THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:03 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: I have no announcements to start this briefing, so we'll go right to questions.
Q How did you get all these people together?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I think the team that's been working on the China vote under the direction of Mr. Ricchetti, and particularly the NSC team under the direction of Mr. Berger, have been working very hard over the last two months to bring together these dozens and dozens of distinguished Americans who are committed to free trade, committed to our policy of opening up China to the economic benefits that we see coming from WTO, and also the national security benefits. So it's the result of hard work by a number of people here at the White House.
Q How do you think it will -- what's your prediction of the impact on Congress?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there are a number of members of Congress who are currently weighing this issue, trying to make up their minds, looking at the merits, looking at how it affects their districts. And I think when you can bring together a group of distinguished Americans that clearly crosses all political lines, that go back over the last four or five administrations, and bring the kind of expertise and distinguished service into one room, it can't help but have an effect on those members who are now trying to make up their minds.
Q Joe, is there a time frame by which Congress has to take a vote on this?
MR. LOCKHART: There's no particular time frame, but the House has indicated they want to take a vote the week of May 22nd. The Senate will follow shortly thereafter.
Q The President said today that the opponents of this are aligned with the sort of old party cadres who are trying to keep the state-run industries alive, and the old PLA conservative hacks in Beijing. What did he mean by that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there are certainly elements within China that are opposed, and made their opposition clear, to China moving forward and making this agreement. And their arguments articulated an opposition to change and to economic reform. And I think it's our view that this step is the best way to encourage the economic reform, and the economic reformers, within that system. And a rebuke here would be a strong signal to those who oppose within China the economic reforms that are embodied in this agreement.
Q You mean it would strengthen the hands of the anti-reformers to reject this -- is that what you're saying?
MR. LOCKHART: I think if we move forward and sent a strong message that we weren't interested in this kind of economic arrangement with China, it would certainly undercut those who have pushed this argument in China.
Q Well, that's a really extraordinary statement for you to make, given how opaque internal domestic politics are in China, that something that the United States Congress would do would have an impact on domestic policy in China. Aren't you saying that --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't find it to be extraordinary.
Q Well, I guess what I'm asking is if PNTR is passed, you're saying that the hand of the reformers will be strengthened.
MR. LOCKHART: I'm certainly saying that the effort that promotes economic reform in China, that that will be strengthened.
Q Well, Joe, do you think that passing MFN every year and decoupling human rights from trade, and the other things that you guys have done, have strengthened the hand of reformers in China?
MR. LOCKHART: I think if you look at the progress that has been made in China over the last decade as far as economic reform, you'll get the answer to your question.
Q Were any dissidents, any people against the treaty invited? Not the treaty, I mean --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the idea of this event today was to generate support, rather than to provide an East Room edition of Crossfire. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, can you tell us now where the President is going to be going later on in the week to talk about PNTR?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I expect the President to travel on Friday. I expect he will go to the Midwest to make a couple stops to highlight the benefits to this country of moving forward on PNTR. I expect probably by the end of the day, we'll have an announcement on where exactly we're going. We're just working out some logistics.
Q Only one day?
MR. LOCKHART: One day. One day.
Q Joe, is it designed to help any members? Is it targeting some members? Will it help members?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, obviously, when we go someplace, we're in a congressional district, so --
Q -- particularly targeted to some members?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I -- listen, we're going to make the case about how this impacts all of America. As far as where we go, to the extent that it has an impact on a particular district, that's all the better.
Q You're going to Bonior's district?
MR. LOCKHART: Of the 435, that's one I would not suggest you send an advance crew out to.
Q Did you give anybody on the Hill advance warning about this event? And have you had any feedback?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the event's been in the works for months, so it was certainly no secret. We've been talking to people on the Hill. As far as what we're hoping to do, this is one of literally dozens of events we've done on trying to promote this agreement, and congressional approval of the agreement. You know, only time will tell whether we'll see if it has an effect.
Q Do you foresee this giving people the political cover they need, perhaps, to vote against the wishes of people in their district?
MR. LOCKHART: We believe that the arguments, the economic and national security benefits, will provide whatever cover people need.
Q Do you know why President Bush was not present?
MR. LOCKHART: He talked to the President about that yesterday at the O'Connor funeral, said he would have liked to have been here, but he had a scheduling conflict.
Q Are there any provisions for revoking this legislation if China's human rights becomes worse, or if China attacks Taiwan?
MR. LOCKHART: We have -- there's nothing within ascending into the WTO that is linked to human rights. We have pressed our case on human rights in China on a number of fronts that we believe are appropriate. And we also believe that this will inexorably lead to more openness and progress, as far as human rights and other issues.
Q What about Taiwan? What if it attacks Taiwan?
MR. LOCKHART: Come on.
Q Joe, the President said that virtually 100 percent of the people at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue know it's the right decision to support PNTR. What did he mean by that?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President believes that if this -- a fair reading of the merits of this would result in strong support. There has been a lot of discussion that has gotten to the politics, and has gotten away from the central issues here. That's our challenge, to make sure that we move this back to the issues and the benefits to the American public, to American business, American working families. And I think today was an important event, as far as trying to do that.
Q Well, does he believe that people are opposing this based on a political decision, and they're not genuine in their opposition to PNTR?
MR. LOCKHART: I think -- listen, I think certainly everyone can come out and articulate their own reasons for either being for this or being against this. I think it's the President's view that if this was -- when people look at the merits here and understand the benefits to the American public, that there would be a lot of support for it.
Q Joe, in the end, after everybody has stated their position for their constituents, don't you have the chits our there to call in to get this passed?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, we're making the case on the merits. We've done this today. We've done this over the last two months at event after event, whether it be public or private. The President has met with probably 70 or 80 members individually now or in small groups. He's talked to probably that many more on the phone. We'll just see where we go from here.
Q Joe, African leaders are meeting in Nigeria right now, discussing the troubles in Sierra Leone. Why will the White House not put on the table of ground troops right now?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the United States is working very closely with both the U.N. and with the regional leaders in Western Africa. They are, as you said, meeting as we speak, or were meeting this morning -- they may have broken, but I believe they're still meeting in Nigeria. And we've made it very clear that we are willing to supply logistical support. We're not considering combat troops. This is an issue that we believe should be dealt with by the regional leaders, and we're going to work very closely with them to provide the kind of support that we can.
Q Joe, a follow-up on the same line. Two years ago the President went to Africa to somewhat -- to try to help stabilize democratic rule in many of those countries over there. What is the thought at the White House as to all of these uprisings in these countries -- Zimbabwe and in Sierra Leone? I mean, especially since he went there to help stabilize the continent?
MR. LOCKHART: These are longstanding and individual, in many cases, ethnic-based problems. I'm not going to try to roll them all up and draw one conclusion, except for --
Q But he went to Rwanda to help --
MR. LOCKHART: -- except for the work that that United States is engaged in in promoting economic reform and democracy is hard work. And we're going to continue to stay at it.
Q Joe, he traveled to Rwanda to try to help with that ethnic fight there, and to send an example from that tour -- I mean, it didn't work, apparently.
MR. CROWLEY: That is why Holbrooke is in the region right now.
MR. LOCKHART: Listen. If this was easy, the President wouldn't have needed to go and there wouldn't be a problem. These are very longstanding, difficult problems that our -- it is in our interest to help the regional leaders work through. And whether it's with Ambassador Holbrooke's mission, with the work that the President's Special Envoy Reverend Jackson has done, the work the President has done, personally -- he's been personally involved in many of these things -- and we're going to continue to stay on --
Q -- Holbrooke suggests ground troops, could ground troops go in?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, we are not, in the context of Sierra Leone, considering combat troops. We are talking actively with the U.N., with the Bangladeshis; we will discuss, my guess is, with the regional leaders what kind of help we can provide as far as airlift, logistics, to support their efforts.
Q Joe, back on China. Is the President in touch with any of the world leaders, or any reaction from them on --
MR. LOCKHART: I know that the President has an opportunity in his conversations with world leaders. I think his primary focus over the last month or two has been on the domestic front and on dealing with congressional leaders and members of Congress, because the ball is squarely in our court right now as far as whether we're going to take the steps we need to.
Q You said earlier that the evidence in China shows that economic reform has grown over the years that we've been giving them annual MFN, and will only grow more if we give them permanent. Do you think the same thing is true for China's human rights record?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we have made the judgment that engaging China, getting them into a rule-based organization, will have the effect of promoting economic reform and will have the effect of allowing us to continue to press our case in human rights.
Q I'm asking you, has it?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, obviously, China has a mixed record here, and it's a case that we've pressed. We were in the U.N. in Geneva -- what -- a month ago, pressing the case on human rights. So the question now before us is, what's the best way to move forward. And we believe the best way to move forward is remain engaged, get them involved in the WTO, a rules-based organization, and not disengage and isolate.
Q Is the White House going to introduce legislation this week that gives subsidies to banks that lend to poor neighborhoods?
MR. LOCKHART: Secretary Summers announced yesterday a program that Congressman LaFalce and Senator Sarbanes introduced into Congress this week. And it's basically a $30-million initiative to try to get people who are not participating in the banking system into the banking system. It's done through providing incentives to financial institutions, to offer low-cost first accounts to Americans, and offering incentives for financial institutions to expand access to ATMs, the Internet and other means of electronic means of access to cash, as well as launching a public service campaign.
There's a group of Americans who are not currently in the banking system, that we believe it is in everyone's interest to get into that system.
Q Joe, do you have the votes now on PNTR?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think that we've made progress over the last two months in making the case. The President, as even his harshest critics in Congress have recognized, has worked very hard and has been effective in making the case. But we're not there yet, we still have more work to do. And it's going to be a very busy next two weeks.
Q Did the White House ask the former Presidents to write that letter?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, sure did.
Q Do you know when the last time that Presidents Ford and Carter were here together?
MR. LOCKHART: Ford and Carter here together?
Q Was it NAFTA, or was it since then?
MR. LOCKHART: No, there was some other -- were they here?
MR. CROWLEY: For Hussein's funeral they were together.
MR. LOCKHART: We'll have to check. I have a memory of them being in for some event here.
Q China's ambassador to the U.S. -- to every member of Congress and also to the President that if Congress fails on this vote, there will be serious consequences between China and U.S. relations. Are you taking it as a threat or warning?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think we believe that this is an important part of our relationship with China. I mean, they will have to speak for themselves in how they want to articulate this. But we believe it would be a mistake to turn our back now and to disengage. And this would be a step toward disengaging.
Q What are the immediate consequences the President was talking about we would see if this were rejected?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think overall we would continue to move down a track with a one-sided trade relations with China.
Q -- immediate impact. Not 10 years, not 10 days, we would see the consequences of this immediately.
MR. LOCKHART: We certainly would see a taking a step back in a very important relationship for the United States -- U.S.-Chinese relations. We'd certainly see a step back in economic. China is only growing as an economic force in the world, and we have to decide, we're faced with a decision whether we want to live in an economic trading relationship where our market remains open and their market remains closed, or whether we want to level the playing field.
Q Joe, some months back when Republicans were the main opponents to PNTR and to the WTO agreement, the rhetoric coming from this podium and other areas of the White House was particularly pointed. Now that a lot of the opposition is coming from the Democrats, the President is heard to say that the people who oppose this in Congress, where the opposition is coming from is particularly painful to me. Why doesn't he use the same pointed rhetoric to try to get the Democratic opposition on line?
MR. LOCKHART: Because he likes the Democrats better than the Republicans. (Laughter.)
Q -- to call congressmen in and basically lobby. So does he expect the former Presidents to apply individual pressure other than what they were doing today?
MR. LOCKHART: We certainly hope they will. We certainly hope they'll use their influence with members of Congress that they have good relationships with. We certainly hope and expect that Congress was watching this event today and could see all the distinguished Americans gathered together in support of this.
Q Joe, on Congressman Levin's parallel legislation, how many votes does the White House hope, realistically, that that legislation might actually bring, and substantively, what does it add to the agreement and the climate for the vote?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't know that we have a particular count as far as what we hope, and if we did, I'm just not getting into specifics. But we've said all along that we're looking for ways to broaden support for this, to address the concerns that individual members have articulated, and to move toward a successful vote on the legislation. So if this does address some of the concerns of members and -- does that, that will be a positive. But as far as trying to calculate how many votes, I just don't know.
Q Joe, the upcoming visit of President Mbeki, he's been very outspoken on the question -- on the seriousness of the AIDS situation in Africa -- it kind of dovetails with the CIA's national intelligence estimates recently on AIDS. Will this be a major subject of discussion? I mean, obviously, there are other things on their plate --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, there's obviously a number of bilateral issues, a number of regional issues, which I think we spent a little bit of time over the last week or so talking about here in the briefing room. But obviously, President Mbeki recognizes the terrible threat that AIDS poses not only to South Africa, but to Africa as a continent. So I do expect that there will be a discussion of not only his strategy for dealing with this problem, but also how the U.S. and other countries can help.
Q Joe, next week India will have 1 billion people, close to China. Now, this morning the President also mentioned, while talking on China trade with the U.S., but also mentioned India, how important India is in the future. Now, since the President came back and he has seen in India how progresses U.S. companies, how do you compare trade between the U.S. and India and U.S. and China on this special, this --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think what we try to do is avoid comparing and contrasting one country to another. I think the President made very clear on his trip to India how important India is, both as a trading partner and also as a strategic security ally of the United States. And I don't think that much is gained by trying to put these things in some sort of ranking.
Q At the beginning of the Clinton administration, the former Presidents were at the White House to head up a mammoth effort to pass the NAFTA. Now, at the end of the Clinton administration, the former Presidents are here in a mammoth effort to pass PNTR, which, as you admitted right now, probably couldn't pass. What does that tell you about how effective the Clinton administration has been in maintaining and expanding the domestic consensus for trade liberalization?
MR. LOCKHART: I'll tell you to ask me again in a couple weeks, and then I could give you an intelligent answer.
Q Joe, did the President know about the Bagley dinner for Elian?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Well, in retrospect, how appropriate was it, do you think, to parade the boy before a bunch of fundraisers? I mean, there's been some concerns that he'd been exploited in Miami.
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, let me make a couple points here. One is that I don't believe the boy should be exploited, and I think we've been very clear on that. I don't know the arrangements. I don't talk to his lawyers about what plans they have. So I just am in no position to really comment. But you know, let's be clear here -- he should not be exploited or paraded around for anyone.
I think, though, what I want to also make clear is that members of Congress, members of the Senate, have a responsibility to be responsible. And if any of you saw the comments that Senator Smith said, comparing his living arrangements in Wye to a concentration camp, that is so beyond the pale that it's breathtaking. And I think as the Republicans sit up in their caucus today, and they sit around with Senator Smith, who they have welcomed back into the fold, they ought to be as repulsed as everyone else in this country I think is.
Q Are you making an equation between what bringing in to the Bagleys and having picture taken there to what happened in Miami? Or are you saying they're different?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not. I'm saying that I don't have any basis, I don't know what the arrangements were, I don't know what the relationships are. But I'm making the point that the young boy should not be exploited.
Q So you do feel he was exploited in Miami?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm saying I have no information on it, I haven't talked --
Q In Miami?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we made the point before that in Miami there was a media circus atmosphere, and the idea of bringing the boy out and sitting down with reporters and doing videos, that certainly was close to the exploitative line.
Q But you don't feel the Bagley dinner reached that level?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know anything about the arrangements. I don't know anything about what I read in the paper, and I don't always trust everything I read in the paper.
Q Joe, there were some concerns that a number of prominent people were so eager to meet Elian, that it was an enticement to maybe raise funds for the Democrats -- you know, here's the boy, you get to meet him --
MR. LOCKHART: What basis do you have for alleging that? Do you have any evidence, or are you just --
Q Well, why else would a bunch of 20, very rich Democratic fundraisers want to be at a house to meet Elian Gonzalez?
MR. LOCKHART: If you have a basis for alleging something, allege it; otherwise, let's move on.
Q But that's not a concern the White House has?
MR. LOCKHART: Otherwise, let's move on. If you have a basis for alleging something, allege it. But let's not just throw suggestions out and see what sticks on the wall. Because, if we do, we might have stories like we had last Friday, which I think many of you were so proud of.
Q Did anyone at the White House have any knowledge of the dinner that you know of?
MR. LOCKHART: What? No.
Q What story last Friday?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, the espionage -- embarrassing espionage. (Laughter.)
Q Thanks for reminding us. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. That had a lot of legs.
Q Could I return to Sierra Leone? I'm from the United Kingdom, and you said that it should be resolved at regional levels.
MR. LOCKHART: Right.
Q That's not a view now that is taken in other parts of the world. We're going to be sending paratroops. Is the United States ruling out all kind of action of that kind?
MR. LOCKHART: No, the United States -- I think the troops that were sent in were sent in to secure the airport. And we are talking about what's appropriate from our point of view as far as logistical support. I don't know that there are any troops sent in from anyplace outside of the region that are going in to do on-the-ground peacekeeping or combat.
Q You're not ruling out ground --
MR. LOCKHART: I've answered that question three times here.
Q Can you just give us a little more detail on the work that went on with the former Presidents previous to them coming here? For instance, did they pick their own topic that they wanted to talk about, or did the White House say, you know, we'd like you talk about this or that?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think certainly we had discussions about wanting them to come here and express their support, but I think the former Presidents were quite capable of making the case in their own terms.
Q Has the President been in touch with Kofi Annan on the African turbulence?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that the President has talked to him recently, but I'm certain -- Secretary Albright met with him yesterday, right? -- yes, with Kofi yesterday, so we've been in touch.
Q Joe, how did Governor Ventura of Minnesota -- do you know how that invitation was extended?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't know how it was formerly extended. But the President met with Governor Ventura privately last week when we were in Minnesota, and Governor Ventura indicated to the President then that he was a strong supporter of PNTR, of opening up the Chinese market, and indicated that once his legislature broke, that he would have more time to focus on this. And I think they've gone out for the session -- yes. So I think it's now -- so I would expect that you'll be seeing more of Governor Ventura on this issue, and that we'll work very closely with him.
Q Were any other governors invited?
MR. LOCKHART: I'd have to check. I don't know. I don't know. Okay, thank you.
END 12:25 P.M. EDT