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White House Briefing - May 23, 2000

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 23, 2000

PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART

The James S. Brady Briefing Room

1:32 P.M. EDT

MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon. You should read no significance into our China effort the fact that Jake isn't here. Where's Jake? Where's Jake?

Okay, questions? (Laughter.) You know, there's a reason you're the senior guy here now.

Q The Dean.

Q Do you know who the President's going to be meeting with -- undecided lawmakers this afternoon, how many and --

MR. LOCKHART: I believe he'll probably talk to three or four undecided members today and, given the fact that they're undecided and will probably want to have a chance to make up their own mind without people chasing them around, I'm not going to tell you who he's meeting with. Some of them, I think, will probably come in through the gate and you will see them, but others who want to sneak in the back way, we'll help them out.

Q Is that -- individually, or in a group?

MR. LOCKHART: These are individuals. I don't think there are any more group settings that the President will have an opportunity to talk to members.

Q In addition to that, will he be making any phone calls?

MR. LOCKHART: If there are members that we believe need to be talked to who can't come down, he'll pick up the phone and call them.

Q Are you willing to say where you are? It sounds like Democrats are saying five more undecided Dems might come out today and others are leaning towards yes. Are you feeling --

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know whether they're right on the numbers as far as the particulars. I know that they are right, that there are still a number of other undecideds, so that neither side has reached the magic number. So we're going to continue to work this until we get there.

Q Any reaction to the news the UAW says that it won't endorse Vice President Gore in the race -- is considering endorsing now Ralph Nader because of this PNTR issue?

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I saw the statement; I don't know that it's quite as clear as that. I think -- indicated some dissatisfaction, which that particular unit has made clear. I think we have a fundamental disagreement with the labor movement in this country on this particular issue, but we agree with them on a vast majority of issues. We've worked well together in the past and we're going to continue to work well in the future.

And it's certainly my view that, come election day, the majority of labor union households in this country will understand that Vice President Bush offers them the best chance to raise the minimum wage, get prescription drugs for -- (laughter) -- okay, we're going to start this whole thing again. Rewind. (Laughter.)

Okay, somebody get Chris Lehane on the phone and tell him I'm sorry. Let me start that again from the beginning. What was your question? No. My serious point is that when it comes time to voting, I think labor unions, whether it be leadership or rank-and-file, will understand that it's Vice President Gore who understands their needs, will be pushing for things like the patients' bill of rights, a rise in the minimum wage, prescription drugs for Medicare -- issues that they feel are very important to their rank-and-file. And I think we have agreed to disagree on this particular issue, but I think our agenda is much closer to their agenda than anyone out there, whether it be the Republican Party or any of the other parties.

Q Joe, what is incorrect about labor's argument that American companies will set up factories in China from which to service the rest of the world, once China enters the WTO?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, overall, we believe that the reduction in tariffs for all industry will create jobs here. Whether factories are set up there or not, we think that overall opening our market to them will positively impact the American work force and our economy.

Q Joe, could you comment on the remarks that Bush made today about defense and cutting nuclear weapons, and suggesting that the country was not safe today under the Clinton administration?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, these are like a lot of the comments Governor Bush makes. He makes very broad statements; then, when you ask him a detailed question, he says he doesn't know the answer and he'll consult with his advisors. Well, running a presidential campaign is about knowing the answers.

He gave a sort of contradictory argument today on his belief that we can reduce nuclear weapons, and that somehow, the current administration is stuck in a Cold War mentality, while making a broad argument for an expansive national missile defense along the lines that we saw discussed in the 1980s, which I think very much reflected a Cold War mentality.

So I think while the speeches, in their generalities, may have -- may make some point that he's trying to make politically, at some point in time he's got to put some details on this. You know, he talked, in the Q and A part that I saw, about how he plans to pay for things, and it became very clear, the more that he talked, the more he couldn't afford things.

He undercut and sort of low-balled his tax cut so that he could talk about paying for other priorities. But the tax cut that he's put out there will take up about $2.1 trillion. He's talked about $2 trillion reserved for Social Security, which leaves nothing else, if you accept his estimate of a $4-trillion surplus. Now, who is going to pay for this broad, expansive national missile defense? What will he cut? What will he cut in education and the environment? How will this all work? These are all questions he's going to have to answer.

Q You're saying that --

Q Do you think he's undercutting the President? Was he undercutting the President --

MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think people will take this very seriously, until he actually starts putting some details out. I think people will see this as someone who is trying to make political points, and I'm not sure it will be taken very seriously.

Q Is the policy that he's advocating, the broad, expansive missile defense, wrong, or is it just that he can't pay for it, he hasn't explained how he would pay for it?

MR. LOCKHART: He certainly hasn't explained how we'd pay for it. We have a difference on it. We are pursuing a policy of a limited, 50-state national missile defense to protect against the emerging states like Korea, Iraq. We believe that's the most effective way to move forward. But if he wants to go back and do this on a much broader scale, there are certainly arms control issues that get raised by that and there are certainly fiscal issues that get raised by that.

Q The President is going to be in Moscow in just a week and a half. Are there any concerns about the timing of Bush's speech?

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, he is the Governor of Texas, not someone who's setting our national policy. And I don't -- who knows. I mean, I think if you look at yesterday's speech, that certainly wasn't a positive statement, as far as the Middle East peace process goes. But he's a candidate for President; he has a right to say what he wants, whether he can back it up or not.

Q Joe, one other thing. He did talk about cutting nuclear -- the levels of warheads, which, it sounds like he's in sync with you, because you believe in the START III process, which would cut warheads to that level.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we certainly have engaged in the process since Helsinki on START III. We've done an awful lot on reducing the nuclear arsenals over the last seven years. I don't know how he answered the specific question of whether he supports START III, or whether he turned and said he wanted to consult with his advisors.

Q He said he would do it unilaterally -- even if Russia didn't agree.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that the approach we've taken is the most sound approach, and we will continue to work with the Russians on the START II, START III.

Q Do you disagree with unilateral cuts? The kind of unilateral cuts that he was talking about today? Do you disagree with that?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, our position for the last seven years --- and continues to be -- that we're going to work with the Russians to reduce arms.

Q Meaning that you won't do it unilaterally? I mean, just --

MR. LOCKHART: Meaning that we're in a process. We're working with the Russians because that makes the most sense, rather than to move and work on the unilateral basis.

Q Joe, are you concerned about the developments in the Southern Lebanon Security Zone*? The SLA apparently has collapsed -- there has been some gunfights along the Lebanese-Israeli border.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, obviously, we'd be concerned with any violence that might take place there. But we support the withdrawal of Israel there under U.N. 425, and we are looking to work toward a peaceful and orderly withdrawal.

Q Are we in contact with any of the neighboring capitals -- Beirut, Damascus, to send some -- I don't know, some words of warning perhaps not to escalate --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're certainly in contact with the parties involved and the neighboring countries.

Q Did we think that the Hezbollah was going to take this over? Did we think that would be the outcome?

MR. LOCKHART: This is an ongoing process, and I think the U.N. Secretary General's report came out yesterday of how the U.N. plans to work in this situation. We support that and we are going to continue to work within the U.N. Security Council to ensure that this is an orderly and peaceful --

Q Were you dismayed by what's happened over the last two days?

MR. LOCKHART: I think we've expressed some concern over the last two days, but this is a situation that's in progress, and I think the U.N. has an important mission ahead of it and we plan to support that.

Q Joe, last year, the President vetoed the Republican community renewal act, which included zero capital gains and faith-based solutions to community problems. Today, you announced an agreement which includes zero capital gains and faith-based -- was this evidence of the art of legislation or did the President hold his nose in order to get an agreement on empowerment?

MR. LOCKHART: I think these -- it's a little bit of apples and oranges -- on CRA, we thought that they -- last year, in the financial modernization bill they were trying to essentially gut the CRA programs, and that was something we stood firm on and made sure that we protected them.

As far as looking forward on the new markets legislation, there were a number of priorities that the President had, there were some priorities that Speaker Hastert and the Republican leadership had, and we found a way to meet the interests of what the bipartisan group that was working on it looked for, in a way that protects the President's priority -- and I think actually provides a solid program for allowing markets that have not fully participated in this unprecedented economic prosperity to participate.

Q Was there difficulty including the faith-based organizations in this legislation?

MR. LOCKHART: No. I think, given the fact that the President and the Speaker stood there today and talked jointly about the need to move this forward, is an indication that this is something we can support.

Q Joe, how much does the White House think today's announcement on New Markets might help sway undecided Democrats who worry that the China trade deal would mean losing jobs in their communities -- they're getting economic development now by this --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the timing of the New Markets announcement has more to do with the legislative calendar than anything else. We're getting near a recess; we're getting near the President being off for a week and a half, and not very much to do with the impending vote tomorrow.

I mean, the President has always said that his economic strategy is about providing opportunity at home, opening markets abroad. So in the broadest sense, you know, there is a connection. But we have continued to make the case, but they made a lot of progress over the last week to 10 days in the discussions between Speaker Hastert's office and the NEC here, and Mr. Sperling. And I think it was appropriate to go forward with today's announcement.

Q Joe --

Q The -- go ahead.

Q Joe, now that the OAS Commission has cut all ties with the National Electoral College of Peru, because of irregularities, is the U.S. government having any type of conversation with the Fujimori government, or --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're working with the OAS. I understand there is another test tomorrow of this computer software --

MR. CROWLEY: The computer has a monitoring system.

MR. LOCKHART: -- monitoring system. And there's certainly some hope that they can work out the problems and irregularities.

On the overall issue, we're going to continue to work with the OAS. We've made it very clear -- the President signed a Senate-House joint resolution before the first round -- I think we've made it very clear from here, from the podium at the State Department, that this is important to our bilateral relations that we have free and fair elections. And we're going to continue to make that point.

Q Joe, the President and Speaker Hastert have had a lot of contacts over this issue and several others over the last few months. Hastert has talked to the President maybe even more than he's talked to Gephardt in the last few months. Could you describe their relationship now and whether or not this agreement gives any indication about whether or not there will be further agreements on patients' bill of rights or prescription drugs?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President and the Speaker have a good working relationship. We have made progress on a number of issues; this being one of them. We have Africa and CBI trade that we worked through in the last couple of months. I think only time will tell, though. I mean, we have some fundamental differences on issues, ranging from how to raise the minimum wage to how to provide prescription drug benefits for Medicare to the right kind of patients' bill of rights to the right kind of gun safety legislation. And if we can't overcome those differences, it's -- good working relationships -- we have good working relationships with a lot of people; the real test will be whether we can overcome those differences and get something done.

Q Joe, you've made clear you don't want to talk about the effort to disbar the President; and yet, without him releasing the filings that he has made in this case, it's difficult for us to assess his argument and his lawyer's assertion that the case should be overturned on the merits. Can you help us understand that from the podium?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't really have much to add beyond what the President said last night. If you want to try speaking to his personal attorney on that, he may be able to enlighten you.

Q Joe, there's a group of Native Americans and Native Canadians in town today lobbying to have the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge protected from -- permanently protected from oil and gas drilling. Before he leaves office, does the President plan any initiative to create a national monument there, or in some other way protect it permanently from drilling?

MR. LOCKHART: You know, I know there's a lot of discussion on that within the agencies about various monument designations. I just -- I have not heard that particular area being part of those discussions.

Q Joe, the involvement of faith-based organizations in programs like the ones that are part of this deal announced today has a questionable record, especially in Texas, where there have been a lot of experiments along these lines -- there have been allegations of irregularities in a number of areas there. What safeguards are part of this, not only on constitutional church/ state grounds, but also on the way that these programs are going to be run, and the way their clients are going to be treated?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think obviously those are going to be legislative -- as they draft up the legislation questions that members from both sides are going to have to deal with. I mean, what we have today is an agreement in principle on a number of issues, that being one of them. And that was obviously one that Speaker Hastert felt was important. But I think we will work through -- and I think in order to get a majority of both the House and the Senate, we'll have to work through an acceptable way for members to address those questions.

Q Well, what are the President's concerns about this?

MR. LOCKHART: The President -- he hasn't expressed any particular concerns to me, and I think if -- as these come up, they'll be worked out as the members draft up the legislation.

Q Joe, do you have anything on Fiji if the President has spoken with anybody -- the President of Fiji, or anybody?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't think he's -- I don't think --

Q Also, if I understand clearly what the President said, I think that if, after all this drama is over, that current Prime Minister will not be able to return to power?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't know that the President -- the President hasn't spoken to anyone directly. He's been kept briefed on the situation there, and I expect he'll continue to be briefed by his national security team.

Q Joe, back on China. There's a story circulating in Taiwan, in Hong Kong's newspapers today saying that the President talked with Chinese President Jiang Zemin over the hotline, over the weekend, saying -- discussing about Taiwan President Chen Xuebien's inauguration speech. Did the President do that? And are we expecting any kind of summit after the PNTR vote between mainland China and --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, the reports of that conversation are not accurate, and I'm not going to -- I have no information about any meeting that we have planned or that we're thinking about.

Q You mean the account is not correct, or that there was no conversation?

MR. CROWLEY: There was no conversation.

MR. LOCKHART: There was no conversation.

Q Joe, Senator Schumer just appeared at the stakeout here at the White House, and said that he considered the disbarment recommendation to be the product of "a kangaroo court," and that it was an effort to extract another pound of flesh from the President. Is that something the White House would agree with? Is this debate going to move into the political arena at this point?

MR. LOCKHART: I think Senator Schumer is perfectly able to articulate his point of view, as have others who have views. We are choosing not to share our views.

Q Joe, Pakistani community has written a letter to the President asking his help to help Pakistan in its drought problem -- there's a drought in Afghanistan, there's a drought in Pakistan and India -- if, officially, the President has received any letters from those countries to help them --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we work -- our counternarcotics-trafficking work we proceed with on a number of countries. And it certainly was a matter of -- hmm?

Q Drought or drugs?

Q Drought.

MR. LOCKHART: Oh -- I'm sorry. I thought you said "drugs." I'm sorry, drought.

Q Drought.

MR. LOCKHART: I -- (laughter.)

Q Drought, drugs --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're against that, too. (Laughter.) Yes, I -- I don't -- I haven't seen anything on that, but let me check.

Q And also, the same community, the Asian community in this area, in this metro area, is calling on the -- that minorities are growing, so are the businesses, and so are crimes against them, but many of the crimes goes unsolved and unresolved, and police is not doing much. That was the question also last week that I asked you.

So now, if this administration is taking interest in how to work with the community and police, and investigations that should --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think for the details, that's a question to put to the Justice Department. But I think the President's made very clear that strong opposition to any crime that's based on ethnic difference, racial difference, any sort of crime motivated by the things that define us as different. So I think he's spoken on this many times and his views are very clear.

Q Can we come back to Bush and the missile proposal he laid out today? I understand that you folks have chosen a bilateral approach for negotiating reductions on both sides. But if George W. Bush is elected and in his considered judgment thinks a unilateral reduction is appropriate, would that be ill-considered, would that be, to borrow a phrase, risky?

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, it's certainly -- to sort of go out and make broad statements without providing details is -- might be an appropriate political tact, but doesn't necessarily make sense when you're worried about national security. And again, it's hard for me to judge, based on a speech that, when pushed, the answer is frequently "I don't know the answer, but I'll consult with my advisors" to answer a particular question about it.

Q Well -- no basic opposition to unilateral disarmament?

MR. LOCKHART: We have an approach that we think has worked, based on the ABM Treaty and everything that's worked up until now. We're moving in the right direction. There are tens of thousands of warheads that are now not in commission. And if he has some new ideas, then it's his obligation to put some flesh on the bones.

MR. CROWLEY: We have a 30-year tradition of arms control. There are legally binding, verifiable and mutual reductions.

MR. LOCKHART: And I think if Governor Bush has new ideas, that wants to reverse 30 years of arms reduction based on negotiation and treaties, then he should come forward and explain what he means.

Q So you oppose unilateral disarmament?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm telling you what we're for and what we've done. And we believe that it doesn't make sense to take our strategic position and unilaterally move in one direction or the other. The way to do this is to do this in conjunction with, in this case, the Russians. That's what we're going to do next week. I think if Governor Bush believes we can do this in a unilateral way, then he should explain that to the American people and see what they think.

Q Some details that the President did --

Q Well -- say to the President in 1991 --

Q Some details that George W. Bush did offer today was, he favors a multi-site national missile defense that would defend all 50 states, as well as our allies, and that he would try to somehow work with the Russians to develop it. How exactly does that differ from the administration's --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, it's hard to say because we don't know what that means. We have laid out the national missile defense which will protect the 50 states. We're in a process now that will determine the feasibility and the cost before we move forward. And we have some idea at this point of the cost, but certainly not a complete estimate. If there's going to be something that is a global missile defense, there are real questions about whether that would work, how it would work and how much it would cost. And I think if that's what he believes and that's what he supports, at a minimum he's going to have to answer the question of how he's going to pay for it.

Q Joe, on the question of unilateral, you cited the 1991 precedent when his father unilaterally pulling back hundreds, if not thousands, of tactical nuclear weapons and offered a move that the Russians -- the Soviets in that era -- followed suit on in months. And he was at least fairly specific on this question. He said, what he would do as president is consult with the Pentagon to determine the minimum number of warheads needed to maintain a credible deterrent, and the unilaterally go down to that level and invite the Russians to follow. What's wrong with that approach?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, listen -- the approach we have taken is to work through the context of START II, START III, and that's the approach we're going to continue to take, because that is the approach that has proven to work over the last 25, 30 years.

Q But doesn't trying to determine what the minimum number of nuclear weapons you need to defend yourself, and both getting to that number -- doesn't that just sound like common sense? Why would you need more than you need?

MR. LOCKHART: And I think there is a process by which we have worked with the Russians over the last decades to work to that point, and that's -- that is ultimately what we're trying to get at.

Q Joe, can you tell us what the nature is of the event the President's attending at the MCI Center tonight, and what its connection is to tomorrow night's MCI Center event?

MR. LOCKHART: The President is going to be meeting with some of the Democratic Party officials, and also some of the donors who have helped organize this event -- have both given and helped raise funds for tomorrow night's event.

Q If I could just follow up -- the coverage for it, of just having a print pooler is based on what consideration?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, it's based on these normal -- based on these events, as I explained this morning, we would normally -- because they're not actually raising money at this event, we would normally have no coverage. But given the interest in tomorrow night's event, and that this is connected to tomorrow night's event, I thought it would be appropriate to bring a print pooler and to listen to the President's words.

Q Is there some reluctance to have cameras at it, or --

MR. LOCKHART: No, I thought that we'd bring a print pooler in because that's -- it's not normally the rules that we do that, and I thought that was appropriate.

Q What's the level of donation that gets --

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. You'd have to ask the DNC.

Q Joe, a question on guns. There are more guns in America than people -- 240 million of them -- and we know guns kill people now. There was a gun back-buy program by the D.C. gun -- D.C. police. One, is there an initiative to support that nationwide -- gun buy-back program? Number two, at the NRA Conference, there was a 12-year-old boy testing and trying rifles and guns. I mean, where we are heading in the future, if you --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we hope we're headed in the right direction, and we hope we're headed for sensible gun safety legislation passed in this Congress. The President has talked about a system of licensing handguns, which we hope will be enacted. I think you saw a lot of people come to the Mall on Mother's Day to make that point. What was the first question? The first part? (Laughter.)

Q Gun buy-backs.

MR. LOCKHART: Gun buy-backs. I knew that; I couldn't think of it. You know, we have a national gun buy-back program through HUD. Money was appropriated in this year's budget to do that. We've had successful gun buy-backs around the country. It's one of those issues where it's just hard to understand the NRA's opposition, and some Republican leaders' opposition to gun buy-backs, but we're going to continue, and the President hopes we can expand them.

Q Joe, on a related issue, have you heard the President offer any expression of envy to Charlton Heston's election to a third term? (Laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: I would suggest that Mr. Heston's election to a third term might be the one thing that tempers the President's own view towards third terms.

Q Do you know if he's seen that dramatic speech that Charlton Heston made right after the --

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. I saw it. I saw it. Put it on as many times as you can.

Q Thank you.

MR. LOCKHART: Thank you.

END 1:59 P.M. EDT


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