THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:30 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have anything for you, so why don't you start with questions. Terry, what's on your mind? I can go to the Week Ahead.
Q I'm going to defer.
Q Joe, does the administration have a position on the Treasury, Postal and Legislative Branch approps bill that this House Conference Report is likely to pass today?
MR. LOCKHART: We'd love to see it. Our understanding was there was some Republican-only negotiations that ended at 5:00 p.m. or 6:00 p.m. this morning, and leading Democratic members in the House have been forced to try to get details off the Internet as opposed to from their colleagues. When we see it, we'll make a judgment on it.
Q Joe, I searched on the Internet for this and couldn't find it. Do you guys have a position yet on the legislation that Congressman Lazio has endorsed, and also the First Lady?
MR. LOCKHART: Congressman Adler, I know, is considering legislation on post-September 13th. I don't know that that's been introduced; we certainly haven't seen it yet. As far as our position, we have indicated very clearly to all the parties that we oppose any unilateral actions, which declaring a state would be one.
Q But does that mean you would support withdrawing aid from --
MR. LOCKHART: Again, I'm not going to go down the hypothetical road, but on this legislation, I mean, once it's done and available, I can probably give you a more fuller comment.
Q But you wouldn't need legislation to do that if that was a goal you supported, right?
MR. LOCKHART: Pardon?
Q Any aid to unilateral declaration? That wouldn't require legislation for the administration to do that.
MR. CROWLEY: All of these issues need to be resolved within the peace process.
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware that it would -- yes. I'm not aware that would require any legislation, but it's been our view, and it's been our view throughout the Oslo process that all of these issues are done in the context of the peace process, and are done with an eye towards what's best for the peace process.
Q Joe, there was a meeting last night at the Erez Crossing. Israeli-Palestinian meeting; there is going to be another one Sunday. Is this leading up to another summit?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't know what it will lead up to. But I think it's encouraging that both parties are anxious to get back to the negotiating table. We know that time is short. It's the end of July now; September 13th is the deadline on this. My understanding from the State Department is Assistant Secretary Walker will be traveling to some Arab capitals next week. We stand ready to play our role in this. But the comments that have been coming from the leaders seem to indicate that they want to get right back to work.
Q Joe, a follow-up. If the parties decide they want a Palestinian state, will the United States accept it and recognize it?
MR. LOCKHART: I think if they're -- the final status issues are final status issues. Our position is that they shouldn't be decided unilaterally, they should be decided in the context of the peace process, and we will make our decisions, obviously, based on their ability to reach an agreement.
Q Joe, do you have any schedule for travels of Ambassador Ross to the region?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I checked on that before coming out. There are no travel plans at this point for Ambassador Ross.
Q Joe, should we expect a very rapid veto from the President when the marriage penalty elimination bill comes down this afternoon? We understand the Republicans are going to dress up a couple of staffers as a bride and groom and tie tin cans to their car and send it down here?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me say this: It's not surprising that Republican tax plans would come down in a limousine.
Q It won't be a limousine they say.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, obviously we've gotten to them, but let me say this: that this is the worst contrived marriage since our friends Darva Conger and Rick Rockwell got together. (Laughter.) Except this one should be called, under the Republican plan, "Who wants to help a millionaire?"
THE PRESS: Oooohhhhh. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Next? Otherwise, on the plans we'll -- when it gets here, the President, in due time, will send it back. (Laughter.)
Q Can the President --
Q Is that your line, or did you get help with it?
Q I got what I needed. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I didn't. Next? Yes.
Q Joe, back on the First Lady's statement -- does her statement in any way complicate the administration's efforts to make policy at a delicate time in the peace process?
MR. LOCKHART: No. The First Lady's running for the Senate seat in New York; the President's running America's foreign policy.
Q Joe, given what you said this morning, though, about marriage penalty, is it safe to assume that the President will not veto this until Congress leaves town and definitely doesn't link it with the prescription drugs?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, listen, we -- the President has a lot on his plate over the next couple of days because we did have to move a lot of things in the schedule because of the Camp David Summit talks. So I don't think we feel like we need to toss our schedule up in the air because the Republicans have come up with a stunt that they think is clever.
Q That wasn't the question, though.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, what was the question, then?
Q He had said something about, well, he was likely to veto this unless they come up with a --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, sure, if they decide this afternoon to get an 11th-hour conversion, and do the right thing, and do something on prescription drugs, then we'd be in a different position. But that doesn't look likely.
Q So there -- my question, though, is he won't act on this until they leave town?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't expect any action on that today. Yes.
Q Joe, can you give us a rundown on the meeting between President Estrada and President Clinton?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, they're actually still going on. I think I previewed this morning some of the things they'd be talking about as far as our bilateral relationship deepening the cooperation between the two countries, trade and investment, some of the military assistance that is provided. My understanding is, once they break from lunch, President Estrada will go to the stakeout, give you his readout, and if anybody needs anything further on that, I'll make Mr. Crowley available to you all.
Q Why does the marriage tax penalty bill become more acceptable if there is a prescription drug benefit that's talked about? Because the objection that I've heard from here about the marriage tax penalty is fiscally irresponsible and rewards the wealthy. Does that change if there's a prescription drug benefit?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the point that the President made was, we would be willing to accept poor targeting within the marriage penalty if the Republicans were willing to accept a real prescription drug benefit, and that's sometimes how you get to a deal and you make compromises. So it's a compromise the President has offered. The Republicans haven't seemed too interested in compromising on this.
Q I mean, taking your comments about the millionaires, seriously, Joe, I mean --
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't. (Laughter.) I take it about as seriously as two staffers getting dressed up as a bride and groom.
Q Joe, the tax bill isn't -- as I understand, the administration's number one objection is that there are basically 25 million Americans who pay this marriage tax penalty. Their bill would affect 42 million, mainly who are upper middle class, not necessarily super wealthy.
MR. LOCKHART: Right.
Q That's really the objection. It's not about millionaires.
MR. LOCKHART: The objection is you can fix the marriage tax penalty with the President's proposal by going after and changing the tax code so that the people who pay a penalty no longer are penalized.
What's going on here is the Republicans want to change the tax code in a way that affects those who are most well off. And the way they are doing it is through all of these bills. So, you can't look at one of these bills, you have to look at all of them.
And in this particular one -- and in fact, they've done their own sort of internal bidding war on this. In one statement, they said they wanted to make it more acceptable. And what they did between the House and the Senate, and going back to the House, was they made it even more expensive. So, if they want to attack the marriage penalty -- we want to work with them -- but if they want to do something else like they want to do with this bill, then we can't work with them.
Q So, the statement about favoring the wealthy disproportionately is applied to all of the tax cuts, not this one in particular?
MR. LOCKHART: It applies to all of them, but it also applies in a sense to this one because of the way they've taken the marriage penalty --and there are actually people who get a marriage bonus who are now going to be getting an extra bonus. And if you look at them, they are, as you move up, disproportionately to the advantage of people at the higher income levels.
Q What about the increase of the size of the 15 percent tax bracket? Is the administration generally supportive of that and sympathetic to that thrust?
MR. LOCKHART: To -- sorry?
Q They would enlarge the income barrier -- or the extent of the 15 percent tax bracket --
MR. LOCKHART: That's just one element.
Q -- earn more, you wouldn't go into the 28 percent tax bracket?
MR. LOCKHART: Right, but I think what we believe is the best way to do this, and the best way to target tax relief is the way we've put forward. In the marriage penalty this is one way the President has a proposal -- there are a number of other ones. That is what we think is the best way to make policy.
Q Who gets the marriage bonus? Can you explain that?
MR. LOCKHART: Almost the same number of people who, through quirks in the tax code, who have to pay a marriage penalty. It's just the way the system works.
Q Joe, how does the Social Security benefits bill fit into this given it would just revert it back to the original law where they still would be taxed 50 percent over certain income thresholds?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the biggest problem with that is the five years it takes off of the life of the Medicare Trust Fund. Now, they say they have some sort of mechanism to replace that, but it's hard to believe that if they can get anything else they want on their tax agenda. Because the money just won't be there. Yes.
Q Joe, as head of the Democratic Party, does President Clinton approve of the DCCC fundraiser at the Playboy mansion?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware that he knows about it. What are the details of that, besides at the Playboy --
Q Vice President Gore has expressed his strong disapproval. DCCC is going to be holding a fundraiser at the Playboy mansion in the middle of the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles. Some Democrats have said it's inappropriate as a venue.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that he has any awareness of it. If the subject of the Playboy mansion happens to come up in conversation, I'll ask about that. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, does the White House find a different way to solve the problem with the Cuban relatives of the pilots that were shot down with the Cubans a few years ago. They -- the proposal by the White House of $50 million.
MR. LOCKHART: I'd have to check on that. I haven't seen anything on that recently. But we'll check. Yes.
Q On the Philippines, is the U.S. helping with the hostage situation at all? I think it's still ongoing.
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q The President's going to veto that bill?
MR. LOCKHART: The process isn't complete yet, and they still have time to change what they're doing, but I can tell you this, the President will not sign a bill that takes five years off of the life of the Medicare Trust Fund.
Q What do they need to do, then, to change this so that it will be acceptable specifically? I mean, could you be satisfied that the money would be transferred out at general revenues to Medicare, or if there were an alternate funding mechanism, would that be good enough?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, one of the things they'd have to do is reexamine their entire approach to taxes. If they didn't have these exploding things like the estate tax, there might be funds available to do that. But they are going to continue to pursue those, so --
Q Yes, but you're not going to sign those bills.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're not going to -- we have no intention of signing the estate tax bill, but on each of these things, they need to work with us to find a mechanism that would work. And right now they haven't.
Q But then the money will be there if you don't sign those bills. So why would you oppose the current tax cut --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we -- I mean, you're now asking kind of a circular question, so I think that question is best put to them on why they would put forward legislation that would seek to take five years off the Medicare trust fund.
Q All right, but without going into the semantics, though, just to be sure I understand, then with these other tax bills on the table -- with them proposing these other tax cuts -- you're not going to accept this Social Security tax cut; is that correct?
MR. LOCKHART: Not unless they can come up with a way of doing this that does not threaten the Medicare Trust Fund.
Q Joe, continuing that line of questioning for a second, let's just work out a sequence here. Let's say marriage penalty, estate, come up, the President vetoes those. And they can't override, and they're essentially dead. Then, this Social Security tax comes up. It's clear that those other tax cuts have been vetoed, they're not going to come back. They're not going to go into law. There is this money available. Under those circumstances, would the White House entertain signing that type of legislation?
MR. LOCKHART: We are willing to work on all of these subjects in good faith with members of Congress to work out a way where we can provide targeted tax relief to the American public. And I'm not going to engage in a hypothetical conversation. Because what's clear in this process is the Republican Congress is not willing to work with us. What they're trying to do is set up an agenda and a campaign for the fall. And this, in many ways, is not a serious effort.
Q So, Joe, in principle you don't have a problem going back to 50 percent from 85 percent in terms of taxing?
MR. LOCKHART: I think -- any discussion like this has to be done in the overall context of fiscal discipline and how things are paid for. Up until now, the Republicans have refused to engage in that conversation. The appropriations process has gone nowhere on the spending side. On the tax side, they just keep loading up bill after bill after bill that spends all the surplus. If they want to engage in that conversation the door is always open here.
Q But it doesn't fit in your definition, though, of something that weighs heavily for the wealthy?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that --
Q The ceiling is only like --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that is as egregious, or is like the estate tax repeal. But again, all of this has to be done in the context of an overall plan, which is, you know, not what they've been after.
Q Joe, on the topic of working together, specifically on appropriations, some Republicans say they have asked the White House in what they described as a good-faith effort for specific numbers, targets on these appropriations bills as they move toward conference report and say they haven't gotten any word back from the White House; they can't get a fixed target of what the White House really believes is acceptable and workable.
MR. LOCKHART: We have worked very well at times with the appropriators. OMB Director Lew is always ready to discuss issues with them. They've gone, recently, into closed doors excluding Democrats from Congress and people from the Administration to try to cut their own deals. We'll see how well they do.
Q Joe, what is the minimum you're wiling to accept to cut a deal --to reach a deal with the Republicans this fall on, for instance, additional spending or tax cuts?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we've put out a budget. So, they know what our priorities are. They have done their own work. Now it's a question of getting together and making sure that we continue a policy of fiscal discipline, but continue a policy of investing in our priorities.
Q Do you think you're hading for a big budget battle like we've had in the past with the GOP this autumn?
MR. LOCKHART: It's becoming a ritual of September and October. And the fact that they're leaving town tonight without having made significant progress indicates that we'll have a lot of appropriations work to do. Whether it's a battle or not is something that's in the hands of the majority party in Congress.
Q What is the opinion of the President about the proposal of some members of the Congress to create a new amnesty for illegal workers in the United States?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that I've seen any specific proposal on that. I know that there is a lot of work being done at the INS on a number of different fronts, including illegal aliens that are here in the U.S. But I haven't seen a specific proposal recently.
Week ahead because we're not here tomorrow. Friday, July 28th the President will travel to Barrington, Rhode Island for lunch with Representative Patrick Kennedy. That will be pool press. The President will also travel to Boston later that day for a DCCC reception and a DCCC dinner. He will return to Washington tomorrow evening.
Saturday, July 29th the President's Weekly Radio Address is broadcast at 10:06 a.m. Eastern Time. The President will also travel to New York to make remarks at the New York Senate 2000 Lunch. He'll remain overnight in Chappaqua.
Sunday, July 30th, the President will travel to Chicago to give a speech at a DNC lunch and will also speak to the Association of Trial Lawyers of America 2000 Annual Convention, returning to D.C. that night.
Monday, the President will travel to Tampa, Florida for an event promoting his plan for prescription drugs, and a DSCC lunch. He'll then travel to West Palm Beach, Florida for a DSCC reception and dinner, returning to Washington that evening.
On Tuesday, the President has no public schedule, as he has none for Wednesday or Thursday. On Friday, the President will attend a Hillary 2000 dinner in Nantucket, Massachusetts. The President will remain overnight in Martha's Vineyard.
Saturday, in addition to his weekly radio address, the President will make remarks at a dinner for Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. The President will remain again overnight in Martha's Vineyard.
On Sunday, the President will attend a New York Senate 2000 reception and a New York Senate 2000 dinner on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. The President is expected to remain overnight in the Vineyard and return to Washington, D.C. the next day.
Q Do you think that he might go up to the Vineyard early, maybe --is there any indication of that; you've got a couple of open days there.
MR. LOCKHART: He's got a couple open days, but as of now, I think the plan is to go up Thursday or Friday. We'll let you know.
Q One other thing. Does the White House have a position on whether it's appropriate to wear an open-toed sandal to a formal event after Labor Day? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Terry, that kind of fashion question obviously shouldn't be put to me. I don't really have an answer for you. Any others before we go?
Q Joe, one more for next week. The President's going to be around. What other plans does he have; how closely will he pay attention to the convention?
MR. LOCKHART: You're ruining my gag here, Bob. (Laughter.) Mark, do you have a question?
Q That I do. There's a considerable interest with the First Lady away. When the President whips up some salad dressing for himself, does he use virgin olive oil or extra virgin olive oil? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Cooking question. Fashion and cooking. I'm getting close to who might want to answer these questions. (Laughter.) John?
Q Joe, is the President concerned about the deterioration of Courtney Love's music, and does he directly associate it with the death of Kurt Cobain? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, I think I know where you're all going. Is there anyone else who wants to jump in here before I try to answer those?
Q Joe, the Clinton administration has had, I think, two Italian-American chiefs of staff. (Laughter.) Does the President have an opinion about which one of those has been a more effective Chief of Staff, and also which one has been a better contributor to the Italian American community?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, having only been able to work myself with the esteemed and capable John Podesta, I might have a personal view. But Ms. Palmieri, who is now about to walk up here and answer these few questions-- (laughter) -- might have another view. So, given this is her last day as a briefing here, I thought she would come up and take on a few of those tough questions. (Laughter and applause.)
MS. PALMIERI: This isn't so bad. Oh, no. (Laughter.) Look, it's my favorite Italian Greek Chief of Staff. (Laughter.) Okay, Terry. You know, this is one of the greatest fashion travails of our time, and it is considered okay at this point in the year 2000, it's a new fashion rule for the 21st century, yes, you can wear open-toed shoes. Beyond Labor Day, however, they must not be white. (Laughter.)
Q Virgin olive oil, or extra virgin?
MS. PALMIERI: Extra virgin. King, what was that?
Q Courtney Love in the tank. (Laughter.)
MS. PALMIERI: You know, well, Courtney, she's a renaissance woman, John. She can't focus solely on her music career; she must also focus on her film career. And like Courtney, I just want to be the girl with the most cake.
Q Panetta or Podesta?
MS. PALMIERI: Oh, well, again, John is my favorite Italian Greek Chief of Staff.
MR. LOCKHART: Why don't we let John speak for himself? (Laughter.)
MR. PODESTA: I just want to say that it was the ability to answer questions like the last one -- (laughter) -- which endeared Jennifer to us so much over the years, I want to thank her for the seven-and-a-half years of service to the country, to the President and to the administration. I want to thank her for kicking the butt of two Italian American Chiefs of Staff, along with everyone else around here, and I want to say that I think in a few more days, we're going to have an Italian American deficit disorder in the White House. We'll try to fix that.
MS. PALMIERI: Thanks, John.
MR. LOCKHART: I've got to get the last word here.
MS. PALMIERI: Oh, you do?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I hope some of you will be able to stay behind, as I think we have something like cake and champagne to celebrate this day, or to commiserate this day; it's my personal view. But I think those of you who have been around a while realize the contribution Jennifer's made over the last seven and a half years, first with Leon for a long stint, then in the scheduling office, or scheduling hell, as we like to refer to it.
MS. PALMIERI: Rescued me from scheduling hell.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. And then finally, for the last two years, in the Press Office. I think what many of you know, some of you may not know, those of you who know are the ones involved with the Correspondents Association and other groups is that Jennifer has been an incredible advocate for the press over the last two years as far as making our events accessible to you, making sure that things get done, your needs are met, this room stays open and all of our work can get done.
I think from my point of view, we have now what I think is the best White House press staff we've ever had, at least certainly in my memory, and it's because of the people she recruited and managed. And I like to take credit for -- I think finally, we are all going to miss her deeply. I think you don't know how much you will. I already do. And I just, from the President, from John, from me and everyone in the press staff, we just want to thank you for everything you've done, and we will miss you greatly.(Applause.)
MS. PALMIERI: All right, that wasn't so bad.
Q Is there any truth to the rumor that Rene Russo is going to replace her? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Well, Bob, as you've mentioned to me several times, you've never seen the two of them in the same room at the same time, so I'll leave it there. (Laughter.)
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:53 P.M. EDT