THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The James S. Brady Briefing Room
11:55 A.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: Welcome to this morning's briefing -- barely. Since we didn't see each other this morning, let me just run through the schedule quickly, and then a couple of other things. The President has a lunch with the DNC at 12:00 noon today. At 2:10 p.m. he'll go out to the offices of UUNET, tour the network operations center, and then give a speech to the workers there. The speech will focus on our efforts to open up the Chinese market to American workers and business, and the important work that will go on in Congress over the next few months in our efforts to provide permanent normal trading relations with China.
That's basically it on the schedule. Let me just do a couple of other things. One is I just want to call your attention to a letter that we put out this morning, went up to the Hill late last night, where the President wrote to the Majority Leader in the Senate and the Speaker of the House reiterating his support for the elimination of the limits on what seniors on Social Security can earn.
You all remember that that was something that the President originally wrote about in Putting People First. It was in the State of the Union last year. He's calling on them, one, to send a clean bill down that eliminates the earnings test so that he can sign it; and secondly, continue their work and take the steps we need to make sure that the savings that we get from our fiscal prudence over the last seven years gets tied up for Social Security and extending Social Security solvency.
Q So he's against removing the caps.
MR. LOCKHART: He is for removing the earnings test and has been for quite sometime, but if you go back and read "Putting People First," you'll see that he articulated it there in 1991-1992.
Q Is the version of the bill on the House floor today acceptable to the President?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, if it comes to us as a clean bill and doesn't get amended and loaded up with other items, the President, I think as the letter indicates, believes we can support that. Obviously, it's somewhat early in the process, having many more steps to go through, and I think the purpose of the letter was to indicate that if it does come down in a clean version, that he can support it and will sign it into law, as it does reflect his views on Social Security and the earnings test and why it should be repealed.
Q Is the administration discouraging Senate Democrats from offering amendments once it comes to the Senate?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think our statement should be clear to all involved that, whether they be Democrats or Republicans, that as a clean -- he can support this as a clean piece of legislation, but if it does get loaded up, we have to reserve the right to oppose it.
Q Joe, yesterday when he was talking about Medicare and prescription drugs, the President cautioned Republicans against risky tax cuts. But he would accept this kind of a tax cut that's all --
MR. LOCKHART: This isn't necessarily a tax cut. I think if you look at -- if you go out over 30 or 40 years and look at the impact on the trust fund, you'll find that it's neutral. So that is the reason I think the President believes it's proper to separate this out from some of the other ideas that have been put forward by mostly House Republicans at this point in the legislative season.
Q Is that because you're saying because the extra benefits that they would be getting now would be more than offset by the taxes they put in the income that they earn?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I think if you go down -- and Treasury has done some analysis on this -- there is some up-front costs. But you go and look 20, 30, 40 years down, this is something that is neutral as far as the overall impact on the trust fund.
Q Do you have any other announcements?
MR. LOCKHART: I do, but we'll finish this. Is this still on Social Security?
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, can I get through a couple of other things? One is, I just wanted to bring you up to date on what the United States government is doing in regards to the floods in Southern Africa, particularly Mozambique. We are engaged actively in rescue and relief operations in Mozambique. Last night, USAID announced an additional $10 million in food aid and support for rescue operations. Along with that effort, USAID is deploying a 14-member water effort. USAID is deploying a 14-member water rescue team from Metro Dade, Florida.
A DOD airlift arrived in Mozambique this morning delivering plastic sheeting and shelter for 10,000 families, 6,000 five-gallon water containers, 6,000 blankets and 30,000 pounds of high-energy biscuits. A second airlift will deliver relief supplies to South Africa later this week. That brings the overall total to $12.8 million, including relief supplies, disease control efforts and other flood relief efforts. We have civilian and military experts now in the region. They will be assessing further needs and will be reporting back soon.
Finally, I have a brief statement to read. Today, March 1st is St. David's Day, the most important day in the Welsh calendar. Around the world, people of Welsh descent celebrate their nation's culture and identity. We in the United States, as a nation of immigrants, have welcomed people from every country in the world. Billions of Americans from Bangor, Maine to Swansea, Illinois, to Cumbria, California are proud of their Welsh heritage.
Welsh contribution to American life and American democracy has been significant. Nearly a third of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, including Thomas Jefferson, were of Welsh descent. Today, the Welsh have something even more significant, as this is the first St. David's Day since the new Welsh assembly was established last July. On behalf of the President, I personally would like to extend my best wishes to the people of Wales on this great day.
Q Are you of Welsh background?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Where do you get this stuff? (Laughter.)
Q Why didn't you put that in the bin?
Q Are you trying to fill time? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: No, no. I just --
Q Do you have any comment on the primaries?
MR. LOCKHART: On the primaries? The Vice President did very well last night, I saw.
Q Did the President call him or talk to him this morning or last night?
MR. LOCKHART: Not last night. I don't know. I haven't seen the President yet this morning. We got in quite late, but he didn't talk to him last night.
Q Does the President think Gore has it all wrapped up now?
MR. LOCKHART: I think as the President has made quite clear to you, that's up to the voters. They are deciding on a weekly basis, and prognostication from him on that subject or anybody else here is likely to be counterproductive.
Q Does he think that injecting the religious aspects of the attacks on the evangelicals hurt?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he indicated when he talked to the pool yesterday that that's obviously a decision candidates have to make for themselves. This has been an issue for quite some time, not just for the last couple of weeks, and candidates have to decide for themselves how they want to address this.
Q Has the President talked to Gerhard Schroeder again about the nomination for Caio Koch-Vesser? The Germans seem to think that they've had another phone call.
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. I know he has written to him and communicated on what was a tragic incident involving some U.S. military dependents and a very tragic auto accident, but that was a written message.
Q Can you tell me about any White House involvement in a plan being worked out by the FAA and the aviation industry, the air traffic transport industry to reduce the summer delays like they had last summer?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the FAA has been working for sometime in conjunction with the White House to address spring-summer severe weather delay issues. I expect that that work on the plan is nearing completion, and the FAA and the President, I would all further expect to have more to say on that within the next couple of weeks.
Q Joe, when did the President sign off on the certification process which is going to be announced today?
MR. LOCKHART: You know, he got the recommendation, I think, Monday from the Secretary of State. I know that he has made a decision. I further know that the State Department will be announcing that in a briefing I think at 3:00 p.m. this afternoon, so I don't know exactly when he had a chance to sit with his national security team.
Q This is his decision?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Joe, has the President made any further plans to meet with congressional -- members of Congress about the China -- the NTR vote?
MR. LOCKHART: We've probably had a sum total of probably 60 members in now. We're going to continue that effort. I don't have anything on the schedule.
MR. SIEWERT: Next week.
MR. LOCKHART: We've got -- so we've got 60. So we will continue that effort next week. And there are a variety of different groups that come in. We've had a group of Democrats, we've had a bipartisan group come in, and the President is going to continue to make the case for the permanent normal trading relations, why it's so much in our interest, and these -- I think he finds these to be very valuable sessions where he can sit in a smallish group of, say, 15 or 20 with members over in the Residence and talk through many of the issues, and in some cases some of the concerns that members have.
Q Do you agree with both Trent Lott and Tom Daschle and many -- several other members have said that China's recent statements about Taiwan have made it much, much more difficult to get a majority?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know how many "muches" I would put in there, but it's not something that makes it any easier. But I think on the merits, we will get a majority in both Houses and we will continue to work through it. To the extent that it makes it harder for us, we'll just have to work harder.
Q And how much harder did the statements that Vice President Gore made to the AFL-CIO make the effort to get --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the statement that the Vice President made to the AFL-CIO were quite clear as far as where he is on this. There was a lot of discussion on the periphery of this about what he may have said or what he didn't say, but I think he was clear, as his statement to the National Association of Manufacturers has made it clear. So I don't think it makes it harder.
Q I'm talking about the statements that when he's President he won't sign any trade agreements unless --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I saw the statement he made to one reporter. I've also seen the statements that he made in the letter and have had a report, and I don't think it makes it any harder.
Q In this regard, Joe, after these meetings with various members of Congress and Hill leaders, is the President more encouraged or less encouraged about the possibility this might actually get passed?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President feels very good about this. This is obviously a high priority for him. He's spending a lot of time on it. I think if you look at the schedule you'll see that this is an issue we're going to come back to over and over again because it's that important to the future of this country. I think those of you who had the opportunity to watch him, whether it be the news conference a couple of weeks ago, the speech to the CEOs, the speech he'll give today, the President is quite passionate about this and he came out of each of the meetings with members quite encouraged.
Q Joe, the White House is going to rely on House Republicans substantially to get this vote on PNTR. They do think Gore's comments are hurtful. They do think it's a problem as they lobby their own members, because many Republicans see Gore's comments as an invitation to Democrats not to vote for PNTR, to back off the vote, and if they're your coalition that you're working with, what are you doing to try to persuade them that these remarks that they think are harmful, aren't?
MR. LOCKHART: We're working very closely with them and we're --
Q Why shouldn't they think that they're harmful?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think anyone who has had the opportunity to review the letter the Vice President sent to the manufacturers will understand what his position is. When we get to the merits of this and away from the politics of this, I think the President is quite certain that we can get a positive vote out of the House and the Senate because of the merits of this situation.
Q Do you have a date when you're going to send the legislation up to the Hill yet?
MR. LOCKHART: Soon.
Q Is that a firm date?
MR. LOCKHART: That's soon.
Q Can you confirm, Joe, the request of the Taiwanese government for extra battleships, and particularly the request for aegis capabilities on those battleships?
MR. LOCKHART: No, we are -- the defensive weapons that we sell to the Taiwanese are fully covered under the Taiwan Relations Act and we never discuss the details of any sale that may be considered or pending.
Q Why not?
Q Do you consider any request for aegis outside of that defensive weapons regime?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into a theoretical discussion of any particular weapons systems.
Q But you think those kinds of weapons are covered under --
MR. LOCKHART: I didn't say that. I said we're very clear on the Taiwan Relations Act our working operation with Taiwan as far as providing defensive weapons, and I'm not going to discuss any sales in the future, whether they be prospective or not prospective.
Q Can you just tell us whether these weapons are defensive, under the terms of the act? I'm not asking you if you're going to sell them, I'm just asking, do they meet the criteria.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't personally know and --
Q Don't they have to be?
MR. LOCKHART: Helen, I haven't said we're selling them. And I'm not getting into a hypothetical discussion here.
Q This is not hypothetical, this is in the law.
Q Can you confirm that they've been requested, that they're part of the discussions?
MR. LOCKHART: No. And let me be very clear. Let me say it one more time, which is we never discuss any requests, any pending sales, any discussions. That has been how this has been done for the many years where we have successfully operated the Taiwan Relations Act, and that's not going to change today.
Q You don't think the people have a right to know these things?
MR. LOCKHART: Next question.
Q Joe, Jiang Zemin said he would offer -- or China would offer its own citizens greater political freedoms and democracy in the 21st century. Do you have any reaction? Is this is a serious statement, or is it a sound bite?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's certainly our belief that as we move forward, that that statement will prove to be real and realistic. It's certainly our hope. We also believe that by engaging with the Chinese government, whether it be on other issues or what we're discussing currently here in Washington, permanent normal trade relations, this is something that helps move that process along.
As the President has said, we have a choice to make whether to engage or to isolate. And there are obvious benefits to a policy that seeks to engage, open the market up, so that some of these other issues can get dealt with.
Q Will the President use those statements to buttress his argument which you've just outlined?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that that particular statement will get used. I think the President has made his view on this quite clear both -- when he's talking privately with members, it's not different than the approach he's used, whether it be in the news conference or some of the speeches he gives. So I think, on the merits, this is a very important issue for the President, for the country, and that's the case we're going to continue to make.
Q Joe, one of the most important questions is why the Chinese made the statements they did in kind of a surprising manner after the U.S. delegation was there. Does the President subscribe to the analysis that there is a split between the Jiang Zemin people and the Zhu Rongji people and that's what this is about?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President's been asked that question or a variation of that question of what he thinks yesterday and Friday, and I think he was fairly expansive. So I'll refer you back.
Q Well, he said it was politics and the -- election, but he didn't really speak to --
Q Have you been in touch with anybody in Flint, Michigan personally?
MR. LOCKHART: The Department of Education, Department of Justice has been in touch. They've offered their experts for help. I don't know if that offer has been taken up at any level; I'd refer you over there. It's certainly my expectation that the President will reach out to the community in some way. When that happens, we'll let you know.
Q Can you give me some sense of how Secretary Richardson is doing in his various discussions around the world with OPEC leaders?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he's spoken about this, and I think you can look at the comments that have been made. He went and made the case that I think the President has made, that prices, when they get too high, are counterproductive for both producers and consumers -- countries that are consumers, and I think you have seen a number of statements from ministers from around the world that reflect some agreement with that principle.
Q Can I just follow, because some of the comments have indicated that many OPEC leaders are not interested in talking about increasing production until perhaps the summer. Would that be an acceptable position that the White House --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think the White House and the Secretary of Energy have made the case that oil prices, when they get too high, are counterproductive, again, both for producers -- producing countries and consuming countries. I know that OPEC has a series of discussions going on within their organization, and they will make decisions about production, but they have discussed, and I think you've seen public statements, that they accept the principle that a price can be too high for their own good.
Q Just to follow up one more time -- can he walk away with any specific promise after these meetings?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, he went and had a number of important meetings, and I think you can look and point to a number of statements that were made that recognize a common assumption on the idea of prices being too high or too low.
Q Joe, what prompted the President to decide to take part in the 35th anniversary of the Selma march? And has he shared any recollections or talked with you about it, and what's his theme and what's he going to say?
MR. LOCKHART: He's working on that now. I expect that this will be something that he'll spend a good bit of time on trying to get the right sense of what he wants to say. What prompted it was a number of people involved in putting on this contacted the White House and the President asked him to participate, and this is something that he very much wanted to do and looked forward to. And I think over the next few days, he's going to spend some time thinking about exactly how he wants to approach this and what he's going to say.
I don't think he's far enough along in that process. I know he's had a couple of conversations with people here on it for me to preview it here now.
Q Has he talked about what he was doing at the time or his impressions or feelings, anything like that?
MR. LOCKHART: Certainly, I don't have a specific memory of a conversation on the march across the bridge but, certainly, in general, much of the President's -- and I think as he talked about yesterday; I don't remember whether this was when he was speaking or on the milling around afterwards -- but he talked about how so much of his own political views were shaped by the civil rights movement and what was going on in Arkansas and what was going on in the American South as he became someone who was entering college-age years and entering politics.
So I think this incident, as well as several others that we all remember were quite important in shaping his overall political philosophy.
Q On a related issue, is the race book anywhere near finished?
MR. LOCKHART: They're getting there.
Q But we shouldn't expect it this Sunday?
MR. LOCKHART: You shouldn't expect it this Sunday. I think the President was doing some work on it this week, but I can't give you a publication date right now.
Q Well, do you think it will be before he leaves office?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect it will be.
Q Joe, I know the President is for food safety, especially meat products, but yesterday at the Holiday Inn in Arlington, a USDA-sponsored conference, Dr. --, he discovered a vaccine that will eliminate bacteria from meat products. Is the White House aware of this, and what are your comments?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm certain that the people at USDA and the team here that works on food safety is quite aware of it. I haven't had any discussions with them yet, so I need to go back and talk to them.
Q Am I right that the President has not --
MR. LOCKHART: You're always right, Mark.
Q I don't know about that -- that the President has not issued a statement on the Diallo verdict?
MR. LOCKHART: We have not issued a statement on that, no.
Q Why is that? Is there one?
MR. LOCKHART: I've talked to the President about what happened and I actually expected that someone would have asked him over the last couple of days. But when I talked to him, what he expressed to me was that obviously this is a tragedy for the family; this was an innocent young man who was killed, and that it's just something very difficult for his family and his community to deal with. Having said that, given the fact that the Department of Justice is currently reviewing it, there's not a whole lot more that the President feels would be appropriate for him to say.
Q Is the President offering his views to Justice on its review?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think Justice is conducting that review through their own counsel there, and I expect that will be -- they will make a decision.
Q When you say "tragedy," are you talking about the shooting or the verdict or --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm talking about the shooting and the death of the young man.
Q Joe, on tobacco, in the wake of yesterday's announcement by Philip Morris, would you anticipate that the White House is going to get involved in promoting any legislation to give the FDA that statutory authority? What do you foresee happening now in this session of Congress?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there is a piece of legislation Senator Frist introduced in 1996, that got out of the Senate Commerce Committee 19-1. We would hope that if Philip Morris is serious about this -- and I have no reason to doubt that their statements are not genuine -- that they will find a way to support this effort, because it is so important as far as getting kids from beginning the terrible and deadly habit of smoking.
As the President said yesterday, 3,000 kids -- more than 3,000 now -- start per day; 1,000 will die early because of it. And this is an important rule -- this is an important authority for FDA to have, particularly when it comes to limiting the marketing in advertising.
Q Does the Frist bill allow the FDA to classify it as a drug and a drug-delivery device?
MR. LOCKHART: I believe it does.
Q Because Philip Morris has specifically said that's not what -- it's still -- open to other kinds of legislation --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, we will have to figure out -- right now that is the one vehicle that I know of legislative. I mean, obviously, the Supreme Court has heard arguments on the FDA's authority to do exactly that, and we expect a decision at some point in this session. Obviously, if they have further ideas on how to do this, we'd be willing to listen to them. But I think the burden is on them to articulate exactly what it is they're thinking about and how they would propose FDA have this authority.
Q Right. But yesterday the President said if they support the FDA having this authority, then that's good news. But all the statements from Philip Morris say --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I think it's incumbent for them to fully flesh out their ideas. This came, I think, kind of out of nowhere. I don't know that we had any warning that they were changing policy. So I don't know that we fully understand, or anyone fully understands at this point what exactly they mean.
Q Joe, in a -- story from his jail cell, Sharif blamed the Western, that Western was behind the political -- or his government would overthrow -- and also, particularly in one sense, he told somebody that President Clinton is not doing enough to bring him out or to help him from the jail. Any comments on the story? And also he is really feeling bad that West is not doing or helping him.
MR. LOCKHART: Is who feeling bad? Is the President feeling bad?
Q No, Sharif.
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I can't comment on whether he's feeling bad or not. But I will reject the premise of the initial comment that somehow the West -- whatever that means -- was behind his situation.
Q Clearly, his indirect message is that he needs presidential help in any way to get him out.
MR. LOCKHART: I think that the President, the Secretary of State and all others who have spoken to the subject have been quite clear that we have insisted that there be a transparent process that follows the law involving the former Prime Minister. And I think we've been very clear on that.
Q And one more follow-up. All the judges, they refuse to take oath; and also his lawyers have already told him that we are not going to represent him because the government, the military government in Pakistan have already decided to hang him, so we don't want to be hanged with you, if we continue to protect you.
MR. LOCKHART: I hadn't seen those reports. I think, obviously, if those reports were true they'd be counter to the public statements that we have made about making sure that he and any others are given the judicial openness and review that any citizen should be afforded.
Q Joe, on more on the Diallo matter. Does the President believe that the verdict in the case adds to the racial disparities on views about law enforcement?
MR. LOCKHART: You know, this is obviously something the President has thought quite a lot about. But I think given the review that's going on at Justice, I think he believes -- and people who advise him believe -- that it's best to allow Justice to go through their review before he really addresses it much beyond what I've said.
Q Thank you.
END 12:24 P.M. EST