THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
12:23 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Questions. I've got no announcements for you. Let's get right to it.
Q Does the President have a problem fundamentally with what Mrs. Clinton said about him in her interview in Talk Magazine?
MR. LOCKHART: No, not at all. I think the President generally agrees with the sentiments that the First Lady expressed and with the fact that she did the interview and expressed these views.
Q What about the suggestion that there may have been some sort of abuse as a child?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think -- much of this is an old story, but there was some suggestion yesterday about some sort of physical abuse or something, and I can tell you that that's not the case. But the issues, the difficult issues the President faced growing up are a matter of record, the President has talked about them; the President's mother has written a book where she talks somewhat extensively about the problems in the household.
I think, as I said, the President is comfortable with what the First Lady has said. He has said in public that he faced difficulties, he faced responsibilities in his family, but, overall, he feels blessed with the kind of life that --
Q Did he read it?
MR. LOCKHART: When I talked to him this morning, he hadn't seen the whole article, but he had seen some of the reports on it.
Q One of the sentiments she expresses is that perhaps the reason he has had difficulties over the years is because he was under the pressure of being torn between a mother and grandmother. That is assigning some kind of responsibility elsewhere. Does he disagree with that part of --
MR. LOCKHART: I've read the whole article and I think the President and the First Lady completely agree. She expresses at another point in that article that he is responsible for his actions. The President has stated openly, publicly, that he is responsible for all of his actions and he's working hard to make right some mistakes he's made within his family.
Q Joe, I know that you've chosen this word "faced difficulties," "difficult issues" -- I guess you've chosen that word carefully. But there's a difference between saying, as a youth I faced difficulties, and saying, as a youth I was abused. So does the President believe that he was abused as a child?
MR. LOCKHART: David, there is a difference. But I'd suggest you go back and look at the article and look at what she said, because she didn't say that.
Q She said he was scarred by abuse.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. And take that for what it should mean, which is there were difficulties in his family, he faced issues that were hard on him, they were hard on his family. These are all well documented. There is nothing new here. There is no -- excuse me, let me finish, Helen -- there are no new revelations to be made here. It is simply a reflection on his life, which is not unique. There are many people who face issues like this.
But, overall, the important thing is the President has expressed repeatedly, for those who ask, the idea that despite these difficulties he felt blessed with his life, with his family, with the love that he got and that there's nothing new here.
Q Joe, the thing that is new here is the suggestion that there's a connection between this conflict between his mother and his grandmother, the abuse he suffered because of it, and his adult behavior in his marriage.
MR. LOCKHART: Let me leave the suggestions to you and to others. I read the article. It is very clear on the subject of who's responsible for who's actions and the President has spoken directly to that.
Q I'm not saying that it says he isn't responsible. I'm saying that Mrs. Clinton seems to have drawn a connection between those -- that kind of abuse and his infidelity.
MR. LOCKHART: That may be what it seems to be and I'm not in a position --
Q You're saying she was not trying to draw any connection?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to critique line by line the article.
Q But, Joe, how can you not draw any other inference from the fact that she's asked about his infidelities and she talks about his abuse?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me say the article speaks for itself. The President is comfortable with what was expressed in the article. He thought -- I think he and others believe that it was a generally favorable article about the First Lady.
Q There is a suggestion -- the reporter claims that friends say the President is going to seek therapy after he leaves the Oval Office. Is he comfortable with that?
MR. LOCKHART: We've gone down the road of friends say an awful lot in the last couple years here. I don't know anything about that. That's never been expressed to me. My understanding is the President continues to deal with the ministers that he talked about at the outset. I can't tell you about the details of that because they're private, but he has sought to work with the ministers who he's close with and friendly with, and that's the extent of it.
Q Joe, the First Lady has also --
Q Some of these ministers have degrees in other areas, like psychological -- well, psychology degrees. Is he dealing with ministers who have psychology degrees and deal on other issues --
MR. LOCKHART: April, I don't have the slightest idea. I know who the ministers are. I don't have the slightest idea what degrees --
Q Can you tell us who they are?
MR. LOCKHART: No, because this is something that's private. Although -- although at least one of them has not made a secret of the fact that he's talked to the President.
Q You've said some of these things are private, yet the First Lady's Chief of Staff is quoted as saying there's been an increase in the kind of physical passion between them. Now that puts it out as --
MR. LOCKHART: Puts what out?
Q Well, as an --
MR. LOCKHART: I was talking about his conversations with the ministers, which are private. And that's as it should be. I don't see how that relates to --
Q Do others in the White House staff feel the way Mrs. Clinton's Chief of Staff does, that there is a change in the President and the First Lady's relationship in what she's described as an increased --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. I haven't questioned the White House staff on that.
Q Joe, one of the things that is a little remarkable about this is that the President has repeatedly denied infidelities, and here's the First Lady laying out what appears to be a pattern of infidelity throughout their entire marriage, to the point of which she's even saying that the few years in the middle when there weren't any infidelities, which she points out as a sign of --
MR. LOCKHART: Jim, I've read the article, and I didn't take that from the article.
Q Well, but isn't she -- she is saying, in fact, that there have been a number of infidelities in her marriage, is she not?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the article speaks for itself.
Q Well, but if that is the case, the President has always denied that. How can the President be comfortable with his wife --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, you're now putting words in everybody's mouth, so -- I think the article speaks for itself. John?
Q Joe, let me just get specific about Gennifer Flowers. The President, who was not the President at the time, made the statement in '92, this was a woman I did not sleep with, denying any sexual allegations. Later on in testimony he acknowledged he had had a one-time only sexual relationship with Gennifer Flowers.
Mrs. Clinton, in the interview in Talk, refers to Gennifer Flowers and talks about it, after the Gennifer episode she thought he had -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- cleaned up his act, so to speak. This indicates that she knew about Gennifer Flowers at a time when he was publicly denying it. So she did know.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have the slightest idea.
Q Was there -- some people think that she wanted to get this out now to sort of preemptively take this stance before the politics of New York State get going. Was there, in your assessment, some sort of political strategy in here decision to talk about this right now?
MR. LOCKHART: None that I know of. It's a legitimate question to put to her spokesperson, but there's none that I know of.
Q Do you know why she did this now?
MR. LOCKHART: I think Marsha Berry did a good job of explaining yesterday, and I'll repeat what she said because I don't know anything more about it -- is that this was someone that she was talking to she felt comfortable with and who asked some questions and she answered them.
Q But George Stephanopoulos yesterday said the White House staff, meaning you, were blind-sided. Were you?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I understood from the First Lady's staff a couple weeks ago that she had talked to the magazine, that there would be an article coming out that I should look out for. (Laughter.)
Q Did they give you a sense of what would be in it?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I didn't press. I think they do a pretty good job of keeping us informed.
Q Let me see if I've got this straight. Your view is that the article does not assert that the President has had a long history of infidelities and does not assert that the President was the victim of child abuse in some form or fashion?
MR. LOCKHART: Certainly on the child abuse it asserts the facts, what's been talked about, that the President had difficulties within his family. These are well known. These are things that have been gone over, and cross-examined, and psychoanalyzed by many who are unprepared or unqualified to do so. But they've all been done.
Q But the person closest to him in life is referring to it as child abuse.
MR. LOCKHART: Read the article. And I think you'll -- read the article and look at the sentence, and I think you might take a different view than what you've just said.
Q Would trauma be a better word than abuse? Would trauma be a better word than abuse?
MR. LOCKHART: I think they all -- you guys are basically forgetting the facts, and trying to find a word, and taking the word, and trying to fill in some facts to fit it. The facts here are known. The idea of his family life is known. This was a way to describe difficulties in the family, and it shouldn't mean anything more than that. And it doesn't mean anything more than that.
Q But we're asking about the President's --
MR. LOCKHART: Affected? I can't imagine that there's anyone who is an adult who isn't affected by how they grew up.
Q But we're asking about the President's response or reaction to this article. And you say that he finds it generally positive and agrees with the sentiments. In it she quite clearly says she believes her husband has been -- was scarred by abuse. That was her phrase.
MR. LOCKHART: Her phrase. Yes.
Q And he agrees with that?
MR. LOCKHART: He is comfortable with the way she talked about things and the way that she expressed her views.
Q Joe, let me make clear one other thing, if I could.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Are you disputing what appears to be the thrust of her comments, which is that the President has had a lifelong, a marriage-long problem with infidelity?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me put it to you this way. I'm not going to get into, standing here, issues that the President has addressed directly and has nothing more to say on. And I'm not going to get into any more detail on this. I have said that he's comfortable with the article, and the fact that she did it. And that's all I can say.
Q Did the First Lady consult him in advance before opening up on this subject?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q And was he surprised at the depth --
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. I can't think that anyone would be surprised that these questions would come up, and at some point she'd provide some answers.
Q Joe, in any political campaign or potential campaign, you always bring in the spouse and your relationship. Is the President and the White House anticipating more unearthed facts about the past, to let America -- or New York -- know --
MR. LOCKHART: April, that question presumes that we're dealing with unearthing more facts here. We're not. That's -- what we're dealing with here is going over things that we know. And as far as I can tell from reading the article, there's nothing new here.
Q Words like "trauma" and "abused" were used. They weren't used like that before --
MR. LOCKHART: I think if you read -- if you look at what the President's mother talked about, if you look at her book, you'll find that these aren't new ideas.
Q Joe, not to belabor the point, but what's new, obviously, is the First Lady blaming the President's infidelities, at least in part, on his abuse.
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't quite draw a straight line between the two, but that is an interpretation that you all will have to make for yourself.
Q Does Stephanopoulos have an entree in the White House? I mean, he has a close relationship, that he would know what the thinking was.
MR. LOCKHART: Beats me.
Q But Joe, you're trying to tell us that the First Lady made no connection between -- in this article -- between the President's childhood and his infidelities?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I'm trying to caution you from trying to overemphasize the importance. But I have no greater insight than any of you do on that, so I can't offer you any critique.
Q Joe, she said in the article that she thought he had worked through this 10 years ago. Did he go through any sort of counseling or therapy 10 years ago, before he entered office?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Sorry to change the subject. (Laughter.) Tomorrow's --
MR. LOCKHART: We'll be back.
Q Tomorrow's event in Chicago, what will --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, the President will be dealing primarily with some of the first solid numbers coming out as a result of the 1996 Welfare-to-Work Act. And I think the message that he'll be delivering tomorrow is that the Welfare-to-Work Initiative has worked. It's worked all over the country, in every state of the country. It has exceeded, in many places, our expectations. And that there's still more work to be done. But fundamentally, the President's initiative to move people from welfare to work has worked around this country.
Q At the time he talked a lot about employers were going to have to take a chance on people coming off welfare. Is there going to be any kind of a thrust in that direction tomorrow? I mean, does corporate --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President has -- you've seen him standing side-by-side with Eli Segal and those in the Welfare To Work partnership. This really is a success story that involves both the way the federal government has worked, with the way state and local government has worked and why corporate America has worked. There have been tens of thousands of companies now who have taken a chance, brought people in off the welfare rolls -- and the vast majority of those have been very happy with the results.
Q You don't deny that there have been those who don't have the safety net anymore, are not getting adequate pay and have really suffered a hardship under this cocoon?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there is certainly more work to be done and the President recognizes that. But, overall, if you look back, particularly with the new numbers, the numbers the President will talk about tomorrow, the Welfare To Work initiative has been a success story.
Q And that's it, he's not doing anything else in Chicago, no other --
MR. LOCKHART: It's Welfare To Work -- I don't know what else he has on the schedule. Okay, nothing else --
Q There's no fundraiser, no nothing?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Has the administration -- dates and numbers that they had plotted for?
MR. LOCKHART: For the White House?
Q The White House as well as --
MR. LOCKHART: Let me do the White House first. I think we have gone past our number. We did that sometime ago. We brought on a total of eight, we have seven currently working here. As far as the federal government goes, our target was 10,000 by the year 2000, we're already at 14,000. The Vice President made that announcement this morning, I believe. So, yes and yes.
Q How disappointed were you that four Senate Democrats chose to support the Republican tax bill? You've described the bill as very irresponsible and many other things and, yet, four leading Democrats actually, or at least three of them leaders in the party, decided to support it. Is that a disappointment to you?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President believes we've taken a long, hard look at the numbers and the numbers -- certainly the numbers the Republicans are talking about don't add up. You can't do what we all say we want to do -- and I think we share with those Democratic leaders a commitment to shoring up Social Security and providing for Medicare and providing for investments -- but the numbers at $800 billion, the numbers at $500 billion, frankly, don't add up.
So we're going to continue -- I don't think whether they be Republican leaders or Democratic leaders who voted with Republicans, have come forward and demonstrated how you can both do what we need to do on Social Security and Medicare and avoid the kind of cuts up to 50 percent in domestic discretionary spending to avoid going back into deficit spending. So we'd be happy if someone could provide some sort of road map that got us there, but it just can't be done.
Q But I'm asking more as a political matter. I mean, is it really a bad sign? I mean, if they had that many Democrats who would support that large a tax cut, if we're talking about a $500 billion tax cut --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, we talked about a -- they did talk about a $500 billion tax cut and they couldn't even get it to the floor. So let's deal with reality. Forty-one out of 45 Democrats I think were satisfied with it.
Q Let me just ask one more follow-up on that. I mean, also one of your key criticisms of this tax cut package is that it would infringe on Social Security and Medicare. And, yet, I think John Breaux and Bob Kerrey, who were both appointed by Senator Daschle to be on the Medicare Commission, cannot be accused of being -- they've been leaders on those issues. Doesn't that undermine your argument a little bit? How do you account for their --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think it does, because I think the numbers speak for themselves. We have put out real numbers that you don't need smoke and mirrors to make work on what we need to do. Senator Breaux had some ideas on Medicare that the President doesn't agree with. It's an honest disagreement. It does not bode negatively for their relationship and their ability to work on other issues. But we believe, as the President said, we need to do first things first, at Social Security and Medicare, and he just can't do it. You just can't do it and provide for a $900 billion tax cut.
Q But he said specifically that the Republican tax cut does nothing for Medicare. So you're saying that Senator Breaux and Kerrey would support a bill that does nothing for Medicare.
MR. LOCKHART: They have certainly, in this case, supported this tax plan that doesn't make the investment in Social Security and Medicare that's needed. Again, when you look at the -- you take the Medicare Commission, for example, that we had some policy disputes. The President believes that Senator Breaux moved the ball a long way, but we have some disputes over raising the eligibility age and some of the premium income support, where we just disagree. It's just that simple.
Q Joe, do you want to take another stab at explaining what kind of deal was at stake in the President nominating Ted Stuart for U.S. District Court judgeship and what that means for his relationship with --
MR. LOCKHART: Can you read back what I said this morning?
Q Well, you said it was unintelligible, what he said this morning. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Okay. So the challenge here is to be unintelligible, make it even more unintelligible. We have a number of nominees that have been stalled in the committee. It's our hope that Senator Hatch, now that his main obsession on one candidate and all of his time is freed up from worrying and fretting over that, that he will find some time to turn his attention to other nominees. We've already seen a little bit of progress on that and we hope to see more.
Q Joe, what about your position now -- the President is going to declare disaster areas in some agricultural sectors -- what about the $10 billion supplemental that the Democrats in the Senate were pushing?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there is a proposal. As you know, we have over the last couple of years had to through the year provide some emergency relief. The President believes that there are some fundamental safety-net issues that Freedom to Farm has left farmers exposed to, and those -- they're quite technical within the farm program, but have to do with crop insurance and market assistance payments to farmers in times of desperate need. I think the President -- before getting out this year on emergency relief -- believes that Congress needs to take a more fundamental look at the Freedom to Farm measure that passed in 1996, because otherwise we might be forced to face this kind of cycle of emergency spending every year, and he doesn't think that's the best way to go about that.
So, hopefully, Congress can take a look at how some of the Ag programs are administered and then we can look at the needs of real farmers this year to see what kind of emergency relief they may need.
Q So it's not enough of a crisis to have to act immediately with a supplemental?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think -- we have done an enormous amount of stuff as far as reprogramming, tripling the amount of wheat that we've exported through some of the food programs -- so we continue to work to address these problems. I think we just had an initiative on pork within the last month or so. So it isn't an either/or. We continue to address the problems -- the real problems that farmers face across this country and will continue to do that, but we do think that there need to be some changes. We asked Congress last year for some fixes. We will talk to them again this year about trying to get some of those implemented. But I think that needs to be addressed rather than -- in an attempt to avoid a year-by-year emergency spending cycle.
Q So no supplemental? No supplemental?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there's no supplemental right now, but I think there's clearly needs for farmers, and as we move through this year, and as we address some of the structural problems within the farm programs there may, very well, be some emergency funding.
Q Well, what we're saying is obviously the administration doesn't think that it's necessary to move now, or that it's not so pressing.
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think what the administration is doing is we are moving now. We're doing a number of things --
Q How soon would a review be over? And how soon could Congress --
MR. LOCKHART: These things are all going on concurrently within Congress. Congress will only be here for another two months this year. We're not talking about delaying something, you know, into next year or the year beyond. This will all get done within this Congress. And we will support what the President believes are appropriate changes, if we can get them done, in the structural farm programs, and the appropriate level of emergency funding, should we deem that necessary.
Q Joe, just to be clear, when you say we've done things already, like reprogramming, tripling the wheat index -- those are things you can do without Congress?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Okay. And then you're also asking for Congress to make these structural changes.
MR. LOCKHART: Right. That is correct.
Q Do you have a proposal of structural changes --
MR. LOCKHART: We sent up a bunch of ideas last year, not all of which was implemented. I don't have a precise what got left out, what got in.
Q So there is a vehicle?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, there's certainly things -- there's certainly a framework for this discussion. And we hope we can make some of these changes.
Q How often is this discussion occurring? Are you talking to Daschle's people about this, or Republicans, or aides actively working this issue --
MR. LOCKHART: We talk to farm state Senators on a regular basis, both Democrats and Republicans.
Q Just to clarify this, prior to those structural changes being addressed, the President would not back an emergency supplemental right now?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think -- this process is going along, as I said, concurrently. We have done a number of things to try to ease the plight of farmers.
Q I'm talking about the specific $10 billion request.
MR. LOCKHART: I understand that. We've done a number of things to try to ease the plight of farmers, through reprogramming the way money goes out, getting more assistance to farmers. We've also done things today, very specific things like disaster areas, which I think will impact. As we move forward in the year, we will assess the need and the level of emergency spending. But we don't want this thing to get lost -- the overall debate should not get lost, and we should not try to solve this problem every year through an emergency farm legislation, or through emergency spending.
Q Joe, what do you make of Wen Ho Lee's -- on China spying, what do you make of Wen Ho Lee's comments yesterday on 60 Minutes, that it's common practice for computers to transfer secret information from classified to unclassified?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know -- I have no way to assess whether it's common practice. What I do know is that that would violate the internals safeguards within the Energy Department. So whether it's common or not, it shouldn't be done.
Q Well, the charge is that John Deutsch did the same thing, and was given a slap on the wrist, yet Wen Ho Lee, when he did it, lost his job and has been abused ever since.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not familiar with those charges. I'd refer you over to the Energy Department on that. As far as the overall allegations of espionage, which have been well-reported, that is something the Justice Department is looking into, and I'm not in a position to comment on.
Q One more on agriculture. I mean, given that there are other things that you said you're doing, and that you might reform the Freedom to Farm Act, and so forth, and that there's not a need, maybe, to do this bill right away, doesn't $10 billion sound like a lot of money, even down the line, for an emergency spending bill?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, all Americans understand that $10 billion is a lot of money. We will realistically look at what we can do as far as making changes in the program, and then realistically look at what needs to be done as far as emergency spending. But that hasn't been done yet.
Q Will the President veto the $4 billion emergency supplemental to pay for the census?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me look into that. I haven't seen that we've done a SAP on that. Supplemental on census?
MR. TOIV: I don't think we have.
Q He clearly doesn't think it's an emergency.
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, whether it comes -- I'm sorry. As far as the overall budget context, it's clearly not -- emergencies are something that you can't predict. I'd love to have a ticket for the Republican explaining how they couldn't predict the census. That would be a pretty good routine.
Whether and how that will come down here, I don't know. It's not clear to me that it will come down here as a clean supplemental on just one issue. So we'll have to take that as it comes.
Q Thank you.
END 12:45 P.M. EDT