THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release August 23, 1999
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART Edgartown School Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard
11:15 A.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Welcome to our first briefing here in Martha's Vineyard, which I hope will be a short first briefing. The President has left, will be playing golf this morning. He'll be playing in a foursome with Senator Frank Lautenberg. He's with Tom Lee, who is an investment banker out of Boston and a good friend of the President's, and with Matthew Gohd, who is an investment banker in New York, again a Democratic activist and friend of the President.
As the schedule I think we put out indicated, the President's only other event today that I know of is the fundraiser for the local hospital here tonight, which will also be held at the golf club. That's about 6:45 p.m. and there will be pool coverage of that. Other than that, I don't know anything on his schedule. We'll keep you updated through the day if he adds something or is moving around.
I think the pool report had a little bit on the party they went to. The President was at Jill and Ken Iscol's house last night. The President has known and the First Lady has known them for quite some time. I think their friend Zack is a good friend of Chelsea's. The party was basically their neighbors and some friends from the island here, most of whose names you probably wouldn't recognize. But it's something they've done for the last couple of years when coming up here.
Books. I know you all were interested in what the President brought along with him. I have -- I'm going to do this very quickly and I won't do names and spellings because Nanda has prepared a little cheat sheet using the Internet with all the proper spellings and reviews of the books. So some of the work has been done for you.
Anyway, in no particular order -- Against The Gods, The Remarkable Story of Risk, by Peter L. Bernstein, published in 1998: A comprehensive history of man's efforts to understand risk and probability, starting in ancient Greece and coming up to modern time.
The second book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, the Fate of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond, published this year: Explaining what William McNeill called the rise of the West has become the central problem in the study of global history.
The Last Patrician, Bobby Kennedy and the End of the American Aristocracy, by Michael Knox Beran, part biography, part cultural retrospective, 1998.
Crossing To Safety, by Wallace Earle Stegner, published in 1991. It looks like a novel which I have a description of here which we'll get out to you.
A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmstead and America in this 19th Century, published in 1999.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: a Memoir of the Life and Death, by Jean-Dominique Bauby, 1998. Waves of Rancor: Tuning in the Radical Right, by Robert Hillard and Michael Keith, 1999.
Hold on a second. The extreme right-wing has attempted to disguise itself in the form of the radio talk show host. But its virulent rhetoric has exposed it for what it really is, a hate-mongoring faction. (Laughter.) This book dares and succeeds in making the fact all the more horrifyingly evident -- that's by Studs Terkel in his review.
I get it next. (Laughter.)
Dark Lady, by Richard North Patterson, 1999. Cold Hit, by Linda Fairstein, also 1999. Prayers For Rain, by Dennis Lehane, 1999, a mystery. Just Revenge, by Alan Dershowitz. That's his latest this year, another novel. That's it.
One other piece of business. I know you all have been following, as the President has, the path of the hurricane, which has now been downgraded to a tropical storm. The President has received briefings each day from James Lee Witt, got the latest one this morning, written briefing of the fact that it had been downgraded to a tropical storm.
I think as they've been reporting out of FEMA and locally, the major concern now is the slow movement of the storm and the possibility of flooding because of the large amount of rainfall in the area. But as FEMA has put out, their region six regional operation center and the national emergency support team have been active now for the last couple of days. Their operational priorities for today are launching preliminary damage assessments, finalizing resource requirements based on the state's priorities, and finalizing federal staffing of disaster operations. I expect the President will probably get an update on this later in the day.
That's all I've got. What do you guys have?
Q Does this mean that James Lee will go to Texas or is he going to go to Turkey, as planned?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any travel plans for him to Texas. My understanding is that he will travel to Turkey when he can. But his primary focus over the last 24 hours has been helping FEMA and the federal resources mobilize and galvanize to deal with Hurricane, now tropical storm Bret.
Q What about -- might he go instead?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any -- I'd suggest to you give his office a call on that. I haven't heard any travel plans.
Q He's golfing with Senator Lautenberg. There have been reports that the Democratic Party has been trying to get the President to persuade Senator Lautenberg to reconsider his retirement plan.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I know there was some discussion months ago when he was making his decision on whether he would run or not about how much the President wanted him to run again, but that was some months ago. I'm not aware that they've discussed this recently and I'm also unaware that there is any effort to get him to reconsider.
Q Coming back to Hurricane Bret, do you know if the Department of Agriculture will be involved. It's a big farming area down there.
MR. LOCKHART: There is -- as we put out last night, the President declared -- signed a major disaster declaration last night for flooding and the high winds caused by Hurricane, now tropical storm Bret. There are half a dozen counties that are designated for public assistance in Category A and B, which are debris removal and emergency protective measures. And all of the counties in Texas will be eligible to apply under the Hazard Mitigation Grant program.
And FEMA in these cases is the coordinating agency, but there are half a dozen agencies that get involved in these things, from Agriculture to the Department of Labor to Transportation, under the auspices of FEMA's interagency role.
Q -- no chance the President will go to Texas is there?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that no one needs to change their reservations here.
Q Are you aware of any change in the U.S. government's support for Colombia in antidrug efforts? Is something going on now?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there is no decision that's been made on whether we will look for increased aid. I think we're working closely with Congress on that. I think the President and his national security team and members of Congress all agree that we face -- that Colombia faces real challenges in their counterdrug efforts and the peace process that's ongoing there, and those things are hard to separate -- and with their economy. So the President and others have publicly talked about the good work that President Pastrana has done, and we will look at any increased need that needs to be done there as far as our aid there and our efforts as far as helping the counterdrug and counternarcotics effort in Colombia. But there's been no decision on whether we would request additional aid.
Q Do you have any information on how the President's involvement in tonight's hospital fundraiser came about? And also, do you have any information on whether the Clintons will be getting together with some of the Kennedy family members who are here on the island?
MR. LOCKHART: On the second question, I don't. On the first question, the President was contacted by Vernon Jordan who is involved with the hospital. He relayed a request from the trustees who were doing this fundraiser to see if the President would participate, and the President happily agreed to help in this worthwhile effort.
Q What's the name of the hospital?
MR. LOCKHART: What's the name of the hospital? I'll get it for you, I don't have it. Martha's Vineyard Hospital.
Q Could you explain the rationale why the First Lady's fundraisers are closed to the press?
MR. LOCKHART: I suggest you call the First Lady's campaign for an explanation on that.
Q How much fundraising does the President want to do with the First Lady, and will this complicate things in terms of doing fundraising with Al Gore?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I don't think so. I think the President's view is he'll do what is appropriate for raising resources for Democrats around the country, and that includes the Vice President and the First Lady, should she decide to move forward with her Senate bid. And I think he's committed to, and I think his track record shows that he has devoted time to this and a good bit of effort. So I don't think he sees these things as mutually exclusive and he looks forward to helping all Democrats. I mean, next weekend we'll be doing some things for the DNC, which I think will obviously have a positive impact on people from all over the country, including the national candidate and the New York candidate.
Q Is this going to be like a once in a blue moon thing when he's doing something with the First Lady, or is this going to be something we're going to be seeing more and more of?
MR. LOCKHART: You know, it's impossible to predict. I think given the fact that we're here on vacation and she's done some things, it's natural for the President to attend and go and lend his support and have an opportunity to see some of his old friends who are coming to these events.
I expect as we move back to Washington and back to a work schedule, as the First Lady goes and travels around, she'll be more independent, and the President will be less visible. But I don't want to rule out that he won't go to a fundraiser or two down the road.
Q The First Lady's spokesman has talked about four fundraisers, two in the Hamptons for her, and two in upstate New York. Is the President going to go to all four of those?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know, let me check. I haven't looked that far ahead in the schedule. I know he's doing the fundraisers in the Hamptons, but let me look forward and check on the actual schedule.
Q Joe, has the President expressed any concern that he's going after sort of the same contributors for a lot of different causes, from his library to -- or will be -- from his library to the DNC to Mrs. Clinton's campaign to Mr. Gore's campaign. Does he feel like he might be over-extended a little bit or that these people are getting too many requests?
MR. LOCKHART: He's not expressed any concern to me on that. I think there are a lot of exciting candidates out there who are seeking a variety of offices in the Democratic Party and I think we have been impressed by the work the DNC has done, as well as individual campaigns in trying to raise the resources they'll need.
As you know, we always operate at sort of a handicap in relation to the Republican fundraising efforts. But the President is committed to helping Democrats on all levels, and there are more candidates out there this year -- the President knows he'll just have to work harder.
Q It's been a year now since the attack on bin Laden -- is the administration still satisfied that there as enough evidence in that plan --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the administration was satisfied with the evidence at the time, justified the strike, and believes that since then the evidence has grown stronger.
Q As to my last question, you mentioned the list of reading and stuff. Sometimes he brings up international reading or stuff he has asked the NSC to prepare for him. Do you know about what type of topics he's interested in this year?
MR. LOCKHART: He's got some -- I know Mr. Berger had passed on to him a long article on some of -- that was written in the region on the Middle East peace process that he was reading on the plane up. He has got a couple of DLC -- I think it's called "Blueprint," their magazine with him that he was leafing through on one of the flights over to Nantucket. And he's got some domestic books that they've sent along, particularly on some of the budget and tax issues that we're going to face when we go back. So I think that will evolve over the week and more paper will probably come in this direction as we get closer to returning to Washington.
Q Any tomes on Africa or APEC or anything like that?
MR. LOCKHART: Not at this point. But I think as we get closer -- I mean, you all know that he never puts all of this completely aside. So I think as we wind down the end of this week and as we move to New York, he'll probably spend more time focusing on getting ready for returning to Washington.
Q Joe, this is a big stack of books. Does he tend to read at night, in the morning?
MR. LOCKHART: He generally is a reader into the evening and late, but also when he's on vacation he has time in the day and the afternoon -- for instance, when he doesn't want to play golf, that's what you can often find him doing. I think he did a good bit of it this weekend, just around the house.
Q That's a lot of books. Is he going to read them all from cover to cover, or does he --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure whether they'll all get done, but he's always looking for more. As I mentioned to Nanda on the way out, he admired the book I was reading on the plane on the way up and asked for it. I told him he could have it when I was done. (Laughter.)
Q What was it?
MR. LOCKHART: It was a mystery -- one of the Spencer series of mysteries, which he had actually given me my first one, so --
Q My apologies. No announcement was made that you were starting briefing. Have I missed anything? I'll check back.
MR. LOCKHART: By all counts, you've missed nothing. The briefing has begun. Okay. (Laughter.) We're going to put out a list of books, an annotated list.
Q Joe, give me some sense of what kind of daily briefings the President receives, and are they in verbal, or does he get a national security briefing?
MR. LOCKHART: He gets a written national security briefing every morning, but those are supplemented on a case-by-case and day-by-day basis. I suspect that before the day is over, he'll probably talk to Mr. Berger on a number of issues. He might check in with Mr. Podesta if he's got any questions on any domestic issues. So he gets both the national security briefing in the morning, and at the end of the day he gets a memo from John Podesta, which is a wrap-up of what everybody's been doing in the White House on that particular day. So those things come every day, and then there's additional calls as warranted.
Q I'm trying to get some sense of how much time, even when he's on vacation, still has to focus on the business of the day.
MR. LOCKHART: It all depends on what's going on, on a particular day. As I'm sure you can imagine, he can't separate himself totally, nor is it in his personality to do that. But I think particularly this weekend, he had a chance to relax, focus on spending time with the First Lady and then Chelsea, and he did a lot, I think, of pleasure reading and he tried not to burden them with too much paperwork from Washington.
Q Is there an NSC person here?
MR. LOCKHART: There's always an NSC person. It is now Cindy Guire. It was Bob Ratke over the weekend, but he had to return to Washington, so they've done their switch-out.
Q There's a poll in today's Globe suggesting that perhaps voters aren't too much interested in the GOP's tax cut. Any reaction?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we've been making the case all along, and the American public has responded, that they want Washington to do first things first. They want to make sure that Social Security and Medicare are strengthened and preserved for the next generations, and they want to make sure that we pay down the debt that the Republican administration ran up in the 12 years prior to the President taking office. And I think people understand that there is a priority on doing these first things first. There is money available for a tax cut. I think there's support for the kind of tax cut the President and the Democrats have talked about. But most people believe that to pay for the tax cut first and worry about everything else later is a risky way to do business and would undermine what we've accomplished over the last seven years.
Q You've seen the Republican commercial on local cable television?
MR. LOCKHART: I've seen the last 15 seconds of it just before I came out here and I doubt, given the amount of television he normally watches, I doubt it.
Q How does he feel about what the commercial asks him to do, which is contact Daschle to support the lockbox, since he is for it?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that we have a real lockbox that will set aside the money to go toward paying down debt and using the savings for strengthening Social Security and Medicare for the priorities of running this government. The Republicans have a leaky lockbox that we don't support which, if you look at their budget you know, and you look at their tax cut and you look at where they want to spend their money, you know the first thing that will happen is that lockbox will be raided in order to pay for their spending.
If you look at the budget that they've laid out and if you look at the tax cut, you'll understand the no one in the out-years will be willing to stand by and pass a 50-percent cut in discretionary spending, which is what they've been forced to do. And so you have to ask yourself where would the money come from -it would come from the leaky lockbox and Social Security.
Q -- taken any interest to the George Bush drug controversy?
MR. LOCKHART: Has he --
Q -- paid any interest? Has he made any comment?
MR. LOCKHART: He's seen the stories in the paper, but has not --
Q -- what he thinks about it?
MR. LOCKHART: Nothing that he's really expressed.
Q Given the current tensions between China and Taiwan, how important does the President think his meeting with Jiang Zemin will be in New Zealand, and is he hoping that meeting will help decrease tensions?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we've worked very hard over the last weeks to deal directly with the parties to try to decrease the tensions to promote cross-straits dialogue, and I think any meeting that the President has with his counterpart from China is important. But if this is an opportunity to continue the effort of trying to reduce tensions, then it's one that the President looks forward to taking.
Q A stupid question. Boston readers will want to know what is the name of the Spencer book.
MR. LOCKHART: I'll find it. I've got it in the -- he actually has read quite a few of them, but had not read this one, and he had a claim to taking it from me because the first one that I read came -- I took from him.
Q Joe, any federal funds for the restructuring of The Gay Lobster, which was destroyed in the thunderstorm this weekend? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I've heard that there is some Republican opposition -- (laughter) -- based on the kind of prejudice that I don't understand, but I think we'll work through this.
Q Do you think the President might tour the disaster site? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Well, if you all want to get a hug, just stand out there and we'll bring him down. Thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 11:36 A.M. EDT