THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:05 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any announcements, so we'll get right to your questions, if any.
Q Joe, what are the coverage arrangements for next week?
MR. LOCKHART: We haven't had a chance to really work that out, but I expect them to follow probably pretty closely what we did at Wye, which is, we'll try to find a place in the vicinity where the pool can be nearby and available if necessary. But I wouldn't expect that you will see a lot of the leaders or hear a lot from them once they've started their discussions.
Q How important is this to the President, personally, to his legacy, to overuse the term?
MR. LOCKHART: It is an overused word, and I think there has been quite a misconception about the timing of this having something to do with the President's time left in office. The timetable for these discussions, these negotiations, have been set by the parties. They want to get this done in a way that I think, as the President has indicated and the leaders have indicated, between now and the September time frame that they, themselves, set.
I think the President believes we have a real opportunity here. We have been working, and he has been working very hard over the last seven years to try to bring us to a point where we could reach an agreement, and it's certainly his hope that we can get that done.
But it has everything to do with the benefits that we'll derive throughout the region to a peace agreement. I have been around him a lot, particularly in the context of these discussions, and I've never heard a discussion about the impact on him, personally, either from his advisors or from him.
Q So you don't think he has that in mind at all?
MR. LOCKHART: I think what he has in mind is this is an important accomplishment for the Middle East if it can get done, and that's what his focus is.
Q Has there been any attempt, or will there be, to reach out to Republicans, in particular George W. Bush, to be in some support of this operation? Because obviously, the new administration, either Gore or Bush, is going to have to fulfill a lot of the terms, if indeed this is successful, the financial obligations and so forth.
MR. LOCKHART: I think on the financial, to the extent that our support is necessary to move forward, the President will consult closely with Congress and congressional leaders. He's done that over the last seven years so I expect it to continue.
As far as consulting with Governor Bush, I think we probably would be getting a little ahead of ourselves on a number of fronts there, so I don't expect that to happen.
Q Joe, do you expect the leaders to go straight out to Camp David, or will they come to the White House before all of them go --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't, at this point, expect them to come here. When and how they will get to Camp David I'm not certain of yet as far as their arrivals. I don't know that they are arriving precisely at the same time. But I expect at this point -- and obviously we'll let you know if that changes, that will begin Tuesday out at Camp David.
Q Joe, he said that he thought that within several days, they would know whether or not they would be able to reach an agreement. Do you envision that this process will take a week, or --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know how to put a timetable on it, only to reiterate that the President has an important trip to the G-8 in Okinawa that I believe begins on the 19th or the 20th, so it's sometime in that time frame.
MR. CROWLEY: He leaves the 19th.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think the President was saying -- I think he was using several days. I don't know that within a day or two it will be known where this process is going, but we do have a window, as the previous briefer made clear, that we're working in and it's obliviously extraordinarily difficult issues that the parties need to work through and come to agreement on.
But as the previous people who have been in this room have indicated, there was a logic to going forward.
Q Joe, has the President made any contact with any other world leaders to ask them if they would make themselves available for this process, whether it's Syria or Jordan or Lebanon -- talk about refugees, or whether it's Europe to talk about other aid to the region?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that the President has talked to anyone at this point with the exception of the leaders that are personally involved. I know the Secretary has made some calls and I expect that we will touch all interested parties letting them know about what we're embarking on here.
Q So you wouldn't expect anyone else be called to be called to --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't want to rule it out, but I am not aware that he's got any calls that he plans now.
Q Joe, is there any thinking about what type of money we may be talking about and for what purposes the money may be used -- money that you would have to get the Congress to sort of secure this agreement?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, I think that's a little bit ahead of where we are in the process now. I know the President -- in the past, we have found a way to participate in this process through providing help in the region. I think the President -- if that helps move that process forward, would be open to that, but clearly it's an issue he will need to consult closely with Congress on and he will when it's appropriate.
Q Joe, can I ask you about Mexico? President-elect Fox held a very extensive press conference yesterday with the foreign media.
MR. LOCKHART: It was almost Clinton-like, wasn't it?
Q Right. I think he beat the President by a few minutes.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. You shouldn't have said that. You will pay for that, Jacobo. (Laughter.) As will we. (Laughter.)
Q But, anyway, he touched on a lot of important subjects and the President said he wants a very special relationship with Mexico. Fox mentioned things like he would like to open the United States-Mexico border to a less restrictive flow of immigrants, and although he would like to create a North American common market, European-style, where goods and workers can freely travel between the countries, meaning the U.S., Canada; is this something the American administration would consider?
MR. LOCKHART: I think as the President said today, he reached out to the President-elect earlier this week, and invited him to come up when he felt it was the best time for him for discussions. Many of these ideas, though, will be something that he will work with, with a future administration. But I think both sides acknowledge how important and how special the relationship is.
So as far as some of the specific ideas that he's put out there, although they're quite general, I think we'll wait until he has a chance to formulate them in more detail and has a chance to come and talk to the President.
Q Mr. Norman Mineta's appointment as Secretary of Commerce by the President. Do you think -- how speedy will be the confirmation in the Senate? And if the President is going to take personal lobbying or interest -- and because not much time.
MR. LOCKHART: I think Mr. Mineta has strong support on Capitol Hill. I think his distinguished career earned him the support of Republicans and Democrats alike. I know -- I believe he's already met with Senator McCain. I think that was scheduled for last week. And Senator McCain has said that he wants to move this forward in a very expeditious way. So it's certainly our hope that this can be done in an expeditious way and he can start in what is a very important job.
I think as he said in his Oval Office announcement, that a lot can be done in the next six months. Six months is a lifetime in the new digital information age. I think he has a lot to offer, and I think the reports from Capitol Hill early on have been very encouraging, and the committee has moved in a way that indicates that they want to be expeditious in this process.
Q I just wondered whether the Asian communities in this country are really thanking and applauding the President's announcement on this issue. And is there hope in the future for the administration will work with the Asian communities?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President made very clear what a success story Norman Mineta is from many different fronts and what a great secretary of commerce he will be, and we're looking forward to that day.
Q Joe, while the President is going to be devoting pretty much full time in the next weeks or however many days it takes in the Mideast peace process, the Irish peace process is also running into some rocky times. Apparently, there has been some conflict there the past couple of days.
Has he got anybody making overtures to the leaders in Ireland, trying to bring that process back?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think the violence over the last few days has been condemned from most quarters. And I expect that we will remain engaged and continue to be engaged on a number of levels here, and the President will be engaged as appropriate.
Q Joe, there were some things on the President's schedule for next week. Have you wiped everything off, all of the --
MR. LOCKHART: We're in the process of redoing the President's schedule for next week. Obviously, he can't meet all the commitments that he has made. That process is ongoing. I expect that a number of events will be cancelled. I expect a number of events will be postponed and that there is the possibility that a couple of them will try to find a way to come back and fulfill the commitment in a way that doesn't adversely affect the negotiations.
Q That was my question. Will he exclusively deal with the Middle East next week and everything else is pushed aside?
MR. LOCKHART: No, listen, I don't think the President -- any President of the United States has the luxury to exclusively deal with one issue. He has responsibilities that are quite broad and he will continue to fulfill those obligations.
Q He mentioned actually, the Congress, which of course, as he mentioned, is coming back next week. Before they went out for the July recess, they passed the emergency spending bill that Republicans added a rider about environment. Does he have any concerns about that, and is it enough that he might veto it?
MR. LOCKHART: We're looking at some administrative options to deal with the anti-environmental rider that was attached to the appropriations bill, and when we have that sorted out, we'll let you know.
Q So basically, if you think you might be able to do it administratively to prevent it, you would sign it? But is there a chance he might veto it?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we're exploring administrative options. We think we're going to be able to work our way through this in a way that signs the bill that meets our commitments for specific things like disaster relief and antidrug trafficking money for Colombia, which is very important.
Q Joe, can I ask you a couple more questions about what Mr. Fox has said? He would like to turn the drug certification program from a unilateral way the United States applies it, to a multilateral process. That seems to be the belief of all the other Latin American countries involved. Is there a possibility that the American administration would be willing to --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I think that there are some parts about the drug certification problems -- drug certification process that we have raised some issues about. I expect that when President-elect Fox comes to Washington, in addition to meeting with the President, he may spend some time with congressional leaders, and that would be an important message to take to them.
Q And this one. He also said he wants to move toward an American model of justice as a way to wipe out corruption. I know that the American government is very interested in combatting corruption all over the world.
MR. LOCKHART: There's been extensive work that I think people at the Justice Department, and the FBI, can give you more details into the context of the binational relationship. General McCaffrey, Attorney General Reno and others have spent extensive time with their counterparts down there. Obviously, we think any steps they can take to deal with the issue of corruptions are quite important, and I think any commitment to look at this problem is one that's welcome.
Q Joe, Senator Brownback and others are calling on the Hill, on the President, that before the Prime Minister of India comes here in September, all the U.S. sanctions against -- -- should been lifted, and also he should address both Houses of Congress. Any comments upon this --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, addressing both Houses of Congress requires a congressional invitation, and if the leaders of the House and the Senate believe that that's an appropriate thing, we certainly support it. The President was afforded the opportunity to speak to the legislative body in India, and it was a speech that he enjoyed immensely.
On the sanctions issue, I think there's a -- again, I think there's a legislative piece to this on remaining sanctions on India. Let me check into that. Yes?
Q Do you have an idea of when he meets here in September 15th with the President, what they are going to discuss?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have anything on that yet. Yes?
Q Tomorrow he's going to make a speech on prescription drugs. Can you just sort of set that up?
MR. LOCKHART: I actually expect tomorrow the President to focus his attention on the patients' bill of rights, and discuss the importance, surrounded by health professionals from the state of Missouri, about the public having the right to see a specialist, have the public have the choices available to them, having redress available to them. And we'll call on Congress to get going on this. We've been stuck now for month after month after month. The vast majority of the House of Representatives has passed a strong patients' bill of rights. We are one vote away in the Senate, as evidenced by an earlier vote. The conference needs to get going. The public is demanding the kind of benefits that come with a patients' bill of rights, and the President, I think, will spend tomorrow reminding the Congress that the American public supports this, and that it's time for them to finish their business.
Q Over the weekend, Senator Lott said that they're planning to take action in the Senate this month on both marriage penalty and the estate taxes. Is the President absolutely committed to vetoing the marriage penalty unless it's linked with the prescription drug plan?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President made very clear that he can accept the less-targeted version of marriage penalty if the Congress is willing to do something on prescription drugs. As far as the estate -- well, listen, if they don't really want to get marriage penalty done, and if they want to play politics and score points, and at the end of the day, risk running the label of having gotten nothing done, that is certainly their choice -- if that is the platform in which they want to run on in November.
I suspect that that's probably not the case; they probably want to get some things done, we're willing to work with them on that, and I think the President made a good faith offer, and hopefully a few days back in the District might lead to a few changed minds.
Q As far as the estate tax, is there some talk now about broadening the relief so that it would exempt all but the super-wealthy? The White House has already supported --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, listen, I think we've made pretty clear to people on the Hill that we've already taken significant steps on estate tax, looking at the 1997 balanced budget, and we're willing to look at other ideas that go toward helping small businesses, helping family farms. But the total repeal of the estate tax, which is what the Republicans have put forward, is an absolute windfall for the most wealthy Americans. It will account for about an $800,000 tax cut to less than one percent of the population.
So, I think if they're interested in helping small family farms and small businesses. You're really looking at a very small universe of people here. You're looking at like, I think, less than 1,000 farms, less than 500 estates on some provisions in small businesses. Then we can work together, and we can find a way to make some progress there. But I think if you're looking at a total repeal --
Q This would be sure and -- bill; this would be old, but for the wealthy --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, we can certainly look at targeting relief on estate tax, but if they want to send down something that provides, on average, an $800,000 tax cut for the most wealthy, the top 1.1 percent of one percent of America's wealthiest, I don't think that it's going to be met with a lot of sympathy here. At a time when they can't raise the minimum wage, they can't provide prescription drugs for the seniors who need it the most, they can't help modernize schools around this country, but they can provide almost a $1 million tax cut to the most wealthy, I don't think that that is something that we'll extend.
Q Thank you, Joe.
END 12:23 P.M. EDT