THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (St. Paul, Minnesota) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release May 4, 2000
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
City Academy St. Paul, Minnesota
11:03 A.M. CDT
MR. LOCKHART: Still good morning. Let me go through a couple of things. We'll take your questions -- if anybody has any detailed questions on the second day of our education tour, Bruce Reed is around here someplace and I'll just bring him back out here to chat with you.
I thought I'd come out and talk to you because it's not very often I get the opportunity to use these words, which is the NRA said something today that I agree with, and I think was candid and honest, which I think is the exception, rather than the rule.
There are a couple of stories in the paper this morning that are quite remarkable, one in The Washington Post that talks about a private meeting at the NRA where the number two person there, the person scheduled to replace Charlton Heston, if they can work out their constitutional problems, said, "we'll have a President where we can work out of their office if George W. Bush is elected." He went on to say, talked about how critical the election was and said, "if we win, we'll have a Supreme Court that will back us to the hilt if Mr. Bush is elected."
Coupled with that is a story in another newspaper this morning about how gun manufacturers are deciding to break off negotiations with the government in the lawsuit because they believe that should Governor Bush win the presidency that lawsuit will be dropped, given his record of passing legislation to bar cities and localities for bringing this sort of litigation.
Again, it is quite rare and somewhat remarkable when the NRA says something that we agree with, but in this case I think they are speaking the truth. And it does raise the issue of where we are on these issues.
I know that there also were some questions this morning about the President and Vieques. I think I told the pool, but let me repeat for the camera that the President had a phone call last night from Mr. Podesta, bringing him up to date on the proposed operation for this morning. The operation has gone forward. The President was briefed this morning by the traveling Chief of Staff, Karen Tramontano, on the results.
Overall, the President was pleased that this operation moved forward in a peaceful manner and that the directives that were painstakingly negotiated over the last many months were allowed to be implemented and move forward.
The main points of the directives are that the Navy will be allowed to resume limited training on Vieques and that the people of Vieques will be able to determine their own future in the coming months. As I said, the President was briefed and, overall, he was pleased with the peaceful and efficient nature of this morning's activities.
Q On China, the new human rights commission being proposed by the administration -- how it will be more effective in an international commission that meets --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think -- what we talked about yesterday from the administration's end was a sort of compliance operation out of USTR and Commerce, and we think that will be very important to make sure that China lives up to the obligations of the agreement they made with us and the obligations of being a WTO member.
On human rights, I think there are some ideas being put forward by Congressman Levin. And we've said all along that we want to find ways to work with members to try to broaden support for permanent normal trade relations with China, getting China into the WTO. And we're looking at a variety of ideas and want to work with members to see if there's a way to allay concerns on human rights and other issues.
I think the President, as I've been reporting to you over the last few days, has worked quite hard in talking to members one-on-one and in large groups. He'll continue to do that. I understand there will be a news conference today on Capitol Hill where as many as eight Democrats who had previously been undecided will announce that they will be supporting the PNTR vote later this month. So I think we're making progress. The President has worked hard at this, but we still have a lot of work to do.
Q Joe, on the NRA statement, you make it sound like you think there's some kind of guilt by association between the NRA and Governor Bush.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think Governor Bush has taken views that are remarkably similar to the NRA. They obviously have been big supporters of his; they talk in this story about the private meeting of quoting credible friendly relations and have been big financial supporters of the RNC. According to a recent article, one of the top five givers to the RNC this year. And I think it does indicate a difference between the two parties, the two candidates. And it's just unfortunate that because of positions that the Governor has taken, we have people like the gun manufacturers willing to walk away budget they'll take their chances on someone who doesn't have a commitment to sensible gun safety legislation and sensible actions.
If you look at the results of the negotiations in this legal action, you have Smith & Wesson taking landmark steps to make sure that the manufacture and marketing of firearms is done more safely. That is something that is hard to argue about unless -- I mean, there are some on the extreme who have argued that somehow that will not make anyone safer and undermines some constitutional liberties that I'm at a loss to understand. But you do have a clear example here in two difference places of the impact of those positions.
Q Joe, who were you quoting in the very beginning?
MR. LOCKHART: It is -- first Vice President Kayne Robinson who is scheduled to succeed NRA President Charlton Heston.
Q Joe, on the "lovebug" issue -- the House and Senate have all been affected. A, has the White House been affected, and what's being done?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the operations of the White House have not been materially affected. I understand there are a few isolated cases that have been dealt with, but our cyber security people dealt with this when they became aware of this this morning, and the operations are running smoothly today, without any real impact from this most recent computer virus.
On a broader scale, there's a group called the Fed Circ -- I'll get you what that stands for, if anyone needs it -- but they have been working with the entire government as far as getting out e-mail information on the virus, and also e-mailing around a fix for this virus, which they have. So I think the government has responded quite quickly this morning. Speaking just for the White House, the operations are running as normal.
Q Actually, Joe, do you have an overall picture? Has there been any impact on any agency?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know in any particular agencies. I know that I believe the House and Senate shut down for some time this morning, and I don't have the full details on that. I'd send you up there. But as far as the EOP, the computers have been up and running all day.
Q Any reaction from the President that Charlton Heston may be able to seek a third term, because the NRA will change it's bylaws?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think in principle he may not be against that. Third terms do have a certain appeal to him. (Laughter.) But the reality is, it's somewhat ironic and somewhat rich that the NRA, being the strict constitutionalists they are, apply a more activist and interpretive view to their own constitution and bylaws.
By the way, sequels rarely work. One and two was okay, but the third one, I'm not sure.
Q Do you think the President, himself, will have anything to say about these NRA comments?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that there will be an opportunity today. I expect that we're going to continue to come back to this issue again andagain until we get Congress to move. So I wouldn't rule out sometime in the next couple days.
Q Was there any kind of relationship between the President and Cardinal O'Connor, were they close at all?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, they certainly had the opportunity to meet over the President's seven years -- eight years now -- in the White House. I don't know about before that. But, obviously, Cardinal O'Connor was a preeminent figure in the Catholic Church of the United States, and a very large figure in the New York community -- not just the religious community, but in the cultural and political community. So they've certainly had a number of occasions where they've met, spoken and worked together. And I think as the statement that the President issued last night, the President and the First Lady were quite saddened to learn of his death and think that all Americans can be inspired by his life's story and his life's work.
Q Do they plan to attend his funeral? Can you give us some more information on all this travel the President is going to be doing over the next three or four days?
MR. LOCKHART: Unfortunately, I can't give you any definitive information on either of those things, only to say the President at some point in the weekend will head to Arkansas for a series of events that we'll let you know about.
Q What is he discussing with Governor Ventura?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I expect that it could be a wide-ranging conversation. I certainly expect them to discuss the ongoing effort to get China, the PNTR vote done in a positive way. Governor Ventura has been a strong supporter of opening the Chinese market through ascension into the WTO. So I expect the President to give him an update on what we know through our efforts over the last few weeks, and to ensure that all of Governor Ventura's energies and abilities are being used as effectively as possible.
Q Joe, can you give us some information about tomorrow and exactly what he's going to be doing?
MR. LOCKHART: I can tell you tomorrow the President will travel to Pennsylvania to attend the Senate Democratic Issues Conference. That, as traditional, will be closed to the press. I expect him to return to Washington, and the rest of the schedule for the day is TBD.
MR. LOCKHART: Because we're working it out. And I'll explain it all when I have it all -- I'm not going to do this on a rolling basis. When I have the schedule finalized, I'll let you know.
Q Joe, about WTO stuff, can you tell us about the various meetings that he's had in terms of Congress? Are there any other particular events planned that you know of, whether it's addresses, whether it's appearances?
MR. LOCKHART: We have a number of what I think will be important events between now and the week of the 22nd. I'm going to wait a little bit before we preview those. But I think you can expect that several days next week, the President will be focusing his attention both privately and publicly in events that you all can cover on the need and the merits of the China PNTR.
Q Is there anything you can tell us about, calls he may have made on this trip?
MR. LOCKHART: He's made a series of calls to some of the leadership in the House on both sides of the aisle. When I say leadership, I mean leadership -- people important in this particular debate, not necessarily to the Speaker of the House or the Minority Leader. Those calls are going to continue as necessary. I think as I've indicated, by the time this vote is over, I expect he will have talked personally to each and every wavering member -- not wavering, undecided -- or leaning one way or the other member before the vote.
Q Are you willing to predict that PNTR will pass the House?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm willing to say that the President is going to do everything he can and expend whatever energy is necessary to get a positive vote. I know that we have made progress over the last few weeks, but I also know that there's a lot more work to be done. And beyond that, I'm not going to make a prediction.
Boy, the pool is loud. Anything else?
Q This is sort of an unrelated and lighter question, but what do you make of the incredible reaction to the President's video from the Correspondents Dinner?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the first reaction was somewhat expected. It was funny, and people laughed. The second one is probably just as expected, that institutional Washington is now finding the need to analyze this and find some deeper meaning. That to me is even more amusing than watching the President's speech and the video because of how utterly pointless it is.
I think the idea of the dinner and the video was to poke some fun at himself, poke a little fun at you guys for the way you all have speculated about the President's life over the last four or five months, and I'm not sure that presidential scholars need to be brought into this debate. But I am, for one, not discouraging it, because it is a source of endless amusement to me, and I'm enjoying it.
Q Actually, on that, though, Joe, are you getting much public reaction?
MR. LOCKHART: I had three people today tell me they liked me in my West Wing video. (Laughter.) Three -- they're all upstairs. I can bring them down, and --
Q All three of them?
Q -- is the President getting much -- e-mail, letters?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think so. And I think you've seen it in the last couple of days; the people who have introduced him have referenced the fact that they had seen it and they thought it was funny. And people are talking about it. I am just trying to caution a little bit against trying to find any deeper meaning and deeper sense of the impact of those six minutes on whether we are in a declining or rising Western civilization.
END 11:20 A.M. CDT