For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 30, 2008
Press Gaggle by Tony Fratto
Aboard Air Force One
En route Los Angeles, California
11:04 A.M. EST
MR. FRATTO: How are you all doing? So we're on our way to sunny Southern California. The President had his normal briefings this morning. Just to give you a heads up, we have a number of congressmen on the flight this morning, just to let you know is Congressmen Dreier, Gallegly, Royce, Congresswoman Harman, Congressmen Schiff, Nunes and McCarthy on the flight with us today.
And this trip -- as you know, we're on our way to Southern California, the President is going to visit Robinson Helicopter Company. This is actually day two of the post-State of the Union follow-up that -- where the President is going out and talking about some of the major themes that he talked about in the State of the Union address Monday night. Yesterday, of course, he was in Baltimore talking about faith-based initiatives and the prison re-entry program.
Today in Southern California at Robinson Helicopter Company he'll be talking about the importance of trade. Tomorrow in Las Vegas he will discuss the global war on terror and discuss FISA reform and the need to get that legislation passed. And then on Friday in Kansas City he will talk about the economy more broadly.
You can expect the President to talk a little bit about the economy today in his remarks, in addition to a very strong message on the need to pass free trade legislation, the FTAs that are currently awaiting action in Congress for Panama, Colombia and South Korea. He'll talk about the need to -- our intention to complete a Doha round this year; that's something that he would like to accomplish.
He will talk about the need for Congress to also quickly pass the economic growth package. I was very pleased to see the strong bipartisan vote that came out of the House of Representatives yesterday. We'd like to see the Senate act quickly to try to get legislation passed that will give the economy the boost that it needs over the next couple quarters. I think you probably saw the preliminary GDP report that came out at 8:30 a.m. Obviously it's a number below 1 percent, as we have been telling you; forecasts are showing that the economy did slow a bit. And I think that seeing that news reported this morning should give impetus to the Senate, in particular, to move quickly to pass legislation and get it to the President's desk so that we can more quickly give the economy the boost that it needs so that we can return to stronger growth and continued job creation.
Let me take just a minute to read a couple of announcements. On Monday the President and Mrs. Bush expressed their sorrow at the death of their friend, Gordon B. Hinckley. They praised Dr. Hinckley's life of service and his leadership as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Today the President announced that he has asked Secretary of Health and Human Services, Michael Leavitt, to serve as his personal representative at Dr. Hinckley's funeral on February 2, 2008, in Salt Lake City.
And then just very quickly, on Burma, we have taken note that Aung San Suu Kyi has been allowed to meet with officials from her party. We are pleased to have heard from Aung San Suu Kyi, herself. We're disappointed to hear, however, that there has been no progress on a meaningful time-bound dialogue. The regime has refused to offer any time frame for commencement of a dialogue. We once again call on the regime, as called for in the October 11th U.N. Security Council Presidential Statement, to begin a time-bound dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi and all relevant parties, including ethnic minorities, immediately.
Q When you say "we are pleased to have heard from" her, are you talking about -- I mean, what do you mean? Like, the United States, somebody in the U.S. government or --
MR. FRATTO: As I understand, the U.S. government has heard from her. I don't know who; I'll try to find out for you.
Q Or how the conversation happened or --
MR. FRATTO: I'll see if I can get details on that.
Q Okay. And the other thing is on trade, these three trade pacts -- yesterday Senator -- Steny Hoyer, sorry -- said that it was doubtful that any of these three are going to get passed this year. So how do you respond to that?
MR. FRATTO: I would respond as to remind Congressman Hoyer and members of Congress of the incredible benefits to our nation of these free trade agreements, and putting them off has not just an economic cost to the country, but also a cost in our diplomatic and strategic relationships with these countries. As the President said on Monday night at the State of the Union, Colombia is an incredibly important strategic partner in the hemisphere. They're a friend and ally. They're showing great courage -- in particular, President Uribe has shown great courage in dealing with terrorists, and to have economic growth in that country and an excellent relationship with the United States. And the failure to pass Colombia would damage our relationship not only with the Colombians, but would also send a horrible signal to other nations in Latin America that America is turning its back on South America.
Q Tony, on the stimulus, the President continues to urge the Senate to move quickly, as you said again, but the Senate continues to show signs that it wants to have a say, wants to debate, wants to consider ideas. So do you have any sign that this urging to move quickly is getting through at all?
MR. FRATTO: Well, they keep talking about wanting to move quickly, but then also talking about the consideration of lots of amendments and a package that is significantly different from what just passed in the House with an overwhelming bipartisan vote -- 385 members of Congress voted for the House bill.
There's no question that considering a bill with more and more pieces to it will only delay getting the bill to the President's desk. I think the only thing we can do is help remind them that America is expecting action, and they are expecting it quickly. And the only way for an economic growth package to have the desired impact is to do it quickly. Speed is important. And so maybe -- we'd like to see some leadership that will encourage members to put away some of their pet ideas and think about the bigger picture of getting an economic growth package passed quickly.
Q And on FISA, can you explain why the extension of -- I think it's two weeks -- was deemed to be okay by the administration, but the 30-day proposal drew a veto threat; what's the difference?
MR. FRATTO: Well, clearly, 30 days wasn't needed. What less than 30 days -- I think the House and the Senate members settled on 15 days, which is a brief time. Congress has had six months to pass this bill. That was a deadline that they imposed on themselves, was six months to pass legislation to send a bill to the President's desk that will be at least long-term, if not permanent authorization for a program that is helping to protect the country and to give the intelligence community the tools they need. We did agree to accommodate them on this request for 15 days. We strongly encourage them to understand their obligation to try to get this done.
I think there is a misconception out there that you can do these extensions and that there's no cost to it, and I want to say very clearly there are significant costs to running a program this way. You do not -- first of all, it's no way to run any kind of program, by continually doing short-term extensions. It is particularly harmful for this program. We have said many times that the intelligence community needs certainty in order to have their programs in place. When you do it with short-term extensions, it makes it very difficult to have the appropriate programs in place to do the intelligence gathering that they need to do. So we want to see Congress work. We hope they use these extra days wisely, and can send a bill to the President's desk.
Q One more on fundraising. The President is doing five events, I believe, in three days. Can you just speak to that a little bit? Does this sort of set the tone in terms of his political intentions in raising money?
MR. FRATTO: He's certainly committed to going out and raising money for the party and Republican candidates, and so you'll see him doing a lot of this. This will be I think a very successful trip in terms of raising money. The President has far more requests for fundraising stops than we can possibly fill, so I know we'll try to find ways to make it work with the President's schedule. But he is certainly committed to making sure that Republican candidates have the resources they need going into this very important election year.
Q Tony, why are all the fundraisers closed to the press?
MR. FRATTO: I'm sorry?
Q Why are all the fundraisers closed to the press?
MR. FRATTO: I think we have -- sometimes we have fundraisers that are open, some -- these are in private residences, I believe. Yes, private residences are closed, and -- I don't know. I don't actually -- never really knew the reason -- (laughter) -- but I'm happy with the practice. (Laughter.)
Q They're all to raise money for the party, right?
MR. FRATTO: Yes.
Q Not for specific candidates?
MR. FRATTO: No. All for parties. (Laughter.) No.
Q Is that correct?
MR. JACKSON: In Colorado, Bob Schaffer. In Kansas City, Sam Graves.
MR. FRATTO: I'm sorry, Kansas City is?
MR. JACKSON: Sam Graves.
MR. FRATTO: Sam Graves in Kansas City and --
MR. JACKSON: Bob Schaffer.
MR. FRATTO: -- and Bob Schaffer in Colorado. The rest are for the party.
Q (Inaudible) Rudy Giuliani won the (inaudible) election.
MR. FRATTO: At a private residence.
Q Okay. What part of (inaudible)?
MR. FRATTO: I'll find out.
Q Tony, also, you had said that they're running the FISA program, there are significant cost to the country. Can you expand a little bit, what you mean by that? I mean, are you saying that the --
MR. FRATTO: I can't get into -- obviously it's difficult to talk about operation -- you know, operational activity of the intelligence community. I just want to -- I just think it's very important because I've seen it show up in some reporting, where some voices -- those who were encouraging extensions have left the impression that it's a costless enterprise to just extend the program.
I just want to be very, very clear on this: There are real costs, and it is difficult for the intelligence community to put in place the long-term programs that they need to most effectively gather intelligence. There are costs to it -- and I don't know that I can get into further details than that, but I just want to make that point clear.
Q Why do you have all these Congress -- members of Congress on the plane with you on this ride?
MR. FRATTO: Why do we have members with us?
MR. JACKSON: They're House members. Several of them are going to their districts.
Q They're just hitching a ride, basically?
MR. JACKSON: They care about the President's trade agenda. (Laughter.)
MR. FRATTO: He was asked why we have House members with us on the plane. I think that some of them will be -- they'll be attending these events, and they're home for the -- they'll be home for the weekend, right? Yes. So they'll be attending events in their home districts -- (inaudible) the events that the President is attending.
Q So just hitching a ride?
MR. FRATTO: No. I think they'll be participating. Yes, they're participating. Actually, one thing I forgot to mention at the top, Governor Schwarzenegger will be with us; as I think you all know, he'll meet us at the airport, and he'll participate both in the event at Robinson Helicopter and at the fundraiser. Okay?
Q Is that the first time that they're together since the President was out here for the wildfires?
MR. FRATTO: That's probably right. Yes, I can't recall a time since then. Does that sound right, Carlton? Yes.
Q Tony, can I ask one more? What did you think of (inaudible) -- or what did the President think of the results last night in Florida? Was he happy for John McCain?
MR. FRATTO: I know the President -- I don't know if he actually watched the results; he had a dinner last night. I'm sure he was aware of them, and saw the coverage this morning. But he has spoken to this before. He knows the feeling of winning primary elections, and losing them, also. And so he -- you know, I'm sure he has some feelings for all of the candidates who are running in these races.
As he has said, this is going to be a very long campaign. It's a test of each of these individuals. He wishes them the best, and he'll be following. And whoever emerges on the Republican side, he'll be supporting. Okay?
Q On Robinson, care to say anything about the impact that the weak dollar is having on boosting on their sales?
MR. FRATTO: No, I don't talk about the value of the dollar, but I will talk about the importance of a free trade agreement with Colombia, in terms of -- with Robinson Helicopter. I mean, this is a -- this is a small firm, family-owned firm, that started -- Frank Robinson started this firm. They export to 50 countries around the world. They have an export office and service center in Colombia. So they sell parts.
They will -- in particular, this company will benefit from a free trade agreement; that their tariffs will be lowered, and that's something that will help, again, this U.S. company and other U.S. companies like it be more competitive on the world stage, and be able to create jobs and better paying jobs for Americans back here.
Q Did you say they had some sort of presence in Colombia? What was that?
MR. FRATTO: A dealership and service center.
Q Based in Colombia?
MR. FRATTO: Based in Colombia. Okay.
END 11:20 A.M. EST