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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release August 11, 1999
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY
                       BARRY TOIV AND DAVID LEAVY

The Briefing Room

2:07 P.M. EDT

MR. TOIV: Good afternoon, everybody. Questions.

Q Is the President going to talk about the arrest of the shooting suspect?

MR. TOIV: Yes, I think the President will address this issue at the top of his remarks today at the Medal of Freedom ceremony.

Q What do you know at this point about this being sort of a hate crimes -- overtones?

MR. TOIV: I'll tell you -- as you all probably know, there is a press conference going on right now elsewhere in the country where both federal and local officials are addressing all of those issues. Whatever information they have, whatever charges they might be considering, I'm going to leave that to them to announce, rather than announce anything here.

Q Barry, it's obvious that they do not want to talk about the issue of hate crimes in that press conference, but will the President at least address the issue of domestic terrorism? Because one of the persons at the podium at that press conference did say that terror is over in Los Angeles.

MR. TOIV: I'm going to allow the President to decide what words he uses -- he chooses to use this afternoon, and I'm not going to -- he is going to address the shootings. I'm not going to say any more, though, about what he might say.

Q Barry, will the White House at least admit that there was some type of domestic terrorism involved? They found the items --

MR. TOIV: As I said, April, I think that the people on the scene who are running the investigation are in the best position to speak to the specifics of what has taken place.

Q Given the man's confession, does the President consider this a hate crime?

MR. TOIV: I think that -- I don't think that we have enough information yet to draw that conclusion. We're going to let them speak to that out there for right now anyway.

Q Barry, anything to do with the planned demonstration in Washington that was cancelled?

MR. TOIV: I don't know what demonstration you're referring to.

Q The anti-Semitism --

MR. TOIV: Oh, is there any connection? I don't know. I don't know.

Q Barry, this morning you said that this highlighted the need for sensible gun laws. Could you expound on that, please?

MR. TOIV: Yes, sure. Well, we don't know all of the facts in this case yet. It is clear that there have been a number of incidents involving guns this year that just point to the obvious need for sensible gun legislation that keeps guns out of the hands of children, that protects children, that keeps guns out of the hands of criminals and others who should not have them.

Congress had a chance before the recess to enact such legislation; they did not do so. The Senate has taken some good, positive steps and, unfortunately, the House has not. There will be a conference meeting when they come back in September to work out the details of that legislation. We feel very strongly that they must come back with sensible legislation that moves forward on these issues, not backwards, and incidents like the one that took place yesterday are a clear sign of gun violence that's occurring in this country.

Let me add -- I think I can anticipate some questions. I don't have enough facts here, certainly, to suggest whether this particular incident would have been affected in any specific way by the legislation that the President has proposed, by the legislation that's under consideration in the Congress. I'm not going to suggest that -- we never have suggested that with respect to specific incidents. So, if that's your question --

Q No. We sat down with Denny Hastert today, in Iowa, and asked him about this, and he said that he had instructed, I think, Henry Hyde to come up with compromise legislation and seemed optimistic that it would be then followed with this. When you really get down to issues of why people do these things and what are the cultural problems, I don't think any legislation can actually change behavior that people have. Your reaction?

MR. TOIV: Well, yes -- I would not agree with him that you cannot prevent crimes through sensible legislation. The Brady law has kept guns out of the hands of thousands of people who should not have them. We just don't know what the impact of that has been in keeping the guns out of those people's hands. But if you're asking me whether I would suggest that this kind of legislation can prevent all crimes, all incidents from taking place -- of course not.

Q But let me put it this way, Barry. The argument you seem to be making is the mere act of a violent crime involving a gun is proof by definition that we need tougher gun laws. And I'm trying to understand the logic of that. I mean, unless you can say here's a gun law that would work to stop a crime like this, why does this violence prove you need more gun laws?

MR. TOIV: Look, I think that the American people -- the American people are tired of seeing the kinds of crimes that we have seen where children are at risk, where many others are at risk, and they know that we can do better, that we can reduce the chances of these kinds of events occurring by having sensible gun legislation that reduces the possibility of guns getting into the wrong hands, where they are used for the wrong purposes.

Q Well, Barry, in California you have some of the toughest gun laws in the country and it didn't stop him here.

MR. TOIV: I'm not suggesting that gun laws are going to prevent all crime; they're not. But gun laws can reduce the chances of incidents involving guns. And if we keep them sensible, then they're appropriate to, do and we think that the Congress ought to take that action.

Q What is it about this incident, though, that makes it an appropriate time to call for new legislation from Congress?

MR. TOIV: This incident, like other incidents, are instances of gun violence that remind us of the need for sensible gun legislation.

Q Barry, has the administration ever thought of proposing a recall of guns -- not that you'd get it through the Congress -- but just trying to propose that, because there are so many guns out there illegally that are swapped around anyway.

MR. TOIV: I've not heard that proposal being talked about.

Q Something you'd like to consider?

MR. TOIV: We'll do that, we'll take a look.

Q There's one other piece of legislation that might be applicable in this case, which is the hate crimes bill. Is the President going to say anything about that, try to use this event to further that legislation?

MR. TOIV: Well, I don't think I want to get into the issue of whether this was a hate crime or not. I think that, again, they'll be addressing that out at the press conference and, given that we're out here pretty much simultaneously, I think I should hold off on that until they have anything to say about whatever evidence there might be of that. Will the President address that? I think I answered that question already by not answering it before.

Q Does the President back the hate crimes legislation with the same --

MR. TOIV: The President has advocated hate crimes legislation, legislation that would strengthen hate crimes law that -- the Senate has already passed that legislation, in fact. And we hope that the Senate will act on it as well.

Q In this particular case, if this is deemed a hate crime, the federal government is not going to assert jurisdictions, it's going to allow California local state authorities to deal with this issue.

MR. TOIV: You're exactly right about that.

Q Is that true?

MR. TOIV: You may be right about that, but I'd rather that the authorities out there draw that conclusion and announce it themselves, whatever conclusion they may come to.

Q When Columbine happened, the White House did not want to piggy-back this clear, sensible gun law information, but now you're piggy-backing it off of this incident in Los Angeles. Why? What makes this different versus Columbine?

MR. TOIV: I'm not piggy-backing anything. I don't know what you mean by that.

Q How do you respond to the allegation, given that you said that there may be nothing that would have stopped this particular fellow -- how do you answer the allegation that has been raised that the White House is simply taking advantage of the misery of some of these children in order to push a political agenda?

Q Because at Columbine, when the Columbine situation happened, he clearly did not --

MR. TOIV: Sensible legislation to keep guns out of the hands of kids and criminals and to protect children is not a partisan, political issue, or shouldn't be. And I don't think that that's correct.

Q If it's so sensible and obvious, why do you think that the House Republicans have not passed this legislation?

MR. TOIV: Well, I think that in the past they've been under the sway of those who, for their own reasons, oppose sensible legislation of any kind when it comes to guns. And we hope, though, that given the strong support of the American people for sensible gun legislation, that they will come around. And we will keep pushing that very hard.

Q Has the President reached out to Charleton Heston recently?

MR. TOIV: Not that I'm aware of.

Q When you're talking about sensible gun legislation, are you thinking solely of the Senate-passed legislation, or are you thinking about measures that would go beyond that?

MR. TOIV: No. Obviously, the President has proposed legislation that would go beyond the Senate legislation. But right now, we are hoping that the Congress will agree on the legislation that was enacted in the Senate. The problem with the House legislation is not only that it does not move forward, but that in many respects, it moves backwards and that's just not acceptable.

Q Barry, you've said that perhaps new legislation could have perhaps prevented this particular incident. But here's a man who should have been in jail, he was possessing a gun that was illegal under both federal and state statutes -- what could have prevented it, if not gun laws?

MR. TOIV: You apparently know more facts about the case than I do.

Q What could have prevented it? I mean, here's a guy who at the very least should have been in jail.

MR. TOIV: You know, I'm not a law enforcement expert up here, John, and I'm not sure that I can answer that particular question.

Q It was reported yesterday that President Clinton is going to visit Greece November 22nd to 24th. Could you please confirm?

MR. TOIV: Don't have anything to announce on that.

Q There were more incidents between India and Pakistan after that plane -- now, this time Pakistan tried to shoot a plane carrying journalists from India to the site.

MR. LEAVY: We oppose that. Was there a question there?

Q Do you -- I think that the government -- because Sharif has been told -- politically, and there are elections in India coming next month.

MR. LEAVY: I wouldn't ascribe any political motives to any of the recent instances. Clearly, we're concerned about the rising tensions. It's in no one's interest, as I said yesterday, to have these kinds of incidents over the skies both in India and Pakistan. It's my understand that the two sides signed an aviation agreement in 1991 -- a bilateral agreement that calls for dialogue and a procedure to work out any air space violations. We urge both sides to follow the procedures that are set in place and to really try to lower tensions.

Q Also, India wants to show the site to the international community and journalists, but Pakistan is preventing the showing to their journalists and also to Indian journalists.

MR. LEAVY: The question there is do we -- well, I think if all you guys want to weigh in on that, you probably have a better perspective. But I don't think that for us to focus on what journalists have access to what site -- clearly from U.S. perspective, restraint has to carry the day; dialogue has to carry the day. No one benefits from these kinds of instances, and our ambassadors and embassies of both countries have made that point very clear.

Q Yesterday you said that you didn't think that this incident would derail the President's plans to visit there next year. Given the level of security or lack thereof in the region, can you reasonably expect that he could travel there?

MR. LEAVY: Well, we haven't set a date yet, John. The President still intends to go. I don't think that what's happened over the last several days would derail that. We have tremendous interests in the region, both bilaterally with each country, but also on the subcontinent -- those include nonproliferation, security, arms control, also economics -- and I fully expect the President's trip to go forward.

Q Aren't you sort of giving them the green light by saying that? I mean, there was this whole issue over the nuclear tests the White House very consciously held off on whether or not the President would go, knowing that that might -- or hoping that that might cause some restraint by the actors. By you saying, look, we're almost certainly going, this isn't going to impact it, doesn't that sort of say to them, look, you can go ahead and fight if you want and we'll still come?

MR. LEAVY: No, I don't think so. I think we've made it clear, both from here and the State Department, that these kinds of instances are in no one's interest, full stop. But the President believes that he can go and he can engage both parties in a broad dialogue, and that what has happened in the last two days shouldn't necessarily work against that.

He made it clear to Prime Minister Sharif when he was here for the July 4th meeting that it was his intention to go, that the relationship had many facets and that we had to engage and move forward on that. And I think he still intends to do that. And we shouldn't put what's happened in the last couple of days into a situation that would compromise our interests in the region. The President is concerned about what's happened, we've made that clear, but he still intends to go.

Q That agreement speaks of, I think it's a 10-mile limit -- both sides, nobody is supposed to come close to the border. What we've seen in the last couple of days are both sides ignoring that agreement.

MR. LEAVY: I don't know enough about the specifics of that agreement to speak credibly about that. I think Jamie went through in a little bit more detail at the State Department exactly what the provisions are, so let me defer to him on that.

Q Is what has happened, are these provocations?

MR. LEAVY: I'm reluctant to characterize the motivations or the specifics of each of the incidents. But I don't know, and I don't know if it's, as I said earlier today, really our position to be the referee in calling the balls and strikes of the provocations or if we start assigning blame. That's not in our interest and I don't intend to do that today.

I think the case we've been making over the last several days is restraint, dialogue have to carry the day; that the parties took some very important steps early this spring when Prime Minister Vajpayee traveled to Lahore, laid out a very detailed agenda that was a positive development and we wanted both sides to get back to that, get back to discussions and the bilateral contacts and to move beyond what's happened in the last several days.

Q Anything in the last two days -- the President has spoken with either of the prime ministers, number one?


Q Number two, national security member of the Indian National Security Council and also former foreign secretary, he was in Washington and London. He said that the President will visit next year to India. It was reported in all of the newspapers in India, and also including India Globe.

MR. LEAVY: I don't have any dates, no.

Q Other than pointing the parties to a document and saying, you resolve this, is the administration doing anything else? And if not, doesn't that indicate that the administration really isn't that concerned about this?

MR. LEAVY: No, I don't think that's accurate. We played an important role last month to bring an end to the conflict in Kargil. I think both of our ambassadors have made clear in the capitals our concern. But the approach we want to take is to get both sides talking bilaterally. It's not our intent to mediate. As I said earlier, the two parties have come together already. They have a framework for discussions, as the Lahore Declaration that they put forward last spring. So there's a road map, there is a process in place, and it's our intent to have both parties engage in that process, not for the U.S. to mediate directly.

Q How much concern is there here that the U.S. could be dragged into conflicts between India and Pakistan or China and Taiwan --

MR. LEAVY: I don't want to speculate on any potential conflict down the road. We're, again, urging dialogue and restraint and hope that the tensions that are occurring between the two sides can be worked out peacefully.

Q And on China, did you have any response to those very bellicose statements made the other day by the Defense Minister?

MR. LEAVY: Not specifically. Again, in that context, we've made clear to both sides our one China policy remains the same, but the best way to work out the issues between both sides is a dialogue, is a peaceful dialogue, and we've made that well-known.

Q Are we going to see any more agriculture emergency declarations in the Northeast, and if so, when and where and for how much?

MR. TOIV: That's going to be an excellent question to ask Secretary Glickman, who is going to be out here very shortly, and it's also a good way of segueing into my saying that we really need to get done with this. If there are any issues that we haven't covered that --

Q Please tell us what you couldn't tell us this morning. You were going to ask Jennifer to sign off on it, and then you said --

MR. TOIV: He's doing an interview later, an interview later with some folks that will not actually air until tomorrow. But we might get some excerpts tonight. The good people at Nightly Business Report.

Q We'll get a transcript afterwards, as usual?

MR. TOIV: We'll get a transcript tomorrow after it airs. I wouldn't rule out their using something from the interview tonight, though.

Q Has the President concluded his meeting with the economic team?

MR. TOIV: Yes, he has.

Q What was the outcome? Did they discuss the possibility of higher interest rates?

MR. TOIV: The state of the economy is good. No, his economic team ran through the current state of the economy, both domestic and foreign. They also talked about the future and they basically gave him a rundown on where they thought things could be headed, might be headed, might not be headed. It was a broad-ranging discussion. I'm not going to get into any of the specifics of that discussion. Obviously, they came to the conclusion that the best way of maintaining the strong economy we have now is to continue on the path of fiscal discipline that has helped to get us here. And the President, needless to say, was receptive to that message.

Q On that topic, Barry, again from our interview with Hastert today, he said, and I quote, "the President says we want all this money on the table because we're going to take all that money and pay down the debt. Don't believe it. What they will do is put money on the table and spend it and find programs for bigger government. That surplus will never reappear if you spend it." Can I get a reaction from you?

MR. TOIV: The Speaker is apparently not familiar with the differences between his plan and our plan because the President's plan proposed to pay down substantially more of the debt than Republicans are considering doing.

Q Barry, are you going to try to come back with some response to the report from the Los Angeles -- the Vice President tried to distance himself from the President's anti-violence initiative in Hollywood?

MR. TOIV: Oh, this is the question that Josh was asking the other day. Private conversation; the Vice President doesn't talk about private conversations that he's had with folks, and I don't have any information on that.

Q Was the Vice President involved in drawing that initiative?

MR. TOIV: I will get more on that, but as far as the Vice President's conversation, I don't have anything to say about that.

Q What's the purpose of the President's meeting tomorrow with the Jewish community leaders?

MR. TOIV: This is one of a series of outreach meetings that he does periodically with various groups. This has been planned for some time. And I think they will be discussing issues of particular interest to the Jewish community.

Q What time is that?

MR. TOIV: Late tomorrow afternoon. It's a closed meeting. But that's it.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 2:27 P.M. EDT