THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:22 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone. Since we didn't see each other this morning, let me just run through the President's schedule very briefly. He will be doing a taped interview with Mr. Dan Rather of CBS Evening News this afternoon about 1:00 p.m.
Q Will Rather be doing the interview, or will they be sending somebody else?
Q Hey, wiseass. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: There's probably three or four very funny retorts to that, but I think I will save them for the President's speech tonight. (Laughter.)
Q When is it going to be shown?
MR. LOCKHART: Tonight.
Q On what subject?
Q Joe, do you think --
MR. LOCKHART: I expect it may get touched on a couple of subjects, but the primary focus is the President's effort to promote gun safety legislation in the United States. The President will be doing the One America corporate event. It's a series of events the President has done with a number of different communities, challenging them and working with them on issues of diversity. He'll do a little prep for his Radio-TV Correspondents Dinner, and then he will give his speech -- attend and speak at the Radio-TV Correspondents Dinner.
Q How about that dinner, Joe? Does the President enjoy doing that, or does he dread going to these dinners each year?
MR. LOCKHART: Hmmm. (Laughter.) Actually, he does -- I'm not sure you're going to believe me, but he does enjoy it. There are three or four of these a year, and we traditionally go in and say, why don't you do this one, why don't you do that one, and we'll skip the others, and he always comes back and says he wants to do as many as he can.
This year, he was out in India and Pakistan for Gridiron, so we missed that, but he will attend both of these. And I think ultimately, he enjoys it.
Q What does he think about Elian's -- the developments?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President and the administration believe that this is a positive step towards ultimately reuniting a father with his son. That's what the courts have ruled. The father coming here is a constructive way to facilitate that process.
Q Joe, when the administration says it supports the immediate reunion of the father and son, how do you define the word "immediate"?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's the Justice Department and INS are working on that. And I think, to echo what the Attorney General has said, this process should be fair, orderly and prompt. Beyond that, I can't be more specific about what the details of the reuniting will be.
Q Why do you think Castro permitted the father to come with just his wife and the infant son? Were there back-channel contacts with Greg Craig through the United States government to Castro? Any communication with Castro on this matter?
MR. LOCKHART: None that I'm aware of. I put that question to the State Department a short time ago, and there was no message sent through Mr. Craig, who is the private attorney for the boy's -- for the father of the boy.
Q How involved is the President in this?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President has watched this, as many Americans have. But his involvement has been restricted to -- I think he's been asked about it on a number of occasions. This is something that he believed very strongly should be kept out of politics and should be done based on what the facts were and what the law is. And that's what he's tried to do.
Q Joe, yes, two things. One is, we've shouted questions at him at Chappaqua and here, too. He seems like he's hearing the questions, but is he purposely trying not to say anything about it today?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think he feels, as he stated very directly at the press conference last week, that this is something that should be done not on the basis of political views, but on the basis of the facts and the law. And I think that -- I think he understands there are some important discussions that are going on with the family on how the father and the son will be reunited. And there's really not much he can add to the situation by doing a daily and running commentary on the subject.
Q Joe, this morning when Juan Miguel Gonzalez left Cuba, Fidel Castro was at his side. He is staying at the home of the chief Cuban diplomat who runs the interest section here. Does the President believe that Juan Miguel is speaking freely, or is he speaking as an instrument of the Castro regime?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that the President believes that the INS interviewed him twice and extensively in this matter, and that he was speaking for himself.
Q So, when Cuban Americans in Miami claim that he is speaking as an instrument of the Castro regime, you would differ with that opinion?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the INS made a judgment on whether he was speaking -- whether he spoke for himself, and they have been very clear on that.
Q Does the administration feel that the Cuban American, so-called, community is alienating itself from the U.S. in its position?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we've tried to stay out of commenting or making judgments about wherever people come down on this and have tried to stick to what the facts and the law are, and that's what we'll continue to do.
Q Let me go back to my previous question. Does the administration have any opinion as to why Castro permitted the father to come -- just his immediate family, not the whole entourage that Castro wanted to come?
MR. LOCKHART: The whole entourage could not come, because the whole entourage has not been granted visas. There were, I think, six visas granted; the others are under review at the State Department, and I think some were exercised, some were not, but there were a series of I think three or so people who are able to come whenever they want.
Q I realize visas weren't granted, but having said that, Castro still permitted him to come with just the immediate family. What does the administration read into that?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that we read anything into it, other than he's come to be reunited with his son.
Q Joe, when he spoke at the microphones this morning, he said that he wanted -- he didn't use the word "entourage," but he wanted people to assist him. He said people who have assisted him in Cuba -- I think he mentioned doctors, psychologists --
MR. LOCKHART: Right.
Q -- classmates. So in a way, he was asking for the people that Cuba had put on the list.
MR. LOCKHART: And we're certainly aware of the request, and they're being evaluated as we speak. But I don't have any decision on the pending visas.
Q The Mayor of Miami this morning suggested it was unethical for the President's impeachment lawyer to be representing Elian, and that it suggests that's something wrongful. Could you comment on that, and could you also tell us whether Vice President Gore has either spoken to or lobbied the President on this?
MR. LOCKHART: On the first question, Mr. Craig is a private attorney, and who is clients are his business. On the second, I'm not aware of any lobbying effort from the Vice President.
Q Joe, does the White House believe that with the father now on U.S. soil, this will dramatically alter the whole political and even public relations war in this case?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the White House has tried to stay out of the political and public relations part of this and tried to stick to the facts and the law. So, obviously, I'm not going to comment on that.
Q Joe, but on Greg Craig, there are restrictions on his ability to deal with the White House, are there not, because of this former employee --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know what his arrangement was as Special Counsel. He was employed at the State Department, then came over here as a Special Counsel. You would have to check with the Office of Government Ethics. I mean, I just don't know off the top of my head.
Q New subject. The President said yesterday he would do his utmost to get the China PNTR bill passed. How do you see the schedule for doing that between now and May 22nd?
MR. LOCKHART: I think if you look over the last two months, you've seen that there is probably no other subject that he's come back to more often on, whether it be publicly in speeches. We've given probably a half a dozen speeches on this around the country, he's met privately now with dozens and dozens of members. We're going to continue that process, continue to talk to members one at a time, in small groups and larger groups as appropriate. We believe that yesterday's announcement from the Speaker's office was quite important, because it sets a firm time frame for when the vote is. We're sort of locked in now, and the President is going to work very hard between now and the week of May 22nd to line up enough votes.
Q Any chance that the Vice President can step up his involvement in this effort?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the Vice President has spoken on this. I'm not familiar with what he'll be doing, but I'm sure his office can help on that.
Q Eizenstat laid down the law today -- was on the Hill, apparently, and said, no conditions on the China legislation. And is that the administration position? Doesn't it run counter to Gephardt and the other --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I mean, we're not doing a trade agreement here. This is permanent normal trade relations, and we're going to continue working with them in order to put forward the bill. We've sent up a bill, and it's going to come up for a vote the third week of May.
Q Is that the administration's position, no conditions and -- human rights and that sort of thing?
MR. LOCKHART: The administration's position is, we support permanent normal trading relations. We've sent a bill up, and we hope that we'll generate enough support for it to pass.
Q Joe, last fall in Seattle the demonstrators, environmentalist groups and labor groups and so forth, protested the WTO proceedings. And the President said he was supportive of those groups in expressing themselves. Does he feel that same way about their presence here in Washington next week with the IMF/World Bank meetings? And what role, if any, will he have in those meetings? Will he give a speech, or --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think he is speaking there, so --
MR. SIEWERT: No, he's not speaking to the IMF or the World Bank.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, so I don't expect him to go. You know, I think the President supports people's right to peacefully protest. He also expects people to respect the rule of law, and not to break the law. And I think as he said in Seattle, there were -- a large majority of people were there to peacefully protest, and there were some people who had some other ideas. And he condemned the violence, the vandalism and the gratuitous acts of those who were there for reasons other than peaceful protest.
Q Was the adjustment of the schedule of the New Markets trip in any way related to that, and the desire to have the President out of town during potential protests here?
MR. LOCKHART: No. No.
Q Isn't that unusual, that the President doesn't speak to the IMF/World Bank meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
MR. SIEWERT: No, he's done it.
Q He's done it -- years.
MR. LOCKHART: He spoke --
Q No, he's done it every other year.
MR. LOCKHART: But no, it's not unusual.
Q What was the meeting about with Jimmy Carter?
MR. LOCKHART: My understanding of that was President Carter had promised his grandchildren a tour of the residence and the White House. And the President, I think, hung around a little bit later than expected last night to make sure that he could lead it personally. Is that right?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, okay.
Q It was more than a little bit.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, well -- it's a big building. And there's a lot of things --
Q They took them upstairs?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think they took them all through the residence.
Q Joe, back on Elian for a second. What is the basis for there to be any delay in reuniting Elian with his father? The INS has made its decision, the federal court has backed it up --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the INS and the Justice Department have made clear that they want to work and do this in a way that's orderly and prompt. And that's what they're going to do.
Q Joe, you were saying before several times that the INS made a judgment that the father was speaking for himself, and not under duress. The President shares that judgment?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President thinks that the INS and the Justice Department have acted properly and in accordance with the facts and the law here.
Q Joe, for the first time a U.S. Army General has accused another Army General of sexual harassment. As Commander-In-Chief, what is the President's reaction to this, especially in terms of the ongoing debate over a mixed-gender military?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't talked to the President about that. All I've seen is news reports, and I think the Pentagon's the right place to ask there.
Q Joe, what can you tell us about the State Department charging Lockheed-Martin for allegedly helping the Chinese with a --
MR. LOCKHART: I can't tell you much more than what's in the letter that's now publicly available that the State Department has sent. Obviously, they have detailed violations that they allege Lockheed-Martin in unauthorized assistance. But I don't have anything beyond what the State Department has made public.
Q If Republicans -- let me just follow-up -- if Republicans point to this as an example of the administration being lax in its export controls on technology or assistance to China?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that's an odd charge to make, since that's exactly what they're doing is enforcing our export controls.
Q Has the President talked to Barak about selling AWACS to China?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q If I could follow up Bill's question. I know you can't comment on the merits of the case, but is the President -- has he expressed an interest in it? Is he being kept apprised? And particularly, is he concerned that this charge by a general officer might suggest to women in the service that rank is no bar to this kind of sexual harassment?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't talked to him about it.
Q What is your next move on the Medicare prescription drug benefit, since the Robb amendment failed yesterday?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think what's interesting about the Robb amendment is, a majority of the Senate stated very clearly yesterday that there ought to be a prescription drug benefit, we ought to do more for Medicare before we go forward with a big tax cut. So we're going to continue working. I think there is growing awareness even among Republicans that we need to do something on prescription drugs. This is an ongoing effort, we're going to keep working, we think we're going to get it done this year.
Q Can you preview anything about tomorrow's women's health event? Is there any guidance you can give us on that?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't. I'll try to get some later this afternoon.
Q Did you reach an understanding with ABC about whether that was an interview that Leo di Caprio had?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm firmly convinced, based on my own personal involvement in this and based on what I've been told by my staff, since I was out of town, that it was an interview. If there is another term of art for that, I'm not aware of it.
Q How many more installments of this do you think there should be?
MR. LOCKHART: There should be no more, but I don't think that's really up to me.
Q Joe, there is some talk that the Gonzalezes will want to tour and see some of Washington's sights. Would President Clinton think it would be advisable or totally an interference and awful to have them in for a tour of the White House?
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't expect them to be brought in for a tour of the White House.
Q Back on Leo, Joe, will you be sporting or passing out "Free Leo" buttons at the event tonight?
MR. LOCKHART: That's an interesting idea. (Laughter.) I'll get back to you on that.
Q Joe, the organizers of a national gay civil rights march on Washington scheduled for April 30th have said they have invited the President to attend some of those events, including a big gala dinner at the Reagan International Trade Center. Do you know if the President is considering that and has accepted?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. I have no doubt that -- that invitation has not come in. I just don't know. That's something I can check on, though.
Q Joe, administration reaction on P.E. Celera Corporation's human genome sequencing developments?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's obviously a very important step. They've basically finished the first phase of sequencing the human genome. I think it also is an example of how private companies have worked in conjunction with the public human genome project.
Obviously, Celera has talked about how they've used a lot of the information from the public project in their own work. And I think this marks a significant point in what the President has talked about extensively as a very important and one of the most important scientific developments of our time. Beyond that, I think I'll try to leave the markets alone today.
Q Joe, on guns, the President is going to Denver next Wednesday and I gather he's going to lend his support to the statewide vote which is coming up there.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any particular scheduling announcements to make yet, but I can tell you that the President will continue over the next month or two to keep coming back to the idea of gun safety legislation, how important it is and how important it is for Congress to meet the deadline he asked them to meet.
Q The governor heard he was coming and he said he hoped that the President would not interject himself in what is a state matter.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I don't have any scheduling announcements to make.
Q Well, there is a sign-up for it. Are we talking about Columbine?
Q The Denver trip.
MR. LOCKHART: The Denver trip? I don't know what we've put out yet, so let me check.
Q There is a sign-up.
MR. LOCKHART: Let me check.
Q One more question about Leo, if I could, Joe. There was an exchange between Mr. Siewert and I the other day --
MR. LOCKHART: Right. I just got -- when I read the transcript I only saw "Q," I didn't realize it was John Roberts' Q -- (laughter) -- so it's further understanding here.
Q It was a capital Q.
Q -- put a "JRQ" on --
MR. LOCKHART: I assumed it wasn't John Cochran, but I didn't know it was -- (laughter.) Okay, go ahead. I'm digging a hole here. Sorry, John.
Q But I think it was misreported that I had asked whether the questions had been submitted in advance, which wasn't the question I asked -- but maybe we could ask now: Were the questions submitted in advance?
MR. LOCKHART: No. No.
Q They weren't, okay. Cleared that up.
Q Does the President want to see this aired?
MR. LOCKHART: You the President, generally when he does an interview, it's used. (Laughter.) I think he thought he did pretty well. (Laughter.) He made some important points on climate change. There's not than many people who are normally interested when he talks about climate change. But that's a judgment for others to make.
Q What does he think of the Pakistani court ruling on --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, apparently -- basically we've moved from one phase to another. I understand there will be an appeal. And we call on the authorities in Pakistan to ensure that that process remains transparent and that Mr. Sharif is afforded the access to counsel and other rights that he should have. I think on the apparent move to take the death penalty off the table, that's a positive step. I think we told you when we were in Pakistan that the President made that point to General Musharraf, and that's a positive development.
Q The arrest on Sunday of Ahmed Abdullah, who is reputed to be an associate of bin Laden in Torkham, the Pakistani-Afghanistan border, is that an indication that Musharraf is moving on the President's request to crack down on potential terrorists?
MR. LOCKHART: We certainly made that case while we were there, and it's certainly our hope that more will be done, but I think only time will tell on their commitment. We've certainly asked them to do things, and we work well with them in some areas and other areas less well, so that's something we're going to continue to watch.
Q Was the President encouraged that two members of the Harakat Ul-mujihadeen were arrested along with Mr. Muhammed? He had specifically singled out that group?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, again I think that I don't want to draw too many conclusions from one case, but we obviously made an important case for fighting terrorism, and it's certainly our hope that this is an effort that will continue.
Q Yesterday, President Clinton said that in terms of the human genome, that when significant amounts of public money were used to uncover information, that information should be public, obviously. Now, just talking about Celera, you noted that Celera has used information that was developed publicly. Is there any significance to making that point?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think Celera has talked about our shared view that this information should be made available to the public. They've been in discussions on how to do that. That hasn't been worked out, but we take them at their word when they say that they share our commitment to this. It's just we haven't quite worked through with the appropriate people in NIH how that will happen.
Q Does the President have any contact with the President of Colombia at all in the delay in the supplemental, and what that might mean to --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think that the President has, but I think he is obviously quite concerned, as his statement the other day pointed out, that very important counternarcotics money is being held up by what appears to be inter-party squabble on Capitol Hill between the leaders of the two bodies in the Republican Party. I think the House members have made clear to the Senate how important this is, how they want to move forward, and it's time, I think, for the Senate to get on with business and get this supplemental passed.
END 12:44 P.M. EDT