THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:40 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon. Let me start with a statement from the President. We will release it on paper in a few moments.
The terrorist bombing of the 16th Baptist Church in 1963 ended the lives of four young girls and broke the hearts of millions of Americans. To this day the deaths of Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carol Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley stand out as a powerful symbol of the terrible toll of racial hatred.
I applaud the continuing efforts of those who have worked so hard to see that justice is done in this case. We must not rest until all those responsible for this horrific crime are held accountable for what they have done.
Q Is the President concerned about how long it took to make arrests in this case?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think, as we all know, in some cases, it takes time to bring those to justice who are deserving of justice. I think the message here is we won't rest until we do that in this and a number of other cases.
Q Joe, what was involved in getting Chairman Greenspan to come over and make the appearance? Did he volunteer?
MR. LOCKHART: No, we called him and asked him. That was what was involved, we called him up and asked him. And he, as a strong supporter of the PNTR vote, a positive PNTR vote, because of the reasons he articulated -- the impact on our economy, the impact on China -- I think he was happy to come over and make the statement he did today.
Q Do you know if the President asked him, himself?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I believe he was asked by someone on the team.
Q Quick procedural. Do you know how long the meeting with Mandela will last, and will he come out afterwards?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know how long it will last -- about 45 minutes -- P.J. knows about how long it was. I don't expect he'll come out and talk to you afterwards, though.
Q No, he said he would.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay. (Laughter.)
Q He usually does that -- he loves --
MR. LOCKHART: Okay. He indicated to us as he walked in.
Q He started to come talk to us before he went in.
MR. LOCKHART: Is this any more interesting for you guys than it is for me? (Laughter.) Just let me know.
Q Jesse Jackson left to make peace in Africa --
MR. LOCKHART: That's simplifying the mission a little bit, but okay. (Laughter.) I'll stipulate to that.
Q Nelson Mandela is much more famous in Africa, respected. He didn't initiate or ever thought of sending him to initiate peace --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen. I think Jesse Jackson is the President's Special Envoy and has done important work in a number of areas in Africa. This is an important mission, given the current situation. I think President Mandela, now as a private citizen, is focusing his efforts on the Burundi peace process. He'll be briefing the President on that. And I think that's what he has chosen to focus on, and we're glad that -- and I think most of Africa is glad that he's able to do that.
Q Joe, anything from the networks yet on your request for air time Sunday?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I mean, I understand it's sweeps time for them and it's an important -- important to their own programming, so I don't know whether they will or not. I expect that, if not the networks, the cable networks will definitely cover this, so we'll get our message out.
Q Joe, I understand the Chief of Staff either is or had gone to Capitol Hill to discuss Los Alamos compensation with the Congress. What's the administration prepared to do? Any idea how much this will be?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me do them in reverse order. No, I think it's impossible at this point to know what the cost will be. The damage estimates are still relatively unknowable at this point. As you all know, the fire is still burning.
The Chief of Staff is on the Hill as we speak talking to Senator Domenici. I expect there will be other conversations. I expect OMB Director Lew to be involved in those discussions.
Let me say this. I know that I don't want to preempt Secretary Babbitt and his report, so I don't want to get into what his report will indicate. But having had a chance to look at that, let me say that the administration will work to ensure that all who have sustained losses in this fire are fully compensated. We're consulting with Congress on what's the best approach for getting compensation to people as quickly as possible. We had -- Secretary Babbitt was here last evening talking with senior administration officials who work on these kinds of issues, and we will continue that effort to make sure that those who have suffered here are fully and fairly compensated.
Q Does that mean the administration is accepting liability on this matter?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we're going to look at what's the best way to move forward in compensating. There are a variety of ways, both legislative and others. I don't want to get into a legal argument here that I'm not prepared to argue. But I think the President has indicated that for the people who have suffered here, they should be fairly compensated.
Q Joe, does the government have insurance against something like this? Would it need to be an emergency appropriation?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that's what we're going to work with Congress on. I mean, I'm certain there are some people out there who have their own insurance, but there will be costs above and beyond that. There are a variety of ways to do this. Legislatively is one of them. We're, as we speak, talking to Congress on what's the best way to move forward.
Q How many people and how much money are you talking about total?
MR. LOCKHART: We don't know how much we're talking about, as I said at the beginning, because the fire is still going. I think the last number I saw was 265 or so homes that were destroyed. There are others that have also suffered because of this fire, so that's something that's ongoing.
Let me also say that FEMA is currently, and has been on the ground now for some time, working with people as far as getting at their immediate needs. But I think we are committed to working with Congress to find a way that we can quickly make sure that those who have suffered here are compensated.
Q Joe, Los Alamos is really a company town. You've got to keep the laboratory up and running there. Are there any plans to move temporary housing into the area so that you can get employees back in there?
MR. LOCKHART: That is a level of knowledge that I don't have. I know that there is a lot of work going on, interagency, whether it be FEMA, the Department of Energy, the Department of Interior. And I think those questions are best put there.
Q Joe, has the President expressed an interest in going there anytime soon?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President certainly has wanted to be briefed on this and kept up to date, and wants to do everything we can. I think our concern at this point is that we not get in the way of the firefighters who are doing important work. So I think, at this point, that's the priority and we will respect that.
Q To what degree should the park director there, the gentleman who ordered the controlled burning to begin with, be held personally responsible? Or is --
MR. LOCKHART: I think that's clearly a question to be put to the Interior Department and the review board that Secretary Babbitt talked about yesterday.
Q Going back to China trade, can you say where you are in terms of votes, and express your level of confidence right now at this point?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I think where we are is, we had a milestone yesterday, we had a good vote in the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, that expressed strong support for PNTR from a committee of both Democrats and Republicans who know this issue, are more closely involved in this issue than any other committee, arguably, in Congress. That was an important vote for us.
But to put it in perspective, we need a majority to extend PNTR, to get the benefits from WTO. And we're not there yet, so we have important work to do. We have five or six days to continue to make this argument. We're going to make it later on today. I expect we'll make it tomorrow; I expect we'll find an opportunity Sunday evening to make it. The President will make it publicly. He'll talk to members today in a one-on-one setting. He'll probably have the opportunity in the bill signing to grab a couple of the members and make sure that they understand how strongly he feels about this. And we'll see where we get next week.
Q Do you know how many votes short you are at -- how many votes you need?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the people who are working this most closely in the White House have a sense of where most people are. There are a number of undecided members, but I'm not going to get into a listing of number or members at this point, only to say that we've got more work to do.
Q At this time, who are -- more Republicans or more Democrats?
MR. LOCKHART: You know, I think the leaders of both parties have given a good indication of where their parties are, and that there are still some undecideds. So I think we'll have to wait until next Wednesday to find out how it breaks out.
Q Joe, how many one-on-one sessions do you think the President will have today with members?
MR. LOCKHART: It may be as much as a half-dozen. It may be a little less, depending on his schedule and voting schedule. I also expect him to see up to four or five members that are here for the bill signing, that are in the process of trying to make up their minds. And he hopes to have the opportunity to talk to them for a few moments.
Q Also, since he started this one-on-one sort of --these series of one-on-one meetings, in total how many lawmakers, roughly, has he talked to?
MR. LOCKHART: What's your guess, Jake?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, just on one-on-ones?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
MR. SIEWERT: Probably a half-dozen. But he's met with probably, close to 100 --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, my guess is, in groups he's talked to anywhere between 90 and 100, in groups of a dozen to two dozen. He did probably a half-dozen of these yesterday, just one-on-one sessions. He's had a chance to, at a variety of events, talk to members --
MR. SIEWERT: Tuesday.
MR. LOCKHART: Tuesday, I'm sorry. Tuesday, yes. I think he's had a chance to, when we're flying to events and members are on the plane, talk to members.
So I think what's clear is, he's had -- by the time the vote takes place, anyone who didn't early on come out and say that they were definitely for it and there was no way of changing their mind, or definitely against it and no way of changing their mind, would have had a chance to talk to the President, either on the phone, on a plane, in his office, in their office, or anyplace else we can find.
Q What is he emphasizing in these meetings, Joe? Is it the same thing we're hearing publicly?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think he's emphasizing that this makes sense on two fronts. On the economic front, it's one of the key elements of keeping our economic prosperity going, and the benefits are truly one way, benefitting us. The Chinese market is already open. And as, I think -- if you heard him today, he's also emphasizing the national security argument.
Q Is he planning to announce an executive order on trade adjusting systems anytime soon? Bentsen and Lucas, two members, seem to think that he's about to do so.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know about that.
Q Joe, what's the main hurdle on PNTR? Is it human lives, or slave labor, the U.S. labor --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the main hurdle is getting over 218. And that's what we're focused on.
Q Hyde Park, on Sunday -- is he going to make some public remarks, and would he talk about WTO, in advance of his evening broadcast?
MR. LOCKHART: He might -- Hyde Park, as I understand it, is a DLC event that highlights new Democrats, and some of the rising stars around the country in the -- quote, unquote --"New Democratic Movement." He'll have a chance to make some remarks, and I'm fairly confident that the subject of next week's vote will come up.
Q Joe, this weekend, I guess, the Taiwanese President-elect makes an inaugural address, and how concerned is the U.S. that if the Chinese don't like what they hear, that they could say things that could jeopardize getting undecideds to support this deal?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that China entered this negotiation well aware of their own self-interest as far as why it was important for China to get into WTO. They understand the dynamic of moving forward, that Congress will take this up next week. And I think it makes no sense for me to try to speculate on what they may or may not do.
Q Just to follow up, though, has the U.S. government in any way conveyed a message that, look, we're a few days before a vote, and anything you say could be --
MR. LOCKHART: Certainly, none that has been made aware to me.
Q In the bill signing, why do it this week? Why not wait until next week when Mbeke is here?
MR. LOCKHART: We think this is an important piece of legislation. We've worked for two years or more on this. We wanted to do it as soon as possible. And the first day we could get the right mix of members to come down who have worked hard on this, to sign it, was today. We actually tried to do it earlier this week.
Q Did you want to get it on record before the China vote?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it's an important piece of the President's overall economic policy, the open markets around the world, that are in the interests of both the United States and the markets and the countries we're working with. And I think it helps make the case to members, and it makes the case, I think, to the American public as a whole on our overall strategy. So, to the extent that we can get this signed into law before we take the China vote, is a positive.
Q On Kosovo legislation, the House and the Senate are both moving amendments to limit our involvement in Kosovo, concerned about our allies not contributing. Short of legislation, is there any other way the administration can guarantee that the allies will be contributing?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the bottom line on this is, I think the -- in practice what some of the members on the Hill were trying to do, as far as encouraging the allies to meet their obligations, has already worked. I mean, I think you can look at the numbers and see that, for instance, since the beginning of March, the EU's contribution to the Kosovo consolidated budget is more than the U.S. has donated since the U.N. mission began. So they are meeting their obligations. To the extent that this encouragement from Capitol Hill was made, it has been effective. We think at this point to try to codify this, though, would be counterproductive.
Q Joe, is that a definite veto if it reaches the President's desk that way?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let's put it this way. We believe firmly that anything that undermines the mission in Kosovo, which we view as an important one, the President cannot support or sign. And we believe that the Senate version, as discussed now, undermines the mission.
Q Joe, the White House was in court this morning, the appeals court, arguing that the Privacy Act shouldn't cover the White House. Can you explain why, if the rest of the government operates under the Privacy Act, having it here would hamstring the operation?
MR. LOCKHART: I believe that those arguments were made, and I'm going to withhold any comment or judgment on that until the court has ruled.
Q Joe, when the President wrote and said publicly eight years ago that permanent normal trade relations with China should be conditional upon human rights reforms and moves towards democracy, was he just wrong in holding that position?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President has had the opportunity to look at this issue, and has had the opportunity, over the last seven years, to make a judgment that as we look to our relations at the beginning of the 21st century with China, that it is very much in the U.S. national interest to move forward with PNTR, to move forward with getting China into a rules-based organization that is both in our economic interest and our national security interest.
Q Is there any linkage in overcoming the objections in PNTR that are similar to the objections that were expressed to the Africa bill? Or are they just two separate -- apples and oranges?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the Africa bill indicates that when we work together we can sort through issues that threatened to hold up the bill. We've been working very hard on the China bill. I don't know that you can link one with the other, except to make the case that we can work through these issues, air concerns by members and still go forward in a positive way.
Q Joe, in Northern Ireland, there's been a delay in a meeting that was supposed to be Saturday. It's postponed for a week. Is the White House on top of this, or are you concerned about this delay?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're certainly aware of the situation. We have pushed very hard, as evidenced by the President's statement yesterday that we released out of Connecticut -- we will continue to stay engaged and work to make sure that the Good Friday Accords are implemented. It's been a high priority for the President and will continue to be.
Q Joe, yesterday, -- experts testified that most of the major U.S. city police departments are corrupt, or what they call "dirty cops" and wrongful convictions. Do you have any --
MR. LOCKHART: Are you really going to put a story in the India Globe about this? (Laughter.) I mean, if you are, I'll answer it, but, I mean, if you're not -- I mean, if you're getting paid by the question, I'm not -- (laughter). Haven't seen the report. I think that it's an important issue, but I don't really want to comment on it without seeing the report.
Q Joe, what's the event tomorrow? The non-fundraiser?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President will have the chance, while he's in Philadelphia, to highlight some of his education agenda.
Q Anything specific that he's honing in on tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, and we'll tell you tomorrow.
Q Sorry for India -- (Laughter.)
Q Joe, do you have any comment on -- you had a question?
MR. LOCKHART: You're not sitting in for Lester, are you? This isn't going to show up on a radio station? (Laughter.)
Q No. In Pakistan, the chief justice which was sworn as loyals to accept General Musharraf, they have said this week that what General Musharraf did to overthrow the Sharif government was justified, and they have said that now General Musharraf will stay on -- can stay on for three years and 90 days before he can hold any elections. Now, number one. Number two, the President had invited the Prime Minister of India and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to Washington. Did he also invite Musharraf to drop by here in the White House?
MR. LOCKHART: No to that question, and we would disagree with the conclusion drawn by the justices.
Q Joe, do you have anything on the New York Times story, a professor saying that there was a major flaw in the Pentagon's anti-missile plan, and he's calling for the White House to appoint a panel to investigate what he says was a cover-up?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the person who's made this argument is a known critic of national missile defense. I would send you over to the Pentagon to get a more detailed response to the concerns he raised. We are in the process now or waiting for the effort that the Pentagon has undertaken to look at NMD, and looking for a recommendation by later in the year. But I think for a more detailed response, you should go to the Pentagon.
MR. CROWLEY: Also, the ballistic missile organization is going to prepare a detailed response to --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, that response will be prepared and provided to Dr. Postal, and, I assume, at some point to people who look like you.
Q Joe, yesterday Daschle and Lott went at each other pretty verbally and out front there in showing their disagreements had really surfaced. How does the President view what's left of the legislative agenda -- patients' bill of rights, gun control, and so forth? It's all in trouble, isn't it?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think sometimes you have to fight to get what you want. And I think that there's a limit to the Democratic Party's, and the Democratic leader in the Senate's, patience on important issues.
I mean, it's not hard to figure out what's going on in some of these cases. All through the appropriations process, we now have evidence that the NRA's long hand is at work, as they try to keep the government from providing any sort of -- proceeding on any sort of program that provides a preference for gun manufacturers that act responsibly. We couldn't get a non-binding -- the Senate could not get a non-binding sense of the Senate resolution on whether the conferees should meet and we should move forward, just move forward on the process, take a vote -- not enact legislation, just take a vote and get it to the floor on sensible gun safety legislation without it deteriorating into a knock-down drag-out fight.
And I think there are times when the best way to move forward is to work peacefully together, and there are times, when you need to, you need to fight for what you believe in. And I think that's what the Senate Democrats are doing.
Q Joe, the President talked about rounding up Democratic votes on the China trade deal. Is there any concern that they will pay a political price for that? He's talked in the past about when he got Democrats to vote for the assault weapons ban, and the '93 budget deal, that some of them were defeated. He's not up for re-election this time, but some of these folks are going to be up against Big Labor, who will be -- you know, angry with them. Is there any concern that they may be sort of sacrificing themselves?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think as this issue gets discussed, and there's more debate on this issue, the wisdom of moving forward and getting China into WTO will become more apparent. And I think he believes, as he has stated, that it's in the best interests of Democrats to come forward and be positive on this. And for those who take a different view, I think you'll find that in the vast majority of cases, if not all the cases, I think labor will be comfortable with Democrats on a wide variety of issues, which is how they make up their minds on who they're going to support. And you know, we'll see where it goes.
Q Is that why the President's making the speech on Sunday evening, to give some House members political cover?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think the President thinks this is an extremely important issue. He wants to make sure that he has a chance to articulate why a positive vote on PNTR is in our economic and national security interests. And I think he is also responding to, as I said this morning, a number of members of Congress who indicated it would be useful for him to go out and make the case in the most public way you can, and that is to talk to the country from the Oval Office.
Q Are you saying then that the President is not concerned that even a victory on PNTR might cause labor to be cool in the fall to supporting the presidential ticket?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President and the Democrats have laid out a wide agenda of issues, from raising the minimum wage to getting a patients' bill of rights, to getting prescription drugs for Medicare, to being fiscally prudent, and a pro-environment message, that when labor looks at that and looks at Democrats who believe in those things, I think they'll find a lot more areas where they agree than where they disagree.
Q Has there been a shortage of occasions or a lack of opportunity for the President to get his message out on PNTR that's leading him to look for this address?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think he's had a lot of opportunities, he's received a lot of coverage when he's gone out and talked on China. But this is a close vote and I think whatever your -- whether you're counting votes or doing any other thing where you need a majority to win, you always want to make sure you've done everything you can. And that's what led us to decide to do Sunday night.
Q In the past year, as the President has emphasized gun control more and more, there has been a surge in guns sales; also a surge in membership in the NRA. Does he find that frustrating?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I think the outrageous rhetoric and offensive rhetoric of the NRA appeals to a very small number of Americans. And to those who find it appealing, they're in the right organization. As far as their influence, we're working hard to make sure that the national interest is heard, rather than a small special interest. And that's what this debate is all about, and that's why, having hundreds of thousands of moms come to the Mall on Mother's Day is so important.
Q What about the surge in sales of guns? Part of the President's agenda is to not restrict sales, but I mean --
MR. LOCKHART: I think what the President has looked for is to have responsible manufacturing, marketing of firearms, have responsible use -- safe and responsible -- and most importantly, keep the guns out of wrong hands. He's done a lot on that as far as the Brady Bill, the assault weapons ban. The Republican leadership stands in the way of taking further steps. It's unclear at this point how long they will be able to sustain that position.
Q Regarding the question asked this morning, any other time the President has done a televised Oval Office address on a piece of legislation?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. He talked on February 15, '93, on announcing his economic program. On August 3, '93, he gave another speech on the economic program. On December 15, '94, a speech on his tax cut program. And on June 13th, 1995, a speech on his plan to balance the budget. So, yes, many times.
Q Not since '95
MR. LOCKHART: I kind of stopped, so that's sort of what I got from it. (Laughter.)
END 1:05 P.M. EDT