For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 10, 2007
Press Gaggle by Dana Perino
Aboard Air Force One
En route Sofia, Bulgaria
5:27 P.M. (Local)
MS. PERINO: Hi. It's a short flight, and I thought I would just give you some color on the day and then answer any questions you might have.
Let me give you a little bit about Mrs. Bush's day, just a couple of things of color for you. One of the things she attended this morning -- she went to an orphanage, a family center that's run by Bethany Christian Services, out of the United States. It's a group house for young children. It's a faith-based organization, with a mix of private and public funding; they do get USAID funding. She was just -- the impression was that she felt that they were doing really wonderful work.
And one of the things she mentioned is that the folks who work in the home are Americans, moms and dads who come over and sometimes bring their children, if they have children, and then live here in Albania to help take care of those children, and they home-school their own.
And one other bit of color. You might have noticed some of the people in the street had on those tall Uncle Sam hats. One of the women she had lunch with is named -- she was the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, and her name was Edith Harxhi. And she told a story that she remembered her brother, in 1991 her brother was eight years old and that's when Secretary of State James Baker came to visit Albania. And he made his own tall Uncle Sam hat, using crayons. She said she never forgot that, and so she worked with the Embassy in order to get those hats for those that were lining the streets.
And the last thing on Mrs. Bush -- and I'll get into the roundtable in a moment -- I don't know if we've given you the backgrounder yet on the people who were in the roundtable at that last stop -- second to last stop. One of them was a barber shop and beauty product owner, Blerim Dema. And he and his wife are expecting a baby girl any day now -- they know it will be a girl, and they told Mrs. Bush they are going to name her Laura.
And at one of the places she was today for lunch, they are going to name that the Laura Bush Salon -- for beauty products, not a lounging area.
Okay. You heard from the President and the Prime Minister at the press conference. I just wanted to tell you one quote from that meeting. The President said to him, "You are writing an amazing chapter for history on freedom. It will be amazing to look back on all you've done. I congratulate you on it." I'll just say that quote quickly one more time: "You are writing an amazing chapter for history on freedom. It will be amazing to look back on all you've done. I congratulate you on it."
And the Prime Minister said to the President, "We are writing the chapter together. We are very grateful and proud for all of the help. We are very honored. We are a functioning democracy. We have our problems, but we are getting there. We were like North Korea, but now we're a functioning democracy."
Q Where was that?
MS. PERINO: In the President's meeting with the Prime Minister, right before the press availability.
A little bit of color on the roundtable. I told you about the barbershop owner. The roundtable was made up of participants who received micro-credit loans. And the micro-credit services gets their money from USAID. There was a sheep herder there who said he had considered emigrating in order to find work. And he did go to Greece and he worked there for six months, and he saved some money. And when he came back he got some land, but it was very difficult to raise enough sheep in order to have a thriving business. Eventually, though, with this micro-credit program, he went up to 60 heads of sheep. He also was able to secure a mortgage so that he could build a house right there -- he said he needed to be near his livestock in order for that business to work. And now he has, with the help of the program, over 400 head of livestock. He has four kids, three of them in school. And he said to the President that, "Sheepherding is looked down upon; it's not a very sophisticated profession. Some may think it's not very dignified, but I feel proud to work in this critical area because it helps with the businesses and it helps also feed my country." And the President said, "Let me remind you of something. We come from Texas, and raising livestock is a very proud profession. And I'd rather sit down with a livestock raiser than a big-city lawyer any day."
Just one other --
Q On the micro-credit, do you know what size loans these are?
MS. PERINO: I will get that for you. They can be as low as $25, and then up to a certain amount -- but I'll see how much they have.
And then the last one that I would just give you a little color on was a woman who works, actually, for the micro-credit lending service, she's Albanian, she's worked there about a year-and-a-half. She said two years ago they only had 550 credit applications; today they have over 1,200 clients. And she said they are dedicated to customer service and focused on the mission of small business to help stabilize the businesses, which help the whole nation's economy. And she did want to thank the American people for the taxpayer dollars that are going to help them. And they're looking to build themselves up into an actual bank. And the President said, "That's a real sign of progress." And then he said, "I have three more observations of Albania to share with you." He said, "I can smell potential in Albania." He said, "The flat tax will help small businesses" -- they have a 10 percent flat tax. And he said, "I want to help you. America wants to help you." And then he went over to the bakery. They had a wonderful visit.
Q Dana, was the Secret Service at all nervous about how people grabbed at him and touched him?
MS. PERINO: Well, the Secret Service always makes sure the President is safe, and if they felt he wasn't safe, they wouldn't have put him in that position. Obviously, the crowd was very enthusiastic and excited to see the first sitting President of the United States. But he was safe and I think that he really enjoyed meeting all those people, he really did.
Q Dana, do you know if the crowd had been screened beforehand?
MS. PERINO: Had the crowd been swept?
MR. DECKARD: I'll find that out for you.
Q Thank you.
END 5:35 P.M. (Local)