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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 15, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:40 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. A couple of announcements for you that I mentioned earlier today. In advance of the Thanksgiving Holiday, when millions of Americans travel to see loved ones, the President is announcing measures the federal government can take to help alleviate potential congestions and address the concerns of air travelers. As you all know, airline delays can cause significant headaches for American travelers. Delays and cancellations cause people to miss meetings and family gatherings.
We can do better than the aviation system that we have today. That's why the administration has proposed practical, comprehensive reforms to modernize air travel and reduce flight delays and improve passenger airline travel. We put forward a plan in February to modernize our system for governing air travel. Congress has not acted.
In September, the President met with Secretary Peters and FAA Administrator Bobby Sturgell to discuss these chronic air passenger delays, and look for ways the administration, in absence of congressional action, can improve the situation. Secretary Peters and DOT officials have been working to implement stronger consumer protections, and have been meeting with aviation officials regularly to discuss ways to reduce congestion in the New York metro airspace -- where many of these problems originate -- which accounts for about one-third of all air traffic in this country, and suffers from serious delay problems, which they then ripple across the country in a cascading effect.
Today the President will announce some immediate steps to help alleviate problems during the holiday season. Those measures include: The U.S. military is going to make more airspace available for civilian airliners this holiday season, by opening up a Thanksgiving express lane. The FAA and Defense Department have worked together to open up airspace from Florida to Maine over the five busy days of Thanksgiving travel, Wednesday through Sunday. This will help mitigate congestion and provide opportunities for the planes to keep on schedule.
The FAA is also imposing a holiday moratorium on non-essential maintenance projects, so all FAA equipment and personnel can focus on keeping flights on time.
There are additional measures that the President will announce, as well, that will take a little bit longer to get in place, because they have to go through the regulatory process. This includes a doubling of the amount of compensation passengers receive when they are forced off overbooked flights. Right now they receive $200 or $400 from the airline, depending on the length of time that a passenger is inconvenienced. Those amounts will jump to $400 and $800.
There will also be a proposed regulation requiring air carriers to adopt contingency plans for stranded passengers. The proposed regulation would also require better reporting by air carriers of delay and complaint data. The President is taking this step to help Americans. And stay tuned for more from the President and Secretary Peters in less than an hour.
Also, yesterday President Bush discussed the importance of ensuring that the Department of Justice has the strongest, most capable leadership team in place to effectively enforce the law and keep the American people safe. Today he will announce his intention to nominate five highly qualified individuals to serve in senior positions at the Department of Justice, and they are, Mark Filip to serve as Deputy Attorney General, Kevin O'Connor to serve as the Associate Attorney General, Gregory Katsas to serve as Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division, Grace Chung Becker to serve as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, and Nathan Hochman to serve as the Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division.
During their careers, each of these individuals has served at the Department of Justice and has demonstrated their commitment to the Department's important mission. The President and Attorney General Mukasey are confident that these nominees are the right people to help lead the Department's efforts to enforce our laws, strengthen our national security, aggressively prosecute criminals, protect victims of child abuse and domestic violence, and uphold the civil rights of every American. And we call on the Senate to confirm them quickly.
Q Benazir Bhutto made it sound like her conversations with U.S. officials are -- that U.S. officials are trying to plan with her and perhaps asked her to participate in a post-Musharraf government. Is that what the administration is doing?
MS. PERINO: That I have not heard. Of course, we have been in communication with both President Musharraf and his officials, as well as opposition party candidates and leaders. What we have been working for them -- to get them to do is to talk with one another, open up a dialogue, and communicate so that they can get Pakistan back on a path on democracy. But I don't know about any individual conversations.
Q But is there any planning, active planning for how to support a post-Musharraf government in Pakistan?
MS. PERINO: The President, who is in the best position to know what his policy is, is to support President Musharraf getting back to a constitutional government, where there could be moderation and stability, democracy and the prosperity that comes from it. And we are focused on getting back on that track immediately.
Q What's the reaction to the appointment of a Musharraf ally -- upcoming appointment -- as prime minister?
MS. PERINO: I had -- I have not heard about that development. Obviously, these things are happening by the hour, and so I'll -- we'll try to get back to you. What's most important is that Pakistan get back on this path to democracy, and President Musharraf has the responsibility to help get his country back on a track that he had helped establish with a freer media, better education system, better public health system, and all the prosperity that comes from an improved capital market system.
Q That's all fine, but what are we going to do if he doesn't do it?
MS. PERINO: Well, we are focused on helping them get back there and to do it, and so that all the moderate forces can work together so that they can establish it. Look, our -- there needs to be a long-term stake of this country -- on behalf of this country in terms of a partnership with Pakistan. Many Pakistanis are skeptical of our stated commitment to work with them because of what's happened in the past. The President's commitment is to help make sure democracy takes hold. They made a decision -- President Musharraf made a decision the President didn't agree with. We are disappointed with it, but the President doesn't want to preemptively throw up his hands; he wants to help him get back on track.
Q Maybe they're also skeptical of his willingness to do anything that the President wants him to do.
MS. PERINO: This is -- the responsibility for getting back on track is President Musharraf's. And I believe that he does have the Pakistanis' best interests in mind.
Q But you said -- you said the President is committed to helping President Musharraf get back on the path to democracy. Does that mean that the President is committed to Musharraf as the leader of Pakistan --
MS. PERINO: Pakistan is going to have to work that out. In terms of -- if they get back on the path to democracy, and have the free and fair elections for the parliament, then that will be a significant step and one that President Musharraf has said he is committed to.
In addition to that, we need to make sure that we don't turn our backs on Pakistan, that we work -- try to work past the current political situation and get back -- get everyone back to a place where they can have a society where you can express yourself freely, where -- this state of emergency is obviously no way to live, and the President wants to see it lifted. But it's going to take some time. And as you've seen today, there's been developments that happen by the hour. We'd like to have immediate answers, but sometimes these things take a little bit of time to work itself out.
Q I guess what I'm asking is, is sticking with Pakistan, does that mean sticking with Musharraf?
MS. PERINO: The Pakistanis are going to have to decide on their leadership. The President believes President Musharraf has been a very good ally to the United States and our ally in helping combat extremism, and that he was on a path to democracy. And there are other moderate forces in Pakistan that want the same thing, and that would be a better future for Pakistan.
Q Why does he think he moved in that direction?
MS. PERINO: Why President Musharraf decided to take that action? The decision that President Musharraf made is one that we disagreed with, and we tried to talk him out of it.
Q -- five days. Why did he move, do you know?
MS. PERINO: That is something that President Musharraf is going to have to answer for. He's made public statements as to why he thinks he needed to do that.
Q Why do you -- expand on what his motive is?
MS. PERINO: I believe that there is a desire to make sure that there is safety and stability in Pakistan. Remember, since July, 800 people -- Pakistanis -- have been murdered by terrorists in Pakistan. And so there is a safety and security concern. It's a dangerous country.
Q That's his motivation?
MS. PERINO: You're going to have to look back at his public comments. I'm not going to speak for President Musharraf, Helen.
Q Well, I'm asking what do we understand of why he's had -- grabbed power.
MS. PERINO: You have -- we have to look to his public statements to see why he made the decision he made. The President said that he was going to have to take him at his word that he's going to hold the free and fair election, that he will lift the state of emergency, though we don't have a date yet, and that he would remove the uniform, which he said he will do at the end of November.
Q On the economy, given the President's activism, federal government's activism on dealing with air travel, what about the economy? Does the President feel like he and his team misjudged the level of anxiety within the markets, within -- in mortgage markets this summer? And is he prepared to do something more dramatic to head off what some people are concerned about as being a recession as we go into next year?
MS. PERINO: It was actually in August -- August 31st, that the President announced a series of reforms to help people who are concerned that they were going to lose their home. There are some things that we could do legislative -- that we could do through the administrative process and those things are underway at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, along with Secretary Paulson at the Treasury.
But there are also a series of things that the Congress can do. We have asked for an FHA -- Federal Housing Agency -- modernization bill, so that more people could get insurance to help protect their mortgages, because the levels have been -- the levels are too low. We'd like to see that level -- the price of the house -- the value of the house be something that people could look to the FHA for that type of a loan. These are things that we would like to have Congress move forward on. We're doing what we can on our part.
Secretary of the Treasury Paulson, as well as Eddie Lazear, the President's Council -- Chairman of the Council on Economic Advisors -- has said that the housing market is one that is going to have to work itself out and it could take a little while for it to do that. Thankfully, the underlying fundamentals of the economy are fairly strong. We've had continued job growth, we've had good export growth, we have a good level of inflation. And so while we need to work through the housing market crisis, as well as the credit market issue, there are fundamentally strong aspects of our economy.
Q The IAEA's report on Iran's nuclear program shows partial cooperation with international inspectors. How will this impact the U.S. push for further sanctions against Iran?
MS. PERINO: We believe that collective cooperation is not good enough. We appreciate the work of the IAEA and the Director General. While the report primarily looks at the history of the Iranian activity for a nuclear program, it does say -- and let me quote -- "Contrary to the decisions of the Security Council, Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities." This report indicates that Iran continues to defy the international community and two unanimous U.N. Security Council resolutions, 1737 and 1747. Iran continues to walk away from a deal that has been offered to them.
We've said they can have a civil nuclear program if they'll just suspend their current activity. President Bush authorized a change in U.S. policy that for the first time in 28 years would have allowed Secretary Rice to meet with her Iranian counterpart anytime, anywhere, if they suspend. They have chosen not to. And unfortunately, this report makes clear that Iran seems uninterested in working with the rest of the world, and the current Iranian government continues to push Iran deeper into isolation. It is a very proud country with a proud heritage and a proud people, and being isolated is not what the people of Iran would want. They deserve better.
The United States is going to continue to work with our partners on the U.N. Security Council, the Perm 5 plus Germany, on a third set of Security Council sanctions.
Q Are you confident the administration is going to be able to fill all of the openings in the Justice Department in the 14 months that remain? And can you just tell us what is the effect having so many openings there?
MS. PERINO: Well, we have said that it's had a negative effect on the Justice Department, and in fact, that is one thing that we agree with Senate Democrats about. They have said they would like to see those positions filled. We now have an Attorney General who is in place, and the nominations that we have made today are individuals who are well qualified, and there is no reason that their confirmations should be held up.
Q And are you confident that they will fill all those openings in the 14 months --
MS. PERINO: We are confident, because we know, and we believe that the United States Senate agrees that it's critically important to have leadership in place at the Justice Department. They've been clamoring for it. We've now provided a list of names of individuals that, by any measure, people will see as highly qualified and very experienced in the Department of Justice.
Q Dana, from the conversations I've had over the last 24 hours with folks in the aviation industry -- pilots, airlines, air traffic controllers -- they seem to tell me a couple of things about the initiatives the President is talking about today, that several were already in the works for some time at the Department of Transportation, that several were changes that the airlines have been pushing for for some time. So they're saying these aren't new ideas; they could have been implemented and should have been implemented sooner, and that they don't really do anything to address the problem on the ground -- the limited number of gates and the shortage of air traffic controllers.
MS. PERINO: We have asked for Congress to work on an FAA modernization bill that we put -- that we sent up to Congress since last February. I don't know about the specific measures you mentioned that they think are not new, but Secretary Peters and a member of the FAA are going to be here at 1:50 p.m., and you can ask them detailed questions like that at that point.
What I can say is that one of the major problems that we recognize was the congestion problem that you have because of the New York airspace issue. And that is why we are taking action. That is something that we can do administratively without Congress. And so that's why the President decided to take that action. But let me refer you to them for more specific answers.
Q When they say this is just a photo op --
MS. PERINO: I think that the American traveler is going to appreciate the fact that the President is taking this action, especially this Thanksgiving express lane that should help alleviate the problems that we've all heard about for years that take place from Wednesday to Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.
Q Dana, on the doubling of the bump fees for overbooking, is that just the holidays, or is that --
MS. PERINO: No, that would be -- that would be permanent. Unfortunately, we're not going to be able to finish that rulemaking by next week. It's going to take a little bit of time because you have to take the public comment and respond and do the due diligence. But we hope that by next summer, by the next summer travel season, that that would be in place.
Q Would the airlines pay for the bumps and bonuses --
MS. PERINO: Yes, ma'am. They're not bonuses, they would be fees.
Q The President's Federalist Society remarks tonight, which you've sent us excerpts of -- I'm interested in his attack on those who advocate the living Constitution, and saying that in practice, the living Constitution means whatever these activists want it to mean. The President presumably is aware that Justice Stephen Breyer has a book out on this subject. Is he attacking Justice Breyer directly here?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't think that there was anything specific, and I don't think -- in discussions, I don't believe it came up. But what I can say is that the President has for many years said that what his position is on judicial nominees is that he looks for someone who believes like he does; that the Constitution is the Constitution and it shouldn't evolve based on different public policy positions. I'm not aware -- I wasn't aware that Justice Breyer had a book.
Q In a larger sense, though, does he believe that Justice Breyer and other advocates of this policy, to quote him from elsewhere in the speech, are -- pursue judicial lawlessness in a way that is a threat to our democracy?
MS. PERINO: The President does not believe that we should have a living Constitution. He believes the Constitution is the Constitution.
Go ahead, Joan -- Jean -- Joni, excuse me.
Q Dana, as you know, the Japanese government is concerned about the removal of the DPRK from the state sponsor of terror list. They feel this measure is going to be taken hastily and too soon. What message is the President going to have for the for the Prime Minister tomorrow?
MS. PERINO: Well, look, the President is going to have a very good meeting tomorrow with Prime Minister Fukuda. We have a deeply-rooted relationship with Japan. The United States and the Japanese has been strong for many years. We share the values of democracy, and the President and Prime Minister Fukuda will talk about how we will continue to work together to advance security, as well as prosperity in our region and -- their region and beyond. We work cooperatively in a variety of areas.
The issue regarding the abductees one is something that the President thinks a lot about, and he has talked to every Japanese leader that has been in office since he's been here -- Prime Minister Koizumi, Prime Minister Abe -- and he'll look forward to the conversation with Prime Minister Fukuda. He has met before with family members who have been affected by the tragedy of the abductee situation and I'm sure that they will have a full conversation about it tomorrow. But let's let the meeting take place and then let's provide more later.
Q Dana, will White House employees and Justice Department people be allowed to contribute to the Alberto Gonzales legal defense fund?
MS. PERINO: I don't know specifically about that one, but I know in general you are allowed in your personal capacity to contribute to any cause that you want to contribute to, whether or not you are a federal employee or private citizen.
Q Dana, on the Iran report. The United States has been pushing for some time for -- to consider new sanctions on Iran at the U.N. Does this accelerate that process? What are the next diplomatic, formal diplomatic steps that you see as a result of --
MS. PERINO: Well, as you know, we've been working with our allies. And the President has meetings last week with the President of France and Chancellor Merkel, in which we talked about the shared objective to ensure that Iran does not have the capability to have a nuclear weapon, and that we would work together to -- on a new resolution. And, actually, the U.K.'s Gordon Brown made a similar statement earlier this week. And so, we are continuing to work on that.
Look, the -- we believe that Iran should be fully cooperating, and not stringing along the IAEA during this process. It just pushes Iran further into isolation and we believe that what they should do is take us up on our offer. We've continued to offer negotiations for Iran so that we can have a diplomatic solution. That is two basic things: Suspension of enrichment for suspension of sanctions; as well as a negotiated settlement that would give Iran access to nuclear energy while assuring that the -- that its intent is peaceful. And Russia has come forward with an innovative way to be able to do that. We're going to continue to work with all of our partners in the P5-plus-1, and we will try to move forward on a new resolution.
Q We're quoting a senior U.N. official as saying that in this case, the glass is half full. Do you see any reason, any cause for optimism in this report at all?
MS. PERINO: Well, as I've said, we believe that selective cooperation is not good enough.
Go ahead, Victoria.
Q Wouldn't it in fact make sense to plan for a post-Musharraf Pakistan? There's a possibility that he might not, in fact, survive.
MS. PERINO: Well, I'll give them your advice. I just -- look, the President's position is that we need to focus on the task at hand, which is to focus on the immediate issue which is, there -- President Musharraf is in charge of the country. We would like to work with them in order to get them to take the responsibility and move forward on a new path, and establish a new path, lift the state of emergency, and move forward; but we're not going to talk about contingency plans.
Go ahead, Roger.
Q On the aviation announcement, the only thing that's going to take effect immediately will be the clearing of that military airspace. Is that right?
MS. PERINO: The military airspace, as well as the FAA is going to impose a moratorium on anything that is non-essential, in terms of any maintenance or tasks that were in place, you know, sort of on your to-do list if it's not essential to helping air travelers during this busy season. Set it aside for a week.
Q Dana, could you give a little size and scope on the clearing of that military airspace. Does that accommodate X number more jets per hour, and what would be the --
MS. PERINO: Can I refer you to the FAA briefer who will be here at 2:00 p.m., because that's just too technical for me.
Q Well, Dana, just to quickly follow up on that. Why wasn't this done last summer when the crunch was really so bad, and the record delays were really --
MS. PERINO: That's a good question. I don't know how long this has been considered. I do know that we think it's a good idea, one that the military is willing to allow us to do; I should mention that they're also going to allow it for the Christmas holiday season, as well.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. How does the President react to the fact that while he supports the Law of the Sea Treaty, all the leading Republican candidates for President now have announced they oppose it?
MS. PERINO: Well, the President's position is very clear. The Defense Department and the State Department have been to Capitol Hill to help explain why this Law of the Sea Treaty makes sense. The President's position on the Law of the Sea is clear. And presidential candidates are going to make their own decisions.
Q Okay. Does the President believe that had we been subject to the Law of the Sea Treaty, that President Kennedy could have quarantined Cuba with the U.S. Navy, that President Ford could have used the Navy to rescue the Mayaguez, and President Reagan could have sent a Navy carrier force to defy Qaddafi of Libya in the Gulf --
MS. PERINO: I always avoid hypotheticals for the future; I'm going to avoid them for past scenarios as well.
Q Thank you.
MS. PERINO: Okay, thanks.
END 1:01 P.M. EST