THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The James S. Brady Briefing Room
11:45 A.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Good morning. Would anyone object if I went directly to the week ahead? Well, Terry, your objection is noted, but overruled. Questions?
Q What do you think of all this Miami business, of firing of the city manager and --
MR. LOCKHART: I actually watched a little bit of it just as I was coming out. I'm not fully briefed up on the story. I think that this is a matter for the internal governor of Miami. I don't think it would be appropriate to make any comments one way or the other this morning.
Q Well, the Miami officials don't mind commenting on your business.
MR. LOCKHART: Our business seems in order today.
Q Joe, has the President had any meetings on Vieques here, about doing something to remove the protestors? I think Mr. Podesta did, yesterday, but has the President been involved?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of the President having any meetings. As you know, he's been on the road for the last two days. I know he's aware of the plans, or of the agreement that he helped negotiate to allow the military to restart their training there. As far as the flurry of stories about it, you'd have to talk to the Department of Justice. I'm not going to get into a law enforcement operation.
Q Has he been briefed on the Microsoft proposed remedy? And what's his view of it?
MR. LOCKHART: He has not gotten a briefing from his team. I think Mr. Sperling has traveled now to Africa for a conference. The group did get an informational briefing earlier in the week, but I don't know that they have had a chance to get with the President.
Q So he is completely in the dark about it, I mean, except what he reads in the paper?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I wouldn't suggest that. I think the group were given an informational briefing. I think they will get information to the President in a timely way. But, again, this was just an informational briefing; I don't expect this building to get involved in this next phase of the court case.
Q Joe, the government's response in Microsoft I think was due today. So there was no input then -- the economic folks had said they wanted the briefing because there might be economic impact and then they might want to weigh in, but they decided not to weigh in?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any input into the development of the Department of Justice response -- from here.
Q Are you aware of any opinion the President may have on the issue?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President believes the appropriate place for this to be litigated is at the Department of Justice, and they have worked very hard on this and they are now entering a new phase of it, and their recommendation will speak for itself.
Q But you must be concerned about its impact on the economy, one way or another.
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't talked to him about that, but I'm not sure I would agree or disagree with that statement.
Q Is the President meeting with Preston King today here later -- Preston King?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. Preston King is the gentleman who was pardoned. Not that I'm aware of. I just haven't heard that.
Q Was it appropriate for the Cuban government officials to go out to the Wye River Plantation and meet with Elian the day he was brought out there, at a time when the Miami family is not --
MR. LOCKHART: Juan Miguel is a citizen of Cuba. I think it's appropriate if he wants to meet with government officials that he can meet with them.
Q Joe, in connection with today's buy-back announcement, what does the President say to critics who say that these buy-backs don't work, that they really have not been proven to reduce gun violence?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm sorry, I'll come back to you. I'm told that Preston King was invited to the radio address, so the President will have a chance, as is his custom, to, after the radio address, of taking a picture with people and talking to them for a moment.
Q Is the address on a related subject?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Will that be taped today?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Can you tell us the topic?
MR. LOCKHART: Can we? No, we can't. We know it, but we're just not telling. Thank you. The safe answer is no.
I'm sorry, Kelly.
Q On the buy-back, what does the President say to critics who say these buy-backs don't work and that they are not proven to lead to any reduction in gun violence on the city streets?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there is sort of a knee-jerk reaction to anything we do that goes to prevention, particularly when it comes to the NRA. They were against -- they tried to kill the Maryland bill; they've worked very hard to kill the sensible legislation that's before Congress. I think it defies basic logic that if we can get guns off the street, that that's not going to have some impact.
You can debate the level of impact, that's a legitimate debate. But to sort of argue that it has no impact and to oppose it I think is keeping your head in the sand or pursuing a political agenda. I mean, there are excepting crimes and putting crimes away, there is a study by the CEA that shows that homes that have a gun are five times more likely to have a suicide in it than homes that do not have a gun. There are also studies -- when we talk about 12 young people every day being killed by gun fire, more than a third of those are suicides and accidents.
So we believe that gun buy-backs can play an important part. It's not the answer to the problem, but it can be an important part, particularly as they grow in success around the country. One of the reasons the President is doing this today is to highlight what local communities can do working with HUD, working with the government, working with local community officials about trying to get guns off the street. The rhetoric that argues that this doesn't work is just empty.
Q If I could follow on that, you seem to ascribe this argument to the NRA, but, in fact, there's a 1998 Justice Department study, "Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn't," and at the top of the list of what doesn't work -- gun buy-back programs.
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not familiar with that study. I know there is no comprehensive study out there now that can quantify how it works. But the President believes strongly, he has spoken out on it repeatedly, that gun buy-backs are a part of an overall strategy to reduce gun violence, and we need to do more.
The gun buy-backs, before the money was appropriated last year, were really done on a local level in a sort of ad hoc way. But the $15 million that HUD now has available -- we think we can do this in a more comprehensive and national way, working with communities around the country, and the President believes that gun buy-backs definitely work.
Q Have you commented on the gun manufacturers' lawsuit?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that Senator Schumer probably put it the best yesterday when he said, to paraphrase him, if they want a fight, we're willing to fight them.
Q Joe, any comments from the President on the fact that Senator Helms says he won't bring any of it up before his committee any agreement the President reaches with President Putin?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, Senator Helms' views are well-known. He has been known to make statements like that. We're going to work with Senator Helms because it is in our national security interest, as well as the 99 other senators, to move our arms control agenda forward.
Q So you're still going to try to come to a new amended agreement when the President goes into Moscow?
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't expect on that trip that there will be any sort of breakthrough on this, but it's certainly high on the agenda, both looking at the ABM in the context of a national missile defense, and also at the START II, START III discussions.
Q What do you think of the Russian Foreign Minister meeting with Governor Bush?
MR. LOCKHART: Pretty interesting.
Q How so?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. I couldn't think of anything else. I was going to try to come up with something light, but ultimately cutting, and somewhat witty, but I came up blank. (Laughter.) Jim, you got any help here? (Laughter.) Should I try that other one that we were talking about before? Save that one? Okay, never mind.
Q Is Ivanov giving you conflicting messages with respect to renegotiating the ABM Treaty?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think so. I think we, starting in our discussions in Cologne last year, we've had very serious discussions on how we're going to move forward with this, and those discussions continue.
Q Does the administration, after the meeting that Ivanov had on -- what was it -- Tuesday --
MR. LOCKHART: I think Tuesday, yes.
Q -- does the administration believe that the new government in Moscow is open to renegotiating the ABM --
MR. LOCKHART: I think we believe that the new government is committed to continuing these serious discussions that started in Cologne.
Q What's the President's schedule, his own timetable of making a decision on this missile defense system?
MR. LOCKHART: As we've said for some time, we expect the recommendation to come over in the end of June, July, sort of the mid-summer period. And the President will make his decision once he's received the recommendation.
Q Well, he's already made his decision, obviously, if he's pushing --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the President has made very clear that this decision will be made based on the four criteria that he's clearly laid out. And he's looking now to see what the Pentagon recommends. As you all know, they're still in the process, the testing process and we'll see, when that's complete, what the recommendation is.
Q You're saying he will wait, Joe, until November to do this? There was a report that he might wait as late as November to make the decision.
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't heard any discussion that would back that up.
Q One of the major themes of Senator Helms' speech was that the President is worried that he'll be seen as the only President in recent memory to not have a major arms treaty under his belt at the end of his administration and, therefore, he's just going for anything so they'll have a photo op treaty. How do you respond to that kind of rhetoric?
MR. LOCKHART: I think Senator Helms is over-thinking it a little bit. As most Presidents who assume the responsibilities of this office understand, they have an absolute obligation to pursue the national security interests of this country. These discussions are in that -- are for achieving goals that relate to our national security. And to ascribe political motivations here is just wrong.
Q Well, is that going to affect the negotiations in any way, that the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee said he's not going to approve any --
MR. LOCKHART: I certainly would hope that the statements by the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would not undercut the negotiations, and I don't expect them to.
Q Do you -- his remarks to what George W. Bush said last night? He said approximately the same thing, that he would hope that the President would not sign any half-hearted agreement on the ABM Treaty.
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President is in a much better position, given his experience on this subject, to make judgments and negotiate this treaty.
Q I want to try another Bush question, Joe. Is the President at all perturbed, perhaps, that the Russian Foreign Minister --
MR. LOCKHART: No. The President, in 1992, met with President Yeltsin briefly, so I don't believe he's perturbed. I think that if the statement is, as phrased, and the question is accurate, he would not agree with the position that the Governor took. But we look forward to a more expansive and detailed exposition of Governor Bush's views on arms control, START II, the ABM Treaty. And when he gets there, we'll be glad to hear it.
Q So the President thinks the system works?
MR. LOCKHART: What system?
Q Missile, defense.
MR. LOCKHART: The President is waiting for a recommendation from the Department of Defense, and he'll make his decision based on the criteria that we've outlined.
Q Joe, what can you tell us about the federal government's plans to require auto makers to have a 25-mph test for air bags? Do you know about that at all?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me take that question. There was a Wall Street Journal story this morning, I did see it and I forgot to check on it.
Q Joe, why wouldn't what Helms said influence the talks? I mean, do you think Helms is not serious, that he's just --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think both the United States and Russia approaches this with both of our national security interests at the heart of these discussions. These discussions are serious. They're not about domestic politics in this country. So I think both from out side and from the other side, we can put those aside.
Q Joe, had the United States raised any protests or condemned the arrest of an AP photographer in Zimbabwe?
MR. LOCKHART: I know we are aware of it. Let me check to see if any diplomatic message has been sent. We obviously believe that reporters and photographers should be allowed to do their job, and I expect that the message we will send will be that and that reporters, as anyone, should be given due process in the legal system.
Q Is anybody looking into the circumstances of this arrest or --
MR. LOCKHART: They will be as soon as I get off here and ask them to.
Q Will you get back to --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q There is also an amendment that was put on in the Senate on the Africa free trade bill, a bill that the administration supports, affecting the banana and beef dispute with Europe. Do you know about that? Is that something that's acceptable?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't -- I'll check on that for you.
Q The President has a right to negotiate a treaty, whether the Senate goes for it or not.
MR. LOCKHART: That's absolutely correct.
Q Joe, I know there's nothing been announced about the President going to Vietnam, but I wonder if you have any reaction to Senator McCain saying that if the President did decide to go in November, anytime, that it might be sort of improperly rewarding the government that really hasn't done enough for the Vietnamese people.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I respect the right of Senator McCain to make statements, but I'm not going to speculate on the purpose of a trip and what it will mean when we haven't decided to make the trip. So we could sort of take that out into speculative limbo, which wouldn't serve anybody.
Q It is accurate that the President does want to go to Vietnam before the end of his term, isn't it?
MR. LOCKHART: I would not disagree with that, but I'm not sure I could name a country in the world that the President -- that wouldn't also fit that bill.
Q What is the stage of plan?
Q Nice try --
MR. LOCKHART: Bingo. Knoller wins again. (Laughter.) Will someone get the teeshirt for Knoller?
Q What's the state of planning --
MR. LOCKHART: The President's actually been quite involved in talking to the leaders of those two countries. I'm sure that he would love to go and see a peaceful resolution. Whether that will happen or whether we can, I don't know.
Q Vietnam -- where is the state of that planning on that?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that there's any planning. I haven't heard of any planning.
Q Nobody is even looking at it now or --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, if they are, they haven't told me about it.
Q Yeah, well, what about Antarctica?
MR. LOCKHART: What about Antarctica? (Laughter.)
Q Is he ever going to get off Air Force One in the next eight months?
MR. LOCKHART: Can someone get me the globe so I can like have some help, because this book isn't going to help me today. (Laughter.)
Q -- any particular reflections by the President?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that he shared with me. I haven't seen him in the last two days because he's been on the road.
Q Joe, the President has been traveling an extraordinary amount just domestically. He's going to a school next week. He's been doing a lot of digital divide stuff. What is it exactly that he's planning to accomplish with these trips? Do you expect him to continue --
MR. LOCKHART: I certainly expect him to continue. The purpose of the trips is to try to highlight success stories around the country and build support for the legislative agenda back here. We have an aggressive agenda on education that he'll push next week on digital divide that he talked about this week and last week. We're making progress, working with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. I expect him to be out talking about prescription drugs for Medicare. I expect him to be out talking about a patients' bill of rights, raising the minimum wage. These are all issues that we think we can get bills passed this year that he can sign, and he'll continue to go out and make the case.
I will give you, just as an aside, we've spent a good part of the last 18 months and wherever we go, talking about the benefits of a prescription drug benefit for Medicare. The Republican Party started last year, dead set against it. There was no way they were going to do it, and their opposition was put in the strongest language possible. We've spent 18 months going out and talking about how important it is, and look where we are today. There's a real sense that this is going to get done this year because it's the right thing to do.
Q Joe, sometime last week, the President filed a response to the efforts that some folks are making to disbar him in his home state of Arkansas. Under the rules of the committee, he has the right to waive the confidentiality of the proceedings. Do you think in light of his commitment to openness he would be willing to waive the confidentiality of this proceeding?
MR. LOCKHART: And deprive the other side the chance to leak it? No, he wouldn't want to deprive them of that.
Q Well, it wouldn't be a leak if it was put on the public record.
MR. LOCKHART: We have no intention of putting it on the public record.
MR. LOCKHART: Because this is a -- the bar has set this up with a set of procedures and we're going to follow them.
Q On China, do you have any indication of how successful your lobbying efforts have been over the recess?
MR. LOCKHART: Ask me at the end of the week of May 22nd.
Q -- events planned for next week?
MR. LOCKHART: We'll have some things next week. Can I go to the week ahead?
Q One second. Is there a White House response to George W. Bush's comment that this administration is the most relentlessly partisan administration in the nation's history?
MR. LOCKHART: That sounds like a pretty partisan statement from someone who purports to be compassionately conservative.
Q Joe, if I could just add one more thing on Vieques. I mean, how concerned is the White House about the possibility of violence, or violence erupting by clearing out protestors from the U.S. Navy bombing range there?
MR. LOCKHART: The President worked very hard to make a deal that was in our national security interests, that the government of Puerto Rico could work with, that the people of Puerto Rico and Vieques could work with, that took a lot of time and a lot of effort by a number of parties. We have reached an agreement, now some time ago, and I'm just not going to speculate on any law enforcement aspect of it.
Okay, now I've got to find the week ahead -- when I closed the book, I lost it.
Q Joe, if he's taping his radio this afternoon, does he have something on the schedule tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: He's got a dinner, but I've been telling him that he doesn't really need to get there because it's no big deal.
Q He'll miss your performance if he doesn't go.
MR. LOCKHART: What performance?
MR. LOCKHART: What interview?
Q Are you denying that you're on a video that will be played tomorrow night? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me put it this way. If you're referring to an item that was in the paper yesterday, I can, without a doubt, deny every single part of it, except the part about me being in a video. (Laughter.)
Q You're not going to do the "Joe Lockhart Show"?
Q This is it.
MR. LOCKHART: This is it. (Laughter.)
Q It's pretty exciting.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. (Laughter.) Ratings are booming. (Laughter.)
Q One last question. What is the commencement address about on Sunday?
MR. LOCKHART: That's a secret. I'll let you know.
The week ahead. Saturday, April 29th --
Q They don't know. They haven't decided yet. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: No, I know what it is. I'm just trying to decide whether I should tell you.
Okay, Saturday, April 29th, the President's weekly radio address will air at 10:06 a.m. The radio address is being taped at 5:30 p.m. this afternoon.
Q What's the subject?
MR. LOCKHART: Boy, this is a really good description of what it is.
Later that day, the President will attend the White House Correspondents Dinner at the Washington Hilton. He departs around 6:45 p.m. actually. I think that's early. We'll leave later than that. I don't think we'll leave at --
Q Mrs. Clinton?
MR. LOCKHART: I heard a rumor she's attending the dinner, so check with her office.
Sunday, April 30th, the President will depart Andrews at 10:45 a.m. en route to Michigan where he will deliver the commencement address at Eastern Michigan University. He will also attend an NAACP dinner at Cobo Convention Hall. He will then depart Michigan at around 7:00 p.m. for Chappaqua. I expect that he will return Monday morning and we'll have the rest of the day free.
Tuesday, the President will drop by the Independent Insurance Agents of America Conference at the Grand Hyatt. The President will also give remarks at the opening of the White House Conference on Raising Teenagers in the East Room. At 12:15 p.m. the President will make remarks to the Council of America's Conference at the State Department.
Wednesday, the President will leave for his school reform tour, a two-day tour that will take him to Owensboro, Kentucky, Davenport, Iowa, St. Paul, Minnesota and Columbus, Ohio. Friday, the President will travel to Pennsylvania to attend the Senate Democratic Caucus.
Q What time?
MR. LOCKHART: It doesn't say here.
Q Are they separate trips? He comes back?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, he comes back, spends the night at the White House Thursday night. Friday, he goes out to Pennsylvania. That is, as is the tradition, closed press. Saturday, the President's Weekly radio address will be broadcast at 10:06 a.m. It doesn't indicate whether it will be taped or live.
Q Friday he comes home and he stays home that night?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're not sure yet. We'll let you know.
Q Can you tell us how the idea of the teen conference came about and what the goal is?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's something that we've been working on here in conjunction with the First Lady's Office for quite some time, and it's to build on some of the conferences we've had in the past. We've looked at the early years of adolescence, and it's looking at the many issues that are raised to ultimately help give parents the tools they need and the government the policies they need to help promote successful family life and balancing family life with the pressures that parents face in their workplace.
Q Joe, does the President have to spend a certain amount of days in New York State in order to vote?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q He doesn't?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think the rule is you just have to register and --
Q Even if you're not --
Q But if he spends a certain number of days in New York State, he has to pay income tax, doesn't he?
MR. LOCKHART: He does, yes, which he did.
Q Did the President register yet in New York?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I know of. I'll let you know when he does. I thought the week ahead was the end of this. New rules.
Q There was this report a few days ago that Chelsea Clinton is fundraising for an upcoming DNC event here in Washington. Is that accurate?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. I'll have to check with the DNC. I know there's a big gala event in June or the end of May -- the end of May. And I'll have to check to see if she has any role in that.
Q -- blue jeans and cowboy boots at MCI?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q It's not something she's done before, as far as you know, is it?
MR. LOCKHART: She certainly attended events with her parents that were fundraisers.
Q She did the 50th --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, but I don't know what her role is. We'll check.
END 12:10 P.M. EDT