THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:40 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Let me start by reading a couple statements. The first a statement from the President who has just signed the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st century. It reads, "Today I'm pleased to sign into law HR 1000, the Wendell H. Ford Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century. This legislation contains important provisions to advance aviation safety, increase airline competition, protect air travelers with disabilities, and improve the assistance provided to families of victims of an aviation disaster.
"The bill also takes an additional step toward our long-term objectives for modernizing and reforming the FAA's provision of critical air traffic control services.
"I call on Congress to join me in moving forward to further system-wide reform of the air traffic control. While this legislation seeks to provide substantial funding guarantees for airport construction and other capital investment, I remain concerned about the possible effect of the bill's procedural requirements on future appropriations for the air traffic control and other crucial safety functions funded by the FAA's operations account. My administration will work with Congress to achieve a more balanced funding of an aviation program in fiscal year 2001."
The second statement from the President, which --
Q Is there a copy of that?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, we'll get that out. I think he -- I went in and talked to him about 15 minutes ago and they had just finished the signing, so that will get out. The second statement we will also get out.
Statement from the President: "I am very pleased to learn that the Independent Counsel, Ralph Lancaster, has concluded his investigation. Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman has for many years served our nation with selfless dedication and extraordinary talent. She did not deserve what she's had to endure over the past money months.
"As I said at the start of this inquiry nearly two years ago, Secretary Herman did nothing wrong. But throughout it all, she was never deterred from her mission, making life better for America's working families. I am proud to call her my friend and I am honored that she has been willing to work in this administration on behalf of working people everywhere."
Questions. Don't all go at once. In the back.
Q Joe, what's your reaction to the election of the new Japanese Prime Minister, Mr. Mori? And is he well-known to the administration? And do you expect any contact between the President and him anytime soon?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we're very pleased to see that there has been a smooth transition. Our congratulations go out to the new Prime Minister. Obviously, our congratulations are tempered by the sadness of the situation that prompted this transition. I think the administration, at all levels, is looking forward to looking closely with Prime Minister Mori during this very difficult period.
As far as -- I mean, I think he's been a well-known figure in Japanese politics for some time. I don't know that he has had the chance to spend much time with the President. I'm sure in certain delegation settings they've had a chance to meet, but I don't know that they've had any one-on-one session like the President has had with some previous prime ministers.
But I do think that because of the importance of the relationship, the President will have an opportunity to speak to him soon and we'll have an opportunity to develop the relationship.
Q He's said a variety of interesting things about the United States, including most recently, on February 27th, in connection with the Y2K problem, that the United States is concerned about security, and he said, "when there are blackouts, murderers come out; it's that kind of society." I'm wondering if this is someone you feel you can work closely with if he has this impression.
MR. LOCKHART: I think the importance of our relationship with Japan will dictate that we have an open and active relationship with the Prime Minister. I'm not familiar with those comments. If they were said, as you have said them, we certainly wouldn't agree with them.
Q Are you referring to the economic summit on meeting him soon?
MR. LOCKHART: You mean the G-8? No, I think he will certainly have an opportunity to travel to Japan in July for the G-8 summit. I expect that they will talk certainly well before that.
Q Where? When?
MR. LOCKHART: We'll let you know. I'm sure he will take an opportunity soon to speak to him.
Q What do you know about these allegations of spying in Russia?
MR. LOCKHART: Russia -- I have a little bit on that. I emphasize a little bit. An American citizen was detained on April 4 by the Russian Federal Security Service. Upon learning of the detention, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow immediately requested consular access, which was granted . Today the American citizen was visited by a U.S. consular officer, appeared to be in good health and had no complaints about mistreatment. No formal charges have been filed against him.
The Russian authorities have advised the Embassy that he's under investigation for violation of Article 276 of the Russian criminal code which pertains to espionage. He has an attorney appointed by the Russian authorities. We understand he was in Moscow on business. We have been in touch with the American citizen's family and will be following the case closely.
I can't release any other information now because of Privacy Act concerns. There is a waiver that needs to be granted which has not as of this point.
Q But can you say whether he was spying or not?
MR. LOCKHART: I can only say that, based on what I've given you here -- this is the information I have -- we have been in touch, and I expect the State Department could have more to say later.
Q Was he on the payroll of the federal government?
MR. LOCKHART: I understand he was in Moscow on business. That's all I know.
Q Whose business?
MR. LOCKHART: His business.
Q Is he working for any federal agency?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of, but we're trying to gather the facts now as we speak.
Q Joe, can you describe what the administration hopes will come out of the second panel that Bill Gates is going to participate in, and give us sort of a tick-tock on how he was invited and the process by which he was brought in?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we've been working with a wide variety of leaders in the high-tech industry over the last several years on trying to close and address the digital divide, both here at home and around the world. Microsoft and the foundation that was set up by Bill Gates and his wife has been very involved in that, as have a number of other companies. In setting up this conference, we thought this was a very important concept to deal with, and we wanted the best thinking that could be brought to the table, and I think we've done that.
Q You didn't have any qualms about inviting Gates, in view of the federal court --
MR. LOCKHART: No, we've been working with Bill Gates on a variety of subjects, including the digital divide, his efforts through his private foundation on vaccines around the world, and we will continue to do so.
Q Joe, how do your reconcile the two positions -- on the one hand, the Justice Department crowing about the decision that Microsoft violated antitrust laws, and then on the other hand, he's here sitting at the President's table, talking about the digital divide?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, he's sitting at the President's table because he has something important to add on a very important subject. On the issue that the Justice Department has taken issue on, that litigation has ended the first phase. I assume, from reading public reports, there will be further action in the courts, and that is appropriate. But I think we work with a number of companies on these issues and we look forward to getting their input.
Q Joe, there have been Republican criticisms that the Justice Department's case and the decision and then the stock market fall are signs of the government's not as friendly to the new economy as it likes to present itself, or that the Clinton administration isn't.
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's as baseless as most Republican criticism that I get asked about on a regular basis. I think this administration has been right at the forefront of turning around what has been an economic transformation in this country over the last seven years. The fundamentals are strong. I won't bore you with all of the details, but you know about all of the new jobs, you know about low inflation, you know about low unemployment, you know about low interest rates.
Those have all been, because we've been able to work with a number of different parties, including the business community, to provide the kind of environment where innovation and job expansion thrives. And I think if I was sitting on the sidelines looking for something to criticize, I might be grasping for some straws, too.
Q Joe, on the subject of Republican criticism, what do you make of Senator McCain's statements on the President's recent trip to India?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not familiar with them. What did he say?
Q He basically said you spent $50 million and got nothing done.
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, you know, we had very important work to do in that area. I think, as the President said, it's very important to our national interests. The trip obviously involved significant expense, because we don't have assets in that region.
But I think if you look at the trip just from the importance of the deepening, enriched relationship we have with India -- which is the world's largest democracy -- that certainly, the trip more than pays for itself. If you look at the trip in terms of just the trade -- I think we have $11 billion of trade -- and the increase that we'll see in the coming years, the trip more than pays for itself. If you look at the trip from the sense of the reduction -- if we can, moving forward, reduce tensions in that region, then the value of that trip is incalculable.
Q Joe, what did the President think about some of the warnings he heard this morning about stock market turbulence, the threat of rising inflation, about trade imbalance, a record trade imbalance? Did this -- was he troubled by any of this?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President concentrates on the fundamentals, as far as our fiscal policy and what we can do to make expansion in the economy -- conducive for expansion in the economy. And we still have a situation where the fundamentals remain strong. We have an ever-increasing forecast for economic expansion on the horizon into next year. We have worked hard as far as things like getting permanent normal trading relations with China to deal with our trade deficit. I think it's very important to note here today the very positive development coming out of Speaker Hastert's office today, setting the week of May 22nd, I believe, for a vote. This is important to our economy, important to our country.
So I think the President doesn't spend a lot of time worrying about the daily or weekly fluctuation in the stock market, he stays focused on the fundamentals that he is empowered to have an impact on.
Q They weren't just talking about the daily fluctuations of the stock market; Fred Bergsten talked about the trade imbalance and how he thought that that could drive down the value of the dollar and that would push up interest rates and push down the stock market. Other people talked about the threat of inflation, about the correction in the stock market. I mean, it was more than just a one-day thing.
MR. LOCKHART: Sure, and I think there are a number of challenges that the government faces, that the Federal Reserve, in their role, faces, that Congress faces as they go about what they will do on fiscal policy, but these are all things we are addressing. I think the President believes, and I think the vast majority of those here today believe the economic fundamentals remain strong, but now is not the time to become complacent.
And one of the reasons we have people here gathered at the White House to go through these issues, new issues raised by the new economy, is to fight off any sense of complacency, that any sense that the economy is on auto pilot and there's nothing we should do.
Q Joe, was Mr. Gates invited and did he agree to attend before the negotiations with the Justice Department broke down, or did this all happen rather suddenly?
MR. LOCKHART: It happened independently. My understanding was, he was invited some weeks ago.
MR. SIEWERT: There were ongoing discussions, and we confirmed it the other day.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, but they were independent of anything that happened with Justice.
Q He confirmed it the other day, before or after the negotiations broke down?
MR. LOCKHART: I would suggest you check with them. I know we talked to them at least several weeks ago about coming to attend, as we did with many other CEOs that are here today.
Q Do you also sign today the airline safety bill that Senator Lautenberg has been --
MR. LOCKHART: I would have to check on that. I know we did the main FAA Reauthorization Act. And I don't know whether there's a Lautenberg amendment within that. I'd just have to check.
Q Back on Japan just for a second. What do you make of the fact that the Japanese government waited 22 hours to inform the press and the public of Obuchi's condition? And did the White House change policy on notification of the press after Clinton injured his knee in '97?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know if we changed any policy. I know that this was something that happened in the middle of the night. It was very important to get the President to a physician who could deal with it, and the press was informed as quickly as our staff could.
As far as what the Japanese government did in announcements, I'm going to leave it for the Japanese government and the Japanese people to make any judgment on that.
Q Joe, the President released a statement yesterday about Senator Lott's decision to put the supplemental into the regular appropriations process. What's the administration position on what that might do to the overall budget picture, now that that's not going to be treated in an emergency style fashion and will have to be offset or dealt with in the regular budget?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it's hard to sometimes even call it a process. They come to work late and want to leave early, and that's one of the concerns we have. These are urgently needed requirements, having to do with replacing LIHEAP money, Hurricane Floyd aftermath, the Kosovo money and a very important counter-narcotics program for helping the government of Colombia. And it's very disappointing that we have this process where we send a very reasonable package to the House, they add to it, and then the Senate -- the same Republican leaders in the Senate say, well, we're not going to do this because it's gotten too big.
I think it's very important that we get down to business, they take another look at this and see that there are some true national, urgent needs associated with this bill.
Q Do you remain optimistic that that process still might play itself out, that this might be treated as an emergency bill?
MR. LOCKHART: I find that in supplemental appropriations processes, there are often a lot of twists and turns before you reach an eventual goal.
Q Why is the President going to Chappaqua tonight?
MR. LOCKHART: He is going to spend a little bit of time at his now not-so-new house, and continue the process of getting that house in the order they would like it to be in.
Q Does he have any speaking event? Is he seeing anybody, is anybody meeting him there?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Will the First Lady be there?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Does he have some chores up there?
MR. LOCKHART: No, he wants -- the President is trying to take some time occasionally to go up and spend some time at the house, and this qualifies under that.
Q Just get to know the house?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. I think my answer sufficed.
Q House get to know him?
MR. LOCKHART: Anything else?
Q When is he coming back?
MR. LOCKHART: Tomorrow, tomorrow morning. Great, thanks.
Q Is he going to cut the lawn? (Laughter.)
END 12:56 P.M. EDT