THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
12:44 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, a couple of announcements. Addition to Friday's schedule, on Friday morning the President will address an audience of teachers who will be in town for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, their annual meeting. His speech will be at 10:00 a.m. at the Capitol Hill Hyatt, and focus on funding for educational priorities, including his proposal to put 100,000 teachers in the classroom, to reduce class size, and the accountability provisions in his budget. That'll be open press.
I'd also like to draw your attention --
Q What time is that?
MR. LOCKHART: Ten a.m. Also, I'd like to draw your attention to a speech the President's National Security Advisor will give this evening in New York. But it's this evening, right? At the Council for Foreign Relations, on America's power in the world and our role versus the isolationist trend that has manifested itself recently.
That's it for announcements. Questions?
Q Is Mr. Mandela coming out to the stakeout?
MR. LOCKHART: We'll know soon.
Q How do you equate the defeat of the CTBT with a new isolationist trend?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it is one --
Q I mean, it's one piece of legislation?
MR. LOCKHART: It's one important element, but there are certainly others. We have a problem, we have a bill coming down here -- if it's not here already -- that will keep us from being able to pay our U.N. arrears. We had a large portion of the Republican Party who argued forcefully against our engagement in Kosovo. There are a number of issues. And it appears that, as I've said on a number of occasions, the sort of Pat Buchanan ideology is now holding sway within the Republican Party.
Q Joe, any reaction to China, Russia and Belarus announcing this U.N. resolution calling for the strengthening of the ABM and the preservation of the ABM at a time when Washington seeks to have it amended?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we believe that the ABM treaty is the cornerstone of our strategic strategy. It is a very important treaty. We also believe that, due to the development and increasing threat of rogue states with ballistic missiles, that we need to move forward or to look at the feasibility of a national missile defense. We have done a lot of work on that. We will make a decision next year on deployment. And that is why, given the importance of those two things, we have to work closely with the Russians on looking at ways where we can deepen our cooperation and amending, where necessary, the treaty.
Q What do you make of the foreign minister's reaction yesterday, the Russian Foreign Minister saying no pretty forcefully?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think -- we're in ongoing discussions. Much of what I saw, as far as their comments, was a result of a story that was in the newspaper here, or in various newspapers here. We are talking to them on a broad range of issues. We had good meetings in Cologne on this issue, also follow-up meetings in Auckland with the Russian Prime Minister.
So we think, given the importance of the ABM treaty to us, to our national security but given, also, the situation as far as rogue states and the threat that they pose to the United States, we need to look at the national missile defense and work closely with the Russians in finding a way to do this in a way that preserves the ABM Treaty in a way that allows us to keep our overall strategy in place.
Q Joe, what's the status the budget negotiations?
MR. LOCKHART: I'll come to that in a second. Lori.
Q You don't take it as a flat no?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think they're discussions that are ongoing. Again, as I read those remarks most of them were in response to a particular story about a particular radar site. The conversations have gone well to date and we expect to continue them.
Q Status of budget talks?
Q What's the opposition to the Commerce, Justice and State Department bill, beyond the lack of funding for the COPS program. In other words, do you oppose to them simply having passed it yesterday?
MR. LOCKHART: No. We reached an agreement here Tuesday night with the leadership, with Speaker Hastert and Majority Leader Lott, that we would look at this in a comprehensive way and not try to go, as they have gone so far, bill by bill. The problem with bill by bill is they take each bill and do everything they can to solve whatever problems they may have within that bill, leaving the hole deeper and deeper as you go along further. That's not the right way to do the budget. It's not the way we're going to work with them.
There seems to be some dispute within their caucus about how they'll move forward. You know, we thought we had an agreement. You know, Congressman DeLay had some different ideas, but from time to time he does. But as far as where we're going -- and on CJS, you know, it's not just an issue of COPS, although that is an important issue.
They've sent us a bill today, on the same day that we're going to stand with police officers around the country to give out the Top Cop awards. The police, law enforcement community is solidly behind the community policing concept. We've now funded 100,000 cops on the street. We're enjoying the longest decline in crime in our history. There is a direct causal relation between those two. And if the Republicans want to fight us on this, well, then it's fight worth having.
Q Joe, you're talking about DeLay, but Lott and Hastert came into that meeting Tuesday night and said we're going to do regular order, we're going to do it bill by bill. Why's this sort of -- where's this amendment --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I mean, obviously, to take -- the regular order is they have to take bills and put them on the floor and pass them. But as far as our discussions in the room with the appropriators, we've got to look at the total picture. They understand that; otherwise, they're going to get a bunch of bills sent back to them. And they have to decide for themselves whether they want to be in a situation where we have gridlock, we can't move forward, or whether they're going to sit down and work this all out with us.
The numbers -- we can take a step back and go back to the old debate, which is making the numbers add up. You know, I've seen some of -- again, in anticipation of the meeting I made the comment that maybe for once we should put aside the attack ads, put aside the gallery press conferences. Well, they don't seem to want to respond to that. You know, these ads are still running that say night is day and black is white. I mean, I can sit here to read to you ad nauseam from CBO letters, three different letters, that say that they're spending the Social Security surplus. Or we can sit down and try to work this out.
You know, I think there has been some discussion this morning, there may be some meetings later today. We're very interested in moving forward here. We set an informal deadline to try to get this done by Tuesday. But they've got to come willing to work.
Q Besides the rhetoric outside the room, I mean, what is going on when Lew meets with the appropriators are they saying that they are willing to discuss all these bills together? What are they telling you?
MR. LOCKHART: There were some discussions yesterday about how this all has to fit together. I think the appropriators want to get this done. I think they understand the value of doing this all together because you can't do it one by one. And I think, you know, within the Republican leadership they have some decisions to make on just who's calling the thoughts.
Q Joe, your concerns about individual bills, notwithstanding, it seems like they are getting ready to bring Interior to the floor and working on a Labor HDC package. Is the President going to start vetoing individual bills if this continues?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, you know, when and if CJS gets here, it is going to get a presidential veto. It did not -- we made very clear that it was inadequate. On the one had, you have probably the most basic element of government, the most predictable element of government, the census, something we've done every 10 years for the last 200 years, that they label an emergency. Let's remember what emergency spending is: something that you couldn't have predicted. One would think at an elemental level you could predict when the end of the decade is well before the end of the decade.
On the other hand, one of the cornerstones of an effective anti-crime strategy, putting police into communities -- which has had a real impact on our streets in this country -- they have underfunded. We made very clear that trying to eliminate the expansion of the COPS program was unacceptable. So if they keep moving forward in this way. These are fundamental debates, we will engage in these debates; I think we're on very strong ground. What I think would be more useful is for all of their leaders to come together, form a common strategy, get in the room, work this out and work this out in a comprehensive way. Because it just can't be done one bill at a time.
Q Joe, any signs of progress in resolving the CRA issue?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I'm not aware that there are any formal discussions going on today. I think we've come a long way on that legislation. We still have some concerns on privacy. We still have some fundamental differences on CRA but we believe that as you expand opportunities for banks around this country you also need to expect them to continue their commitment within their communities. This is something that I think has broad bipartisan support. And it would be a real shame if this bill did not go forward because of the intransigent view of a few.
Q Joe, and is the CRA the main stumbling block?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think it's fair to say the CRA remains the main stumbling block. There are certainly other issues that more work needs to be done on, but that's the one that we're going to have to get over.
Q Joe, how much did they offer on community policing, or how far apart are you on that?
MR. LOCKHART: It's about $1 billion. There's the proposal --
Q Did they put anything in for --
MR. LOCKHART: I think there's a little less than $300 million, as opposed to what's close to $1.3 , based on the Biden proposal, that tracks the proposal the President put forward in his budget. It's not just cops on the beat; it's giving communities new technology that they can use. These are all elements that are strongly endorsed by police organizations. They'll be here today. They'll tell you themselves that this is the right bill for them, it's the right way to build on the success. And if the Republicans disagree, this is a debate we're going to have.
Q Joe, but Republicans say they want to spend about $1 billion more on law enforcement than the administration, and now they're saying they want to spend about $300 million more on education. So isn't it going to get politically difficult for the administration to say no when --
MR. LOCKHART: No, because on law enforcement I don't see what they're talking about. And particularly in the sense that they are also floating, and still floating, the idea of across-the-board budget cuts. That's going to have a devastating effect on law enforcement in this country on the federal level. And it's not just cops in local communities. You've got border patrol, you've got FBI agents -- you're talking going into the thousands of people who will be let go because of the budget constraints that those agencies will face.
And on education, this is about -- and some of this goes to the gimmicks and illusions that I've been talking about. We made a strong case last year for reducing class size as a top educational priority for the President. And, you know, it's hard -- you know, kicking and screaming, we got the Republicans to agree. Maybe it was because it was an election year. Maybe it was because they finally saw the wisdom of our arguments. But we got an agreement to start paying for that.
Well, this year, with a little bit of the pressure off -- and with an eye to politics -- they've said, well, we'll appropriate the money, but we'll make it subject to authorization -- where we know full well, based on our experience, that it won't be authorized. So if they want to do this, they ought to come clean and say that they don't believe that the class sizes should be smaller, that they don't believe the proposal that the President put forward is in our country's interest. Or they ought to go and do it the right way rather than trying to phoney up some more numbers and make a commitment that isn't really there.
I mean, some of this at some point, it takes your breath away. I keep coming back to this, but on the same day that their own Congressional Budget Office wrote and officially certified that they had dipped into the Social Security surplus, they started an ad campaign attacking Democrats for doing what they had just done. You know, if it wasn't so obvious, you know, people might take it more seriously. But it is not a serious argument and what we need to do is get in the room and have a serious argument over our priorities versus their priorities and find a solution here.
Q Joe, it's the six month anniversary of Columbine today and the President again is calling for Congress to pass his new gun control measures. Why is the President spending so much time and effort on a bite-size piece of legislation to plug a loophole that even gun control groups agree would not have done anything to stop Columbine, the JCC shooting, what happened in Atlanta, instead of taking that effort and focusing it on a top-to-bottom reform of the way guns are manufactured and sold in this country?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me tell you why. There are a lot of things we can do, and the President has spoken about, to try to make our schools safer, to make this country a safer place, particularly on guns. There has been enormous, enormous pressure and opposition from special interest groups, particularly the NRA, against any of this. We had to -- on a very modest piece of legislation, we had to get the Vice President to break the tie in the Senate to try to close the gun show loophole and make our gun laws stronger.
We had a terrible time getting this through the House. But we did get something through the House and it's now -- we've been waiting for this conference for six months. We've been waiting for them to do something. And it is no surprise when you come across -- this fundraising letter from Tom Delay saying, you better give us your money now, everyone, because the time to stop this is now. I need more money. We need more money to stop this.
This is common sense gun control legislation. This is not a partisan issue anyplace in this country except here in Washington, D.C. The public expects this to happen. And it's time to put aside our fundraising campaigns and do what's right for our kids. And this is the bill that they have before them. Sure, they should do more. And we wish they would do more. And we're not going to stop until we get as much done as we can. But this is what they have in front of them now. And they've got to make a decision of who they're going to side with. Right now we haven't seen any progress. It's been six months and we haven't seen it.
Q Why not take that energy and put it into something like a Kennedy-Torricelli bill, which would obviate the need for that type of legislation by regulating guns the way every other consumer product is regulated in this country?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President has spoken very clearly to this. If we had any belief that in this Congress, in this session of Congress that had any chance we would push strongly for tighter gun controls. In this Congress, a Congress that, by and large, is captive to special interests, this is what we think we can get done. They ought to do this. And when this Congress goes back to their constituents next November, I think it will be a big issue of where you stand on tightening gun control legislation -- not just this but all of the other worthy ideas that are out there.
Q Joe, why is it all right for the President to raise the issue of Columbine in calling for gun controls in political speeches and fundraisers, but not okay for Delay to raise the issue --
MR. LOCKHART: I think given the timing -- I think we can have an honest debate about this but what we haven't had, is we've had a six month wait on the conference, they just haven't moved at all. And I think you can look at it and take a step back and say, well, this is probably pretty good for the fundraising machine and maybe that's one of the reasons for the delay here. I don't think that the people that the President spoke to yesterday, the young people that he spoke to -- how can you explain to them why the conference can't come together and make a decision, one way or the other? Instead of -- I mean, it took them -- what was it, two, three, four months to even name the conferees?
Look at what they can do on a bill they want to get through, that they want to give us. They can get it done in a day. We can debate an important foreign policy treaty in eight days. We can dispense with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in eight days, with -- what, two hearings -- when the will is there. And in three months, we can't get conferees on something that will make our schools a little bit safer.
Q Back on the budget for a minute. I'm sorry.
Q Can I just add one more follow up on that? The way that the President frames the issue -- he invokes the name of Columbine, and then he talks about gun control measures. And then he says, no one bill will stop everything.
MR. LOCKHART: Right.
Q The idea that this bill wouldn't have stopped any of those, doesn't that make that whole argument a bit misleading?
MR. LOCKHART: No, it doesn't. I mean, there's nothing that we can do that can eliminate all gun violence in our streets, in our schools. But if that is an excuse for doing nothing, we should all throw up our hands and go home. These are common-sense measures that will make our schools safer, that will make our streets safer, that will make it harder for criminals to get guns. And that's what we've been doing over the last seven years. And if we could have done it all in one shot, and we could have gotten a single Republican to support us back in '94 and '95 on these things, we would have been in better shape.
But there's nothing -- there's no guarantees. There's no silver -- there's no panacea for solving this issue. But that is no excuse for inaction. And it's no excuse for holding up conferees while you hone your direct mail campaign.
Q Can we get back to the budget for a minute? One reason Republicans are leery of big spending packages is they remember what happened to them last year, particularly on education. And their belief is that it gives the President tremendous veto clout and takes away some of the power that they have for negotiating. How do you deal with that issue when you are trying to convince them to do things your way and send down one spending package?
MR. LOCKHART: We are not asking for one bill. We are asking them to work with all the bills on the table so that the numbers can add up. I mean, the President, absent a comprehensive strategy, the President will send the bills back because the numbers don't add up. Their own CBO says they don't add up. We can't make them add up in any comprehensive way unless we are sitting and talking about this as a set, rather than one by one. Because I think you've found that as they've gone bill by bill it's, let's do everything we can to solve the spending problems on each bill, and then there's nothing left.
And that's just not the way we are going to go forward. We are not going to make progress as long as they are in that mind set, because that's just not the way the world works. You know, you don't decide, okay today we're going to pay for our vacation and our new car and tomorrow we'll worry about the mortgage; and if the money is not there, I don't know what we'll do. But today we got the new car and the vacation.
You know, people understand. A budget is an overall look at your finances and we're not going to do this in a way that -- where you play musical chairs with the music and worry about later where the music stops.
Q Can you briefly comment on the continuing hold on three nominations, among them Richard Fredericks as Ambassador to Switzerland? And whether the President might use his authority for a recess appointment if this matter has not been decided?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think -- I'm not going to get into whether the President will use his recess authority. He certainly has that, but we have time left in the session, and I don't imagine we'll engage in any -- I won't engage in any speculation on that while Congress remains in. I think the President has made his views on the unacceptability of the fact that these three potential ambassadors, who are well-qualified, the opposition has nothing to do with them. It has to do with a feud that's going on with another senator and another part of the government -- how unacceptable that is. And he's made that view known personally to the leaders.
Q Do you expect it to be resolved before the end of the year?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that is a question I would put to Senator Lott. He controls the schedule up there. There is another one -- there is someone in his caucus who is personally holding this up for reasons that have nothing to do with these nominees. And it's a question Senator Lott will have to answer.
Q How about on the Carol Moseley-Braun, do you agree with Daschle's charges about racism?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that senators will all have to come to their own judgment on this issue. I think I've spoken here in the last couple weeks about insensitivity. We spoke about Ronnie White. I think Congressman Callahan gave a speech that was very insensitive to ethnic groups in talking about the Foreign Operations budget. And then we had various comments made about Senator Moseley-Braun. Senators will have to come and reach their own conclusion. And I think, as the President said, there are a variety of things that the Senate Republicans have done that reinforces the image that they're insensitive to minorities and women.
Q Joe, a follow up on that. Now the White House -- you had Senator Daschle, you had Joe Andrew earlier this week suggesting that racial insensitivity was at play in the Republican Congress. You've got Sandy Berger talking tonight about isolationism in the Republican Congress, which is a theme, a new theme that has appeared. Is this some sort of a concerted effort to counter the appeal of compassionate conservatism, to sort of give it a more negative face in light of the polls that show Bush so far ahead?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I mean the one person who has been absent in this debate is the author of compassionate conservatism. So it's not a concerted effort against any one person. If it's a concerted effort it's against ideas that are wrong for this country. Frankly, I wish that the author of that political philosophy would get a little more involved. Because sitting on the sidelines he's not moving the ball one way or the other. If he sides with Senator Helms and he sides with Representative Callahan on these issues -- if he has a problem with people who wear turbans, he ought to step up and say he does; if he doesn't he ought to step up and say it's wrong.
Q Just one follow to that. You said that it may not be an orchestrated or coordinated campaign against one person. Is there any coordination against the party? In other words, is Daschle working with the White House, working with Joe Andrew, working with James Carville or whomever on this theme?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's -- I don't know what kind of coordination there is, but the isolationist tendency of the Republican Party right now that they're manifesting is self-evident. And I think any thoughtful person -- I've seen on most editorial pages, questions. The one place you know that we're not coordinating with is editorial pages. I don't know what the effort is, but I believe right-thinking people get together from time to time.
Q What do you mean by racial insensitivity? Do you mean that the Republicans genuinely see their fellow citizens of color equally and aren't using the right language or that --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not drawing any conclusions. When we talked about Ronnie White, that was a situation where you had a distinguished jurist who had an excellent record who had his record grossly distorted for what we now know was to provide a political issue for a United States senator.
Q And are you saying that it wouldn't have happened to a white man?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know; I guess we'll never know. That's a good question.
Q In shorthand, you're accusing the Republican Party today of isolationism and racism?
MR. LOCKHART: No. You may want to shorthand it. I've been very careful not to shorthand it. My words are my words.
Q Joe, because the Senate is taking it up again today, could you reiterate for us one more time what the President's policy on the partial birth abortion bill is?
MR. LOCKHART: The President is opposed to this bill because it does not provide for the rare exception for the health and well being of a mother. It has been our position from the beginning that if the bill comes down in this form, we will veto it as we have in the past. The President, as in the past, has been open to working with senators who want to try in a good faith way to resolve issues here but we are not -- we are not changing our position from where we have been in the past.
Q Let me just get this straight. Do you think that, as a general proposition, the Republican caucus is racially insensitive?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, that is a question for them to answer. I think that they've certainly -- certainly with the treatment of Judge White, they, as the President said, reinforced the perception.
Q When you suggest that there is a perception, isn't it really sort of a low-grade -- a lower grade accusation than something overt? I mean, you say it --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not --
Q -- but if you don't know it, why are you suggesting that?
MR. LOCKHART: Someone asked me a question about something Senator Daschle said and I answered that question. I think if you want to look at the facts, the facts on judicial nominees are well known. It is more difficult, it takes longer for women and minorities to get through the United States Senate, the process, than it does for men. It's just --
Q And that's because Republicans treat women and minorities less equally than --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, you're going to have to ask them why. What I'm telling you is there's an independent study that says it takes months and months longer for the nominees that we send up who are women and minorities. And it's a question I can't answer. Only they can answer.
Q There were something like 55 Republican Senators that opposed Judge White? So, under this theory, all of them would have had to have some level of racial insensitivity.
MR. LOCKHART: No. No. Let's talk about -- let's talk about the 55. There were two senators in that group who voted for him in committee. There was one senator who went out to a convention and said that he had recommended him and he strongly supported him. And then we turn around and make a political issue out of it.
Q Well, they voted for him in committee. I think at that time, those who voted for him in committee knew that he was African-American. Doesn't it suggest that if they changed their vote, they came across some new information? They didn't just suddenly become racist between --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not suggesting that they are. Well, look, I can't answer the question, because I'm not suggesting that they are. April?
Q Joe, you're saying that there's a history of women and minorities -- isn't that sexism and racism? And especially the fact that when President Clinton put out this paper maybe, two weeks ago, this very strongly worded paper, he basically said -- I believe it was the last statement, the last sentence -- that this proves that if anyone had a shadow of a doubt that the Senate was unfair to minorities and women, this is showing it. And isn't that sexism and racism?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think, if you remember the statement accurately, he said it reinforces the perception. Now, it's not that I say that the Senate treats women and minorities in a way that provides additional obstacles. These are the numbers. These are the facts. Look at the nominees that are men, that are women, that are minorities.
Q Joe, wasn't that what the civil rights movement was fought over, sexism and racism?
MR. LOCKHART: It certainly was.
Q Well, isn't that somewhat of the same thing that we're going through now?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I think your best place is to put those questions to the senators in question, and those who participated in this.
Q Well, why don't you want to -- I mean, seriously, why don't you just want to say it, call it?
MR. LOCKHART: Because I've chosen my words carefully here.
Q Joe, has the President signed another CR yet?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think so. The CR, has he signed it?
MR. SIEWERT: No, not yet.
MR. LOCKHART: No. So we'll let you know when he does.
Q Is he planning to sign it?
MR. LOCKHART: Planning to sign it today, yes.
Q Joe, can you say something --
Q Can I ask one more on this?
MR. LOCKHART: No. We've done enough on this. In the back.
Q Can you say something on background to the Mandela visit? There's a lot of Africa activity going on this week. Secretary Albright was there, there's a Pentagon meeting today. Is there some reason, specific reason with regard to Africa, that the President --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think former President Mandela, who is in town, wanted a chance to come in and share his views on a mumbler of issues with the President. We will get you a more detailed readout once I have the opportunity to go up and talk to our side after the meeting. But I don't think -- there certainly is a lot going on. I mean, you've got the Africa trade initiative that's moving on the Hill and it's something that I believe Africans -- the African nations and President Mandela -- former President Mandela -- strongly supports. But I wouldn't put any particular measure of importance on one issue here.
Q Joe, Ways and Means has delayed action on the new minimum wage bill while it revisits some of the tax breaks that are attached to that measure. What would the administration like to see linked to minimum wage --
MR. LOCKHART: I will tell you what the administration would like to see. I mean, I got this just before I came out and this is the summary,
the 30-page summary of the minimum wage bill. I can write you a minimum wage bill right now on an index card which says, we ought to raise the minimum wage by a dollar over two years.
Now, what we have instead is, from the Republicans, is, yes, we should raise the minimum wage over two years, but let's do a couple other things as long as we're there. Let's reinstate part of the three-martini lunch. Let's go and give beer distributors a tax break. And, you know what, there is that one percent of America that goes over the -- has now over something like $700,000 when they die, let's give them a break on estate tax. This ought to be a simple process.
Now, what's troubling about all of this and probably why they've had to stop is it's not paid for. If you look at how you go and -- the Citizens for Tax Justice say this over 10 years will cost $100 billion. Well, as we know, the on-budget surplus is gone. As the CBO has said, the Republicans have already dipped into Social Security to pay for some of their spending. So what else is left? The rest of the Social Security surplus.
We ought to have a minimum wage bill that raises the minimum wage and gets away from a lot of these --
Q The question was, what breaks would you like to see in, not obviously the ones you would like to see out.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we'd like them to send us something like Representative Bonior has put forward, which is a minimum wage cut. And I understand that there are some tax breaks in there, but the ones that are in there that go to complement the minimum wage hike are paid for.
Q Joe, the Republicans argue that raising the minimum wage is a cost to small businesses, so why not put some provisions in that would help ameliorate the --
MR. LOCKHART: Let me remind you of some of the Republican arguments in the past about how many hundreds of businesses would go out of business and the devastating effects of raising the minimum wage. Well, guess what? We're a couple years past that, the economy is about to grow as it has never grown before, the longest expansion of our economy in history.
They said when they passed the budget bill in 1993 there would be a depression. You know, they have made a lot of dire claims that said -- at a certain point in time you have to go back over your notes, look at the claims they've made and then look at reality and judge their new claims based on their past history.
Q Joe, can you tell me something about the fundraisers tonight?
MR. LOCKHART: Do I have anything here? I know that there is a fundraiser that's been organized by Senator Kennedy and then a DNC event after that. I'll get you the sheets on them.
Q Since this Administration's economic policies, by your own count, are responsible for raising the average net worth of Americans, does it now behoove this administration to raise the threshold on estate taxes?
MR. LOCKHART: It sure does. That's why we have. That's why in the law we've raised it over five or six years up to where it will be at, I think, $1 million -- $1.2 million. We did that in 1997, it was the right thing to do. I'll tell you what's not the right thing to do, which is to eliminate it.
This is all in the context, this debate we're having. And I think I certainly forget at some points, but when we have this great debate over who is spending the Social Security surplus, who isn't, who is being fiscally responsible, who isn't; we had a year here where up until about two months ago the main plank of the Republican party's platform was an $800 billion tax cut that they never could explain how they would pay for and where the money was coming from. Well, we stopped that. A big part of that was just saying we don't need to phase anything out, let's just get rid of it. And we don't think that's good policy.
Q Back on that issue of racism again, would there be any repercussions for the White House if the White House, any of the administration officials were to say, yes, there is racism in the situations with the judges?
MR. LOCKHART: What do you mean by repercussions?
Q Would there be some kind of backlash? Because you can't say the word, and it's obvious, it's plain as day.
MR. LOCKHART: Like I said, that is a judgment for others to make. You've made your judgment. I'm sure everyone else can make theirs without my help.
Q Well, President Clinton --
MR. LOCKHART: President Clinton put out a strongly worded statement and the words are his words and we stand by them.
Q Joe, did the President go out of his way to grant clemency to the FALN members over the objections of Janet Reno?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I can't get into the -- as I've said before, into the deliberations. The President, after careful consultation with interested parties made a judgment that was balanced and conditional.
Q What is the White House reaction to the Justice Department report where Reno says that that group poses an ongoing threat to national security?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it's interesting. As I read in the paper this morning, that report supposedly came out in September of this year -- when, in fact, it came out in December of last year, many months before the conditional clemency was granted. So I think it's time for people to get their facts straight.
Q Joe, at the hearing yesterday, some Senators accused the White House of using executive privilege as a form of damage control. If that's not the case, then why is the White House asserting executive privilege over the Department of Justice to begin with?
MR. LOCKHART: Because the concept of executive privilege is an important one, and it's in the Constitution. It has nothing to do with damage control.
Q But it doesn't require the White House to assert it each time.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, when you don't assert it, you undermine the authority.
Q Cuban officials say they want to increase cooperation with the U.S. against drug smuggling through their territory. Is that something the U.S. is interested in doing?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we're interested in cooperation around the world on counternarcotics efforts. We have had some cooperation. There are some issues there -- the State Department is in the process of looking at now, as they are statutorily required to, who cooperates and who doesn't. But I think we are open, as a government, on the issue of narcotics, to work closely with people who share our concern about the drug trade.
Q Why isn't the U.S. doing more now? I guess General McCaffrey said that Cuba wants to confront these criminals, but the current cooperation is really just exchanging faxes between the Coast Guard.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I think if they have specific ideas of how we could deepen our cooperation, they should put them forward. We, on the vast majority of issues, we do not work with the Cuban government, except in humanitarian situations. But if they have ideas, they should put them forward.
Q Thank you.
MR. LOCKHART: One more. I'm having so much fun.
Q Joe, how do the references to perception of racism and sexism lend itself to trying to establish a cordial relationship on the Hill on the budget talk?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I -- you know, I opened up the newspaper this morning and didn't see anyone on the Republican side trying to establish cordial relations, based on their comments yesterday on the budget. But, having said that, we are going to work with them on the budget. But, I'll tell you something, when someone like Judge White gets treated the way he does, I'm not going to stand here quiet and I don't think the President should or anybody else should.
Q So is there a food fight going on right now?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't see any food. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Got to go.
Q Israeli radio says the President is going to launch a Middle East peace mission after his longer European trip next month. Is there anything to that?
MR. LOCKHART: After the Turkey/Greece? I'm not aware of that. I had heard a report that after Oslo we were planning to go to the region, which is not accurate. I have not heard anything on that front.
END 1:22 P.M. EDT