For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 27, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:43 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Two statements for you. Today we learned that William F. Buckley has passed away and that has saddened everyone here at the White House. Mr. Buckley was a longtime friend of the Bush family. I informed the President of Mr. Buckley's death at 11:45 a.m., while the President was in the Oval Office.
In 2005, when President Bush hosted an event in honor of the 50th Anniversary of National Review, he praised Mr. Buckley's life, saying that "he helps contribute to the realm of ideas for America and helped turn dreams into reality. His work impacted millions of Americans who shared his strong belief in the power of freedom." And the Buckley family will be in our thoughts and prayers.
In addition to that, as you know, on the President's recent trip to Africa we had the opportunity to see firsthand the success of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. We saw people who are alive today because of the program; people who are living better lives; babies who are HIV-free; couples who were able to get married and, even though they both had HIV/AIDS, were able to have a baby that is HIV-free. By every measure, this has been an incredible program and a very successful one and one that the American people should be very proud of.
We also heard on the trip the pleas from African leaders and care-givers involved in the PEPFAR program of the critical need for Congress to reauthorize the program, including the President's call to double funding over the next five years. We were pleased to see today, just recently, that the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the first step in reauthorizing the program. We support this legislation and we want to express that today. We appreciate the effort to draft in a thoughtful, bipartisan way; we appreciate that we were able to work with them. It retains the important policy principles that have made the program such a success and we applaud the committee's work in quickly moving this bill forward and we hope that the House and Senate will soon follow suit and send it on to the President for signature.
Q Is the United States opposed to applying the strictest possible standards on environmental matters -- this proposed radar facility in the Czech Republic?
MS. PERINO: I think you're referring to what the President was talking about today, which is we're down to a mere three words differences between -- of working out the details on the missile defense agreement. As President [sic] Topol nek said, it's really not even a problem at all; it's technical, it's a matter that we expect to be resolved quickly.
Q Well, if he had done -- he also used the word "strictest" possible standard. I take it that that's the hang up.
MS. PERINO: No, I don't necessarily know that to be true. I know that the issue involves three words and deals with the environment. But I don't know necessarily what the context is or what the technical details are about it. Obviously we are going to adhere to environmental standards wherever we go and whatever activities we are doing, both here in the United States and around the world.
So as the Presidents [sic] both said, they are very close to an agreement and we look forward to being able to announce that soon.
Q What is the President doing about the siege and starvation of the people of Gaza?
MS. PERINO: Well, we have actually just announced -- Secretary Rice just announced that we have increased our amount of humanitarian aid. We certainly don't want any innocent Gazans to suffer. And we believe that the reason that they are suffering is because of Hamas. But that said, we continue to provide food and other necessities, medical supplies, through humanitarian programs. And Secretary Rice just announced this week that we are looking to increase that, as well.
Q Russia announced today that it will support sanctions on Iran if it didn't stop its nuclear enrichment. What is your reaction to that, given that they haven't, sort of, supported sanctions, or been reluctant about sanctions in the past?
MS. PERINO: In the past? I hadn't heard that Russia had made an announcement. We obviously have been working very closely with them, Secretary Rice, especially, and her team. And it would not be surprising that at the end of the day we win support for these sanctions because we have gotten unanimous support in the past. So we can check into it and see if there is any more to announce.
Q When the Fed Chairman says on the Hill this morning that the stimulus package will take effect in the second half of this year and then into the next, is that really fast enough for the President?
MS. PERINO: I didn't see his comments and I -- obviously we think that the package that the President signed, the $157 billion in tax credits, as well as tax rebates for people that are going to be getting checks soon, was the right package and that we think that -- Secretary Paulson, I remember, said that the time frame that it's going to take for the IRS to be able to get those checks out is sufficient in order to have the impact that we think we need to avoid a deeper slowdown than we would want.
Q And I know you haven't seen the remarks, but the idea was that since the impact wouldn't hit until later this year --
MS. PERINO: I think the point is that the President's economic advisors, who are -- including the Fed Chairman and Treasury Secretary Paulson and his Council of Economic Advisors here, the Chairman, Eddie Lazear, all believe that the patch that the President signed, and when he signed it, was sufficient in order to help us deal with the softening in the economy.
Q Does President Bush think there will be a recession?
MS. PERINO: He said yesterday that he does not believe so, but there's no doubt that the economy is softening, and that's why we're taking measures in order to guard against that, as well as working with Congress to make sure that they could pass some of the legislation we want, in the housing area especially. And we're also going to prevent Congress from raising taxes on the American people.
Q Yes, Dana, as you know, the Senate is debating an Iraq withdrawal timeline again today. Is that a good thing or a bad thing that they're debating it?
MS. PERINO: That they're debating it? Well, if -- look, the President is willing to talk about Iraq anytime anybody wants to talk about Iraq. And I think that the Senate Republicans yesterday decided that it was time to spend -- it was time going to be well spent, to talk about Iraq and talk about the progress that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have made, in concert with the Iraqis and with our partners there.
The President said that an artificial timetable of withdrawal would say to an enemy, just wait them out; it would say to the Iraqis, don't do the hard things necessary to achieve your objectives; and it would be discouraging for our troops. And that's why the President said yesterday he would veto the Feingold amendment that they are now debating on the Hill. So we think that it is time well spent to talk about Iraq.
Q Okay, because I'm curious because in the past when they debated withdrawal timelines, the President would veto and said, you had the votes to sustain it -- you thought it was a waste of time.
MS. PERINO: But we still -- that is still true, but this is, like, the third or fourth that they've decided to do that. We still have the votes in order to prevent this bill from becoming law. What the vote was yesterday was yesterday was yesterday was a procedural vote to move forward to have debate -- 30 hours of debate. This is what -- Senator Reid called up the bill. He probably didn't expect to get cloture. He got cloture and now he's got 30 hours of debate, and we think that that's absolutely appropriate.
Q So it's not a waste of time, this time?
MS. PERINO: Look, we still have the votes. If they want to continue to keep bringing this up, we'll be happy to continue to talk about it. They're not going to -- there's no way that this bill is going to pass, especially now that they've -- that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have met the obligations that they said that they would meet, which is to bring down the violence and to start to bring together political reconciliation.
As General Petraeus said yesterday, though, we have a long way to go, and the Iraqis are continuing to work together. We saw today that democracy is at work, and they are working through some of the politics there with one of the bills that passed last January. So we are hopeful, but we know that we have a lot more work to do.
Q The U.S. military conducted 19 focus groups throughout Iraq last November, and its report on those focus groups stated that Iraqis from every ethnic and sectarian group are united in the belief that the U.S. invasion is the root cause of the sectarian violence in Iraq, and that the departure of the U.S. military is the key to national reconciliation. And I wondered, has the President seen the military's report on those focus groups?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if he has. I haven't either, and I'd refer you to DOD because I don't know the accuracy of that.
Q How would you characterize the level of concern here about the specter of four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline that many analysts are now warning of, given the current trend?
MS. PERINO: Obviously, high gas prices have a huge impact on the economy, on families across America, and especially on businesses, small businesses in particular -- those especially that have transportation as a part, integral to their business, like florists or plumbers -- that those type of businesses, it really does have an impact.
So we're mindful of it. It's not a problem that was created overnight; it's not going to be solved overnight. But the President is aware of it. He's going to be getting an economic update tomorrow that will include the issues such as the high price of fuel.
The thing that we have to consider is that demand for crude oil is at -- is very high across the world, especially in developing nations like India and China. And what we have tried to do here is put forward policies that will help us find alternatives to traditional oil use, increase efficiencies, such as in raising mile-per-gallon -- miles-per-gallon standard, that the President signed in December, which was part of his 20-in-10 initiative, as well as make sure that we are doing everything we can to wring efficiencies out of our businesses, which we have been able to do over the past several years.
But in order to have economic growth, you have to have a good, strong power supply and a fuel supply. And so increasing the amount of production that we have in the United States is important, as well.
Q Most of those things that you've mentioned, short of the last one, production, are long-term things that probably would not kick in until after this President leaves office. Do you have any short-term solutions for people who are really concerned about what it would cost not only to fill up their tank, but the groceries and everything else that filters down from this?
MS. PERINO: We keep -- the President keeps a close eye on the issues of inflation, and he actually relies on Ben Bernanke at the Fed and also Treasury Secretary Paulson in order to advise him on these issues, and we know that they have an impact. One of the most important things that we can do right now is work on pro-growth policies.
One, we have a stimulus package that's going to be flooding into the economy because if we have a stronger economy, we can make sure that people are able to have a better prospect at having either more money to spend in their pockets -- because one of the things that the President recognizes is that when fuel prices go up, people still have to -- they're always going to have to pay for energy costs. They have to pay for the gas that goes in their cars in order to get back and forth to work, or back and forth to family activities, or to take the kids to ball practice, or whatever that might be.
So the President is very mindful of it. There is not a lot of short-term fixes that exist out there. We've been dealing with this for several years. The issue of high energy prices is something that was created over a long period of time, and it would be wrong of us to say that there is any silver bullet that would have a short-term solution.
Q Finally, just one more on this, Dana. When the President was in the Middle East, he asked the Saudis to consider doing something about supplies. Has there ever been any response to that, any --
MS. PERINO: In terms of from OPEC?
MS. PERINO: Well, I don't know about any of the private conversations that have gone on back and forth, but obviously, given the situation that we have today, and that the reason increase in gasoline prices is being directly linked to a supply issue in regards to crude oil, we remain concerned. And we would like to not only have exporting countries increase their output, but we would also like here, in the United States, to be able to increase production -- domestic production in environmentally friendly ways.
Q But OPEC didn't help us. OPEC declined after the President's discussion with the Saudis -- OPEC declined to raise production.
MS. PERINO: Obviously this is -- this was their decision. And the President is not going to be able to just go over there and open up the spigot. We have to work with our partners. We have to explain to them that having fulsome supplies of gasoline and crude oil is good not just for our economy, but for the world economy. And what the President heard on his trip to the Middle East is that those countries understand full well that they don't want to see a downturn in the United States economy or in Europe, for that matter.
Q So why aren't they helping us?
MS. PERINO: Kevin.
Q Dana, last night at the debate Senator Clinton talked about the release of some personal papers relating to her public appearances while she was First Lady. I understand that the National Archives folks have notified the White House of their intention to release these papers. But I'm just wondering, can you sort of give me a blow by blow of how these things sort of play out, because it seemed to me that she was suggesting that because President Bush has an opportunity to sort of go through the paperwork, that maybe that might be delaying the release of these records.
MS. PERINO: We did check on that, and we had a more fulsome response, which I won't read for you here, because it was quite long. We don't have any pending requests. We've been able to -- any requests that we've gotten we've been able to turn them around very quickly.
The process is that the White House Counsel's Office receives notification from the National Archives that it proposes to release records. We then wait for the representative for President Clinton, who is Bruce Lindsey, and he reviews those records and makes the decision as to whether or not we should release or withhold them. And if the Clinton representative approves the release of the records, we act as quickly as practical to get them out. And as I said, we don't have anything pending at the moment.
Q So no requests from them thus far?
MS. PERINO: We've been able to turn everything over -- turn everything around very quickly, and we don't have anything left. I would say to date, it says over 550,000 pages have been released in whole or in part, and we have not made a decision to object to the release of any Clinton records.
Q What do you mean, "in part"? You mean that there's redacted material?
MS. PERINO: It could be. If there's something that has to do with -- the lawyers look at it, if it has something to do with national security or something, it might be "in part."
Go ahead, Les.
Q Thank you, Dana; two questions. WorldNetDaily has reviewed Consumer Product Safety Commission reports confirming that two of every three products recalled for safety concerns during 2007 were Chinese imports. And my question, what are U.S. regulators doing to hold Chinese manufacturers to their promises of higher safety standards?
MS. PERINO: Secretary Leavitt led a group by the President and a task force in order to help address these issues. And we know that right now, up on Capitol Hill, they are about to take up a reauthorization of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. So we're working with Congress on that.
Q Thank you. When asked last night about the endorsement of him by Louis Farrakhan, Senator Obama replied that Farrakhan's anti-Semitism is, "reprehensible," and that he had not sought Farrakhan's endorsement. And my question: This statement by Senator Obama deserves White House approval, doesn't it?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment in any way on the '08 election.
Q You're going to avoid this? Won't you commend him? Don't you think he should be commended?
MS. PERINO: If you want to ask two questions, you should make sure they're two that I can answer. (Laughter.)
Q A couple of baseball questions, actually --
MS. PERINO: A baseball question --
Q I know. Well, he's got his event on the South Lawn today -- I know you were asked in the gaggle about the President's remarks, whether or not he might say something about the steroid issue.
MS. PERINO: No, this is an event for the President to celebrate the win with the Boston Red Sox.
Q And I don't know if you remember -- Chairman Waxman apparently sent a letter to Attorney General Mukasey, asking him to open an investigation into whether or not Roger Clemens committed perjury. What's your reaction to that?
MS. PERINO: I have no reaction to that. Obviously Congressman Waxman is a very prolific letter-writer, and I'll have to refer you to the Justice Department for anything on that.
Q Thank you.
END 12:59 P.M. EST