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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release August 5, 1999
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                              JOE LOCKHART

The Briefing Room

1:09 P.M. EDT

MR. LOCKHART: Let me start with some administrative matters. As I was walking out, I received an important piece of information that warmed my heart. We've done some staff changes here, and I know you all were very concerned about whether the normal care and feeding that you've gotten over the last few years was going to be kept up to the highest standard. And I know you all miss Michael Teague, but in my hands is proof that Mark Bernstein is up to Michael Teague's caliber, and -- here it is. (Laughter.) A man who does not worry about the President being four feet from him, fast asleep, getting his -- (laughter) -- there we go. There we go. So if anybody had any doubt whether Mark was up to the high standards of Mr. Teague -- done.

Second piece of news, I got a short e-mail just before I came out from Mrs. Sam Donaldson, saying that his surgery had gone well, and that everything was very positive from his operation, and that he would not be able to speak for three or four weeks. Five? For a moment there I thought it was cruelly timed with my vacation, but I'm not taking five weeks off, so -- (laughter.) Sam, any time you want to talk, I'm here.

Finally, on a more serious note, let me read a quick statement from the President about the Senate confirming Richard Holbrooke as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations.

I am deeply gratified that the Senate has approved Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke's nomination to be the U.S. Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations. I am grateful to Ambassador Holbrooke for his commitment to public service, and especially for his willingness to persevere through the confirmation process.

Vice President Gore, Secretary Albright and I welcome him back to our foreign policy team. With the U.N. facing significant challenges in Kosovo, Iraq, Africa and elsewhere, Ambassador Holbrooke is the right person to lead our efforts at the U.N. He will play a key role in working with Congress to meet our obligations and to secure needed reforms at the United Nations.

Since he joined the Foreign Service 37 years ago, Ambassador Holbrooke has served our nation with distinction in Asia, Africa and Europe. I am confident that he will represent the United States with dedication.

Q When will he be sworn in?

MR. LOCKHART: Working that out.

Q Will it be today?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think it's today, but we'll let you know.

Q Will he be sort of temporarily sworn in and then have a formal swearing-in with a big delegation at some later point?

MR. LOCKHART: I think my first non-answer to that should indicate I don't know that either. (Laughter.)

Q You say the President is deeply gratified that he's been confirmed. Is the President deeply miffed that it took this long?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, you know, we obviously have some concern about the process that Mr. Holbrooke and some other of the President's nominees have gone through. We're gratified that he now will be able to serve and assume the role -- a very important role -- but we do have concerns that some of the members of the Republican party in the Senate have repeatedly, now, and continually, are using strong-arm tactics, that have nothing to do with the nominees that we're putting up, in order to pursue a different agenda. I think there's no one who believes that the original intent of the framers of the Constitution was to justify this kind of process.

Having said that, we're going to continue to work with the Republican leadership. We've seen some progress on a number of areas recently, and we're going to continue to work to get through the kind of people the American public deserves in important posts.

Q How alarmed are you by the disappearance of the ethnic minority -- the Serbs -- in Kosovo?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think anyone who watched and knows the brutal activity that went on in Kosovo over the last year will understand the difficulty and the enormous challenge that faces the United Nations, KFOR, in keeping the peace and protecting the rights of both the overwhelming Kosovar-Albanian majority and the Serb minority. There have been many who have left. There are many who have stayed. It is our goal and our objective there to reverse the ethnic cleansing, which we've done, bring peace to the region -- to Kosovo -- which we've done, and now build the kind of institutions that can continue on, and build on, what we've already done.

I don't think there was ever any expectation that there wouldn't be some Serbs who would leave, who would make that decision. I think it's the goal there to build the kind of stable society and government that will protect all people in Kosovo, including the Serb minority who's staying -- and into the future, perhaps, entice many of those who've left to return.

Q Well, do you think that your efforts at building a true multi-ethnic society in Kosovo, where Serbs have the same rights as Albanians, have been successful?

MR. LOCKHART: I think, as everyone who knows anything about the hard work that goes in, this is a work in progress.

Q But you think that there is still a chance that you can actually --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think -- let me define it slightly differently than you have. I mean, Kosovo is not like Bosnia, where you have roughly equivalent, different ethnic groups, as far as population. This is a minority, the Serbs. But we have committed to protecting their rights, and their well-being, and creating an environment where they feel that they can live safely and prosper in Kosovo, as a minority. But this is something where there's a lot of hard work that is yet to be done.

Q I'm just wondering how you would assess KFOR's efforts so far, since most of the people in the region say that the Serbs do not feel safe, and there have been enough killings to suggest you haven't been able to live up to your commitments.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'd suggest there's a lot of important work that has been done. There's been a lot of progress, but there's still a lot of work that needs to be done.

Q Some humanitarian groups say as many as 75 percent of the Serbs have already left.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't have numbers. I know that, indeed, many have left, but there are still many who have stayed behind. And KFOR and the United Nations is working hard to make sure that those who remain are able to live safely.

Q Do you think the U.N. has been fast enough in putting together a police force to deal with some of these problems, since KFOR obviously can't deal with all of them?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think KFOR moved quickly, and I think the U.N. is moving quickly. These are not simple, easy problems to solve. I think much -- some of the discussion that's come out of the region has been somewhat oversimplified. But these are difficult issues and they have moved quickly to address them.

Q Back on Holbrooke for a minute, what negative consequences flowed from the long delay in getting him confirmed and from not having a confirmed U.N. Ambassador in the post?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President's foreign policy team is strong enough to have accommodated the Senate's long deliberation on Mr. Holbrooke. So I can't point to anything. But I do think it's important. The President is committed to the important work the U.N. does. And I think it's hard to argue with the idea that he should have been there sooner. But the point is he's there now and I think he'll do an excellent job.

Q Did it hurt our prestige at the U.N. during the 14 months when we had no confirmed --

MR. LOCKHART: I think Ambassador Burleigh did an incredible job in the circumstances. And I believe that if you look at the last year, that all you have to do is look at the kind of work that was done -- both from the Balkans to Iraq to Africa -- to know that the United States was effectively represented at the U.N.

Q At today's Cabinet meeting, will the President instruct Cabinet members to go out during the Congressional recess and make the point that the Republican Congress is on the wrong track both on the budget --

MR. LOCKHART: We did that weeks ago. I think the Cabinet members will be spending, each on their own schedule, some of the next month making the point about promoting the President's economic policy, and the potential impact of the Republican plan should it become law.

Q Can I follow up with one thing on that? Has the White House reached out to any of the moderate Republican Senators who have expressed some misgivings about the tax cut? Senators like McCain and Chafee?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think the White House has -- I'm not aware of any reaching out to them.

Q You expect it to pass tomorrow in the Senate?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not aware that we've reached out to anyone. I think the interesting point here is that it's hard to understand, if this is such a great plan, why so much arm-twisting is going on in the Senate right now. If this is so good for America, why -- right now, you've got behind closed doors a lot of heavy-duty convincing going on, among the Republican leadership, with some of their moderates.

Q Joe, we obviously know where the President stands on the next presidential race, but as titular head of the party, doesn't he feel any need at all to be neutral at this stage of the game? There is someone other than Al Gore who is running for the nomination, and the President's going off this weekend to start a series of fundraisers for Gore himself. Is he going to raise money for Bill Bradley, too?

MR. LOCKHART: I doubt it. I think the President has made it very clear how important a partner the Vice President has been. He will, as you know, this weekend and next week help the Vice President raise the resources he'll need to run an effective campaign. And that -- the President believes that's appropriate. And he looks forward to doing it.

Q Well, why is it appropriate, Bill -- Joe?

Q Bill? (Laughter.)

Q The President wouldn't think of taking sides in another Democratic primary contest between, say, two Democrats running for a Senate seat, or a Senate nomination. Why is it all right for him to do it in the presidential context?

MR. LOCKHART: Because it's a judgment that I think the President has made. And others can make a comment on it, and can come down on one side or the other. He believes, as he said at the press conference, that the next election is about change; it's about what kind of change you have, and he believes the Vice President has laid down some very specific ideas for where he wants to take the country. And the President believes in him.

Q Does the President believe that the Democratic National Committee should remain impartial?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the Democratic National Committee's job is to help Democrats around the country, and that's what they're doing.

Q Joe, while we're talking about the campaign, Senator Daschle has suggested to reporters that they should press George W. Bush about whether or not --

MR. LOCKHART: Before you go any further, I'd suggest you talk to Senator Daschle about that because you shouldn't believe everything you read in the newspaper.

Q I wasn't basing it on the newspaper, I was basing it on what he said today.


Q And he said that people should check it, but they probably should ask the questions, even if they're not appropriate, and he sort of talked out of both sides of his mouth. My question to you is, what is the White House position?

MR. LOCKHART: I can do that.

Q And you do it well.

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, thank you.

Q But what is the White House position on that? Should --

MR. LOCKHART: The White House has no position on that. Any position I stood here and articulated about what you all should do in your business would be, A, counterproductive; B, ineffective; and, as Ron would say, three, I can't remember.

Q But you -- clearly the White House did have a position, obviously, during the impeachment inquiry and there are a lot of questions about the extent to which the past behavior --

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, we had a lot of issues that we talked about -- and it goes exactly to my first point during the impeachment deliberations -- which, as far as I could tell by turning on the television, had no impact on anyone's programming. You all make your own rules and will continue to do so.

Q Joe, there is a lot of strong rhetoric on the Hill today by Republicans in favor of their tax plan and by the President against it. What do you think the real prospects are that in September and October the two sides will be able to get together on some kind of compromise?

MR. LOCKHART: I think, as the President said yesterday, there are real prospects for getting things done this year. I think if you look at the debate this week, much of it has been coming from the Republicans on the Hill about making a political point. If they manage to pass the legislation, they will have made their political point. It's interesting that they're not going to send the bill down. They clearly want to continue to make the political point. But it will eventually get down here. The President will eventually veto it. And then we'll be back to where the American public wants us to be, trying to do business together.

Q The President suggested today that there was a need to work with Republicans, that that's the way to get something done. Does he see some middle ground on this? He, on the one hand, says that, on the other hand he seems to say there is no middle ground.

MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think he says there is no middle ground. I think he says that we can talk and negotiate about how you cut taxes, and how that works into your overall budget, but the numbers just don't add up to go much beyond the $300 billion range. I mean, if you look at the reporting in the paper this morning you'll find that, while they don't want to tell you that, the Republicans' own appropriations plan tells the same story.

They have talked about how they don't want to spend the Social Security surplus. But if you just add up, now, what they've already proposed as emergency spending for next year, they've already spent the on-budget surplus -- which means that anything in addition comes out of the Social Security surplus. So the numbers don't add up. And I think hopefully, once we get past the political posturing, we'll get down to a discussion that involves the real numbers. We'll get down to a real discussion of Medicare, and how we modernize the program. And we can make some progress.

Q Joe, you just accused Republicans of political posturing. And today, the Democrats at this rally handed out something called the Republican special-interest, do-nothing Congress. Is that political posturing?

MR. LOCKHART: No, that's an accurate and objective statement of the facts. (Laughter.)

Q Thank you.

Q Joe, you just said that eventually --

MR. LOCKHART: I have yet to bring up chicken manure from this podium.

Q And we're glad.

Q Joe, you said eventually it'll get here and eventually he'll veto it, and then we'll get down to business. It sounds like you're anticipating some kind of negotiation.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, the President indicated yesterday that he wants to work with the Republicans to figure out a way to use the surplus to do Social Security, Medicare and a tax cut.

Q Right, but are you getting any indications that there will be some kind of a summit, or negotiations to resolve?

MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I can't --

Q Or is that -- you're just saying that's what you want --

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I can't predict that there'll be -- you know, what fora this will take place in.

Q But it sounded like the other day, you were saying that having nothing happen -- gridlock -- would be just fine.

MR. LOCKHART: No. Let me repeat what I said, because I think I was careful in my words, which is, having -- stopping -- a tax cut that crowds out Social Security and Medicare, and will cut discretionary spending at unacceptable levels, is certainly worse than just paying down some debt and doing nothing. What is better than both of those options is doing something in the context of what the President has proposed, which is providing a tax cut to the middle class, providing some help for retirement savings -- although we're willing to talk about how you do it in the context of what's affordable -- and doing what we need to do on Social Security and Medicare.

Q The President did say several times during the speech today that he wants to work with Republicans. I didn't really hear Gephardt say that, and they did hand out something which is a pretty acerbic attack on Republicans today. Is the President at all concerned that the House Democrats -- because maybe they want to take back the House -- are not on the same page as him in terms of getting a deal this year?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the President believes that the House Democrats, if we can have a discussion in the context of a tax cut we can afford, will be more than willing to move forward with the Republicans to find some bipartisan way to get this done.

Q How would this middle-ground compromise, working with Republicans -- how would that get underway? Is that something the President sees as something he could do on his initiative, or --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, listen, we look forward to getting it started as soon as we can. Unfortunately, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that there are some games being played here. They want to pass this before they go, but hold onto it and not send it down here, so that they can spend their vacation talking about how they passed it. That may be a waste of a couple weeks; maybe not. But they will come back, after Labor Day, and the crunch time will have arrived, where the appropriations process must be completed, where we've got to deal with these issues. And we'll figure out a way to work this out.

Q Joe, is the President going to sign an Executive Order today on the relationship between federal and state regulation?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. He will sign it and we will issue the Executive Order -- he actually has signed it, I believe, and the paper will be out sometime soon.

Q What does that do?

MR. LOCKHART: Basically this was -- we did an Executive Order last year. And there were some concerns raised by some of the state and local authorities, so we did some extensive consultation, and this will supersede last year's effort. And it really is an attempt to clarify the working relationship, essentially, between the Federal Government and the state and local authorities.

Q So what exactly -- I mean, what does that mean?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I will tell you what it means. The proposed order has been revised to substantially strengthen requirements that the agencies must follow before they carry out regulatory, legislative and policy actions that affect state and local governments.

Q So it means that the federal government has to take greater consideration of local and state needs before it does something?

MR. LOCKHART: It means the federal government needs to take into account some of the state and local authorities' concerns as we move forward with things that have a federal or national impact.

Q It's an impact assessment of some sort?

MR. LOCKHART: Not necessarily. It's not like you have to produce an impact assessment report for each thing you do. But it is just an attempt to clarify some of the structural issues between state and local and the federal government.

Q What were the biggest complaints that the state and local governments had?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the state and local governments last year complained -- I think with some justification -- that the process did not include as much input as they would have wanted. And that's something that we have addressed over the last year.

Q Joe, I understand why the President might not be able to get through some of the revenue raisers he put in his budget, like the tobacco tax, but whatever happened to the lawsuit that he had authorized against the tobacco industry, and what could that do for --

MR. LOCKHART: The Justice Department is moving forward on that. I know that they have put together a team. They are assessing the case, and when they are ready to bring the case they will do that.

Q Any idea when that's going to be?

MR. LOCKHART: No. I'd suggest you just call over there directly.

Q Joe, is there a reason why President Clinton has decided to award the Medal of Freedom to two living former presidents and not the other two living former presidents?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we have awarded a series of Medals of Freedom. I believe -- yes, I think Reagan has the Medal of Freedom already. And I think Bush also does. Let me check on that. But there was no attempt here to exlude anyone. I think the President wanted to recognize both President Carter and his wife, and also President Ford, for their great service to the country.

Q Why not Mrs. Ford?

Q Why not Mrs. Ford?

MR. LOCKHART: I'll look into that.

Q Joe, there's a grim anniversary this weekend -- Saturday -- of the embassy bombings in Africa. What's the President's thoughts, as well as, what is the administration trying to do to prevent that? What new plans --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think -- I mean, there's a series of activities. I think the State Department will have a ceremony that will mark the one-year anniversary, that Secretary of State Albright and the President's National Security Advisor, Mr. Berger, will represent the White House at. I think Saturday will be a day that the President will reflect on the great loss that the families -- both the families and the State Department family -- suffered last year.

But it's also a time to reflect on a lot of the important work that's been done over the last year, as far as embassy security and counter-terrorism, when it comes to embassies -- and the overall work that the President has done preparing this country for terrorism, terrorism of all kinds, both abroad and here at home.

Q And also, as far as these African embasssy bombings, is the administration looking at possibly trying to put some type of issuance out for a lot of embassy workers, that yes, this could indeed be a dangerous situation? Because I understand that everything is still status quo after these bombings. But is there any effort? Because there was a mumbling at one time, saying that there could be some kind of issuance saying, yes, that when you go abroad, this indeed could be --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, the State Department generally handles those issues, and I think are very upfront and informative. Not just for embassy employees, I mean, under the "no double standard," any sort of warning that's given to someone who works for the U.S. government is also given to the general public, for obvious reasons. So I think there are a lot of dedicated foreign service officers around the world who understand that when they represent this country abroad, they put themselves at some risk. But it's certainly our hope that they understand that the President and the Secretary of State are doing everything they can to protect them while they're abroad.

Q They had a worldwide caution they put out today, too --

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think there was something this morning.

Q Did the President have any reaction today on the Boy Scout ruling?


Q -- in St. Louis, by the way? At the NGAs? Do you --

MR. LOCKHART: Last time I checked that, I don't think we'd settled on exactly what that speech was going to be. So you should check tomorrow, I think.

Q Joe, I take it the President received a reply from President Assad of Syria?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, he did.

Q What did he say?

MR. LOCKHART: The President received a reply. He was pleased to receive it. But I'm not going to go into the substance of the letter.

Q Is he encouraged by what he heard?

MR. LOCKHART: That would be going into the substance of the letter.

Q You keep saying the President is willing to talk to Republicans about a tax cut. But yet you keep also saying that you don't see how anything would add up beyond $300 billion. So are you saying, then, that you're willing to talk to Republicans about a $300 billion package, and you'd be flexible about the components of that package?


Q But it would have to be in the $300 billion --

MR. LOCKHART: It has to be something we can afford. I think the President has been very clear. The numbers have to add up. We're not willing to play a game where you use two sets of books and hope that the paper clip that's holding it all together doesn't break. We want the numbers to work and we have demonstrated evidence of when you take that approach, how well it works; the last seven years.

Q So, for instance, their reduction of 15 percent to 14 percent -- that, in itself, is estimated, I believe, to cost about $300 billion over 10 years. So they were just to present that to you -- as long as --

MR. LOCKHART: I'll tell you something. That is a hypothetical that I can only address hypothetically. But that certainly would -- it would be a constructive movement forward if the Republican leadership would come down and say, we have a different idea of how to do the tax cut, but one which we can pay for and afford. It would provide a more useful basis for discussions.

Q Wouldn't that violate your precept that it has to be targeted? I mean, they're not targeting at all. That's across-the-board --

MR. LOCKHART: Again, we believe that that is the more appropriate way, to try to target to the people who can get the most out of it. But our point is that the problem we have fundamentally with the tax plan that they have put forward is that the numbers don't add up, and we can't pay for it.

Q So you're saying that you would contemplate supporting it across-the board --

MR. LOCKHART: No, I was --

Q Let me finish my question, please. You would contemplate supporting a non-targeted, across-the-board tax increase if it were in the $300 billion range?

MR. LOCKHART: I didn't say that. Go back and check the transcript. I think my words --

Q Well, you seemed to imply it.

MR. LOCKHART: No, I didn't imply it either.

Q Joe, the First Lady today confirmed she had a Jewish step-grandfather named Max Rosenberg. Do you know if the President was aware of that and whether he ever met Mr. Rosenberg or her other --

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. (Laughter.)

Q With Holbrooke's approval in the Senate --

Q Could you take that question?

MR. LOCKHART: President Bush gave a medal to President Reagan in January 1993. Thank you.

Q All right. Joe, could you take that question?

MR. LOCKHART: The next time I see the President I'll ask him. I'm not formally taking the question -- if he thinks it's appropriate to answer it, I will.

Q With Holbrooke's approval in the Senate, Brian Atwood would have been the next in line, as Ambassador to Brazil, so do you have a nomination at this point, since he resigned before?

MR. LOCKHART: No. We are in the process of identifying a candidate, and when the paperwork on that is ready, we'll let you know.

Q Joe, can I ask one more? The administration has always said that an across-the-board tax cut is regressive and skewed toward the wealthy. So why would it be a constructive step even if --

MR. LOCKHART: Because -- I think it would be a constructive step because there would be some recognition on the President's core principle that it's bad for the economy and bad for the American public to be discussing a tax cut that you can't pay for.

Q Can I follow up on one thing you said earlier this week, talking about alcohol and the anti-drug campaign? The President praised the new ads they unveiled the other day, about how incredibly effective they are. But some Democrats, including Senator Lautenberg, continue to say alcohol kills six times as many teens as -- is the President dead set against using any kind of the anti-drug effort for the --

MR. LOCKHART: No, this hasn't come up recently, but I think the last time it did -- and I'll go back and get the information -- but we do -- within this campaign there is -- there are efforts dedicated and directed at teen drinking as well as drug use.

Q Joe, is it accurate on your part to say that the Republicans can't pay for their tax cut plan? They can pay for it. They just wouldn't be able to pay for some of the stuff that you want.

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think if they -- if you accept the wisdom that they won't cut discretionary spending by 50 percent, and they do the spending that they want to do -- which you're seeing a lot about now -- the only way this would be paid for is to return to deficit spending.

Q Joe --

MR. LOCKHART: I mean, I could be wrong. Maybe they are willing to cut these programs in half, across-the-board cuts to the FBI, the FAA and to Customs. I just don't think that that is a realistic point of view.

Q But in that case, aren't you just criticizing them for sticking with the budget caps, the spending caps that are in place --

MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm criticizing them for not being straightforward, and not putting all of the ramifications out on the table for the American public to view, and for playing politics.

Q Do you know what the figure is for how much the administration's spending plans, over the next 10 years, how much of a spending cut that would be?

MR. LOCKHART: Thirteen percent --

MR. SIEWERT: It's about 12 percent.

MR. LOCKHART: Twelve percent -- using the, you know, the caps being raised and then using inflationary --

Q Twelve percent cuts?

MR. LOCKHART: Twelve percent, yes.

Q Back on the presidential campaign. President Clinton, when he became President in '93, he relied heavily on minorities. And he's kept this inclusion effort throughout his whole seven years --. Now there seems to be a situation with a couple of these minority conventions this summer, where a lot of the Republican candidates are not showing up -- they're not keeping in tune with this one America theme.

What is the administration's thoughts on that? I mean, you have the Democrats that are showing up at conventions like the Unity convention for the press, and the NAACP, and things of that nature, and then certain Republican candidates are not showing up.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it's a decision that every candidate has to make for themselves on whether they want to reach out and listen to the concerns, whether they be African American, Hispanic or one of the many constituency groups that make up the electorate. Our general view is -- as the President said, is to be inclusionary and try to speak to all Americans. But it's decisions the candidates within their own campaign have to make about how they want to use their time and their resources.

Q News from Barry.

MR. LOCKHART: News from Barry. One more. Barry, I'm having fun -- (laughter) -- they don't want to go see Bill Daley, they want to be here with me. (Laughter.)

Daley is at the stake out, do you guys want to go talk to him?

Q -- plans for next week. You're not going to brief tomorrow, while the President is out of town?

MR. LOCKHART: No briefing tomorrow. Mr. Toiv will take care of you next week. The following week we'll go up to Martha's Vineyard in the middle of the week. I'm going to do that. And we'll be there through probably most of the vacation.

Q Will any other Cabinet people come out after the Cabinet meeting?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think so. But I'll let you know if they do come out.

Q Okay. We'd like to hear from Secretary Albright.

MR. LOCKHART: Secretary Albright, okay.

Q In your dreams.

Q Okay, thanks.

END 1:40 P.M. E.D.T