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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 15, 2000
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                              JOE LOCKHART

                    The James S. Brady Briefing Room

1:00 P.M. EDT

MR. LOCKHART: I have no announcements. I have a week ahead, if there's anything that keeps me from doing the week ahead right away, ask. Oh, by the way, I do have one announcement.

At 3:15 p.m. we'll have an on the record, on-camera briefing with Bruce Riedel and Rick Inderfurth, who will give you everything you need to know about today's meeting with the Indian Prime Minister, and answer all of your questions. That is a subtle hint that I will not be taking questions on this subject.

Q Can you say something now for the evening papers how the talks went?

MR. LOCKHART: The talks, as far as I understand it -- I haven't gotten a read-out since they've broken up, so we'll have to wait until Rick and Bruce come down.

Q Joe, does the White House take issue with the characterization of the President's remarks yesterday on the Wen Ho Lee case as a rebuke of the Attorney General, of the Justice Department, of federal investigators?

MR. LOCKHART: I think I said yesterday it was not a rebuke of any particular person. I think the President made clear today that it was not -- that he did not view his remarks as directed toward the Attorney General. The President believes very strongly in her, the job she's done and in her abilities.

There are questions, though, as he said, that should be answered, and we hope they will be.

Q Joe, is the President making calls on the Mid-East, at all?

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I know of. As you know, we had a chance to meet personally with the leaders on a multiple basis just last week. He spent some time this morning with Secretary of State Albright, who was just up in New York talking to some counterparts that are involved in this process. And Mr. Berger has a meeting this afternoon. So I don't know that there are any calls, but there are certainly a lot of conversation and activity.

Q Mrs. Albright has said the U.S. will take appropriate action if Iraq invades Kuwait. Do you see the situation there escalating?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that there have been, over the course of the last 10 years, periods of muscular rhetoric coming from Saddam Hussein. I think what should be quite clear to him is how deeply committed we are to continuing our policy that contains his ability to threaten his neighbors and reconstitute weapons of mass destruction. He has had times where he's miscalculated, but he should not miscalculate our resolve.

Q Joe, is the President getting any closer to making a decision on whether he will tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?

MR. LOCKHART: I think, as he said this morning, we're working very hard on energy issues as a whole, monitoring the overall oil market closely. The market is still digesting the OPEC production increase. OPEC has had some comments on their own in the last, I think, 24 hours on this subject. As far as further steps, I think the President said all options remain on the table, but there are no decisions.

Q Meaning that -- if I could follow up, meaning that option of tapping the reserve remains on the table?

MR. LOCKHART: It's certainly one of the options.

Q Joe, yesterday a House committee approved the 9010 debt reproduction plan with a bipartisan vote. Are you concerned that this might take on a life of its own because it's so hard to vote against, and that you guys might get boxed into a corner?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. I think, very clearly, there's no party to these discussions that's more committed to fiscal discipline at the White House and the Democrats in Congress. Our budget met that goal, but it's clearly now a last-minute gasp on the part of House Republicans and Senate Republicans to try to find a gimmick that gets them out of the box they've put themselves in.

The interesting part of the box they've put themselves in, through their tax policy and their spending plans, is in order to get out of the situation they're in they're now having to repudiate their presidential candidate. This program that they've put forward directly rebukes the economic plan that Governor Bush has put forward as the central part of his platform and the central reason that he thinks people should vote for him to make him the next president. House Republicans don't really think that that's such a great argument anymore based on this.

We're going to go ahead, we're going to go forward and work with Democrats and Republicans alike. I think, unfortunately, the spirit of cooperation and compromise that we heard here on Tuesday has not been followed through on. They went through, have passed and moved on a number of appropriation bills without working and consulting with the White House. This will only slow down the process, because I think they know where we are on the appropriations bills.

But I think what they need to know and I think what they do know, ultimately, is that we didn't get to a position of the strongest economy in our history by coming up with a gimmick and a slogan. We got through hard decisions and fiscal discipline, and after seven and a half years, we have no intention in the next six or seven weeks of abandoning that on the basis of House Republicans or Senate Republicans trying to get out of a box.

Q So the President would veto a 90 percent debt reduction? Is that what you're saying?

MR. LOCKHART: If you're talking about the lockbox, I think it's quite interesting that they -- I mean, they didn't pass a piece of legislation that said there will be 90 percent of the surplus. What they did is they passed a lockbox which unfortunately doesn't have the strength of the lockbox that the President has advocated on Medicare and on the Social Security trust fund and some of the surplus.

But they're moving in the direction that says that debt reduction is the priority, rather than risky tax cuts that go primarily to the most wealthy in this country than they're moving in the right direction. They're moving in the direction of the President and the Democrats in Congress. Where they're moving away from, though, is from their own presidential candidate.

So it remains to be seen how committed they really are to this.

Q With the change in today's schedule, any chance you're talking about a news conference in the future?

MR. LOCKHART: I hope not in the next two weeks. (Laughter.) It's too much work.

Q Why?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I am proud to announce today that on October 2nd, the President will hold a news conference in the East Room. (Laughter.)

Q Jake?

MR. LOCKHART: Jake? (Laughter.) No, I don't know. The schedule is pretty booked I think over the next couple weeks. But I think he's anxious to spend some more quality time with you all, so I think we'll do that.

Q Does the President's decision on tapping the reserves depend on how well this increase, OPEC increase works?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it's part of an overall energy policy. Any decision like that will have to reflect what's going on in the marketplace and what the -- whether we believe that this is at risk of becoming a crisis for the country. The ways and criteria for using the SPRO are fairly straightforward and clear; and it's just not something you do on a whim, because you feel like doing it. You have to look at a number of factors.

But the current situation, as far as the price and availability -- and I think really what we're talking about here is availability -- has to be taken into account.

Q And that is an ongoing review now, a very active review?


Q If the President were to trigger the reserve, how quickly would additional heating oil supplies be available?

MR. LOCKHART: That's a question that I don't know how quickly it would be, but it would certainly, you know -- it could put a significant amount of oil in the marketplace, but I don't actually know what the lag or lead time is.

Q So it's your judgment at this point, Joe, that it hasn't reached a crisis level where it needs to be drawn down?

MR. LOCKHART: We've reached the judgement that this is something that the President is concerned about. It's something we've taken a look at. There are a number of steps we have taken. We have worked very closely and I think you've seen the results as far as OPEC goes, as far as production. You've seen the work we've done on the northeast -- northeastern home heating oil reserve. There are a number of other steps that have remained bogged down in Congress.

But beyond that, there are a variety of other steps that could be taken, and those options remain open.

Q Joe, on Wen Ho Lee, what sort of follow up review is the White House considering?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, there were some discussions yesterday between the White House staff and the Justice Department. I think as the President -- get it today, he will take an opportunity at some point to talk to the Attorney General. I don't know what form it will take, but I think we're looking for some sort of process that can look at the narrow question that the President posed about holding someone pretrial, you know, without the possibility of bail.

I think he put into perspective today many of the important issues about what is crucial here is finding out what happened to the tapes, looking at a very serious national security violation by the gentleman in question. But there are questions about the legal issues surrounding the pretrial bail, and the timing of the bail hearing versus the arguments made in the bail hearing and the arguments made subsequently in the plea bargain. That needs some examination. I think he was fairly clear on that.

Q Is he considering, though, appointing some sort of outside person?

MR. LOCKHART: The conversations haven't gone that far. I know that there was some very helpful advice provided on editorial pages about how we should do this -- the very same pages that provided exactly the opposite advice some months ago. But I think we'll ignore the editorials and rely on our own counsel.

Q Joe, do you think -- the President said he doesn't think racial bias was a factor here. Do you think that just an atmosphere of hysteria may have been a factor in --

MR. LOCKHART: I'll tell you, we take these kinds of issues very seriously. And I think when there are troubling questions, we think there should be answers. And I think the President was very clear on what the American people deserve. And it's certainly our hope, although it is not a hope that we genuinely believe anything will be done about, that others will take some time and do some examination.

I think there was a climate of -- a very difficult climate that was generated in this town when this story came out, a climate generated by some very explosive and near-hysterical investigative reporting, a climate that was fueled by explosive comments from political leaders, including members of Congress. And I hope everybody takes a moment, looks at how they handled this situation, and looks to see if in the future they can do better -- just as I think the executive branch will do.

Q Joe, do you believe that the media reporting and the explosive atmosphere that you've described affected the prosector's decisions on which charges to bring and how this case was --

MR. LOCKHART: That would be a question you would have to put to the prosecutors, and they will stand up, I'm certain, and answer their questions. It's certainly my hope that those who wrote the stories will also be willing to stand up and talk about their motivations and whether there is anything they can learn in the aftermath of their reporting.

Q What about the question of an apology? The judge raised the fact that he could not apologize for the executive branch, but he could apologize for what he thought had happened in his courtroom. Is there any thought being given to contacting Mr. Lee and making any kind of formal apology?

MR. LOCKHART: I think given the limited and the proper role, and hands-off role that was played here by the White House, there is no discussion of that.

I think the President's obligation, as he addressed directly yesterday and then again this morning, was when questions are raised, when they are legitimate questions, when people are troubled by things -- and he, indeed, is troubled, himself, by some of these questions -- we should look at it. We should look at it and see what it is we can learn from this experience and see if anything needs to be done to improve in the future.

Q So who should apologize in this case here? Is Mr. Lee due an apology?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm in no position to make a judgment on that.

Q Joe, can you clarify something I think you said this morning? The President, when he had the opportunity, I guess, to talk about this earlier but chose not to talk about it until yesterday, you suggested that the press would have jumped on him if he had made a statement earlier --

MR. LOCKHART: No. I think, quite rightly, the President -- again, we're looking at a very narrow band of issues here in this case, and we shouldn't loose sight of that. But there were -- he had an understanding of the reasons for holding this gentleman without bail, and within the last week or so -- and I think, as he said this morning, it is a very high standard in this country, as it should be. I think he said that we often lean in the other direction on this, for good reason.

The questions are generated, the specific questions are generated from the fact that between a bail hearing on one day and three or four days later, those reasons seem to have dissipated in a plea agreement, as far as the risk of -- posed by allowing the gentleman before a trial out of prison.

So I think he has a general, as I think most Americans do, high standard, and always a sense of unease when someone is being held without the possibility for bail. And in this question -- the questions are generated and derived from, just in the last week, you know, the difference between where they were from the bail hearing and where they were in the trial, or the plea agreement.

Q But it wasn't a fear of an adverse press reaction that kept him from speaking out earlier?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the -- I think what I was referring to yesterday, and I think he touched on a little bit this morning is, that there were certainly -- and the little that he knew about this -- there was a case made for why they had to go in this direction. And I think that you would all understand, and would have, I think, had a field day reporting, if somehow he tried to intervene in this case, as somehow being politically motivated.

Q Could the President -- does the President think he could have done anything to sort of calm the hysteria you described earlier?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me tell you something, because I happened to be around here during that period, and I think most of you who talked to me on a variety of bases, heard a pretty clear and consistent message, which is -- and particularly with some news organizations -- that we believe that you were out ahead of yourself. There were a lot of people jumping to a lot of conclusions, and we ought to sit back and make suer that we know all the facts.

So I don't think that in this particular case that, at least from this particular podium in this particular building, we'll take the blame for creating whatever sort of environment we were in, in this case. And I would suggest that those of you who didn't talk to me during that period talk to your colleagues who did.

Q Joe, on the issue of tobacco, there's an AP story out quoting Jake saying that the White House is looking at reconciling both our public health goals and our concerns for communities that rely on growing tobacco. What is going on behind the scenes on this issue? Is there some thought about trying to help the tobacco farmers?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, there has been a longstanding commitment as part of the administration to make sure that as we do deal as aggressively as we can with our public health issues, that tobacco farmers aren't the ones who pay the price or are left behind.

You will remember in the settlement proposals that we worked out, and subsequently fell apart, with the tobacco companies, there was a large provision for help and transitional help for tobacco farmers. I understand that there is continuing work on that and sometime soon we might have more to say.

Q Joe, it's understandable that Prime Minister Vajpayee was exhausted today and there is certainly good reason for not having a news conference. But did the President ever think about maybe just going ahead with the news conference and coming out alone to talk to us today, given that his schedule is so packed and --

MR. LOCKHART: You mean all by himself?

Q All by himself.

MR. LOCKHART: With nobody else standing there?

Q Nobody else. (Laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I don't think he thought about that. (Laughter.) As I think you well know, there are scheduling issues here. In order to stand up and do a full-blown news conference, we'd need more than the 15 or 20 minutes to prepare for that. As hard as it is to believe, we do prepare for these things. And there was no way to re-jigger the schedule to do that.

Q What's the week ahead?

MR. LOCKHART: Thank you. Saturday, September 16th, the President's weekly radio address will be broadcast live at 10:06 a.m. As background, the President in his radio addressed, broadcast live from the Washington home in Washington, D.C., President Clinton will announce a new initiative to improve nursing home quality nationwide?

Q Can we put a camera in there, Joe, a pool camera?

MR. LOCKHART: I'll check. Now, was this word "background" like I wasn't supposed to say that? Or I was supposed to say it on background? (Laughter.) I said it. There we go. There's that decision. (Laughter.) We'll put a camera in, but it's on background.

Later that morning, the President will join the Prime Minister of India in a dedication ceremony for the Gandhi Memorial in Northwest Washington, D.C. That evening, President Clinton will make remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Dinner at the Washington Convention Center.

Sunday, September 17th, the President will travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He will participate in a ceremony for the National Constitution Center. As promised earlier, that is something -- this is an important event in Philadelphia. I think some of you who have traveled with us for a while have talked to former Mayor Rendell who, this is a very important project, has worked on. The President has helped him in this project, so I think he wants to go celebrate an important milestone for the City of Philadelphia and an important historical monument for our country. I expect his remarks to focus on that, and that alone.

The President will also make remarks at a New York Senate 2000 brunch, returning to Washington that day. That evening, the President will host an official dinner for the Prime Minister of India.

Monday, no public schedule.

Tuesday, the President will speak at a fundraising reception for Heidi Heitkamp for Governor of North Dakota, at the St. Regis in Washington. That evening, the President will speak at the Kennedy Center prior to a premiere performance of a theatrical production entitled, "Truth To Power: Human Right Defenders Who Are Changing The World."

Wednesday, September 20th, the President will make remarks at the Church of God in Christ Annual Bishop Conference at the Renaissance Hotel in D.C. We will also host an official working visit for Prime Minister Amato of Italy.

Q What's the format of that church remarks?

MR. LOCKHART: It's a speech. It's not in a church, it's in a hotel. It's a gathering from around the country of this church. The President spoke to them, I believe, in 1992 in Memphis on the campaign, if my memory is correct.

The President, that evening, will speak at a dinner for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and a reception for New Hampshire Governor Jean Shaheen.

Q Where are we, Thursday night?

MR. LOCKHART: That's Wednesday. Thursday, the President will visit Flint, Michigan, as part of his initiative to bridge the digital divide and create digital opportunity for all Americans. This is also a travel announcement; this has not previously been announced.

In Flint, the President will highlight the importance of ensuring that new information and communications technologies are accessible to people with disabilities. The President is traveling to Flint to highlight several model programs that provide access to information technology for people with disabilities and increase their ability to get a job and acquire new skills.

Friday, September 22nd, President Clinton will speak at the dedication ceremony for the State Department. The building is officially being renamed that day the Harry S. Truman State Department Building. That's one for us. (Laughter.) What is the score now? Five to one, six to one? Okay.

Saturday, September 23rd, the President will do his Weekly Radio Address. He will leave that day for the California trip that's been previously announced and do the fundraising schedule that's been previously announced.

Q -- for digital divide event in Michigan or any other --

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I know of, but I can check on that. I don't know that we've done that. Who's that? Oh, it's April. Yes?

Q Joe, the CBC tomorrow night, we understand it's supposed to be a love fest.

MR. LOCKHART: Hope so. (Laughter.)

Q What is the President expected to say?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President will use this opportunity to talk about all that we've accomplished over the last seven and a half years with his allies within the CBC, the challenges that face us. And, hopefully, he will provide a good warm up for our Presidential candidate, who will also speak at the dinner.

Q What about the race book?

Q Yes, thank you.

MR. LOCKHART: Wait a second, if this isn't an unholy alliance, April Ryan and Mark Knoller join forces. (Laughter.)

Q Yes.

MR. LOCKHART: If that's going to be the case, I'm overmatched. Goodbye.

Q No Joe, seriously, seriously.

MR. LOCKHART: I'm leaving.

END 1:25 P.M. EDT