THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:00 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, questions. I have no announcements to start with.
Q What's the President's position on the German candidate for the IMF?
MR. LOCKHART: As we've said for some months now, we support a European candidate, a candidate of maximum stature that can generate a consensus in Europe and support from developing countries. I understand that there are a number of candidates that are being looked at in Europe, and we will wait to see and wait to make comment on until a consensus has formed behind one particular candidate.
Q Is that a yes or a no? I mean, we have never been shy about expressing our views on certain individuals. What do we think of this?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I am not going to try to rate every candidate who is in the paper on a day-to-day basis. As I said, we are looking --
Q We're not asking about everyone.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, and I'm giving the answer that I'm going to give.
Q Joe, on China, if you could succinctly describe or summarize what the President has done in a lobbying effort, both formally and informally, off campus and in campus, on --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it's fair to say that a day doesn't go by with the President not working on trying to get permanent normal trade relations with China. He's had a series of meetings with the House and Senate leadership. He's met with strong supporters in the House and Senate; he's met with undecideds; he's met with CEOs -- he met with a group of high-tech CEOs -- and he met with some workers, because this all impacts every level of our society. So I think as he told the members who came in last night among the leadership, this is an extraordinarily important vote for the future of our country, and he will continue to work every single day to get it passed.
Q On that topic, Joe, the Republican leadership, Trent Lott specifically, seemed to be more willing to go forward now after meeting with the President last night, but the problem still seems to be a lot of Democrats on the Hill are not willing to support him. By some estimates, two-thirds of the Democrats in the House won't go along. How successful has the President been in trying to convince his own party to move forward?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we've been working with both Democrats and Republicans. Obviously, there are some Democrats who have a different view on this vote and a different view on trade. But we will continue to work to try to get a majority in both Houses.
Q What can you tell us about the trip that the White House is sponsoring for members next month to China? And how does that fit into the overall lobbying approach?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there are a couple of trips in the works where Secretary Daley and some others will lead members over. Are there two trips?
MR. SIEWERT: Secretary Daley and Secretary Glickman --
MR. LOCKHART: Two separate ones? Two separate delegations with members of Congress. Secretary Glickman will lead one and Secretary Daley will lead another.
It's our view that as members know more about this vote and know more about the benefits of opening China's market to U.S. business and workers, they will be more likely to vote for permanent normal trade relations; more likely for China to get into the WTO. So that's the basis for these trips.
Q Joe, how does the President view the decision by the Israeli Cabinet to pull out of Lebanon by July, with or without a comprehensive peace agreement? Does he feel that's constructive to the overall peace agreement that he's trying to seek?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, obviously, their decision to withdraw as a decision -- what we would prefer is an overall negotiated settlement. We believe that the needs of the parties are best met through the negotiations, discussions that they have had and will continue to work as part of our effort as an honest broker in those talks.
Q Joe, just to follow up. Are you saying it would be a bad thing for them to withdraw?
MR. LOCKHART: No, no, no. I think, obviously, this is something for the parties to decide. I think our interest is in the overall peace process.
Q Has he been at all frustrated with the Syrian reaction, which has almost sort of been negative toward the Israeli pullout? Has he expressed any frustration towards the Syrians?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me be clear. I mean, I think -- Israel has said that they would prefer to do it as part of a negotiated settlement, and that's something that we support.
Q Joe, what was the President's reaction to California's two-to-one vote against same-sex marriage?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President supports the bill that he signed, but I think he thought the proposition there was unnecessary and divisive. But the voters of California have spoken and that's something we all have to respect. I think there's a lot more we can do as far as passing the Employment and Nondiscrimination Act, which will be useful, and working on the many issues that the President's been engaged on.
Q How does he feel about the Centers for Disease Control, which is now terming homophobia a health risk, which Yale psychiatrist Jeffrey Satinover (sp) says, this use is a pure corruption of the medical process; opinions are not diseases, except to dictators? Does he think that --
MR. LOCKHART: That is way too complicated a question for someone of limited means like me.
Q Well, does he think that homophobia is a health risk, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: Let's keep going.
Q The high price of oil, the high price of gasoline -- is there concern at the White House that this can slop over into politics and seriously damage Al Gore's chances?
MR. LOCKHART: I think our concern is to make sure that the high price of oil, we deal with it as directly as we can. We've done a lot of work on LIHEAP, providing money for people who depend on home heating oil. We've done a number of things at the Department of Energy to try to get product to the worst-affected areas. And we've worked in trying to make a case to the producers that on the question of the problems with volatility, the problems with prices this high -- and I think you've seen a number of statements from producers, from a number of OPEC's countries in the last few days -- I think that's the appropriate focus of our attention. And we'll just have to leave the politics to themselves.
Q How worried are you that it's going to hurt the U.S. economy, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: I think if you look at the fundamentals and you look at the long-term price, factoring for inflation, over the last, say, 20 or 30 years, this spike-up is not, in terms of real costs, as expensive as it might seem. But I think that's little comfort to people who are struggling on a day-to-day basis.
That's why we've taken the steps that we've taken. As far as the overall impact in the economy, I think the economy -- the fundamentals for the economy remain quite strong. Inflation remains in check and at historically low levels. We still have a strong, growing economy. But it's something that's worth watching, and that's why the President said that he watches it every day.
Q Joe, a good chunk of the cost of a gallon of gasoline is federal taxes. There's been some discussion on the Hill about rolling back federal tax on gasoline, at least somewhat. Is that something the President is open to considering? Would something like that have to be fully paid for, or what is the White House's view?
MR. LOCKHART: I mean, obviously, those taxes go primarily for highway repair, highway construction, and those are all things that are greatly needed in this country. I haven't seen any of the proposals so I can't speak to them. But obviously, whatever we do here we have to continue to work within a fiscally prudent framework; otherwise there could be a real threat to the economy.
Q Joe, how does the President feel the people will have to struggle if Al Gore's Kyoto treaty goes into effect? What do you think will be the effect on gas prices then?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think there will be an effect on gas prices.
Q Joe, a short while ago, Energy Secretary Richardson told reporters on the Hill -- quote -- "There will be no $2 a gallon gasoline." Does he know something that we don't or the market folks don't?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he's reflecting the public comments that were made by a number of oil producers who have said that it's not in their interest to have this volatility in oil prices and to have prices at this level.
Q -- consumer level, though, Joe, even if OPEC does do the right thing in this administration's mind, we're talking about a delay before that comes to the pumps. What do you tell the consumers of low means right now who are facing these high prices at pumps and it hurts them?
MR. LOCKHART: We certainly understand that as the prices of gas go higher it causes some pain. We have taken necessary steps as we can. We've also worked with oil producers. We will continue to do that. The price won't magically come down overnight, but we're taking the long-term steps that we can in order to ensure that there is an adequate supply at prices that aren't fluctuating wildly.
Q Joe's there has been a breakthrough among House Senate Republicans on this FAA reauthorization bill, and it includes billions for construction of runways and also a lot of FAA modernization. Are there any problems with that bill? Will the President expect to sign it?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we asked for a lot as far as our plan. I think it comes up short in a few areas -- management and financial reforms, mostly. I think this bill reflects most of what the President looked for, including improving safety and security of the aviation system, expanding the capacity and improving the efficiency. Obviously, you never get everything you want in a piece of legislation, but this I think reflects most of what the President's priorities are.
Q And he intends to sign it?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we'll see when it gets sent down on all the details. But as far as I know, it gets almost all the way there, as far as we were asking for.
Q On Cyprus, in the recent days the White House -- there's a lot of activity regarding Cyprus. The other day was a conference call with members Greek American business -- and your Special Envoy, Mr. Moses, is in Cyprus today. He made some optimistic statements. Do you have anything to say?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't have anything new. Mr. Moses, who is our Special Envoy, is in Cyprus from the 7th through the 11th. He's there to consult with the parties in order to try to make further progress on moving towards a comprehensive settlement. I expect him to meet with the leaders, Clerides and Denktash, but I don't have anything new as far as an announcement of any specific breakthrough.
Q Joe, did the President's daughter vote on the California ballot initiative?
MR. LOCKHART: That's a good question. I'd put that to the First Lady's Office.
Q Joe, Republican Chairman Nicholson has noted that ABC gave only 19 seconds, CBS only 23 seconds, and NBC no time at all to report the conviction of -- Shaw. And my question is, was the President grateful, and do you think these media were doing their duty to inform the public, or not?
MR. LOCKHART: As I try to resist the temptation of lecturing the media from here, it would be pretty good advice for the RNC Chairman, although I don't think he's in a very good position to lecture anyone.
Q Joe, does the administration see any linkage between the WTO-China issue and the minimum wage issue? Have you tried to foster, overtly or otherwise, any linkage between those two issues with labor or --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think so. I think WTO makes sense, on its face, as far as opening up a closed market to the United States with our market being open to the Chinese. It makes sense for workers, it makes sense for business, and I think as the President will outline this afternoon, it makes sense in terms of our overall relations with China.
The minimum wage is another issue that I think, as the President said today very clearly, all of the arguments against have been effectively demolished. What we have here is a situation where people, at $5.15 an hour, deserve a raise. And there's not a single piece of evidence that shows by raising it an hour, that it will hurt the economy or any sector of our business environment.
We have ample evidence from 1996 of 10 million new jobs being created, low inflation, welfare rolls falling by 44 percent. There is all the evidence in the world. But what's really going on here is the Republicans trying to provide part of their risky tax scheme from last year and put it in on minimum wage as part of a legislative game.
Look at the numbers as far as -- you've got a tax bill that has very little or nothing to do with minimum wage and small business. You have an $80-billion estate tax provision in there that has very little to nothing to do with small business. You have an $18-billion provision on pensions that provides money for and higher limits for people at the top end of the scale. You've got a situation here where the top one percent of our income earners on the Republican plan will get $6,000; 60 percent of Americans would get $4 a year.
This doesn't have anything to do with minimum wage. It doesn't have anything to do with helping working class people get ahead and get a step up. This has to do with trying to provide those a the top end of the income scale with more tax relief.
This is something we're going to fight and, ultimately, it defines the differences between the parties. And the public, if we can't get this done, will have a right to speak their mind in November.
Q Were you able to find out any more about the emergency supplemental and the large discrepancy between what the Republicans want and what you --
MR. LOCKHART: We haven't seen it yet, it hasn't been marked up. So there are things in the supplemental that we sent up that we think are emergencies that we think need to be funded now -- Kosovo, Colombia, some additional LIHEAP money. We would obviously hope that they send a bill down that reflects those priorities and that resists the temptation to find a number of other issues that aren't necessarily in the emergency category, or appropriate for supplemental. But, again, we haven't seen what they've got in mind, and when they mark something up, we'll have more to say.
Q On the estate tax, all the small business groups always argue for reduction of state tax, because they say that small business owners have trouble passing their businesses on to their children. So why would they argue for it if wasn't linked?
MR. LOCKHART: There already are provisions within the estate tax law that go right to small businesses -- people who have a business worth $1 million, $2 million. There are provisions within the Democratic provision here that provide some relief to small businesses and to family farms. But the difference between the Democratic plan and the Republican plan has nothing to do with small business owners. You're talking about people with the states in excess of $20 million and $30 million who really reap the benefit from this. And that's not the profile of the average American small businessman, and it's not the profile of the people who need the relief here.
The Republicans have made the argument that, okay, if we're going to give working class people $1, we've got to give our friends $11 in return. That's what Citizens for Tax Justice found in doing a distributional analysis of the Republican plan. They ought to come clean. They ought to say -- they're not for the minimum wage, but they want to do this as a way to try to leverage tax cuts for the most well-off in this country. I think it's an approach that the American public overwhelmingly rejects, and we'll see how the vote goes.
Q Joe, can you tell us what the President did with returns yesterday, watching returns?
MR. LOCKHART: He watched -- he had some friends and members of Congress over to the family theater last night to watch the returns. He invited a group of members from the states that were having their voting yesterday, on Super Tuesday, who were in Washington. So it was just a group of political friends, family friends, that watched for several hours as the results came in.
Q On minimum wage, an NYU economist has sort of a competing study saying that the average family income that would benefit the most from an increase in minimum wage is $38,000, not people below the poverty line --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I don't know what financial or economic model he used. I mean, I know there has always been this argument that somehow it's teenagers who benefit from this. Well, 70 percent of the people who benefit from this are not teenagers, so that argument doesn't carry any water.
Let me give you some statistics that he might have considered when he looked at this: 10 million new jobs created since the last rise in the minimum wage; unemployment down from 5.2 to 4.1 percent, the lowest in 30 years; the underlying core inflation rate was 2.6 percent -- in 1999, it was 1.9 percent; the welfare rolls have fallen 44 percent.
There are studies -- two dozen studies from places like Harvard, MIT, Princeton, other universities, that say minimum wage has no negative impact -- to raise the minimum wage has no negative impact on business. And we also have a sustained growth now in real wages and the beginning of the closing of the equality gap there. So there is enormous evidence out there on why we should raise the minimum wage for people who are making $5.15 an hour, to go from $10,000 a year to up over $12,000 a year.
The case was made in the event today, and I think it's important that if this gets stopped by the Republicans' desire to provide a $120-billion tax cut to the wealthiest of Americans, that they will need to explain to 10 million Americans why they couldn't get a raise.
Q If the Democrats are successful at substituting a smaller small business relief bill, would the President, at that point, be willing to accept a three-year increase in --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes -- well, I don't know. The Democratic bill is a two-year raise, and that's because we believe that the minimum wage has lagged as far as keeping up with inflation over the last 30, 32 years, and this ought to be done over two years. The Democrats have a plan that the President supports on providing targeted tax relief that's fiscally responsible, that's paid for.
The second part of this issue is that the Republicans haven't spent any time talking about how they would pay for their tax cut. After spending a lot of money talking about not spending the surplus last year, they would go ahead and spend the surplus on this. So as far as three years, I mean, we're going to push for a vote on getting a two-year raise, because that's what working people in this country deserve.
Q Joe, apropos the subject of the President's press briefing yesterday, the Center for the Study of Popular Culture in Los Angeles, David Horowitz, writes, "Calling for a law to require parents who stash their kids in crack houses to put trigger locks on the stolen guns lying around is a sick joke. An even sicker joke would be to expect liberal Democrats or the liberal press to acknowledge this obvious fact. Democrats' use of the interracial killing of a six-year-old to attack lawful gun owners and beat up on the National Rifle Association is obscene." Your comment?
MR. LOCKHART: I think 85 percent of people in this country support requiring manufacturers to have a trigger lock on a gun, and I think the gun lobby and those who speak for them are obscene in the arguments they make.
Q Did the President speak to the Vice President at all last night or this morning?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, he spoke to him about 9:30 p.m. last night.
Q Will the President campaign vigorously for the Vice President?
MR. LOCKHART: The President intends to try to help Democrats all across this country -- the Vice President, the top of the ticket, Democrats running for House, Senate, gubernatorial races. I think we'll continue our efforts to try to provide resources to Democrats around the country through the President's fundraising efforts. And as we move toward election day, expect him to be out campaigning for Democrats, including the Vice President.
Q What is the President's long-term concern about rising oil and gasoline prices really beginning to erode the economic prosperity that has really been the hallmark of what the administration hopes to make its case to the voters in the fall?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we have a very -- we are in the midst of the strongest, most exceptional economic expansion this country has ever witnessed. That is based in large part on the President's ability to reverse the fiscal policy of previous administrations, get the deficits down, get interest rates down, get inflation down.
He will continue to look and has every interest in making sure that that economic expansion continues. That's one of the reasons we've made the case that we have made to oil producers and that they have agreed that there is no advantage to anyone for unsustainable and volatile oil prices. And we'll see when the OPEC countries get together later this month whether the wisdom that they have articulated in public has an impact on the production and the price of oil on the market and, ultimately, the price the people pay at the gas pumps.
Q Joe, Governor Bush criticized the President for continuing to raise soft money in light of Vice President Gore's call to not have soft money involved in the fall campaign. Your reaction? Will the President continue to raise soft money?
MR. LOCKHART: We will continue to be the party, and the only party, that speaks for real campaign finance reform. But until we can get the Republicans off the dime and allow the will of the House and the will of the Senate and the will of the American people to be heard and acted on, we will continue to work within the system and raise money and raise resources for Democrats around this country.
You know, the criticism is awfully rich. I would ask Governor Bush where is he on the minimum wage? Does he support the $120 billion estate tax and pension give-back to the wealthiest of Americans? I'd ask him where is he on gun control? Where is he really on patients' bill of rights? He talks about being for it, but didn't sign the bill that went through in Texas. I think he's got his own issues to work out about his campaign and shouldn't worry too much about what we're doing.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:25 P.M. EST