THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JAKE SIEWERT AND DAVID LEAVY
The Briefing Room
1:12 P.M. EDT
MR. SIEWERT: I don't have much for you, except that the President will sign a couple bills this afternoon. We'll put statements out as he does it. He'll sign the first of the appropriations bills that's been sent to us this year, one of 13 -- the military construction bill. He will sign that, although we have a number of concerns about some additional projects that were added, an extra $300 million worth of projects. But, overall, this bill funds the vast majority of the programs that are necessary to protect the quality of life of our men and women in uniform, and also to fund some critical military projects. So he'll sign that.
He'll also sign a bill --
Q What's the price tag on that?
MR. SIEWERT: The overall price tag, I don't have that for you. But we can get that for you when we put the statement out.
Q Is that $300 million pork barrel?
MR. SIEWERT: They're projects that were not identified by the Defense Department as priorities right now, and they've been added by Congress. We don't believe they're necessary at this point; but Congress has sent us a bill that, on balance, meets the needs that we've identified for the military. And we'll sign that bill.
We remain concerned -- the President will say this in his signing statement -- about the general pace and nature of Congress' budgeting process this year. As you know, they've been unable to complete work on all but two of the major appropriations bills, and they've only sent us one. They have a number of appropriations bills pending that we've made clear are completely unacceptable and that we'll veto.
The fiscal year does end the end of next month and Congress will have a short period of time in which to complete work on those projects and we're very concerned about the pace of those and the overall nature of some of the cuts that are envisioned in the bills that they have pending and have not sent to us.
Q -- second bill?
Q What about the idea of his doing a continuing resolution if, in fact, they're not able to complete some of those?
MR. SIEWERT: We'll take that issue if it comes to that and address it then. But, in the meantime, they have a lot of work to do to try to do the basic governing responsibility of funding the federal government for next year.
Q You're not dismissing that notion out of hand?
MR. SIEWERT: No, I said that we'll review that if it comes to that. But they have some time to finish their work on the budget, and they should do that when they come back.
Q What's the second bill?
MR. SIEWERT: There are a number of other bills. Some of them are technical bills. There's a bill designating a federal building honoring Speaker Foley in Spokane, Washington; a bill on veterans and small business; a bill to provide some relief for the steel industry and a couple other bills. Some of them will require a statement, some will not.
Q Yesterday, the President reiterated his call for funding for Bosnia. And, yet, there's a UN report that says up to $1 billion in aid to Bosnia has been stolen by leaders there.
MR. SIEWERT: Yes.
Q I'm just wondering how the President can expect the American taxpayer to continue supporting this kind of funding when it looks like tens of millions, at least, in American dollars are being stolen?
MR. SIEWERT: Dave, you want to take that?
MR. LEAVY: Yes. Thanks, Jake, appreciate that. (Laughter.)
Well, let me just say, first of all, a couple of inaccuracies in the story today. But, more broadly, the President, as you know, traveled to Sarajevo a couple of weeks ago and made clear that the United States has an enduring interest in the stability and security of both the Balkans region. We've spent a lot of blood and treasure over this century trying to secure that place on the continent. We've made tremendous progress the last four or five years. The Bosnian people have come a long way.
Q Is there theft there?
MR. LEAVY: Well, Helen, let me just sort of set the table a little bit. We've come a long way. There is peace and stability in Bosnia. There is a tripartite government that's up and running, there's a judiciary, executive branch, a police force. Those are all positive steps.
Now, clearly, one of the problems is corruption and organized crime in Bosnia. We have addressed it. I believe earlier this year, in March, we approved a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy for Bosnia that we're currently implementing. The United States government is pretty confident that many of our own bilateral assistance has not been misappropriated. We funnel our aid directly to NGOs on the ground and money directly to what we call quick impact projects.
So we have to separate our bilateral assistance. We're confident it's going to the right sources. Broadly, corruption is a problem. We're concerned about it and I think we have a plan to address it.
Q So no tax dollars have been squandered, as far as you know?
MR. LEAVY: Well, it's -- I think "squanders" is a broad term.
Q Or stolen.
MR. LEAVY: I think any time AID has a program as extensive as the one in Bosnia there are what we call bad debts. There are a certain percentage of loans that aren't repaid, that are defaulted on and certainly a concern and we try to minimize those and have, I think, pretty rigid standards to avoid that as much as possible.
But beyond that, we're confident that the U.S. government's assistance is being used appropriately. More broadly, there is a tremendous amount of assistance going in from the European Union, from the international financial institutions that -- you know, it is a problem. It's something we have to be cognizant on. The Office of the High Commissioner in Bosnia put a team together, starting back in December of '97, to look at this problem. As I said earlier in March, they launched an anti-corruption strategy that's going to focus on trying to tighten some of the areas where we think there is slippage of the international community's money. But, beyond that, we think our assistance is going to the right people.
Q What are the inaccuracies?
MR. LEAVY: Well, I think for one, it said that an American headed up the task force; it's actually a Swedish representative. There's 4,000 pages in the report that documented sort of this graph -- in fact, that the report was much smaller than that; the other documents were backup material. There's a reference to the U.S. government's money that was being misappropriated. So there's a number of factual errors in that report.
Q What's happening in Africa? We understand there is a situation in the Congo as far as fighting, and then the situation with Ethiopia and Eritrea is still at an impasse because the Ethiopian government is saying different things.
MR. LEAVY: Ethiopia hasn't signed the OAU framework, and that's something that we're working hard on. As I said last week, Tony Lake, the President's Special Envoy, has just got back from the region. He is working very hard on both sides. I believe President Isaias of Eritrea is in the United States today. He's meeting with Secretary Albright. And I believe he will meet with Mr. Berger tomorrow. So we're engaged on that front.
The President mentioned in his speech yesterday how important our engagement is in Africa, how we need full funding for our Africa initiatives, specifically in the Congo. There has been some renewed fighting over the last several days, which is troubling. The President has dispatched the National Security Council's representative for Africa, Gail Smith, to the region. She's not in a mediating role there, specifically, but we're trying to work with the parties to make clear that our preference is they get back to what we call the Lusaka track, the Lusaka dialogue, which has fallen apart over the last several months. So she's there now engaged.
Q Following up on the Eritrea-Ethiopia situation, Eritrea said that they're looking for anyone to help, even Reverend Jackson. Are you looking to reach out to him at all?
MR. LEAVY: I think I answered this last week, to say that our team that's engaged in this conflict -- whether it's Gail Smith at the NSC, Susan Rice at the State Department, Tony Lake, more broadly, are very competent and have done tremendous work and have moved the parties very close to where we're hopeful we can get a final peace agreement.
Reverend Jackson has done absolute yeoman's work in Sierra Leone, he deserves a lot of credit for stopping the fighting there and preventing further bloodshed. But I don't expect him to get involved specifically in Ethiopia.
Q David, George Mitchell is seeking, on behalf of Mr. Fayed of the Harrods, to get information from the DIA and NSA that may shed any light on the death of Princess Diana. Is the White House in favor of at least letting them review that information?
MR. LEAVY: Let me refer you to the Pentagon on that. It's my understanding that Senator Mitchell has asked Bob Tyrer, who is the Chief of Staff to Secretary Cohen, to review some documents, given the ongoing interest in this matter, and he's doing so. But you've really got to talk to the Pentagon.
Q Is that an acknowledgement that NSA or DIA has information on the death of Diana?
MR. LEAVY: No, I don't think so. I think that Senator Mitchell has been in touch with the parties out there and has asked Bob in his capacity as Chief of Staff just to review to make sure that there is not anything that would bring any bearing to the matter.
While I have the podium, let me just do a little Turkey if you --
Q -- talked to -- oh, I'm sorry.
MR. LEAVY: No, no, go ahead, Helen.
MR. LEAVY: He has not talked to Richardson, specifically. But let me just go over some of my notes on what I have for Turkey.
Well, as you know, the President said this earlier today, Turkey is a NATO ally, strategic partner of the United States and a great friend to the American people. The President certainly, on behalf of the American people, sends his condolences and our thoughts and prayers to the victims of this tragedy.
The U.S. has provided an initial grant of $25,000 to the Turkish Red Crescent in support of its relief efforts. Turkish Red Crescent. We have dispatched two teams -- I mentioned one team earlier today, but actually we sent two teams now. U.S. AID's Office of Foreign Assistance is deploying an actual search and rescue team today. It's a 70-person team, including dogs, to participate in the international rescue effort.
The team will include experts from Fairfax County and Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue Departments. They'll be joining teams from Germany, Switzerland and France, all arriving today. This is in addition to the coordination team that's been sent to help coordinate our efforts and the other international teams' efforts who are there on the ground. Both teams are preparing to leave today and will fly commercial air from Dover Air Force Base.
There has been no damage to any of our military installations in Turkey. In fact, Operation Northern Watch flew today. I expect the President will send a letter of condolences directly to President Demirel, to assure him that the United States will do whatever we can to help them.
Q Did you say $25,000, Red Crescent?
MR. LEAVY: Yes, $25,000 directly today to the Turkish Red Crescent to help in immediate search and rescue efforts.
Q From where, AID? The $25,000 was from?
MR. LEAVY: Actually, I don't know if it comes out of AID. I think U.S. ambassadors have the ability to appropriate from a special fund that the State Department has set up. Let me check on that, but I think they're able to draw money in emergency situations.
Q Maybe this was covered earlier, but what exactly were Richardson and Shelton doing in Turkey?
MR. LEAVY: I think Richardson was traveling there on Caspian sea gas and oil issues. As you know, we have tremendous interests in developing the Caspian region's oil and natural gas research, and so he's there for meetings. I believe General Shelton was just traveling, normal business. Turkey is a key ally in the containment policy in Iraq and for other regional security issues.
Q Were they in the same place or was Shelton --
MR. LEAVY: I don't think so. I'm not sure. I think Shelton was in Ankara; I'm not sure where Richardson was.
Q Is the President still trying to go there, David?
MR. LEAVY: I have no announcements on travel today.
Q Are we sending any medical aid?
MR. LEAVY: Yes. We can't make any travel announcements for the President today.
Q Are you hinting at something? (Laughter.)
MR. LEAVY: I'm dodging something. I'm avoiding something.
Q What are you dodging?
MR. LEAVY: I'm dodging making news on presidential travel today.
Q One year ago today, the President acknowledged his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, and he appeared before the grand jury. With the passage of time, can you say whether the institution of the presidency has emerged unscathed, or whether there has been some long-term damage to the office?
MR. LEAVY: Jake, do you want to take this one? (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: I'll leave that for others to judge. We're very focused on what the President's agenda he laid out in the State of the Union, and that's what we're hard at work at here today and what we'll continue to be at work at. But I'll let others judge the impact on the presidency.
Q Was there any acknowledgement by the President or the senior staff about this anniversary?
MR. SIEWERT: Not that I'm aware of, no.
Q Does the President believe that this whole thing had an impact on his presidency?
MR. SIEWERT: I believe he's addressed that question in a number of different venues on some interviews and I'll let him speak for himself on that issue.
Q Is he reflecting at all today on the anniversary of this?
MR. SIEWERT: Not that I'm aware of. I can check.
Q Do you have anything on the lawsuit filed against the Commerce Department today by some of the biggest steel manufacturers, saying that the -- arrangement involving Russia and Japan still doesn't do enough --
MR. SIEWERT: Against the suspension agreement with Russia? No, I'm not aware of that. I can check on that. They would probably best answer that at Commerce. If it involves the suspension agreement, we don't generally comment on those.
Q I've got a question for David. Two, actually. David, are we sending any medical assistance over to Turkey? When you see the scenes of people being treated in the streets -- are we sending any doctors, any equipment over?
MR. LEAVY: I believe the U.S. AID team has a medical component to it, and the $25,000 that we announced today will be put in appropriate to whatever needs are most urgent, and that includes shelter, food and medicine. Let me check beyond that, John, whether there's other larger plans to --
Q What about India, the doctrine of credible nuclear deterrence that they announced yesterday?
MR. LEAVY: Yes. Well, during the past year, we've made clear to both sides that it's our best judgment that their own security is not enhanced by having nuclear weapons, that in fact, the presence of nuclear weapons on the subcontinent raises the possibility of an arms race that is in no one's interest. As you know, Secretary Talbott has been engaged on this issue over the last year. He's met with the parties over eight times, I believe. And so we're trying to make the case that, in fact, their security is more enhanced in the absence of nuclear weapons.
Let me just say on this topic that the President sent Prime Minister Vajpayee and Prime Minister Sharif letters over the weekend, again urging restraint and urging a resumption of the Lahore dialogue that is the foundation of the engagement between the two sides.
In addition to that, we'll continue to make clear to both sides that it's our hope that they can engage directly on adhering or eventually ratifying the CTB treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which is so much in our own interests and the interests of both sides.
Q Did you say anything about the use of nuclear weapons by either side might draw an American response?
MR. LEAVY: No.
Q Turkey, in light of the rivalry with Greece, has Greece offered to help in any way or send condolences?
MR. LEAVY: That's a good question, Connie, I don't know. I don't know the answer to that.
Q David, this may be for you -- Jake. On the comments today in the Post by Mr. Vrooman about the fact that Wen Ho Lee was targeted simply because of his ethnicity, have you made any inquiries of either FBI or DOE to check, in fact, whether that was a factor in selecting him as the primary suspect?
MR. LEAVY: Well, let me just say more broadly, Jim, that it's not for the White House or the National Security Council to give its advice in terms of ongoing investigations. The Justice Department and the FBI are looking into this matter. It's a serious one. Any allegation of nuclear espionage at the labs merits investigation. It's ongoing and it's not appropriate for me to comment beyond that.
As I said earlier this morning, Secretary Richardson took action and what he deemed to be massive security violations that Mr. Lee was involved in, he took what he thought was the appropriate disciplinary actions and we support that.
Q Are you going to let that hang out there, that we actually go after people because of their ethnic background?
MR. LEAVY: Well, Helen, I'm not letting anything hang out there. What I'm saying is it's not appropriate --
Q -- not you, per se --
MR. LEAVY: Well, no, but I think it's an important point. It's not for us to tell the FBI and the Justice Department how to run their investigations. They're very capable and they have determined that there's an allegation that merits investigation and they're doing that. So it's not for me --
Q Don't you think, based on ethnic --
MR. LEAVY: You have to talk to them. It's not for me --
Q Well, the President has already spoken out against racial profiling.
MR. LEAVY: Again, I want to stay away from commenting on the merits of what is a very serious and ongoing investigation.
Q But it seems to me that the White House would want to distance itself from any allegations that this man was targeted because of his ethnic background.
MR. LEAVY: You know, again, there are public examples of massive security violations that he committed at the labs. Secretary Richardson took action. He was dismissed from his job. There's an ongoing investigation into the larger issue of espionage at the labs. And I think going beyond that, given the sensitive nature of the issue is just unwise.
Q You can say with reasonable certainty that he committed violations. Can you say with absolute certainty that he was not targeted because of his ethnic background?
MR. LEAVY: I'm confident that the Justice Department and the FBI are handling this appropriately, that they are taking the charges seriously and are investigating what they think are credible allegations.
Q That's was my original question to you, David, was not whether or not you want to comment on the investigation, but whether or not you, the White House, made any effort to find out from FBI or DOE if, in fact, his ethnicity was a factor in making him the prime suspect?
MR. LEAVY: I'm not aware of any effort.
Q You know, there are reports of endemic massive violations of security at Energy, and also even, I guess, the head of the CIA did the same thing Lee did with the computers. Do you know of any other prosecutions going on, investigations going on?
MR. LEAVY: Well, actually, I believe former Director Deutsch had an issue that was looked into by the Inspector General of the CIA, and it was handled according to what they deemed appropriate procedures. I wouldn't draw any direct correlations between that one instance and what has been clearly security violations at the labs.
Q David, would not the White House be disturbed if an individual were investigated because of his ethnic background?
MR. LEAVY: Well, again, Mark, as I said, let me just take one more on this. Mr. Lee was dismissed because of security violations that he committed --
Q Right, I understand that.
MR. LEAVY: -- and those are serious charges. The FBI and Justice Department are looking into credible allegations that there may have been espionage at the national labs. Those are serious charges. It's not for me to comment on what they may or may not do in terms of how they follow their leads or their investigation. I'm confident that they're handling it in the appropriate manner.
Q Is the White House aware of the counter charges?
MR. LEAVY: Well, I know, I've seen the reports, Helen, but again, I --
Q Are you looking into it and aren't you disturbed by it? A man who worked for the government, per se, would be making such a charge?
MR. LEAVY: There were allegations of espionage; those are being investigated. The Justice Department and the FBI wouldn't be devoting the resources and the time and the effort they are if there weren't allegations that merited further investigation. Now, I am confident that the FBI and the authorities that are in charge of handling this are doing it in the appropriate manner.
All right, can we call it a day, or do you guys want to --
Q If you want to take a breath. (Laughter.)
Q Jake, on the report this morning from GAO that the Vice President's office has exaggerated the savings from his efforts to reinvent government?
MR. SIEWERT: There are some fairly technical questions in that report that are probably best are referred to OMB. But anyone that doubts the real savings that have been achieved through downsizing government, through cutting the payroll of the federal government by hundreds of thousand of positions should just look at the bottom line.
We have a surplus in place now in this federal government after decades of deficits. The savings from controlling spending, from re-looking, taking a new look, a fresh look at the way we do everything in the government are undeniable. And we've gone from basically a $300-billion deficit when we took office to close to a $100-billion surplus this year.
So, I mean, I think -- again, I'll refer you to OMB on some of the particulars. But to nitpick over whether this item was double counted or that item was double counted is really to miss the big picture, which is that there have been tangible reductions in the size of government, there have been tangible reductions in government expenditures. And the results are real and they're evidenced every day as we begin paying down debt, retiring debt. We're in a much more solid financial footing, not just because the economy is doing well, but because we've restrained government spending and the scope and size of government, as well.
Q Well, that's in a sense what GAO said, which is there are a lot of things that contribute to the reduction of the size of the government, and what their question --
MR. SIEWERT: Oh, there's no doubt. We've done some analysis of that, as well. I mean, there are some savings that have been brought about because the economy has performed better than we possibly could have hoped. But there are real savings that have come from reducing the rate of government spending and by any measure, the rate of government spending is lower than it has been in years.
Q Their question is whether or not the Vice President can claim credit for things that resulted from savings because of the end of the Cold War, because of other programs that were implemented by the administration or by bureaucrats who work in the departments. Have you had any --
MR. SIEWERT: Government grew and grew and grew throughout the '80s. These days it's getting smaller and smaller and smaller, both in real dollars, in nominal dollars, in many cases, and also in payrolls. So the savings from that are tangible and real and the Vice President's efforts on reinventing government played a critical piece of restraining the size of government and helping us achieve the fiscal surplus that we have today.
Q Yesterday, Daschle proposed ending the embargo on food and medicine to Cuba. Does the President support that?
MR. SIEWERT: I'll let Dave handle that one, thanks.
MR. LEAVY: I thought I was done for the day. As you know, there is an embargo on Cuba that is the law of the land, and we certainly intend to honor that and enforce that. The President, earlier this year, put in measures to expand the government's people-to-people exchanges directly from the American people to the Cuban people. That includes food and medicine to non-government entities -- the NGOs in Cuba, the Catholic Church. I don't expect any news today or this week on it, Steve.
I think as the President said, earlier this year, that he looks forward to engaging the Congress in a bipartisan fashion on this issue as we go forward.
Q What kind of signal would you send to Congress when you've got people all over Capitol Hill talking about the need to drop these things, and that it would help American farmers by opening up a market for grain?
MR. LEAVY: Senators can travel wherever they want during their August recess; it's not for us to tell them where to go and where not to go. I think if there are credible ideas that Senator Daschle or other congressional leaders want put forward, we're certainly engaged on that. But there is an embargo on Cuba and we intend to honor that.
You remember, though, Jim, earlier this summer, the President issued some new executive orders governing how we monitor and implement -- we call it the sanctions policy, and that exempts, largely, food and medicine from being applied to our sanctions policy. There is an exception for that in terms of national security waiver, so there has been a general loosening of our sanctions policy, but in terms of Cuba, there is an embargo and we will honor it.
Q You seem to be leaving the door pretty wide open. Are you saying that the White House might support lifting the embargo on food and medicine for Cuba?
MR. LEAVY: No, no I'm not saying that at all, David. What I'm saying is, Senator Daschle traveled to Cuba this week. He came back with a proposal. As we go forward in August and when the Congress gets back, we'll certainly discuss in a bipartisan fashion this issue, but there's a full embargo that's been on Cuba for close to 40 years, been supported by Republican and Democratic administrations alike, and I don't see that changing.
Q If Congress sends you a bill that lifts that embargo and the Senate's already voted on this -- if the Congress sends you a bill that lifts that embargo, will the President sign it?
MR. LEAVY: That's a hypothetical, Jim. Let's see what happens when we get there.
Q Well, no more hypothetical than the appropriations bills that you're freely talking about.
MR. LEAVY: I'm going to dodge it.
Q You said you don't expect any news today or this week on it; I mean, would you rule out changing that policy this year?
MR. LEAVY: Well, again, I really want to stay away from speculating on hypothetical legislation that may or may not land on the President's desk. There is the law of the land; there is an embargo. We're implementing it, we're going to honor it. The President expanded people-to-people exchanges earlier this year to include food and medicine to non-government entities, including NGOs and the Catholic Church. That's our policy, that's not changing.
Q So any movement on this will be -- the lead will have to come from Congress?
MR. LEAVY: I think the administration will certainly discuss with Senator Daschle and any other congressional leader who has ideas in a bipartisan fashion to look at what's the best way forward. I'm not going to shut down any dialogue that a member of Congress may want to have with the administration. But I'm speaking today on what our policy is, and that's not changed.
Q So the President is going to take no lead on this issue, then?
MR. LEAVY: Well, I don't have any news for presidential initiative.
Q Does the President see a need for continuing the embargo against Cuba? And if there is a need, what is that need?
MR. LEAVY: Well, the President, when we announced the expanded people-to-people program earlier this year, he made very clear that we want to prepare the Cuban people for when democracy may finally come to the island. They've lived under a Communist dictator who's been isolated in the hemisphere for the better part of the latter half of the century. And the best way to lay the groundwork for the eventual change -- when there can be a government that respects democracy, respects human rights, freedom of the press, freedom of association -- is to expand and strengthen the people-to-people exchanges. That includes food and medicine directly to the organizations I listed earlier.
I don't see that Castro has done anything to deserve lifting an embargo today. Our policy of people-to-people exchanges has been successful, and we'll continue that.
Q Can you characterize the talks going on in Moscow around the ABM and START III? Is this a negotiating session, or something else? And who's leading the U.S. delegation?
MR. LEAVY: Yes, as you remember, when the President met with President Yeltsin in Cologne, one of the announcements out of that meeting was to begin discussions on arms control, on a potential START III agreement. Under Secretary of State John Holum is leading a delegation that's meeting with his counterparts in Moscow, I believe beginning today. I don't have any news beyond those discussions beginning.
Q Jake, the President's initiative on violence and the public service announcements that were unveiled today, they seem to be targeted towards children between the ages of eight and 12 years old. What is the program doing to try to identify the Eric Harrises and Dylan Klebolds of this world, the people who actually perpetrate the violence, as opposed to the ones who are affected by it?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think there are a number -- I mean, you're right, the program today is designed primarily to let children know. But children, really, of all ages -- it may be targeted a little more at the younger generation, but children of all ages know that they should talk to their parents -- and a lot of times, that children are the best early-warning system we have. They know more about what's going on in the schools than their parents do, and a lot of times more than teachers and administrators do.
And we've taken a number of steps, obviously, to help schools learn to identify those students. We've issued a guide to schools that we've mailed to every school in the country, and we've worked -- both the Attorney General and Secretary Riley were meeting with school superintendents last week to discuss ways that they could improve school safety and to identify children who might be troubled.
In addition, the President announced grants today that are geared towards promoting kind of innovative ideas that will work in helping to identify ways to make schools safer -- by getting community policemen in schools, in instances where that's warranted; and in targeting students, helping find students that might be violence-prone.
So there's a number of efforts we're taking through the COPS program, through our school safety initiative out of the Department of Education and the Department of Justice, that we're pushing. But, as the President said, there's not one answer to this problem. We're focused primarily, here in the federal government, on what we can do on gun safety, and we're doing what we can to promote also this national campaign. Because we really need an entire change in the culture of violence, and that's going to take some time.
And these ads are a good first step. The steps that the theater owners took are a good first step. And people are beginning to answer the challenge that the President laid out in May. But it's going to take more than just these steps to really change the culture. The President has often likened this to the campaign to end drunk driving, which took years and years to really take hold in the culture and really change the whole attitude that people had about driving after drinking.
Q But did you imagine that the commitment to air these PSAs will continue, or will all of the media moguls pat themselves on the back and say, we did our part, and let's move on to the next thing?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, in part that's up to you, but -- not you, personally, but you as a larger entity.
But we've obviously -- the roadblock this week is innovative. It's a first step. It's path-breaking. But I think that we would like the networks, the 20-plus networks that have agreed to air these PSAs, to continue to air them over the course of the year. We think that's incredibly important, and to look at other ways. The President has asked them to look at the programming that they have in place and to take a look at the incidences of violence in the entire entertainment culture, from video games to movies, to prime time TV.
Those are issues that I think the entertainment industry has to sort through for itself in a lot of ways, but the President has challenged them to look at what they do and how best to improve the attitude -- how best to accomplish the change in attitude that he'd like to see about violence.
Q Do you think it makes sense to use the President in these PSAs? I just wondered, because an appeal is supposed to be to younger folks and I guess their parents to talk about this. As I watch it, it just struck me that, like, it might be better to have, like, some sports figure that kids look up to or something like that, rather than the President who is obviously a partisan figure in this. I mean, he used the forum today to talk about how Republicans should pass gun control legislation. Do you know what I'm saying?
MR. SIEWERT: I think on the issue of whether parents should talk to their kids about what's going on in the schools, a lot of people look to the President for leadership, and appropriately so. I don't think that -- that's someone that children can respond to and listen to, and that's very effective. The Ad Council, I think, is best able to address the question of how they've sort of test-marketed these ads. I haven't seen a lot of that data, but he's certainly someone that commands -- you saw the children today, obviously, put a great deal of credence in what the President has to say.
The gun control debate is also something I think the American people are with us on, almost 100 percent -- not quite. But that's an issue where you may call it partisan; we think it's just common sense. The President has injected himself in that debate because he believes that it's very important that we take some measures to stop gun violence and do what we can to strengthen the gun laws. And Congress is still slow walking that.
Q Jake, when does the President think that Hollywood should come up with this sort of self-appraisal of what it can do to change its product maybe to influence --
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know that we've set a specific time line, but I think that we should all be looking right now at whatever we can do to stop the culture of violence, and taking whatever steps are appropriate as soon as possible.
Q But you want the legislation, you know, immediately --
MR. SIEWERT: That's because we work on those sensitive time lines. You know, Congress has a couple of more months here in town and we want to get it done as soon as they come back. We've obviously issued a challenge to the entertainment industry. The theater owners came forward today. A lot of the other entertainment industry came forward and we'll see what other measures they have to --
Q What's he got on his agenda before he takes off on vacation?
MR. SIEWERT: We may have a couple of more events before he leaves. Maybe something tomorrow and maybe something Thursday. I don't have any announcements for you yet, but we'll let you know as soon as we do. Probably something Wednesday and something Thursday.
Q Could I ask one more on Cuba, David, because I'm a little confused. Does the President believe that the current policy, with respect to the embargo on Cuba, is a good one and that it's working?
MR. LEAVY: Let me actually say one point before I get to that question, that one of the encouraging aspects of Senator Daschle's trip was that he met with human rights activists, or actually raised the issue of human rights in all of his meetings. It was at the top of his agenda. He did meet with human rights activists, and independent and non-government journalists. So that was another important aspect of that visit, so I want to just note that. That's certainly encouraging.
Look, the embargo has been U.S. policy for many, many years. Castro's a throwback to an era long gone. We're hoping for the day when true democracy can come to the island. That's what we're working towards. We're supporting the Cuban people. And I don't expect that to change today or anytime soon.
Q But you're not willing to say that the current policy is a good policy?
MR. LEAVY: Well, look, there's an embargo. As I said earlier, he hasn't done anything that I'm aware of that merits lifting it. We have a policy; we're following it, and we're going to stick to it.
All right, thank you.
Q We say that. (Laughter.)
END 1:50 P.M. EDT