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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 29, 1999
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY
                              JOE LOCKHART

                           The Briefing Room

3:12 P.M. EDT

MR. LOCKHART: Let me do a quick announcement. The National Security Advisor, Samuel Berger, will speak tomorrow on Kosovo at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He'll deliver the remarks at 10:00 a.m. on the second floor at the U.S. Institute of Peace, which is 1200 17th Street, N.W. The speech is open to the press. Mr. Berger will take questions immediately following his remarks. We've done a media advisory laying out what he'll be talking about, so I hope you'll all cover that.


Q Joe, what did the President think of the Vice President's decision to move his campaign to Tennessee and to challenge Bradley to a series of debates? Does he think that's a good strategy?

MR. LOCKHART: I haven't talked to the President today about that. He was on his way when I heard this stuff; that's why I haven't had a chance to talk to him. But I can take an educated guess based on what I've heard him say in general. I think you've probably heard the President talk about how important he thought it was to headquarter his election bid out of Little Rock, and resist attempts to take it to Washington. He just believes that you're just better off closer to the people outside the Beltway.

As far as debates, the President participated in a lot of them. He's spoken openly about campaigns being about ideas. There's no better place to throw ideas back and forth than a debate. So I think he'd view these developments as positive.

Q What's wrong with people in the Beltway? Are you talking about yourself?

MR. LOCKHART: Sure. Absolutely.

Q You mean you're out of touch with the country and so forth?

MR. LOCKHART: No. Listen, look what's gone on on the Beltway in the last week alone if you want to know how distorted things have gotten. Okay, let me give you a couple of examples. I'd like someone in this room or someone on Capitol Hill to go out to Middle America and explain to them how we've just expanded the calendar to a 13th month. I'd like someone from inside the Beltway to go out to the West Coast and say, you know, we've got all this spending and from time to time there's emergencies and here's one -- we forgot we had to do the census. I know we've done it every year since 1790, or every 10 years, but this time we forgot, and it's really an emergency, so we're not going to put it under the budget caps. I'd like someone from inside the Beltway to go down South and explain the new ad campaign from the Republicans in the House about even though their own CBO says that they're spending the Social Security surplus, that they're not and we are. I think you get out --

Q It's only the Republicans who really are inside the Beltway, the White House is not.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, these are the examples I'm using. (Laughter.) It's their job to find examples on us.

Q Joe, it's not just moving away from Washington, it's also moving away from the White House. Does Gore's decision mean that the White House has become a liability to him?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think so. I think he articulated his reasons very clearly today and they are sound reasons.

Q Did the President recommend this step to him?

MR. LOCKHART: As I articulated here, I know what the President's general views are. If he had any advice for the Vice President, that would be private between the two of them. I don't know one way or the other.

Q So the President will not be taking phone calls from political reporters to ask what advice he's giving the Vice President?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, you can dial the number.

Q What number is that?

MR. LOCKHART: Try 1414.

Q Joe, some of the campaign fundraising reports are supposed to come out tomorrow. Does the President have any plans to step up fundraising for the Vice President?

MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I think we announced what the President will be doing as far as the Vice President's campaign and also as far as the DNC for the next couple months. I expect him to keep those commitments.

Q Well, we expect Gore's fundraising to be pretty low, relative to Bradley's. So the expectation is that he's going to need more money to stay ahead of Bradley.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't have any expectations. You, obviously, either know more about it than I do, or just guessing. And we'll leave it until the numbers come out, and the I'll probably say I'm not talking about it because that's for them to talk about.

Q Since the President is so attuned to politics, does he think that his wife ought to announce if she's running, or not running, at some point? She's causing a lot of frustration and he's a politician, he would --

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President has indicated he'll support whatever decision the First Lady makes and support her judgment on the timing of any such decision.

Q Joe, with Bradley rising in the polls, apparently making a real race out of this nomination at this stage, do you expect the President or anticipate he would reconsider his full-fledged support for Gore and perhaps adopt a more neutral stance?

MR. LOCKHART: No. I think the basis of the President's support for the Vice President is the partnership that they've enjoyed on a wide range of issues and the very important role he's played in the historic economic turnaround in this country, in the historic change in the way we deal with issues like welfare and crime, and the important contribution he's made to this administration and to this country. And there's nothing that can change that.

Q Should Bradley win, would he campaign or work on Bradley's behalf?

MR. LOCKHART: That was two "ifs," but I think I've said before for the record, the President will enthusiastically work for the Democratic nominee, which we fully expect to be the Vice President.

Q Congressman DeLay said yesterday that they don't want to negotiate a large package on the budget, that they're going to pass one appropriations bill after another and send them down to you. How do you feel about that strategy? Is that a possible scenario?

MR. LOCKHART: There's been a lot coming from Congressman DeLay and some of his colleagues, and I think this briefing has sort of turned into a kind of running commentary on what's increasingly become a horror show up there, as they try to work themselves out of the box they're in. And just when you think it couldn't get worse, it has gotten worse.

They held a press conference today, despite the fact that their own CBO has come in and scored their appropriations just through August -- and things have gotten considerably worse since then as far as how they've moved forward -- and said they're spending the Social Security surplus. Well, what's their response to that? It's not making the tough choices; it's having a press conference saying, no, we're not doing it, they're doing it -- in the best schoolyard tradition. And they're going to back that up now with what they say is a big ad campaign saying the same thing.

The American people understand that you can give as many speeches as you want, hold as many press conferences as you want, run as many ads as you want, but the numbers don't lie, the numbers tell the truth. And the numbers tell the truth, a story, and the truth that they don't like, that through all their gimmicks all of their gamesmanship, all of their 13-month advance appropriations, you can't get around that if you don't make the tough choices, you're going to do exactly what they say they're not doing.

Now, I think we've talked about some of this before, but it's gotten considerably worse now that we see they're looking for some sort of fig leaf on the offset front. So let's look at where they've gone. After they put forward a $792-billion tax cut, they've gone now and they want to raise the bulk of this money by going after the EITC, the earned income tax credit, which is an important tax credit for working poor -- people who are working their way up who want to work, but need the help. But the Republicans have decided that this is a rich target and they want to effectively raise taxes on them.

They want to go after housing vouchers for working poor. They want to go after adoption services. They want to go after grants for dislocated workers, for people who have lost their job because of the threat posed by foreign companies. It just strikes me, when you look at this approach, when you've got Armey and Representative DeLay, you don't need Dickens, you don't need these bleak stories. They have taken something that was a very tight box and I think made it considerably worse for themselves.

Q But, I mean, from a policy point of view, does it make any real difference if you dip into the Social Security trust fund -- either you do it or Republicans do it? Because I think the President said something like you'd only need to reserve like 62 percent of the surplus in order to fund his proposal to extend the solvency. Obviously, they're not going to take 38 percent of the trust fund. But if you just take a few billion out of there, I mean, what difference does it make?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the question is, where do you stop. And I think we have, on the heels of the mid-session review, put forward a plan that reserves all of the Social Security surplus. And we think that's how you should do it. And there are ways to do it. There are straightforward, honest ways to do that. We have put forward a plan and we're anxious to work with the Republicans on it.

I mean, one of the other things Congressman DeLay said, to be more direct to the question, is that they're not going to work with us. They somehow think that the best approach here is to not work with the Democrats and to not work with the President. And somehow they'll be able to walk out of town having convinced everybody through the power of their persuasion that these numbers all add up. They don't. People understand that. You can't pick up a newspaper and look at the editorial page and not see that people are on to this.

So we believe -- one of the fundamental differences in the proposal -- in the lockbox we've put forward, which ours actually extends solvency, which theirs doesn't. It's hard to take their proposals of lockbox very seriously where, at the same time, they're talking about how important it is they're dipping into the trust fund.

Q You said John Podesta was up on the Hill today. Has there been any progress in any of the spending bills, or is what DeLay said right, that nobody's -- people are not working together, they're talking past each other?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we continue to work with them on individual appropriations bills. They know our view of a number of them. But as you know, the President signed the Treasury posted bill today, which is important. We had important advances in there, including the provisions on contraceptives, which we think are important.

The President has made it very clear, he wants to work with Congress and he's willing to work with Congress. If Congressman DeLay speaks for the Republicans, he's made it very clear that they're not interested in making progress, they're interested in scoring points.

I just honestly can't see the benefit here because they have dealt themselves an extraordinarily weak hand here based on the fact that the American people understand what the foundation is of the economic recovery -- honest, straightforward budgeting, making the tough choices, moving forward, and we've seen the results. Somehow, they think that they can create a new month and all of their problems will go away. They can tax the poor and all of their problems will go away. I don't think they will.

Q The President announced also a new debt relief initiative today, didn't he? He wanted to up the debt relief to the HIPC countries to 100 percent. For those of us without total recall, was the last figure 90 percent?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. He's basically gone -- and I think the numbers that were put forward in the budget amendment last week will cover the cost of that. But we now believe that based on the ability to conform with some of the reforms that debt relief is normally based on, and based on the most basic needs of many of these countries, we can, with the proposal we sent forward, go from 90 to 100.

Q Do you hope the other major donor countries will match this 100 percent relief proposal?

MR. LOCKHART: We certainly hope -- it's certainly our hope that we take a leadership role around the world in this country and that others will do -- we can't solve this problem by ourselves, and we certainly believe that other countries can and will do more.

Q And my last question on that. I know Pope John Paul II has made this a big issue, this debt relief. Was that part of the influence in making this decision, or why did the President do this?

MR. LOCKHART: There's a wide range of people from all walks of life, from as diverse as the Pope, and Bono in the music industry, who were there -- who was in Cologne and made effective representation of this point of view and many others as far as debt relief and forgiveness.

I think the President has for a long time been working on this and we're at the point now where we believe we can move, based on the amendment we sent up last week to go to this 100 percent level.

Q Joe, how many countries would be affected by this debt relief? And is it $1 billion?

MR. LOCKHART: It is -- the budget amendment was $850 million, which amended a $120-million request. So you're up at about $970 million, so very close to $1 billion.

As far as how many countries, these are the so-called HIPC countries. I don't have an actual list, but I think the Secretary of Treasury is right about now talking to the reporters who cover that building to go through some of the details.

Q Joe, so all the $970 million would go to those countries over four years for debt relief?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I mean, we're talking about debt relief or forgiveness, and it's the cost to us in order to do that. It's not -- this isn't a cash payment.

Q Do you have anything on this AP report on the Korean War -- are you familiar with it -- that many South Korean refugees, women and children, were massacred in the early days of the Korean War?

MR. LOCKHART: No. I haven't heard of that particular story. I've heard that there's been some talk going on on repatriation of remains, but I haven't seen that. Let me look into that.

Q A budget question? Energy and Interior, the President has that. Is he going to sign that? Apparently it was changed to deal with an objectionable environmental rider.

MR. LOCKHART: We have received Energy and Water. I am reliably informed that objectionable provisions have been removed. I expect the President to move on that soon.

Q Can you tell us anything about the letter that the President apparently sent to the Iranian leader asking for help on resolving the issue of the Khobar Tower bombing?

MR. LOCKHART: I will acknowledge that the President did send a letter. I'm not going to get into the details of the letter, as it's a private, diplomatic correspondence. I will make the point, though, that we have said before that we are seeking the help of many countries in this, including Iran.

Q And what kind of a response have you gotten from Iran?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I'm not going to get into whether they have responded or how they've responded. You can put that question directly to them or their representatives. I will point out that they have said in public forums, they have stated publicly that they're not responsible for the Khobar Towers bombing.

Q Joe, could I ask two questions about this picnic controversy on Friday? Seattle Times quoted the President this week, saying that the FBI wants the press to focus on campaign fundraising instead of Waco. Is that true, and if so, why would he say that?

MR. LOCKHART: I wasn't there, so I don't know whether it's true. And I'll tell you why I'm not going to investigate it any further. We, from time to time, like to have you all down here to enjoy a social occasion with the President. Those occasions are off the record, and those who can't respect those and I'm not going to take their questions. Not that you asked it, but --

Q Yes, this is a second question, not about what the President said, but a report that you banned this reporter from future social events --

MR. LOCKHART: First off, I think I've lectured on the virtues or lack thereof of depending on the Drudge Report for your news, but I'll make an exception and actually answer that question, even though that's how you're basing your -- I was asked for comment from the reporter about the incident, and I made the comment that the only regret I have is inviting him to the party, and I wouldn't make that mistake again. So to the extent that we judge coverage of this building by the parties, he's banned.

But, no, the guy, he can come and over the building any way he wants. I think -- and I hope most of you in this room would agree with me -- that when we have social occasions here at the White House, there is a minimum standard of civility that we should all recognize and practice. And I think we try very hard on our side to do that. I know that the vast majority of you try very hard on your side, and I just -- it's out of line when someone doesn't know how to act at a party.

Q The President -- a reporter has the right to ask a question and the President doesn't have to answer it. I don't think you have the right to ban anyone from a social engagement here.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, so be it.

Q Joe, back on the issue of Iran. Did Iran send any signals, was there anything in particular that prompted this letter? Had they been sending signals, had they had any information or were willing to help on terrorism issues?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into the details or the circumstances or atmospherics of this correspondence.

Q Can you say anything about whether the U.S. is working in the U.N. to lift restrictions on Iraqi oil exports?

MR. LOCKHART: Iraqi oil exports? I mean, there's been a very public process going on looking at ways to get compliance and get inspectors back in Iraq. The U.S. has expressed support and worked on the Anglo-Dutch proposal. We have not moved forward to and made significant -- to push that through in any way at the United Nations. We're going to continue working on it, but again, ultimately, the United Nations countries agree that what we need here is compliance.

Q A few minutes ago when you were talking about comments by DeLay, you pretty much said that they either have to work -- Republicans either have to work with you or they won't be able to walk out of town. So is that a veiled threat, a veto threat?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I said they won't work with us, and all they want to do is pass these bills or use phony numbers and go home, rather than to work with us to make the tough decisions. We very much hope and pray that they'll finish their work in the next three weeks and they will go home, and we'll be finished with this and we'll move on to other challenges. They promised -- they made a series of promises; one was they'd get their work done on time, they didn't do that. They promised not to bust the caps. Senator Lott has admitted that they would bust the caps.

They promised not to spend the Social Security surplus. Speaker Hastert, on a Sunday talk show, basically came out and said, we're going to have to do that. We want them to -- I think a little less posturing, a few less press conferences, a few less political advertisements, a little more work, and we just might get something done for the American people.

Q Joe, when do you expect the President to sign the continued resolution and will he have any kind of deadline or set a date when he won't sign any more?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I expect we'll have more to say about that tomorrow. I expect that those comments will reflect the belief that we can get what we need to get done in the next three weeks, we don't need to extend any further, and it's time to get to work.

Q Do you have anything on the President's schedule tomorrow? The week ahead showed us nothing.

MR. LOCKHART: We are going tomorrow afternoon to New York. I think we had not put that on by the time of the week ahead. We're going up and speaking --

Q Right. Aside from the education thing.

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. Nothing that I've got now. I wouldn't rule out that we'd say something on the way out, which we might do something on the CR. There are some other issues that are floating around.

Q He is going to sign it, there's no question.

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I don't think we've tried to be coy about the fact he'll sign it, but I think it's important to recognize that this is not -- we don't view this as an indefinite extension for them to get their work done on a schedule other than working hard to get it done in the next three weeks.

Q Joe, about the education summit, what are we expecting there?

MR. LOCKHART: I think this is an important event for the President. As you know, he worked on these summits and with group when he was a governor. It was very instrumental and formulating and implementing the Goals 2000, which is now 10 years on. It's been a very successful program. It is also very much illustrative of how state officials, governors, the federal government and private enterprise can work together to promote education. So this has been something the President's been talking about for 20 years, and in many ways, he'll be going back to talk to a lot of old friends about an issue that, whether you're a Democrat or you're a Republican, in the context of this group, people have worked hard on for the last two decades.

Q And will he once again threaten veto --

MR. LOCKHART: I think he's been very clear on where he is on labor age -- whether he'll work that into his speech tomorrow, I don't know.

Q The administration has more than once said you thought all these issues could be resolved in barely two weeks' time. So by the President agreeing to give Republicans three weeks, is he give them a three-week rope to hang themselves?

MR. LOCKHART: No. Our problem of -- one of the reasons we wanted two weeks and not three was our fear that if we gave them three weeks we might get to a 14th month, and it's hard enough to explain the 13th month to people.

I think that we shouldn't get caught up in -- we shouldn't dig in our heels, because we think it's two weeks it has to be two. They made a case with their continuing resolution that they couldn't get their work done. They made the case that they needed an extra three weeks to get it done. We accepted that in good faith.

We look forward to working with them. We hope that it's just politics and positioning that leads Representative DeLay to make comments like he's made over the last few weeks about what the Republican strategy is and what they hope to do, because it doesn't do anything to meet the needs of the American public.

Q Thank you.

END 3:35 P.M. EDT