THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:16 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Let me start with a statement from the President and some announcements -- a statement of the President's concerning the visit by the leaders of the Northern Ireland Executive. It's kind of long, so just stay with me.
"I was encouraged by today's historic first visit to the White House by the leaders of Northern Ireland's new government, established under the Good Friday Accord. First Minister David Trimble and Deputy First Minister Seamus Malon conveyed to me their absolute commitment to make the new political institutions work for the benefit of all of the people of Northern Ireland.
Although the institutions have only been fully operating for a matter of weeks, elected representatives from across the party spectrum are working together on issues from economic development, to the environment, to health and education that hold the key to a better life for their constituents who now hold them accountable under devolution of power.
While difficult issues relating to the implementation of the Good Friday Accord remain, I am convinced, following today's meeting, that all the parties can work together to overcome their differences, and that they fully recognize the importance of doing so to ensure that these historic achievements are not lost.
The ongoing violence reminds us of the need for all parties to carry out their obligations under the Accord, and for those with political aims to pursue them through exclusively peaceful means.
I am grateful for the invitation extended to me to visit Northern Ireland. I reaffirm my desire to continue to support the peace process in any way we can. Thanks to courageous and determined leadership, the people of Northern Ireland face a brighter future now than at any time in the last three decades.
As those in zone of conflict around the world search for hope, they need to look no further than Northern Ireland, whose leaders have proved that risks for peace are worth taking."
Q Is he accepting?
MR. LOCKHART: He did not indicate to the leaders that he could accept the invitation at this time, but he would consider it for later in the year.
On the announcements. The President will hold a joint press conference on Friday at 3:30 p.m. with the Prime Minister of India, who is, as you all know, in for an official visit and will be here for the weekend. Deadline for sign-up is 5:00 p.m. today.
Upcoming travel: September 17th: President Clinton will travel to Philadelphia, on Sunday, September 17th. He will participate in the groundbreaking ceremony for the National Constitution Center. The Constitution Center will be the first ever museum honoring and explaining the Constitution. He will return to D.C. that day.
September 23rd through 25th, the President will travel to California. On Saturday, September 23rd, President Clinton will deliver remarks at a DNC lunch and reception for Mike Honda for Congress in San Jose, California. He will also make remarks at a DCCC dinner in Los Angeles later that evening, remaining overnight in Los Angeles.
On Sunday, the President will speak at a reception for Congresswoman Lois Capps in Pacific Palisades, then at a reception for the California League of Conservation Voters in Bel Air, and a DNC dinner in Anaheim Hills. The President will remain overnight again in Los Angeles.
On Monday, September 25th, the President will deliver remarks at a DNC lunch in Hidden Hills, California; will return to Washington that day.
September 27th, Texas. The President will travel to Texas on September 27th. He will speak at a luncheon for the DNC Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council in Dallas. He will also speak at a reception for Congressman Max Sandlin at a DNC dinner in Houston, returning to Washington, DC, in what will apparently be very late in the evening.
Q How does he feel about losing Air Force One?
MR. LOCKHART: No one told me -- we lost Air Force One? (Laughter.)
Q Have bags, will travel.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it is significant that as part of the reorientation program that we have going here on the President's birthday, his staff gave him a blow-up of a boarding pass and explained to him the concept behind such a boarding pass. Questions?
Q Do you have anything on Sandy Berger's meeting with the Israeli Foreign Minister?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I know that there have been some discussions going on. Several members of the team remained in New York over the weekend. You know, the President met with Prime Minister Barak on Saturday. I think Dennis Ross and the Secretary remained up there, so there were some ongoing discussions, but I don't have anything on Mr. Berger's itinerary. We'll check. We'll get back to you.
Q Does that mean here or in New York?
MR. LOCKHART: With the Foreign Minister?
MR. LOCKHART: I know that Sandy had a series of meetings while he was in New York, but he came back on Saturday. So I don't know that there's been anything subsequent or there's anything schedule here.
Q There is a report suggesting that Mrs. Clinton had contributors stay overnight at the White House and at Camp David. Her campaign is referring all questions about this to the White House. What do you know about it?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't comment on reports that come from that source. If you have some independent reporting and questions, go ahead and ask them. But don't bring that gentleman's reporting into this room.
Q Can you say that there were no such overnights?
MR. LOCKHART: What? Define the question.
Q Have any contributors to Mrs. Clinton's campaign stayed overnight at the White House or Camp David?
MR. LOCKHART: Sure. I don't know about Camp David, but the President and the First Lady, over the last seven and a half years, have always welcomed their friends and supporters and political officials from around the country, prominent members of the arts community to stay at the White House.
Within that group, there certainly have been people who, as their friends, have supported them financially.
Q So you're saying this is not necessarily a big deal?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm answering your question.
Q Then you're saying it's true?
MR. LOCKHART: Saying what is true?
Q That some contributors may have been wooed into staying overnight?
MR. LOCKHART: Repeat the question again? Some of the contributors may have been what?
Q Stayed overnight.
MR. LOCKHART: If the straightforward question is, have there been people who have stayed as the guests who have also been friends and supporters and contributors, sure; but you all knew that.
Q I am saying was it a payoff?
MR. LOCKHART: No. No.
Q Joe, has this been done in other administrations too?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. Go ask them. friends and supporters and contributors, sure. But you all knew that. But let me just say for the record that -- and I'll wait until Bill stops talking so you can hear this -- that it is truly a sorry day when you all walk in here and ask me questions based on a rumormonger's Internet web site.
Q Sometimes he's right.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, well, you know what? Sometimes is a standard that you should strive to reach better than sometimes.
Q Joe, on Northern Ireland, did the President talk about his feelings on the Patton Commission's final -- how it's going to finally come down on the Northern Ireland policing bill?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think there was a little bit of discussion of that. I think the President indicated that this was something that they needed to work out in a way that provided an effective force, but that was also a force that was broadly supportive. I don't think he had -- he didn't offer answers to the questions, only that full implementation of the Good Friday Accords has to be the priority of all the parties involved.
Q Joe, one of the White House chefs filed suit this morning, naming also the President, for sexual harassment against the chef, but also naming the President, saying there weren't guidelines in place. Do you have a comment to that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, on the specifics of this case, since it's under now -- it's a matter of litigation, I'm not going to comment on this particular case. I can tell you, as I said this morning, that everyone here at the White House is committed to ensuring equal employment opportunity for all employees, and we take any suggestion or allegation of employment discrimination seriously.
As to the idea that there is no forum or format to work through complaints or procedure, that's just not correct. There are internal procedures that exist for all employees who wish to raise these kinds of claims. White House employees who feel they've been subject to discrimination may file a grievance with the White House Equal Employment Opportunity Office. These complaints are handled in accordance with federal antidiscrimination Law, which requires counseling and mediation before an employee may proceed to court. These procedures exist to protect the civil rights of all White House employees.
The employees here, including those in the Executive Residence, are provided information about their EEO rights and the process for filing a grievance through the dissemination of information and training, particularly the new employees with EOP are given a 15-page manual that explains their rights under the law and the procedures available to protect them. So I think there clearly is a system in place to deal with this.
Q Joe, it is true, though, that the President was directed, under this 1996 law, to establish procedures governing bringing about complaints about discrimination --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know how the system started or what directed it, but there clearly is a system in place.
Q Some people on Capitol Hill are saying the White House is strongly or seriously considering releasing crude oil from the SPR. Are there any new developments on that?
MR. LOCKHART: I've got no new developments to report to you. Obviously, you know what's happened as far as our discussion with the OPEC producers, you know what we've done as far as the Northeastern Heating Oil Reserve establishment and acquiring oil for that. You also know what we've tried to do and have been stymied on as far as the long-term energy program with Congress. As far as what you raise in your particular question, as we've said for some days, all options remain on the table, but no decisions.
Q Are you planning any --
Q A follow-up on that. The President yesterday said that he's considering all these options. Can you define what some of these options are that are being mulled over?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to detail, in the middle of policy debates, everything we're considering, but you can rest assured that we're looking at every possible policy option at our disposal, the merits of it and the impact we think it would have on those who are most affected, and when and if we come to a conclusion that will employ new initiatives, we'll let you know.
Q Are you planning any inter-agency meetings or any White House meetings on the issue in the near future?
MR. LOCKHART: There's an ample procedure for inter-agency discussion on all economic matters chaired out of the NEC, and I think there have been a number of discussions concerning energy policy.
Q Tomorrow is the deadline for the CIA to declassify documents on Chile. Do you know yet whether it's been decided if that still will happen tomorrow and how many documents will be released?
MR. LOCKHART: As many of you know, a final release of the declassified documents on human rights abuses and terrorism and other acts of political violence which really was scheduled for tomorrow. You know that this is, I think, the third tranche in this. We've done two, this is the third.
The National Security Advisor has decided to delay the release, temporarily, of this third tranche in order to complete a further review of certain documents related to U.S. covert action in Chile. Basically, we want to make sure we get this done right and we are as responsive as we are able to, as far as the fullest-possible disclosure of documents, so there will be a temporary delay on that.
Q Joe, have you provided any kind of an estimate, just a rough estimate on the dollar value of the actions taken today on the fishing?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have one. We'll try to get one.
MR. SIEWERT: They're coming up with proposals that will come back to us later.
MR. DIRINGER: That's one of the directions, is to develop those estimates.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay.
Q So nothing, not even of a rough --
MR. LOCKHART: No, that again I think is Jake and Elliot suggested, that's part of the process.
Q Is there an economic concern that just 18 months after Japan's economy has finally recovered, with some U.S. help, that actions like this or that might be considered would again throw them off?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we are weighing what we believe is the impact of their actions, versus a number of things, and this was the appropriate response.
Q Since you acknowledge that there were friends of the First Lady's who were also contributors that stayed over night at the White House, has their been an increase in the number of people staying here since her Senate campaign?
MR. LOCKHART: I honestly haven't done any analysis on that.
Q Back on the SPR, do you know when you might be able to respond to Senator Schumer and Collins on their request to release something from the SPR?
MR. LOCKHART: I know that Senator Schumer has been calling for this now for many months, that we have a process that is continually looking at how best to deal with the rising cost of energy prices. We've done a number of things. We wish we could do more. We wish we could get members of Congress to take steps on things like tax credits for energy efficiency. We wish they hadn't zeroed out money for the next generation of vehicles.
You know, you can get a lot more on a gallon of gas if a car gets 100 miles an hour than if it gets 15 to 20, so we're hoping that they will be more forthcoming in the next four weeks on that effort, but we continue to look at all of our options, what we can get done now.
Q Joe, you said this morning that you're taking a step backwards on the patients' bill of rights in discussions yesterday. Does that mean that you're closing the book on getting a patients' bill of rights in this session of Congress?
MR. LOCKHART: No, listen, I tend to believe that this time of year, this close to an election, the patients' bill of rights will have a lot of life to it, with the vast majority of this country, a large majority in the House, and a majority in the Senate, are supportive of the Norwood-Dingell bill.
I think Senator Nickles certainly has it within his power to use Senate rules to block this bill, but I think as the days go on, there will be increasing pressure to get something done here, so we still believe we can get this done.
Q Joe, the House just failed to override the President's veto of the Marriage Penalty bill. Any reaction to that, and then, what kind of implication would this have for your negotiations on the budget this year?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, you have to excuse us if we're a little confused, and the American public's a little confused on where the Republican Majority is. You know, on the same day that they try to override a presidential veto because it is not fiscally disciplined to go about eliminating the marriage penalty, they are now also talking about the merits of debt relief. I think it's a classic case of trying to have it both ways.
We're going to continue to try to put aside the rhetoric and whatever gimmickry is going to come this year from the Republican Majority, and make sure we invest in our priorities and keep us on the path of putting this country in a debt-free position by the year 2012.
Q Joe, does the President intend to watch the First Lady's debate live tonight, or when it's replayed later?
MR. LOCKHART: It's unclear to me. I expect he will watch it. I don't know that he'll be able to see it live, because I think you're going to have to be in New York for that. They're looking into seeing if there's a way to see it. If now, he'll watch it when it's rebroadcast at 10:00 p.m.
Q And Jake said a little bit about it yesterday, but has he actually participated in sort of podium training for her? Has it extended that far, where he's actually been a participant in that way?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know the full extent. I know that, obviously the President has participated in dozens of debates over his political career. This is the First Lady's first political debate, I think, in sort of any format, whether it be going back to a political campaign. I don't think she was a debater in college or anything like that, so I think this is very much a first for her, and a new experience.
The President, I think, is quite effective at this, has a lot of experience, and has a lot to offer. How much advice he has given her, I'm not sure.
Q On what format, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I'm just not sure how that's -- but I think the First Lady, from time to time, looks to the President and looks to get something from the experience that he's been through, whether it's debates or big speeches. And he's -- as he indicated yesterday -- he's happy to help.
Q Joe, speaking of the First Lady, a new book says that the President left it up to his personal attorney, David Kendall, to tell Mrs. Clinton about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, and also that Harold Ickes, a close advisor of the President, went to Mr. Sweeney and asked him for guidance on how to persuade the -- a plan to persuade the President he might have to resign. Do you know if there's any truth in either of those?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. I thought I had heard everything there was to hear about that period of our history. These are two things that I hadn't heard before, but I don't plan to become a historian on the subject.
Q Well, have you made any attempt to ask anybody?
MR. LOCKHART: No. Nor do I intend to.
Q Joe, in the small business tax cuts attached or linked with minimum wage end up being $76 billion and not scaled back at all, would that be a deal-breaker?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think there's still more work that needs to be done to make the minimum wage -- to make some of the provisions within their proposal acceptable. Again, it is somewhat beyond us to understand why minimum wage has to become the dumping ground for special tax breaks. We ought to just pass this clean.
But since the Republicans have made it very clear that they are not going to do that, pass a clean minimum wage, give working families in this country a raise, without something in return, we are faced with working out something that makes sense, that's fiscally disciplined. That work is ongoing.
Q Joe, the Republicans indicated yesterday that of all the tax provisions, that's one that seems on the way towards some kind of an agreement. Is that -- do you have the same perspective here?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. I think they may be counting their special interest tax breaks before they hatch.
Q Joe, why aren't you willing to commit to going to this trip to Ireland? Are you waiting to make sure that it's a more stable area, because it's been -- it's coming up --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the President -- it's frankly a logistical question. Over the next several months, the President's schedule is completely full, and I think he indicated to the leaders today that this is something he'd very much like to do. He very much appreciated the invitation, but we're not in a position to be making sort of December-January scheduling decisions right now.
Q Even though the Taoiseach announced to the press when he came out of the Waldorf last week that the President was coming the second week in December. Is that just misinformation?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that he may know more about the President's schedule than I do; he may not. I thought in my answer, I -- if you dissected it a little bit, I dropped a fairly large hint, but if I need to be more explicit, I won't be. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, you just said you had dropped a hint. Have you ever sent a --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm going to stop dropping hints. (Laughter.)
Q Have you ever used that podium during your time there to send subliminal messages? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: No. No, but there is a serious point here, which is, if you -- if one of the television networks are kind enough to let you go back and listen to this briefing backwards, you will find out that Paul is indeed dead. (Laughter.)
Are we done?
Q You have to be a certain age to get that.
MR. LOCKHART: I know. This part of the room got it. (Laughter.) Thanks.
END 12:42 P.M. EDT