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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 16, 2000
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                              JOE LOCKHART

                    The James S. Brady Briefing Room

12:35 P.M. EDT

MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone. Let me bring you up to date on the schedule. The President, at -- is it 1:30 p.m.? At 2:00 p.m., I'm sorry. At 2:00 p.m. today, the President will make a statement of support for a provision within the defense authorization bill providing for prescription drug benefit for military retirees over 65. That is part of an overall effort that the President will mention to provide that benefit to all Americans over 65.

At 4:20 p.m. the President will depart the White House and will travel to Albany, New York to attend the New York State Nominating Convention for the Democratic Party that is expected to nominate the First Lady this evening. The President is not expected to speak at the convention. I do expect at that at the reception after the convention he will have something to say, and that will be open to a pool. He will then travel on to Chappaqua and overnight there and continue on with his previously announced schedule tomorrow, going to Connecticut.


Q Joe, was the President scheduled to have a meeting with Nelson Mandela today or this week?

MR. LOCKHART: I expect it's Thursday, right? Thursday, he will have a meeting.

Q Joe, you've got an empty chair here. Helen Thomas has announced her intention to leave UPI today. Do you have any thoughts from the President or yourself on it?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I expect the President will have something to say about that at the 2:00 p.m. event, so let me leave it to the President to speak for himself. Speaking for myself, this room will not be the same without Helen sitting in the UPI chair. I know she's been there for longer than I've been alive, and knows more than I'll ever know about this business, about this building, about this town.

And I think, speaking for the entire White House, we will miss her and we certainly hope she will find a way in all the new ventures that she will be pursuing to have business here and come here and cross-question me and bug me like she's done since the day I took this job.

Other questions?

Q Joe, it looks like Charlie Rangel is going to announce his support for China PNTR later this afternoon. What's this do to your efforts to pass it?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't want to presume anything. I understand he's got a news conference scheduled for 2:15 p.m. I did see the remarks in the paper this morning that were made -- that suggested that he would announced his decision by this afternoon. I know the House Ways and Means Committee will take up this issue tomorrow, so it's logical that he'll want to get out ahead of that.

So without trying to preempt anything that the Congressman will say, I think it's important -- it's an important step in the process that the Ways and Means Committee sends a statement that there is support in Congress for extending PNTR to China. And I think, as we've said over the last couple weeks, we are making progress, we do believe that the support is growing, but that we're not there yet, and we've still got more work to do. I think other than that, I think I'll just withhold saying anything until the Congressman makes his announcement.

Q When you say that you're not there yet, how close are you, though?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we have refrained up until now into getting into numbers and to vote counts, and I think we'll stick there, because I just don't see any useful purpose in that. Wendell, if you want to try to finish.

Q Let me come at this from another approach. David Bonior, today, said that China is the Bobby Knight of trade deals -- they misbehave and misbehave and misbehave, and keep being allowed to do so. What will compel them to abide by the rules of the WTO that has not compelled them to abide by bilateral agreements, or other international trade regulations in the past?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we believe that we've set up a system where we will have an aggressive and affective monitoring system, and that overall it makes more sense to have China in a rules-based organization than to isolate China. We will work very hard to make sure that the trade regulations are complied with. We have a system set up to deal with that, that has, I think, generated a good bit of support up on Capitol Hill.

But, overall, it's a fundamental and, I guess, philosophical question about how best you think you can go about working with China to ensure that they do abide by these. And we think having them in the WTO, in a rules-based organization, has a number of benefits, and there are a number of problems with taking the route of trying to isolate them.

Q But, Joe, the monitoring system that you're referring to is something that you just developed, after you made the agreement to let China into the WTO. What is it about China's being in the WTO that's going to make them play by the rules in a way they haven't played by other rules?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, if you have specifics as far as trade negotiations, we can get into a debate about that. But we think in a general sense, we believe that it promotes the kind of reform that we've been looking for in China, to have them in a rules-based organization like the WTO, rather than turning our back and isolating them.

Q Joe, can you say in general what the White House is doing behind the scenes to support the vote or to push for passage of the PNTR?

Q One on one?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President today will -- before the day is over, will probably meet with half a dozen members of Congress in one-on-one sessions. He has made a number of public statements. He's made a number of phone calls. I think there's a group of people here working to make sure that any member of Congress who has questions about why we believe this is in our national interest, to extend PNTR to China, those questions get answered.

So I think it's on a whole -- there's a wide array of efforts being undertaken, both publicly and member-to-member -- or administration-to-member.

Q Who will he be meeting with today?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to go into who he's meeting with. There are people who obviously are undecided, and we think they should have the ability to make up their mind without the glare of the White House stakeout.

Q Can I ask if they will be Ways and Means members --

MR. LOCKHART: I honestly don't know what the committee makeup is. I just know that they're undecided.

Q Can you give us some sense of the scope of the PNTR effort, because you know there's been some criticism from folks on the Hill that say this war room effort is marshalling an excessive amount of resources and so forth.

MR. LOCKHART: I think it's -- given the fact that the President has correctly identified this as one of the most important votes that we'll take in decades, that we've allocated appropriate resources to it.

Q What is he doing publicly between now and the vote? Any other high-profile things?

MR. LOCKHART: I expect that -- his commencement address tomorrow at the Coast Guard will focus mostly on new threats we face in the 21st century, whether it be cyberterrorism, proliferation. But I expect he will take some time to talk about the importance of our relationship with China and PNTR, and at the end of the week, I think we'll have some opportunities to address it again.

Q No TV address or anything?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have anything more than I've not had for the last few days on this.

Q Any of the members meeting with him today, have they been in the groups that have already been down here before?


MR. SIEWERT: Yes, of course. I mean, we've already talked to almost every undecided member.

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. So I think now it's just a question of we've had people in groups in sizes from anywhere between six to eight, to ten to 20. I think members now want to have a chance to sit and talk face-to-face with the President, and we want the opportunity to make sure they understand how important we think this is.

Q Joe, as far as this year goes, is it far to say that this PNTR vote is the most heavily lobbied, heavily battled out -- the administration's going to be involved in?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, certainly, it's in the first half of the session. It's probably the most watched debate and vote that the Congress will have. You know, as we get to the end of the year, as they take up things like prescription drugs and patients' bill of rights and gun safety -- you know, who really knows?

I think in terms of our mounting an effort, in terms of trying to make the case for any one issue, I doubt that there will be anything that exceeds this when the year is over.

Q Well, in that vein, some of your ambassadors to Capitol Hill have been arguing to undecided Democrats that if they want the President to have leverage on prescription drugs and the other legislative -- education -- other Democratic priorities, that he better not lose on this one, because then the lame-duck labels would come out. Do you agree with that?

MR. LOCKHART: We have ambassadors to the Hill? They got through the Senate? Nobody else is.

I'm avoiding answering that. Listen, I think the President has made clear in his public statements that he thinks that this is good for the country, and that he is making a very strong case on this. As far as -- you know, the particular political arguments, I'll just leave that to whoever those ambassadors are.

Q At the risk you might not answer this -- (laughter) --

MR. LOCKHART: Save the tape, just put it on pause right here. (Laughter.)

Q Does the administration believe the Fed has any valid reason to take action to raise interest rates today?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President believes that the Chairman of the Federal Reserve has his job to do. He has his job to do; the President has his job to do. The President will continue to focus on fiscal discipline, paying down the national debt, and expects the Chairman of the Federal Reserve to go about his business.

Q To what extent -- Joe, to what extent will the President actively campaign for the New York Democratic Senate candidate?

MR. LOCKHART: I think he's done a number of events for the First Lady. He was at the announcement; he's been at several of the fundraisers. I expect, as we get closer to the election, he'll be out, he'll be active for Democrats around the country -- but I expect, you know, with a particular interest in the state of New York.

Q And what's his role there tonight?

MR. LOCKHART: His role is to be there to support the First Lady. I think there -- I mean, there's really sort of two important themes of the convention tonight. One is looking backwards; I think tonight will be the last state Democratic convention that Daniel Patrick Moynihan goes to as a Senator, and I think there are a lot of people who will be paying tribute to that. I expect the President will mention that in the reception afterwards. But also looking forward to the important work that the First Lady has in front of her, and making her case to the people of New York about her vision for the future.

I think the President genuinely felt, when they got up this morning, that this was an important day for her, and something he wanted to share.

Q Just to follow up on that, we thought the President was going to put some attention on judicial nominees tonight, and speak to the MALDEF group. Is he still going to do that, or is he going to find another -- to do that?

MR. LOCKHART: No, he -- I expect Secretary Richardson, or some other from the administration, to fill in for him, and that we'll reschedule another day with this group.

Q Joe, do you know if the President is yet a registered voter in the state of New York?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't. I don't know the answer.

Q Can you take that?

MR. LOCKHART: We'll check, yes, absolutely. I know Jim Kennedy has been looking at that. I don't know the answer.

Q Joe, in a op-ed piece this weekend, Henry Kissinger argued that when the President goes to Moscow, he hoped that this would be essentially the beginnings of a dialogue with Putin, and not a summation, and that the President wouldn't do anything that would tie the hands of a future administration. Any reaction to his argument?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think the President have any intention of tying the hands of future administrations. We have an opportunity here, we have the first Democratic transition government for Russia. We have a leader who has said that he wants to make progress on arms control, and that's certainly in our national interests -- our national security interest to do that, and the President looks forward to that discussion.

Q Is the National Security Advisor traveling to Moscow this weekend?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. He leaves tomorrow.

Q Is he going anywhere else, than Moscow?

MR. CROWLEY: He's going to Israel to receive an award from the Tel Aviv --

Q There is no plan for Taiwan?

MR. LOCKHART: I'll just take a rest here. (Laughter.)

Q Who will represent the administration --

MR. LOCKHART: I got that one. I know that answer to that one. (Laughter.) I expect there will be an announcement on that shortly. (Laughter.) That's what you would have said, P.J., right? Good.

Q He's not going to test the Kiev to Tokyo route, is he? (Laughter.)

Q In efforts to limit -- to put a deadline on the U.S. troop commitment in Kosovo. Talk about that a bit. Do you envision seeing the troops there beyond July 1, 2001?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that we have an artificial time line. We have important work. They've made significant progress over the last year, as far as restoring the people of Kosovo to what is beginning to resemble more normal life for them, as opposed to the ethnic cleansing that they suffered at the hands of Milosevic. I think this case is best made by people like the Secretary of Defense, who was out today talking about the terrible consequences of this kind of legislation; by General Clark, who has written the Armed Services Committee. And I think they make the case effectively, that this is the wrong message being sent at the wrong time.

Thank you.

END 12:50 P.M. EDT