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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 10, 2007
Press Gaggle by Dana Perino
11:15 A.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Sorry I'm late. We just had the announcement out of the U.N. Security Council about the unanimous vote, so I have something for you on that. And I have a couple of other things. Let's do the schedule first and then I'll give you the two statements, all right?
The President, as some of you who were in the pool know, got up very early and went biking this morning, mountain biking. At 9:30 a.m. he had his regular briefings. He also taped the weekly radio address; the topic is Afghanistan and Pakistan working together to fight extremism, and increasingly good results out of the surge in Iraq.
At 10:15 a.m., the President, along with his father, President Bush 41, and his brother, Jeb, went out on a boat, probably casting a line. They're taking advantage of the great outdoors, it's one of the things that this family loves to do when they come up here in the summertime. I wouldn't expect a lot more readout out of Walker's Point. They do a lot of what other families do when they get together for family vacations --
MS. PERINO: Excuse me? Bicker? (Laughter.) Mark, is there something you want to tell us about your family?
Q Sorry, my mistake.
MS. PERINO: Let's do a statement by the press secretary, which is going to be me today, Dana Perino. "The President welcomes today's unanimous vote by the U.N. Security Council to renew the mandate for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq" -- UNAMI is the acronym, U-N-A-M-I. "This vote sends an important signal of the U.N. commitment to support stability and security in Iraq. The UNAMI mandate renewal also reinforces the broader international framework for Iraq, which includes international compact with Iraq and the neighbors process, which began in May in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The United States is fully committed to this framework and looks forward to working with the United Nations and international partners to support the Iraqi government and promote political dialogue in Iraq.
And then a statement by the President on immigration. Before I do that, some of you know that Secretaries Chertoff and Gutierrez are currently holding a press conference -- it started at 10:30 a.m., so hopefully they're probably winding that down -- and this is about a range of immigration issues and matters that the executive branch can address going forward, before the end of the President's term.
This is a statement by the President that we will release, as well. "Today, members of my Cabinet announced a series of important new administrative actions to address border security and immigration challenges. These reforms represent steps my administration can take within the boundaries of existing law to better secure our borders, improve worksite enforcement, streamline existing temporary worker programs, and help new immigrants assimilate into American society.
"Although the Congress has not addressed our broken immigration system by passing comprehensive reform legislation, my administration will continue to take every possible step to build upon the progress already made in strengthening our borders, enforcing our worksite laws, keeping our economy well-supplied with vital workers, and helping new Americans learn English. I appreciate the work of Secretary Chertoff and Secretary Gutierrez in implementing these important reforms, which will improve our security and enrich our nation."
With that, I'll go to questions.
Q Dana, during the debate about comprehensive immigration reform, the President repeatedly told the public that the system was broken -- you just repeated it in that statement -- and it was unacceptable. Now we have these Cabinet members talking about stepped-up enforcement. Why should people have confidence that this is going to actually make a difference when the law itself is broken? Isn't this stepped up enforcement of a broken law?
MS. PERINO: Well, let's take a step back and talk about what we have initiated under this President under border security while we waited for Congress to work on border security issues. For example, it was a year or a year and a half ago that we announced the stepped up border security enforcement, by increasing the Border Patrol agents by 1,700, to effectively double the amount of Border Patrol agents that we had in our system by the time the President left office.* And I think what you'll find in this announcement today, as well, is that in the comprehensive reform legislation debate, Senator Judd Gregg had an amendment to increase that by yet another 2,000 -- I'm sorry, increase it to a total of 20,000, which we are going to try to attempt to do, as well.
So even before Congress decided that they weren't going to act on comprehensive immigration reform, the President was acting on the border security issue. In addition to that, the President sent down the National Guard, and that has had quite an impact, as well.
Another thing that we did independently of congressional action was ended catch and release, which was -- the policy used to be in the United States that you found an illegal immigrant in the country, and you released them back to their country -- I'm sorry, you released them into our country, and they were supposed to come and show up for a court date. Of course they weren't showing up for their court dates, and we have effectively ended that process, and several other steps like that, as well.
So in addition, I would point to the work site enforcement pieces of this that we have been trying to do across the country. And some of the most important things in this package of 26 different items today is that the President is trying to assist employers, to make sure that they know what they need to do in order to identify whether or not an individual is actually a citizen of the United States and should be here, legally working. Right now you can use 29 different documents in order to identify somebody. I think that through that work at the Department of Homeland Security, they're going to work with employers to make that more streamlined. In the news this week has been the no-match rule. This has been a rulemaking that's been ongoing, again outside of congressional action, that will be finalized today. Rulemakings take a little bit longer than executive orders sometimes because of the public comment periods. But that finalized today.
And then I would also point to a couple of interesting things -- this is on the fourth page of the fact sheet that we just released, which is on assimilation -- one of the things that we'll be able to do independently, that we wanted to do in the legislation and we'll do it within the boundaries of the current law -- all of these issues that we're taking on today we're doing within the boundaries of the current law. So we're going as far as we possibly can without Congress acting.
But the ones I would point out to you are the Office of Citizenship. They're going to be revising the naturalization test. Different regions had different tests. We're going to get those streamlined and focus on the fundamentals of democracy. And also the Department of Education is going to have a new website that they developed, that helps immigrants who are here to learn English so that they can start the assimilation process and become citizens of the United States.
Q But can't we just go back to the premise of that? You've just laid out a whole series of steps that the administration thinks will improve enforcement of immigration. But the public has been hearing for so long now that this system is broken and the law is broken. So is that still the administration's position, that the law is badly broken?
MS. PERINO: The President would have liked to have seen comprehensive immigration reform completed by the Congress. Short of that, the President asked his administration to look at what within the current law can we do through the executive branch that builds upon the initiatives, or creates new initiatives that we can implement before the end of the -- before the end of the President's term. So he would still liked to have seen comprehensive immigration reform, but the Congress said that they're clearly not going to be able to act on it.
Q Why didn't he do this a year-and-a-half or two ago, when this whole debate started?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think if you look at these individual issues, many of these things are ones that were, one, either being considered and underway. For example, the issue with the no-match rule was something that was also in the legislation, but something that the administration had started with a proposed rulemaking and the public comment period and all the bells and whistles that go along with a rulemaking.
But remember we were also in an extended debate with the Congress and we were trying to get a full package together so that we could have all these issues addressed comprehensively. And that didn't happen. So these are things that we can do administratively without the Congress.
Q The debate precluded the President's ability to act on this stuff?
MS. PERINO: No, if you go back and you look at many of these things -- like I just said, the President acted on border security prior to the congressional debate heating up this year. And actually the year before; I remember being on the trip -- many of you were probably with us when he went and announced that we were going to send the National Guard down to the border to help the Border Patrol agents. And that's been a successful endeavor.
Q Does this mean the administration has given up on comprehensive immigration reform?
MS. PERINO: Look, I think that we have to be realistic about what this Congress is going to be willing to do. I think that the leaders in Congress have decided that this is not something that they're going to take up. And so I think the President, while he would like to have seen comprehensive immigration reform, does not believe that the Congress will be able to get that done.
Q How concerned is the President about the recent sharp declines in the financial markets globally? Is he worried that this is going to affect the U.S. economy adversely? Any steps that he's considering?
MS. PERINO: Well, you heard from the President yesterday. What I can say from here is that what the President said and what the President is briefed on is that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. There is -- the Federal Reserve, which is an independent institution that we greatly respect, and we are not going to comment from the White House on any of its activities or actions, but I can assure you that there are many of the President's advisors who are keeping a very close eye on all the market activity, and making sure that policies are put in place to keep our economy strong and growing.
Q Is the President himself keeping a close eye on the market activity?
MS. PERINO: Well, just remember that the President on Wednesday spent several hours at the Treasury Department. In addition to the briefings that he gets regularly, he had an annual briefing with his economic advisors, and that took place just two days ago.
Q Right, but I'm wondering if from here, given that there are so many fluctuations --
MS. PERINO: I can assure you that on any issue, especially an issue like this, that the President would get regular updates.
Q Are you going to have a -- some kind of further policy announcement on the situation with regard to the real estate market, or the broader situation with regard to --
MS. PERINO: I am not aware of a new policy -- any policy development that's underway would be something I'm not aware of. That doesn't mean that at the agencies that they aren't thinking about it. You know, especially on the housing issue, I'd refer you to somebody like a Brian Montgomery, over at the Federal Housing Authority. He's an expert on those issues, especially for individuals who are worried about the possibility of losing their homes. The FHA is a great place and a great resource for those people. Anyone who feels that they were lied to when they got into one of their -- into their mortgage, there are laws that protect them. Any of those laws that were broken would be vigorously pursued.
Q The President acknowledged that a correction is underway. I wonder if you'd help us understand what he means by a "soft landing"?
MS. PERINO: I'm going to defer to Tony Fratto who was there with the President all day Wednesday at the Treasury Department. He's our economic expert in our office. He's back in Washington today, and he said that on any of these technical questions regarding all these financial issues -- it's just not appropriate for me to talk about them, not knowing them. And, especially, there are some issues regarding financial markets that I cannot talk about from the podium, as you well know.
Q Was there any discussion of canceling the lunch tomorrow, since Sarkozy had to go back to France?
MS. PERINO: I didn't -- not that I know of, no. I believe that we were -- the White House was informed that President Sarkozy would be returning to France for the funeral, but intended to return for his lunch with the President and Mrs. Bush. The President and Mrs. Bush, of course, would understand if circumstances came to be that he couldn't attend, but I don't believe that that's the intention. I think that they're all planning on having a good lunch tomorrow.
The President has a lot of family with him up here at Walker's Point, and so they're looking forward to a casual lunch. The President -- this will be the President's third meeting with President Sarkozy. They had a very good meeting in Heiligendamm. For those of you that were there at the G8, you might remember that. It was there at the G8 that the President and Mrs. Bush realized that the Sarkozys would be nearby for their vacation time, and had the idea that if their time up here in New England were to overlap, that it would be a good idea for the two families -- for the couples to get together. I think President Bush 41 and Mrs. Barbara Bush are wonderful hosts here at Walker's Point. And I think that the Sarkozys are probably in for a real treat to be able to get to meet all of the family, including some of the children.
Q What will they talk about, do you think?
MS. PERINO: Again, it's a casual lunch, and so they could talk about any range of issues. As when any world leader gets together with another, there's a possibility that they could discuss business. Obviously we're working very closely with France right now on a range of issues, including -- and especially at the U.N. Security Council, on issues in Lebanon and Sudan and Iran. I can't tell you for sure that those issues are going to come up, but as world leaders, they could talk about a range of issues, including the President's climate change conference that he's holding the end of September, of which France was invited.
Q Is the lunch just the two First Families?
MS. PERINO: I'll see if there's anything additional I can give you. I believe that that's -- I think it's just family. There's no other government officials going to be there.
Q It's just the President and the First Lady and Sarkozy and his wife?
MS. PERINO: No, I think the extended Bush family I think will be at the lunch as well.
Q How many people is that?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I'll see if I can get you any more specifics on it.
Q Do they plan to take him out on the boat, and will photographers be allowed out there to take pictures?
MS. PERINO: We'll keep you updated. Obviously, Bush 41, when he has an opportunity to bring people up to Walker's Point that's often something that takes place. But I can't tell you for sure, but if it happens we'll make sure you get updated about that.
Q And one of the -- the President has not hosted any of his counterparts in Crawford for a very long time. Is it -- does he think that Kennebunkport is more appropriate now to host Mr. Putin or Mr. Sarkozy --
MS. PERINO: No, no, no. I can't remember when the last time that there was a foreign leader in Crawford, but I don't feel like it was that long ago. The Putin visit was also a very good visit. That was, again, a meeting where geography helped in terms of a confluence of events where President Putin was flying, I believe, from Canada down to Latin America, and the President thought it would be a good idea to invite him up here when he was on his way. So I think that's just a coincidence.
Q Last foreign leader in Crawford was Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, in May.
MS. PERINO: That wasn't so long ago.
Q I was talking about counterparts.
Q And then in 2005, Uribe.
MS. PERINO: Like Uribe?
Q Yes, in August of '05.
MS. PERINO: Okay. Not long. Thank goodness for Mark Knoller.
Q In August?
MS. PERINO: I don't know, is that an invitation you would want?
Q No, no thank you.
MS. PERINO: Go ahead, Ben.
Q Just to follow up on, it seems like the White House is emphasizing the fact that this is more of a social get-together, and a private one at that.
MS. PERINO: Because it is.
Q Well, I'm wondering why the leaders might not make some comments after, given the fact that it is their first meeting like this and a lot of their constituents would be eager to hear how the meeting went.
MS. PERINO: I know that there's always an appetite for more and more information. The invitation from the President and Mrs. Bush to the Sarkozys was one for a nice casual lunch during the Sarkozys' vacation. It is not considered to be a working lunch. But I can't tell you that they wouldn't talk about issues. And to the extent that I could get some sort of readout, if they don't make comment, I will provide it. But I just would set your expectations low on that.
Q What's on the menu?
MS. PERINO: Menu. I'll see if I can get a menu.
Q How long are they going to meet actually there, the Sarkozys?
MS. PERINO: I think at least 90 minutes.
Q Dana, can you talk at all about some of the President's other activities while he's here? He's here for a wedding. Will he attend the wedding -- ceremony, reception?
MS. PERINO: The only thing I can tell you there is that there is a wedding of close family friends up here in Maine. I don't have an update to the President's schedule. If that changes, we will certainly let you know if there is going to be a movement. And those of you in the pool will get to ride in the motorcade.
MS. PERINO: It's tomorrow.
Q In the evening? Wedding is in the evening?
MS. PERINO: I think so, because the President has a lunch in the afternoon.
Okay, great. Thanks, everyone.
END 11:32 A.M. EDT
*The President on May 15, 2006 announced that he would increase the size of the border patrol by 6,000 new agents, doubling the size of the Border Patrol during his presidency by taking the total number of agents to over 18,000. Today, August 10, 2007, the Administration announced an increase of an additional 1,700 agents to bring the border patrol agent commitment to 20,000 in 2009.