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For Immediate Release
October 30, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:20 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. I have three announcements. First of all, President Bush will welcome Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Washington on November 5, 2007. The Prime Minister's visit underscores the important relationship and friendship and the alliance between the United States and Turkey. The President looks forward to continuing discussions with the Prime Minister on a range of issues on our common agenda, including the fight against terrorism, in particular our joint efforts to counter the PKK, and the promotion of peace and stability in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and the broader Middle East. The President and the Prime Minister will also discuss U.S. support for Turkey's ascension to the European Union and Turkey's efforts towards that goal.
Earlier this morning, the President called U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the situation in Burma. The President emphasized the need to maintain a clear message to the military regime that real political change aimed at a restoration of human rights and democracy is required to end the crisis. The President and the Secretary General agreed on the importance of moving rapidly to a serious dialogue between the military regime and the democratic opposition, particularly Aung San Suu Kyi, to negotiate political arrangements for a return of democratic government. The Secretary General said he expected his special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, to return to Burma for this purpose as early as November 1st, this Thursday.
The President and the Secretary General also discussed Darfur. President Bush reiterated the importance of continuing to put pressure on the respective parties to come up with an agreement that will help end the genocide, and that it is important for the United Nations to get troops into the Darfur region as quickly as possible.
President Bush also called President-elect Kirchner of Argentina this morning. He offered his congratulations on her election victory, and said he looks forward to working with her in the future.
In just about 40 minutes, the President will announce his intention to nominate Lieutenant General James B. Peake to serve as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Peake is a highly decorated veteran who has dedicated his life to caring for the wounded, and has over four decades of experience in military medicine. He also grew up in a military household, and so he is very familiar and understands the importance of caring for America's veterans and their families.
When confirmed by the Senate, Dr. Peake will bring unique experience to the job. He has experience on both sides of the hospital bed, both as a patient for sustaining wounds that he -- occurred in Vietnam, and also as a doctor for over four decades. He will be the first physician and the first general to serve as Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
He has a distinguished military career, which you will hear more from the President on that. He currently is the Chief Operating Officer for QTC Management, and former chief operating officer of Project Hope. Project Hope International he helped establish the operation of a mercy ship that helped in the aftermath of the tsunami with relief efforts to that region. So you'll hear from the President with that in about 40 minutes.
I'll go to questions.
Q Dana, why did the Bush administration give immunity to the Blackwater guards, and is the administration going to hold these guys accountable for what transpired?
MS. PERINO: This is what I can tell you: Secretary Rice has made it very clear that she takes the situation very seriously. It is under review. She said that anyone who has engaged in criminal behavior will be prosecuted. I don't have additional detail that I can provide for you, and I'll have to refer you to the State Department and Justice Department for more.
Q Has the President been briefed on this, or what does he think? What is he saying?
MS. PERINO: I do not know if the President has been briefed on it specifically. I can ask.
Q Were they given immunity or weren't they?
MS. PERINO: Helen, as I said, it's a matter that's under review.
Q (Inaudible) tough questions. Why can't you answer them?
MS. PERINO: Because it is a matter that's under review, and I'm going to refer you to the State or the Justice Department for more.
Q What do you mean "under review"? Why don't you say yes or no?
MS. PERINO: The State Department is the one that is looking into this and they are the ones answering questions on it.
Q So the administration hasn't decided whether or not the reports of that are true? You're still looking into whether or not they actually were?
MS. PERINO: I am going to refer you to the State Department on that, who is looking into it.
Q As a general question, how could you both be offered immunity and promised prosecution?
MS. PERINO: Again, this is being -- this is under review. It's not something that I can talk about from here. Obviously, anyone who is engaged in criminal activity would be of a great concern and it's very serious and it should be prosecuted. Let me let the State Department and the Justice Department answer further questions on it.
Q Also, what is being reviewed? Just so we're clear.
MS. PERINO: The entire situation is being reviewed, from the incident to the aftermath of it. And I just don't have anything more for you that I can say from the podium today.
Q Dana, in the past two months, 13 million toys have been recalled. For those of us whose children are playing with those Thomas the Tank Engines that were painted in lead, that system failed us. Why is it that the administration would oppose a measure that would increase the budget, raise penalties and expand the authority of the Consumer Product Safety Commission?
MS. PERINO: Let me make something really clear. We, first of all, support modernizing and improving the Consumer Product Safety Commission. And, in fact, it was the President that established the Import Safety Working Group that is headed by Secretary Leavitt of the Department of Health and Human Services. He first reported back in September with a report about the situation and then said he would come back to the President by
mid-November with an action plan.
We want to work with Congress on a collaborative effort in order to help modernize and improve the CPSC. This wasn't about the price tag; this was about a couple of the policies that are within a particular bill that is about to be marked up in the Senate either today or tomorrow. On two of those provisions regarding establishment of 50 different jurisdictions to be able to look into these matters, we think that that would be cumbersome and actually not serve people like yourself who are worried about your children.
So we want to work with Congress, it's just going to be something that we want to first get the report back and the action plan in mid-November, work with Congress on figuring out a way forward. So it's not about the price tag or modernizing or improving, it's about this particular bill and this provision.
Q So there's not an objection to that price tag? The administration isn't --
MS. PERINO: Well, we don't know what the price tag is going to be. I think we need to let Secretary Leavitt report back and digest that report and that action plan and then go forward from there. As you know, we don't propose a new budget until February, but it's not about the price tag; it's about the policy, and there's -- just a couple of different policies in there, like the whistle-blower provision, that we think might incentivize people to wait until a problem is too severe so that they could get a financial award rather than stopping something immediately. So it's just those particular provisions and it's something that I think that we can work through.
Q I'm sorry, the whistle-blower provision and what else?
MS. PERINO: The -- there's a state Attorney General provision that would allow for 50 different jurisdictions to be able to go after civil penalties, which we think is probably unwieldy and would not serve consumers well.
Q Dana, a follow that. The whistle-blower provision, according to Al Hubbard's letter, the primary complaint against this legislation is whistle-blowers could get 15 to 25 percent compensation on any civil damages, but that's already in government, in play with the False Claims Act. And those who say that that is working, that's causing people to come forward and report problems. So that's had a track record of success. So why is the administration opposed to it, that people come forward if they see wrong-doings when children's toys are being made or other products that could catch the problem then, before it ever gets to children's mouths?
MS. PERINO: It could be that -- you know, I don't know if there was something duplicative in here or not, but we'll try to get you more into the specific concern. But obviously we have -- we are supportive of the provisions that are currently there. We think that that has helped to identify problems. We'd like to identify problems sooner and faster.
There's never going to be any way that we will have enough people to inspect every single item that comes into this country that's going to be sold on store shelves. But you can have better systems, and that's what we're trying to work towards and I'll see if I can get you more on that provision.
Q What about the provision that they want to see a ban on all lead in children's toys? What does the White House feel about that?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that there are some -- there is some concern regarding how do you test for that. We are concerned about any lead levels that would be proven to be dangerous for children under the current scientific method that they have to evaluate how much lead is in a toy. And so I think that while we work with Congress on this, we'll be identifying these -- the two provisions I mentioned. And we'll work with them on a lead provision, too.
Q The ultimate price tag aside, Dana, do you concede that the commission needs more staff, more specialists, more money for them?
MS. PERINO: Well, that certainly could be included in what Secretary Leavitt comes back with, because we -- as I said, we want to improve and modernize the Consumer Product Safety Commission. I'd like to not prejudice his report and let him come back in mid-November. You can look at the report he did in September, and then it's the action plan that's coming in mid-November. So we're not too far away now, a couple weeks.
Q Well, had the commission caught all of these millions of faulty toys to begin with, you wouldn't have needed that report and that --
MS. PERINO: Well, I think -- well, obviously, the toy situation was very concerning, especially for all the parents out there, and also for the business community, who has to really buckle down and make sure that the products that they're making -- having manufactured overseas are going to be safe for consumers all over the world -- it's not just consumers here.
But we're increasingly becoming a country that is based on trade. And a lot of our growth right now and our economy is from exports from our country, export growth. But we're also importing a lot, as you know. And so it's not just the toy situation that would cause us to want to look at the Consumer Product Safety Commission; it's a range of issues. And also looking into the future, if you project where we're headed, in terms of a more global economy, then it's prudent to take this action now.
Q Well, one of the other objections in this letter talks about your concern that some of these provisions under the Whistle Blower Act would actually encourage whistle blowers to avoid internal company avenues first. Well, wouldn't that be a problem if you're a whistle-blower, to try to do this through internal company avenues? And also, one of the other concerns you raise is that actually some of these whistle-blowers might be doing it this route to get money -- financial incentives.
MS. PERINO: Look, this is how I understand it. If you're on an assembly line, if you work on an assembly line, if you see a problem, you want that problem reported immediately through the company. Now, if the company is non-responsive, of course the whistle-blower has a responsibility to figure out a way to make that known.
Q For example, it's slightly different, but BP -- BP has had a lot of oil spills, and out of fear of retaliation many of these BP workers go through a third party avenue. And I guess -- are you saying that they would have their addresses met better if they actually went through an internal panel?
MS. PERINO: I'm not saying that. I think that the example I gave was quite clear. I'm not going to comment on a specific company.
I'm going to go to April.
Q Back on Blackwater, what does this immunity controversy send to -- what does this say to the Iraqis? Some are saying it sends a bad message to the Iraqis.
MS. PERINO: Well, I think we need to wait and let the investigations take place, April. I think that the President, Secretary Rice, Secretary Gates, Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus have all said that they're very concerned, they are saddened when there is innocent loss of life, and that those procedures needed to be reviewed. There was a report that was given to Secretary Rice that she asked for by her main management guy, Patrick Kennedy. She has accepted those recommendations, and is going to start implementing them. But on that specific incident, I'm going to have to wait until I can provide further comment.
Q Is there a review of any kind of accountability standards for Blackwater and other private security firms there?
MS. PERINO: That's part of the Secretary of State's review.
Q Could you elaborate on what's going on? Because there's a call out of Congress -- Congressman Elijah Cummings --
MS. PERINO: Secretary Rice testified at the House Foreign Affairs Committee last Wednesday, and then again on Thursday, in front of, I think, Waxman's committee. Let me refer you to her testimony, where she talks at length about the review.
Q Well, if you don't mind, Congressman Cummings said either she was unaware or she just didn't want to give the information at the time of that testimony.
MS. PERINO: I think that it is prudent for somebody who is being asked about something that is still under investigation, for them to answer to the best of their ability, and then wait for that investigation to conclude, so that it's not prejudiced.
Q Dana, the Turkish Prime Minister today reaffirmed his readiness to send troops into Northern Iraq, despite U.S. opposition. What does the President hope to accomplish with him on Monday in their talks to prevent the situation from going out of control?
MS. PERINO: I think it goes back to what I said at the beginning, which is, the President looks forward to talking with him. We have a joint desire, a joint need to make sure that the PKK is eradicated, that they are stopped. We understand that the Turks feel that they want to protect their people, and that their soldiers should not be attacked. There are currently eight missing; they have a right to look for them. And the President will talk to them about exercising restraint, limiting the actions against the PKK, and also he will talk to them about making sure that they continue to have that dialogue with the Iraqis, because ultimately the neighbors need to work together to make sure that they solve this problem.
Q Will the President be offering any direct U.S. action or promise of Iraqi action --
MS. PERINO: Let's let the meeting take place. Let's let the meeting take place, and I'll let you know.
Q On the same subject. Do you know if President Bush and the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan are going to discuss the Cyprus issue?
MS. PERINO: Can we let the meeting take place and then I'll let you know? It's a little too early to say.
Anybody else on Turkey?
Q On Lieutenant General Peake -- Senator Patty Murray has already come out with some reaction, by saying that Dr. Peake is going to have serious and significant questions to answer about failed preparations for our returning wounded warriors. She goes on to talk about Walter Reed, and she says, I will want to know what role, if any, Dr. Peake played in the failures of the system. Do you have any reaction?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'm sure that Dr. Peake will answer all the questions that the Senate presents to him in a full way. He's going to put the care of veterans first. That's what he's done his entire career. He was one of the first to work on electronic medical records. I think it will be good to have somebody who has the DOD perspective to be able to work within the Veterans Affairs Committee -- Department. One of the things that the Dole-Shalala recommendations suggested was that there be more integration and be more understanding of how the two systems work, because as you have people coming out of combat duty and into the Veterans Affairs system, there had been a breakdown in communication. He will be able to help bridge that gap.
And so he'll answer all of the questions fully, and I think that he'll -- I think that they'll realize that having this person, who is the first general and the first physician to be in charge of veterans' care, will be a good way to run the department.
Q Are you anticipating a tough confirmation fight?
MS. PERINO: Well, that will be up to the senators. I think that he'll go up and he'll meet -- we'll have courtesy visits soon. I'd be surprised if a lot of them don't know him, but to the extent that they don't, he'll go up, meet with leadership and then the committees, and then we expand beyond that. We'd hope that they would want to confirm him quickly. The Dole-Shalala recommendations include many things that the executive branch can do, so he will assume responsibility for implementing those.
And then there's things that Congress needs to do, as well. There's the Veterans Affairs appropriations bill that has been approved by the House -- I think over 150 days ago, approved by the Senate over 50 days ago, and Congress has yet to act. And so there might be a lot of bluster about a big fight, big confirmation fight, but we don't anticipate it, and we don't see any need for it.
Q Dana, can I ask you about the President's statement this morning, in which he blasted Congress for spending -- or proposed spending that is skyrocketing, in his words. But according to even some conservative analysts, the President's budgets have grown at twice the rate of even President Clinton's, the fastest rise in spending since the Carter administration. So is this a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black here?
MS. PERINO: No, I disagree. First of all, what the President said today is that you can't find a bill that they are contemplating up on Capitol Hill where they don't want to include a tax increase. And the President is going to stand firm, and he's not going to increase taxes on the American people, because he doesn't think it's necessary. The President did, I think two years ago, show the American people how we can get to a surplus by 2012. If you pass bills that have $9 billion here, $9 billion there, $11 billion in another place, that all adds up and we won't be able to meet that goal of the country, because the Congress is not suggesting any offsets.
But what I will remind you is that early on the administration, after September 11th, we did have to spend a lot more money on national security, and the President doesn't apologize for that. However, when we had a Republican Congress, the Republican Congress worked within the President's top line in terms of the appropriations bills, and that's one of the reasons the President didn't have to veto a bill.
Q But didn't the President also usher in a new philosophy in which you could go to war and not have any tax increases, not have any additional revenue raised, or a corresponding sacrifice that was asked all across the --
MS. PERINO: Let's remember something. The President is the one who is -- who put in place pro-growth economic policies that have worked. The economy is moving forward with --
Q He was talking about the budget bill.
MS. PERINO: Well, what I'm saying is that he --
Q With a Republican Congress.
MS. PERINO: -- but part of that economic policy was a tax cut in order to help drive revenue growth in this country, which has happened, and job growth has increased as well. We can -- the President has shown a way that we can do both. The federal government has plenty of money. We don't need to raise taxes on the American people. That's the President's bottom line.
Q So why won't he -- why wasn't there a better record after having a Republican Congress for seven of his eight years?
MS. PERINO: But as I said -- but I would disagree in terms of the record. The Republican Congress stayed within the President's top line. What you're seeing now from this Congress is a $9 billion increase over here, $11 billion here, $9 billion over here, without any offsets in terms of savings. Last February we provided the Congress with, I think, $92 or $94 billion worth of cost-savings that they could identify if they wanted to raise revenue somewhere else, but they continue to turn a blind eye to that as well.
The President has had a good record working with Republicans, but the most important thing right now is to keep us on a track so we can get to a balanced budget -- in fact a surplus by 2012. That's the track we're on and we're only a few years away from it.
Q On this topic, Dana. The President said -- cited media reports this morning about this policy or this proposal to bundle these three bills together to send them up here to the White House. What do your legislative affairs people say? Does the White House believe that's actually going to happen?
MS. PERINO: There's a -- you know, you hear rumors, but we don't have a lot of information that comes to us about the exact tactics of the Democrats, and so you pick up things where you can.
The tactic of putting the Labor-HHS appropriations bill onto the bills that are supposed to fund our military and our veterans, the President thinks is an absolute no -- a non-starter. He said that our troops should not be held hostage to
a $9 billion increase -- or $11 billion increase in the Labor-HHS bill that would be for domestic spending. And the President called it a three car pile-up -- a three bill pile-up. And he is just going to reject it.
And I actually think that the American people think that's pretty unfair, as well. When the House and the Senate have both passed bills in order to fund our veterans, that they can't find it in themselves to appoint conferees to go to conference and to get a bill to the President's desk before Veterans Day, it's a little bit unconscionable.
Q So even if they roll in four to five months of Iraq spending into that DOD bill, as well, it's just a non-starter?
MS. PERINO: We think that the troops should be -- we think the troops should be fully funded. We do not have an installment plan for our troops. They are there, they're going to need money from here on out, until we finish our business there in Iraq. As the President has said, we'll have a longer-term presence, but hopefully much reduced from where we are today.
Congress has shown that it can't even get a bill passed from -- let's see, we're in the 10th month -- if we can't get one appropriations bill passed by this month, well, then, it doesn't really make sense to wait another -- to try to do this every four or five months, to fund the troops. It's not a good way to run a business; it's not a way you should run the government.
Q A follow-up on that, Dana?
MS. PERINO: No, Paula, you've already had two.
Q So have other people. This is on the budget.
Les, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Dana; two questions. Agency French Press reports that of the 100 bills passed by Congress and signed into law since the Democrats became the majority, 46 of the 100 name post offices, court houses and roads. And my question: Does the President believe this Congress is earning the title "do nothing" or not?
MS. PERINO: Well, you've heard the President, himself, say that. Look, there's many of these post offices -- are being named for veterans of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan or other places. And that is appropriate. But certainly Congress should be able to get a lot of other work done.
MS. PERINO: Last one for you.
Q How many of Southern California's fires does the White House estimate as having been caused by arsonists? And how many of these are arsonists were illegal aliens?
MS. PERINO: You'll have to -- let me refer to California authorities. I think that there was at least one arson, but I don't believe it was anyone who was an illegal alien.
Q Dana, the lead Palestinian negotiator said this morning that there will just not be any peace talks with Israel unless there is a deadline set for creation of a Palestinian state. Israelis have said no to that before. Is the peace conference that was originally supposed to be next month in trouble?
MS. PERINO: I think it's -- no, I don't think that it's in trouble. I think that you'll see Secretary Rice head back to the region later this week; within the next several days she's going to go to Istanbul, to the Iraqi Neighbors Conference and then she'll go back to the Middle East.
And I think that what you'll see between now and the time that we have a meeting is a lot of people expressing what they'd like to see. But right now the Israelis and the Palestinians are having conversations about the serious and substantive issues to get to a core set of principles that they can agree on before they have this meeting. And as they have those talks, you might hear conditions that they would like to see. But until there's something final, I think we'll decline to comment specifically on that. But when Secretary Rice goes to the region to try to continue to help pull the people together, we'll have more of an idea about the conference.
Q Is November off now?
MS. PERINO: Not necessarily, but I haven't heard anything -- I mean, it's only October 30th.
Q Dana --
MS. PERINO: I'm going to go to Olivier, because he's had his hand up the whole time.
Q Dana, two quick ones. First, at the outset, when you announced the Turkish Prime Minister meeting, you said there were common efforts to eradicate the PKK. What are those common efforts?
MS. PERINO: Well, as General Petraeus has said, we have been cooperating, but he was not going to detail that out. And so I don't think it would be appropriate for me to do so either.
Q And is Russia undermining the unity of purpose on Iran?
MS. PERINO: Look, the President had a good conversation with President Putin the other day. He believes that the U.N. Security Council still unanimously believes that Iran should not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.
Q When did they talk?
MS. PERINO: They talked last Monday.
Q A follow-up question on Iran?
MS. PERINO: Okay, I'm going to go back here. Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two quick questions. One, Secretary of Treasury Mr. Paulson is in India with a wide variety of agenda on his mind, and we met him before he left Washington, to New Delhi. One is he is talking about the stalled U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement, which is in the Indian parliament. My question is that is it carrying really any special message from the President on this issue, and also there is some concern --
MS. PERINO: Let me just answer that question and then I'll go to Helen. The President feels that we have a very good relationship with India on a variety of levels, and that includes the civil nuclear program. We would like to have cooperation with India. We realize that there are internal politics that need to be worked out, and that's one of the -- one of the things that Secretary Paulson is talking about, but we cooperate with India on a variety of topics, and will hope -- hopefully they'll be able to sort out their internal politics and move on.
I'm going to come up here to Helen. Go ahead.
Q Would the President seek an explicit green light from Congress if he intended to bomb or attack Iran, or does he think he has that right?
MS. PERINO: Well, Helen, there is no intention of bombing Iran. We are on a diplomatic track. We are working with our partners, the U.N. Security Council. We have provided them, the Iranians, a road map to get to a civil nuclear program. They have walked away from that. We are hoping that they'll come back. We are both working with our U.N. Security Council partners as well as pursuing sanctions on our own, and there is not an intention to bomb Iran, as you said.
Q Does the President think he has the right to do it without going through Congress?
MS. PERINO: That is -- it's a hypothetical situation, Helen. I'm not going to answer it.
Q It's not hypothetical. It's concrete.
MS. PERINO: Go ahead. Sarah.
Q Thank you. Dana, does the President feel the Democrats in Congress should pass a bill allowing Allawi waterboarding?
MS. PERINO: There has been a lot of conversation about interrogation techniques. I'm not going to talk about any one in particular. The Congress has spoke on it several times, in terms of passing legislation that the President has signed, and we're just going to leave it at that.
Q Thank you, Dana.
MS. PERINO: Okay, thank you.
END 12:45 P.M. EDT