THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
1:13 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: Welcome back. I don't have any announcements to make for you, so we'll go right to your questions.
Q Okay, thank you.
Q Thank you. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: You're welcome.
Q Joe, is there any concern that all these protests that are going to take place this week in Seattle will just overwhelm any sort of substantive work that might be done?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. I think there's important work that's going to go on among the trade ministers in the sessions that have been planned for some time. I think the President believes that these are very important issues, crucial to the future of our economy and the world economy, and there are people with strong views on all sides, and it is quite appropriate for them to express their view.
I think he wants to have an opportunity to talk to people with a wide-ranging view on these issues, but he ultimately believes that the WTO, free trade, organizations that help promote free trade are very useful in continuing this unprecedented economic expansion in this country.
Q Who does he hope to talk to?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we're looking at the schedule now, so I can't give you groups. But there are a number of organizations that are represented out there that I think are certainly meeting with representatives today out there. And I think the President hopes to get a chance to talk to some of them while he's there.
Q And what do you actually hope to accomplish from this thing? There's been some reporting that they're not even getting close on what to talk about, what to put on the agenda.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think anyone who's a student of trade negotiations will find it's akin to watching paint dry. It is not the most exciting thing in the world. But it's important. They're going to talk about how to move forward in this round -- this is the latest round of WTO talks, building on the success of the Uruguay Round from earlier in this decade, from earlier in this President's presidency.
So I think there's some tough work that has to be done. We want to make sure that things like agriculture are put front and center, things like e-commerce, reducing tariffs -- and, as the President has said more broadly, putting a human face on globalization and making sure that, as we move forward with trade agreements, that the labor standards and the environment are things that are considered.
Q What would you like to call this round?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I think that's for others to decide.
Q Joe, is the President actually going to take a -- following up on Seattle, will the President actually take an active --
MR. LOCKHART: The Plante Round.
Q No. The Terry Round.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay.
Q Will he take an active role in any of the -- directly in the negotiations themselves? Or, other than his public remarks, will he sort of stay on the sidelines and leave it to the ministers?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I think -- I wouldn't expect him to be in the negotiating room with the trade ministers. He's serving as the host for the launching of a new trade negotiation. The nitty-gritty work will be done, led by our Trade Representative, Charlene Barshefsky, her team, with the assistance of some people here at the White House, and some other Cabinet members. So I would expect the President to play more of a host role, rather than -- you know, he's not going to Seattle as our lead negotiator.
Q Can I ask you Taiwanese questions in regard to this? On Taiwan, I'm hearing it two different ways. Would the administration allow Taiwan to get membership if it's not part of China?
MR. LOCKHART: Our position hasn't changed, and we not only support China's representation in WTO, we support Taiwan's.
Q So Taiwan is supported for separate membership?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q As part of China -- separate membership?
MR. LOCKHART: There is a process that they're going through to get some sort of representation within WTO. You'd have to ask over at USTR how that actually works, but it's something we've been supportive of.
Q One more on Taiwan. There's concern in some circles that China is going to take possession of a Russian destroyer after January which might threaten Taiwan. Does the administration have any comments on that?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of that particular report, but we, obviously, work very diligently to reduce tensions across the straits, and will continue to do so.
Q Speaking of Russia, what do you hear about President Yeltsin? Has there been any contact between --
MR. LOCKHART: No contact that I'm aware of. I don't know that we have anything independent of media reports, but we have seen the reports that he has gone to the hospital. Obviously, we wish him well and a speedy recovery. I think the President remarked that he looked well when we saw him last week in Istanbul. But I don't have any independent information beyond what's been reported in the media.
Q Joe, what's happened on WTO with opening the process up so that it's clear to everyone what's going on? We hear the President talk a lot about the labor and environmental standards. Is transparency still something that --
MR. LOCKHART: Sure, I think transparency is. I think we've worked hard to make this more of an open meeting. I think those who are covering it today in Seattle will see that today is a day where they're concentrating on dealing with NGOs, I think, which is part of the process of opening up. We will continue to push for more transparency. We don't think that these agreements, as arcane and technical as they can be, are something that needs to be done behind closed doors, and that is one of the goals of developing the process as we move forward.
Q Joe, a couple of weeks ago you were asked the question about the Renaissance Weekend, if President Clinton will be attending that, and also his thoughts about the Confederate Flag that's flying in South Carolina. What are his thoughts --
MR. LOCKHART: Let me try to bat 50 percent on this, because I haven't really had a conversation with him on the controversy, per se. But I expect that, on the first part of the question, that with all that's going on with the Millennium here in Washington, that the President and the First Lady will not attend the Renaissance Weekend this year.
Q Is that a politically correct way of saying that the President is trying to avoid the backlash from this Confederate Flag?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think that there's a lot going on here. This is, obviously, a very important milestone that the country will celebrate, the world will celebrate. The President and the First Lady have a number of activities designed to commemorate that. And on the second part, I just really haven't had a chance to talk to him -- or haven't -- I've obviously talked to him, I just haven't raised it, so I'm not sure that I can offer any further incite.
Q When the President submits his budget to Congress next year, will he continue to maintain this illusion of budget caps that neither party any longer really maintains the idea that they're going to keep to, or will he actually propose either raising the caps or have enough offsets to make up for the advance appropriation and the gimmicks, as well as the cap?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the one thing you can be certain of, that the President will keep the same kind of fiscal discipline that's marked his administration and his stewardship of the economy in the budget process. I think today is a testament to both -- if you look at the economic fundamentals in this country and you look at the budget that he signed, that we can live within our means and invest in our priorities.
As far as where we're going on FY2001, I think I mentioned this morning, the President is first meeting on the subject today and those are decisions for down the road.
Q Joe, I didn't hear the President mention emergency -- apparently, this issue of declaring certain things emergencies continues through this bill, like the census and things along that. I didn't hear him mention the gimmickry, per se, in this. Does he still object to significant parts of this bill, but just decided he had to sign it?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I think -- we think that there's some less than straightforward budgeting in this, and we think there is some wasteful spending in this bill. But we have to make a decision based on what's in the best interests of the country and, on balance, whether this is the right budget and, on balance, the President was pleased to sign it, as he said, given our ability to maintain fiscal discipline, the way we were able to walk away from an irresponsible tax cut; given the investment we've made in teachers, police officers, the environment, our international commitments and, on balance, this was a good bill to sign.
Q He wasn't bashful about criticizing the gimmicks during the process, however.
MR. LOCKHART: No. And I think that the President ultimately has to make a choice on balance of what's in the best interests for our economy, for our country. And signing the bill was certainly, in his view, in our best interests.
Q Joe, what are the President's thoughts on George W. Bush's coming-out party up in New Hampshire Thursday and will he be watching the Republican debate? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, there is a debate Thursday? (Laughter.) Whether he will be watching or not -- I think it will be hard for him to watch because we're busy Thursday night. I'm sure you all will report on it extensively, objectively, fairly, and he'll, based on those reports, make a judgment over how well or how poorly he did.
Q A couple of budget questions. How soon do you expect the President to sign the waiver on international family planning money? And when you talk about fiscal discipline in this budget, if CBO and OMB in the next week or two come out and show it is actually in deficit in the on-budget side, does that mean fiscal discipline is gone?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me do the second part first. I mean, I don't know when OMB and CBO will come out with their next numbers. Obviously, we worked hard to keep this budget within the framework of fiscal discipline. To the extent that we put forward additional spending, whether it be for teachers or cops, we also put forward offsets. Let's remember that we put forward a budget that was fully paid for. So we will just have to see as we go. There is a lot of excess in this from different members' projects and things. There have been a lot of assurances that this will all fall within the budget and not create deficits. You know, the numbers will tell the story when they come out.
Q What about the earlier --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know what the mechanism for that happening is. I think it's particular to groups and the activities that they undertake. But I think it's fair to say that when faced with a situation involving those groups, the President will not hesitate to exercise his waiver authority.
Q Does this budget the President signed today, does he expand Social Security money or not?
MR. LOCKHART: We won't know for several months, until CBO and OMB come back -- OMB, in particular -- comes back with their numbers.
Q You've been saying for quite a while that Republicans were spending Social Security. Don't you have a judgment at this point?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have a judgment because we don't know as far as where economic growth and tax receipts will be. I think the point that we made and that remains just as valid is that there were a number of gimmicks in this that we didn't necessarily have to use to move forward, but we faced a choice of sort of living in a world of continuing resolutions where we didn't make commitments and set priorities and make important budget decisions or taking the best we could get with the Congress.
Q So you won't know until you see what? How much revenues you get in the current months or --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I think this is probably a January, February -- I mean, I think you will have a better sense early next year, but you won't know for sure without using projections until the end of the fiscal year.
Q Every year we go through this. It seems like the members of Congress, the congressional leaders at least, vow that next year will be different and they will get things done or things will get done sooner or whatever. When the President met with I guess Senator Domenici and others, was there any discussion of how to make this process go a little faster, any more sensible? Did he pledge anything?
MR. LOCKHART: You know, the pledges are made every year. Every year we get our budget up to the Hill on time and every year, at least over the last couple of years or at least since the Republicans have taken the majority, it has taken some time past the deadlines, past the fiscal deadline to get the work done. What next year will bring is completely unknowable. As you know, it's an election year, which could either accelerate the process or slow the process down, depending on who's up, who's down, and who needs to get what done at any particular time.
Q Are you going to hold your breath next year?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Joe, on another subject, staffers in the unofficial-but-official Hillary Clinton campaign are saying that the First Lady will be phasing out her First Lady duties by the end of this year. What happens to the running of the White House, I mean, after she's no longer really First Lady and she's the candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in New York?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the running of the White House will go on and will be unaffected about how the staff goes about doing their work here. I think as I read the First Lady's comments, she would certainly be spending a lot more time in New York, concentrating on the campaign, but would also continue to fulfill many of the duties that she has as First Lady. I think specifically -- what I read was something, she would be here for state dinners and things. So I expect that we will continue to do what we do in a way that will be largely unaffected.
Q Will the President be spending a lot more time in New York as well?
MR. LOCKHART: We'll just have to see. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, can you tell us if the administration is considering using food aid to support the rebels in the Sudan? And what does the bill the President signed today have to do with it?
MR. LOCKHART: The President signed, in the basket of -- in the omnibus bill that he signed today included these -- foreign ops? Foreign ops -- the foreign operations appropriations bill. Within that bill was an amendment put in by Senator Brownback, who is a proponent of using food aid to help the Sudanese rebels. That bill provides authority for the President to deliver food as a way of helping the rebels. But it's very specific about not requiring it, and taking into account whatever negative impact might flow from taking this policy decision.
So the President has the authority, based on what he signed today. As far as whether he'll use that authority, we will undergo a process now, including the State Department, the NSC here, to make a judgment of whether that is a good policy, a proper thing that will bring forward -- I mean, we've worked very hard. We have former Representative Harry Johnson as the President's special envoy. We've worked very hard to try to end the fighting there.
We believe that the Sudanese government should be isolated because of their support of terrorism, because of their efforts to destabilize the region. But as far as whether we would actually use this authority, it's just something that -- it's clearly too early in the process to know what judgment we'll make.
Q Follow-up -- how are you going to tell whether the food's going to the rebel elements, rather than the --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it's, of course, going to be part of the process, to determine whether this is an effective policy tool to meet our ultimate goals. But I can't make a judgment. Despite published reports to the contrary that indicate a process that's well along, it's not well along.
Q Private relief groups say that they fear that this could expose them to attacks or make them seen as partisans and put their people in danger. Is that a concern?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there's certainly -- and I think the amendment takes into account that in making a decision, we should take into account whether there would be negative impacts on the humanitarian assistance, whether it would put humanitarian relief efforts at risk. So these are all things that have to be taken into account, and are all things that are part of the somewhat complicated policy process that we go through, that is normally not of interest to most people on the outside until we come near a conclusion and make a decision -- which we're not near.
Q Did anything come out of the budget meeting this morning, in terms of new priorities or something different for next year?
MR. LOCKHART: The budget meeting was more giving the President a sense of what the lay of the land is, as far as what the economic assumptions will be moving forward, looking back on what we've done and what -- there's a series of decisions that he'll need to make, some relatively quickly, some that he has a little bit more time. And I think he got an overall sense of the picture. But this was not a meeting where any decisions were made, or any particular options were put on the table for a decision.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
1:27 P.M. EST