For Immediate Release
October 26, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:39 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Happy Friday. I do not have anything to start with.
Q Do you want to address the remarks by President Putin, who said the United States setting up a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe was like the Soviet Union putting missiles in Cuba, setting up a Cuban Missile Crisis?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that the historical comparison is not -- does not exactly work. What I can say is what President Putin went on to say, which is that the President and President Putin have said that we can work together on this. President Putin said that today, that he believes that there's a path where the United States and Russia can work to figure out a way to get the system to work in a way that works for both people -- for both countries.
The purpose of the missile defense system in Europe is to defend against a missile that would attack one of our European allies and Russia; and that's the purpose of it. And as President Putin identified two people to work with, two people the President designated -- Secretaries Rice and Gates -- who were just there last week. And our military leaders are in communication to try to figure out if we can use some of their technology in order to make this system work.
Q So you don't think this is a heightening of tensions over the missile shield?
MS. PERINO: I think if anyone takes a look at his entire comments and looks at them objectively, there's no way you could walk away without thinking that he thinks that we can work together.
Q As a follow-up, Dana, have you gotten any readout -- I asked Tony about this earlier -- on the President's conversation with Putin since the visit to Iran and what his sense was of the gap between the U.S. on this and on Iran policy?
MS. PERINO: Well, we -- yes, and I think we have provided a readout on that. That call happened I think -- maybe Monday, or earlier in the week; it was definitely earlier in the week, I think it was Monday -- might have been Tuesday. But President Putin had a conversation where they talked about a variety of issues, including the issue of Iran. And the President does believe that Iran -- that Russia agrees that Iran should not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. And he came away feeling that that was a solid answer from President Putin.
Q Staying with Iran for a second. On the unintended side events, perhaps, you know oil closed at the record-high yesterday. What's the concern that as the rhetoric with Iran gets ratcheted up, that what the main way Americans will feel the impact is higher oil prices?
MS. PERINO: Well, higher oil prices are something that has been building up for over a decade and it's something that the President has been talking since 2001 -- which is a way to try to get our country to move away from traditional fossil fuel oil use and to look at alternatives and also conservation. There's several initiatives the President has put forward; one right now is pending in front of Congress. It's 20 percent reduction in gasoline use in 10 years, by 2017. So there's a lot of different ways that we can do that. The problem here --
Q The way the markets seem to digest what was happening yesterday was that as tensions escalate, it may cut off the flow of oil.
MS. PERINO: Well, I'm not going to comment on market conditions or market movements; there's a lot of different factors that go into that. Part of what we have in our -- in the world is very high demand and not enough supply, and so providing alternatives to traditional oil use is what the President is focused on.
Look, the problem here isn't the United States, it's not the international community. The problem is Iran, and Iran has not stepped back from trying to pursue a nuclear weapon, and -- or reprocessing and enriching uranium, which would lead to a nuclear weapon. We have provided Iran with a path in order to have a civilian nuclear program. They have not taken that path. And so yesterday what we did is identify additional sanctions that we could put -- that we could use, in addition to the diplomacy, so that we can put pressure on the Iranians so that they will change their behavior.
Q And one follow. Is the White House concerned that as a result of those sanctions, oil prices may go up?
MS. PERINO: Look, oil prices are a concern across the board. We have very tight supply, and we have growing demand, and not just from our country. When you have growing countries like China, with an economic growth rate of 11 percent last quarter -- and they need a lot of resources in order to make their economy grow.
So what we have to do in the United States is look to alternatives, not just because of oil prices, but because of the environmental benefits, as well.
Q Dana, on Tuesday, FEMA's deputy administrator held what was called a news briefing to talk about the California wildfires. And from what we understand, the questions were posed not by reporters, but by staffers, and that distinction was not made known. Is that appropriate?
MS. PERINO: It is not. It is not a practice that we would employ here at the White House or that we -- we certainly don't condone it. We didn't know about it beforehand. FEMA has issued an apology, saying that they had an error in judgment when they were attempting to try to get out a lot of information to reporters, who were asking for answers to a variety of questions in regards to the wildfires in California. It's not something I would have condoned, and they, I'm sure, will not do it again.
Q Who is responsible?
MS. PERINO: FEMA is responsible, and they have taken that -- they have accepted that responsibility, and they issued an apology today.
Q But isn't -- a follow-up on that. Isn't there a normal morning call with all the press secretaries of all the agencies here, and whether somebody is having a press briefing or not is discussed?
MS. PERINIO: We have a variety of ways that we talk to the -- communicate to the communicators in the agency. FEMA is not on that daily call, no, and I don't know if the DHS -- the head of DHS communications knew about it either. But FEMA has apologized for the error in judgment.
Q Dana, why didn't this raise alarm bells, in terms of credibility, with anyone there?
MS. PERINO: You'll have to ask them. They have admitted that they had an error in judgment. I would agree with that. They've issued an apology. You'll have to ask them about why they decided to do that.
Q But isn't the President concerned, at a time when he is traveling to the area to talk about a very significant natural disaster -- there have been issues about FEMA in the past, trying to make a distinction about progress made, and for them to effectively pretend to hold a news conference, doesn't the President have concerns about that?
MS. PERINO: I just said that the White House did not know about it before hand, and the White House condones* [sic] it. And they have apologized for it. They had an error in judgment, they've admitted that. And I think that what they were -- I don't think that there was any mal-intent. I think that they were trying to provide information to the public through the press, because there were so many questions pouring in. It was just a bad way to handle it, and they know that.
Q Will anybody be reprimanded?
MS. PERINO: You'll have to ask FEMA.
Q Dana, back on Iraq for a moment. There was another Putin analogy. Yesterday he compared the U.S. imposing of new sanctions on Iran to -- we're running around like a madman with a blade in his hands. And can you comment on that and the critics' view that these sanctions are counterproductive to the U.S. objective of getting Iran to give up its nuclear programs.
MS. PERINO: The sanctions are part of the diplomatic process, and that has been laid out for several years. We are being very patient with Iran. We have laid out a schedule for them to be able to comply with the unanimous consent of the U.N. Security Council, that they need to stop the enrichment and reprocessing activities that they have going on in their country.
Again, this is not -- the United States is not at fault. The international community is not at fault. Iran is at fault for not stopping its activities. And sanctions are part of the diplomatic process, they buttress the diplomatic process. They make it clear that we are very serious about making sure that they do not have a path to get a nuclear weapon. So I reject the notion that it is irresponsible, because I think it is quite responsible and shows that we are, one, serious, but that we also are committed to the diplomatic path, and that we are going to buttress that with sanctions.
Q And as to whether these kinds of comments by President Putin show that he's not anywhere near on the same page as the Bush administration?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on them.
Q Can I ask you about President Putin? I mean, how would you characterize the relationship with President Putin? I mean, is he a strong U.S. ally with rhetoric like this? And also the Cuban missile comparison, is that helpful?
MS. PERINO: I think that -- look, the President has said that we have a good but complicated and complex relationship with Russia. And the President has a relationship with President Putin, one, that he treats him with a lot of respect, and because of that, he's able to have very frank and honest discussions with him. And I think the relationship -- in a variety of ways, we work well together on many different issues.
In any -- when you're dealing with a world leader that has a different point of view, you don't come out and slam them for that, just because they have a different point of view on a particular thing. But the bottom line is Iran does agree that -- I'm sorry, Russia agrees that Iran should not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. That hasn't changed.
We want to see China and Russia do more in regards to the sanctions that we have followed through on, that are part of the U.N. Security Council resolutions. But just because you have a complicated or complex relationship doesn't mean it can't also be a good one.
Q But it doesn't (inaudible) where this relationship is headed in the future? It doesn't seem to bode well for where the U.S. --
MS. PERINO: Well, I think the President has done a very good job of making sure that this country has good relationships with Russia, and that's across the board. And I think one of the things you can look at is just last week he sent his Secretaries of State and Defense to Russia to have conversations with the leaders of Russia for the -- with their foreign minister and defense minister. But they also met with President Putin, as well. And President Bush meets with President Putin quite often; he just saw him at the beginning of September in Sydney, and I'm sure they'll see each other again at the next international meeting.
So we have a good relationship, but it's complex. None of these things are easy. It's just something that takes time, and we are patient and we work through them all.
Anybody else on Iran or Putin?
Q Yes. The Russians seem to be concerned that -- especially in light of the latest sanctions the U.S. has proposed -- Iran is being pushed toward a corner for which there is no diplomatic solution; that it's only war. So what are your expectations of the President's -- the White House declaration yesterday, basically that if you do business with Iran you cannot do business with the United States?
MS. PERINO: Well, not only are they trying to pursue -- they are not halting their enrichment and reprocessing activities in Iran, but they are also state sponsors of terror and sponsoring terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. It is the height of responsibility to put sanctions on Iran that buttress our diplomatic efforts.
We provided a path. We, along with our -- the P5-plus-1, together, provided a path for Iran to have a civil nuclear program. They have decided to reject that path, and so we continue to push, very patiently, the diplomacy that the President has laid out, along with his allies, and we are going to continue to do so. Iran has a choice to make. The problem is not with us, it is with Iran.
Q But my question actually went to Russia and China.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q The declaration seems to be, if you can do business with Iran, you can't do business with the U.S. Are you telling Russia and China and their banks, you must divest yourself of investments in Iran, or you can't do business with the U.S.?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think it's a little bit more complicated than that -- how sanctions work, and I'll have to refer you over to Stuart Levey at the Treasury Department for how all that works. In fact, he and Secretary -- Under Secretary of State Nick Burns did a full briefing yesterday where they lay out a lot of these details, because sanctions work in different ways.
Q All right, let me ask another general question then. It was May that we had talked with Iran about providing weapons to insurgents in Iraq. Have you basically concluded that trying to talk to Iran about that is also a waste of time?
MS. PERINO: Well, look, we continue to try to talk with them. And in fact, what Secretary Rice said yesterday, she reiterated something she said for months, which is, she would meet with Iran's Foreign Minister anytime, anywhere, if they would want to meet and have these discussions. We are very concerned that Iran is targeting our soldiers in Iraq. The Iraqis are concerned that Iran is meddling in its business. And these sanctions push Iran to understand that we are very serious about making sure that our soldiers are kept safe and that they are not allowed -- to the greatest extent possible that we can -- not allowed to fund state sponsors of terror, like Hezbollah. And that's what the sanctions are meant to do.
Anyone else on this? Okay, we'll move on. Roger.
Q It's oil-related.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q Oil was trading at $92 a barrel today. That's 51 percent higher than a year ago. Is there any concern that it's going to start damaging the economy?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'm not an economist -- and we could try to get you together with Eddie Lazear -- but we do believe that oil prices are way too high, especially for families who deal -- if you have a family budget, the one item that you don't have flexibility on is on your energy cost: You have to pay to heat your home and pay for gas in your car so that you can get to work and back. We have to look for alternatives. That's what we are trying to do. We are asking the Congress to move forward as well.
What is amazing is that our economy has been so resilient over the past several years, despite high energy prices. We have good job growth, we have good exports. Of course the housing market has taken a beating and we're trying to work through that and see if we can make sure that there are measures in place to allow people to keep their homes, but certainly energy prices are a concern. One of the best ways to help bring them down is to broaden out supply. And I would submit to you that the energy bills that the Congress is now putting -- pushing forward by the Democrats do not include a lot of energy production. There's not in that -- there's not a lot of energy in the energy bill, and we would like them to take a second look at that and get something to the President before Christmas.
Q But the main two reasons are the Iran sanctions thing and the tension between Turks and Iraqis.
MS. PERINO: Look, I think there could be a lot of reasons that oil prices go high. I'm not going to comment on the market movements; there's plenty of people around this country who would. But I think that the problem comes down -- the basic problem comes down to supply and demand, and that's something that we are trying to address.
Q Same question.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q You know, back when the President Bush was running for office and he was weighing out an energy --
MS. PERINO: In 2000?
Q No, the last election.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q When he was weighing out his energy policy, he talked about the need for expanding refineries in this country, but that's gone from your vocabulary. All you talk about is renewables. Does that mean that the President is no longer in --
MS. PERINO: Well, maybe that's my fault. I mean, I can talk about -- we have an entire comprehensive package in our energy proposal, and in fact Al Hubbard, the President's Economic Advisor, sent to Congress just last week a letter outlining what we could and couldn't accept in an energy bill.
Now, of course expanding refining capacity in our country is critically important. It's really tight right now. And as you have -- when you have maintenance that has to happen every year, you have -- that refinery pressure is even more constricted. And so we do want additional refineries. You do run into some problems of citing these permits at different places around the country, because people don't like to have them in their backyards. But it's something we have to deal with.
Q Republicans and Democrats are trying to kill a refinery expansion in northern Indiana that was approved by the EPA -- part of it was approved by the EPA. And the White House and the Energy Department have pretty much been silent. They've left Governor Mitch Daniels out there to hang. I'm wondering why the administration --
MS. PERINO: Can I look into it? I don't know about that specific refinery. I do know that the President supports expanding refinery capacity in the country. We'll get back to you on it.
Q Dana, in your answer I think to Elaine about the Putin-Bush relationship, you said that "when you disagree with a world leader you don't go out there and slam them." Was that aimed at President Putin?
MS. PERINO: No, it was more aimed at you all. (Laughter.) Every time I come in here, and you ask me about President Putin's comments, it's like you want me to say something derogatory or negative about another world leader on behalf of the President. And I'm not going to do it.
Q So you weren't saying that President Putin acted inappropriately by coming out and --
MS. PERINO: No, no, I am not saying that.
Q Dana, the Committee to Protect Journalists, citing recent physical attacks on reporters in the Democratic Republic of Congo, today urged President Bush to raise that topic with President Kabila. Do you know if that topic came up?
MS. PERINO: I didn't. I didn't get a chance to sit in on that, but I'll check.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. Senate bill 505, the so-called Hawaii apartheid bill, has resurfaced recently. And this is the one that would permit native Hawaiians to declare themselves a sovereign nation. Does the administration have a position on that?
MS. PERINO: John, I know that we have expressed one in the past; I can't remember exactly what our position is. But if there's not a statement of administration policy out there -- there's a SAP out, so we'll get a copy of that for you right after the briefing.
Q The other thing, Dana, is, in California recently, campaign has started to place a measure on the ballot that would change the electoral college distribution or electoral vote distribution from statewide to winner-take-all by congressional district, the way they do it in Maine and Nebraska. And a lot of the President's friends are behind it, I noticed. Is the administration in favor of it?
MS. PERINO: Well, it's the first I've heard of it, and I don't know what the President's position is on it.
Q Read my column; it's all about it. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Great advertisement.
Q It's estimated that up to 2 million housing foreclosures could happen if restrictions aren't lifted, in terms of sub-prime mortgages. And I just wondered, does the White House have any second thoughts about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in terms of any kind of relaxation?
MS. PERINO: I'm not well-versed in all of the details. I do know that we have FHA modernization bill that we would like the Congress to pass.
One thing I should point out, last night -- well, within the last 24 hours, since the President has been in California, there have been two additions to the help that we can provide to people in California. One is the Department of Labor issued $50 million worth of grants for people looking for work. And this allows California to hire people who have lost their jobs to help with the recovery and the cleanup. And in addition to that, HUD has put a 90-day moratorium on some types of foreclosures, so that people can get their feet on the ground and make sure that they are taken care of down there in Southern California.
But I'll ask Tony Fratto to get back to you on that.
Q In the statement this morning, the President talked about SCHIP. One of his concerns was that there were not any negotiations with those that he chose. But I wondered, has the White House invited Congress -- congressional leaders to come here, or does it intend to invite them to come --
MS. PERINO: You'll recall, Paula, that it was I think maybe a week or maybe two weeks ago that the President designated three people to represent him in negotiations on the State Children's Health Insurance Program, so that we could find common ground with the Democrats. He sent Secretary Leavitt of Health and Human Services, OMB Director Nussle, and Al Hubbard, the National Economic Advisor, to Capitol Hill in order to have discussions. The Democrats wouldn't meet with us, and I think that does not bode well when you're trying to find a -- when you're to negotiate.
Q Why didn't you invite them here?
MS. PERINO: The President directed those three individuals to meet with Congress. The Congress -- if Congress wanted to actually meet with us and they wanted to find a different -- a new venue, if that would help them, if they wanted to leave Capitol Hill in order to come together, then we could consider that. But I think the fact of the matter is they didn't want to meet. They want the issue; they don't want a solution. Yesterday they passed a bill that will -- that is not substantially different from what the President vetoed originally. It appears that in the House, they yet again don't have enough votes to override the President's veto.
And incredibly enough, Senator Reid is planning to use -- eat up more precious time debating this issue in the Senate, where they're not willing to have the Republicans have a say in any of the matter. So they're going to waste more time and send another bill to the President that they know he will veto. And they will not be able to override it at this time. So we think that this is a big waste of time. We think that it would be better to sit down with us. We offered some ways that we could find common ground; we offered additional money. But we're not going to compromise on the one principle that we think is key to this debate: Poor children should be taken care of first.
Q The additional funding would be required, to be paid for, and if the White House is opposed to any sort of increase on the tobacco tax, how do you expect to --
MS. PERINO: The President believes that there is plenty of money in the federal coffers and that we do not need to raise taxes.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. The AP reports that there is considerable opposition from landowners in Texas to federal plans to build a border fence. And my question: What is the President's position on resistance to this fence that he and Congress agreed is needed?
MS. PERINO: Well, the President, as former governor of Texas, knows that there are many people on the border who disagree with having a fence on their private property, and we -- the President has asked Secretary Chertoff to work with them as we try to secure our border.
Q Senator McCain said that while he is sure Woodstock was a cultural and pharmaceutical event, no one who supports spending $1 million for a Woodstock memorial, as Senator Schumer and Clinton have, should be President. Does President Bush agree or disagree?
MS. PERINO: I think the President would disagree with that earmark. It's not a good use of taxpayer dollars.
Q Thank you.
Q Will there be a "lessons learned" exercise after the California wildfires --
MS. PERINO: We always do after-action reports. I don't know if would be called a "lessons learned" report, but they do after-action reports to find out what went right and what went wrong. And it looks -- knock wood -- that everything is going very smoothly in California.
Q Are there lessons to be learned yet?
MS. PERINO: There could be. I think it's too early to say. There could be good lessons to be learned that we could pass on to other states. Obviously it's been a model of good coordination from the federal, state and local governments.
Q Are you in a position today to confirm or deny that Syria had a nuclear facility and that it was bombed by Israel?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on those press reports.
Q One on Kosovo. They are not -- Russia said yesterday (inaudible) recognize two separate regions of Georgia as independent states -- namely (inaudible) and (inaudible). (Inaudible) -- split from Serbia by December 10th. Any comment on that?
MS. PERINO: I'm sorry, I'm not well-versed in it, but we'll try to get you an answer.
Q Thank you.
END 1:03 P.M. EDT
*The White House does not condone the way the FEMA press conference was handled.