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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 16, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:38 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. Welcome back to the briefing room after a long weekend. A couple of announcements, and then we'll go to questions.
President Bush has a constitutional responsibility to nominate excellent judges to serve in America's courthouses. It's one he takes very seriously. The Senate also has an important responsibility to act on the President's nominations. The Senate has only confirmed four of our circuit court nominees since January of 2007. The historical average is to confirm 17 nominees in the last two years of an administration.
On August 2nd, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Judge Leslie Southwick, a nominee for the Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, out of committee with a favorable bipartisan vote. And as the full Senate prepares to vote on his nomination, we encourage all members of the Senate to swiftly confirm Judge Southwick. He is a highly respected attorney with an extensive record of public service as a judge and military officer.
Later today, President Bush is going to have an event on the Wounded Warriors Commission. The President is committed to providing America's wounded warriors and service members with the highest level of care available. He will meet Secretary Dole and -- I'm sorry -- Senator Dole and Secretary Shalala, Secretary Gates and Acting Secretary Mansfield, and others in the Roosevelt Room later this afternoon. And after their meeting, the President will make a statement about the administration's progress on implementing several of the recommendations from the Dole-Shalala commission, and he will also announce that he is sending Congress specific legislation to implement the recommendations that require legislative action.
There will be a fact sheet on that later today so that you can see precisely what we can do administratively, and what needs to be done legislatively. And we encourage Congress to join us in making -- in taking immediate steps to improve the care that we provide to veterans who are coming home.
That's all I have.
Q The House is expected to pass a shield law today to protect journalists from being jailed or fined for refusing to discuss what they're told by their sources. What's the -- will the President sign that bill?
MS. PERINO: The administration will have a statement of administration policy later today. That's being discussed right now. We have had -- many members of our administration have testified on this issue, believing that the protections that are in place currently for journalists were sufficient. The media shield law has gotten a lot of attention on Capitol Hill. I'll let that statement of administration policy come out, and we'll have further comment later.
Q Okay, you can't tell us which that statement -- is it still being discussed?
MS. PERINO: Until it's final, I'm going to decline to discuss it further.
Q It's been released. I think we just got it.
MS. PERINO: It has been? Well, it happened while I was on my way out the door -- (laughter) -- and I haven't read it. I haven't read it. So I'll have to decline to comment on it for now.
Q It wasn't leaked?
MS. PERINO: It wasn't leaked. (Laughter.) Very fine -- very, very good.
Q Why has the President chosen to attend this event tomorrow? Is it because he attends all of the -- with the Dalai Lama -- all of these congressional award ceremonies, or is he trying to make a statement to China?
MS. PERINO: President Bush has attended the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor ceremonies. The most recent one that I can remember was the Tuskegee Airmen event that he attended. I think that was earlier this year. And he told President Hu when we were at APEC in Sydney that he would be attending this one, as well. And he is going to be proud to do so. He believes that the Dalai Lama is a strong spiritual leader, and he will have a private meeting with him today, and then he'll attend tomorrow's Gold Medal ceremony. And, as I told you, he told President Hu that he would and he'll be proud to do so tomorrow.
Q Is he concerned about the repercussions? The Chinese Foreign Minister called this a violent intrusion into Chinese domestic politics.
MS. PERINO: We understand that the Chinese have very strong feelings about this, and that's one of the reasons that the President brought up with President Hu almost two months ago that he would be actually -- that he would be attending this event. The President wanted President Hu to know about this early on.
The President attends that ceremony; it's a special one that we have in American traditions. The United States and the Bush administration has worked hard to have very strong relations with China on a variety of issues -- from trade and to cooperation on many different issues, such as the six-party talks with North Korea. We feel we have a very strong relationship with them, and that will be maintained.
Q So if there's a strong strategic relationship with China, I would think that the President would listen to strongly expressed reservations about something the President was doing, with a certain amount of appreciation for that. What's the difference between Turkey saying, we don't want the United States to do something, and China saying, we don't want the government or the President to do something? What's the difference?
MS. PERINO: Well, first, I think those two things are different. First and foremost, the President has met with the Dalai Lama multiple times, and this will be his fourth private meeting with the Dalai Lama. The President also attends the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony whenever he possibly can. I think he's attended almost of all them, and if he hasn't, that has been because of travel that he didn't make it.
On the Armenian resolution, what the President has done is he has expressed the Americans' grief about what happened in 1915 through a presidential message every year. And the President has made it clear that Turkey currently is playing a very important, vital role in making sure that our troops have the supplies that they need. A lot of our troops -- all the supplies are going through Turkey either through the airspace or -- and both to Iraq and Afghanistan, so there's a strategic national security reason there.
On China and on the Dalai Lama, the President has made clear early on with President Hu -- we've been very open about -- that the President was going to be meeting with him. It's not that the President hadn't met him before.
Q Why not release the picture?
MS. PERINO: There's going to be a picture of the President and the Dalai Lama that you'll have tomorrow.
Q What about today?
MS. PERINO: They'll be standing together in the Capitol.
Q But if it's not that big a deal, and the President's proud to --
MS. PERINO: We understand that there are very strong feelings that the Chinese have, and that they've reacted negatively to the fact the President will be going to this event tomorrow. But the President was clear that he would attend the event, as he had before. And we made a decision not to release a photograph today, but you are -- it's not that you're not going to get a picture of the President and the Dalai Lama, because you'll see them together tomorrow at the Capitol.
Q Was it a conscious decision not the release a photo, even though you --
MS. PERINO: We always make a decision whether or not to release a photo.
Q But it almost appears like a splitting the difference, that understanding that China is --
MS. PERINO: Well, I don't know if the Chinese would feel that way. I think that they don't want the event to happen at all. So I -- but I think -- it is going to go forward. The President will be there tomorrow. He'll make brief remarks and he'll have his picture taken there, too.
Q Is it a gesture to the Chinese to not release a photo, to limit the exposure --
MS. PERINO: I don't know if they would take it that way. It was a decision we made on our own. They did not ask us not to release a photo.
Q And what is the basis of that decision, then? It's certainly a story today.
MS. PERINO: The United States -- we in no way want to stir the pot and make China feel that we are poking a stick in their eye, to a country that we have a lot of relationships with on a variety of -- I mean, a good relationship with on a variety of issues. And if this is -- this might be one thing that we can do. But I don't have -- I don't believe that that's going to assuage the concerns of the Chinese.
Sure, I'll go to Ann, and I'll come back.
Q Several years ago the Dalai Lama proposed what he calls the "middle way," not independence for Tibet, but a kind of, what he calls, autonomy, where that area could have its own leaders. Does the United States embrace the Dalai Lama's vision of what a government for Tibet should be?
MS. PERINO: As I understand it, the Dalai Lama wants not for -- he's not calling for independence from China. He's asking for the people there to have ability to -- the freedom to practice their religion. And the United States supports him as a great spiritual leader. He should be honored as a spiritual leader. But we are not asking for independence from the country.
Q But his idea of autonomy -- and that's the word he uses -- is what the United States would also embrace?
MS. PERINO: I don't know his specific language that he uses, but we do not support a separate country from China.
Q Dana, what can you tell us about what they're going to talk about, the President and the Dalai Lama?
MS. PERINO: Well, those are private meetings, and the President has private meetings with spiritual leaders such as the Pope. We don't always tell you what's on his mind. The President, obviously, will have a good discussion with him. But when he has a private meeting, I don't get into the habit of asking him specifically what's he's going to bring up with somebody. If there's more to say later, I could let you know.
Q -- preview of the topics, even --
MS. PERINO: No.
Q Do you know where it will be?
MS. PERINO: In the Residence.
Q Where in the Residence, do we know?
MS. PERINO: I don't know.
Q You heard what the Chinese Foreign Minister said about violating international relations and wounded feelings with China. The Dalai Lama's Special Envoy says that this meeting sends a message that people have not forgotten about Tibet, and that it is also a message -- a powerful message, according to him, to China, that the Dalai Lama is not going to go away. Does the President believe that this meeting sends that sort of message to China?
MS. PERINO: I think that what the President would believe is that people are going to look at this meeting in several different ways, and it's almost taking on a life of its own. The President has met with the Dalai Lama before. He is a great spiritual leader. The President wants to meet with him. The President believes that people all over the world should be able to express their religion and practice their religion in freedom. And that's why the President wants to meet with him. He believes he should be honored as a great spiritual leader.
And you mentioned the Foreign Minister. The President, just within the recent weeks, had a good meeting with him, as well, here at the White House -- the Chinese Foreign Minister. And we believe that we'll get through this event tomorrow that the President is going to attend, and that we'll be able to continue and maintain to have really good relationships with China from here on out.
Q If I could just follow, you can judge by the number of questions here in this briefing that it is --
MS. PERINO: -- lot of hot air tonight.
Q -- the topic of the day. So why not release this picture today? It just seems like it's happening today --
MS. PERINO: I understand and I'll take it back up, if I can, but I believe that there will not be a photo today. You'll get one tomorrow.
Q Dana, you talked earlier about not releasing the picture as something you could do, in essence not to stir the pot. What about at tomorrow's ceremony? Will the President hand the medal and present the medal to the Dalai Lama? Will he -- is he keeping his remarks purposely short? What are other gestures --
MS. PERINO: I think his remarks are on par with the length of what he's given before -- I believe. They're always brief remarks because it's a long ceremony. And I don't know who -- I don't know what the protocol is for who provides the medal. It's the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, so I don't know what the President's role is.
Q But is the White House thinking carefully about the symbolism of those gestures and --
MS. PERINO: We're aware of it, sure. It's on our collective radar screen. We understand that there are the concerns and -- that the Chinese have expressed. But we are going to go forward with the event tomorrow. We're not going to change that. But we will not release the photo today. But you all know that the meeting is happening anyway, and you'll have a picture of him with the Dalai Lama tomorrow.
Q Will you let us know by the end of today what the protocol will be tomorrow, and if the President will be presenting the medal?
MS. PERINO: Yes, sure.
Q And also, what is he likely to say in his remarks tomorrow?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that he will honor the Dalai Lama as a great spiritual leader. And when I can provide you more -- those remarks are still being worked on, too, and unless they've been released in between the time that I was in my office and came down here, they're still not final.
Let me go back to April.
Q Dana, in the last couple of months this White House has said there has been an interesting relationship with China, especially after all the trade issues. And now you're saying it's a good relationship. How -- could you explain why you have a good relationship with China, as some would see this adding fuel to the fire of recent controversies with the United States and China?
MS. PERINO: Well, I just think we have -- it's a relationship where we have a lot of different issues that we work together on, including energy issues. China was here two weeks ago when the President hosted the major economies meeting, when we talked about how to curtail global warming through reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The President told President Hu that he looks forward to attending the Olympics next year. We've also talked to China --the reason he met with Foreign Minister Wang was to talk to China about our concerns regarding Burma. We have an issue with the Product Import Safety Commission that Secretary Leavitt is looking into. We also have China as a great -- as a large trading partner, and we have many different issues going back and forth and we work cooperatively with them. Secretary Paulson has the Economic Strategic Initiative that he has implemented over at the Treasury Department.
And so it's a complex relationship that has many different facets. And we're working with them, as I mentioned before, on the North Korean six-party talks. They're very important to us, and to that -- and to the entire region in making sure that North Korea becomes a nuclear-free peninsula.
Q But "complex" still equates to a good relationship?
MS. PERINO: I think you can have a complex and a good relationship, like ours.
Q It's not on the Dalai, but anyone else want to ask about --
MS. PERINO: Well, I'll come right back to you, Helen.
In the back.
Q Thanks, Dana. Is China interfering in our domestic politics by complaining so strongly about tomorrow's Congressional Gold Medal ceremony?
MS. PERINO: Look, I think that if people want to express their views, the President welcomes every -- everyone should have the opportunity to express their views. And I think that we're not going to try to squelch that at all, no.
Q Dana, thank you.
MS. PERINO: Is this one on the Dalai Lama?
Q Yes, ma'am. As far as this -- the Dalai Lama and particular issue is concerned, this has been going for a long time, and the people of Tibet have been waiting and asking President Bush every year whenever he was meeting with him in the White House that they see a hope of light for them. And now, over quarter million Tibetans in India are asking on President Bush again today that he should stand for the independence or freedom of Tibet just like anywhere else in the world.
MS. PERINO: As I said, the President --
Q And this will be the highest -- this will be the highest award ever the U.S. can give to -- civilian award to anybody, and they are very delighted and very thankful to the President. But, at the same time, they're asking for more.
MS. PERINO: Well, I understand that the President looks forward to the meeting he's having with him today, and then he'll make brief remarks tomorrow, and you can maybe get those out in your newspaper.
Q What's the President's reaction to General Sanchez saying that the Iraqi invasion is a total catastrophe?
MS. PERINO: Well, obviously General Sanchez had a good career with the military and the President appreciates his service. I think that, by any measure, if you look at Iraq today, where we've been because of the surge -- where we've come because of the surge, we're in a much better place today because of what General Petraeus has been able to do in providing the additional troops and getting the Anbar -- Anbari sheikhs to turn against al Qaeda, reducing civilian death, electricity is up around the country. And so I think that anyone who had been there before and believed that there had been -- the problems that they saw, the President wasn't satisfied with it either. And that's one of the reasons that General Petraeus was asked to come up and implement the President's --
Q He said we're just trying to stave off defeat.
MS. PERINO: The President believes that Iraq can become a country that will sustain, defend, and provide for itself.
Q How many more people have to die?
MS. PERINO: Well, we regret the loss of any innocent life.
Q Dana, are General Sanchez's comments consistent with what advice and counsel he gave to the President when he was the commander on the ground in Iraq?
MS. PERINO: I'm not familiar with it. I don't know.
Q And on another topic, where do we stand in the search for a VA secretary nominee?
MS. PERINO: Well, we don't speculate on our nominations, but as you know, we need to fulfill -- fill that post, as well as at USDA, and those nominations are underway. It takes a little bit of time to make sure that you've got the exact right person and to do the checks that you need to do, but as soon as we have something we'll let you know.
Q Is he having trouble finding a person to take on some of the challenges?
MS. PERINO: No.
Q Because obviously he's highlighting the priority that he's giving the veterans today --
MS. PERINO: No, I think that -- no, actually, I think that people -- what this President has been able to show is that even in the last two years, he's able to attract really good talent. I don't think anyone would have anticipated that Ed Gillespie would leave his practice that he had built up from the ground and come to the White House for the last two years, but he's here and we're delighted to have him, amongst other people, like Fred Fielding and others. So there are plenty of people out there that are great patriots, that want to serve. And as soon as we have an announcement, we'll let you know.
Q But what kind of message does that send if the President talks about making them as a priority, at the same time this is a post --
MS. PERINO: It's nearing a conclusion. We'll have an announcement soon, but I'm just not going to put a -- too definite a time frame on it for you.
Q Dana, oil prices have been jumping to almost a record today, almost $88 a barrel and traders being concerned about supply disruptions in Iraq if there are attacks from Turkey. Is there anything new today, administration contacts with Turkey to avert that?
MS. PERINO: On Turkey, you'd have to ask MNFI. I think General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker obviously have the -- and other people at the State Department have regular contact with Turkey. And in fact, Dan Fried from the State Department and Eric Edelman from Defense Department I think have just left Turkey. They went there direct from Moscow at the direction of Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates.
What we did today on energy is Al Hubbard sent a letter to Congress outlining the pieces of the energy bill that we could live with and what we could not live with. And we want Congress to push forward a bill. Right now we think that they're a little bit too unambitious. The President has a very aggressive goal that he put up, and I can get you a copy of the letter, but basically we want to make sure that we can have ambitious alternative energy production in a bill, including cellulosic ethanol and other types of -- solar energies and lithium ion batteries. We also want to make sure that the bill does not impose price controls, that it does not include a provision like the NOPEC provision that would have limited the amount of energy that we can get into this country, because part of this issue when you're dealing with the prices is an issue of supply and demand.
Q Can I follow up on that? Does the administration prefer -- on that bill, does the administration prefer the Senate version on CAFE standards?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'm not an expert on what the Senate version says. But what we want is the flexibility --
Q Could you find out --
MS. PERINO: Sure, I can -- on the Senate bill -- what we want on CAFE standards is for the Department of Transportation to have that authority to be able to make decisions based on the safety of the vehicle, the economic impact, as well as the fuel efficiency and how far we can go and how fast. We believe that authority ought to rest with the Department of Transportation. We've asked Congress to give us that authority. We have that authority under SUVs and light trucks, and the President has increased CAFE standards on SUVs and light trucks twice. We don't have that authority with passenger cars, but we'd like to get it.
Q Dana, on the shield law, in the SAP that we received -- that I'll be happy to forward to you if you don't make me tell you where I got it -- (laughter) -- it cites very specific objections to this specific legislation. Does the administration in general oppose the concept of any changes in the shield law?
MS. PERINO: I'm not familiar enough with it to answer from here, so I'll have to get back to you. Sorry.
Q Dana, on another nominee, the Attorney General nominee, Mukasey is up for his first confirmation hearing tomorrow. Considering the way he's been received on Capitol Hill, are you perhaps a bit surprised that it may be as easy as it seems to be heading?
MS. PERINO: Well, Congress hasn't started talking yet. But, no, we think -- obviously, Senator Mukasey -- I'm sorry, Judge Mukasey is a very high-qualified nominee. He's had very good meetings with all the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and other members of leadership, and we believe that he should -- he'll have a good hearing, he'll answer all the questions, and he should get a swift confirmation.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. Senate Majority Leader -- Majority Whip Durbin wants the so-called fairness doctrine returned because he says, "the airwaves belong to the American people." And my question: Does the President know of any daily newspaper in the United States without a website, so that if the fairness doctrine was ever restored, all these newspapers would have to provide equal time?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. You've stumped me. What's your next one? Do it quickly.
Q In Mexico's President Calderon's state of the nation address, he said, "Mexico does not end at its borders. Where there is a Mexican, there is Mexico." And my question: What is the President's reaction to this statement, and what it means to New Mexico and other U.S. states?
MS. PERINO: The President has tried to push forward a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Obviously, he thinks that if people want to come here and work, they want to do so temporarily. They're not seeking to live here, they want to live at home, but they want to have a better job in Mexico. And the President would like to see a comprehensive immigration reform bill done.
Q None of them want to remain here?
MS. PERINO: I'm going to go -- go ahead.
Q Dana, analysts say that gasoline prices could go as high as $4 a gallon because of the current run-up in the price of a barrel of oil. Does the White House have any plan to -- for relief for the American consumer should gasoline get --
MS. PERINO: Well, I'd refer you to the Department of Energy. Obviously they track that very closely. Last spring everyone in here said gasoline was going to go to four gallons -- $4 a gallon, as well. Look, there's no doubt that energy prices are too high. They disproportionately hurt low-income families that have to spend so much of their money on energy, and when those prices go up, it eats into the family budget on the other things that they want to be able to buy.
So we watch it closely, we're very concerned. And it's one of the reasons we're asking the Senate to push forward a more ambitious bill so that we can get out of this vicious cycle of the problem of supply and demand, and get some alternative energies, clean-burning alternative energies that can help fuel our economy.
Q Are you saying that you don't know what energy -- if energy -- you don't know if the Department of Energy actually has a plan?
MS. PERINO: I'm sure that they look at it closely and they -- Secretary Bodman and his staff are on top of it, and I'll refer you to them for comment on specifics that they're working on. But I'm not going to comment on it.
END 1:01 P.M. EDT