THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:06 A.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: The President has a couple of meetings today. He's going to take a little bit of time to work on his speech for Monday. He will have the Medal of Freedom ceremony at 3:30 p.m. I think we're giving out Medals of Freedom to 15 distinguished Americans today. I think we've put out some paper on that that goes through all of it.
He will then have a meeting at 5:00 p.m. with the Croatian President Mesic and the Prime Minister Rocan. We will have available to those who are interested a senior administration official to give you readout of that following that meeting. Those of you who are interested, you should talk to PJ. Then he's got the two dinners for the First Lady that we cancelled during the Camp David discussions. We'll be making those up this evening. And that's his schedule for today.
Q Are they fundraisers? They're here --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. They're both here in Washington, in homes.
Q What should we expect from the speech the President will give on Monday evening?
MR. LOCKHART: Besides being impressed?
Q Yes, besides that.
MR. LOCKHART: You need more than that. I think the President will try to do a couple things with the speech. One is reflect and highlight the extraordinary achievements over the last eight years from the American people and from the leadership of this President and this Vice President in turning this country around, socially and economically. I also think he'll try to discuss what's at stake as far as the choice that faces the American public going to the future.
I think the President believes and has spoken out in the past on that we have a clear and very distinct choice this year between building on the success of the last eight years or taking us in another direction, a direction he believes is a u-turn back to policies that have failed in the past.
Q Sounds a lot like the Gore campaign strategy these days.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'll leave the Vice President's staff to detail his strategy, but I think those of you who have traveled around with the President over the year and have listened when he's spoken to political groups will understand that this is something that he's spoken about quite frequently. But I expect it to be a much more comprehensive way on Monday night.
Q Joe, is there any decision on if the President will include anything in his speech about that Vice President Gore should get credit for some of the great achievements of the administration, including the booming economy, but not be held responsible for any personal lapses --
MR. LOCKHART: I think that should be put in the category of the hot air that tends to come around this time of year in Washington. I think the President will focus on what they've done together and why the right choice going into the future is the Vice President.
Q Yesterday on NBC, Gore was asked about Lieberman's comments on the floor about the Monica Lewinsky matter and he was asked if he agreed with him, and he said, "Yes, and I said so at the time." And I haven't been able to find a quote from him at the time, but I'm wondering if that's something he said to the President privately at the time. Do you know?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know what he may have said privately. I only know what the President said, and the President said quite publicly at the time that he agreed with what Senator Lieberman said. But as far as the Vice President's private conversations, I'm not privy to those.
Q Is the President resentful that he's being pushed out of the convention city on Tuesday morning and won't be around for the rest of the week?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think the President believes that it's very important for the Vice President, for Senator Lieberman to go and make a strong case to the American public. The President is one political figure who understands you have to earn the support of Americans, and you do that by laying out ideas, laying out your agenda, your vision for the future. And he understands that this is the Vice President's time and this is the Vice President's week.
I think he's also, on the other hand, gratified that he's going to be able to get to spend some time in Los Angeles over the weekend in order to go around and thank people for all extraordinary things that they've done for him over the last eight years, and even further back with many. So I think he'll have a good chance to travel around, see a lot of his friends and supporters, and thank them personally for all the support they've given him.
Q I don't know if we'll see you again between now and then. Can you tell us roughly what he's planning on doing, or what kind of events he's planning on doing?
MR. LOCKHART: I hope to have a schedule by, if not the end of today, tomorrow, for the weekend. I expect the President will be quite busy over the weekend -- a combination of seeing friends, different delegations -- I think he'll end up speaking to a variety of delegations. He'll do some DNC events. He'll spend some time working on the speech. But we're trying to make some final decisions today.
Q Usually, a lot of times at fundraisers you just allow a print reporter in. I'm just wondering how public he's going to be over the weekend. Are these going to be events that will be on camera?
MR. LOCKHART: We will follow the rules we have followed for as long as I've been here.
Q But he's going to have a series of events that are not fundraisers in addition --
MR. LOCKHART: Sure, yes. Absolutely.
Q So he'll be visible in LA?
MR. LOCKHART: Absolutely. And more -- I think the closer we get to Monday, the more he'll be talking to delegates to the convention.
Q And after Tuesday, after he goes to meet Gore in the Midwest, is he completely down for the week? Is he not going to show his face anywhere?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think we -- a minimal schedule at most for the rest of the week.
Q Is the Clinton administration sending soldiers to Nigeria to help train peacekeepers for Sierra Leone?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. The administration has been working on -- very closely in the context of ECOMOG and the Nigerian government on trying to help stabilize the situation in Sierra Leone. You will remember in May the President announced money to look at this. There was an assessment group that went over; that work is complete and there will be a limited number of troops that will go to Nigeria to help train Nigerian forces.
Q If I could follow up on it, why now? Is this after so many peacekeepers were abducted or --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think --
Q -- or seemed to be having trouble getting the grasp of the situation?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, obviously, we believe it's in the security and regional security interests to be -- of Africa -- to be involved, and therefore, believe it's in our own interests to be involved in a limited way. But I think as you remember, there were assessment teams that went over earlier this year to try and understand what we could do and what we could provide. That work is complete now and we intend to do what we can as far as training in Nigeria.
Q Define limited.
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I don't have the numbers on this. I'd go to the Pentagon. I think this is a couple hundred people.
Q Does this represent any shift or change in policy?
MR. LOCKHART: No, it represents a point in the process where I think the President laid out in May that we were going to look at what more we could do. We have gone about this in a very deliberate way, and we are going to commit these resources to this because we do think it's in our interests. I would note that those who have argued that this is somehow a shift I think are arguing incorrectly.
Q You're shifting over to using regional troops and people have made the criticism in the past that U.N. peacekeepers are often the equivalent of "rent-a-cops." They're not terribly well-trained. Does this mean the U.S. is now kind of giving up on the idea of using U.N. peacekeepers?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think the U.S. commitment to U.N. peacekeeping is unmistakable and undeniable. I will draw your attention back to the President's trip to Africa, when he went there, where he talked about the importance of a rapid response force in the region, of using regional troops. And we think this is an example of a place where this approach works best.
Q What is the President planning to say to the Croatian leaders? Is he going to bring up Milosevic and --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't -- I wouldn't -- I certainly expect that that will be part of the conversation, but I think the President wants to use this meeting to praise the Croatian government for the important work they've done over the last six months, the good start they've gotten to with the new government, and to continue our efforts to promote both economic and political reform in Croatia.
Q Is anything going to be promised to them?
MR. LOCKHART: I'll wait until after the meeting.
Q The President of Venezuela Chavez will visit Iraq tomorrow, becoming the first head of state to visit Iraq and meet with Saddam Hussein since the end of the Gulf War. Richard Boucher, on Monday, called it particularly galling. And the Iraqi News Agency, according to AP this morning, said that Boucher's remarks were stupid and an indication of blind involvement of the internal affairs of another country. He said the visit by Chavez was another slap in the face of American rulers for their rejected practices in the international arena.
Q So, there. (Laughter.)
Q What's your thinking?
MR. LOCKHART: What am I thinking?
Q No, no, no -- (laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, if they called me stupid I would have a have a big problem with it, but I didn't hear my name anywhere in there so -- let me take it seriously. I understand Venezuela's important role in OPEC and the fact that they are in a leadership position now within that organization. But I think the government there understands our view on this trip and understands our opposition to the trip.
Q Joe, since last week's President's call to Prime Minister of India after the massacre in Kasmir, any update, number one? Has the President heard from Pakistan, from the top level? Number two, is the President planning to meeting the Prime Minister of India in New York before he comes here to Washington on September 16th? And also, is the President planning on meeting with General Musharraf in New York at the U.N.?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have anything on the first part. I don't know that we have a meeting planned with the Prime Minister before this --
MR. CROWLEY: Sandy Berger has had a conversation with General Musharraf recently. There's no planned meeting with Prime Minister Vajpayee prior to the 15th of September. No meeting scheduled with General Musharraf.
Q Guerrilla groups are saying in Colombia that they will attack more towns and they will blow up more highways in the next two weeks in response to President Clinton's visit in Colombia. Do you have any comments on that?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, obviously, we condemn any act of violence directed at anyone in Colombia, whether it's in response to the President's visit or anything else. I think the challenge that the Colombian government faces, the partnership that we've forged in trying to deal with this underscores the importance of the President's visit. The President very much looks forward to this trip, in a way to recognize the partnership we have forged to combat drugs, both in the region and here in the United States.
Q Is there any idea of using this regional peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone as kind of an experiment, that you might actually expand it to other areas of Africa?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we have other -- I don't know that we necessarily need an experiment here. We have been working with African governments on a force that can go in and respond to situations like this. This is an overall effort that the United States and the President is particularly committed to, that he talks about when he meets with African leaders. So I don't know that -- I think that if the question is, are we thinking about using this kind of -- or are the Africans thinking about using this kind of force in other areas, the answer is, yes, and that's what the President talked about.
Q They, themselves, have shown their willingness to take the lead --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, yes. I mean, if you go back to the trip the President took and the events he did that highlighted the force, I think that's something they're working on.
Q Joe, the event in Michigan on Tuesday has been described as a chance for the President to pass the mantle of leadership of the Democratic Party to Al Gore. Is that the way the President views that event?
MR. LOCKHART: I've heard all of the cliches and most of them are old, tired, over-used, but I expect to hear a lot more of them. So I don't have a better one. (Laughter.) And if I did, I'd use it. But I think the President will give his speech Monday night, and Tuesday's event is to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Vice President as he moves to Los Angeles to accept the nomination, to make clear to the American public that they have a choice this November, a choice between a strategy that has worked, a strategy that the Vice President, with his particular talents and his particular vision and new ideas, can build upon, or a choice that seeks to turn back. And that's what the event is about.
Q Give us some idea of what happens after. What does it mean for the President to, to beat the cliche, hand the mantle to the Vice President? What is different after that? What does Mr. Clinton then not do? How does he push the Vice President to the fore, or what --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think the President has to do anything. I think that the focus of politics in this country will shift post-convention to the presidential election -- post-Labor Day. That's what always happens, and I don't expect this year to be any different. But I don't view the President's role to be that much different.
The month of September we've got a big appropriations battle, and we're going to decide this September things that will have some impact in the fall. We're going to decide whether the American public will have a patients' bill of rights, whether we'll have an increase in the minimum wage, whether seniors in this country will get prescription drug coverage in the context of Medicare, whether there will be any gun safety improvements for the public -- or whether the special interests and the Republican leadership will continue to block these things.
So the President has a very busy and ambitious agenda for September and beyond if Congress stays beyond there. So it's hard for me to know what will change.
Q Does it mean that the Vice President takes the lead in that fight instead of the President?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the President will take the lead in that. I think the Vice President will, properly, be out, as I expect Governor Bush to be, making their case for where they want to take this country in the future.
Q Joe, after the convention, the Vice President goes on a trip down the Mississippi River, stopping in some of the places that the President and he campaigned at back in 1992, for what the campaign is describing as a "then and now" tour, trying once again to get people to focus on the performance of the administration, the way the economy has been going in the last eight years. It's something they've been trying, so far without any success, to do for the last month and a half. Is the President surprised that it's been hard for the Vice President?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me make two points. One is that I think it's pretty good strategy. Two is, I would dispute they've been trying this without any success.
Q Well, the President has said the Vice President gets no credit for the economic success of the country.
MR. LOCKHART: I think when we come to election day and people understand the choice before them, the Vice President will do quite well.
Q Joe, you're saying that he doesn't have to do anything, that naturally attention shifts to the presidential election. And certainly that's true in some respects, but the President is a larger-than-life figure and he's somebody who gets attention every time he opens his mouth.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're going to put him on a diet. (Laughter.) He's going to be smaller, thinner, less noticeable.
Q Whenever he opens his mouth he gets a lot of attention. He doesn't have to do much.
MR. LOCKHART: You need to stop me before I hurt again. (Laughter.)
Q If there's no -- if you don't plan to make some kind of effort to put him off the stage, whatever he does he's going to potentially overshadow the Vice President.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think so. I think that the President fighting for a patients' bill of rights, minimum wage, prescription drugs through Medicare, gun safety legislation and a lot of other legislative priorities, where the Republicans and the special interests are standing in the way, and where the Governor of Texas is standing in the way or doing nothing to promote this -- I don't see how that can negatively impact any Democrat in this country.
Q Well, just to follow up on that. I mean, Governor Bush has done a really good job of laying out the argument why Gore should never be able to separate himself from the things that people don't like about the President, while he's done a good job of separating himself from the things people don't like about the Republican Congress. It sounds like you're trying to reverse that.
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I'm not trying to do anything. I think if he --
Q -- he's says he's for a prescription drug coverage.
MR. LOCKHART: He's not. I mean, he's not for the plan -- he's been asked, point blank, do you support the proposal put forward by the Democrats in the House, or the President, to have a prescription drug program in Medicare, or do you support the program that even the insurance companies say won't work that the Republicans have put forward, and he will not indicate any support. He is opposed to the program put forward by the President, and seniors in the country have a right to know that.
I think if he spent half as much time worrying about defining his own positions as he does about defining others, we'd be in a much better position in this country because we'd find out that he's not for sensible gun safety legislation, we'd find out that he vetoed a patients' bill of rights and isn't for the patients' bill of rights that has bipartisan support in this Congress. We'd find out that he isn't for raising the minimum wage. We'd find out that he's against providing a Medicare prescription drug benefit for Americans.
You didn't hear any of that in Philadelphia, and the political experts will explain to you why. It's not hard to understand. But there's a long time between now and election day, and it's hard to hide for that long.
Q Joe, just so I understand, post-Monday or Tuesday, if you will, in Michigan, the President will not lower his profile and the idea that in his speech in the convention he will try and somehow shield the Vice President from any of the transgressions of the Clinton administration is, as you said, a bunch of hot air.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, listen. You all may know more than I do, but I haven't seen anything on that. But let me go to the first one because that's not what I said. Listen to what I said. I said the President will continue to fight throughout the month of September to get all the things that I've just detailed done. He wants to get them done. He thinks it's in the best interest of this country.
I think there is a natural shift, though, from people in Washington who like to look at the government and the presidency, away from what's going on at this moment and to the future, and what the candidates are doing. That will happen. That doesn't need our -- they don't need our okay on that. That's already happened to some extent and will continue to happen. And that's proper, that's the way it should be.
Q Before we get off the subject, you're saying that Governor Bush is standing in the way -- in other words, he's no different than the Republicans and the special interests, and the President is going to be making that point -- is that correct?
MR. LOCKHART: No. The President will give his speech as he gives his speech. And I'm not going to preview --
Q -- as he goes on in September --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, the President's argument right now and his fight is with Congress. He will continue to have that. I'm making a different point, which is Governor Bush didn't tell you where he was in his speech in Philadelphia because it is a position that's supported by the special interests and opposed by the majority of Americans that have looked at these issues. Now, we will continue to talk -- our context for this debate now is whether we're going to get this done in Congress, and that's what we're going to focus on.
Q And he is going to talk about -- the President is going to talk about Governor Bush's responsibility or --
MR. LOCKHART: He might, he might not. I haven't talked to him about that.
Q The reason I'm asking is one of the other things that's unique about this election is there is this element of a grudge match. There's the fact that George Bush's father was defeated by Clinton. There's been a lot of back-and-forth between George Bush, Sr. and --
MR. LOCKHART: The clock is still ticking -- where are we in the 30 days?
Q But the fact is that it's not a simple matter of all of a sudden everybody just pays attention to Gore versus Bush.
MR. LOCKHART: As they shouldn't. There is an important debate that is going to happen in Washington in the month of September, and it's are we going to try to rebuild schools around this country within the context of the appropriations process; are we going to raise the minimum wage; are we going to get a patients' bill of rights. These are things that are important issues for all Americans that affect them in their everyday life.
They will be issues in the campaign. The candidates have remarkably different positions on these important issues, and they will be debated. But that is for November. We are going to have a very healthy debate in the month of September where the President tries to get these things accomplished.
Q So is it fair to say, Joe, that the President doesn't really lower his profile until October or so?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen. We don't get to decide our profile. You all get to decide that. But let me make a prediction. I'll make a prediction that you'll cover the appropriations process, as you've done every year, but you will cover the political campaign in a very healthy way. There will be a lot of coverage, and on election day the voters will know where the candidates stand, and we'll have a real choice. And we'll see what happens.
Q Joe, do you have any remarks you can make from the podium about some of the anti-Semitic statements that have come out against Lieberman?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think those kinds of statements -- let me say first off that I haven't seen anything. I will assume from your question that people have said things that go against the values of all Americans, and those people, through their own words, undermine their own arguments.
Q How best would you describe the relationship between the Senator and the President, and whether there was any strain at all after the Senator went to the Senate floor in '98?
MR. LOCKHART: I would describe the relationship as close, warm, friendly, going back over 30 years. I think all of you have seen the stories of the President working in then state Senate candidate Joe Lieberman's campaign in Connecticut as a law student. The President and Joe Lieberman, along with a handful of other Democrats, including the Vice President, have forged a fundamental change in the Democratic Party by bringing it back to the center. They have been partners in that for decades, over a wide array of issues.
And I think the President spoke very clearly and honestly on Monday when he was asked what he thought about him, both in personal terms and in their professional terms. And he spoke very clearly when Senator Lieberman spoke on the Senate floor. He agreed with what he said and it has had no impact on their relationship; their relationship remains strong. And the President, I think, spoke in very genuine and glowing terms about his views on Senator Lieberman.
Q It had absolutely no impact, even at the time?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, the President stood in front --
Q We all saw him in Ireland and Russia; he didn't look like a happy camper after that.
MR. LOCKHART: There was a lot of stuff going on at that time. But he was asked directly what he thought of Senator Lieberman's comments at the time; he said he agreed with them, he agreed with them then and he agrees with them now.
Q Joe, going back to India, the press advisors to the Prime Minister arrive in Washington and India is -- the United States and also -- to have a conference on international terrorism at the U.N. level if the U.S. supports that or the President supports it?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm certain if it's a priority for the Indian government, it will be on the agenda at the time of the state visit.
Q Joe, one of the President's assets is that he's famous for his charisma. And one of the late-night comedians made the point that Joe Lieberman makes Dick Cheney look like Ricky Martin. Is the President concerned at all that the Democratic ticket he wants so badly to see get elected might be a little bit charismatically challenged?
MR. LOCKHART: Ricky Martin -- that's that famous Republican singer who was in Philadelphia four nights in a row, is that him? Yes, oh, got it. (Laughter.) Yes. Ricky Schroeder, thank you. (Laughter.) Little Ricky. Never mind. Your question -- listen, I don't really know which part to grab on to and which part to ignore. (Laughter.) I think the President and most Americans believe that elections are about choices, choices they face, that have impact on people's lives. This election, more than many, offers a stark choice. And I think the President and a lot of other people are looking forward to the debate. And I think on election day we're not going to be talking about charisma in the top five things in the exit polls.
Q Do you think charisma matters in modern presidential elections?
MR. LOCKHART: I think being able to get up and to clearly explain what your vision is, what you bring to the job, and where you want to take this country matters. And I think the Vice President and Senator Lieberman are fully capable on both fronts.
Q Joe, the North Korean head of state -- actually is the number two guy, is going to attend the Millennium Summit in New York in early September. Is the President ready to meeting with him, following Secretary Albright's meeting with the North Korean --
MR. LOCKHART: The President will certainly be attending the Millennium Summit in New York, but I have no information on his schedule as far as any side meetings.
Q It's not the millennium.
MR. LOCKHART: No, it is the millennium. That's what you're arguing -- it is the millennium.
Q It is the millennium, last year wasn't --
Q Last year was.
MR. LOCKHART: Knoller, don't make me tell them how I stumped you the other day. (Laughter.) Well, okay. I asked Mark the other day how many public bill signings we had at the White House without a staff member from the Staff Secretary's Office. And he didn't know.
MR. LOCKHART: Let's just take one more, and then somebody is going to tell me I can leave. (Laughter.)
Q Is this afternoon's Medal event the last batch of Medals of Freedom that he's giving out?
MR. LOCKHART: This will be the last formal event where he gives out a number of them. I think the President always reserves the right to do something on a more ad hoc basis near the end of the administration, but this will be the last time we bring in a large group of distinguished Americans and do it in this way.
Q Can you respond to some of the reports that there's some tension between the Gore campaign and the White House and the Hillary campaign because every one is going to LA this weekend to raise money for separate causes?
MR. LOCKHART: Hmmm. No, everything is hunky-dory. (Laughter.) Thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 11:35 A.M. EDT