THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:35 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: I have no announcements, except for that the President will meet with his Cabinet at 2:40 p.m. this afternoon. We'll do a pool spray on the top of that. I think as he indicated just out on the lawn a few moments ago, he'll be happy to take domestic questions there, as he took some questions about Yugoslavia out in the Rose Garden.
Q Joe, a domestic question. Congressman DeLay, the Whip, said today, "Listening to President Clinton call for spending restraint is like getting a lecture on sobriety from W.C. Fields." I wonder if you had any reaction to that.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, when he gets out of the slop of the pork barrel spending pit, maybe he'll have a little more credibility. Until then, we'll continue to work with the rest of the leadership.
Q I thought you'd have a reaction.
Q What do you really feel?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't seen it. If you'd given me a little time, I could come up with something much better than that. He probably worked for two or three days on his.
Q Is the President going to play any role in trying to resurrect the new markets legislation that seems to be in trouble now?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know if it's in trouble. I think that there, as always with these legislations, people are trying to add things on for other reasons. But I think we've been talking with leaders on both sides of the aisle on the Hill, and we still think we have a pretty good chance to get this passed.
Q -- the administration is going to meet with Mr. Fujimori, and is the U.S. going to help him maintain a safe transfer to power?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we've been working with President Fujimori in the context of the OAS. That's what he's here for. He flew in, I think, last night. I don't know that we have anything -- there's certainly no one here -- I mean, the President is not meeting with him. Is anyone at state?
MR. CROWLEY: It's possible.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, it's possible.
Q What about Berger?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't know. You'll have to ask the State Department if they've got any -- I think we've made very clear that the transition should move forward in the context of what the OAS has done, and we'll continue to work in that context.
Q Do you have anything on the FDA and the approval of the abortion pill?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the FDA made their announcement today, and the important thing is that announcement was based on the science. It's important that as they move forward in their regulatory efforts on all new drugs, that these decisions are based on the science, and this one was.
Q Joe, Yemen has just announced they're going to do a flight to Baghdad. They're the fourth country now to flout the sanctions on Iraq. What's your reaction to that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we have expressed some concern over what the Russian flight and a French flight. That work is done within the context of the sanctions committee at the U.N. I know there was a Jordanian flight, and my understanding is that was approved through the U.N. with prior consultation. I haven't seen anything on Yemen and whether they've worked with the council as far as this, and whether this is something that's approved or not.
Q Joe, does the President hope his statement about lifting the sanctions on Yugoslavia will encourage and inspire the opposition to push ever harder, and perhaps entice some members of the Milosevic regime to switch sides?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think if you look at what's going on there, there is a broad-scale and deep movement toward a new government, and toward a democratic government. I think he's seen the Orthodox Church, a very powerful part of that society and culture, has spoken clearly on what they think is the right thing to do, and the people have gone to the streets to say what they want, after going to the polls over the weekend. So I don't know that this is a process that needs a push, because I think internally there are a number of institutions and the people who have spoken clearly.
Q Why did he stop short of calling on Milosevic to resign or to leave?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think he has said very clearly that Milosevic should leave, because all reports, all credible reports have said that he lost the election, and that's how elections work. When you loose, you leave.
Q Would the President urge the Serbian people to rise up physically if, indeed, Milosevic refuses to leave?
MR. LOCKHART: I think if you look at the demonstrations that have gone on over the last few days, the Serbian people are making their views very clear. They've gone out in a peaceful way, made clear that the elections spoke clearly for where they want their country to go, and that Milosevic needs to heed their call.
Q The United States favors peaceful demonstrations, not violent --
MR. LOCKHART: I think it would be obvious that we always think that protests should be done in a peaceful way.
Q Joe, is that the message that you think the President was giving out there in the Rose Garden, that Milosevic has run, lost, there should not be a runoff, and he should leave?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that the message is that all credible reports are that the opposition clearly won the election, and the results of the election should be heeded by all parties.
Q Going back to Iraq and sanctions issue, ignoring Yemen for a second, though -- we've had three countries who have done or announced flights to Iraq. Are you concerned about the erosion of international support for the sanctions --
MR. LOCKHART: I think there's some concern that there are now some variation, interpretation of the resolution pertaining to flights, and we are working hard to resolve that within the sanctions committee at the U.N.
Q Joe, can you comment on Judge Kessler's ruling on tobacco?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I think we believe that moving forward on the basis of racketeering, on mail fraud racketeering, wire fraud racketeering is an important victory for the Justice Department and for the American people. We think that the most egregious abuses of the tobacco companies can and will be addressed in the context of this court case. We think it's a victory that she has refused to dismiss these racketeering counts because we think this will be an effective way to seek judicial redress.
Q But, Joe, I mean, she did throw out two other counts, saying that you can't collect the money based on Medicare and the Federal Health Benefit Act, and she says your case remains to be proven on the racketeering issue. I mean, is that really a victory?
MR. LOCKHART: We think it's a victory because we think the strongest part of this is -- and we will prove this in court -- that they violated the racketeering laws in this country by intentionally misleading through mail fraud and wire fraud, those statutes, the American public, particularly young people. So we think that the judge allowing this to go forward and refusing to dismiss these charges is a victory for the American people.
Q So are you pleased with her verdict, all in all?
MR. LOCKHART: Certainly we're pleased. We're going to be moving forward on these fronts and we think we can make our case based on these counts.
Q Do you consider the other issues settled as far as litigation is concerned?
MR. LOCKHART: Certainly in this context the judge has ruled. I don't know -- you'd have to talk to the Justice Department about any process they might move forward. But, clearly, we think we can make our case on the counts that the judge actually refused to dismiss.
Q In a vaguely related issue, I mean, Hollywood executives said yesterday -- some of them said that they will not stop marketing R rated films to children. Is there any -- do you see any similarities between their actions and the tobacco company, which also targeted children with their marketing efforts?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's very difficult to try to compare those two things. But I do think that industries need to take responsibility for their own action. I think we saw a mixed picture yesterday. You have companies that are coming forward and trying to be responsible, but you also seem to have companies who weren't aware of what they were doing within their own company as far as some of the most egregious abuses -- bringing in 9-year-olds to help test and screen movies for studios.
So I think, clearly, the message out of yesterday is that more needs to be done and we need to work closely together and, as we've said all along, we will have to cross this bridge when we get there. If the industry can't do this together, we'll have to look at other options.
Q -- Cheney yesterday, and other Republicans suggested that the administration is not the correct entity to fight this fight, simply because of the fundraising that the President and others have done out in Hollywood. What do you say to that?
MR. LOCKHART: I won't bring up her books if she doesn't decide what we can get into. We have made clear -- and I'll tell you something -- I think it is a test of your political character when you can go to people who have been supportive and are your friends and say, we think you're wrong, on something. I think there's a lot of big industry, special interest groups on the other side that would be a lot better off in this country if the Republicans could stand up to them -- you know, the insurance companies, the tobacco companies, and the big oil companies.
Q How has Joe Lieberman stood up to Hollywood? He said, there will be no government regulation. How is that standing up --
MR. LOCKHART: There is a lot of things we've done on that front that are not censorship. We've done things like the v-chip. We've worked with the entertainment industry to take a number of steps. More needs to be done, and we're going to work closely with them.
Q Joe, apparently Jaycee Watts said he was confident the next administration will overturn the abortion pill ruling --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'll tell you something. I think that's one of the more disturbing things I've heard and something that obviously all members of Congress and those who seek office are going to have to face up to directly. But to somehow argue that the FDA Commissioner should be subject to a political litmus test, and not a commitment to science, is quite a dangerous thing to say. And I think we believe that it is not a political position, it is a position where science, and only solid science, should be used to make decisions that protect the best interests of Americans. I think it's a very dangerous idea that's being floated by some groups, and this particular Congressman, to say that somehow we're going to provide a political litmus test for the next FDA Commissioner.
Q In that regard, Joe, do you think this decision will make abortion politics ever more inflamed, or do you think it will actually constitute a change or a turning point?
MR. LOCKHART: I think you have to talk to those who are involved in this. As far as the government goes, this decision is based on science and science alone.
Q On October 26, there is a national festival of India -- the Festival of Lights, and the new community will celebrate here in Maryland. President Clinton this week promised at the fundraiser in the Silicon Valley in front of some Indians that he will look into it if the White House can also celebrate, just like celebrating other major festivals in the White House. So what is the policy of the White House -- can you look into it? Because he promised to look into it.
MR. LOCKHART: I think the policy is that the White House is looking into it.
Q Joe, is the President going to extend legal immigration status for Liberians?
MR. LOCKHART: The President has made a decision on that. I think later today the paperwork will be executed and he will extend or defer the deportation of Liberians for one year.
Q Joe, the Cabinet meeting, is it specifically to take up last-minute budget issues and plan the strategy? Any other topics?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we'll certainly, with the good auspices of the foreign policy team, get an update from Secretary of State Albright and Sandy Berger on a number of places around the world. But the primary focus is to get all the Cabinet Secretaries in the room as we move towards the last push on the budget appropriations and tax issues that we'll face over the next two or three weeks.
Q Can you comment on the congressional action on the New England oil reserve, apparently stripping New England out of the legislation?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the congressional action that I saw was there apparently was some movement to try to limit the ability to use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. I guess I would raise the question, what is the alternative idea? What do the Republicans believe they want to do to help people heat their homes this winter? They wouldn't move on a Northeast home heating oil reserve, we had to do that administratively. They now are criticizing the release of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, even in the face of the unanimous support from the G-7 ministers and the Central Bankers. They have blocked the President's program of conservation and energy efficiency, and they seem to have no answers.
We're going to move forward with this, and we're going to make sure that any potential supply problems down the road are taken care of with prudent and precautionary steps now.
Q Joe, what's being done about natural gas reserves? The President's spoken out about oil a lot, but --
MR. LOCKHART: I know that we have -- as part of the overall effort, we have, the President has put forward some ideas in terms of natural gas and home heating oil. I don't know if there's a particular element that's involved in the discussions right now.
Q How about the Cuba food sales legislation? Where are you on that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we have said all along that we would favor something along the lines of what Senator Lugar put forward some time ago. We don't believe that food and medicine should be used as a tool in foreign policy, and we have taken steps to make sure that doesn't happen. As far as the particular deal that's been reached, it was a deal reached among Republicans. And they have not briefed, as far as I know, the Democrats on the Hill about it or the White House. So at this time we'll just withhold comment.
Q Joe, I just want to sneak in a light question for a Washington history piece. Why was the briefing room built over the swimming pool?
MR. LOCKHART: I think Richard Nixon decided that, A, he didn't like swimming, and B, he didn't like the press. And it's killed two birds with one stone. (Laughter.)
Q Was there ever any discussion about reopening it?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, not during my tenure here, but there may be now, since I understand Jake's an excellent swimmer.
Q Do you have any objection to the Firestone bill that was marked up on the Hill?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't seen it. I know that we've been working closely with them on new legislation, but I'd go to the Department of Transportation on that because they've taken the lead.
Q Joe, do you like the press, and can you talk about your tenure in the White House, and also how the press treated you and how the President treats you also, among other things?
MR. LOCKHART: That would leave me nothing to talk about tomorrow, so I'll take a pass. (Laughter.)
Q Are you having any second thoughts, Joe, about leaving?
MR. LOCKHART: Are you kidding me? (Laughter.)
Are we all done? Good. Thanks.
END 1:50 P.M. EDT