THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:15 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: As all of you well know, today is the 225th birthday for this U.S. Army, thus the dress of Lt. Colonel Stockwell. There's an excellent quiz in today's Washington Post; if anyone would like to take it, I'd be glad to offer some questions. No takers. (Laughter.) Let me do some personnel things before we start.
We are losing some staff here, which I wanted to tell you about who are going on to bigger and better things. Today is the last day for Elizabeth Newman. Many of you knew her for -- in her work in Lower Press, Upper Press, and then over in the Old Executive Office Building. She's going off to Stanford Business School, where she'll start in the end of the summer. We will miss her greatly here.
Also leaving us within the next few weeks is Dori Salcido, who you also have known in many roles, who is going off to conquer the business world at America On Line in New York.
On a more political note, we, in I guess in a couple of weeks, will lose the services of Mr. Jim Kennedy, who is off to be the Director of Communications for the Vice President, and Julia Payne, who you've known in many incarnations here, first with the Vice President's Office, then over with our office in a couple of different jobs, who is going to join the Gore 2000 Campaign.
Q Are they moving to Nashville, Tennessee?
MR. LOCKHART: The Gore Campaign?
Q No, these two people.
MR. LOCKHART: No. Jim will be working out of the Old EOB, but --
Q The Dwight D. Eisenhower --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, yes.
Q You said this was a political note, see --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. Well, it's a political season. But Jim will only be doing official things, so -- he always only does official things.
Q Will he still keep a hand in that old portfolio that --
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Who gets that portfolio -- Bruce?
Q We that be because there are no scandals anymore?
MR. LOCKHART: To the extent that there is any activity in the Counsel's Office which needs to be addressed among staff, we have a group of seven people -- we'll be drawing straws later, and whoever gets the short straw has to do it.
Q Are you not replacing him?
MR. LOCKHART: No, we will be. I have no announcement on that for today.
We have a series of movement within. This is good news for people, internally. Both Jason Schechter and Victoria Valentine will move over to be our regional press secretaries. My assistant, Jenni Engebretsen, will take Jason's job; and a few new people coming, which we'll tell you about soon.
Q What about you?
MR. LOCKHART: Every single one of those jobs I applied for and got turned down. (Laughter.) I was really surprised I couldn't get Jason's job.
Q Better luck next time.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I think they said if I ever used the guidance I might be prepared to prepare it, but I'm not, so I didn't.
Q Korea. Do you have a reaction to the statement that was signed today? What is your reaction?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, obviously, I think as we said yesterday, just the meeting, in and of itself, was a very important step. Our focus on the Korean Peninsula for some time now has been at trying to get direct talks to reduce tension in the Peninsula, a very important part of the world. It looks like they have signed a communique that addresses important issues, like reuniting families, reducing tension in the Peninsula, reconciliation and a series of social, economic and cultural exchanges.
I think it's very important that they've met, it's very important that they've signed this agreement. But I think it's also very important that a process comes out of this summit that allows them to implement the important work they have agreed to in the last two days. It's important that they keep this process going and that they have some mechanism for continuing to build on the success of the last two days.
Q Do you think that the document itself is encouraging?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the fact that they sat and talked and could come to an agreement is encouraging. But I think we need to look at what the process will be coming out of this meeting, out of this communique, to see how they will build on it. We've had some false starts before, and certainly it's our hope that they can find some way to build on the success of the last two days.
Q Joe, should we now expect the President to add a stop in Korea at the end of this G-8 trip?
MR. LOCKHART: I have nothing on any additions to the travel at this point. We're going to have a good trip to Okinawa for the G-8 conference.
Q Generally speaking, Joe, did the summit exceed what expectations the administration had before it began, or is it about what you expected?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I don't know that I can put it into any sort of expectations. It was important that the meeting happened, in and of itself. I think both sides have expressed satisfaction with the sessions. I think for our purposes, we applaud them for getting together and meeting in an effort to reduce tensions, and our focus now is on making sure that they have a process for being able to build on the last two days.
Q Is there any reason for us to rest easier about missile or nuclear programs?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think in the context of missiles, we made progress in Ambassador Kartman's talks last fall. And we believe that was a very important step we took. But as far as overall reduction of tension within the Korean Peninsula, this is obviously something we've looked for some time and it's important that these meetings happened.
Q Joe, Republicans at the joint Senate committee hearing that's going on right now on the security lapses at Los Alamos have been highly critical of Secretary Richardson for not showing up for the hearing today. Do you know why he didn't attend, and do you have any view of the tone of Senate investigation that's progressing now?
MR. LOCKHART: I have no information on when or if an invitation was offered to Secretary Richardson. You have to go to the Department of Energy for that. I know his focus now is on getting to the bottom of the situation that exists at Los Alamos as it relates to the two missing hard drives. As far as the tone, I don't know that you can really draw any conclusions about a couple days of hearings. I think yesterday's hearing was something that was preplanned.
I think there are important questions that have to be answered. I think senators, members of Congress, have a legitimate right to get answers to those questions, as do the American people, and that's what the focus of the FBI and the internal workings of the people at the Department of Energy and the lab, and also, importantly, the work former Senator Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton will be looking at.
Q Joe, is the White House concerned about the arrest of the Russian media mogul?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, as I think we mentioned yesterday, we have an overall concern about press freedom in Russia. This is an issue that the President raised directly with President Putin when he was in Moscow. We believe that a strong democracy, one of the fundamental pillars of that is a free and open press, and we have had concerns about moves that have been made.
There was a raid on that same office a month ago that the courts have raised some problems with. I think on the particulars, the embassy has been speaking today with Russian authorities trying to get more information on this. We understand that he's being held and he's been able to meet with his lawyers, but he's not been formally charged yet.
I think for our purposes, we'll continue to make the case that a free and open press is an essential part of a democracy, and that in this particular case, this gentleman should not be prosecuted for any reason relating to his position in the media, and that any charges and trial should be done in a way that provides him with due process and is open and transparent.
Q Do our initial feelers over there indicate that it is something more than what the charges are?
MR. LOCKHART: There are certainly questions being raised in Moscow, by people there. I don't think we know enough now to make a determination. But, certainly, we will continue our push and our emphasis on reiterating the importance of a free press.
Q Joe, two follow-ups on this. Are you saying that the U.S. is trying to get involved in gaining his release, per se, other than --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm saying that we're trying to find out more information about the circumstances surrounding the arrest.
Q Is there any chance that this smacks of anti-Semitism, in addition to anti-press freedom?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't heard anything along those lines. I think most of the attention of this has been focused on whether this has something to do with his position as an owner of an independent media organization.
Q Are you disappointed that the arrest comes less than two weeks after the President informed Mr. Putin that freedom of the press is an important element of democracy?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think before we make a judgment we need more information. But, certainly, overall, our attitude towards the importance of free press hasn't changed, and that's something that we will continue to articulate.
Q Joe, while traveling in Madrid, President Putin said he knew nothing about this arrest, either its political character or criminal character. Does the administration take those statements at face value, and do they believe that's actually possible, that Putin could not be made aware of this?
MR. LOCKHART: I have only seen the press reports on that, but I have no information that disputes either the press report or his knowledge of this.
Q Joe, on the health care event you guys had yesterday and again, probably today, the Republicans yesterday said they accepted the notion of government backstop for insurance for prescription drugs. Does that open the door for the White House to invite the Republicans for some sort of bipartisan talks and trying to actually get an agreement?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we've been working to get an agreement now for well over a year. I think as you remember, where this started was, the President had planned to provide prescription drug benefits to all seniors; the Republicans said absolutely not. They then moved to some sort of block grant proposal. They then moved to some other proposal. They now seem to have moved to a private insurance model with some sort of provision to provide some government service.
The movement in and of itself, I think, indicates how important of an issue this is to the American people. What it actually means, though, is unclear, because we don't know what's in their legislation. Their legislation they haven't made public. I mean, that in and of itself was a problem, because they have now signaled that they want to rush this through without any sort of process that allows any sort of scrutiny. And I think history should tell us that when something gets rushed through, there's either politics involved or there is something that they don't want a full debate of.
The President's proposals have been very clear. He thinks that it has to be affordable, universal and meaningful. If the Republicans have a plan that meet those tests, then we've got a lot to talk about, we can work out the details and we can provide a prescription drug benefit.
The problem with the proposal they've put forward now is based on the limited details we've seen -- it doesn't meet some of the criteria. We don't know that it will be a meaningful benefit, we don't know that it will be affordable. We have a fundamental disconnect in the process and in the philosophy of doing this.
This should be part of Medicare. Medicare is a system where you basically pool the entire pool of seniors in this country and provide benefits for them. And that way you get savings, and we think savings can be passed on for prescription drugs.
The proposal the Republicans have talked about is just the opposite, which is subsidizing private insurance companies to provide a benefit and then seeing where they can fill in by segmenting the pool of our nation's seniors. Now, that raises serious questions. One is, the private insurances say they're not interested in this. But even if you could get some interested, you wouldn't get everyone covered, so you'd have a system where you were having limited pools, which would raise premiums, and would not necessarily provide a meaningful or defined benefit.
If they're talking about a defined, fee-for-service benefit for everyone in this country, then we have something to talk about, because that goes to the principles the President lays out. But so far they haven't put that on the table.
Q So you don't hear this yet as a step towards compromise from them?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I think what we've seen so far is a step towards political cover for the Republican Party. What we need to see is details; we need to find out whether they're serious about providing a meaningful and affordable and accessible prescription drug benefit for all American seniors. Based on the models they've put out, even without the details, there are serious problems with that.
Q Joe, at the Southern Baptist Convention in Orlando, the keynote speaker apparently received a standing ovation, making some very harsh remarks about the President. Are you familiar with his remarks?
MR. LOCKHART: No. But you don't need to read them. The Southern Baptists have expressed their opinion from time to time about the President. The President is a Southern Baptist; he agrees with them on some issues, he disagrees with some others. Their political views are not that relevant to what I talk about here.
Q Joe, back to the prescription drug thing for a minute. Is this event just more of the same today, or is he going to actually make some news or announce something? We've had a lot of these lately.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, because it's an important issue, and to the extent that the more we press on this, the more the Republicans understand the need for a prescription drug benefit and the more they'll move towards meeting the President's criteria, we'll do a lot more of them.
Q There's nothing new -- yesterday, at least, you had a study. I mean, he's not going to issue an executive order or release some new study? Is there anything substantive that's going to be released today?
MR. LOCKHART: No new study today.
Q -- just to refresh my memory --
MR. LOCKHART: I'll report back to you in 60 days on today's event.
Q Has the White House ever submitted legislation on the prescription drug benefit to the Hill?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, we sent something up on prescription drugs. I don't remember exactly the timing of it, but it was certainly in our budget for how we would work and how it would be paid for.
Q Joe, do you know if the President believes it ought to be a felony to leak classified information?
MR. LOCKHART: You know, the Justice Department has taken the lead on that, and I don't know -- I know in broad strokes that they believe this is a serious matter and that the law should be enforced. But I believe Justice has opposed more stringent measures put forward by some members of Congress. But I'll refer you over to Justice on that.
Q The President's not expressing a view on this?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think the Attorney General --
Q Will you leak it to me later? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we did discuss this before, and my staff decided that I have to recuse myself from this discussion.
Q On what grounds?
MR. LOCKHART: Self-incrimination. (Laughter.)
Q Back to Korea -- where is the timetable now for determining whether and when to lift these sanctions?
MR. LOCKHART: The timetable is independent of anything that is going on or is not going on within the Peninsula. We have been working at this since late last fall, and I expect some news on that very shortly.
Q Haven't you already announced your intentions to lift the sanctions? What's left to do?
MR. LOCKHART: We have to work through the process and the rule to do this, and that will be published when it's ready in The Federal Register.
Q Isn't that a just "how to," rather than a "what is"?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think we decided in concept what we were going to do. This is the "what is" we're going to do, and the "how to" on the DIY -- (laughter) -- of the DP -- never mind.
Q Joe, a couple of years ago, the President started this dialogue on race, and the first conversation, the first major conversation seemed to be an apology for slavery. And there was a lot of, I guess, back and forth in the African American community -- some wanted it and some didn't. Now, in Congress, there's a bill coming back, and this time it has the support of the CBC. The last time, it didn't have the support of the CBC. What will the President do as far as his --
MR. LOCKHART: I'll have to do a little checking. I just saw this just before we came out. This is the Tony Hall resolution, I understand. Let me say more broadly, I think the President has made very clear how wrong he thought slavery was and how damaging it was to our country.
This resolution is a resolution for Congress to apologize for their role in the, I guess, perpetuation of slavery and the injustices that came along with that. So, ultimately, it will be up to Congress to decide, but let me check to see if the President has a view one way or the other.
Q Joe, this Tony Hall piece came up before. This was the same thing that spurred a possible apology for the President of the United States. Now, sources here at the White House were saying that because of the factional fighting between so-called black leaders, many in the CBC, some of the civil rights leaders, that is why he did not apologize. Now, the CBC is coming together. Could, before the President leaves --
MR. LOCKHART: I think these are two different issues. I think the President has directly addressed the evils of slavery. This is a question of whether Congress, in a resolution, wants to take a further step. It's a legitimate question; I just don't know the answer.
Q What about the book? April didn't ask you about the book.
Q Thank you, Mark. And what about --
MR. LOCKHART: Forget that leak this afternoon, Mark. (Laughter.)
Q The story of my life. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I get the feeling I'm losing this one. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, what about the gentleman who's helping him with that? I'm not going to give you the name, because you know.
MR. LOCKHART: Which one? Sounds like -- okay. I don't have anything on that.
Q Joe, back on the Department of Energy. Republicans said the finger of blame should point squarely at Energy Secretary Richardson. Does the President believe that's a fair characterization or --
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think that those who want to point the finger of blame should take a deep breath. We should find out the facts here. As I said yesterday, there are some very troubling questions here. But we need to find out whether this is an isolated incident, or we need to find out if it's more broad and we need to take a more comprehensive approach to this. But we don't have the answers.
And I understand that in Washington one of the favorite games to play is who can we blame right away, get the facts later. There is no way that that's going to end. And from time to time, that's a bipartisan game. But for our purposes, we're interested in doing everything we can to find out what we need to know, rather than trying to assign blame.
Q One of the things that's fueling that sentiment is that Secretary Richardson, after the Wen Ho Lee episode, assured members of Congress that new members would be taken, security would be tightened and an episode such as this would never happen again.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, new measures have been taken. Security has been tightened. And the incident involving alleged espionage has been addressed. We don't know the answers to what's going on here. And I understand people's desire to conclude the story sometime this afternoon and to tie it up in a neat bow, but that's impossible.
Q Is the President, himself, angry? Richardson has said he's angry about it.
MR. LOCKHART: I think the Secretary is angry; I think anyone involved in this would be angry that we would have this kind of incident, particularly after the amount of time and effort we've spent in tightening security. But we don't know the answer. So it's one of those situations where I don't know the people are quite certain how to channel their frustration and their anger. We will take the appropriate steps we need to take, once the FBI's finished their work, the Department of Energy and Senator Baker and Congressman Hamilton have had a chance to assess what needs to be done.
Q Is that a yes or no?
MR. LOCKHART: That was a yes.
Q The President is angry?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't want isolate this as just being the President. I think people at the Department of Energy are upset that after all the work they've done, they could have an incident where important information has gone missing.
Q On Korea, what implications are there out of the summit for the presence of the U.S. military on the Korean Peninsula?
MR. LOCKHART: I think for our purposes, we want to concentrate on developing or helping develop a process where they can build on any progress they may have made here, so I'm not going to get in the position of speculating about the impact on the U.S. or on our military posture.
Q Do you now see a more realistic possibility of the eventual reunification of the two Koreas at this moment?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm going to leave that kind of talk for those who speculate and provide commentary. I think our focus is on much more practical problems of how to build on the meeting of the last two days.
Q Joe, building on that DOE thing, there is a report by GAO on FAA computer security yesterday, said a bunch of their contractors hadn't gotten the proper security clearance. The EPA's web site was shut down a couple of months ago by hackers. Is there a broader problem that the administration has to grapple with of how government agencies are handling electronic data?
MR. LOCKHART: I think if you look at, for instance, a situation where there was a virus, I don't know, about a month or so ago, that attacked government, business, all sorts of organizations, the government did quite well. That doesn't mean that we've got this problem solved by any means. It's an ongoing challenge that we spend a lot of time and a lot of resources on protecting, whether it be information that we believe should be confidential or providing information that helps us provide safe transport, whether it be FAA or any other kind of information. But we do spend a lot of time and effort on that. But we do have challenges from time to time that we have to face and have to adjust our plans, based on the changing nature of whatever threat is posed.
Q Joe, Senator Allard today up on the Hill, commenting on the three-week delay in the Los Alamos people reporting on this material; said that in some ways security is better at Wal-Mart, because at the end of the day you check the till and if stuff isn't there, you know you've had a robbery on your hands, and this took three weeks. Is that a fair comment?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it is clever enough to probably make the evening news. Whether it's fair or not, I'll leave it to others to decide.
Q -- the President said to expect a mid-session review numbers in the next few days. Well, given the Vice President has announced --
MR. LOCKHART: In the next few days? Oh, okay. That's news to me. "Few" could mean "lots." Anyway, the question?
Q Well, given that the Vice President has announced some new domestic initiatives based on higher than expected budget numbers, surplus numbers, do you expect the President to do something in a similar vein? Or would higher than anticipated numbers possibly open the doors to compromises in things such as prescription drugs and --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, obviously, the mid-session review will provide an updated sense of where we are as far as the budget, as far as the surplus. And when those numbers are ready, we'll be glad to share with you the ideas that we have surrounding them.
Q Do you expect those numbers to be ready while Gore is on this progress and prosperity tour --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't expect we'll have anything this week on this.
Q What about next week? I mean, next week he's --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know.
Q You're not trying to coordinate at all?
MR. LOCKHART: No, our mid-session review is not related to the Vice President's progress and prosperity tour.
Q Joe, you criticized Republicans yesterday for not accepting the President's request for more law enforcement on the gun control issue. But some Republicans say there are other parts of law enforcement that are under-funded in the President's budget -- specifically DEA, INS and other border patrol-type allocations. They said there's not enough money for personnel and for buildings and things like that. They consider that a higher priority than hiring more prosecutors to deal with gun crimes. What's your reaction?
MR. LOCKHART: That's kind of news to us. I haven't heard that in anyplace other than where -- than here. Listen, if they've got different ideas on how to fund the INS, this is what the process is for. My comments yesterday were specifically directed at those who, in a very loud way, argued that this administration wasn't committed to gun enforcement, enforcing gun laws. This administration is. It's one of the reasons why we have an increase in prosecution and a dramatic decrease in gun crimes. But we also believe we can do more, and we believe we can do more by putting 1,000 new gun prosecutors at the state and local level where the vast majority of those cases are prosecuted. And the Republican majority decided yesterday that that wasn't a priority for them.
Now, that is -- in a democracy, that is their right to take that position, but it completely undercuts their rhetoric that all we need to do is enforce gun laws more, and somehow the problem of gun violence in this country will go away. Everybody knows that isn't true. They know it's not true, we know it's not true. But it's the position they've taken and that position is completely undercut.
Now, what most people, I think, believe, whether it be in police organizations or in those who look at how to fight crime, particularly gun crime, is you need a two-pronged approach. You need to work on prevention, which is sensible gun safety legislation; and on the other side, as far as enforcement.
The Republican leadership now has come out against both sides of that. They don't want -- they have blocked now, for a year, sensible gun safety legislation. They have now taken steps in the appropriations process to make sure that there isn't the money to go to local and state localities to provide extra gun prosecutors.
Q Thank you.
END 12:45 P.M. EDT