THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (New York, New York) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release September 21, 1999
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART U.S. Mission New York, New York
3:37 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Since this qualifies as the strangest setting for a briefing, let me start with the strangest announcement. "President Clinton declares a major disaster area exists in the White House Briefing Room." (Laughter.) Who wrote this? Knoller? This isn't yours? Wait a second, let me read the last line, and if this isn't telling. "FEMA Director James Lee Witt appointed Press Secretary Joe Lockhart from Upper Press Region 1 to handle all further disaster surveys, to disburse federal funding and to, lastly, in Director Witt's words -- and this is when I knew it was Knoller -- "to spread his love like sunshine in this hour of darkness." (Laughter.) It's Knoller.
Okay, you guys have questions?
Q Joe, what do you think of that -- study that three recent foreign trips by the President cost in excess of $70 million? That sounds like a lot. Does it strike the White House that way?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the problem with the report is it kind of lacks context as compared to what, what are we talking about here. I think the senators who talked about the report today criticized the President for what they said is excessive traveling. I think that criticism is unfounded. The President has traveled -- if you look at the previous President in the first term -- less than President Bush. And I think if you look at the costs, there is a high cost of providing physical security to the President when he's overseas and providing secure communications. We are the lone remaining superpower in the world. The President needs the ability to handle any crisis any time, anywhere. That comes at a cost.
But I think if you look at the trips, and you look at what we get for them, you'll find that these trips more than pay for themselves. One-third of the 20 million new jobs created in this country under this administration comes from increased exports. The President has been very aggressive about opening markets so that jobs can be created here at home. We have advanced our interests as far as promoting democracy, as far as promoting human rights, as far as promoting the national security interests of this country.
And I think you can't put an arbitrary number on the President going around the world and pursuing our interest. I think, you know, as Senator Thomas and Senator Craig, two of the most prolific foreign travelers in the Senate, know, this is a new, globalized world, where our interests are not dictated by what's going on at home; they're dictated by what's going on around the world. And the President has pursued those.
Q Does it seem likely or possible that the President might be able to do these trips at a lower cost?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think if you look at the report and look at the fine print -- and I hope people do -- you'll find that the vast majority of these costs are incurred for physical security and communications over at the Pentagon. This is something that the Pentagon has streamlined. They do spend their money more effectively. But it costs money.
Particularly on a trip like Africa, where there is very modest -- at best -- infrastructure, where you have to go in and create your own infrastructure in order to provide the kind of security and communications that the President needs.
So I think we can always look for ways to be more efficient and economical, but the bottom line on this is the report notes, is, that the kind of costs incurred by this President over at DOD are very similar to the costs incurred by President Bush and President Reagan and previous presidents. So the kind of engagement around the world that the country deserves does cost money, but I think the President believes that it's money well spent.
As far as the criticism that we're wasting money, again, I think you need to provide some context here. What I know is that during the previous administrations, we quadrupled the national debt, and during President Clinton's administration, we have gone from record deficits to record surpluses, so we know how to manage money.
Q China's offered aid to Taiwan for the earthquake. How does the administration view that? Is it a good thing, and how do you think Taiwan is --
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's a very positive step in an hour of human tragedy for all countries, including China, to step forward and provide the kind of help that is appropriate and the kind of help the countries have unique ability to provide.
As far as trying to read something into the broader relationship, I think most people now are rightly focused on dealing with the human tragedy of the earthquake, and are too focused on that to really be paying much attention to broader issues.
Q What would the United States be doing in terms of aid to Taiwan?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we're doing what we can do best, which is providing specialized people and specialized equipment. There is a team of 21 people that left late last night that is made up of mostly people from the Fairfax search and rescue operation, but also in that team are some people from the Miami-Dade team.
Earlier today, a 68-person team left. As far as assistance, we're looking at probably several million dollars in transport and specialized equipment that we have as far as working with these kinds of disasters in the aftermath of an earthquake.
Q I just want to know if anything has come out of the meetings at the U.N. today that you can tell us about. We've heard the speech, but there's been a lot of bilateral meetings. Has anything come out of them yet?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect that we'll give you a full readout of that when Mr. Steinberg is here sometime in half an hour.
Q Does the fact that the U.S. doesn't have diplomatic relations with Taiwan impact us in our ability to help them in any way? Do we have fewer people there than we would in a country that we had full relations with?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think there's been any impediment to our reacting aggressively and quickly, because we'll have probably by day one close to a 100-person team there and a lot of specialized equipment. The U.N. has received permission from China to go in and form a humanitarian response. So I think the international community's response to Taiwan has been quick, it's been appropriate, given the disaster there, and will be quite effective.
Q Is the White House sending up a budget proposal on -- to pay for debt relief?
MR. LOCKHART: I think at some time in the near future there will be a budget amendment that will go up on a series of issues, one of which is debt relief, as the Treasury Secretary talked about today. It has not gone up yet, so when it goes up, I'll give you a full briefing on it. But this is a budget amendment where -- it's things that have happened since we sent up our original budget, and they're fully paid for.
Q What would be in it besides the debt relief?
MR. LOCKHART: We'll let you know when it goes up.
Q Joe, has the President been trying to get a consensus on Iraq while he's up here? Has he been pressing that issue? Last night, we were told it was an extraordinarily difficult negotiation. Has it moved forward? And is he trying to move it forward?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'll leave it to Mr. Steinberg to talk about the bilateral meetings. Obviously, we have an interest in -- a very simple interest with Iraq, and it can be summed up in one word, which is compliance. We're looking for compliance with the U.N. resolutions. And we're looking to move forward to see how we can get full compliance.
As far as any advancement today, I don't have any to report to you. If there's more news later today, it'll come out of the U.N. here. And as far as the bilats, when Jim gets here he can fill you in on that.
Q Back on the GAO report, one Republican member of Congress chose to focus on the apology the President made while in Africa. And he commented that he felt it was an awful lot to pay for that apology, referring to going all the way there. Your reaction to that?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that's a particularly short-sighted view of the trip. This was an historic trip to an extraordinarily important continent to the United States and to the world. The President traveled Africa like no U.S. President has ever traveled before, really providing new insights for the American public on Africa and new insights for the African public on America and our role in the world. This in time will I think be seen as a ground-breaking trip, one that establishes and firms up our relationships.
These are economies that are growing over there at 20-30 percent a year. Africa will be an important trade partner as we go into the 21st century with the United States. And I think people who choose to focus on one speech and overlook 13 days of important public diplomacy and economic development are trying to find a political issue to wave and are, frankly, missing the point of the whole trip.
I mean, I'll remind the senators who are somewhat critical of the whole trip, we took a very large, active and vibrant CODEL with us. Many members of Congress came, and I think were very heartened by what they saw about our relations with African nations. And it was very important that we took members of Congress with us.
Q The President promised today he's going to try to get the U.N. arrears -- appropriations bill. Realistically, what would you say the prospects for that are?
MR. LOCKHART: We've made progress. We have a Senate bill that I think addresses U.N. arrears. We don't have any language in the House version yet, but that is now going to go to conference. We don't as of yet have many of the extraneous political issues that often get put on U.N. arrears, have come into play, but again, we're early in this process so I don't want to give them any ideas for how to move forward.
It's an important subject. I think the President comes here and has indicated here today, in his words, called the U.N. the indispensable institution, and I think it's important, given the importance of the U.N. to the United States and around the world, that we get our arrears taken care of and we pay our share so that the U.N. can move forward.
Q Joe, with the President obviously going to veto the Republican tax bill later this week, and going back to the Hill for action, and I don't think the appropriations bills -- most of them haven't gotten anywhere -- should people be concerned that we're only about 10 days away from the end of the fiscal year and there is so little of the legislative work that's been completed yet?
MR. LOCKHART: I think people should be concerned that Congress is once again running up to the deadline with very little of the work that they're charged to do having been done. I think equally or even more concerning to the public is the kind of gimmicks and tricks that they have now publicly and somewhat proudly professed to be engaging in in order to try to make the numbers add up. I mean, one leading Republican senator said, it's about how smoky the smoke is and about how blue the mirrors are. Other senators chided their leadership and said, please cut out the gimmicks and come clean and be straight with the American public.
So I think the fact that we're not getting a straightforward process and that it is again this year well behind is something that should be a concern to the public.
Q Is this going to go to Congress before the end of the fiscal year -- is that right?
MR. LOCKHART: I would expect it to go up soon.
Q This week?
MR. LOCKHART: Soon.
Q Back to the arrears, Clinton got a rather subdued response from the General Assembly today, and some diplomats suggested this was because they are sick of having the United States not pay its bills. Do you think that this is what caused that?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there's been obvious and articulated concern on this issue from many quarters. But I think that if you go back and you look at the response the President has gotten, this year's was not muted. It is not a place that -- you know, it's not like a basketball arena, where people are standing wildly cheering. I think last year's response was somewhat out of the ordinary, given the circumstances of what was going on, and that was widely reported on. But I think the response the President got was positive today, and it just didn't feel muted to me.
Q Joe, can you tell us about the fundraiser he's got tonight, and why he's going to that fundraiser?
MR. LOCKHART: I could if I knew anything about it. I'll tell you about it in a few minutes. I'll go read my book.
Q Joe, what kind of event do we have tomorrow for the veto ceremony? What are you planning?
MR. LOCKHART: Ahh, Knoller is off the hook. The first release was written by Julia Payne, including help from Jason Schechter, Mark Bernstein, Jennifer Palmieri, and Jeff Shesol. Don't they have enough to do back there? (Laughter.)
I'm sorry. Mark, you asked me a question.
Q Yes, what kind of event are you planning for --
MR. LOCKHART: I'll let you know once I know. I'm waiting for some info myself, and once I get it, I'll let you guys know.
END 3:53 P.M. EDT