THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
12:25 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon.
MR. LOCKHART: Welcome to the briefing. Questions from our esteemed members of the press corps?
Q Has the administration been in touch with anybody in Russia about Chechnya, what's happened there?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. There have been discussions, primarily from the embassy there, the ambassador, to Russian counterparts. We have been in touch on a regular basis over the last weeks, and have expressed our concern about the escalation of violence in Chechnya, and we have been in touch today. I expect there to be other contacts. We'll be talking to them on all diplomatic levels.
We are at this point trying to ascertain the facts in this case. What's clear is there has been a tragic -- there is a tragic situation there with terrible loss of life. But there are conflicting reports and statements on the incident, and we are working hard, now, to find out what the facts are.
But we will continue, regardless of this incident, to make clear to the Russians and to both parties, that there is no way to find a purely military solution to this situation. There needs to be a constructive political dialogue, and that both parties need to engage in that dialogue.
Q Would the President pick up the telephone and call President Yeltsin about this? Is this something that rises to that level?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the President recently wrote to President Yeltsin on this subject, expressing our concerns and expressing the principles that Strobe Talbott expressed in his testimony Wednesday on Capitol Hill -- that he has recently, as has been reported, heard back from President Yeltsin. But this is something that we are concerned about, and we have expressed both publicly and privately on many different levels with the Russians and we will continue to do so.
Q The Russians say that they are not behind the blast in Grozny marketplace. Do you accept that?
MR. LOCKHART: We are trying to ascertain the facts. There are conflicting reports. There are different versions that have come out from different parts of the Russian government. So we don't have a conclusive answer right at this point.
Q Joe, is it fair to say that U.S. concern is greater today than it was before this incident?
MR. LOCKHART: Our concern has been -- we have raised our concern repeatedly in the last months about the escalation. It is certainly -- it is certainly troubling to see this kind of loss of life, and we have repeated to the Russians that we don't -- that we believe that a constructive political dialogue is the only way to end this, that we should not repeat the mistakes of 1994 and 1996. I think, you know, Prime Minister Putin is in Helsinki now meeting with the EU Chair and hearing a message very much like the message that we have sent, which is that they need to act in a way that finds a political solution and act in a way that conforms with the international conventions in a situation like this.
Q Is someone going to be talking about something today on this?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I know of. I'll check over there but not that I know of. I've talked to him this morning, but I'm not aware that he's going out to make a statement of any kind.
Q Joe, what is the U.S. policy towards Chechnya, that it's an integral part of Russia or that they have the right to rebel?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we recognize that this is a part of Russia. But I think, to take a step back, Strobe Talbott made several points when he testified Wednesday and it very much underlines what our policy is.
First, we believe that the spread of violence in the region and the escalation of violence is contrary to everyone's interest, except those who rely on violence to meet their political ends -- and that includes the separatists. Second, the last war in Chechnya, 1994, demonstrated there cannot be a purely military solution to this problem. That means Russia has to engage in a serious political dialogue.
Third, all parties -- and all parties here that are involved should avoid indiscriminate disproportionate use of force. Fourth, Russia's progress towards developing a civil society, democracy and the rule of law will be in jeopardy if it permits a backlash against its citizens because of their ethnicity or religion.
And, finally, in defending their own territory, Russia should take special care to respect the independence and security concerns of neighboring states, especially Georgia and Azerbaijan.
So I think he, in testifying Wednesday, he laid out what our basic views on the situation are. But, obviously, you've heard from a number of quarters in the last months a real concern about the escalation.
Q Do you anticipate a U.S. and NATO response to similar to that which followed the market bombing in Sarajevo? I mean, I realize it's a different situation, but can you explain why?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it is impossible to try to compare those two situations.
Q Mr. Lockhart, could you please confirm if President Clinton will be in Greece November 13th?
MR. LOCKHART: Have we put the schedule out for that trip?
MR. TOIV: Not officially, yet, no.
MR. LOCKHART: Not officially, I can't confirm that, but the schedule is coming soon.
Q Joe, is there any progress on the budget talks this morning?
MR. LOCKHART: The budget talks. They met -- I think they've broken up or are in the process of breaking up. I'm not sure if this is just for a lunchtime break or they're getting back together. I talked to a couple of our people in the room. And they went in this morning with the appropriators and our budget team. They spent several hours discussing the issues. It started as a kind of general discussion of where we are in the process. And then they went through a series of particular issues, notably many of the objectionable language that's in some of the bills, particularly the Interior bill, the so-called environmental riders.
I think what is encouraging for our side is that we're moving forward on a workmanlike basis. We're doing this in a comprehensive way. It's not 15 different meetings in different places, going bill by bill. This is the appropriators sitting together, looking at the picture as a whole, which we believe is a prerequisite for getting this done.
On the discouraging front, you know, it's hard to know what's happening with those who are not in the room. The influence of those who want to play politics with this, rather than to get a deal done, is well-known. You know, I think Congressman DeLay has been a frequent visitor in front of any camera where the tape is moving, to make his points.
And I think it's important for our side to know who's calling the shots here. We want to get something done, we want to work with them, we want to work in a comprehensive way. There are certainly those who agree with that, who are moving forward in that way. But there are certainly forces within the majority party who would rather play politics here.
Q Do you suspect that Delay calling the shots?
MR. LOCKHART: You know, I suspect that we'll find out as we move forward. There is certainly some evidence that that's the case; I don't know that anyone knows for sure, and we'll find out.
Q Did the President -- you've mentioned it several times, did the President ask the leadership at this meeting Tuesday night to put the ads away. Did they mention that in any way?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think there was any -- it was not reported to me that there was any discussion, per se, of the ads. I think certainly the President tried to make the point that it's hard for us to move forward in a process where the political institutional arm of the Republican Party is out spreading disinformation. And it is obvious disinformation. You only have to go as far as the CBO to know that.
It's a breathtaking attempt to recreate history but, I think, the people in the room looking at the numbers know the numbers. And, you know, we can get something done, we can have political fights but, at the end of the day, there has to be a commitment from both sides to get a deal done here. We are committed to getting it done. The people who are in the room with us, we believe, are committed to getting it done and we will just have to see if both sides can deliver.
Q You mentioned the environmental riders also. Hastert said last night that he wants to try to avoid putting that kind of thing on the appropriations bill -- on a TV show, he said last night. Did you get any response from them on that? Have any of those been taken off? Is that --
MR. LOCKHART: None that I know of. In fact, there was some discussion about how many there were. We sent up a letter that indicated we hadn't -- there were 19 objectionable riders, you know, language-based riders. There was some debate over that number, but I think there was agreement, upon reviewing our original letter, that that's the universe of language problems we have.
Q -- appropriations?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think it's -- no, I'm sorry, that's on Interior. That's just on Interior. I don't have an overall number. But Interior, I think, is the main -- it's certainly in volume, that there's important -- you know, there's obviously an important language problem on CJS, as far as U.N. arrears, so I don't want to say that because there's more on one, there aren't other important ones. But as far as volume, this is the one that has the most area problem.
You know, if the Speaker of the House says that he wants to get some of these extraneous things off the bills, that's a sign of progress. Now what's important is whether we'll be able to deliver that and get the work done in the group that's meeting now.
Q Joe, what's your evidence? You say there's some evidence that DeLay is calling the shots. What's your evidence of that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, you know, we had a meeting here Tuesday night. And primarily the way we've moved from between then and today were a series of news conferences up on the Hill. So we'll have to find out.
Q Just that he is apparently violating the agreement made between the President and --
MR. LOCKHART: No. No, I think --
Q -- criticize?
MR. LOCKHART: No. He is free to criticize. The open question is whether that is his criticism, speaking for himself, or whether the strategy as he has articulated of bringing the Democrats to their knees is the strategy of the Republican Party. That is not a strategy that is conducive to getting a deal. That is not a strategy that's looking after the interests of the American people. It is a strategy that is designed for maximum political advantage -- and in that environment, if that is the overall guiding principle of the Republicans, this is going to be a long, tough battle.
Q Joe, I could have sworn I just heard the President say you guys are going to turn the other cheek. It sounds like you're really so angry about this.
MR. LOCKHART: I have said, our guys are there, they're in the room, they're talking. We are working through these issues. The only question is what is going on in the room, if that's real, if it represents where the Republican Party, where the majority party in Congress wants to be.
Q Well, Joe, isn't some of the rhetoric -- I mean, isn't it on both sides? I mean, yesterday you accused them of wanting more guns and less police officers, suggested that there's a slight possibly they were --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, all I'd say on that front is I would have been glad to not do a lot of talking about the budget and would have, if everyone wanted to, abide by the spirit of what came out of Tuesday night. They were barely out of the room Wednesday when we had them making, once again, the absolutely outrageous charge that they hadn't spent the Social Security surplus and somehow we had.
You know, I'm not going to stand by and let charges like that go unanswered because there is ample evidence that indicates that the situation is just the opposite, and I will keep saying that from now until this process is over with. I think the proof is in the commitment to getting the work done. We are up in the room, we want to get this done, we are working with the appropriators in the room and the question is, will we be able to do it.
Q Joe, what is the status on three points of Latin America? The status of Central America's reconstruction program, number one. Number two, the United States will be delivering to Panama the Canal, and the concern about the government of Panama's ability to manage the Canal under the continued government institutions, corruption and old boy network. And, third, fast track approval and if free trade -- America is going to be a reality as President Clinton has --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't really have anything on the first. On the second -- I don't have an update on the first question. On the second issue, we have worked very closely over the last 22 years with the government of Panama, with the Panama Canal Commission and we are satisfied that the hand over will go forward in a straightforward way and that the Commission will do a good job of running the Canal and that our interests are protected.
On fast track, the President has made clear often how important fast track authority is to securing free trade agreements around the world, including near home. We will continue to push for that, but I don't have a near-term prescription for how we will work that through Congress.
Q Joe, partial birth abortion, do you know when it's going to be vetoed and will it be private or a ceremony?
MR. LOCKHART: I have no idea. It's not here yet.
Q Is it likely to be a ceremonial veto or just a private --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not willing to speculate.
Q Joe, is the White House confident that Mrs. Clinton doesn't have any access to any lists that could provide, you know, fundraising -- names of fundraisers, likely targets for fundraising?
MR. LOCKHART: Access to what kind of lists?
Q Well, the database, for example Any kinds of lists, visitors logs, anything that might provide --
MR. LOCKHART: I would put that question to her campaign. I don't know anything about that.
Q Do you want to say anything on the banking bill?
MR. LOCKHART: Sure. I mean, I think, obviously, the President is very pleased with the work that Secretary Summers, Gene Sperling and some of their fine staff did late into the night, working in a very cooperative way with leading Democrats and Republicans on the Hill. We had a number of issues that we felt, as we went into these final negotiations, that were very important as we moved to try to modernize the banking system in this country.
I think a lot of attention got focused, as we got near the end, on issues of privacy. We got a lot of work done there. There's still more work, as we go into the future, to do, but I think we secured significant work on things like notice and choice and enforceability, and also on allowing states to go further, which was an issue that tied things up for a while.
On CRA, the President made very clear he was committed to not moving forward unless there was an absolute commitment to community investment among banking companies. And the agreement reflects that commitment. Banks that have bad records as far as community investment will not be able to enjoy the opportunities and advantages that this law sets forth.
I think overall, getting away from the specific issues, the winners here are the U.S. economy, that we'll have banking institutions that will have the flexibility to be competitive going into the next century; and consumers, who will be able to -- what is that?
Q The concert --
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, the concert. Sorry, I thought it was like -- I thought someone was getting bored with the answers, so they were beating the drum. (Laughter.) And consumers, who will have expanded choice and a stronger financial system here at home.
Q Joe, can I go back to this question about the First Lady? What's the law here? What are the rules here on the First Lady's access to White House data that might benefit her campaign?
MR. LOCKHART: There is an exploratory committee that she has set up. You should ask them.
Q Well, no. I mean, as the White House spokesman, I want to ask you whether there's a firewall or something that --
MR. LOCKHART: Of course there is, but you're asking me a legal question that I clearly don't know the answer to, so we can continue this and I won't have the answer, or we can move on.
Q What about Social Security? Somebody's going to brief us on this today?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, later today, 3:30 p.m. or 4:00 p.m., I think Mr. Sperling and Mr. Apfel.
Q You want to take that question, and get back to me?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think you should go ask the question of the appropriate place. Once you've done that, maybe I can look at it.
Q What's the appropriate place to ask that question?
MR. LOCKHART: The exploratory committee.
Q But the White House rules on --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I don't know the rules. You can check at Counsel's Office. You all know the answer to this, so why don't we just move on.
Q I don't know the answer to it.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, well, check with some of your colleagues.
Q Joe, the reason for it is that a fundraising invitation was sent to Johnny Chung. The DNC's -- and all the Democratic fund organizations say his name is being purged from their lists.
MR. LOCKHART: Right.
Q Has his name been purged from the White House database, the White House's --
MR. LOCKHART: I have no idea.
Oh, thank you. Next? Want the week ahead?
Q We do.
MR. LOCKHART: Week ahead. Saturday, October 23rd, the President and the First Lady participate in the Concert of the Century for VH-1's Save the Music on the South Lawn. In-house pool press.
Q What is that exactly?
MR. LOCKHART: Funny you should ask, I have a paragraph on that. (Laughter.)
VH-1's Save the Music -- we've actually done some things on this. The First Lady's actually participated in several of these events. Let me read this, and if it's still unclear -- "Save the Music is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of education in America's public schools by restoring music programs in cities across the country, and by raising public awareness about the importance of music participation for our nation's youth." This is a pet project of the First Lady; she has participated in the Save the Music events in June '99 and September '98.
Basically, they're going around trying to restore music programs, buying instruments for public schools because, you know, I think we have found in the last 10, 15 years, one of the first casualties in public schools are things like fine arts and music programs. So VH-1 has been very involved in this, and the First Lady has done a couple of events. So this is a big event for them and for the program.
Q Do you know who's expected here? Aren't there a bunch of musicians and stars?
MR. LOCKHART: There's a lot of them, but I don't have a list of them here. If you turn on VH-1, I think about every 12 minutes they advertise it. I'm afraid to give you the names that I think are here, in case one of them is not here and then it becomes an issue, so we'll get you a list.
Q Is anybody staying in the White House, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know the answer to that. I know there's a lot of people around today because they're, as we now know, doing rehearsals out there. So I think they'll be around for the weekend, in and out. But I don't know that there is anyone actually staying here.
Sunday is an off day. Monday, the President will do an event talking about the importance of prescription drugs in the context of Medicare. He will then travel to New York at 4:00 p.m. to attend a Broadway For Hillary event. He will return to the White House that evening.
Q Is the White House event the prescription drug event?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I don't see a location, but I think it's some place here. Tuesday, the President has no schedule as of now. I will remind you that Tuesday also happens to be the First Lady's birthday.
Wednesday, the President meets with the former Italian Prime Minister and current European Commission President, Romano Prodi. At 3:00 p.m. the President will attend the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony for former President Ford, on Capitol Hill. He will -- oh, really? I'm not going to tell them this.
Q Oh, come one.
MR. LOCKHART: That evening at 7:00 p.m., he attends a Bonior reception at the Hay-Adams, Congressman Bonior. Following that, a DNC reception at a private residence.
Thursday, the President will attend an education event which will highlight the Blue Ribbon Schools Commission at the Washington Hilton in the morning and then he has an official working visit with the President of Nigeria. I expect you will have a chance to put some questions to him at that.
Friday, the President will travel to Philadelphia to attend an event for mayoral candidate John Street. Then he will travel to Atlanta to attend a DNC dinner and, later, he will address the Anti-Defamation League which is having their meeting there.
Saturday, the President is down. Sunday evening, the President will depart in the evening for Oslo, Norway.
Q Will the Clintons be in town together for her birthday?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know what the First Lady's schedule is. I know that they -- we are returning very late Monday night so, at least for some of the day, but I don't know.
I have, if you are interested, some of the people at this concert.
Q Oh, boy.
MR. LOCKHART: John Sykes, the head of VH-1, will open it up. Eric Clapton will perform. Eric Clapton and Lenny Kravitz will perform. Sheryl Crowe will perform. B.B. King and Eric Clapton will perform. B.B. King and Melissa Ethridge will perform. Garth Brooks, Gloria Estefan and NSync, John Fogarty, Al Greene, John Mellencamp.
Q Do we all have tickets? Can you get us in?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. Maybe we should stay out here a little while longer.
Q What's the coverage? I mean, is there --
MR. LOCKHART: In-house pool.
Q For the whole thing, or for taking out for a bit, or what?
MR. LOCKHART: I think probably taking it for the whole thing, because the remarks are at the beginning and at the end. The First Lady will speak near the beginning of the concert, after Mr. Sykes. And the President will sort of conclude it and thank everybody.
Q Joe, on this philanthropy conference this afternoon, what is the President's view on the deduction limit for corporations and individuals. Does he think that should be raised?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't heard the President express any view that it should be raised. But one of the reasons we have these conferences is to hear from people who are involved in the philanthropy business, or whatever the business the conference happens to be on. It's an education process for the President and the First Lady. Again, I haven't seen an outpouring on this subject from the community. But if there are those with that view and we hope they express them today.
Q Joe, what's the radio address tomorrow -- topic?
MR. LOCKHART: Social Security. I'm sorry, I thought you said when. And I was like, it's always at the same time, 10:06 a.m. (Laughter.)
Q It's on Sunday.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, it's Sunday, absolutely. It's Sunday and I look funny in a tie, right. Thank you.
END 12:50 P.M. EDT