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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 22, 2008

Press Gaggle by Scott Stanzel
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

9:34 A.M. EST

MR. STANZEL: Good morning, everyone. I was going to say, for those of you who have been traveling, welcome back -- but I'm not sure if we have anyone -- you're all well rested.

I'll go through the President's schedule today and then take your questions, and I can do the week ahead at the end.

This morning the President had his normal briefings at 8:00 a.m. And at 10:05 a.m. he's recording the radio address, and the radio address is about the urgent need for Congress to pass legislation to provide our intelligence officials all the tools that they need to protect America from terrorist attacks. So it will be focused on the Protect America Act.

Also want to note that the -- on the Northern Illinois University memorial service, last week the President offered condolences to the families and friends of the victims of the tragic campus shootings at Northern Illinois University. The President has asked Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt to serve as his personal representative at the memorial service at Northern Illinois University. And that occurs on Sunday evening, this Sunday, the 24th. So we have that.

Also another announcement, the Medal of Honor ceremony coming up will be honoring Master Sergeant Woodrow Keeble of the U.S. Army. That will be on March 3rd. The President will posthumously award the Medal of Honor to Master Sergeant Woodrow Keeble. He distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism on October 20, 1951, while serving as the acting platoon sergeant for the support platoon in Company G, 19th Infantry, near Sang San-Ni, Korea.

Q Can you spell that?

MR. STANZEL: Sang San?

Q No, his last name.

MR. STANZEL: Oh, I'm sorry; yes. Master Sergeant Woodrow Keeble, K-e-e-b-l-e.

Q Where was he from, do we know?

MR. STANZEL: I don't know that, we can get that.

Q Can you put out a background paper on this, since it's 1951 -- obviously we don't have all the relevant data.

MR. STANZEL: You don't have AP archives back to '51?

Q Might be a little bit --

MR. FRATTO: You weren't there? (Laughter.)

Q I remember reading about it, but -- (laughter.) Was that a "yes" in the commitment to put out some --

MR. STANZEL: We will provide you whatever information you need, Terry. So, again, that is March 3rd, that event.

With that, I'm happy to take your questions.

Q Do you have any reaction to the ground operation into Iraq, launched by Turkey for Kurdish rebels -- against Turkey?

MR. STANZEL: Well, as you know, there's an ongoing dialogue between Iraqis and leaders in Turkey about how to best confront the threat of the PKK. We've worked cooperatively with both of our allies on these issues, and worked to make sure that there's regular coordination about how to best confront this threat. So this is something that we were aware of in advance. And as you know, the U.S. agrees with Turkey, that the PKK is a terrorist organization, and it is an enemy of Turkey, Iraq, and the United States. And we have demanded that the PKK end their attacks on Turkish soldiers and civilians.

Q So this is something we don't object to, this operation?

MR. STANZEL: Well, we have been in regular coordination with the Turks and with the Iraqis. The Iraqis and Turks have been in communication about this issue, as well. I think those conversations will continue.

Q Does that mean that the U.S. helped coordinate details of this?

MR. STANZEL: We were notified in advance, and as you know, as a NATO ally, we have a longstanding intelligence sharing relationship with Turkey. That was intensified with respect to the PKK, as indicated during the meetings between Prime Minister Erdogan and President Bush.

Q Follow?

MR. STANZEL: Yes, Ann.

Q Does your word, "coordination," mean that the United States could ask them not to take any military action if given advance warning, or are you simply --

MR. STANZEL: We were notified, and we urged the Turkish government to limit their operations to precise targeting of the PKK; to limit the scope and duration of their operations. And we urge them to work directly also with the Iraqis, including Kurdish government officials, in determining how best to address the threat that the PKK --

Q So they were --

MR. STANZEL: I understand that Turkish authorities had notified Iraqi authorities simultaneously.

Q What's the status, if any, of negotiations with Congress over the terrorist surveillance? What do you expect to happen when they come back next week?

MR. STANZEL: What we would like to see happen is that Congress take up the House of Representatives, which is currently blocking the bipartisan legislation that passed the Senate; we'd like to see that taken up. That has received a supermajority in the Senate, and would pass the House if it was brought up for a vote. But House Democratic leaders are blocking that. That's what we would like to see.

Q That being the case, are there any active negotiations, or is everybody just -- has their positions --

MR. STANZEL: Well, Congress has been out of town on a 10-day recess, so at this point I can't speak to staff-level discussions. But we think that the path forward on this legislation is very clear, and it's a very simple path; it's one that's supported not only by a majority in the Senate, but also by a majority in the House. So that is what we would like to see happen.

Q Okay, and one quick follow up on that. As I understand it, the sticking point is really about retroactive immunity for the telecoms, not prospective immunity. So help me understand the administration's argument that without this retroactive immunity, the telecoms would be reluctant in the future to cooperate with a surveillance request. If prospective immunity is already assured, I don't understand how retroactive immunity has any effect.

MR. STANZEL: Well, retroactive immunity is something that the DNI has spoken regularly about. He spoke last weekend about it on one of the Sunday programs. And it's important that we provide that retroactive immunity for companies that were alleged to have helped after the 9/11 attacks.

What we have is a situation now where the Protect America Act was let to expire, calls into question prospective retroactive -- or prospective immunity. And the more uncertainty there are on these issues, the less willing these companies are going to be, presumably, to put their shareholders at risk of these multi-billion dollar lawsuits.

Q But let's assume it was passed with prospective immunity -- which is had, you know, six months ago -- but retroactive immunity wasn't there. Wouldn't that solve the concerns?

MR. STANZEL: We have always been supportive of providing retroactive immunity to the companies that felt a patriotic duty to help their country in the aftermath of the most significant terrorist attack in the history of this nation. We think that's important.

The opposing arguments for that I assume are because they want trial lawyers to be able to sue those companies. We don't think that's right. We think that we should provide that immunity and we think that that's necessary.

Q Scott, is the administration considering a new program to purchase and refinance billions of dollars of mortgages in danger of --

MR. STANZEL: Well, on housing -- I think you may be referring to a story that was out there today. We continue to aggressively address the problems in the housing industry, in the housing market. As we've said many times, the problems are diverse and they're different. So there is no one silver bullet to fix those problems.

The response that we have, therefore, takes many different approaches and --

Q But the approach outlined in The New York Times -- is that one the administration is considering?

MR. STANZEL: You know, there are a lot of ideas out there. I'm not going to speak to the specifics of that story. However, we continue administratively to administer -- or to implement reforms and to work with the private sector and to work with homeowners to lessen the impact of this downturn in the housing market. And so while we continue -- the administration continues that work, we also continue to wait for Congress to take action on one of the most significant parts of that, which is FHA reform. A proposal has been before Congress for quite some time, and it's inexplicable that Congress continues to not take action on that.

So there are many different ways in which we can address this problem and we continue to look at ways in which we can do that. But that's what I have for you right now.

Q Can I go back to the immunity question. You're saying that without that retroactive immunity, you know, companies may not be willing to put their shareholders at risk and cooperate. So we're talking about voluntary cooperation, and it's not just the telecom, is it? I mean, how serious is that concern? I mean, what kind of -- what is the extent of the cooperation that -- and what other, outside of telecom context -- are you talking about, like, car rentals and hotels?

MR. STANZEL: The DNI has said if we don't have cooperation from the private sector we don't have a program, period. So it's very serious. So that is -- our first and foremost concern is that immunity protection be provided so we have partnerships with the private sector, because without that -- this is not all information that the government, itself, holds. It's information that we need to work with the private sector to receive, and to administer the program. And without that, we don't have a program.

Q But when you talk about the private sector, what kind of -- I mean, what kind of --

MR. STANZEL: Without going into the broad details of the program, I think those are the types of questions that are best left to the intelligence professionals that do administer the program.

Q Thank you, Scott. Just a follow-up question. As of today, there is no surveillance bill on the books, no surveillance laws. What is the President doing specifically, in terms of lobbying the House of Representatives, to get the package from the Senate through? Will he call members, will he bring member --

MR. STANZEL: We can keep you posted on any outreach that he has. I know there is regular communications between the DNI and the Attorney General and members of Congress on this issue. The President is highlighting the need for it in his radio address that he'll be recording today. So it's a very important issue, and he continues to be focused on it.

Q One other question, if I might. Congressman John Shadegg became the first of the 29 Republicans who announced his retirement to reverse his decision last night. Any reaction from the President to that?

MR. STANZEL: I haven't talked to the President about that, but certainly we've appreciated Mr. Shadegg's service over the years. We think he's been an outstanding member of Congress. We are appreciative and supportive. It's been our policy all along to support Republican incumbents as the best way to retake the majority.


Q Thank you, Scott.

MR. STANZEL: This is a gaggle, by the way.

Q Yes.

MR. STANZEL: Yes, off camera, not for broadcast. Just noting that.

Q Senator John McCain held a widely reported press conference yesterday to denounce the sexual innuendos about him published by The New York Times. And my question, the President supports Senator McCain in this controversy, doesn't he?

MR. STANZEL: Well, Lester, certainly that's a story that has received a lot of attention. I think a lot of people here in this building with experience in a couple campaigns have grown accustomed to the fact that during the course of a campaign, about -- seemingly on maybe a monthly basis leading up to the convention, maybe a weekly basis after that, The New York Times does try to drop a bombshell on the Republican nominee. And that is something that the Republican nominee has faced in the past, and probably will face in this campaign. And sometimes they make incredible leaps to try to drop those bombshells on the Republican nominees.

So that is something that we're aware of, and that, unfortunately is a fact of life.

Q Republican Congressman Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland has for years tried to restore this birthday of the father of our country to the holiday it once was, before it was mixed into the amorphous President's Day. And my question, does the President agree or disagree with Mr. Bartlett regarding General and President Washington?

MR. STANZEL: I don't think that he's had any comments on that.

Q Well, what are -- would you inquire? This is Washington's birthday.

MR. STANZEL: We all celebrate the lives of past Presidents.

Q Do you have any reaction to Muqtada al-Sadr announcing that he will extend the cease-fire by six months in Iraq?

MR. STANZEL: We welcome any move that forswears violence and encourages peaceful participation. To the extent the announcement today serves to further isolate the groups that are engaging in violence, and to the extent that it helps enhance our intelligence to root out those groups, it's a positive development. The Iraqi and coalition forces will continue to target terrorists and extremists, including groups that are being funded and trained by Iran. But to the extent that this will help reduce the violence, it's a positive step.

Q What's the latest from Belgrade and from Kosovo? I apologize for asking this general, bad question, but I am interested in whatever you can provide in terms of information and/or comment.

MR. STANZEL: Well, as you may have seen yesterday, Sean McCormack had a briefing at the State Department to provide an update about the situation in Belgrade. Also, Nick Burns has been out this morning on television talking about it. We believe that yesterday's attacks on our embassy were conducted by hooligans and thugs. We don't believe that this is the face that Serbia wants to present to the world, and we quite frankly don't believe that this is the face of Serbia. We want to continue to work to integrate Serbia into European institutions. Today, understand that the situation in Belgrade is quiet. And so we -- and we've also been assured that there will be no repeat of what happened yesterday.


Q Scott, since yesterday the McCain campaign launched a very aggressive counterattack, and here today the White House is joining in that. Can you be a little more specific in how far back is the White House going in saying that The New York Times does this on a weekly basis on a Republican -- pretty serious charges.

MR. STANZEL: Having been involved in the 2000 and 2004 campaigns, I can tell you that there are many times that we've had this sense, in both of those campaigns.

Q "Many" is different from "weekly," though --

MR. STANZEL: Well, I think that's --

Q -- it's 52 --

MR. STANZEL: What's that?

Q Do you equate 52 --

MR. STANZEL: No, I said, about on a monthly basis probably leading up to the convention, and then seemingly on a weekly basis after that.

Q Can I follow on that? Are you, on behalf of the White House, accusing The New York Times of only "dropping a bomb" on the Republican nominee, and never quote -- and never giving that kind of treatment to a Democratic nominee?

MR. STANZEL: I'm not saying they never give that kind of treatment, but we see it's pretty regular treatment of the Republican nominee.

Q Scott, I'm sorry, you were cut off -- you were saying something --

MR. STANZEL: Well, do you have any other questions?

Q The (inaudible), do you who that is?

MR. STANZEL: I think that that's information that the State Department has spoken to. All of the State Department personnel have been accounted for. So we believe that may have been a protester, but I'd refer you to the State Department for more information about that.

Q And whether there is outside interference in the events?

MR. STANZEL: I'm sorry?

Q Do you believe there is outside interference in the events, incitement for violence?

MR. STANZEL: I would refer you to State for more information.

Q And when you used the word "thug," would you describe what you mean when you say this is a group of thugs?

MR. STANZEL: Well, these are people that are resorting to violence and vandalism to try to express a political view. We have urged calm, and we think that peaceful protests throughout the world is appropriate, but be it just that -- peaceful.

Q When you said -- back to The New York Times -- said sometimes they make incredible leaps, is that what the story you thought yesterday was about Senator McCain?

MR. STANZEL: I'm not going to speak to the specifics in that story, but it's been our impression that they do make leaps to drop those bombshells.

Q Week ahead?

MR. STANZEL: Week ahead.

Friday, that's today -- no public events. It will be overnight here in Washington. Saturday, he'll also be overnight here.

Sunday, at 8:05 p.m., the President and Mrs. Bush host a dinner for the nation's governors, and that's in the State Dining Room. That is pool for toasts. At 9:35 p.m. the President and Mrs. Bush will attend entertainment in the East Room, and that's pool coverage.

On Monday, the 25th, at 11:05 a.m., the President will participate in a photo opportunity with the National Governor's Association. That's on the North Portico, for still photographers. At 11:20 a.m. the President the President will meet with the National Governors' Association in the State Dining Room, and that is pool for remarks. At 6:50 p.m., the President will make remarks at the 2008 Republican Governor's Association gala, which is at the National Building Museum. That is open press.

And Tuesday, February 26th, at 2:45 p.m., the President makes remarks on Picturing America Initiative. That is in the East Room at the White House. That's open press.

On Wednesday, February 27th, at 10:20 a.m., the President will meet with Prime Minister of the Czech Republic in the Oval Office. That's pool at the bottom. At 3:05 p.m., the President will participate in a photo opportunity and make remarks to the Boston Red Sox on the South Lawn, and that is open press.

On Thursday there are no public events at this time.

On Friday, at 11:05 a.m., the President meets with the Secretary General of NATO in the Oval Office; that's pool at the end. At 4:30 p.m. the President participates in the arrival of the Prime Minister of Denmark and Mrs. Rasmussen.

Q Where is that?

MR. STANZEL: That is at the Bush ranch. And that is pool coverage. Saturday, March 1st, at 11:55 a.m., the President participates in a joint press availability with Prime Minister of Denmark on the Bush ranch, and that is also pool coverage. Sunday, March 2nd, no public events; the President will be in Crawford. And on Monday, March 3rd, the President returns to Washington, and at 2:30 p.m. on that day the President will participate in the presentation of the Medal of Honor that I noted at the top -- and that's in the East Room, and that's open press.

Q The press avail is central time that you just gave us?


Q Scott, do we know if the President has voted yet?

MR. STANZEL: I don't know that he has, Ken. He said he was going to, but I haven't checked to see if he has yet.

END 9:53 A.M. EST