THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:15 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Since were a rather small group today, I thought we'd go outside and sit on the lawn in a circle and do the briefing that way. (Laughter.) So, come on, why don't we all go out?
Q Where is everybody, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know.
Q What's a nine-letter word for Middle East peace -- oh, sorry. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I'm just going to go to the week ahead. (Laughter.) So, Saturday, April 8, the President -- okay, I guess you might have some questions that I might have to answer before I can get to the week ahead.
Q What is the U.S.'s opinion of the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe, both economically and politically at the moment, and about the legislation that was passed yesterday allowing the government to confiscate land without compensation?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the State Department put out a fairly strong statement yesterday and let me just reiterate a few of the points, that the United States government condemns the violent attacks in Zimbabwe on farms and against legal and peaceful demonstrations. We think Zimbabwe's future and reputation are threatened by this display of political intolerance.
We also deplore the government of Zimbabwe's condoning of illegal farm occupations. We urge the government of Zimbabwe to implement farm eviction orders from the high courts and prevent further erosion of the rule of law in Zimbabwe.
As far as our policy, we've always supported a rational, sustainable, and equitable land reform program. Along with a number of other international donors, we have suspended our assistance to Zimbabwe's land reform program.
Q Well, is there any consideration of asking Zimbabwe or suggesting to Zimbabwe that election observers should be in Zimbabwe for the upcoming elections for Parliament?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I know that we have, as well as a number of other international institutions, made very clear our displeasure to Zimbabwe on what's going on. As far as particular points, I would send you to the State Department for that information.
Q Joe, you'll be happy to know that Maryland's --
MR. LOCKHART: Can I suggest that you're in no position to know what I'd be happy about, Lester. (Laughter.) But go on.
Q I think you might be happy --
MR. LOCKHART: Okay.
Q Maryland's Governor Glendening, who held a news conference yesterday in Annapolis, is virtually exhilarated that the President is coming to Maryland on Tuesday to see him sign that handgun lock bill. But when he was asked whether he supports the President's policy on Elian Gonzalez or the Vice President's policy, he adamantly refused to support either. And my question, and I have a follow-up, does the President believe this is disloyalty, or does he recognize and understand ambition for a Gore administration Cabinet post if there is a Gore administration?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think the President believes there's any conflict between the United States government foreign policy and the state of Maryland's foreign policy.
Q One follow-up. When the President's fellow Democrat, Congressman Serrano of New York, was asked on television if he believes Cuba is a free society, he replied that he doesn't know because he doesn't live there. And when asked if free speech exists in Cuba, he replied, "absolutely." My question, do President and Mrs. Clinton agree or disagree with Congressman Serrano's theory of free Cuba?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't know in what context that was said. I can only reiterate the President's belief and policy that democracy does not exist there. And that is why we take the policies that we have implemented against Cuba.
Q Joe, do you have any comment on the sentence of a life sentence for former Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif that was handed down yesterday?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we are now in -- we will go into the appeals phase. And we have continued to press the Pakistani government to make sure that process is transparent and Mr. Sharif is afforded legal counsel and the rights that should be afforded to him. On the question of the death penalty, apparently it's been taken off the table, although it's subject to an appeal in and of itself. The President made very clear directly to General Musharraf that he did not think that it was in Pakistan's interest to execute Mr. Sharif, and that's a positive development.
Q Joe, now that Janet Reno has met with Elian's father, has she communicated with the President or with John Podesta to apprise them of the results of that meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: She has not communicated with the President. I'm not aware of any further communications this morning. I mean, we are being kept up to date by the Justice Department and the INS. I don't know in what form that will come today. But I think the Justice Department is making clear how they plan to move ahead on this, and I think I'll leave it at that.
Q Do you have a Hong Kong readout?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I do. Let me see what we've got here. They met for about half an hour. Joining the President on our side was Mr. Podesta, Mr. Berger, Mr. Steinberg, and the NSC Senior Director for Asia, Mr. Lieberthal. It was a good meeting, the tone was cordial. Much of the conversation focused on China's ascension into WTO and the upcoming vote on permanent normal trade relations.
Chief Executive Tung expressed very strong support for PNTR and for China acceding to the WTO. He made the point that this was very good for Hong Kong, Taiwan and the region, as well as China and the United States. The President made his case for why he is pushing this as strongly as he is. They discussed Hong Kong's record of autonomy under the one-country, two-systems formula. They had a brief discussion on the economic recovery that's ongoing in Hong Kong and the upcoming bilateral talks on liberalization of trade in the aviation sector.
Q Anything more on Taiwan? You mentioned it in brief context.
MR. LOCKHART: My understanding is that the discussion of Taiwan was, as far as the regional importance economically of China entering the WTO.
Q Will the President be briefed today or in the coming days on the possible penalties for Microsoft and the Justice Department antitrust action?
MR. LOCKHART: I've got no reason to believe the President will be briefed on this. I think there was a story today based on something Mr. Sperling said I think a couple of weeks ago that there was always an option that we would want a briefing on that, but there's nothing scheduled and I have no reason to expect that.
Q Does the President feel he needs one or philosophically would like to have one before this case is worked out, ultimately?
MR. LOCKHART: Right now, he has not expressed that to me.
Q If not the President, some lower level --
MR. LOCKHART: That's possible, but there is nothing schedule and I have no expectation of when and if that might be scheduled.
Q Joe, the presidential election in Peru on Sunday -- does the White House have an opinion on the way the elections have been put into place -- the system in Peru right now? Do you think that they can have free elections on Sunday?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, obviously, we're going to watch and I'm not going to make a judgment beforehand. I mean, obviously, we support the democratic process, whether it be in Peru or any country around the world. We will certainly watch and expect the democratic process to work there.
Q Joe, The Washington Post reports this morning that the U.S. Army is "tight-lipped" on the scandal involving Lt. General Claudia Kennedy's charge that she was groped by Major General Larry Smith." And my question is, does the Commander-in-Chief believe it was wise for the Army to have tried to cover up this reported high-level sexual groping?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that the Commander-in-Chief would agree with your characterization.
Q Well, I mean, are you denying --
MR. LOCKHART: Next.
Q -- she said he was groping her. I mean --
MR. LOCKHART: That's not what your --
Q -- inappropriately touching her.
MR. LOCKHART: That's not what your question was. Next?
Q Joe, Representative Callahan, the Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee, said that he might use his leverage to block $250 million in foreign aid to Israel if they go ahead with this sale to China. Given that Defense Secretary Cohen wasn't able to convince Israel, at least not yet, to sell to China, is that anything you would support?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we have worked at all levels, and very vigorously, in making our case to Israel on transferring U.S. defense technology to China. We don't believe at this time that it would be productive to condition aid to Israel on this issue. We believe we can make the case effectively, and will continue to do so.
Q Joe, the hardly Republican -- the hardly pro-Republican Washington Post this morning quotes Associated Press bureau chief Sandy Anderson as calling the Gore campaign "ridiculous. Gore is invisible to the press corps. We complain often and loudly, and so do the other reporters who travel with him." Question: Does this reflect badly on the Clinton administration's reputation for openness and accountability?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think anyone who's out there watching right now would understand anyone's trepidation in spending time with you. So it's -- (laughter.)
Q It's wasn't me, this is the Associated Press.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, you know, it's sometimes hard for people out there not to group you all in one category. So --
Q Yes -- him, Hunt, same thing. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. (Laughter.) Who's Sandy Anderson?
Q I don't know who Sandy Anderson is. What's the President hoping to accomplish with these trips next week to both Annapolis and Denver? What's he trying to achieve?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that the President believes very strongly that we need to take positive steps on gun safety in this country. Congress, the leadership in particular, wants to stick with a position of status quo or weakening gun safety in this country, as they tried to do in the House. The President believes that there's many ways that we can go after this. He's going to continue to try to build public support. He's going to support efforts in the states. He's going to support efforts where we go to gun manufacturers, like the landmark Smith and Wesson deal. And he thinks ultimately Congress will have to move. This is an issue that's very important to their constituents, and we're going to stay on this issue until we get some action.
Q Joe, on that point, is the President at all discouraged that other gun manufacturers have not joined Smith and Wesson? As a matter of fact, several prominent gun makers have said they will not join in the --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think there are ongoing discussions, so, no, the President is not disappointed. It's certainly our hope and expectation that other gun manufacturers will join. And for those who don't, there is certainly the possibility that we will seek a legal remedy.
Q Do you have a gun in your house, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: That's none of your business, Lester.
Q Joe, on prescription drug benefits, House Republicans next week will unveil their principles. Three of them are very similar to those the President has embraced and Senate Democrats have embraced -- $40 billion over five years; universality in their terminology; and voluntary plan. Does the White House believe there is momentum behind this issue and hope for an outcome -- legislative outcome -- later this year?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, based on the leadership that's come from the President and from congressional Democrats, there is momentum for a prescription drug benefit. There was an important vote this week in the Senate where the majority of the Senate said, we ought to have a prescription drug benefit and we ought to do it before we get the tax cuts. That's a very important principle.
The Republicans, unfortunately, have tried to have it every which way. They support the trillion-dollar George Bush tax cut in rhetoric, but now if you look at their budget process, you find out that even Senate Republicans think that it's too risky, that they can't afford it. Look at the budget that they've put through.
So it is positive that their rhetoric has turned on prescription drugs. They are now acknowledging for the first time that we must have this as part of Medicare reform and providing health care to seniors in this country. There's an important next step, though, which is for them to get real on this process, to get real with the numbers, to have a real budgetary process, to follow fiscal discipline and do this the right way. And we are going in the right direction; we'll see if we get there.
Q Joe, back on the Hong Kong leader, what were his reasons for supporting the permanent normal trade relations?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he believes that it would promote economic expansion not only in Hong Kong, but in China and Taiwan, and he thinks that would be a positive development for the region as a whole.
Q Joe, do you think the White House could get a deal with Senator Lott before the end of next week, for the deal that includes the aid for Colombia?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it's difficult to say. I think there is growing pressure from many quarters on Senator Lott to change his position on this. Leading members of the House have been pressing very hard for him to get on with this. He, I think, received a letter late yesterday or today from a bipartisan group of governors around this country, including Governor Bush in Florida, making the case that this was urgent.
Initiatives, including our counternarcotics effort, our replenishing of LIHEAP money or peacekeepers in Kosovo and overall military readiness issues that are very important to both Democrats and Republicans alike. But it is -- at this point, it is hard to predict what they will do.
Just look at what's gone on on the floor this week. The Majority has said, let's do prescription drugs before we do tax cuts, and what Senator Lott has done is scheduled a second vote on repealing the gas tax, which he got less than, I think, about half of his caucus to support him on.
So I think we would like the grandstanding to end and the real business of the Senate to proceed. I think there is a lot of pressure growing on the Senate leadership to do that, and we hope it will happen next week.
Q Has there been any direct conversations with the President and the Majority Leader?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know the last time he talked to him.
Q How is it grandstanding? He said that he wants to take some of the pork that's been added to the bill out and that he could do that more effectively as part of the appropriations bill.
MR. LOCKHART: We've got a lot of pressing legislative issues, from minimum wage to patients' bill of rights, to getting prescription drugs in Medicare to gun safety legislation. And the Senate is going to have two votes in the days they work on repealing the gas tax, which they know is not going anyplace.
So I think that there is more important business to do. If they want to do something on the supplemental, if they want to take something out of it, they ought to get to work on it. They ought to take it to the floor and make the changes they want to make, rather than saying they're just not going to take it up.
Q Is there any updates on the situation in Northern Ireland? I know there were talks back there after the St. Patrick's Day events here a week later, but there hasn't been much of late.
MR. LOCKHART: I think there's a framework for discussions going on that started before they were here on March 17th, St. Patrick's Day, which have continued back in Ireland. I don't have anything in particular to report, only that those conversations continue. I think Mr. Berger and Mr. Steinberg here at the White House remain quite engaged on it, but I have no particular status report.
Q Is there anything, Joe, the President can do to get members of the Democratic caucus to trim down the supplemental, and in that manner work with Senator Lott toward actually getting it passed?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we'd be barking up the wrong tree there. We sent up a supplemental which we thought met urgent needs of this country, on issues that I have outlined. The Republican majority in the House then loaded it up with $4 billion in extra spending. This is an intra-party squabble between the leadership in the House and the leadership in the Senate. They ought to try to find a way to put their differences aside, so that we can address these urgent needs. I don't think that going up and talking to the House Democrats would be all that useful, given the fact that the Republicans need to work out this problem.
Q Joe, the President has got a fundraising trip tomorrow. Democrats this week reported that they're in much better shape than they were four years ago, and gave the President much of the credit. Is he delighted to have that credit? Is he going to continue to keep up this pace?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think he'll continue to go out and help raise resources for Democrats. We still expect at the end of the day to be vastly outspent. But I think it's important that the Democrats have put a good program together, and the President is very enthusiastic about his role in helping. I think as we get closer to the election, you'll see a lot of extra money flowing into the party opposite. And we'll be in a position of being outspent, at what level I don't know. But the President's committed to making sure that it remains somewhat competitive.
Q Is that how he sees his role for the remainder of -- in the political sphere, the remainder of his term, to sort of fade into the sunset, but build a coffer as well?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think that that's a very small part. I think what the President believes is -- and he's said this many times -- that the best politics is good policy. And he sees his role as continuing to press on a very aggressive domestic agenda, and important and engaging foreign policy, and that the voters will see at the end. They will applaud Democrats and Republicans alike for what we can get done this year, and they will see in what we can't get done this year a very significant difference between the parties. The President believes at the end of the day, if he continues doing his job effectively, that will bring attention and credit to Democrats this November.
Q Joe, the President implied at the event earlier this morning that this might be the end of the line this year on Social Security reform of a major structural nature. Is today's event to draw the curtain on what may or may not happen on Social Security this year?
MR. LOCKHART: We always have hope, and we always are open to discussions. We've had some discussions with some of the leaders, that they have not moved to the extent that some of the other discussions on things like Medicare have moved. There is always hope, but if there is a will up on Capitol Hill to work through this, we're certainly available.
Q Did the President ask you to go with him when he retires, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: Pardon?
Q Has the President asked you to continue as his spokesman when he retires?
MR. LOCKHART: No, he hasn't.
Q You would be willing, wouldn't you?
MR. LOCKHART: That's a good one.
Q Is there a deadline for action on the Medicare prescription drug plan, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, by Congress going out. You know, I don't know when they're going out, but the number of days between now and when that happens is getting precious -- there are precious few days, because this is not a Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. operation. They are going out next week for two more weeks, and then they will be back and they will be in and out for a bit.
I think, as I said earlier, there is a sense that there is some recognition that the President's call for prescription drugs is being heard finally by some of the leaders in the Republican Party. The question is, how are we going to do that. Are we going to be able to do that in a fiscally responsible way, in a way that provides the basic and needed health benefits to our seniors, or whether we're going to sort of go down the path of last year and play a lot of games with numbers and at the last minute have to try to put it all together.
Q Joe, the House once again has passed a bill banning the late-term abortion procedure. Would the President veto that, as he's done in the past?
MR. LOCKHART: The President's position has been clear and stated the Congress is no different this year than last year and he will veto that legislation if it comes to his desk.
Q Any details for Sunday's travel?
MR. LOCKHART: Want to do the week ahead? Saturday, April 8th, the President's weekly radio address will be broadcast at 10:06 a.m. The President will then depart to New Orleans at 10:00 a.m. -- the he radio address must be taped. I get it.
DNC fundraising luncheon at a private residence. The President will later depart New Orleans, Louisiana, and travel to Alexandria, Louisiana, to attend a performance of The Messiah at the United Pentecostal Church in Alexandria. That starts at about 7:30 p.m.
Following the performance, the President will depart to Andrews, arriving back here at about 1:15 a.m. Sunday, the President will depart for Fayetteville, Arkansas, at around 12:00 noon for private events and will return later that evening. Monday, no public schedule.
Tuesday, the President will depart to Annapolis, Maryland, at 10:30 a.m. and will participate in the Responsible Gun Safety Act of 2000 bill signing ceremony at the Maryland State Capitol at 11:30 a.m. He will return to the White House following the bill signing, that's it for the public schedule.
Wednesday, the President will depart for Denver at 8:25 a.m., and address a rally of SAFE Colorado, Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic. That's at 11:00 a.m. The President will then participate in an MSNBC town hall on gun safety, moderated by Tom Brokaw, at the University of Denver. The President will leave --
Q What time is that?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have a time, but I thought it was like 1:00 p.m.
MR. SIEWERT: No, I think we're doing it 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're leaving at 3:00 p.m. I think it's actually 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. So maybe it's 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m., Eastern time. Yes, it's 1:00 p.m. Denver time, so 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern. He'll come back about 3:00 p.m. Denver time, arriving back at about 8:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 13th, the President will address the American Society of Newspaper Editors at the J.W. Marriott at 12:30 p.m. Later that evening, the President will attend two fundraising dinners for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee at the Phoenix Park Hotel.
Friday, the President will depart for Atlanta at 9:00 a.m., and will address the Education Writers' Association at the Sheraton Colony Square Hotel, 11:00 a.m. The President will also attend a DCCC fundraising luncheon at a private residence, and a John Lewis tribute fundraising dinner at the Atlanta Airport Hilton. The President will travel after that to San Jose, California, and remain overnight.
The President on Saturday will do his weekly radio address from California, and -- we may tape it, I'll have to check on that. The President will also attend a DNC fundraising dinner in Los Angeles. That event will also be attended by the Vice President, for those of you who care about that sort of thing.
Q Will he overnight in L.A., or back to --
MR. SIEWERT: I think the plan is to back to northern California.
MR. LOCKHART: Late. Yes.
Q The overnight in San Jose -- I'm sorry, the fundraisers are in Atlanta, the overnight in San Jose?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I expect we'll have some additions to the schedule for that part of California.
Q Do you expect political additions, or do you expect policy additions?
MR. LOCKHART: Policy. Policy.
Q A policy event in San Jose?
MR. LOCKHART: In that part of California, yes, which hopefully in the next day or so we can tell you about.
Q You mean Saturday or Sunday, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: I mean on Saturday. We'll overnight in San Jose Friday the 14th. On the 15th, we'll make good use of our time, and we'll tell you about it soon.
Q Is that the one that he spoke of yesterday in the interview, right? In San Jose?
MR. LOCKHART: Which one?
Q The even in East San Jose?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q The digital divide?
MR. LOCKHART: No. Different.
Q -- tell us what it is. Go ahead and spill your guts.
MR. LOCKHART: Not today.
Q All right. Thanks.
END 12:37 P.M. EDT