THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JAKE SIEWERT, GENE SPERLING AND P.J. CROWLEY The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:35 P.M. EDT
MR. SIEWERT: Here today, Mr, Sperling will join us in a moment to give you a quick readout on --
Q The stock market? (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: I doubt that. He will give you a quick readout on tomorrow's event here, the conference the President's hosting on the new economy.
I'll begin with a short statement from the President on the supplemental, and then I'll turn it over to Gene. And then we'll take your questions.
Q Will you be coming back?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, at your pleasure.
"I'm very disappointed that Senator Lott plans to deny prompt consideration of the urgent and essential needs in my 2000 supplemental request, including helping victims of Hurricane Floyd, providing energy assistance for families struggling with rising oil prices, helping keep illegal drugs out of our country by supporting the Colombian government's fight against drug traffickers, and building peace and stability in Kosovo to support the efforts of our troops there without jeopardizing our current state of military readiness worldwide.
It is also central to provide debt relief for the world's poorest nations, undertaking economic reforms so that they can join the global economy. I firmly believe that any action to delay consideration of these pressing needs would impose unnecessary costs to Americans at home, to our interests abroad and to our military readiness around the world. Therefore, I urge the Senate to consider the interest of the nation and to move ahead quickly with work on these urgent and essential needs."
Q Jake, Lott says that he's concerned that the supplemental is too expensive and that it will go too slowly unless we do it the way --
MR. SIEWERT: The way to address those concerns is to begin work on it. And if they want to trim it back a little bit -- we had some concerns about the size of the House package. We articulated those concerns at the time that it passed, but we think that it's essential that we move forward and that we not delay meeting these critical needs.
Let me turn it over to Gene and I'll take more questions after that.
MR. SPERLING: We just wanted to give you some of the details of the economic conference tomorrow. It will start at 9:00 a.m. with remarks by the President. The first panel is called: "Is The New Economy Rewriting The Rules On Productivity And The Business Cycle?"
Yesterday, we did not give out the panelists. Let me do that today. On the first panel, there will be five panelists, moderated by the President. Abby Cohen, from Goldman, Sachs, the managing director and chair of the investment policy for Goldman, Sachs. James Galbraith, who is economics professor from University of Texas at Austin. William Nordhaus, who is the Griswold Professor of Economics at Yale University; Kim Polese, who is the CEO and founder of Marimba, a company that focuses on the distribution of software to businesses; and Roger Altman, who is a partner at Evercore and the former Deputy Secretary of Treasury.
Following that there will be five breakout sessions, and in these breakout sessions we will have a couple of people give opening comments as well. The first one is: Is a Debt-Free U.S. Government Good For America's Economic Future?. And Bob Cutner, Robert Kuttner, from American Prospect, and Henry Kaufman, President Henry Kaufman will give opening remarks there.
Secondly will be "Avoiding Risks To Our Economic Expansion. Robert Shiller, professor of economics, author and commentator on the volatility in the stock market, will be commentator there. Diane Swonk, chief economist of Bank One Corporation, and John B. Taylor, from Stanford University, will also comment. He is the Raymond Professor of Economics at Stanford and he was Senator Dole's chief economic advisor in 1996.
Third, Who Is Being Left Behind in the New Economy? Robert Greenstein and Alice Rivlin will comment there. And then, "Globalization and Jobs." The commentators will be Fred Bergsten from the Institute for International Economics; David Smith, who is the Director of Public Policy for the AFL-CIO; and Susan Collins, who is a senior fellow at Brookings Institution.
And then the final breakout is: "Next Stages of the Internet." And that's Hal Varian, the Dean of the School of Management and Systems at Berkeley; E. David Ellington, CEO of NetNoir, Incorporated; and William Hambrecht, founder and Chairman of W.R. Hambrecht.
We will then go to -- at 1:45 p.m., we'll open the afternoon session with a speech by Alan Greenspan on technology and its impact on the economy. We will then start the second panel following that, at 2:15 p.m., that will be called, "Closing the Global Divide: Strategies for Health, Education and Technology." The panelists there will be Amartya Sen, who is the 1998 Nobel Prize winner from Cambridge, England, and both a philosopher and an economist, and focuses on development economics and its relationships to democracy; Henry Cisneros, CEO of Univision and former Secretary of HUD; Jim Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank; Mirai Chatterjee, President of the Self-Employed Women's Association of India; Robert Chase, President of the National Economic Association; and Bill Gates, Chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft Corporation.
The third panel is at 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., is "Can New Economy Tools Empower Civil Society and Government?" And the panelists there will be Roger Putnam, who's famed for the "Bowling Alone" studies and has a new book out, professor at Harvard; Kaleil Tuzman, who's co-founder and CEO of Govworks.com; Esther Dyson, founder-chairman at Venture Holding, Incorporated. William Julius Wilson, somebody -- the President has long read his stuff, who is now formerly at University of Chicago, now at the JFK School at Harvard University; and Candice Carpenter, the cofounder and CEO of iVillage.com. So, taking Helen's scolding, I'll stop there with questions.
Did you see that they mentioned you on The Simpsons a few weeks ago? (Laughter.) I was very impressed.
Q Two questions.
MR. SPERLING: Lisa -- Lisa Simpson was President of the United States, and you're still there, asking a question. (Laughter.)
Q Two questions on volatility in the stock market. How does the President view what's been happening the last couple of days with the NASDAQ?
MR. SPERLING: We have never made comments on the day-by-day variations on the stock market, and it would be particularly imprudent to comment while trading is still open on a day of such volatility.
Q Does he believe that fundamentally the economy is still sound?
MR. SPERLING: I think that almost all readings of the economy right now suggest that the basic fundamentals in terms of low unemployment, high percentage of people working, incomes rising above inflation, strong investment, strong projections for growth with low unemployment, all are there. Almost all major forecasters have, if anything, improved their forecasts over the last couple of months, so I think that the underlying fundamentals of our economy remain quite strong.
Obviously, we monitor all of the variables out there -- certainly oil prices have been something we've been monitoring at time, and certainly, we will monitor developments in the market as well. But we believe that the very fundamentals of our economy look still very, very strong. And if one were to look at the blue chip, which looks at the 50 top forecasters in the private sector, you will find a unanimous view of strong growth, with probably 3 percent being the lowest growth, and well over 4 percent projected by many for this year, and quite strong growth with low unemployment for 2001 as well.
Q A second question, Gene. Isn't it a little unusual to have Bill Gates at a White House conference two days after the Justice Department applauded a decision which accuses his company -- or found that his company engaged in illegal business practices?
MR. SPERLING: Mr. Gates has worked with this administration on issues relating to vaccines, through his foundation, and we invited him to the vaccines conference we had. His father came in his place.
The truth is that an administration, any administration, is engaged with a variety of companies and CEOs, on a variety of topics at any time. The majority, the overwhelming majority of most top companies and top CEOs have some form of business or some form of regulatory or enforcement issue in front of the government at some point. And the only way that the administration can function properly in that setting is to do what we do, which is to not comment on independent or enforcement proceedings as they are going on. But we also likewise can still talk with somebody about an issue concerning China trade, or vaccines, or closing the digital divide. And certainly Mr. Gates has unquestionably been a leader in the world in the movement to deal with infectious diseases in lesser-developed countries. The $750-million gift by the Gates Foundation is one of the driving forces. And we issued this invitation a while ago, and we're happy he's going to come.
Q Gene, there was strong comment from this administration yesterday on the judge's decision, so how can you say that you don't comment when there were very strong comments yesterday regarding this decision?
MR. SPERLING: I'm saying that in the White House we do not -- in the White House -- I said for independent -- obviously, that is an issue which is a mixture, an antitrust division enforcement is a mixture, in some sense -- is not entirely an independent agency, but it is an enforcement proceeding. We do not make regular comments -- I'm not saying we never, ever will, but that has not been our general practice.
But the point is, obviously we support the position of our Justice Department and there's no question about that. The issue is whether or not we can continue to hear from somebody, talk with them or consult with them on issues such as relating to best ways to address the global divide in terms of health, infectious diseases, or the divide that might be created in changes in technology. Clearly Mr. Gates has much to offer in terms of his point of view. We aren't endorsing or necessarily disagreeing with all sorts of things people are going to say.
We've also invited John Taylor, Senator Dole's chief economic advisor in '96, to be a panelist here. We're trying to have a good, engaging discussion and we tried to invite people who had a lot to offer and would give the public listening the right type of mixture of different views and ideas. And I think on a panel on closing the global divide, on health education technology, Bill Gates is an excellent person to have, regardless of what is going on in an enforcement or regulatory proceeding somewhere else without the government.
Q Can you comment broadly on the Justice Department decision and the Justice Department's efforts -- I know you don't comment on the market, itself, but given the 900 point drop in the NASDAQ over two days --
MR. SPERLING: I'm not -- I'm not -- you can finish.
Q -- how is a person better off because the Justice Department went after Microsoft? How are they better off, especially if they had substantial retirement money in the NASDAQ?
MR. SPERLING: I'm obviously not going to get into such details or those type of conjectures or questions. That would be inappropriate and imprudent for me to do so.
Q It's not a conjecture, Gene, how are they better off because the government went after Microsoft?
MR. SPERLING: Major?
Q Gene, more broadly, one of the things that might be on the mind of the average American right now, looking at the news the last 48 hours, is how companies will be regulated in the new economy. And it doesn't seem that that fits in this agenda for tomorrow. Will there be a forum on where to discuss how the government will pursue regulatory actions, enforcement actions, against other companies in the new economy? Will that issue be addressed in the conference tomorrow?
MR. SPERLING: I think that is a good topic. There are many good topics that are not being discussed tomorrow. We are trying to fit this into a day. We picked a few that we think would lead to good discussion. Certainly, there are many topics -- avoiding risk to our economic expansion in one of the breakout sessions; next stages of the Internet and its impact on the economy -- all of these could allow for discussions of regulatory impact. But I just cannot get into the specifics.
The answer to your general question is, we support the enforcement of our antitrust laws, we support actions taken that lead to competition, innovation and consumer choice and low costs for consumers. We support what our Justice Department is doing and the position they've taken, and we're not going to comment further at this time.
Q Could you say in a sentence what the purpose of this conference is tomorrow, and will it address the anxiety that everybody -- a lot of Americans feel after this two-day rout on Wall Street?
MR. SPERLING: I think that the purpose of it is to insure that we are continuing -- we the administration, you the media, as well as people listening -- that we're all continuing to focus, like a laser beam on the economy as the President promised to do when he came into office. And that means not sitting around and patting yourself on the back because of the unemployment and inflation rates being low, but looking at what are the cutting-edge issues out there and ensuring that you're having a full airing of those, both for the sake of the President, his economic team and for the public itself. Almost all of these issues are relevant to decisions this administration still has to make.
In terms of rewriting the rules on productivity and business cycle, this is obviously relevant to the decisions Martin Baily and others have to make concerning our projections for economic growth and productivity, both in short-term and long-term, both for the budget and for Social Security and Medicare. On our G-8 discussions right now, one of the issues for the agenda in the G-8 will be whether it will deal with issues like infectious disease, vaccines, whether it will deal with the goal for a universal education by 2015. And certainly the degree that the new economy empowers civil society and government is directly related in multiple ways to the way we are delivering services and dealing with social issues.
Is debt-free U.S. government good for the economic future? Clearly the administration has a position on that. We think -- believe the answer's yes. But we also believe that's a very highly consequential decision, and it's one we should encourage public debate, so people understand the up sides and down sides.
So I think to take one day and have the first White House conference ever that really will focus on the new economy and many of these new challenges will be provocative. And I think you can see by the people that we invited that we are encouraging a provocative discussion that will air the issues and lead to a full discussion.
Q Gene, since the new economy appears to be tanking over the last 48 hours, is there a renewed sense of urgency in this conference?
MR. SPERLING: You know what? You know, in the previous decade that people in the bottom 20 percent saw their wages fall. People paid interest rates for their mortgages at well over 10 percent. The projection was that the United States' fiscal leadership in the world was lagging behind for the foreseeable future.
Right now, we have about the lowest unemployment rate we've had in 30 years. We've seen remarkable productivity growth, we've seen very high levels of business investment. If you want to talk about the impact on real people's lives in terms of people working, making wages that are above income so that they can provide for their families and save a little, and in terms of the investment and the kind of productivity growth that will lead the United States to be a place where -- a good place to invest and a place where people can earn high wages for the future, I think the new economy is doing quite well and I do not think that one should judge the strength of the fundamentals of our economy based on the movement of the market over a one-day or even a one-month period.
Q So all we're asking is, you don't think that the Microsoft decision has a major impact on the economy?
MR. SPERLING: I think that many factors will have to be considered by the judge in the Justice Department, but I'm not going to try to give an analysis of that right now. That's still a case proceeding forward, and I think obviously, there are economic impacts of everything that the government does. And certainly when you're dealing with a major industry -- whether it's the telecom industry, whether it's the software industry -- obviously it's important that government and everyone else act wisely and do the proper balancing effects. And I have no reason to think that's not taking place.
Q Gene, could I just --
MR. SIEWERT: Anything else?
Q Jake, on the session for those left behind, since Gene ran out, what -- yes, Gene, you can come back. He's coming back.
Q Come on back.
Q Come on, Gene, you like it.
MR. SIEWERT: That was frightening.
Q Gene, on those left behind, what concrete are you expecting to come out of this session tomorrow for those left behind in this new economy? Is this really something that's just talk, or is it something that's going to come out concrete for these people?
MR. SPERLING: Well, in terms of what we're doing already in our budget, I think there's no question that it's a major focus. This President right now is about to go do an initiative that's focused on closing the digital divide. He's leaving -- we're announcing a trip focused on that, investments on that.
Obviously, a large bulk of what we're doing this year -- increasing the earned income tax credit, increasingly making the child care tax credit refundable, in terms of a health care initiative of $100 billion addressed to low-income families, and the President's entire New Markets agenda -- all of that is our very tangible way of making clear that we do not think, even in the midst of this strong economy, everyone is doing perfectly fine. And we are very focused on putting that at the top of our agenda.
So I think we've already put our policies and our money where our mouth is. But I think when you're doing something like this, April, it's important, particularly when there is so much enthusiasm about the rate of productivity growth, all the other things that are in the economy, I think it's important when you're having a conference like that to make sure that there is some focus on who is being left behind and how the issues in the new economy can both benefit and leave others behind.
The event the President is going to do today is a perfect example. If there is an unequal distribution of talented teachers, software with interactive content, kids wired to the Internet, if you have a lack of that, then all of the existing differences in terms of race, income and class will be exacerbated. And the Internet age will be something that exacerbates differences.
On the other hand, if you're able to spread out that technology and talent more equally, you have remarkable possibilities -- possibilities that would have seemed impossible 20 years ago. The notion that through having the right teacher and the right computer and being wired to the Internet, a student could sit in the poorest neighborhood and have access to every single library, every single source of information that a kid in the most well-off private school have is a remarkable possibility. And that's certainly one of the things we're not just going to be talking about at the conference, but we're acting on right now.
Q Gene, what's tangible from the New Markets Initiative now, though? What have they seen from the New Markets Initiative that is tangible?
MR. SPERLING: What is tangible is that before we'd even -- we have the new market venture capital, in which $20 million was set aside in last year's budget, and millions were set aside for the APIC -- the American Private Investment Company -- so that if an agreement is reached on those, those could come up and going as soon as that happens. You would not have to wait for another budget cycle.
Secondly, the Speaker of the House has agreed to work with us on a package that we put together, shook hands with the President at the State of the Union, and we are currently engaged in those negotiations now. It's not easy trying to put together something like that, particularly in an election year, but there's a real possibility.
And I think the focus that we've had on the digital divide, I think, will lead to tangible legislative increases in the foreseeable future. And as I think you'll see today, and as you'll see on the trip, we have just had a remarkable number of companies coming to us and saying, we'd like to do something tangible, and working with us on commitments, well over $1 million, of things they can do in terms of software, computers, training kids.
So I think that there's quite a bit tangible that's already been produced -- besides the more intangible benefits of simply having the President of the United States use his platform to make the country focus on the potential divide that could happen if we allow it to.
Q Gene, you brought up the issue of growth, and I'm wondering, is the President comfortable with the 3 percent, or 0.3 percent, decline in the index of leading economic indicators? Or is it a sign that Mr. Greenspan might have gone too far in raising interest rates, and has not just reined in the economy, but is beginning to strangle it?
MR. SPERLING: The fact is, again, the blue chip has only revised upwards. I believe they've now revised to 4.1 percent growth for the year 2000. If anybody had told you that in a year where you're breaking the record for the longest expansion in the history of our country, that growth would be projected to be over 4 percent, inflation would be projected to be under 3 percent, and unemployment would be closer to 4 percent than 5 percent, you would have thought that was just absolutely impossible. So I think that what we're seeing right now is an economy that is still going along at a very sound pace, still with significant investment, still with signs that productivity is growing. So while one has to keep watching and monitor, I think overall what you're seeing is people improving their forecasts, not going the other way around.
Q So you're comfortable with that number?
MR. SPERLING: I'm comfortable with that number? I would like every single monthly number to be the best possible. That doesn't always happen. I think when you look at numbers, you look at trends and you look at the overall economy. And the leading indicator is not even essentially that market-sensitive of an indicator at this point. It is mostly pulling together things that have already been out in the market. And I'm saying is that I think when you look at the majority of forecasters in the private sector out there, they feel as we do that the fundamentals of the economy remain quite sound.
Q Gene, using your words of trying to put together a forum that's provocative and cutting-edge, it would be hard to find an issue more cutting-edge or more provocative than regulating and creating enforcement mechanisms in the new economy. Is the administration leery about grappling with that issue in an open forum such as this?
MR. SPERLING: No. I mean, I think we were trying to find a good mix of panels. We chose one that dealt with the fundamental question that I think John is asking about whether we're seeing something new in terms of productivity growth in the business cycle. We wanted to do something on the international front, and we thought that the issues on the global technology divide and what needs to be done in terms of the economics, as well as the just basic moral power of insuring that not so many children die of young diseases -- more children die in lesser-developed countries of infectious diseases every year than all of the soldiers from all of the countries who died in World War I.
Every year, more people die of infectious diseases in lesser-developed countries than all of the people who died in combat in World War I. Now, what's interesting on that issue is that not only should that be disturbing to many of us morally, religiously and otherwise, but more and more economists are now saying that when you look for development, that that may be the most economically sound use of the dollar.
But the issue for developing countries as to whether they should seek to target their funds towards dealing with health issues versus education, versus technology, is a critical issue. It's a critical issue as we deal with debt relief, with the idea that debt relief will be used to deal with poverty. These are the different strategies.
At Davos, there was tremendous conversation, tremendous differences among heads of states of developing countries as to how much they should focus on bringing the Internet to their countries, versus dealing with very basic education and health issues. So that was an international issue.
And then, third, we wanted to do something that dealt with more of the non-profits and government. So I think, again, we have an enormous number of people on here who can comment on the issues that you're asking about, in terms of whether it's the stock market or regulatory issues. Certainly Abby Cohen and Robert Shiller are leading commentators in their own right in these areas. So I think we did the best we could to pick out a vigorous -- a cutting edge set of issues for the panel, and we weren't trying to avoid anything; there just was a limitation for the day.
Q What's going to be the coverage?
MR. SPERLING: What's going to be the coverage? I'll let Jake go in -- the only issue of which I think we need to deal with is how the breakout sessions are, because they will be in smaller rooms. But the plenary panels will be open, the President will moderate all three of them himself. He'll ask for comments from the panelists, and then in each he will go to the floor for questions from the audience. And I should say that the audience includes quite a number of exceptional people, themselves, and so you will have people in the audience who, themselves, are very worthy of hearing from.
Q Gene, you mentioned preparations for the G-8 summit. I have two questions. Are you concerned, given the departure of Prime Minister Obuchi from the scene, about preparations for the summit, given that there are less than four months to go? And secondly, as the head of the NEC, did you ever have any contact with former Japanese Trade Minister Mori*, who is widely expected to become the next prime minister? How well known is he to the administration?
MR. SPERLING: In terms of the G-8, G-7 preparations, our sherpa and my Deputy for International Affairs, Lael Brainard, is in Dublin as we speak, and the sherpa meetings are going on. And so I have not seen any slowdown in activity. I think the Japanese government is extremely focused on that. As to your other questions, I don't feel comfortable commenting on contingent situations. I just don't think that would be appropriate under the circumstances. But I think that the entire Japanese government is very focused on Okinawa being successful, and again, some of the issues that are in Panel 2 are among the issues that are certainly being debated as we speak now for possible inclusion on the agenda for Okinawa in July.
Q Gene, on the New Markets tour, as the President tries to tie in the new economy to the poor, is it really just going to be the issue of the digital divide, or are you going to go beyond that in saying, and even if you don't bridge that divide, the new economy is still important to the poor because --
MR. SPERLING: I think that we are not going to deal just with the schools issue. I think that one of the things that we're going to try to talk about is why a variety of things in the new economy can be important.
But again, the question of whether people will benefit from them or not is an open question. Right now, more and more middle-class Americans are enjoying the benefits of being able to buy products at cheaper prices over the Internet. People who probably need those savings the most may very well be the people who don't have a computer, or don't have an account -- and if they did, may not even have a credit card. Those are big issues that go to just basic shopping, even grocery shopping now.
There's also the issue of types of information. The woman who's coming from the Self-Employed Women's Association of India, I think one of the things in India the President saw was how even a computer or connection to the Internet in a single village could bring an enormous amount of health information, et cetera.
So I think that -- I guess the way I would answer is, I think that this is a very wide topic. It goes to how people get information about their health, what kind of skills they need for just regular jobs, the degree that even people in government jobs, or probably media jobs, now, need to be somewhat Internet-literate, or information technology-literate, to the commercial possibilities of being able to sell things over the Internet, or to be part of that industry, which pays wages 80 percent above the average. I think we will deal with all of those.
And one of the things that brings it together is perhaps the motivational issue, which is, do younger people growing up in disadvantaged communities, do they understand the importance of that? And one of the issues that many of the people we spoke to from African-American leaders has been that this is not an issue where you can just focus on the supply of computers or software. You have to focus on making sure people understand how important it can be to the various facets of their life.
Q I have a question of Jake?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes?
Q Thank you, Gene.
Q Nice to see you again.
MR. SIEWERT: We'll bring him back tomorrow.
Q Jake, in his vetoing the previous bill to outlaw partial birth abortion, which the House is voting on again tomorrow morning, does the President believe that if the feet were left in the birth canal, it
would be all right to use a scalpel to behead it, rather than cutting open the skull and suctioning out the brain?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't think the President's views of this legislation are any different than his views of the prior two versions of this bill, which he vetoed.
Q Mrs. Clinton and the President's friend Al Sharpton has filed a $30 million lawsuit against Republican chairman Nicholson, who Sharpton alleges has damaged his reputation. And I wondered, will the President file an amicus, or otherwise support this suit? Or does he realize that it is impossible to damage the Sharpton reputation, as surely indicated if you decline comment or otherwise evade this question? (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: I'm just not at all familiar with the facts of that case. This is the first I've heard of it, so I don't have anything --
Q What is the coverage tomorrow?
MR. SIEWERT: We're going to make the opening session open to the press. And I think we're going to make the three panels open to the press as well. And then we're looking at a way to make the breakout sessions, which are a little smaller and in smaller rooms, open to some form of coverage --
Q It's all going to be in the mansion?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, it's all going to be in the house. And what I think we'll try to do is maybe make them available to correspondents, but without TV or radio coverage, so it's a little less --
Q So no cameras for the breakouts?
MR. SIEWERT: For the breakouts, that's what I think. That's what we're looking at.
Q Will you try to get people to come out to the driveway?
MR. SIEWERT: Oh, yes, they'll be along. And as we said, I mean, I think the opening session and three of the panels in which many of the major figures are participating are all open.
Q But the Greenspan thing is open?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, yes.
Q Jake, will the breakout sessions be simultaneous, or will they follow one after another?
MR. SIEWERT: I think they're simultaneous.
Q And the President is expected, or may go to any of them, or all of them, or none of them?
MR. SIEWERT: He is definitely participating in the opening session, where he's speaking, the Greenspan luncheon address, and the three panels in the afternoon. I'm not sure about the breakout sessions -- the two panels, sorry.
Q How did you get Greenspan to participate?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think we asked him. (Laughter.)
Q Is Greenspan actually going to sit on a panel as well as give an address?
MR. SIEWERT: No, he's just giving the address. I think that's the extent of his participation.
Q On Elian Gonzalez, does the President have a reaction to the prospect that the father might be coming to the United States and might be reunited with the boy?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, obviously, we've been trying to reunite the father with Elian. And we -- obviously the State Department's expediting consideration of that matter. I believe they have at this point issued the visas, although they have not been handed over. So yes, we're looking forward to that prospect. And there are negotiations going on, as I said, this morning between the INS and the relatives. And I think the only question there is not whether to reunite the father and the son, but in what way to do that.
Q Will the President see the father?
MR. SIEWERT: I'm not aware of any plans for him to do that.
Q Jake, there's quite a bit of talk down there about people who support Elian staying in this country establishing some sort of human chain around the house. Does the President have any message, generally speaking, to those who might want to engage in civil disobedience in this --
MR. SIEWERT: No, I think he made it perfectly clear in the press conference last week that he expects everyone to respect the rule of law. And we've seen some comments from elected officials down there recently that they intend to uphold the law, and we appreciate those comments.
Q The President, Jake, in congratulating Maryland for its passing handgun safety lock legislation, called on the Congress to enact gun safety legislation before the April 20th anniversary of the Columbine tragedy. And I'm wondering --
MR. SIEWERT: That is accurate.
Q -- how does the President believe a gun lock law would have stopped those two murderers who broke 18 other laws in shooting up Columbine?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, that's not the only provision we'd like to see enacted. We think that there is a comprehensive bill that's in conference now and should be the subject of some meetings in conference if you get past this year. Not everything we'd like to see done, we'd like to see more aggressive efforts to combat gun violence and the President's made perfectly clear that he would like Congress to go even further. But we have a bill before Congress now, it's not going to solve every problem, but it will solve some. And it will close some loopholes and that's what we want to see done.
Q If I could follow up for Colonel Crowley?
MR. SIEWERT: Absolutely.
Q Colonel Crowley, Secretary Cohen admits that General Claudia Kennedy has filed charges against an unidentified male Army Major General for allegedly groping her in her office. This leaves every two-, three-, and four-star Army General in the Pentagon under suspicion. Does the President, as Commander-In-Chief, believe that this accused groper should be identified or concealed?
MR. CROWLEY: I think as Secretary Cohen said, the matter is under investigation by the Inspector General at the Pentagon and we'll leave it there as the investigation continues.
Q Will it be important for the President to establish a personal rapport with the new Japanese Prime Minister, whoever that may be, ahead of the -- especially in light of the G-8 summit? And if so, how will he do so with less than two months to go?
MR. CROWLEY: I think that there is a special relationship between Japan and the United States. For example, President Clinton met five times with Prime Minister Obuchi during his term in office. They work very cooperatively together on a range of issues, from economics and looking for ways for Japan to lead Asia out of its recession, for ways to cooperate in terms of security arrangements in the Asia-Pacific region. For example, President Clinton and Prime Minister Obuchi worked on full implementation of the revised security guidelines for Japan.
So there are a host of issues that we have with Japan. It has been traditional that Presidents of the United States and Prime Ministers of Japan have developed very effective, close working relationships. That certainly was the case with President Clinton and Prime Minister Obuchi. And once the process of secession is put into place, I'm sure that the President will look for ways to develop a close relationship with his successor.
Q This is for Jake. Can you give some details on the new plan to encourage savings in the United States?
MR. SIEWERT: Secretary Summers is addressing that this afternoon. I believe he's -- in his speech, and I think I'll leave that for him to describe the details of. As you know, we've taken some measures and put forward some proposals that are before Congress now to encourage savings and we're urging Congress to take a look at those from the scaled-back version of our personal savings accounts, to a host of others.
Q Let me try and get you to take a stab at where I was headed with Gene. Is it the feeling of the administration that it was necessary to go after Microsoft because its infraction was so flagrant that no matter what the repercussions, the law had to be upheld, or is it the sense that the lawsuit against Microsoft would genuinely benefit the American people, and if so, i light of what's happened to the NASDAQ the past couple of days, in what way does it benefit the American public?
MR. SIEWERT: Again, we tend not to comment on antitrust matters or the market, so I defer. I think what Gene was trying to say was simply that we have a wide range of issues with Microsoft. We respect the work that Bill Gates and his wife have done in non-profit organizations on some causes that we care very deeply about here at the White House. It's natural, as Gene said, for a corporation that's as innovative and cutting-edge as Microsoft to have something to say -- to have a perspective that they want to add to this debate tomorrow and this discussion, and we're going to have him here and hear what Mr. Gates has to say.
But there are a specific set of facts that are before a court right now; the court's ruled on those and it's not really productive for us to guess at people's motives or to second-guess anyone's judgment in that case.
Q One other follow-up then. What about the effect on Al Gore's political prospects?
MR. SIEWERT: That seems even less likely to stimulate a good discussion. I mean, there's a very basic -- there's some laws that are on the books that are designed to encourage competition and innovation. And those are the laws that are being considered now, and the aim of those laws is perfectly clear.
Q Other than talking to the Miami officials, does the federal government have any contingency plans if trouble really breaks out on Elian?
MR. SIEWERT: I think the Attorney General -- I'm not aware of any particular plans. I know the Attorney General has said she is prepared to enforce the law, and we certainly trust her to do that.
Q What are your thoughts about what critics are saying with this digital divide situation, saying it's a do-nothing initiative because you're offering older computers and there's new high-tech, high-speed software that's not compatible with these computers?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I don't think that's exactly right. I mean, we went to an event in Southeast Washington recently where the President looked at computers that were very high-tech, very cutting-edge, and I think the idea is to get the best technology in the hands of people who may not have access to it. I'm not sure that the practice is uniform in these areas, but the bottom line is that corporations are stepping up to the plate, foundations are stepping up to the plate, they're providing in many cases brand new equipment and brand new broad-band technology to areas that haven't had them before. And that's all to the better.
Q But will there be some old computers involved in this?
MR. SIEWERT: We're not dictating to the private sector and foundations exactly what they can and cannot donate. What we are asking them to do is to step up to the plate and make sure that as we develop new and innovative technologies, that we try to put those in the hands of people who might not otherwise have access to them.
Q So these computers are not coming out of the Agriculture Department -- I mean, old computers not coming out of the Agriculture Department?
MR. SIEWERT: I'm not certain about that. I'm sure that we do have a -- I know that we have a program in place in the federal government to provide some surplus equipment to people who wouldn't otherwise get it. If we can match that with private sector contributions that are more up to date, that would be terrific.
Q You said the State Department handles visas. The Cuban government has requested 28 visas, six have been approved. Does the White House have an input on the other 22 remaining?
MR. SIEWERT: That's a discussion that's happening between the State Department and the Cuban government. I understand that they're discussing the other 22 visas later today, but we're not involved in that discussion.
Q You're not being consulted at all on that?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, we'll be kept up to date on the progress on that, but that's strictly a State Department matter.
Q You said that the President isn't at all angry at the Vice President for his just recently-adopted position on Elian Gonzalez, which surely is a semi-derailing of the Reno railroad. But Democratic Congressmen Rangel, Serrano and Gephardt issued furious statements. And my question is, does the President think these congressmen are unreasonable?
MR. SIEWERT: No, I think the President feels as though they certainly have a point of view to express and it's a free country and they should --
Q But it's wrong -- I mean he thinks they're wrong, doesn't he?
MR. SIEWERT: We disagree -- the bottom line is we disagree with the Vice President on this issue. We have a different approach. I couldn't have been more clear on that last week. We're going to continue to pursue the approach that we think is the most effective one, and we just have a difference there. But we understand that the Vice President has a different position on this policy, he's articulated that. He's talking about it again today, and I don't really have anything new to add.
Q One follow-up. Could you explain to us how the White House could lose 100,000 e-mails and misplaced all those Rose Law Firm billing records, being so deadly efficient regarding retrieval of Mrs. Willey's letter to the President --
MR. SIEWERT: I think there's been a fair amount of testimony on that on the Hill and elsewhere, so I'll leave it at that.
Q Why is the Justice Department going after --
MR. SIEWERT: I thought that was your last follow-up.
Q Well, no, you interjected -- this is the last, absolute last. Why is the Justice Department doing this instead of the President's personal lawyer?
MR. SIEWERT: I'm not certain. You would have to check with the Department of Justice.
Q The President was interviewed by Leonardo di Caprio. (Laughter.) Talk to me about the circumstances of that. Was it the President's understanding that this was to be an interview or a tool?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, I've seen some of that reporting on that. Apparently, I don't know if I want to delve into the sort of quasi-theological debate -- (laughter) -- that's happening at a certain news organization about what's an interview and why is an interview an interview, and when is a journalist not a journalist, when is a celebrity a journalist.
But we got a request --
MR. SIEWERT: In February, some time ago -- for the President to answer some questions for an ABC News special for -- and ABC News indicated that that would be Leonardo di Caprio that would ask the questions. We negotiated, as we always do, and we put together an interview. We told them we would do an interview, and we did an interview. That's it.
Q It was your understanding that it would be a sit-down, formal interview?
MR. SIEWERT: There was some discussion -- we've had something before where we've walked around the White House an showed some of the innovative things that we've done here. But because of the time and the schedule, we made clear that we would actually do a sit-down interview instead, and that was perfectly clear, and they came prepared to ask questions.
Q When did you make that clear?
MR. SIEWERT: The day before the interview.
Q Okay. Thank you. One more, sorry.
Q The President met the President of Yemen. Can you tell us about what was --
MR. SIEWERT: Mr. Crowley will. And before I leave, one thing -- which is, the breakout sessions will be pretty space-limited, so you may want to request access by calling Jenny Engebretzen at 456-2673, if you want to participate in those breakout sessions.
MR. CROWLEY: We will, at the conclusion of this briefing, actually have a statement by the President summarizing his meeting with Ali Abdallah Salih, the President of Yemen. It was about a 30-minute meeting. You may know that Yemen is getting ready to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its peaceful unification, north and south, that came on the heels of the end of the Cold War. They talked about Middle East peace process. They talked about ways in which the United States can be helpful in fostering further democratization within Yemen, economic development, and they talked about regional security issues.
The President complimented Yemen on a recent change in its travel guidelines so that it could promote greater travel to Yemen by people around the world who are of Yemeni descent -- this is of most significant impact to Israelis of Yemeni descent who wish to travel back to their homeland -- and the Yemeni government has responded and made it easier to do that.
Q Is the President satisfied with Yemen's moves toward the establishment of women's rights?
MR. CROWLEY: Actually, in the constitutional government that has been put in place, women in Yemen have full economic and political rights, which is certainly something that we support.
Q Is he satisfied with the pace of the --
MR. CROWLEY: Satisfied, how? I mean, in any particular case we look at ways in which we can recommend ways in which we can help. But, certainly, Yemen has made great strides and we will look to see how they can even improve their performance.
Q Did the subject of terrorism come up, P.J.?
MR. CROWLEY: I'm not aware that did it come up, but it's something that we are working with the Yemeni government to see in ways in which we can cooperate to combat terrorism in the region. I'm not aware that it came up at today's meeting.
Q Without prejudice to future developments, could you say if the President has ever met with the Secretary General of Japan's ruling party, Mr. Mori? Is he known to the administration?
MR. CROWLEY: I do not know.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:27 P.M. EDT