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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 27, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:46 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the briefing room. I have a statement by the President on Burma that I will read out for him, and then a statement about the FAA actions, and then I'll go to questions.
This is a statement by the President. "The world is watching the people of Burma take to the streets to demand their freedom, and the American people stand in solidarity with these brave individuals. We feel admiration and compassion for the monks and peaceful protesters calling for democracy. Every civilized nation has a responsibility to stand up for people suffering under a brutal military regime like the one that has ruled Burma for so long. I call on all nations that have influence with the regime to join us in supporting the aspirations of the Burmese people and to tell the Burmese Junta to cease using force on its own people who are peacefully expressing their desire for change. By its own account, the Junta has already killed at least nine non-violent demonstrators, and many others who have been injured and arrested as they seek to express their views peacefully. I urge the Burmese soldiers and police not to use force on their fellow citizens. I call on those who embrace the values of human rights and freedom to support the legitimate demands of the Burmese people."
In addition to that, on the President's statement, we call on the junta to allow the U.N. Special Envoy, Mr. Gambari, full access to all relevant parties while he is in Burma, beginning tomorrow. This includes those jailed by the junta, religious leaders, and Aung San Suu Kyi.
On to a domestic topic. This afternoon President Bush will be joined by Transportation Secretary Mary Peters. They will announce new steps to address the serious problem of airport air traffic congestion and flight delays that all of us have experienced at one time or another. Missed connections and lost luggage is often a result of what this year has been the highest number of flight cancellations in the nation's history. The President says that's entirely too many, and he wants this problem addressed before next summer's busy travel season.
The steps he is ordering today are ones that the executive branch can do on their own. Last February, we sent up proposed legislation to Capitol Hill, but there has also been delay on that action. The actions fall into two basic categories: reducing air traffic congestion that is the root cause of all of these other problems; and improving air passenger complaint and response systems, like when your flight is over-sold and you get bumped off and you want to complain to somebody. DOT is going to beef up that mechanism.
The President wants solutions to be in place so that every American, and everyone who comes to this country on business and pleasure, to have a better flight experience. And they will have their statement and then there is a briefing at 2:45 p.m. -- meeting out here about 2:30 p.m. -- in order to provide more information on that.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q When you say the President wants solutions to be in place, is he announcing solutions today? Has he got specific action that's going to resolve this congestion problem?
MS. PERINO: There are some specific things that can be done. For example, one of the things that Secretary Peters will do is head to New York.* And she's going to bring together stakeholders to deal with what is one-third of all the major air traffic in the country -- those through the New York metro area. And we also had 30 percent of the flight cancellations last year and delays.
So there is a cascading effect of the problems that are happening in that area. And by bringing the stakeholders together to talk about solutions, the President believes that it's a better and more enduring way to help solve a problem. Demand is not going to slow down for air traffic. People want to have more business flights and more flights for vacations and pleasure, and so we have to address these with the stakeholders involved. And that's one of the things that she will announce, that she's going up there to bring those people together.
Q So this is a mechanism to find a solution, not -- he's not announcing specific steps to --
MS. PERINO: That's true, they're going to deal with that. We also need to deal with this World War II-era system we have for air traffic control. It's out of date and it needs to be updated. We hope that Congress will work with us on that as well. But in addition, as I said -- and DOT could provide more information -- but this issue about taking and investigating complaints more aggressively is going to be another thing DOT can do, and they can do that pretty quickly.
Q What prompted this now, and does the President have very specific improvements he wants to see as a result of this process?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think we'll let Secretary Peters come back and -- obviously, having that many fight cancellations and flight delays and missed flights and lost luggage -- it's too much for everyone. It's not good for business, it's not good for our economy, and it's really not good for passengers and consumers.
And so, we sent up the legislation last February. It hasn't been acted upon. The numbers came back to say that there's been a record this year of flight cancellations and delays. And so the President asked, "What can we do? Is there something that we can do now on our own, while we continue to try to work with Congress to get something done?" So that's why he wants to do it now, and he thinks by taking action today, in the end of September, we can get something in place so that next year's summer travel season can be much better.
Q Back to Burma. What, if anything, can the President do other than put out a statement condemning that and seeking worldwide support for sanctions against Burma? Sanctions, are there any sanctions?
MS. PERINO: Yes. I think that you will see today, hopefully, some action out of the Treasury Department making -- taking the next step on sanctions. I won't spell out individuals yet, I'll let Treasury make those announcements. But tightening the sanctions is very important and the people of Burma have been living in perpetual poverty for so long. And so it's not only the oppression and being brutally attacked or fired upon as a demonstrator, but it's the issue that they just have a terrible way of life. And the President wants the entire international community to live up to its obligations. And one of the things he can do is sanctions.
Q But what could he do to make the members of the military regime listen? They haven't listened for 19 years.
MS. PERINO: Sanctions have worked in the past in other places. We're going to try to tighten those and make them stronger and stricter so that they have to have -- so that they have some effect that will hopefully force an action.
In addition, what the President can do is use this podium and his bully pulpit in order to shine a bright spotlight on this problem, so that the rest of the world can help -- and can come along and try to help us.
Q Can you give us some specifics of the sanctions?
MS. PERINO: I can't yet. Treasury is working on those. Obviously we don't like to telegraph what they are yet because it can help people hide assets.
Q On that same subject, Dana, isn't it possible that the economic sanctions could further intensify the poverty? And also, would the U.S. consider boycotting the Beijing Olympics as a way of punishing them for supporting the Myanmar regime?
MS. PERINO: Well, two things on that. One is, the junta, the military leaders in Burma are living quite a wonderful lifestyle while the people are not. By tightening sanctions on them it's not going to make the people's life any worse. They are already living in, as I said, perpetual poverty.
The other thing is that one of the things the President said about the Olympics is that this is when the world is watching. And they're excited about the Olympics, but also this is a time when, as he said to President Hu, the world is going to be watching on a lot of different subjects, and he thinks that the Olympics is a time when people can pay attention to a lot of different issues. This would be one of them.
Q Is the President reaching out directly to countries like China and India, the two most influential neighbors of Myanmar, for them to apply pressure?
MS. PERINO: Obviously we're working through Mr. Gambari, the U.N. envoy, who is working with the international community at the U.N. He's on his way there; he'll be there tomorrow. And if there are updates on the President's schedule I'll let you know.
Q On another topic? Earlier this year DHS conducted an experiment that showed how vulnerable a government generator was to a cyber attack. Can you tell us who here at the White House was briefed on that, who saw the tape -- who might have been given a tape of that?
MS. PERINO: Well, I don't know who all would have seen the tape, but obviously, these are very important issues for the government to address. Malicious cyber attacks are a possibility, and it is only right and proper that the federal government, in conjunction with the private sector, which has a lot of responsibility over many critical pieces of infrastructure across the country, that we work cooperatively, plan for the worst, and expect the worst, and that way we can prevent it from happening.
So I don't know who all would have seen it, but obviously, I think it's a good thing that the government is checking into this, making sure that we know what could be possible so that we can all work together and make sure that it doesn't happen.
Q Well, what about the funding for this? According to OMB, next fiscal year, the Department of Homeland Security is expected to drop cyber-security spending to less than $100 million, and spending on securing the control systems that control the critical infrastructure is projected to be only $12 million. Why such a small amount of money?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think what we need to remember is that the issue of cyber security crosses many different agencies, and they all work cooperatively together. In fact, DHS, Department of Homeland Security, is tasked with making sure that everyone is coordinated across the agencies.
The other thing is, since 2004, the budget at that time for overall cyber-security issues was $4 billion. Now it's over $6 billion in the President's '08 request.
What you're talking about is a small part of something that DHS does. So it doesn't -- it's not reflective, in terms of the overall budget in terms of cyber security. And what that doesn't include -- and I don't have the number, but I can try to get it for you -- is the research and development monies that are going into funding experiments and things to make sure that we're preventing any sort of attacks.
Q So, I mean, you're saying that those figures that I just quoted are not a reflection of where cyber security is in terms of priorities for this administration?
MS. PERINO: That's absolutely correct. The priorities should be shown that in the overall, cyber-security budget has gone up by over $2 billion. And we continue to do more coordination and cooperation, not only through the interagency process, to make sure that we're all hooked up and knitted up, but also with our state and local partners, but more importantly, the private sector, which, for example, with electrical grids, a lot of that security is handled by private sector.
Q Dana, the Senate attached hate crimes legislation to a defense authorization bill. What's the reaction here? And is that another veto threat column?
MS. PERINO: Well, we've had -- on the DOD authorization bill, there is a series of things that the administration's senior advisors would recommend a veto on. Our position on the hate crimes legislation has been very consistent. We believe that all violent crimes should be prosecuted vigorously, and that all people should be protected from violent crimes.
State and local districts have their own laws. A lot of them are stricter and stronger than ones in the federal hate crimes legislation proposal. We believe that local -- state and local law enforcement agencies are effectively using their laws to the full extent that they can. I don't know -- given that there are so many different things that a senior advisor might recommend a veto on, I'm not going to say specifically on this, but our position has been consistent.
Q If I can change topics, there's a -- about the history of the Iraq war here. There's a transcript in the Spanish newspaper, El País, that was said to be from a meeting between the President and the Spanish Prime Minister back in February 2003, in which, according to the tapes of this transcript of the conversations, Saddam Hussein offered to step down and go into exile one month before the invasion, and the President seemed to think that that was a realistic possibility at that time. Do you believe that this is an accurate transcript?
MS. PERINO: Well, without commenting on the details or talking about a private conversation between two world leaders and whether or not that happened, if you think back to that time, there were a lot of rumors. There were a lot of people floating ideas around about what may or may not happen. Unfortunately, Saddam Hussein decided to defy the international community. All diplomatic measures ran their course. And what we are focused on now is making sure that Iraq can be a government that can sustain and defend itself and make sure it's an ally in the war on terror for that region.
Q And one more thing on this. The President is quoted in this transcript saying, "No matter what happens, we'll be in Baghdad by the end of March." Three days after that meeting, Ari Fleischer was at a podium in this room, saying, "The President has not come to the conclusion that the inspections have reached a dead end." I'm wondering if you can --
MS. PERINO: I wasn't there for the private meeting that the President had with President Aznar. I don't know what Ari said. I do know where we are now, which is in a position of trying to make sure that the Iraqis have what they need in order to be a democratic force in the Middle East region.
Q Dana, on the aviation announcement, is this -- are the airline executives on board with this, as far as, you know -- I'm sure -- I assume you folks have reached out to them.
MS. PERINO: Well --
Q And second, is this a way of heading off what you guys might see as more onerous legislation on the Hill?
MS. PERINO: Well, we've not seen any legislation from the Hill, so I don't think that we're necessarily worried about more onerous legislation. But I think what -- I think our approach is the right one, which is to bring the stakeholders together. That includes the airlines.
Airlines understand that they've got a serious problem, too. They have a supply and demand problem. They have complaints and they have unhappy customers. They have a reason to want to try to make this better. And so that's why we're going to make them a part of the discussion and a part of the solution.
Q Bret asked you about a conversation that was behind the scenes. I'd like to ask you about the White House accounts of things that the President says on the record. How do you all decide -- what is the mechanism for changing verbatim comments that the President makes, as was the case in his grammatical slip-up yesterday?
MS. PERINO: Yesterday? We checked into that. That was not something that anyone in the Press Office or Communication Office or anyone in the WhiStenographers Office, and we asked for it to be changed back.
Q So it's been changed back?
MS. PERINO: If it hasn't, it had -- we made the request. I haven't gone back to check, but I had made the request to make sure that it was accurate. You know, the President -- it is no secret -- sometimes makes grammatical errors. And he also is somebody, though, that gives a lot of public comments. And I think in the grand scheme of things, if any of us were -- well, maybe now I am -- monitored for such things, that we would all have slip-ups from time to time. The point is he was very proud of the record that the -- the test scores that the students achieved.
Q Well, you know, we're all monitored -- what we say in these seats and what you say from the podium. But the fact of the matter is --
MS. PERINO: The integrity of the transcripts are very important to me and I've made that clear.
MS. PERINO: Can I just go back here?
Go ahead, Laurent.
Q Going back to Burma and China and the Olympics, could the President reconsider his trip to China next week for the -- next year, sorry -- for the Olympics, if China didn't put enough pressure on Burma?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to speculate. Obviously, the President told President Hu that he is looking forward to going to the Olympics, and I would refer you back to what I said just a minute ago.
Q On S-CHIP coverage, a very key Republican senator involved in this debate argued a couple of points the President has been making on this. One is the $83,000 figure, and he said to do that for coverage, expanding it to that scope would require HHS authorization. Technically, up until reauthorization, prior reauthorization, the administration routinely allowed states to expand S-CHIP coverage to adults. So I'd like to know your response to those two points.
MS. PERINO: Well, we've been discussing S-CHIP. What the President wants is for every American to have access to affordable health care. There are some people who cannot afford that, that's why we have the Medicaid program. And then years ago they started the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which is for the children that fall in between. And that's what the President wants to focus on, the neediest children, for this program.
Many states have, over the years, have what I called mission creep, and increased the number -- the amount of income that a family can have before they can apply for S-CHIP. We don't think that's the right thing to do. There are more children who fall into that category that need to be covered, before we start covering adults or children that have higher -- that are of families of higher incomes.
Q Can I just follow up on this adult coverage, then? There's a provision, I believe, to expand coverage to adult pregnant women. Would the White House support that?
MS. PERINO: I've not heard that, and I'd have to get back to you. But our focus is on the children, and let us look at the specifics. I haven't heard that proposal.
Q I mean, given the White House position on partial birth abortion and the argument that any child in the womb is an unborn child, would the administration support expansion of this to pregnant women?
MS. PERINO: Paula, I have not heard about that. I would need to check into it, and we'll get back to you. Okay?
Q Dana, on tonight at Morgan State. As you know, the four top Republican candidates are not going to show for the debate. What kind of message does that send from the Republican Party to black and Hispanic America, as Univision had to cancel their debate because the Republicans weren't showing up? What does that send to the minority community, I mean, even as the President said that they needed to reach out -- but what does that send from the Republican Party to the minority community?
MS. PERINO: I don't know the reasons for any of the campaign scheduling decisions. What I can tell you is that -- what President Bush believes is that we have a very strong record to run on in the Republican Party, in terms of lifting people up out of poverty, encouraging more entrepreneurial businesses, improving education as we saw yesterday with the test scores, improving home ownership; that they have a strong record to run on, and that they should reach out to every community.
Q Do you think this erodes what this administration has tried to work on -- especially pre-Katrina the White House was very proud about what they were doing in the black community, reaching out to Africa, banning racial profiling, et cetera, et cetera. And then Katrina happened, but some of the black vote dropped off, but now you have this -- many black Americans are feeling that the Republican Party just does not care, especially as these Republican candidates did not follow George Bush's lead and go to Katrina for the anniversary -- go to New Orleans for the anniversary.
MS. PERINO: Well, I would hope not. And I'm sure that the President would hope not. And I think what they'll see in this President is somebody who continues to push as much as he can in the next 16 months to make sure that those policies he has put in place are solidified and that they can continue to try to help every community, and especially the African American and Hispanic communities.
Q Dana, I just wanted to follow up on the question that Bret asked a little bit earlier about the story, which first was brought out in El País, the Spanish newspaper. Do stories like that, which you haven't dismissed as inaccurate, negatively impact the perceptions of the President that some may have that he or the White House was on a march towards war in the spring of 2003?
MS. PERINO: There are some people who think we never should have gone into Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein. And there is nothing we are going to be able to do that's going to change their minds.
What we can do is work with the military and the State Department civilians and other department civilians in order to make sure Iraq is the best possible country it can be, one that is sovereign, that has good relationships with its neighbors, and that is a democracy.
So I don't -- I can't tell you how other people are going to feel about certain things and certain reports, but I just am not going to comment on that transcript.
Q Is there a reluctance to sort of go back in time and talk about what happened leading up to the spring of 2003?
MS. PERINO: No, no. I think that the record of what happened along that way -- and this was Saddam Hussein's record, not the President's. The President's record is very clear, but also, look at Saddam Hussein's record: somebody who tortured his own people, killed children, tore apart families. Even Human Rights Watch said that this was a brutal dictator who had killed up to a million of his own people. This was his record. And I think the President followed every diplomatic measure, went to the United Nations, made a very strong case, and now we are where we are. And we have to focus on making sure that we can improve the situation, which we are doing.
Go ahead, Les.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. Inspired in part by The New York Times best-selling book, "The Late Great U.S.A.," a resolution in the House of Representatives opposing work on any NAFTA superhighway or moves towards merging the U.S., Mexico and Canada into a North American union, now has 27 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle. Do you support such legislation?
MS. PERINO: I've not heard of such legislation, but I think we are very comfortable believing that there can be Mexico, the United States and Canada as three separate countries all working together.
Q Okay. Republican Congressman and presidential candidate Duncan Hunter's Restoring Patriotism to America's Campuses Act would bar Columbia University from receiving any federal money because it not only refuses to allow an ROTC on campus, but also because it invited Ahmadinejad as a guest lecturer. And my question: Does the President believe that is right, or wrong?
MS. PERINO: I haven't seen the legislation. And we have already said that Columbia University made its own decision.
Q Dana, do you have anything on climate change, really quickly, anything that you can talk about the President -- the conference, obviously, here -- what do you hope to accomplish?
MS. PERINO: The President has been very clear that what he wants to accomplish is bringing together the major emitting economies so that we have over 80 percent of the world's emitters of pollution coming together, talking about establishing long-range goals within the context of the U.N. Climate Change Convention. And I think it will be a very good meeting. We're going to be having several different speakers -- Secretary Rice spoke today, and the President will address the meeting tomorrow morning at 10:15 a.m. in the morning. And he will talk about the need for new technologies in order to help solve this problem; of eliminating tariffs so that developing countries can better afford or be given technologies that allow them to have clean-burning energy without harming the economy and without having the harmful air pollutants that can result from some traditional means, like coal.
Q Can I just have a question on the GAO --
MS. PERINO: Catch me afterwards.
END 1:10 P.M. EDT
* Each week beginning today, and concluding in December, the Department of Transportation will convene a weekly meeting of airline, airport and travel officials to discuss ways to address congestion in the New York area airports as part of the Aviation Rulemaking Committee. The Secretary will be engaged in those meetings. However, she is not currently planning to travel to New York to meet with airline officials.