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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 6, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:34 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Hello. Just a few -- couple of announcements for you. Today USA Freedom Corps launched the Financial Literacy Volunteer Initiative, to mobilize volunteers who can help homeowners improve their financial literacy and avoid foreclosure in the wake of America's transitioning housing market. The new initiative provides tools and resources for Americans who are interested in sharing their financial services, nonprofits in need of skilled volunteers, and homeowners who are seeking financial guidance. And more information can be found at their website, at volunteer.gov
Also this morning, the President met with a visiting group of Shia councilmen from Sadr City and a Sunni Arab group of Adhamiyah city councilmen here as part of a State Department international visitor leadership program. This 10-person delegation is from two of Baghdad's most prominent suburbs. This group is here in the United States to meet with local and federal officials, and to see how our democracy works. They have visited Oklahoma City and Denver, and now they're in Washington, D.C.
The President asked them about what they've seen so far, the diversity of America, and how people from different backgrounds and competing interests are working together. He told them he appreciates their hard work in serving the people of Iraq, and expressed his hope that they will take home with them some of what they have seen and learned here, and share it with the rest of the Iraqi people.
We also continue to watch the situation in northern Iraq. As we have said before, the PKK is a common enemy. We have been strongly supporting Turkey in its efforts to combat the PKK. We have encouraged dialogue and coordination between the United States, Turkey and Iraq, but we have not and we will not negotiate or hold talks with the PKK, nor do we expect Turkey to do so.
We are encouraged by the continued diplomatic discussion that is ongoing between Turkey and Iraq, between the governments of Iraq and Turkey; that they continue to try to reach -- try to strengthen their ties, as well as to work together to beat back the PKK.
And finally, on March 1, 2003, five years ago, this nation undertook the largest reorganization of our government in more than half a century, with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. The good people of DHS work hard every day to protect our nation from the threats that we face, and the President will commemorate their hard work and successes when he speaks to DHS employees at DAR Constitution Hall at 1:15 p.m. today, in about 45 minutes.
Q Could I ask you about the housing market? Home foreclosures soared to an all-time high in the final quarter of last year, and separately the Federal Reserve said Americans' percentage of equity in their homes has fallen below 50 percent for the first time since 1945. What's the White House reaction to this continuing bad news, and do you see it getting worse or getting better?
MS. PERINO: Well, we're right in the middle of it right now, and so we're taking action to see how we can help homeowners who are in this situation. I would point to -- point out to you Secretary Paulson's comments from earlier in the week, in which he recognized that there are still 93 percent of American homeowners who are doing okay, meeting their payments. But there is a concern that there is a large amount of people who are facing foreclosure.
We do not believe that the American taxpayer should be bailing out lenders or borrowers, but what we do believe is that we can help try to bring them together so that they can work on renegotiating these loans where possible, so that people can stay in their communities and in their homes, and that we can mitigate against people, one, losing their shelter, but also really harming neighborhoods, which depend on homeowners for a lot of the services.
So we are going to continue to work on that. And another thing that we can do is try to help people who are in a situation where they might need a little help on -- in terms of financial literacy, which is one of the things I just announced today. So we continue to work on those things, as well as ask Congress to finally try to move forward on Federal Housing Administration reform.
Q In addition to those numbers, the delinquency rate for mortgages is also at an all-time high. The Chairman of the Federal Reserve says that more can and should be done. So is there something more that the government can do to alleviate this problem?
MS. PERINO: Well, we are constantly looking at ways that we can help. And that's what Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke, as well as Secretary Jackson at HUD continues to look at. We have a shared interest, all of us in America, to make sure that we can avoid foreclosures where possible. There are going to be some people who are not able to afford their loan, and foreclosure might be the only option to them. But we would hope that it is a last resort. And that's why we can try to work with the private sector to try to bring them along.
At the same time, we call on Congress to take up this legislation. We do think they would be able to insure more mortgages if this legislation were to be able to get a vote on the Senate or the House floor.
Q What about people who are already in trouble? Is there more that the government could do?
MS. PERINO: That's one of the things that just, I think it was last week or 10 days ago, that Secretary Paulson announced through this private sector initiative, Project Lifeline. This is for people who are specifically and already in arrears on their loans. And they can call them, and we encourage them to. HOPE NOW is the program. They have a toll-free number; I can't remember if it's 1-800 or 1-888, so I won't make the same mistake that was made a few months ago.
Q Presumably, the Chairman of the Fed understood that when he said that there was -- more can and should be done.
MS. PERINO: Well, and I don't have anything to announce for you today as to what those things might be, but I will tell you that we continue to look at it and try to figure out the best ways that we can help America as a whole -- not just lenders, and not just borrowers, but everybody, since we have a shared interest in making sure we can mitigate against this problem.
Q Does the President realize he's going to further tarnish our image for humanity if he vetoes a ban on torture?
MS. PERINO: That's not what he's suggesting, Helen. You're talking about the Senate -- the intelligence authorization bill?
Q Isn't he supposed to veto the ban this week, or so?
MS. PERINO: Helen -- well, he is going to veto a bill, but it's not the bill in which you describe. The bill that he is going to veto is the intelligence authorization bill. We've had a statement of administration position that has been out for a long time. There are many different reasons he's going to veto it. One of the main ones is that it would apply the Army Field Manual, which is very good guidance for young soldiers who are out on the field who might capture somebody out on the battlefield, but it is not something that should apply to a terrorist interrogation program that is run by the CIA.
Q Why? It's torture, isn't it?
MS. PERINO: It isn't -- no, we are not torturing, and that is not what the bill says.
Q Well, it would ban --
MS. PERINO: Torture is already illegal.
Q -- he is vetoing a ban on torture, isn't he?
MS. PERINO: Torture is already illegal in this country, and the President has already signed a bill reiterating that fact. The simple point of this bill is that the Army Field Manual -- the President does not believe, nor does the intelligence community -- I'd point you to General Hayden and others who say that it should not --
Q The military certainly believes in it.
MS. PERINO: It is appropriate for the military to have the Army Field Manual as its guidelines. But we do not believe that it should apply to the Central Intelligence Agency.
Q Why? Are they human beings? Are we humane people?
MS. PERINO: We are humane people. We have a terrorist interrogation program that helps make sure that we keep this country safe. We do not torture. But what I will tell you is that you will hear more about this this weekend. The President's radio address will be on this issue.
I'm going to go to David, I'll come back.
Q There was a lot of concern voiced on Capitol Hill yesterday about the contract that the Air Force has agreed to enter into for refueling tankers. Should Boeing get another shot? Should the Air Force proceed with the contract at this point? Boeing feels like it was -- the rules were changed as they were going downstream here. Does the President believe that it makes sense to offshore jobs to Europe as the country teeters or is in recession?
MS. PERINO: I know there's a lot of interest in this topic across America, and in fact, indeed, the world. But in regards to it, I have to refer you over to the Pentagon, because those decisions were not made over here, and it's not appropriate to talk about it from this podium.
Q I guess what I'm asking, though, is, should Boeing get another shot?
MS. PERINO: That's going to be a question that other people are going to have to answer, because that decision doesn't rest here.
Q You mean the President couldn't decide to do so? Come on, I mean, if the President said, let's reconsider this, don't you think somebody would?
MS. PERINO: Maybe they would. I don't know what the laws are, Bill. I know that this decision was not made at the White House. The questions regarding this decision are not appropriately asked here. I understand that there's interest in it, but we're not going to be able to answer them from here.
Q Again on the economy. Oil hit a new high today, $106. What is the President -- can the President do about this, because when he -- during the Mideast trip he tried to pressure OPEC; they obviously didn't listen to him on the output. Is there anything else that he can do?
MS. PERINO: There are things that we can do that will have an impact over the long term, but not necessarily in the short term; the President has been very explicit about that. It would be wrong for us to say that we could do something in the short term, because the reality is there is no short-term solution to this problem.
Q But he tried to do something in the short-term, he tried to pressure OPEC, and it didn't work.
MS. PERINO: He did try to encourage, but if OPEC has decided that they are not going to increase output, there's not a lot that the President can do. We don't control their decisions. What we can do here is continue to try to do several different things, which is increase -- improve technologies, so that we can have better efficiency, and also so that we can use alternative and renewable fuels. The President just spoke about that as recently as yesterday, the need to diversify our supply, and also to have more exploration and production here domestically in environmentally friendly ways.
But it would be wrong for any politician to suggest that there's something in the short term that they can do to alleviate the problem of very high global demand and tight supply.
Q I don't know if you're aware of this, but Congresswoman Nita Lowey this morning said she's put a hold on funding for the Palestinian Authority until it provides certification about transparency and clarifies statements made by President Mahmoud Abbas that Palestinians may have to return to armed conflict with Israel. What's the White House reaction to the hold on that --
MS. PERINO: I'm not familiar with the --
Q -- $150 million for the Palestinians?
MS. PERINO: I'm not familiar with it. I'll take a look at it. I know one of the things Secretary Rice has been talking about there was a message that she's taking from the -- delivering from the President, which is that we are very concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and we are trying to help make sure that they can have the food, water, medical supplies and other such necessities that they need. And so we'll take a look at her announcement, but I -- this is the first I've heard of it.
Go ahead, Bret.
Q Dana, what are the prospects for the Protect America Act, from the White House point of view?
MS. PERINO: Well, what's interesting is I actually have a slide, I can actually bring up now that you've asked. It was almost 21 days ago -- (laughter.)
Q First day back. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: We've been waiting to use this for a couple of days. (Laughter.) If you remember, it was about four weeks ago, everyone in this briefing room was asking why President Bush wouldn't accept a three-week extension, and everyone thought it would be very reasonable to just give them 21 more days to work. Well, we're nearing -- I think we're at 20 days today, and they're not even near --
Q I think that statement was the House Majority Leader, by the way.
MS. PERINO: He is. It is a bad slide.
Q That says Senate.
MS. PERINO: I know, and it's the House. That's why it's bad. So I will take Pete Seat and I will get him -- (laughter) -- in a lot of trouble. His mother will not be happy. (Laughter.)
But the point of the matter is, they said they needed three more weeks. It's been nearly three weeks, and they haven't done it. And so -- they're nowhere near where they were, I don't think, except it was interesting last week when Chairman Reyes said on Sunday morning that he thought that they were closer. We were hoping this week that there would be a vote, and now it appears that they're going to kick it to maybe next week.
So they wouldn't have met their three week deadline anyway, so what we would encourage them to do is to look at the fact that they have right in front of them the solution -- a bipartisan bill that passed the Senate 68-29. It is -- it would garner a majority of the votes in the House, so we could get this done very easily. We've spent countless hours up there. We have many lawyers and policy folks who have been made available to members of Congress and their staffs in order to try to answer any questions that they have. And right now, I think that we're at a little bit of an impasse. But we were hopeful, given that Chairman Reyes said that they were closer.
Q Back on energy for a minute. You said that there's nothing in the short term that could be done. There have been a couple of energy analysts who have said that a nationwide conservation effort, people pulling back on driving, would do a lot to increase the supply. Has there been anything like that ever contemplated here?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that the market in a way is doing that for us. We've seen people actually decreasing their use of fuel, and that can help a little bit, in terms of supply issues here in America. But one of the things that we're facing is increased global demand. And a lot of the product that would be coming to America, now there's competition for that, and there is buyers that exist all over, especially in China and India, as their economies continue to grow.
Everyone in America knows that they can take steps, and actually, the Energy Department has a great website where they list different things that people can do in order to conserve energy. We know how to do some of that here. But also, people still need to get to work, and they need to get -- to take their kids to school and to band practice and to do all the things that they do to live. It's also important -- transportation is very important to our economy, and the last thing that we need to do is try to cause anything that would further exacerbate the slowdown that we are experiencing right now.
Q So are you saying that, like, a presidential call for conservation would do that?
MS. PERINO: The President does encourage people to conserve, and that's why he's encouraged the Energy Department to get out the word for how everybody can take individual action, as a family or as a business, to take action on it. But if you're asking me if it was something more formal, in terms of a mandate, he would not support that.
I'm going to go to John real quick, and I'll come back. Go ahead, John.
Q Thank you, Dana. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher has made a serious charge against the administration. He pointed out that Ramsey Yousef, who was a top lieutenant of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of 9/11, is in federal prison. He has pretty substantial material suggesting that Mr. Yousef was also involved in the Oklahoma City bombing. Yet he's repeatedly been thwarted in trying to interview him. Now, as I understand the law, and as Congressman Rohrabacher said, a member of Congress can interview any federal prisoner. He said that the White House Counsel's Office, the Justice Department, has continually thwarted him on this. Your response.
MS. PERINO: I'm completely unfamiliar with the matter of what you're talking about, so I will check into it.
Q Will you?
MS. PERINO: Yes.
MS. PERINO: Mark.
Q Yes, Cuba, tomorrow, on the President -- he's meeting with these families, and speaking afterward. A couple of weeks ago he called for the beginning of a democratic transition in Cuba. Has he seen any sign of anything like that?
MS. PERINO: No, in fact, the President continues to be disappointed that the people of Cuba aren't being given the chance for a free and prosperous life. And he will continue to meet with the families of political prisoners in Cuba. It affects him deeply. I think you saw, when he was here at the press conference last week, he feels very passionately about these people and it weighs on him that there's so much sadness, when that island, just 90 miles to the south of the United States, could be such a thriving place if just given a chance to have democracy.
Q And those who say that the beginning of a democratic transition might be encouraged by lifting the American embargo?
MS. PERINO: The President spoke to that last week, and he said that one of the things that he will not do is lift an embargo so that people who are the elites in Cuba, who are repressing everybody else, would benefit from that, and that the people who are the workers in the country would continue to be repressed. And the President just cannot accept that.
Remember, this embargo, it's not the President's policy, it's longstanding United States policy that the President has continued.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. The first: The state of Massachusetts has begun fining residents who, for whatever reason, failed to purchase health insurance, with fines as high as $912 a year. My question: What does the President believe this will do to people with too little money, and health care and insurance that costs too much for them?
MS. PERINO: That's a -- I don't know if those facts are accurate. Obviously it's something that all of these states are going to have to take into consideration as they move forward to deal with health care. The President has health care policies that he would like to see acted on by Congress that try to use the market in order to drive down prices. And so I think I'll have to just refer you to the state on that.
Q There has been extensive media coverage of Senator Obama's statement in Nelsonville, Ohio, on Sunday: "I don't think same-sex unions should be called marriage, but I think it is a legal right that they should have. If people find that controversial, then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans." And my question: Has the President, as an active Christian, been able to find where in the Sermon on the Mount there is any justification for same-sex unions? And does he consider --
MS. PERINO: Lester, stop --
Q -- anything in the Epistles to the Romans to be obscure?
MS. PERINO: I am not going to comment on '08 politics. I welcome your questions in the briefing room, but I'm not going to comment on '08 politics, and I'm not going to comment on that.
Q But --
MS. PERINO: Go ahead, David.
Q I don't want to sound like a one-issue guy here, but one thing on the Boeing deal. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Okay. I wasn't clear before?
Q The United States has gone to WTO because of subsidies given to Airbus and competing unfairly with Boeing, and it's in front of the WTO right now, and yet the Air Force is doing a deal with the parent company of Airbus; in essence, some on the Hill believe, funding the subsidies that are hurting American manufacturers. And the Trade Rep on the Hill said that this decision by the Air Force will make it more difficult to prosecute that WTO claim by the United States. Does it make sense to be doing -- hurting your own case in front of WTO?
MS. PERINO: I can -- I see why you asked the question, and I didn't see Sue Schwab's comments, our Trade Representative. But I really do not have anything for you at this time on this. I will double-check to see if there's anything more that we can say about this.
Q It's a broader question -- it's a broader question about --
MS. PERINO: I have not commented on -- to date, and I don't that I will.
Q Dana, one more?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'll just go to Kevin. Go ahead.
Q On foreclosures, if I could follow up just real briefly. If there is just two things you want people to understand about this circumstance, if you're giving them advice, people who are very concerned about losing their homes, they've been reading the headlines -- what two pieces of advice can you give them?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think one of the most important things that they can do if they think that they're going to be facing trouble is to go to this HOPE NOW alliance, which has been able to help over a million people just since it's started last fall. And in addition to that, if they need other help -- obviously this volunteer initiative can help -- but they should get in touch with their lender.
Q But you know it's a very emotional issue. How concerned is the President about people -- they're reaching out, they're begging for help here.
MS. PERINO: And that's why the President has encouraged all of this activity by his Cabinet Secretaries. So he understands that it's traumatizing for people who are at risk of losing their home, and that's why he wants them to have access to tools that will help them renegotiate, so that they can figure out how to make their payments and continue to live in their neighborhood.
Q Dana --
MS. PERINO: Last one for Bret. Go ahead.
Q Last one on FISA, minus the slide. (Laughter.) The House Speaker said there are fundamental problems with the Senate bill this morning, and she said one of them is the exclusivity. And she said, "The President believes he has inherent authority in the Constitution, and that is wrong. No President, Democrat or Republican, should have that authority. It is unconstitutional in my view." This is to collect intelligence other than through the FISA law.
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that there are laws on the books that would suggest otherwise. She likes to play this one note, saying that the President doesn't understand that there are -- is more than one branch of government. The President fully understands that, and that is why we have spent hundreds of hours up on Capitol Hill trying to work with them on this. Sixty-eight members of the United States Senate, a huge bipartisan majority, agree that this is the bill that we need in order to help protect the country. And the President is going to continue to push for it.
Q Thank you.
END 12:56 P.M. EST