THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:24 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone. Questions?
Q Joe, do you have a reaction to the Yugoslav election commission calling for a run-off?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think what we've seen now are some preliminary reports from the commission. I think our view is it's interesting that the government now, itself, recognizes that the opposition has substantially out-polled the government, despite all of the intimidation and irregularities in the election, I think now -- that are now well-known. I think the failure to award a first-round victory for the opposition is highly suspect, given the other credible reports that came out about the polling.
I think now we need to wait until these numbers are final and take a cue from the opposition to see what their intentions and plans are.
Q You're not surprised, are you?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know, given what we know about how the election was taking place, that there's too much the government can do to surprise us.
Q Joe, the hope, I guess, of the President's remarks here is to entice the people of Serbia with lifting of sanctions, to try to get them to rally behind the opposition. Does the U.S. think that would really work and really would put more pressure on Milosevic --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think -- I'm not sure I accept the premise, but there is certainly, whether you use the government's suspect figures or the more credible figures that have come from the opposition, there absolutely appears to be a sense of a people who want to rejoin the community of Europe, and I think some understanding that won't happen, given the current government.
Q Joe, the President was somewhat muted in his language than some close U.S. allies -- Tony Blair, for example, said it's time for Milosevic to go. Was the President's language more moderated partly because he feared that if he comes out too hard, it may make Milosevic more reluctant to let go of power?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. I think we are waiting for the results now, but it's very clear by our policy what we think of that government. I believe our policy speaks in a way that's much more effective and certainly as loudly as our rhetoric.
Q Joe, The Washington Post reports on page one this morning, "Lieberman roils Connecticut politics," with a Quinnipiac poll reporting at 46 percent Connecticut voters disapprove of his running for Senate as well as Vice President, while 45 percent approve. My question is, how does the President believe that Mr. Lieberman can possibly be sincere and absolutely dedicated, when he's running for two different offices at the same time, and thus devaluating the significance of both offices.
MR. LOCKHART: Devaluating?
Q Yes. If you're running for both, no man can serve two masters.
MR. LOCKHART: Is that a word? I'm sorry, I have to disqualify that question on grammatical grounds.
Q Joe, now -- (laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I'll come back to you in a while.
Q I have a follow up though, Joe. I have one follow-up.
Q What are you going to miss the most?
Q As Commander-In-Chief of the United States Navy, was the President grateful to Admiral John Nathman for his contribution to the cause of gender equity in his calling for the elimination of all urinals in the Navy?
MR. LOCKHART: Not familiar with that report.
Q It was page one, Joe.
MR. LOCKHART: Missed that one too.
Q Do you have anything on the meeting of Barak and Arafat last night?
MR. LOCKHART: The President, just a few moments ago, got off a phone call with Prime Minister Barak. It lasted about 10 minutes. He gave the President a readout of that meeting. I'm not going to go into the details of it here, other than that the President was briefed.
I think as you know, the negotiators will be meeting in the Washington area over then next few days, to continue the dialogue. I think as we have indicated, we want to make sure that the parties continue their discussions with each other, and that we continue to play a role in trying to bridge the differences between them.
Q Did the President call Barak, or did Barak --
MR. LOCKHART: No, Prime Minister Barak called the President, to give him a sense of the meeting yesterday.
Q And even though you're not going to give us much, is there anything you can say about whether or not any bridge was made at that meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it's obviously very important for these discussions to continue, particularly at the leader level, because it is our view that the leaders need to be involved, in order to reach an agreement. But I don't know that there's anything that I can say, at this point, that would change our underlying view, which I think we've expressed over the last several weeks.
Q What's the level of talks here?
MR. LOCKHART: Negotiators.
Q Where is that?
MR. LOCKHART: Someplace in the Washington metropolitan area. I don't have an exact location.
MR. LOCKHART: Over the next few days.
Q Is he going to be talking to Palestinian leader Arafat? Is there an expected call today as well?
MR. LOCKHART: If there is, we'll let you know.
Q Joe, what is the thought of the administration, particularly of the President, of Joe Lieberman trying to be a racial healer now? He's trying to bring the Jewish American community together and the African American community by possibly sitting down very soon and talking with Minister Louis Farrakhan. What are your thoughts about that? Has the President said anything about that?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't talked to the President, but he has not remarked to me, and I don't know about any meeting that may or may not be planned, but I think the President for one has sought out many voices on the issue of racial reconciliation, and I think Senator Lieberman is in an unique position as a leader in the American Jewish community, and also as someone with a civil rights record that is quite extraordinary and someone who took extraordinary steps as a younger person to be involved in the civil rights movement in this country.
Q Does this mainstream Minister Farrakhan if Lieberman --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I have no knowledge --
Q Lieberman said that to me less than an hour ago.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I'm going to let him speak for what he may do or may not do. I'm not aware of that, but I think overall, to the general point in your question, he's uniquely positioned, as many Americans are, to help promote this cause that the President has been so committed to.
Q Do you think it promotes the cause for him to meet with somebody who's made quite inflammatory statements about other religious groups?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, I'm relying without any conjecture on the source of this, I don't know the details of it, so I'm really not going to get into a drawn-out discussion on it.
Q And your reaction to the Attorney General and the FBI Director testifying about the Wen Ho Lee case today? Do you think it's a useful way to answer some of these questions?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think there's -- the members of Congress have questions like the President has questions, like the American public has questions on this case. And it's important for the Attorney General and the FBI Director to go up to Congress and make their views known, answer -- I think they have answered many of the questions that were put to them today.
There are other questions that I think the Office of Professional Responsibility will look at. But, overall, the Attorney General has made clear to the President and I think to the public, that the important thing here is that we look at the serious transgressions that happened in this case by Dr. Lee, which are embodied in the plea agreement, but also go and look seriously at any questions that have been raised about the conduct of the investigation and the prosecution. And both of those things are being done.
Q Is the President still troubled then? Is he still troubled that he doesn't feel he has the answers?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there's a process here and I think we wouldn't go through a process if there weren't unanswered questions, for particularly some of the issues surrounding the detainment, the pre-prosecution -- or the pre-trial -- excuse me -- detainment. But I think, overall, the President agrees with the Attorney General that these were serious offenses, a serious offense that Dr. Lee pleaded guilty to. And I think that was the focus of most of the morning's discussion with the Attorney General and the FBI Director, just the details of the information that they had, and that the priority should be on finding out what happened to these tapes.
Q Was she able to assure the President that they would get the answer as to why he took this --
MR. LOCKHART: Absolutely. I think the President was assured by the Attorney General in his meeting late last week that all of these questions would be looked at in a very serious way and the President, Congress, and the American public would have a full accounting.
Q Does the President plan to, or want to, have a discussion about the case with the FBI Director? And does he still have confidence in his role leading the --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President's view on the FBI Director remains the same, and I think he views it as appropriate to deal directly with the Attorney General on this matter.
Q Does the President have full confidence in Secretary Summers and Chairman Greenspan, and high regard for their advice, or not?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, and yes.
Q Then why did he disregard their advice regarding the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which was also Vice President Gore's strong stand on --
MR. LOCKHART: Let me cut off the question and call your attention to a communique that was issued by the G-7 finance ministers and the central governors that include Secretary Summers and Chairman Greenspan, which --
Q You mean, they contradicted themselves?
MR. LOCKHART: -- which was in support of the administration's move last week on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Q But this is The New York Times that quoted this strong letter -- "Chairman Greenspan and I believe that using the Strategic Petroleum --
MR. LOCKHART: Lester, I'm familiar with the memo --
Q You mean they're contradicting themselves, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm also familiar with the circumstances, which I'm not going to get into in the internal deliberations within this administration. You have on the record, for all of you to read, and for those of you who want to report on it directly and objectively, a clear statement from the Secretary, from the Chairman of the Federal Reserve and their colleagues in the G-7.
Q What are you going to miss most?
MR. LOCKHART: I can tell you what I'm going to miss least. I don't know. I've got four whole days to think about that.
Q Joe, a year ago, the President granted relief to the 10,000 Liberians, allowing them to stay in this country for another year. That action expires on Thursday, and unless he renews that, they will have to leave the country. Can we expect that the President will grant them an extension another year?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me say first off, we support a more permanent solution for the issue of Liberians with long standing ties to the U.S., but as far as the deadline, we're well aware that it expires within the next few days, and there's a process under way, and a review going on here at the White House, which when I have more to say on I will.
Q When could that be?
MR. LOCKHART: Within the next few days.
Q Joe, is the President willing to sign this?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q The CR?
MR. LOCKHART: Which CR?
Q The CR under consideration in Congress?
MR. LOCKHART: Well I actually haven't seen what they've got something in the works. Clearly, we have absolutely no interest in seeing the important functions of the government shut down. We think that Congress is making a surprising lack of progress over the last two or three weeks, for a group that really wants to get home and do something else, but we're more than willing to temporarily extend the functions of government, through a CR, so that Congress can get their work done.
Q How do you feel about a lame duck session of Congress, where they come back after the election?
MR. LOCKHART: You know, I think it would be very hard for anyone in this country to understand why campaigning was more important than funding education, while going back and asking people for votes was more important than in protecting the environment; while going to some fundraiser at home is more important than doing the important business of work. So I think we'll continue to make the case to Congress that their campaigns should take the proper role, secondary to the business for which they were elected to do.
Q Joe, what are the time frames of the CR that you would accept? Is it like a week, or two weeks? We went through a series of short term ones at one point.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, we'll work with the leadership on that. It's clear that they're not going to get their work done by the deadline. It's also clear, since the work has really been done in fits and starts with a lot less starts than fits, based on some internal divisions within the Republicans. But they'll need to come and talk to us about the length of any CR.
The important thing is that they start getting the work done. We have made precious little progress since they came back in September. A lot of days have passed and not much has gotten done. They need to get their work done in order to go and do what they've said is important to them, which is go back -- there's nothing wrong with going back, it's an important time. And it's important that members have the chance to go and make the case to their constituents, whether they be Democrats or Republicans, which is one of the reasons the work should have been done by now.
But we'll continue to work with them. I don't know what the appropriate time frame is. But I think it's becoming increasingly clear this is not going to get settled in the first two or three days of October.
Q Is there any discussion of wrapping a number of these spending bills into some sort of omnibus spending bill and plopping that down on the President's desk?
MR. LOCKHART: If there is discussion, it's going on with just Republicans in the room, and they're discussing it amongst themselves, not with us.
Q Joe, CNN-USA Today Gallup Poll this past weekend has Bush ahead of Gore, 47-44. Zogby has Bush ahead 44-42. And Newsweek, which had Gore ahead by 13 last week, now has Gore ahead by just two. And my question is, does the President agree with the Vice President's statement that polls are just a series of snapshots that are very misleading and overemphasized?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think there's anyone with any sense of sanity who doesn't agree that they're overemphasized. I think the President, as he's expressed to those of you who have talked to him or heard him talk about this campaign, believes it's going to be a close race that goes down to the finish. And I think the President believes, based on the positions the Vice President has laid out on the important issues of fiscal discipline, education, health care and the environment, that the Vice President will prevail.
Q Joe, on hate crimes, is there any movement, any progress on this in the Senate? What are you seeing? And, also, the President is going to Texas tomorrow; how much of a message is this going to be tomorrow and how much is this issue going to be one to play in the elections about --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that's a question the Republicans will have to answer for themselves. The House spoke clearly on instructing their leadership to include hate crimes legislation in the appropriations process. There was some talk last week that advice was going to be ignored, but they did not move forward, so it's clear that there's still some consideration of that going on. I think there are a number of things that we are hoping to make progress on, and the Republican leadership is currently trying to decide, whether it be hate crimes, or the Violence Against Women act reauthorization that needs to be done.
Some of the health care issues, particularly prescription drugs for Medicare, they're in the process of trying to make up their mind. That would be in the best interest of the American people if they decide to work with us and get something done, but should they not, there will be plenty of time to discuss it to their constituents, in the context of the campaign, to see where the American people are on these issues.
Q Louis Freeh, on Capitol Hill today, strongly defended the investigation. Do you feel that he's out of step with the Justice Department or the White House on this?
MR. LOCKHART: Well I think he spoke -- he is clearly able to speak for himself on this, so I'm not going to try to critique his testimony. The President has spoken directly with the Attorney General. She's assured him that the questions that he has raised will be thoroughly looked at, and he's satisfied with that.
Q Can I ask a question on Yugoslavia?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q What sort of cues do you think that you're looking for from the opposition you mentioned?
MR. LOCKHART: Well I think they need to look at what the election commission comes up with, based on the -- compared to the information they have. I think, at this point, it is unclear, but they'll face a decision on what to do in any second round.
As I said at the top of the briefing, it is remarkable that even in an election that fell short of free and fair, through the intimidation and irregularities that we know about, and even though this number that has come out this afternoon is suspect, by I think all credible accounts, it is still remarkable that despite all that, they show the opposition party substantially out-polling the government.
Q Would the President veto the House version of the drug reimportation bill?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that's a bit of a moot point, because Representative Army today said that the House could go with the Senate. The Senate version is clearly preferable. If they send the Senate version down, that is something we could support, as long as there is adequate funding for the FDA. The remaining issue I think in the Senate bill is the FDA is given the authority to make sure this is all done safely, and within FDA guidelines, but that they need to have appropriated money in order to do that function. To give them the authority without the funds would be not giving them the authority at all.
So that's an issue that there continues to be some work on in this process. But I think clearly, everyone is collecting around the Senate bill, and that's a very, very important step. I mean, in a time when it appears that Congress is having trouble getting its work done, and it's not clear that they'll get much accomplished this year, to take an important step like this is very positive for Americans, particularly those who have to pay high prices for prescription drugs, particularly in a time when the Republican leadership seems dedicated only to providing a kind of prescription drug plan that benefits drug companies, and not America's seniors.
Q So the President would agree to that bill in isolation, even though he said he wants it part of a larger package?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think if the letter that was sent to us a couple days ago is read correctly here, the Republicans have thrown in the towel on prescription drug benefit this year. If that's the case, that's something they will have to explain when they go home to their constituents, why they could only see it clear to do something that helped drug companies and not American seniors.
But if we can do something on importation, we ought to do it, and we ought to do it quickly, while the will is there, but we must do it in a way that the FDA can do their job, and not do it in a way that provides political cover but no real authority for the FDA.
Q I believe Armey also mentioned about minimum wage possibly going forward as a stand-alone bill and possible discussions with Summers about this in the next few weeks. Have you heard anything about that?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't heard anything in particular. I mean, obviously, we think the American workers deserve a raise, those at the minimum wage. It's long overdue and we don't think it should be held hostage to special interest tax breaks and other issues that previously the Republicans have tried to attach it to. So if we're making progress on this, that's a good thing.
Q Hey, Joe, has the country slipped into an education recession?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know what country Governor Bush was talking about, but it's certainly not this country. Test scores are up in this country. We have doubled our investment on the federal level to local communities. We have an enormous amount of work still yet to be done. But by almost any measure of accountability, standards, test scores, we are moving in the right direction.
And it think it bears remembering that presidents can do two things: they can sign laws that help enact change, reform and accountability; and they can block terrible ideas. One terrible idea was when the Republicans took over Congress and wanted to abolish the Department of Education and severely cut funding for education in this country. Most of the allies to Governor Bush took that view, and I think we'd be standing here in a completely different spot if their view became law. Thankfully, it did not.
Q Has there been any progress in the administration's review of additional stakes against Japan's whaling?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of anything that we've done in addition to the day Secretary Mineta was here. I think there is a period of 60 days that will be the next trigger point.
Q Has there been any call to discuss the matter?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. Thank you.
END 2:45 P.M. EDT