date, really been real participants in the party and in the process.
And I think the DNC leadership wanted a chance to get the President and see if we could get them involved in the process, see if maybe down the road they could be participants as far as being involved and being donors to the party. So it's really a kind of get-to-know-you session with a group of people who are not part of the sort of Democratic establishment here in Washington.
Q Is the second group the entrepreneurs?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. Yes, it's what was in the paper this morning.
Q So he's basically grooming future donors to the party? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Could be, if all goes well.
Q What's the coverage for that, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: That is closed.
MR. LOCKHART: Because it's not a fundraiser, it's a social event put together by Melissa Moss and Jonathan Silver, and hopefully they will be so interested in their conversations with the President that they'll come along and be part of --
Q Is he making remarks to them or is it mix and mingle?
MR. LOCKHART: It's mix and mingle, but I can't imagine the President would go to someone's house and not make remarks.
Q Is it true that the Friday event in Cincinnati is closed, the press plane will go straight to Colorado?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think it's closed. There's a pool coverage. I think it's one of these ones where we'll take you all to Cincinnati so that you can sit at the airport, or we can get you out to Aspen early and -
Q Cincinnati. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Cincinnati?
Q AP votes for Cincinnati.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, you're there anyway, so I wouldn't worry about it. As will all the other Hunts, I'm afraid -- they're all in Cincinnati, right? Your family, you know them. (Laughter.)
Q Since you'll have the pool with the President at this second event in Georgetown, could a print pooler go in only for the President's remarks?
MR. LOCKHART: If any of you want to, or if you want to as the appropriate person, litigate this with me when I'm not standing here in front of all these lights, I'd be glad to.
Q Thank you.
END 1:37 P.M. EDT