For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 31, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:43 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. One announcement before questions. Today at 2:00 p.m., the President will announce, in the Roosevelt Room, his nominee for U.S. Department of Agriculture. Governor Ed Schafer has a record of leadership, business and government, agriculture leadership, a fantastic governor who was reelected by wide bipartisan margins in North Dakota. He has strong bipartisan support in his state. He's well-known throughout the agriculture community. The President believes he has the right experience for the job. And if confirmed, he will work on passing responsible legislation to advance the President's trade agenda, he will work on the farm bill, and also on the President's conservation efforts, including both land use as well as ethanol and biodiesel development.
And we believe the Senate should move quickly on his nomination. He will begin courtesy visits probably tomorrow.
Q Congressman Waxman is calling on the White House to release hundreds of pages of documents regarding convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He says that the White House has released several thousand pages, but there are about 600 that you have not released. Are you asserting executive privilege over these?
MS. PERINO: This is a letter that came to the press before it came to the White House, which is, unfortunately, the pattern of behavior of Senator -- Representative Waxman's committee. We have a good working relationship with Representative Waxman. We have provided thousands of pages of documents, as you said. If he wanted more information he could pick up the phone and call us. Instead he sends a letter to reporters.
We have provided all this information in regards to the White House activities regarding Jack Abramoff. The letter -- the first sentence of the letter suggests that we are withholding documents in regards to Jack Abramoff, and as I'm told, that is not true. The requests that he has before us now regard internal documents and internal deliberations that we are probably not going to turn over. I will not say that we're issuing -- exerting executive privilege. We've gone down this path before in terms of documents. There is -- internal deliberations are protected under the law. Senator -- Representative Waxman knows that. We have provided all the information -- I think 3,700 pages of communications between any White House official and the firm that Jack Abramoff worked for and Jack Abramoff.
So we'll have -- we'll continue to have communications with the committee as to the request. But as of right now, when they're asking for internal documents, we're probably not going to be turning those over.
Q So it's no, but not an assertion --
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm -- no, I didn't hear anybody say that we would have to assert executive privilege over them, especially because they don't have to deal with what the request is actually about. Any document -- any request regarding activity between White House officials and Jack Abramoff, former lobbyist, have been turned over.
Q Can I ask you on another subject, Poland's Prime Minister designate says that they want to end their troop contribution in Iraq in 2008. Is the White House disappointed by that?
MS. PERINO: This is the new Prime Minister?
MS. PERINO: This is the first I've heard of that, so let me go back and take a look. Of course we appreciate the cooperation we have from a variety of countries. We understand that it is difficult to continue to have a troop presence, but we are -- encourage countries to continue to help us in Iraq because it's important not just for the United States' national security, but all of ours.
Q With a vote now scheduled on the Mukasey nomination for Tuesday, have you received any assurances from people on the Hill that the vote is likely to go for confirmation?
MS. PERINO: No. Well, I think the fact that they have scheduled a vote is a good thing, a good sign. Judge Mukasey is an exceptional nominee who deserves to be confirmed. It is, I believe, unprecedented to have a nominee actually be voted down in committee or on the Senate floor. And so we'll continue to work with the committee and then hopefully have a successful vote on Tuesday, the 6th.
Q If the committee wants more documents, are you going to send them?
MS. PERINO: Well, we have -- Judge Mukasey actually responded to 495 questions for the record. Just as a comparison, before her nomination, Janet Reno didn't have to answer a single question for the record before she was confirmed. We've gone over and beyond the call of duty here by any reasonable stretch. Judge Mukasey should be able to have a favorable vote on Tuesday.
Q But you haven't heard anything from them?
MS. PERINO: We haven't done a vote count or had assurances from the Chairman, no.
Q What's your reaction to Senator Specter's comment that Mukasey's confirmation is at risk at this moment because he has not answered the question --
MS. PERINO: If confirmed, Judge Mukasey will be briefed on classified programs. He has not been briefed on classified programs because he is a private citizen. Private citizens are not read into private, classified information for a reason. If confirmed, he will be read into those programs. He says in his letter that he will fully review all the legal opinions surrounding this matter. And then once he's confirmed, then Congress has the right and ability to ask him to come up and have more conversations with them, which Judge Mukasey says he is willing to do if confirmed.
Q Is that confirmation at risk?
MS. PERINO: We feel confident that he will be confirmed.
Q Iraq's Foreign Minister -- Iran's Foreign Minister is saying that the Iranians are willing to have further talks with the U.S. on improving security in Iraq. What's the White House response to that?
MS. PERINO: I think this is in the lead up to the Istanbul neighbors conference that is taking place later this week, starting on Friday. Secretary Rice will be joining that neighbors conference. Until we have more information about the agenda, we'll decline to comment. And perhaps she'll find out more once she is there. We do want all of the neighbors in the region to get along. We have encouraged that. We have encouraged the dialogue.
If Iran is serious about helping in that region, we'd be interested to know that. Actions speak louder than words, and they know what they can start doing immediately, which is stop sending foreign fighters into Iraq and attacking our soldiers and innocent Iraqis.
Q In principle, would the U.S. be willing to hold direct talks with the Iranians on that, strictly limited to that subject?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'd have to refer to Secretary Rice for that. She has said that she'd be willing to meet him anytime, anywhere. She said that most recently when they were together in Egypt, and the Iranian Foreign Minister decided to leave that engagement because he was offended by the entertainer, who was wearing a red dress -- the piano player. And so, hopefully the entertainment will be something that he can live with. And if he wants to have a meeting with her, she's willing to do that. But I don't know if it would be limited to that subject.
Q Do you have additional information on Karen Hughes telling the President that she plans to --
MS. PERINO: I do, I do. Karen talked to -- Karen Hughes has had 12 years of government experience, government service. She is a very, very close friend of the President. She told him over the summer that she thought that by the end of the year she was going to need to get back home. And while he is sad to see her go, he appreciates all the work that she has done for him over the years. She has done quite a great job of transforming public diplomacy at the State Department and establish new initiatives and programs that will serve us well even after she's gone.
A couple of things that she's done that are of particular importance were the -- she brought over Dina Powell as her deputy, and one of the things that they really put a focus on was bringing foreign exchange students back to the United States. After September 11th, there was a downturn in the number of foreign exchange students we had coming to America. The President strongly believes the best way to expand America's values is for more people to come to America and find out what it's all about, and then to be able to take that home to their country.
Karen Hughes, through her work and through Secretary Spellings and Secretary Rice, were able to turn that around. And now we have a record number of foreign exchange students here in America.
She expanded English language programs all around the world. English is a language that can help people be lifted up out of poverty and participate on a world scale, in terms of business or education. And she also started a rapid response unit, which, as you know, there's a 24-7 news cycle, and she gathers up information on the biggest news stories all around the world and provides that information to the State Department, federal employees, so that they know what is going on around the world, and at the same time, provides for the United States' position -- policy position so that our ambassadors all around the world can respond to questions in their own -- in their countries where they are serving.
There are many other things that she has done. The list goes and on. She is somebody who said that we can always call her if we need to, and I'm sure that she and the President will remain very good friends for the rest of their lives.
Q And his thoughts on the last of his inner circle, of his original --
MS. PERINO: He doesn't -- I know it's very tempting for you all to write that story, but he doesn't think of it that way. He has close friends and close advisors that he's had -- there are some who didn't come to Washington with him who he still keeps in contact with. And there were additional new people, like myself, who he's brought on board along the way, and he feels very well served.
Q Dana, can I follow up on the Karen Hughes --
MS. PERINO: Anybody else on Karen Hughes?
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q Since she assumed the position of Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, according to a Pew survey, the U.S. image remains abysmal in most Muslim countries. Favorable views of the U.S. in Turkey are at 9 percent; in Egypt they're 21 percent; in Pakistan they're 15 percent; in the Palestinian Territories they're 13 percent; in Morocco they're 15 percent.
MS. PERINO: I think I get your point.
Q But in Germany, in just the past two years, the favorable view of the U.S. has dropped from 42 percent to 30 percent. Do you discount those numbers? I just want you to address what has happened since she has taken on that role. It sounds like she didn't do --
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on that poll and I think it's preposterous to think that you could question Karen Hughes's achievements in terms of being responsible for the numbers in a particular poll. That's ridiculous.
Q -- not follow those --
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to -- I'm not discounting the numbers. Certainly the reason that the President wanted Karen Hughes to go to the State Department to help transform public diplomacy with Secretary Rice is because we realize that we need to do more about winning hearts and minds all around the world, and that's exactly what she has started there. And she has said in her statement today, this is not something we're going to change overnight. This is a long-term project, much like -- if you think about how long the Cold War took, she sees this as something that over the next couple of decades we really need to focus on.
Q So in your mind, she has succeeded in her goal of outreach to the Arab world, based on those numbers that I just cited?
MS. PERINO: Look, I'm not going to comment or respond to a poll that you just read out. I don't know about those numbers, I don't know the questions that were asked; I think it's inappropriate. What I can tell you is that she has done amazing work. Let me give another example. She started a women's outreach effort with the Middle Eastern countries and started a breast cancer initiative. And just last week Mrs. Bush went and highlighted that initiative and went to four different countries in the Middle East, had a very successful trip in explaining that women have tools at their disposal when they find out that they have breast cancer, early detection and treatment. That is precisely what the President was hoping Karen Hughes would achieve, and she has.
Q So in your view, the U.S. image in the Arab world has improved under Karen Hughes?
MS. PERINO: We are making progress. I know that we have a long way to go.
Q One more on Karen. Any observations, seriously, on why so many of the advisors are going back to Texas? Are they going to reestablish a political base there?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that any time you have people who leave their home state, they want to go back. Obviously, there's a Texas connection here because the President as governor, when he came over to Washington, D.C., as President, brought a lot of them with him, and they have family there and people want to go home. I think that Texas must be a really great place to live. That's where Dan Bartlett is headed back to. But others are staying here, like Karl Rove will be here for a while. The President feels very well-served by everyone who has supported him since his days as governor and he has a very good team surrounding him now.
Anybody else on this? Okay, I'm going to go up here.
Q On product safety, Commerce Secretary Gutierrez, earlier today, told us that he will go shopping, not concerned about China toys and things, and yet today there's another recall of a Halloween-related product that had high lead count. Given the fact that there was a recall just today, does the President feel that parents who would be buying toys in the holiday season that's just upon us should use some different standard of decision-making? Because the Secretary said consumers know what to do, and yet again today there was a --
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that -- a couple of things. I think that the Consumer Product Safety Commission in being able to identify these problems and get the word out about a recall, that that system is working. However, we realize that we have to do more. And that's why the President established the Import Safety Working Group. It is headed by Secretary Leavitt, who did a -- I think a 60- or 90-day report that came out in September, and that was to followed by an action plan that we expect in mid-November, in just a couple of weeks from now. It is possible that additional resources need to be applied or new and different systems.
We are -- there is no way that we can inspect every single item that is coming to our shores from overseas as we have such a strong trade -- such strong trading numbers around the world. Therefore, it is important that parents be aware, but -- and we understand the concern. Of course when your child wants a toy, it's going to be -- it's sometimes hard to prevent them from having exactly what they want. But by following the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations that Nancy Nord and her team are following, we can hopefully be able to have those systems in place that the action plan would suggest. And then we'll have maybe additional resources put to that towards next year.
One thing I would mention is that the United States Senate refused to give the President's nominee, Michael Baroody, a chance to have a hearing -- this was the President's nominee to head up the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It is unfortunate that the Senate did that. We would hope that they would stop playing politics with this issue and allow us to get some additional leadership in there, as the President has requested.
Q Is the President satisfied with the job the Consumer Product Safety Division is doing?
MS. PERINO: We believe she is doing a fine job and we know she is committed to making sure that products that come into this country are safe for people.
Q Dana, is the President surprised with the delay in Mukasey's confirmation, especially after Senator Schumer early on seemed to rave about Mukasey as a candidate?
MS. PERINO: The President is disappointed in how long it has taken for the Senate to have a vote on his nomination. I believe this it longest ever that a nominee has waited for a vote out of committee. This on top of -- this comes after the United States Senate, from both sides of the aisle, said that this nominee, Judge Mukasey, was an excellent choice, an exceptional nominee, and that the Department of Justice was in desperate need of leadership. And therefore, the President would like to see this move very quickly. We are encouraged that there is a vote scheduled for next Tuesday.
Q Yes, thank you, Dana. Two questions. The United Nations, by a vote of 184 to 4, wants the U.S. trade embargo against communist-ruled China lifted. And my question: Since the President only a week ago vowed to keep the embargo in place, does he consider the U.N. vote an attempt by the international organization to impose its will on the United States?
MS. PERINO: I have to confess I don't know about that vote. Move on to your second question.
Q Newsweek reports that the William J. Clinton Presidential Library has become widely known as Little Rock's Fort Knox, because barely one-half of 1 percent of the 78 million pages of documents in this $165 million building are available to be examined by the public. And my question: When President Bush helped to dedicate this expensive building, did he believe there would ever be as much censorship of its contents, and does he believe this is right or wrong?
MS. PERINO: I'm sure that that never entered the President's mind. But I'm also equally sure that journalists like you in this room will continue to hold their feet to the fire to try to get the documents you seek.
I'm going to move on.
Q And does the President believe -- does the President believe that it should be --
MS. PERINO: Let's not yell. Let's not yell.
Q All right. Excuse me.
MS. PERINO: Mark.
Q The health care speech, did the President break his vow not to get involved in the election by taking a swing at Hillary Rodham Clinton's health care plan in '94?
MS. PERINO: That was based -- well, look, the President is not involved in the campaign. But that is a moment in our history that identified a debate that we needed to have in this country. The debate was decided in 1994, and the President's point today was that the Democrats are trying to incrementally establish government-run health care and a national program. He does not think that's the right thing for the country.
Q So he thinks the '94 plan was an attempt to nationalize health care in this country, and that Mrs. Clinton is still in favor of that and pursuing that by piecemeal --
MS. PERINO: I have to confess I did not see the speech. I read it; I don't know -- I can't remember the line that you're referring to. But I can assure you the President has no intention of getting involved in the primary politics of the season.
Q Dana, Russia slashed the number of international observers for the parliamentary elections in December. Are you concerned that these elections may not be as fair as you would --
MS. PERINO: We certainly want to see free and fair elections in Russia, and we are concerned and disappointed by the belated timing and the conditional nature of the -- of Russia's invitation to election observers. Any conditions that are placed on them are a concern to us, and we will certainly be bringing this up with the Russians.
Q Dana, what is the President's language on child pornography, for the record?
MS. PERINO: What is his language?
Q Yes. What does he think amounts to child pornography? If you have two young people, young --
MS. PERINO: Sarah, Sarah, look, those issues are dealt with in court rooms. The President wants to make sure that children are safe, and he appreciates the work that the Department of Justice has been doing on that issue.
Q One of the criticisms of the Consumer Product Safety Commission has been voluntary standards and doing things voluntarily instead of mandatory recalls. Does the administration feel that that issue should be revisited?
MS. PERINO: Well, as I said, Paula, the Import Safety Working Group is looking at the full range of issues in regards to consumer products and the safety of our consumers. And I'm going to let Secretary Leavitt present his action report to the President and not pre-judge it.
Q And on SCHIP, even Republicans are saying now that one of the main issues of this debate is actually the funding of it, and that they are acknowledging that some form of tobacco increase -- some tobacco increase will be necessary to help fund any expansion. So I still -- it's still not clear to me, if you support expansion, how you're going to pay for this.
MS. PERINO: We support expansion. The President does not believe that we need to have any tax increases. It's not regarded just -- it's not limited just to the tobacco tax. The President believes the federal government has plenty of money in order to take care of these programs in a responsible way. And we have identified a whole range of programs that could be cut; that was put out when we did the budget back in February of 2007. And I can't tell you precisely where we would find those funds, but you can rest assured that we would find them without raising taxes.
Q But you cited $92 billion yesterday which is mandatory spending, your entitlement spending. And if you oppose increases in taxes to fund AMT patch, which you support, extenders, which you support, and possibly an expansion in SCHIP, are you saying that $92 billion would be enough to cover all those?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment. We'll work it through. I can just assure you that the President will not be raising taxes.
Q Senator Specter said today he is disinclined to support retroactive release of liability for the telcoms. He says they should -- they have a strong case and they should get their day in court, and the cost just may be the cost of fighting terrorism. Is that still a deal breaker for the terrorists surveillance --
MS. PERINO: I haven't seen those specific comments. What I can tell you is the President does fully support retroactive liability protection for companies that were alleged to have helped this country after a time of crisis, in 9/11, and that they should not have to go through very expensive and litigious civil lawsuits that could go on and on for years. He thinks that that retroactive liability protection should be included. It is included in the Senate bill, and we are encouraged by that.
Q No negotiation on that one?
MS. PERINO: I'll just leave it at that.
Q Dana, two quick questions. One, I just want to bring to your attention, as far as Ms. Karen Hughes is concerned, because of her visit in India, thousands of students are here, and image in India about the U.S. has gone up dramatically. And also, I remember meeting and sitting with Ambassador Mulford in Delhi, and I interviewed at the U.S. Embassy.
MS. PERINO: Do you have a question?
Q Question is that what I am saying is that her policies you think will continue on after even she leaves --
MS. PERINO: I am confident that Karen Hughes's systems that she put in place and her dedication that she brought to the job will continue.
Q Thank you.
END 1:05 P.M. EDT