Mayday Briefing In The White House
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release May 1, 2000
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:45 P.M. EDT
MS. JANNEY: I have no comment today, but I will take questions.
Q I have a question. Who are those people moving quickly through the hallways? (Laughter.)
MS. JANNEY: I have not spoken to the President about that, but I will get back to you on that.
Q Is he up yet?
MS. JANNEY: I believe he is up, Helen, yes.
Q Is he doing any work?
MS. JANNEY: Is he doing any work? I have no comment. (Laughter.)
Q Or is he wandering through the halls? (Laughter.)
MS. JANNEY: He's taking care of the hallway situation.
Q What's your assessment of Lockhart's acting abilities?
MS. JANNEY: He is --
MR. LOCKHART: Now, hold on a second. (Laughter.) Thank you.
MS. JANNEY: Thank you.
Q Bring her back. (Applause.)
Q Joe, I have a question.
MR. LOCKHART: Allison will be available at the stakeout on the way out.
Q Weren't you concerned about the blurring of lines between Hollywood and Washington?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me tell you, I spent some time looking at a group of actors in the fake briefing room in Hollywood, and looking out at you -- no, not at all. Not at all. (Laughter.)
Okay, I actually do have some announcements. The President is -- there is a group called -- what is it called, President's Youth -- Young Presidents Organization that the President was part of when he was a young person. They are here at the White House today. A group of administration people are speaking to them. The President is going to go over there at some point and just say hello to them. It will remain closed press, as it is for the entire day.
Q What time is that?
MR. LOCKHART: Whenever he comes over.
Q -- at all?
MR. LOCKHART: They're here all day, and he's just going to drop in when he comes over to work.
Q You mean he doesn't want to see us today?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the last time he was in this room, Helen, you were the only one here and you were less than responsive to the important news he was providing.
At 2:00 p.m. today we will have a briefing here in this room, with Dr. Neal Lane, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology; and Dr. James Baker, the Administrator for NOAH, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They'll be talking about an announcement on GPS.
At 3:00 p.m., there will be a briefing on some new surplus numbers. Is that accurate? No, it's a quarterly financing report from Secretary Lawrence Summers. It will be here, on the record, on camera.
Q Joe, why was the decision made to give the public access to more accurate GPS?
MR. LOCKHART: That will be the subject of the 2:00 p.m. briefing, and I will -- talk to the experts, rather than the novice here.
Q What is the quarterly financing report?
MR. LOCKHART: It's a report that's issued four times a year -- (laughter) -- thus the quarterly -- that will give you some sense on the subject at what level our national debt is being paid off.
Q What's wrong with George Bush's plan to have private investment as part of Social Security?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, part of the issue here is we don't really know what his plan is. If it is a plan that will take a certain percentage off of payroll taxes, then you raise some solvency issues, of how Social Security will be funded. And if that is the plan -- and say 2 percent, or whatever the number is, comes off of the payroll taxes into these accounts -- you're going to run into a real fiscal problem when you combine that with the $2.1 trillion tax cut that he's proposed.
So I think he should have the chance to put out his plan with all the specific ideas. But the problem with each of the plans as they come out is, you find out with more specifics that they don't add up. You can't have the kind of spending that he's talked about, and a $2.1 trillion tax cut, and continue to extend the life of Social Security and Medicare. I think the country should be anxious to see the details rather than the outlines, because what you find when you are running a government rather than running for President, is the details matter and the numbers have to add up.
Q But as I understand it, it's not reducing investment, it's just redirecting it. And wasn't this administration considering something similar?
MR. LOCKHART: Not -- well, we've got to see the plan. We had an idea of using some of the surplus to go into our Universal Savings Accounts, which was taking money after the money had come in through the payroll tax, using a small percentage of the surplus to put in accounts to help people with retirement. The question -- Governor Bush hasn't answered the question yet of which way his proposal will go and how it will get paid for.
Q Speaking on his behalf, at least in a -- the press are saying that he won't need as much debt reduction, because you won't have to pay out as much, because people will be making money on their private investments in Social Security.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, these are people speaking on his behalf, most who we don't necessarily know, without the details of the program. I think the -- it's clear if you talk to economists that if you're going to be taking money from the payroll tax and diverting it away from the Social Security trust fund, you're going to raise solvency questions.
Q Is it your position that the stock market currently is just too volatile to be betting Social Security on?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we made our position clear on that when the President, two State of the Unions ago, rolled out his program, which involved some investment in the stock market, but investment that reduced the risks that the stock market provides, reduced the costs that investing in the stock market put on individual investors and deal with the solvency issues.
Q Do you have any -- find any fault with Gore's foreign policy plan?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think it was an excellent exposition of a 21st century foreign policy. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, when did the NSC come to the decision that the global AIDS crisis is a threat to national security?
MR. LOCKHART: The NSC has been working on this particular issue for now almost two years. I think two years ago they set up an office and put on some staff to deal with health issues, because they do, ultimately, go to our national security.
I mean, if you look at Africa, where AIDS is now the largest killer of any diseases that exist, you have very staggering numbers. Look at southern Africa, you look at the progress they've made, as far as economic and democratic reform. And then you look at the infrastructure that's -- you've got projections in some places where 50 percent of the military will contract HIV-AIDS in the not too distant future.
Those can be very destabilizing numbers. And they have an impact on us. We have an interest in Africa, as far as our own national security, and we need to look at this problem -- as the NSC has done, very much so this year, but going back over the last couple of years -- as a national security issue.
And let me say that the comments made by Majority Leader Lott yesterday really indicate a lack of thoughtful reflection on this issue. To have this question put to him by a television interview and to have him laugh at the AIDS problem as a national security issue; and to have him accuse the President of just pandering to -- I'll use his words, "I guess this is just the President trying to make an appeal, you know, to certain groups."
I think this is a problem at home, which we've addressed. This is a problem around the world that we have an interest in, and we need to keep working on, and you can't just laugh it off.
Q What about the situation with Mbeki? Does that kind of change the dynamics of this, with Mbeki saying that he's going to let his medical personnel deal with the issue, versus having us come in -- having the United States come in and try to find --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't think -- listen, I don't think it's an either/or issue. I think President Mbeki certainly understands the depth and scope of the problem that he faces, and that the regional leaders in that part of the world face. But you have to look at many of these countries who simply don't have the resources to do the kind of education prevention and medical care that is needed. And we believe that it's our job to both provide some of the resources and the leadership to mobilize countries around the world, who are in a position to help, to provide the resources that these countries need.
Q Joe, do you agree that if they did have the resources, it would not be this, I guess, pandemic, as you're calling it now?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we certainly believe that with the resources we can deal with the problem, and many of these countries are unable to, given the scope -- I mean, you've got a problem that we spend -- to deal with the problem here, we're spending a volume of money that goes at or above their entire budget. So I think that all of the countries -- South Africa as one of them -- will have to formulate their policy, but I think the international community believes that we're going to play a role in this.
Q Joe, the amount of money -- I mean, Senator Lott and his comments notwithstanding -- is not a lot of money compared to the nature of the crisis. It wouldn't go very far here at all, as you pointed out. I mean, why are we asking for so little?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think it's so little. I think when you're looking at $250 million, that is a significant investment from this country. But we have to -- as I think those who have worked on this issue understand -- we have to do more. We have to do more as far as working with Congress to get resources. We have to do more as far as mobilizing the international community and getting other countries. This is not a U.S. problem alone. There are other countries in the world with an interest in making sure that this problem is effectively dealt with.
Q Can you tell us what U.S.-E.U. --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I mean, I think you all remember, this was I think for the first time earlier this year at the U.N., a topic, and it will be certainly on the agenda at the U.S.-E.U. summit in June.
Q Joe, what transpired on this issue over the weekend? I mean, was there some announcement or something that NSC did --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the Washington Post decided to run a story on it. There was nothing -- I mean, there was no formal designation of this. But I think those of you who watched what we did in January, as far as the NSC taking a look at the global situation, as far as the AIDS epidemic -- those of you who have followed what they have done, certainly in the last couple of years as far as starting to build an inter-agency process and devote the resource to this problem, will understand that this is an important piece of our national security agenda, but it's something we've been working on for some time.
Q Because Senator Lott's skepticism may have been fueled, in part, by the fact that there was a large gay rights march here in Washington over the weekend, and this story appeared at the same time. And it's not -- there was no decision that took place in the last week?
MR. LOCKHART: There was no decision -- and it's my understanding that the story has been in the works for some time, and you'd have to talk to the editors of the paper to see if they thought the timing was fortuitous.
Q Joe, you've characterize the $250 million as a substantial investment. But all that money goes toward prevention, none of it goes toward treatment of people who are currently infected with HIV. What can this country do for those people? And it seems that the thing that they would need would be access to these very powerful drugs that people in this country get to use.
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I'll have to check into that, because I'm not sure it's exclusively prevention. There is money, of the money that goes for care --
Q But none of it that goes toward supplying these people with protease inhibitors and anti-retroviral medications --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, we've been doing a lot of work on that subject and finding ways to provide more affordable pharmaceutical solutions and drugs for the people of Southern Africa, and it's something we're going to continue to work on.
Q Joe, on Josh's question, are you saying that the NSC members did not vote, this is a threat to national security, something like that? Did not --
MR. LOCKHART: That's correct. No, there's no formal designation. We've been working on this. We put staff on as far back as two years ago, on the NSC, to deal with health issues, and AIDS in particular. This is something -- you'll remember a report in January that we released on the subject. I know that we have been working with the reporter who wrote the story for a couple weeks -- probably a month -- on providing him with information, because they came and said they were interested in this as an issue. I wish I could control when stories came out, but we don't.
Q You're saying that the administration did nothing to drive this story on this particular weekend?
MR. LOCKHART: That is correct.
Q Joe, what's the latest on Vieques? And is the Department of Justice keeping the White House informed as things develop, or what?
MR. LOCKHART: We're certainly in contact with all of the people who are involved in the situation in Vieques. I have nothing to report to you, to add to what I had Friday. We negotiated very carefully and over a long period of time, with all the interested stake-holders. We have a deal that the parties agreed to.
But as far as any law enforcement action, I have to refer you to the Department of Justice.
Q Joe, back to the previous issues. Is it your position that the $250 million, that that is sufficient at this time, or if you thought you could get more from Congress, would you be asking for more?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that, as you know in budgeting, you have to balance what you need versus what you have some likelihood of getting. I think it's clear -- particularly if you look at some of the things the Vice President said, as we move forward there may need to be more of a commitment in the future on this.
MR. CROWLEY: It's $225 for 2000, and we're looking for $325 for 2001? So it --
MR. LOCKHART: So it's certainly 25 percent or so more for the following year. And this may be something that we have to commit more resources to in the future.
Q Yes, back to Vieques. The decision, the final decision to remove the protestors from the range, would that come from the Department of Justice, or from the President? And as a follow-up, is the administration concerned in any way, in terms of a political fallout on some races, either Vice President Gore's or potentially Senator --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm just not going to speculate on anything having to do with what the Department of Justice may or may not do. If you have questions, you should ask them there.
Q Joe, was there a decision made by this administration -- getting back to the AIDS issue -- was there a decision made by this administration not to include any provision for funding for protease inhibitors, anti-retrovirals, because the compliance in that part of the world may be such that it could give rise to a lot of drug-resistant HIV?
MR. LOCKHART: John, I don't know enough about that to really sort it out. I'll have to look into -- we'll ask the experts.
Q On privacy protection, why not make the same standard for the case where it's medical records being shared with, say, an insurance company, as it would be with buying patterns, historic buying patterns of a person being shared with other businesses? In other words, one is, you've got to get the person's permission in advance; but the other one, you have to go through some process of opting in to be out of it. Why not toughen it up so it's the same standard for both?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I mean, I think that these are -- there are apples and oranges here. And I think what the President talked about yesterday was a common-sense approach to giving people the tools they need to protect their privacy, the information about their activity, on the Internet, or in buying, and in any number of ways.
Q Why do you say it's apples and oranges? Why are you saying that?
MR. LOCKHART: Because I think these are two different issues, and we don't approach any issue -- because it's privacy, we don't take out the privacy cookie cutter and say here's how we're going to approach this problem. Each problem is approached as looking at the elements that are unique to it, and we come up with what we think is the best approach.
Q Everything I read suggests that there's not much hope for action on this, this year. What do you think the outlook is?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think so. I think, if you look at the combination of the fact that Congress does face the voters this year, and this is a very hot issue from people who are, each and every day, in greater numbers and greater volume, working on the Internet, dealing in areas where financial privacy becomes important. I think that as they get going this summer, there may be quite a good discussion on it.
Q The document obtained by the New York Times on negotiations between the U.S. and Russia over the limited missile shield indicates that the U.S. is using Russia's high state of alert as a kind of selling point for the shield, perhaps even using a launch on warning policy as a way of assuring the Russians that the shield would not be a threat to them. Is this the case? Is there perhaps a problem in translation of the document?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, listen I'm not going to comment specifically on a document that we are using in our conversations with the Russians, only to say that as I read -- the parts that I read in the New York Times generally reflect the public arguments we've made.
We've made a public argument and a private argument that this limited national missile defense does not pose a strategic threat to the Russians, and it is designed to counteract an increasing threat from rogue nations. And that the development of this -- and that goes to our discussions in the context of the ABM Treaty -- of how it is our belief that the strategic balance between the two countries does not change, based on developing and deploying a national missile defense.
Q Is part of the reason that it doesn't pose a threat the relatively high state of alert of --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that it goes to the relatively high state of alert. It goes to the strategic balance that currently exists -- the numbers.
Q Let me try another approach then. Would the U.S. not be trying to lower the state of alert of Soviet forces? Now would it not be our policy to --
MR. LOCKHART: It is our policy to not only make sure that we're doing everything we can to develop solid relations with the Russian government; it's also our policy and our arms control strategic goal to reduce the number of missiles that the Russian government has. That is why we are working on a broader arms control agenda, that includes discussions of NMD and discussions of the impact of the ABM Treaty, and the ABM Treaty and the START II, START II discussions all at the same time. This is all one issue, which cannot be separated into components and debated just on the basis of its components.
Q So you don't think that the AMB will be compromised at all and that it won't be finished? And it won't start an arms race if we set up this missile system?
MR. LOCKHART: No, we think, and we've had very serious discussions with the Russians going back to the G-8 Meeting in Cologne last year, and we believe we can maintain the strategic basis of our arms control stance through the ABM adjusting it for the -- recognizing what we believe is the need for an NMD to deal with the threat of rogue nations, should that system be deployable.
Q Joe, just to follow up on the Vieques situation. When this was an issue earlier in the year and late last year, the President was rather intimately involved and, I think, talked to the Governor of Puerto Rico about it several times, and had a number of meetings with folks, and apparently was directly involved in hammering out the deal. Are we to understand that even though there are now people trying to prevent that deal from being executed, that he's not taking any involvement in it at this point?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I didn't suggest that, nor did I say that. I think the President remains fully informed of where this process is, but I'm just not going to speculate on what the Department of Justice may or may not do.
Q To follow up, are there continuous consultations between the White House, DOJ and DOD regarding Vieques, in general?
MR. LOCKHART: That's been going on for many, many months here.
Q Joe, you started by talking about Governor Bush's Social Security plan. Some of the President's friends at the DLC don't think that's such a bad idea. And on other issues, the President in the past has talked about raising the retirement age or means-testing Medicare. Are his new Democrat impulses constrained somewhat by the campaign of the Vice President?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think so, but listen, we ought to have an informed debate. We shouldn't be having a debate that's marked with speculating about what we think Governor Bush thinks, or what we think he doesn't think. He ought to tell the American public where he is. He ought to come out and detail, in addition to the $2.1 trillion tax scheme he has, talk about where he's going to cut, talk about where he wants to spend money, and stop talking about campaign promises in a vacuum, in a world where budgets don't exist.
Now, there's a difference between what happened in the '80s and the early '90s here, and what happened over the last eight years. And the President said it the other day: the President introduced arithmetic. Numbers add up. And if the numbers don't add up, you either have to dramatically cut investments in things like education, the environment, health care; you have to either go into the Social Security surplus; or you have to return to deficit spending, and we know what impact that will have on the economy. And we'll have an informed debate about this once we see the details.
Q Joe, I'm sorry to ask you history, but what happened to the President's plan for private investment with Social Security?
MR. LOCKHART: The Congress did not think highly enough of it to make it law.
Q But they may embrace George Bush's plan?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the Congress, if you got them in a candid moment, would give you the same answer, which is they want to see the details.
Q Joe, Senator Hatch has postponed indefinitely hearings on the way Elian was removed from the uncle's house in Miami --
MR. LOCKHART: There's a shocker. (Laughter.)
Q Yes. But he claims --
Q You're very disturbed about that? This postponement?
Q -- he claims he is doing it because Secretary of Justice, or the Justice Department, has not provided them the information they need --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, listen, let's inject a little reality into this situation. They had -- there could be no realistic expectation that the kind of document request they made could have been fulfilled within the few days that it was made. They'll have to decide whether they want to move forward -- I mean, Senator Lott was talking about storm troopers again yesterday. Mr. DeLay has yet to back off from his depiction of federal law enforcement officers as jack-booted thugs -- or whether they want to take a different approach on this. And if they believe that after condemning the operation, more information could bring them to a different point of view, then they ought to go ahead and have hearings and get the facts.
Q Joe, on financial privacy, were there a group of violations or complaints that prompted this policy?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, looking at why we have focused on this issue is an acceptance of the way the world has changed and the way not only our economy has changed, but the way our lives have changed. When this President took over, I can't remember the exact number, but there was something like 50 web pages --
Q You lost your mic -- the mic is off --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, because they've heard this before. (Laughter.) Even the mic is bored with this routine. So it's back in the transcript some place.
Q What's in the thrust of the White House Conference on Teenagers, is he going to announce any new proposals, or is this just a listening session, or can you give us some idea?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me tell you the thrust of that. Tomorrow the President and the First Lady will launch the White House Conference on Teenagers: Raising Responsible and Resourceful Youth.
The conference will feature some of the nation's leading experts on raising teenagers and will cover issues such as new scientific research that the pre-teen years are as important as the first three years of life, and set patterns for adult behavior and success -- you'll remember we did a conference previously on the first three years -- the changing demographics of today's youth; the perceptions and realities about the role parents play in the lives of teenage children; the risks, challenges and anxieties faced by today's teens; the impact of new media on youth and parenting; and what parents, communities and young people themselves can do to avoid risk behaviors and to build a safe and successful path to adulthood.
Q Does the President have any revelations that he's going to share, or anything --
MR. LOCKHART: I expect the President to have a number of interesting things to say, but he'll say them tomorrow.
Q Why is this an issue the President feels is proper for the White House to deal with?
MR. LOCKHART: For the same reason we've done a number of conferences. I think we can focus attention on issues, whether it be the teen years, whether it's the development in the first three years, whether it's on a number of other issues we've had conferences on, in a way that probably no other institution in this country can. I think when we invite people in to share their expertise on important issues, it gives parents, it gives those who are taking care of -- whether they be young people, whether they be teenagers -- some of the tools they need to succeed.
Q A memo from February of last year, from an official of the White House Office of Administration, says that it might be better to let sleeping dogs lie than to inform Congress about the e-mails problem. Was the concern there taking up time, expense, and staff with searching it out, or was the concern what the e-mails might have showed?
MR. LOCKHART: My understanding of that particular memo, despite the way it was reported, was that memo did not refer to the e-mails. But if you have further questions, Mr. Kennedy can help you.
Q Joe, I have one more question -- I know we've got the briefing coming up on the GPS, but as I understand it, the reason why GPS was de-tuned for commercial use was to prohibit this country's potential enemies from having military accuracy with global positioning. Is the President comfortable now that that threat no longer exists, and is that why he gave the go-ahead?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the President is comfortable with the changes that will be announced a little bit later today, based on his obvious concern for our national security, based on the benefits it can bring to American consumers. And all of that will be detailed when they're here, too. I obviously haven't read it yet. (Laughter.)
Q Are we going to hear anything in tomorrow's conference that is going to make parents believe it's anything other than a nightmare bringing up teenagers? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think maybe we should bring on some experts. Terry? (Laughter.) We're done.
Q As a teenager or as a parent? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, well done.
END 12:14 P.M. EDT