THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:38 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: Let me start with a statement by the President, which we will release after the briefing. And it reads:
Today, the Commerce Department released the first ever estimate of retail e-commerce sales or e-tail sales. This is an historic landmark that symbolizes and measures our transition to a new information economy.
We first started keeping track of retail sales on a monthly basis in 1951. The announcement that e-tail sales over the Internet and other electronic networks reached $5.3 billion in the fourth quarter of 1999 is an important step to ensure that we have accurate and timely information about the economy in the 21st century.
This is only the latest evidence of the dramatic contribution that the Internet, information technology and e-commerce have made to what is now the longest expansion in our history. When I became President in 1993 -- that has a nice ring to it -- there were 50 sites on the Worldwide Web. Today, there are more than 10 million. The information technology industry now accounts for fully one-third of our economic growth and the jobs it creates pay almost 80 percent more than the private sector average.
Using the Internet, families can obtain lower prices and better choices for everything from groceries to home mortgages to automobiles. Our goal must be to continue to support the basic research that has allowed the Internet to flourish, to enable every American to enjoy the benefits and opportunities of the new economy and to ensure that the privacy of individuals is protected in the information age.
Q Joe, at the Justice Department today, Al Sharpton met with Eric Holder. We also understand Kweisi Mfume was there as well. Did you get a readout from that meeting and do you know if the Diallo family actually had a chance to express their views in the midst of those two civil rights leaders?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't, nor do I expect to. I think the process that the Justice Department is going through will not be done in public and when they finish that review they will probably have something more to say.
Q Can I follow up? Did the President find out about this meeting? Did you tell him about this meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: I have not told him specifically about the meeting. He's aware of the reviews and I'm sure will be kept informed as they come to a decision. But he's not following it on a day-to-day basis.
Q And also -- I understand this was a major part of his book about police profiling and police brutality. Since he thinks this is a tragedy could this Diallo issue be part of his book, especially since he's been writing this book this last week?
MR. LOCKHART: That is always possible, but I have not seen the most recent draft so I don't know the answer to that.
Q Charlie Rangel just came out of that meeting, too. He said either the White House or the Justice Department this afternoon would announce that the Justice Department is launching a formal, official investigation into the Diallo case. Was he on target on that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it is not possible that the White House will announce that this afternoon. If Justice has an announcement they'll make it.
Q But is Rangel right on that?
MR. LOCKHART: On the White House? He's wrong in the sense that the White House may announce something. If the Justice Department is going to announce something, they will announce it, and I won't.
Q Joe, to those who would be concerned that tracking of e-commerce is leading to some sort of consideration of a sales tax on Internet transactions, what would the --
MR. LOCKHART: They're concern would be misplaced. This is merely an acknowledgment of the important role that e-commerce is playing in our economy. And this $5.3 billion is just on goods rather than all of the e-commerce that's going on. So, in fact, the number is really larger, as far as there are things like, I think, airplane transactions and the sort of trading that goes on that is not included in this number. This is just purchasing of goods.
So, I mean, on the issue, I mean, the President spent time with the governors on the idea of sales tax. His position is clear, that he opposes any discriminatory or access taxes. And the burden now is on the governors to come up with a solution to how they deal over the long-term with sales tax.
Q Joe, you spoke at the gaggle this morning about the fact that the British government has released General Pinochet and he is flying back to Chile as we speak. Would you say something for the record?
MR. LOCKHART: Sure. I mean, this is a case that was litigated in Britain in their court system. A decision was made by Mr. Straw to allow the release because of health reasons, and that is a decision that the United States government and other governments need to respect.
Q Joe, do you have a date for the meeting with the conferees on juvenile justice? Hyde was saying Tuesday.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, my guess is it will be Tuesday morning. We're waiting for one member to get their schedule straight, but my guess now is probably Tuesday morning.
Q And also, Hyde was talking about the Hyde-Hatch compromise which he said would include the ban on the importation of high ammunition clips, the child safety locks. But I don't know in what provision it includes the gun show loophole. Do you have a position on that?
MR. LOCKHART: I mean, our position is that we'll take Chairman Hyde at his word that he wants to put forward common-sense gun legislation, but common-sense gun legislation, at a minimum, includes closing the gun show loophole. I mean, someone was showing me earlier some numbers taken from some time ago, not even accounting for this week, that shows 87 percent of Americans support closing the gun show loophole. I don't think 87 percent of this country has got it wrong. I think they've got it right.
These are minimum steps. We have more comprehensive steps we can take once we get this done. But I think the President's point today was we have now let this bill languish for eight months, eight months of no action. We cannot allow this to go on any longer. And that's why he wants the leaders to come down here and to sort this out.
Q How difficult is it for the administration when you have some Democrats, including Congressman Dingell who said today that we can't have -- or we shouldn't have new gun control laws until there is good enough enforcement on the books of the current laws.
MR. LOCKHART: I think that's a false choice. We have for some time agreed to disagree with Congressman Dingell on this. I wouldn't buy into the spin that comes out of the NRA. It has proven false for a long time, and quite destructive for this country. You will remember that they said when we were trying to pass the Brady Bill that criminals don't buy their guns through gun shops. They were wrong. We have ample evidence of that. They've changed their tune now to talk about gun shows, because back then they talked about the gun shows. They have ridiculed proposals for smart gun technology. What kind of people are against technology and something that can save lives?
So I would take a little bit of what they say with a grain of salt. Look at the numbers. Enforcement is up for gun criminals. We have a major new budget proposal to provide even more resources for prosecutors around the country to prosecute gun crimes. I think if people are interested in enforcement they ought to get behind that proposal. But the vast majority of the American public is demanding that we take these common-sense measures on the gun show loophole, on the child safety locks, the trigger locks. and the President is determined to do what it takes to get these members together, to get them off of this eight-month hiatus.
Q Joe, in the case of the six-year-old shooting in Michigan, the President, of course, has made this into a big issue for the gun control legislation. But if you look at that situation, I mean, the father of the child had said that the child watched violent movies and films, is obviously a person, as children are, very much influenced by what they see and what they hear, and that in a sense it wasn't really the gun which was the problem; it was something else, And if by focusing on the gun or the gun issue, you avoid the issue of why did this child -- why was he influenced in such a way that he would shoot another child.
Obviously, the intent wasn't there. The prosecutor said that. But he was somehow imitating something he had seen or something that he thought should be done. And therefore, the issue here is something other than gun control. And by focusing on gun control, aren't you really avoiding the issue which is in question here -- that is, why children are doing this more and more often, which I think has something to do with the culture, the violence and with Hollywood?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't think we're dealing exclusively with the issue of gun safety legislation. The President has talked repeatedly over the last several years about how we need to change our culture in this country, to move away from the culture of violence. He, a couple weeks ago, spent some time with the board that has been put together on the grass-roots campaign to try to effect that change. They are beginning to do some very important work around this country. I think you will hear more about that in the next month or so.
But it is ultimately a false choice. If you can't magically change -- wave a magic wand and change the culture, that somehow guns aren't part of the problem. It is -- it defies common sense to not move forward with smart gun technology. It defies common sense not to move forward with the kind of safety locks that could keep kids from doing this, whether it's inadvertently, or whether it's done through some deficiency in someone's life, or because of the influences in the culture. We can't continue to shift the blame from one side to another and not deal with the problem. And ultimately, that's what Congress has done over the last eight months, which is not deal with this problem. And the President is determined to bring them together to make sure that we do.
Q Joe, the President said this morning the public needs to get aroused about this issue. Is he frustrated that there hasn't been more --
MR. LOCKHART: Chuck, I can't tell you a single person that I've come across in the last two days, particularly parents, who didn't look with absolute horror at the idea that a first-grader, a six-year-old, walked into a class room and shot a classmate. I think the public is engaged. The problem is Congress has not been engaged. Congress has had this sitting up there for eight months, eight months, eight months. It's time they do something with it.
Q Joe, can I go back and talk about this meeting last night on Kosovo -- $2.6 billion supplemental being requested by the administration, some on Capitol Hill expressing concern that perhaps they don't feel the allies are carrying their weight. You said this morning, and I quote, "clearly there are some more things the allies can do." What did you mean by that?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think we've been in discussion with allies as far as KFOR participation and as far as taking the lead in the Stability Pact and the rebuilding of Southeastern Europe. Obviously, we have said that our allies in Europe need to do more, but we need to do our fair share. We have talked extensively with leaders on the Hill about the kind of resources this will take for this year. I think in the area of $2.5 billion is a figure that, although as the President said, that's a serious investment, but it's an investment we think will pay off.
Q Senator Warner said that he's going to require the administration to show him -- this is his words -- "some canceled checks from the allies" to make sure they are indeed holding up their end of the bargain. Is that something the administration can do.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, obviously, we can't hold up cancelled checks. But we can work with the allies and we will continue to work with the allies, as we have, to make sure that they take the appropriate role.
Q If I could follow just once more. The meeting involved the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Advisor, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and nine key senators. How come we didn't know about this meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: Because I was keeping it a secret.
Q Why would you do that?
MR. LOCKHART: I wasn't keeping it a secret.
Q Seriously, it's a fair question.
MR. LOCKHART: Did we have a gaggle yesterday? No. That's why you didn't know about it. I didn't have a chance to go through the schedule.
Q But it was a White House meeting.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. It actually should come as no surprise to you that we have people, senators and congressmen, down here at all times. I try to give you a sense of what the President is doing during the day. If you need a more full briefing on what the National Security Advisor is doing, he's got some very able staff and you should check in with them.
Q Not to beat up on you, but that's a pretty high level delegation of people --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't feel beat up on. If it was something a little more legitimate, I might take it more seriously.
Q I'm sorry, do you think this is an illegitimate line of query, that we shouldn't be advised of a high-level meeting like that taking place late at night?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't really know what your point is, so why don't we go on to the next question.
Q This is a follow-up on the Pinochet case. Is the Clinton administration planning to release before the end of the year more information in the hands of the CIA about the atrocities that were committed during his regime?
MR. LOCKHART: To tell you the truth, I haven't gotten a briefing on that recently. We have been releasing information in stages, as things have been declassified and I think we've actually released two sets of documents, but there are more to come. But I don't have the precise time line of how and when we'll be doing that. But we are quite committed to releasing information that's relevant here and have already released tens of thousands of pages on that and there's more to come.
Q Have you received any other requests about this particular matter from the Spanish government?
MR. LOCKHART: I am not aware of any additional requests since the last -- since this first came up and we addressed that.
Q Did the prescription drug benefit come up in the President's meeting with the pharmaceutical industry?
MR. LOCKHART: I will double-check, but I don't think so.
Q What is the goal or the message of the President tomorrow in Silicon Valley?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the President is going to be talking about the importance of the new economy, the information age, and how and what role that plays in continuing our economic expansion. I think there are a series of issues that are very much in the forefront of the debate on the Internet, the information, the digital revolution. So I think he is going to take his time speaking to a very distinguished group at the Aspen Institute, dealing with a number of those issues.
Q Joe, it seems, in response to earlier episodes of gun violence, the White House moved fairly quickly to raise the issue of the shootings being motivated by hate. How does the White House view the shootings in Pennsylvania yesterday?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think as I mentioned this morning, there have been some statements made by people who were witnesses to this that raise issues of hate and the Justice Department will take a look at that.
Q On a broader scale, regarding the hate crimes legislation, is there any inherent danger at all in classifying some crimes as more hateful than others?
MR. LOCKHART: I think a hate crime is a hate crime, and the legislation defines it quite clearly. And it doesn't -- I don't think you can over-analyze it and you don't try to grade it in any way. A hate crime is something that makes what is already a terrible situation worse when it's motivated by hate. And that's why we've pushed for this legislation.
Q Joe, just a bit more on the trip. Is it coincidence that it comes just a few days before the primary there, and does it have any connection -- is this being done at Vice President Gore's behest?
MR. LOCKHART: Coincidence -- how do you define "coincidence"?
Q They've got a primary, I think, Tuesday.
MR. LOCKHART: Tuesday? Listen, we're going out to raise money for Democrats around the country. Obviously, with minds turned toward electoral politics in California, the way they are, it's probably a pretty enthusiastic time for going and talking to people who help us raise the resources to compete with Republicans. So nothing is ever entirely disconnected.
Q Did you get a chance to ask the President about last night's debate? Is he happy with the cordiality, the new-found cordiality?
MR. LOCKHART: We didn't talk about it specifically, but I think the answer that he gave to the question when the pool was in should give some indication -- you know, he believes very strongly that we need to get away from the politics, where people are trying to drive other people down, and wrestle with the issues. I think, from what I saw, it was a very good debate on the issues, where voters have a real choice and understand what both candidates stand for.
Q Was he addressing, do you think, McCain's description of evil on the --
MR. LOCKHART: That was what the question was.
Q Yes, as well as the other side --
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's -- while we didn't talk about it in particular, it's an educated guess that it would have been a debate, if he did watch it, he would have enjoyed -- for the reasons --
Q But his remarks earlier were about McCain?
MR. LOCKHART: Were about McCain, exactly, yes.
Q The New York Times had a story today that the Clinton administration, the President, himself, in his phone call with Chancellor Schroeder, erred in what he said, or gave Schroeder an opening to believe that the U.S. was more supportive of Koch-Weser that perhaps was the case. Is that correct or --
MR. LOCKHART: I know that they had a discussion on Saturday and I think what he said did not leave that impression.
Q But in an earlier phone call, that the President had told Schroeder that he was in favor of an European and from the White House's point of view did not want to leave the impression that he supported Koch-Weser, but the Germans took it that way, which is why they continued to press his candidacy.
MR. LOCKHART: Again, I don't know how they took the information, but I think the President was very clear in all of his communications on where we stood.
Q Joe, I know you don't talk too much about markets, but can you explain to me the dichotomy between what you're saying day after day here on the economy, how everything is going fine, the fundamentals are great, and what you're getting in Europe now at an ever greater rate, where they're talking about the danger of a stock market collapse, coming from people -- not individual economists, but people like the governor of the Bundesbank? Is not the White House also concerned with what Alan Greenspan characterized as the irrational exuberance is perhaps getting more and more irrational than less so, and would there be any concern in taking measures in trying to avoid such a thing?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know what measures you could take. But let me say that the President is a strong believer in the independence of the Federal Reserve and Mr. Greenspan. He believes he does a good job looking at monetary policy. For our purposes, we focus here on fiscal policy and on trying to make sure the economic fundamentals remain sound in this country. We believe that they are and we will continue to work on efforts, particularly in paying off the debt by 2013, that will allow the economy to continue to grow and flourish.
Q On your question about what I meant by a conspiracy, let me ask this --
MR. LOCKHART: Conspiracy? No, you said coincidence.
Q Oh, coincidence. Actually, I meant conspiracy. Okay. I'll let it ride at coincidence. Did the Gore folks ask the President to come to California this weekend?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know the circumstances setting this up. I mean, just from what I know about politics, I know that California has traditionally been a good place to go out and raise resources for Democrats, and we've been there quite a few times and we'll probably be there a few more times before it's over.
Q -- conviction today, have you had a chance to talk to the President about it or does the White House have a response?
MR. LOCKHART: No. You know, I think the Vice President released a statement on that and I would expect that will be it from here.
END 1:59 P.M. EST