THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
1:55 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: A couple of things. One is, final escort for the event is now. Mr. Bernstein will take you from the outside door, anyone who wants to go -- we'll give you a minute. Secondly, before the President leaves tomorrow, at 7:05 a.m., he'll make a statement on departure. I expect him to weigh in on some of the budget and tax items that we've been talking about, as we expect some votes to take place in the Senate tomorrow. That's at 7:05 a.m., for all of you who won't be on the press plane at a much earlier hour.
Q Is that a hard 7:05 a.m. -- (laughter) -- or is that sort of a loose 7:05 a.m.?
MR. LOCKHART: It's a hard 7:05 a.m., but I'd urge you to remember that it is this White House who says 7:05 a.m. So it might be later.
Q Just a general question on foreign policy. A few months ago things were kind of on the skids. You know, we had Primakov turning his jet around, flying away; and things with China were at an all-time low; India-Pakistan looked on the brink. Do you feel like it has sort of turned a corner lately? And how much has the President been in engaged in that, as opposed to, say, budget?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's difficult to take a snapshot of foreign policy at one particular time and say it's going well or it's not going well. It's a complicated world. It's a dangerous world. It's one that needs constant engagement and constant attention from the President. The United States has a unique role in the world, which the President takes quite seriously. And he continues to work hard in times when issues are complicated, where events are flaring around the world, or in times where parties are finding a way to bridge their differences and work out their differences.
The one constant -- as the NSC team, the State Department team, those at the Pentagon who worry about this will tell you -- is that there are always areas around the world that deserve attention and the President remains constantly engaged.
Q Does the President think that the Arkansas State flag is a symbol of racism as the New York City Council member said yesterday?
MR. LOCKHART: You know, I've never talked to the President on this subject. I've never heard him express any view like that, though.
Q Are you aware of the story?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not. I had not seen the story. I'd only seen goofy stories about someone from New York being in Arkansas. (Laughter.)
Q It contends one of the stars on the Arkansas flag represents the Confederacy --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I've just never heard any discussion or any objections that the President has raised.
Q Will you take the question?
MR. LOCKHART: Sure I'll ask him about it.
Q Joe, does the President have any thoughts on the Connecticut River being raised for Vice President Gore? And on whether that might impact Mr. Gore's election prospects in New Hampshire?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he indicated that he's not going to get into a handicapping role. So on the second question, he won't speculate. On the first question, I think the Vice President's Office has adequately addressed that.
Q Joe, you said someone from New York, that was a goofy thing for him to be in Arkansas. But, seriously, why do you really feel that he needed to be in Arkansas --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the Mayor of New York can answer for himself. He seems more than adequate -- has more than adequate abilities to speak. I think the President made an important point last week when he said that campaigns are about ideas, and it's about listening to the public, understanding their concerns and talking about how you want to change things, what you have to offer.
The Mayor recently has seemed interested only in someone else's candidacy. You know, he's traveled to Chicago, he's traveled to Arkansas. It's very hard to see how that impacts any of the concerns of New Yorkers -- how that impacts how he'll change things, what he'd plan to do if he ran for Senate. You know, it just seems a little goofy.
Q Is the President --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think he's probably been used as most everybody else here.
Q Joe, to follow up to what I was saying -- so he's looking back behind his -- that's showing that he's scared of a candidate who has not officially said that she's a candidate --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, you know -- I don't know that he's scared, but it's hard to see -- it's hard to see how traveling to Illinois and Arkansas helps create jobs in New York, helps people who have health care concerns, helps people who need a patients' bill of rights -- those are the kind of issues that the public is concerned about. And it's just hard to see how traveling around the country making jokes impacts, in a serious way, any kind of election.
Q The President said that everyone should have some fun, though, right?
MR. LOCKHART: Everybody has got to pick their own way to have fun. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, on the question of Confederate battle insignia, there has been discussion and controversy, and many African-Americans have been worked up in recent days in Richmond over display of the picture of General Robert E. Lee. Does the President have an opinion on this Confederate resurgence and what it symbolizes, and whether or not that's divisive or anti-patriotic, to try to display the Confederate battle flag?
MR. LOCKHART: I honestly have not had a discussion --
Q Would you take that, along with --
MR. LOCKHART: I think his views on bridging and healing the racial divide in this country are quite well-known, and his actions on that subject. But I haven't discussed any of the specifics. If I get a chance, I'll see if he's seen any of these stories.
Q Joe, why was Wesley Clark relieved -- being relieved ahead of schedule? What does the President have to say?
MR. LOCKHART: I think Sandy -- I mean, I'll be --
Q -- I might have -- I didn't understand --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I did it this morning, Sandy just did it here, but I'll be glad to do it again, because I've got nothing else to do.
As Sandy indicated, the CINCS are generally appointed for two years, and maybe then extended for up to a year. General Clark was scheduled to finish his term in July, I think, of next year. Because of an idiosyncrasy in the way the Pentagon works, General Ralston, who was the choice to replace General Clark, was finishing his term at the Joint Chiefs as the number two there, and needed to move from one job to the other in order to avoid having to face some retirement issues.
So it was the Secretary of Defense's recommendation -- and the President agreed -- to move up, by a month or two, General Clark's reassignment.
Q Is that the only reason?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. That's the only reason.
Q Why wasn't that explanation made last night? Do you know?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think sometimes people go into a story with a source, with either someone who doesn't have access to the full facts providing them, or with an idea or an attitude about what the story is, rather than --
Q There were requests for the NSC, over and over, to comment on this last night, in plenty of time for the deadline. And the answer was "no comment."
MR. LOCKHART: Well, you know, you asked me a question. I just answered it. If you had a question for me last night, you should have put it to me.
Q Was General Clark notified of the situation with Ralston before he was told that --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I'm --
Q -- that's a fairly straightforward --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I'm not going to get into how the Pentagon went forward in this reshuffle. But the reasons for it, I just articulated.
Q Joe, you know I've been asking about the expenses incurred by police departments, sheriff's departments, state patrols, et cetera, when the President goes on fund-raising trips. There's now apparently a second case in which folks in Cincinnati are preparing to see how much money was expended during the President's brief stop there, there's been some talk about trying to find some way to get this reimbursed.
Basically, what obligations do local law enforcement agencies have to provide security when the President is out raising funds for the Democratic Party?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think as all presidents travel around the country, whether they're Democrats or Republicans, they require security cooperation from local authorities. That, obviously, from all of you who travel with us understand, requires some commitment of resources. This is nothing new. I think what's new here is that there are some people who are not necessarily supporters of the President who have decided it's time to try to make a political issue about the President traveling.
The President has traveled extensively talking about issues. He's traveled from time to time talking about politics. That requires -- there are just some minimum security that has to be taken care of, and that is -- we are in year seven here. This is nothing new.
Q But, Joe, even if this is politically motivated, it's a legitimate question. I mean, you guys pay -- the DNC reimburses the cost of these trips, these political trips, based on a formula, right?
MR. LOCKHART: Correct.
Q And so why wouldn't that reimbursement include some of the local expenses?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think I would question how legitimate it is, coming today, as it's been going on like this for seven years. I don't remember any of these particular local officials raising the question when President Bush traveled to their area, or when President Reagan traveled to their area. And if there were Democrats who raised those questions when they did, I'd suggest that it was about politics.
Q Joe, on another subject, this computer situation that Sandy was talking about, he said it's happened at the Defense Department. We know it's happened here. But has it happened at the IRS?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any particular incident at the IRS. That doesn't preclude that there hasn't been one that I don't know about. But there have been a series of intrusions into government computers, which raises the serious issue of how we protect our critical infrastructure. And that's what PDD 63 is about. That's what the inter-agency review that the NSC is leading is about. And it's about some of the steps we're going to be taking at the federal level to protect our computer systems.
Q That last situation here at the White House where the computer system went down for a couple of days -- what was the outcome of that?
MR. TOIV: -- the investigation was done by the Service.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think that there was an investigation done by the Service, so I'd have to refer you over to them on what they found from it. I never followed up with them.
Q Do they have suspects, or anything --
MR. LOCKHART: You'd have to talk to the Service.
Q Thank you.
END 2:05 P.M. EDT