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 Home > News & Policies > November 2007

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 19, 2007

Press Gaggle by Dana Perino
Aboard Air Force One
En route Richmond, Virginia

10:13 A.M. EST

MS. PERINO: Good morning. We're on our way to Richmond, Virginia. The President has a full slate of activities in that region. I'm going to do two announcements and then I'll do the schedule and go to questions.

Regarding the cyclone in Bangladesh, the President and Mrs. Bush on Saturday night expressed their deepest sympathy and of course that continues as the death toll apparently continues to rise. We are concerned about the individuals in Bangladesh who were affected by the cyclone. In response to a request for international help, the United States is providing $2.1 million in emergency funds to help the relief efforts.

Q Two point one million dollars?

MS. PERINO: Two point one million dollars.

Q This is from Saturday night's statement?

MS. PERINO: This is from Saturday night; I'm just reiterating that we continue to monitor -- we have helicopters that are taking in some food aid. USAID, as well as the Defense Department, have assets that are being deployed in order to help with the recovery.

In addition, this morning you saw a statement by the President issued in regards to a departure of a senior staff member at the White House. Frances Fragos Townsend has been the Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism and his Homeland Security Advisor for three-and-a-half years, having worked for a year before that as a Deputy Assistant to the President. She was promoted to the position that she now holds three-and-a-half years ago based on her tremendous intellect, her commitment to helping protect the country, her experience in counterterrorism and law. Her diplomatic efforts on behalf of the President have been greatly appreciated. She has traveled the world and spent a lot of time in the Middle East. And she has been a key member of the team that has put together the tools that this President is using to keep the country safe from terror.

She plans to leave government service after over two decades as a public servant. She will pursue some private-sector opportunities. She does intend to remain very active in the public debate about counterterrorism, and especially the tools that she believes policymakers and the intelligence community and the Justice Department officials and others across the government need in order to beat back the very determined enemy that we face. And I'll refer you to the President's statement for more.

He had his normal briefings at 8:00 a.m. this morning. In addition to that, a little after 7:00 a.m. this morning, Deputy Secretary John Negroponte came to the White House to brief the President on his trip over the weekend, and his meetings with President Musharraf.

At 11:00 a.m. the President will visit the Central Virginia Foodbank. I'm going to let -- since we have a short gaggle here, I'm going to let Carlton provide you more details, but let me just give you a quick stat. The Central Virginia Foodbank serves 31 countries [sic] and five cities, and approximately half of those agencies are located in the Richmond metro area.

Q Thirty-one counties?

MS. PERINO: Counties. Did I say "countries"? Thirty-one counties and five cities.

There will be several members of Congress with us today. Congressman Eric Cantor, Congressman Randy Forbes, and Congressman Bobby Scott. Also, Fay Lohr, L-o-h-r, she's the CEO of the Foodbank -- will be there. She will lead the President's visit. Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, and then two other -- I'm sorry, one other Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell, and then Virginia Foodbank volunteers will be there.

And then at 12:15 p.m. the President will make remarks -- I'm sorry, he will visit the Thanksgiving Shrine. That's at the Berkeley Plantation that we'll go to after the Foodbank. It's in Charles City, Virginia. This will be the first time the President has given a standalone Thanksgiving-themed speech. His remarks will honor the great American tradition of giving thanks, and will highlight how fortunate we are to live in a land of many blessings and opportunities, where oftentimes our neighbors are heroes; and he wants to highlight that.

He will talk about the gifts of freedom and democracy, Americans who serve a cause larger than themselves, and some of the examples of events he has witnessed and people he has met throughout the year, which demonstrate the decency and compassion of the American people. We are expecting about 500 invited guests.

On the way home, the President will be interviewed by syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker above -- aboard Air Force One -- "above" would be really interesting -- aboard Air Force One on the return trip to Washington. And then we get back to the White House at 2:35 p.m.

Q Dana, two quick ones. You said Negroponte briefed the President this morning. Where does the White House go from here, now that Musharraf did not apparently respond to this call to lift the state of emergency?

MS. PERINO: Remember, in diplomacy, when you have this type of outreach, you can't expect instant results. So we are going to continue to have an open line of communication and dialogue. Deputy Secretary Negroponte said that he delivered a very clear message, and we'll have to continue to monitor the situation as it evolves, to see what happens next.

Now, the fact that he, again -- President Musharraf again reiterated that there would be -- that the elections would be held, is a good step. That he would remove the uniform is another good step for the Pakistani people. Of course we remain concerned that there has not been a lifting of the emergency order that he put in place a little over two weeks ago.

Q Do you have any reaction from the President to what Negroponte said? Do you have any readout of that?

MS. PERINO: I'll let that meeting be private, between the two of them.

Q Is the administration still reviewing the aid to Pakistan?

MS. PERINO: Yes, I'll refer you to the State Department and DOD, but I believe that they are still reviewing it. Obviously, there is -- one of the things that Deputy Secretary Negroponte talked about this past week -- weekend was that there has been a lot of movement in the past several years by Pakistan to become a more moderate state. They changed some of the gender-based laws so that more opportunities are afforded to women. There were increased freedoms of the press; civil society was allowed to start to gain some momentum and to have the right to protest and to speak their minds.

So there had been many steps forward, including the economy, which have continued to increase. One of the key parts of our aid has been to try to help to bring jobs to areas that had been very remote, had not had any type of way to earn a living, and to help people turn away from extremism by being able to have some sort of livelihood. So that review is ongoing, but let me just remind you a lot of the aid that the Americans are providing are going to help with -- to help education, public health efforts, and to alleviate poverty -- lift people out of poverty by helping to provide jobs or institutions that can help bring investment into the country.

Q On Fran Townsend, when did she tell the President, or when was he informed that she was leaving?

MS. PERINO: They've had conversations over the past several months. Obviously none of us would have wanted Fran to leave service. I think all of us felt safe because of her work. Of course she always says we are safer, but not yet safe. She dedicated 110 percent of her time and effort to making sure that American citizens could live free from terror. She is an excellent manager. I will say she is also a very good colleague, very supportive, very helpful.

And so over the past several months as she's struggled with this decision about whether to continue her over two decades of public service or to pursue some private sector options, she and the President would talk about it. He appreciates her service greatly. And in the statement he praises her for her wise counsel. And those of us who have had the pleasure of working with her can certainly repeat that it is wise and it is always helpful. She's very thoughtful. And we're going to miss her a lot, and we wish her luck.

Q How about a successor?

MS. PERINO: No replacement named yet. We are hoping that there would be one relatively soon. We would like to have some overlap between Fran and her successor. She plans to leave just a little bit after the first of the year, so she'll take us through the next season.

Q The President often says he wants to sprint to the finish, but does he feel it's harder when people -- close advisors, top advisors like this are leaving with a little more than a year to go?

MS. PERINO: No, I know that's a story line that people are trying to perpetuate, but look at the people the President has been able to attract to the administration to work in the last little while: Fred Fielding, Ed Gillespie, Judge Mukasey. We are confident that we will be able to find an individual of high caliber and talent and experience to be able to replace Fran Townsend.

Q Also, on the Thanksgiving speech today, can you talk about the President's thinking in delivering this speech? Why, in the seventh year of his presidency, is he doing this?

MS. PERINO: Well, the President does like to highlight the heroes that he meets throughout the -- throughout his presidency. I think he's particularly struck this year by how many wonders of compassion and selflessness that he has witnessed, everything from our volunteer military and civilians who are working in Afghanistan and Iraq in order to bring peace and stability to that region. Remember, he meets a Freedom Corps greeter at every trip when he goes, and they deserve a lot of attention because many of these Freedom Corps greeters have given just almost half of their lives over to public service, if you count up all the hours, and done some really tremendous things.

I also think it's a time that the President thinks on this week of Thanksgiving, when there's been a lot of tension in Washington, D.C., there are many concerns and challenges that this country faces, that it's worth taking a moment to pause and reflect on all the things that we have to be thankful for, living in the greatest country on Earth, and being able to help bring the promise of freedom and democracy to other places.

Q On Bangladesh, how did you arrive at that $2.1 million figure? Why not just $2 million?

MS. PERINO: I think it has -- it was based on the requested need. So USAID has that money --

Q Okay. Could there be more?

MS. PERINO: I don't have any announcement on any more. Of course, we continue to monitor the situation and we'll be looking to our individuals who are on the ground, once they get there. USAID just sent a five-person team to the region, and so when they get on the ground they'll be able to provide more of a situation update.

Q They're the ones who determined we need $2.1 million?

MS. PERINO: I'm not exactly sure how the money is determined.

Q Dana, back on Pakistan. Does the President have any time frame in mind? How long is he willing to allow this emergency situation to go on over there before taking some kind of action?

MS. PERINO: Well, remember, Pakistan is a sovereign country. The President can urge President Musharraf to take a different course. We believe that the only way that Pakistan is going to have a free and fair future is if they can try to cultivate these moderate forces and bring them together. That's why we've encouraged open dialogue. There's going to be the elections. We do not believe that elections can be free and fair if you're under a situation where the media is not allowed to report on the issues of the day and people aren't allowed to campaign.

And so I don't have a date to give you. I can tell you that the President is urging the lifting of the emergency order as -- immediately, and the release of people who have been detained who were trying to express their views.

Q Thanks.

MS. PERINO: Okay? All right, see you on the ground.

END 10:25 A.M. EST