THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY
Hotel Mondial am Dom
4:45 P.M. (L)Q Is it your understanding that Yeltsin is going to come on Sunday?
MR. LOCKHART: Mark, we discussed that before we came out and we don't have any new information on that. I think he's -- I think they have indicated that he'll be attending on Sunday and that's what we're expecting.
Q Joe, when the President says he's only begun to fight on guns, what does he mean -- what is his next step?
MR. LOCKHART: I think when we get back, we're going to meet and talk about where we take it from here. But I think the President indicated that he's been working on this issue for most of his political life, and this is something that's very important to the American public. While the Republican leaders may think they can take a vote in the dead of night, and there won't be any political consequences, but we think they're wrong.
Whether it be on the presidential level or the congressional level, the voters have very strong feelings on this, and I don't think cynically trying to hide a vote at 1:30 a.m. in the morning is going to redown a lot of political credit to their leadership. So we will go back where there's obviously more work to be done on this bill between the House and the Senate and this, as the President said, is a fight that he's only just begun.
Q What about the fact that Dingell, a Democrat, led the opposition?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the opposition was really led by a small group of Republican leadership. I think if we had taken this vote and had not delayed it at the urging of the NRA, we might be having a different conversation today. But as the President said yesterday, Representative Dingell has a different, has an honest disagreement on this policy, but we're going to keep pushing for the kind of sensible gun control legislation that we think will keep handguns, weapons, out of the hands of criminals and kids.
Q The President would not sign this House bill, right?
MR. LOCKHART: The House bill isn't finished yet, but what I can tell you is the President is not interested in signing into law an NRA-sponsored legislation that opens more loopholes than it closes.
Q Joe, Tony Blair praised the President's leadership as sort of the kingpin --
MR. LOCKHART: I saw that.
Q Right. I'm wondering whether Schroeder said anything to that in the private meeting.
MR. LOCKHART: I'll have to check on that because I ducked out of that meeting. But I think he has said previously, publicly -- I think all of the leaders have lauded the way that the NATO Alliance stood together despite great pressure at times, domestically. That is a testament, I think, both to the leadership of President Clinton, but also to the Chancellor, the Prime Minister that he talked to today, President Chirac who he talked to yesterday.
Q What will the President say to the American people in his weekly radio address?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President will use his weekly radio address to reiterate the fact that this fight over sensible gun control has just begun and we're going to continue until the American public gets what they deserve.
Q The President made a fairly intense lobbying effort from over here, telephoning wavering Democrats especially. What does it suggest that he makes that effort and a large number of Democrats still defect?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think if you -- I haven't looked at all the precise numbers. I think most of the people he talked to actually voted for the McCarthy Amendment. But it suggests that this is a tough political vote, it's a tough political fight and that we still have work to do, and that there remains a lingering residue of political fear instilled by the NRA.
Q What's going to change, Joe? If the President has only just begun to fight what's going to change?
MR. LOCKHART: I think if you looked at the debate a month ago, no one would have ever suggested we would have gotten as far as we did in the Senate. We're going to keep pushing this. We're going to make sure that this debate gets played out in the sunlight of midday, rather than in the darkness of midnight.
MR. LOCKHART: Not bad.
Q On the Ten Commandments quote, the President talked about bringing forth another option that perhaps would be more constitutional, that would be less controversial. Could you explain what that option is, and could you also tell us whether the President would veto the measure if it continued to go forward?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not going to get into speculating down the road of what's going to eventually come down on the President. But what I think the President was talking about is, we've actually done quite a lot on promoting religious expression, whether it be in schools or in public life. And what he wants to do is work with Congress on things like character education that has worked around the country. That is clearly within the constitutional bounds.
I think any fair reading of the reaction today from constitutional lawyers and scholars, in the aftermath of yesterday's vote, is that this would have serious constitutional problems and would probably not take long to be declared unconstitutional.
But I think that the President stressed in his comments today that the intent is right -- that he wants to work with Secretary Riley, members of Congress to build on some of the ideas that he's put forward.
Q In the aftermath of Littleton, the President said often that this debate was not about accusing anybody and, yet, all he's done in the last few days is accuse the NRA. If the House had gone his way he would reject accusations that he used his political pressure to force them to knuckle under. Why is it okay for him to accuse the NRA on this? These are members of Congress.
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I think it's -- just go talk to members of Congress -- people who magically had 800 calls show up in one afternoon, organized by the National Rifle Association. They have used their political power to pursue their own agenda, which is legitimate, but that's not the agenda of the American public. And I think what the President has discussed is trying to find a way that we do pursue what's right for our kids, for our children, and do it in a way where everyone does take responsibility.
This isn't -- this debate is not just about guns. There are number of legitimate issues here that the President has spoken to, that Democratic leaders, Republican leaders, have had valuable comments and contributions to make. But guns is part of the problem, is a big part of the problem. And we can't just walk away from a big part of the problem because there's a political constituency who might give us some trouble over it.
Q -- you don't think they were --
MR. LOCKHART: They certainly didn't do anything to advance what the President believes is in the best interests of the country. They pursued a very narrow political interest -- which is a legitimate part of our political process.
Q Joe, back on Russia. Based on what Sandy said, there's obviously concern in the administration about whether you can take the Russians at their word. Does the President feel that Yeltsin is a man of his word, and that he can trust anything that Yeltsin tells him?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President feels, from his phone calls over the last week or so, that Boris Yeltsin is someone that he can work with.
Q Joe, did the President tell Prime Minister Obuchi that he would veto the steel quota legislation? And what do you see as the future of that legislation?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President has made his views known on the steel quota legislation. I think the point that he made, though, to the Prime Minister was that they need to get their imports down to pre-crisis levels, because this is a bill that he may not be able to sustain a veto on, so it's important. The levels of imports have dropped, particularly on hot rolled steel, but not to the kind of pre-crisis level that we need to see.
Q Joe, following up on that, after the meeting, Prime Minister Obuchi warned against U.S. protectionism regarding steel. Is that a sign of tension between the two countries?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President has made his view known on the steel quota bill. He wants free and fair trade between the two countries. But I think he also made the point that Japan has their role as far as curbing the level of imports.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 4:52 P.M. (L)