THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:47 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon. Let me just make one travel announcement. On Friday, May 26, the President will travel to Assateague National Seashore in Virginia to make an environmental announcement. He will helicopter there, departing the South Lawn at 12:00 noon. The event will be at 1:30 p.m. At this point, the event is in-town travel pool only. We're working on the facilities out there to see if we can make that an open press event. We'll let you know hopefully later today.
Q Does that coincide with the annual pony swim?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I hope not. Otherwise we're going to have a much bigger crowd than we anticipated, two and four-legged types.
The President will then return at 4:30 p.m. He will spend the holiday weekend at Camp David, departing either late Friday or early Saturday. He'll be back at the White House on Monday morning to attend annual Memorial Day events.
Okay, that's all I've got. That's what we've got. New York would have been better, for the crowd in the back, but -- yes?
Q How do things stand on PNTR?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have that much more to report to you than what we talked about this morning. I think the President has spent some time on this this morning. He's either met with or talked on the phone with a handful of members who are still making up their minds. I think as we said some months ago, we expected to be able to provide a good number of Democrats for this vote. I think the most accurate range or estimate was about 70 members. We expect when the vote's taken at the end of the day that the President will be able to deliver on the pledge that he made.
I think to put that in some perspective, if you look at the last major trade vote, which was fast track, as far as the Democratic Party, our vote was somewhere south of 40. So this involved a lot of work, a lot of time for the President, but I think we will get to the place where we thought we could be.
Q Does that mean you're going to win -- short of declaring victory now?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't declare that now because we're not there yet, and I can't, with any sort of certainty, talk about where the Republicans are. I know that they've made comments and I have no reason to have -- take any exception with any of what they've said. It's just that we've been talking to a lot of members who are making up their mind on the Democratic side on a regular basis, and not spending that kind of time on the Republican side. So I just don't know where they will come in.
Q Are you encouraged after the procedural vote? Are you encouraged after the recent procedural vote?
MR. LOCKHART: The rules vote? Yes -- I mean, the rule generally, at least in the majority party, will get a lot of support within the party because it is a procedural vote, so I don't know that we'd read too much into it. This is not a vote where we haven't spent a lot of time talking to everyone who is on the fence and is trying to make up their mind, so I don't know that you read too much into that. But I think with each call, with each meeting, with each session with -- whether it be Bill Daley or Steve Richetti here at the White House, or the others in the Cabinet, we're feeling better about getting to the number.
Q What has the President specifically been doing today?
MR. LOCKHART: I know he had -- we had one member down here today who he met with; he's been on the phone with others. He left the budget meeting and interrupted the budget meeting to excuse himself for a moment to talk to a member on the phone. And that's basically it. He's going to continue doing that through the afternoon as appropriate.
Q How many members has he talked to on the phone, do you know?
MR. LOCKHART: Just a handful. I don't have an exact number, but I think we're in the range of three or four at this point.
Q Why do they want to talk to him specifically, Joe? Is it others on the staff can't make the same arguments, or he's in a position to give them other things they want or --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the President is in a position to make the argument to demonstrate to members of the Democratic Caucus how important this is to him. And I think when you're a member of Congress making up your mind, you have every reason and every right to want to talk to the President about the issue, and not to some staff person.
Q Joe, obviously some members who decided at this late date to support this have come out with some projects in their districts. So I mean, how much did those projects play a role in convincing some of these members?
MR. LOCKHART: I think -- listen, I think you can go back and look at other legislative efforts and find that this one will be singularly marked by how much it was debated on the merits. And this was a very -- and continues to be very healthy and lively debate. Those who are against it are very much against it, and have made their case aggressively over the last few months. Those who are for it have done it quite forcefully on the other side. So I don't think that this is a case where it was the so-called horse-trading that is moving people. Certainly, some members -- and a very small number -- have raised particular issues that are important to the economics of their districts. And we believe that's appropriate; the President had addressed those in conversations with members. But this really has been a debate that's been marked by the merits on both sides.
Q Just to follow up on that -- but you're not saying -- there's been some horse-trading that's moved some members?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think -- certainly some members have talked about how this vote might impact their district, and to the extend that we can address those, we do. But there's been, I think -- if you look at previous, over time, legislative battles, this one I think will be looked at and remembered for being debated on the merits on two strongly held views.
Q How could this legislation, even hypothetically, hurt someone's district? Isn't it the White House's position that there would be no jobs lost here as a result of this?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, overall, the net benefit, and what we've always said is that this will be positive for our economy. That doesn't mean there aren't areas that might suffer some transition and have some issues that need to be addressed. But, overall, we believe strongly -- and I think a majority in Congress believe that this will be good and an important element of continuing the economic prosperity that we've enjoyed the last seven years.
Q Joe, one of the representatives, Representative Martin Frost of Texas, has publicly talked about what he wanted from the White House, and that was for the White House to talk to Northrup Grumman and not close the factory in his district. What did the White House say to Grumman, a private corporation, in regards to convincing them not to close that factory?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't really know. But if they've decided to stay there and Representative Frost looks upon this in a positive way, that's a good thing.
Q Joe, in his speech on the floor, Minority Leader Gephardt said today that the human rights record of China has not gotten better over the past few years, and that China hasn't earned permanent normal trade relations. Does the President just think Gephardt is wrong on this?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think we have a -- we both recognize what the situation is in China, but we do have a fundamental disagreement of how to move forward. I think the President has made this point very clearly in the dozens of speeches that he's now given on this subject. And we believe it's in the long-term interests of promoting the rule of law, democratic, economic reform, human rights, religious freedom to engage China, encourage them to participate and belong to rules-based organizations.
And that is a difference. I mean, there are a number of members of Congress who don't take that view in both parties. There is certainly a contingent of House Republicans who have argued strongly on religious freedom; others that have argued on human rights. I think it's a judgment you have to make, and it's certainly our hope that a majority of Congress will reach the same judgment we have.
Q Joe, does the President see a need to do something to bring people like Gephardt back together, to show some Democratic unity?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, listen, I think the great part about the Democratic Party is we're not afraid to disagree when we disagree, but we understand those things that bind us. And we have a very strong, positive agenda that differentiates ourselves from the Republicans this year and brings us together. And we're going to get right back at this. Tomorrow morning we'll be back out talking about our health care agenda with Democratic leaders. We're going to be talking about minimum wage, patients' bill of rights, prescription drugs for Medicare, gun safety, investing in education. These are issues that define the differences between the Democrats and the Republicans. And I think you'll find as we move on through this year that the issues that divide us will be completely overwhelmed by the issues that unite us.
Q So you're saying that no damage has been done to the unity of the Democratic Party by this?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm saying that the great thing about the Democratic Party is that we can agree to disagree on some issues, but we agree on the vast majority of issues. And it's my judgment that at the end of the day, at the end of this year, the Democratic Party will be more united than ever before.
Q What about healing rifts with labor and unions that are -- with Democrats normally?
MR. LOCKHART: I think you can apply the same model to that. The Democrats -- this President has worked very closely with labor on the vast majority of issues that they consider to be important, whether they be economic, social, whether it be about health care, whether it be about investing in education. There are issues on trade where we have disagreements, but that is the exception rather than the rule. And I expect the President to continue to work with labor, to work closely with labor on issues that are important to them. And I expect a strong relationship to continue.
Q If you were looking at PNTR and eventually its passage today, how would you evaluate it in terms of Clinton administration achievements?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President's approach to promoting economic prosperity is one of the most important things that has changed over the last seven years, as far as reducing the deficit, getting interest rates down, getting unemployment down. These are benefits that all Americans have enjoyed over the last seven years.
Opening markets abroad is a key part of his economic strategy. I think this is one of the most important votes on that front that's been taken. It's crucial to continue our economic prosperity, but it also has an added element of national security. China is obviously, no matter where you come on this -- no matter how you approach this debate, China is an important relationship for the United States and our national security moving into the future. And we believe this is an important step toward moving, as the President has said, moving China in the kind of direction we think they should go as far as democratic reform, economic reform and basic respect for human rights.
Q Joe, there seems to be a notable absence on the Hill of a Republican movement to deny Clinton a victory just for the sake of denying him a victory. Is there some kind of rapprochement going on between the White House and the Republican leadership, you being friends for the last six months?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I will let the Republican leadership speak for themselves. I think certainly, there are a number of Republicans who agree with the President on free trade who disagree with him on a whole host of other issues. The President, I think, for the last seven years has focused on getting things done, and getting things done in the area of trade has meant relying on a coalition of free trade Democrats and Republicans and we have a number of achievements. When we look back, you will be able to say "promoted a free trade agenda."
As far as this meaning something for the next four or five months, it's hard to say. We have an agenda, we have differences -- whether it be on patients' bill of rights or prescription drugs for Medicare -- but we actually believe that we can make progress and get things done as the Republicans move closer to our view on these issues. We'll have to wait and see, we'll have to wait and see over the next few months to see what happens.
Q Has the White House or the President been working with the Republican leadership to pass this bill?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President, early on in the process, in meetings here at the White House -- the meetings in the Yellow Oval, which I think there were seven of them -- I'd say the first one or two were bipartisan in nature, so he did talk to some Republican members. He's taken the opportunity at events, at things like yesterday's event. There's a whole host of events we've done over the last two or three months where Republican leaders have been down here and Republican rank-and-file members. And he's pressed the case to them.
But I think his primary focus has been on trying to bring along a number of Democrats in order to get to the point where this would pass, and that's been the primary focus of his effort.
Q Joe, who came by today, what congressmen came by to see the President this morning?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know.
Q Can you find out?
MR. LOCKHART: I have actually, I think for two months, done a good job about not revealing the names, based on if they want you to know who it is, they'll tell you, and I think I'll keep that for a few more hours.
Q How soon will we see the President after the vote today?
MR. LOCKHART: Pretty quickly, I think.
Q Joe, the President called last night's event for half-a-million-dollar donors and fundraisers "a truly wonderful thing." How can the President term a truly wonderful thing what critics have called a blatant exercise, selling access to the President?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we don't agree with the critics. And on the $500,000, I would say "donor," because it's my understanding there is only one person who has given at that level. This is primarily people who have helped raise money from both their own resources and their ability to bring others into the Democratic Party. I mean, the President's view on campaign finance and the Democrats' view on campaign finance is very clear -- we want to change the system. There is only one single reason why the system hasn't been changed, and that's the Republican leadership that has thwarted now three years in a row a process that could have brought us fundamental change in the system. As long as the system is -- as long as they block that change, we will continue to work within it and work to ultimately elect leaders who will stop this effort to block campaign finance.
Q If you disagree, if you say that this is not selling access to the President, then what's the President's concern about the system as it is now?
MR. LOCKHART: Because the President thinks there's too much money; there's too much time spent on it; there's too much influence that is -- too much effort has to go into sort of affording your ability to get your message out. This is not just about money; the President has talked for years now about the ability to get reduced or free time to get your message out. And this is a debate that has gone on now for years, and we don't seem to get anywhere because the Republican leadership is dug in. And even despite the fact that a majority of the House of Representatives -- I believe a majority, it's certainly all 45 Democrats in the Senate -- support changing the campaign finance laws, the leadership is stopping it because in their narrow self-interests, they believe that it's bad for them. And because they have leadership positions, they have the ability to stop it.
Q But when the President goes to a $25-million event, as he will tonight, do you think that sends a message that he thinks there's too much money in the system?
MR. LOCKHART: I think you should look at the event he goes to tonight. And I think you should look around the room and find that 75 percent of the people who are at that event tonight paid $50, and draw the parallel with a big Republican event that was here last month, and draw your own conclusions.
This is an important event for the Democrats because we're involving some 12,000 people who are coming to honor the President and to try to help elect Democrats around the country, particularly Vice President Gore to succeed President Clinton. And I think when you look at this event and find that most -- the vast majority of the people there are small givers, $50, this is a positive event for Democrats.
Q The majority of people may be small donors, but only 30 percent -- they only account for 30 percent of the money. The other 60 percent of the money --
MR. LOCKHART: John, you have no way of knowing how it will come out, so --
Q Well, 13,000 times $50 is $6 million.
MR. LOCKHART: You have no way of knowing until the fundraiser is over. Terry McAuliffe estimates that at or more than half of this will come from small donors, people at $50, at $100, at $250. So we'll just have to wait and see. But I think you will see a complete different event than the one you looked at a couple of weeks ago.
Q Does the President have any queasiness about a fundraiser of this magnitude?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think again there is going to be thousands and thousands of people who are involved who are not the same group that showed up several weeks ago here in Washington for the party opposite's event, and I think he's excited about it.
Q Going back, the view you expressed that the President thinks the system needs to be changed -- I mean, just, how do you reconcile that with the fact that the President, right now may be the largest fundraiser ever for political candidates in the history of politics?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, this is an argument that I've had for two years here and my predecessor had for a previous two years. And it's not changing, and it's not changing for a simple reason, which is the Republican leadership has blocked any meaningful campaign finance reform.
The President believes it's important to help elect Democrats; it's important that he uses his abilities to help close the gap, the resource gap that has always existed among Democrats and Republicans. And I'll tell you one thing -- we are closer today, I think, than we were six, seven, 10 years ago to getting meaningful change. And if we can move the ball to the extent where Democrats regain control of the House or the Senate or both, I think you'll see a different posture.
Q Do you think tonight's event could actually advance the case for campaign finance reform, because so much money is being brought in that it will call attention to it?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that for those people in the country who are interested in meaningful campaign finance reform, they will find a home in the Democratic Party; they will find a hostile environment in the Republican Party.
Q On another subject, police brutality and racial profiling -- Al Sharpton's bringing it up with commemorating the 37th anniversary of the March on Washington, and he's calling for President Clinton to issue an executive order. And he says this data collection is not good enough. What is the President's thought?
MR. LOCKHART: The President has spoken on this subject, believes racial profiling is wrong and it's bad police and law enforcement practice. But we are going about this in a, I think, appropriate way in gathering data to see to the extent if there is a problem within federal law enforcement. We have been working with people like Republican Conyers to work to do the same on a local level. And we think that's the appropriate way to do it.
Q What do you say to critics who say that President Clinton has already been informed about this, because he, himself, has admitted to profiling in Arkansas?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, listen, we're talking here about what the federal law enforcement agencies are doing. We are proceeding, based on the President's direction to all federal law enforcement authorities to collect data on this, and we think that's the appropriate way to proceed here.
Q Back on PNTR. Can you talk about what this vote means for the high-tech industry?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it means -- it's good news for the high-tech industry if it passes. It's also good news for all U.S. industries that rely on exports. And ultimately, it's good news for working families.
We believe that opening markets abroad is a key to continuing our prosperity here at home, both in jobs and the overall impact it has on our economy. And I think you're in a situation where virtually all Americans will benefit by this one-way agreement to open up the Chinese market. And the high-tech industry as a leader in our economy now, I think is particularly well-positioned to take advantage of an opening in the Chinese market.
Q Joe, regarding tonight's dinner, one more time, despite the fact that there will be millions of dollars of soft money raised tonight, it is still the President's position that he supports a ban on soft money?
MR. LOCKHART: It's the position of the McCain-Feingold bill that the President supports and the President would love and would open up any time, day or night, any time of the year in any season to sign, if congressional Republicans would stop blocking it.
Q On PNTR again, the President mentioned that if it didn't happen, there would be almost immediate repercussions that we would feel about now passing it. Can you give us a sense as to how long you think it would take for Americans to feel the benefits of it, whether it's economic benefits or human rights improvements? When do we start feeling this?
MR. LOCKHART: Certainly, it's not one of those things that I think there will be instantaneous -- America will wake up tomorrow morning in a good mood because PNTR passed. But I think if you look over the long-term, at both the economic and national security benefits, these will be things that Americans will feel in very real and tangible ways.
Q Sorry, bad math. I've been guilty of that for years. The majority of the people who paid $50 tonight will only account for as much as $600,000 of the estimated $25 million to $26 million. So what does that say about where the rest of the money is coming from, and what does that say about campaign finance reform?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, we have said a lot about campaign finance, and we will continue to and will continue to work to change the system. But as long as the system, the rules are as they are now, we're going to continue to work within the system. I think you will find -- and you should talk to the DNC and Mr. McAuliffe -- you will find that 50 percent or so of this will come in federal money, which is less than -- it's a $1,000 or less. And you can look at the numbers. They won't know this for a while.
But I think if you want to look at the differences, look on the issues, on the issue the Democrats over -- unanimously support changing the campaign finance law; the Republicans have blocked it. And if you want to look at the events, we're bringing together 10,000, 12,000 people, most of whom are small donors that are excited about the Democratic Party. And that's a different picture than you saw two weeks ago.
Q Joe, is there anything on Israel or Lebanon that you can add today about the reaction or what the U.S. might be doing to --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I can't add much more today. I understand that the Secretary General's Special Representative is in the region. They're in the process now of certifying the Israeli withdrawal. They will then take the next step of working with the Lebanese government to restore their control. We are working directly within the U.N. and we are talking to the parties and the neighboring countries.
Q Joe, the Maryland State Prosecutors just dismissed the Linda Tripp wiring tap case -- that sort of looked like that might have been happening in the last day or two. Is there some White House reaction you can offer, especially since the key reasoning here is that Monica Lewinsky would not have been able to have authenticated the tape?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q One basic question about the DNC Gala tonight --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. (Laughter.)
Q You got him on that one.
Q One basic question about the fundraiser.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Why do need such huge sum of money in American politics?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it's very expensive to get your message out. People primarily use television and radio to lay their views out to their constituents. That's a very expensive proposition. We don't have a system where you have reduced cost or free cost. That's something that I think the President has strong feelings about, and has tried to change -- unsuccessfully, to this point.
The Democratic Party has traditionally been out-raised and out-spent by the Republicans in some cycles and at levels of four and five to one. And we think it's important, given how important the issues that Democrats care about are, that we do what we can to close that gap.
Q Radio is not that expensive, Joe. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: All I can tell you is, they may not have been telling you about the Knoller mark-ups. (Laughter.) But we feel them, we feel them. And I'll be glad to share that with you when you go into your next contract negotiation.
Q How much money would you ballpark that the President has raised since he took office?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have the slightest idea. I really don't. I think you'd have to check with the DNC, the DSCC, the DCCC, and you'd have some sense there.
Knoller, what is it? (Laughter.)
Q Billions. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Okay. Thanks.
END 2:15 P.M. EDT