For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 9, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:42 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello, everybody. I said earlier today I would try to get you details on the logistics for tomorrow, and I have. It's quite simple -- the President will make remarks at 11:30 a.m. at the -- in the Cross Hall. We'll do expanded press pool.
Q Do you want to expand on those remarks? You said earlier today that he is pretty far down the road on his decision.
MS. PERINO: No, I don't have much to add. Obviously the President has already spoken to General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker and heard their views, and gotten the views from the State Department and also from the Joint Chiefs. He also talks to the -- to Prime Minister Maliki and others within the Iraqi government over a period of time, and I think he feels pretty comfortable with the direction he's headed in. But he's going to have a meeting this afternoon with members of Congress, as well, to hear their take on the testimony and where we are, and to give them a little preview of where he's going.
Q Will he address the issue of tour lengths in his decision?
MS. PERINO: It's going to be a range of issues that are discussed in the President's remarks tomorrow. So I'm going to decline to comment until he's had a chance to give them.
Q Do you want to talk about Speaker Pelosi's decision to put off a vote on the Colombia trade bill?
MS. PERINO: Sure, I'm happy to have a chance to respond to that. Speaker Pelosi today did something unprecedented in the history of negotiating trade deals in announcing the Democrats would change the rules in the middle of the game. Trade Promotion Authority is a tool -- many of you who have followed this matter for a -- followed trade deals for a long time know that it is something that we use to negotiate trade deals in good faith. Today's announcement shows that any sense of good faith in our process of negotiating trade has evaporated.
We think this is an awful precedent. We think it's a terrible thing for this administration, but it's also terrible for all future administrations, both Republicans and Democrats, because countries will not be able to have faith in our word when we're negotiating trade deals.
We worked tirelessly to work with members of Congress on this trade bill, and we did it according to the rules. We achieved a bipartisan agreement with Speaker Pelosi last May -- May 10, 2007 -- to reopen trade agreements to address labor and environmental standards that she was concerned about. Those concerns were addressed by us. We held over 400 consultations with members of Congress. We provided draft implementing legislation in advance. We even shuttled members of Congress to see for themselves the progress in Colombia. We went over and beyond the requirements of Trade Promotion Authority to try to get this done.
Trade Promotion Authority also has requirements for Congress, and that is that at the end of a 90-day period, 90-day -- legislative days -- that there be a vote. It is clear that there are many in the Democratic Party who would like to kill this deal, and they want to do so without having to have their fingerprints on it, and they want to do it in a way where they don't have to take a vote. And we think that it is extremely unfortunate, and you can bet that President Bush is going to bring this up at 3:00 p.m. when he sees the leaders.
Q Dana, picking back up on the speech again tomorrow, will the President be addressing sort of the bigger-picture questions that were talked a little bit about in the hearings yesterday? Senator Warner raised a question: Are we safer? Is America safer because of this? And Senator Hagel raised some questions about where is the diplomatic surge. Will the President address the nation and those kinds of questions tomorrow?
MS. PERINO: Sure, those are issues, when the President talks about Iraq, that he addresses every time he has a chance to talk about it. And so the speech is broad and it covers a range of issues. I don't anticipate it will be any longer than about 12 minutes, 12 to 15 minutes. And he will touch on those things. But he touches on those in the speeches that he gives anytime he has a chance to talk about Iraq.
Q But those two Republican Senators really seem to be at a loss for understanding progress in Iraq.
MS. PERINO: With all the testimony -- I didn't see the questioning in between those two Senators, but I do think that Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus have done a very good job of providing their very candid and frank assessment about the progress that has been made because of the surge, and the challenges that lie ahead. And one of the things that General Petraeus said is that the gains we've made are fragile and they're reversible. And that's why he has made the recommendation that he has made, that everyone got to hear yesterday. And then you'll hear from the President tomorrow.
Q You said earlier today that it was not possible for the President to pull out of Iraq before he leaves office. And it was so easy for him to go in five years ago; why can't he pull out now?
MS. PERINO: I don't think any of that was easy -- not the decision and not -- and certainly none of the logistics, and especially everything that weighs heavy on him and obviously the families of the loved ones -- their loved ones who have died in this fight. But what I was saying, Helen, is that it is, one, the President thinks that it's way premature to pull out troops now. One, it's dangerous for our own national security, but also for the innocent Iraqis who are there --
Q Why is it dangerous for our national security? Are the Iraqis a threat to us?
MS. PERINO: Helen, in case you missed it, Osama bin Laden has said that he would like to establish al Qaeda's roots in the Arab world. He has looked to Iraq for that place, and we have thwarted that. We have denied them safe haven -- but they almost got it. They were on their way. They were very aggressive in 2006, and stoking sectarian violence and terrible deaths of innocent people. And the surge was a lot more than just sending additional troops in. It was a change in strategy in many different respects; not just in how we dealt with population protection, but also the provincial reconstruction teams. And the President will talk about them tomorrow, as well, and all the good work that they've done. And obviously they've done a very good job because the -- both Afghanistan governors as well as the government of Iraq has asked for more of that work, where we help with medical issues and economic development and political development and reconciliation.
This is hard work. We are making it -- we are achieving some things. And it's one by one, and those things are building on themselves, but we're not going to be able to pull out immediately. That is just not something that President Bush would do.
Q There are reports that the Fed is considering new steps to address liquidity problems in the financial markets if what they've done so far doesn't take hold. Is the administration involved in that? Are there any steps by the administration --
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware. I think that -- obviously we are kept apprised of developments, but the President has full confidence in Chairman Bernanke and the decisions he's made, but I have not heard that specifically, what you just said.
Q Dana, I was wondering, first of all -- and I have a second question -- do you have any further detail on Petraeus and Crocker coming to the White House tomorrow for breakfast? Will they be there for the remarks?
MS. PERINO: I wasn't able to confirm that. I will check for you, I'm sorry.
Q And then on Colombia. So where does this leave the Colombia free trade deal? Is it officially dead? Is there anything more the White House can do? And what do you see is the impact now on U.S.-Colombian trade, and also on relations with the region?
MS. PERINO: Well, one of the reasons that we're so concerned about this deal with Colombia is because of all that it says, not just about the -- leveling the playing field for our products going into Colombia, but because of the national security matters. We have an ally there in South America. We have negotiated in good faith a trade deal with them. And I think that if you look to people who are against this deal, they don't make the case that it's not important for our national security, because that argument would be very flimsy. They also don't make the case that it would be bad for our workers, because right now, almost all of the products coming into our country from Colombia come in without tariffs. But that is not true for our products that we're trying to sell to Colombia. And that's all we're trying to do with this Colombia free trade agreement.
So we are very concerned. I think that people need to also look to what President Uribe has been able to do in the past seven years. A few numbers: Kidnappings in Colombia since he took office are down by 83 percent; homicides are down by 40 percent; terrorist attacks down 76 percent since 2002. They've had record economic growth. They had 6.8 percent economic growth in 2007 -- that's the highest in eight years. Public school enrollment has increased to 92 percent. Poverty has decreased by almost 20 percent, reaching record low levels, and unemployment is at its lowest level in a decade.
And in addition, for those who are concerned about the trade unionists in Colombia, homicides of trade unionists have fallen by 80 percent since 2002. People are much safer today in Colombia because of President Uribe. And the President has worked with him on a variety of matters. And one of them has been on trade.
And we are very concerned -- I will say that -- obviously the deal is not dead yet, because there's been no votes taken, but we are very concerned about the signal that Speaker Pelosi gave today, because we think it's not just bad for this administration, but for all future administrations, because the U.S. Trade Representative, under Trade Promotion Authority, is given empowerment -- is empowered to negotiate on behalf of the United States. And what country, after this action, will look to the Trade Representative -- be it Sue Schwab, our Trade Representative, or whoever it is in the future -- and think that they'll be able to count on their word? It's very, very troubling.
Q Dana, Speaker Pelosi says that if she were to bring that to a vote right now it would fail. Would you prefer that it fail or that it's delayed?
MS. PERINO: Let's have that vote then. Let's have that opportunity and let's put people on the record -- because I think there are a lot of people up there, a lot of Democrats who don't want to have this bill -- this trade deal go through. They don't want to have their fingerprints on killing it either.
Q So you would prefer that to negotiating some more on the Trade Adjustment --
MS. PERINO: Well, let's be honest about it. We think that we could get it to a position where it could pass; sure we do. But the fact that they don't even want to have a vote should maybe tell you something, because maybe she's not so confident of the votes that they say that they have.
Q But she's suggesting the way to get it passed is to continue to negotiate on the --
MS. PERINO: We have negotiated. We have negotiated and we have addressed her concerns about -- on labor matters, on environmental standards. Go back and look at coverage from May of 2007, where many people were very surprised at how we compromised and all the concessions that we made on matters in order to deal with that. And in addition to that, we've said that we will continue to work with them on Trade Adjustment Assistance, for workers here who are concerned about losing their job, and what that means to them in terms of worker retraining.
We have bent over backwards to make this happen. I think that it will be interesting to see how the President deals with that today.
Q A follow on that?
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q You sound a little angry. Is the White House angry?
MS. PERINO: I think we're pretty fired up about it. Look, it is the right thing to do. The free trade agreement with Colombia is the right thing to do, and they know it. And that's why they don't want to have to take a vote on it, because their special interests are pressuring them not to let this deal go through.
Q Dana, can I follow?
Q What are the special interests?
MS. PERINO: The unions.
MS. PERINO: The unions.
Q Isn't it true, though, that if a vote were taken after the election, once the political pressure is off, that the deal would have a better chance of passing?
MS. PERINO: Does anyone really think that they're going to call for a vote after that? I really doubt it.
Q Well, what if they set the rules up so that -- change the rules so they had to --
MS. PERINO: We'll look at whatever sort of rules they want to come up with, but we have rules -- it's called Trade Promotion Authority. It's in the statute. There are requirements for the executive branch and requirements for the legislative branch. This is a law that has been long in practice and I don't see any need to change the rules. They should go ahead and move forward in good faith, not change the rules in the middle of the game, and let us have this vote.
Q Okay. But also, you don't deny that technically they have the right to do what they're doing, do you?
MS. PERINO: No.
Q No, you don't deny that they have that -- they do have that right, in other words, correct?
MS. PERINO: As far as I know, they have the right to do it, but it's not the right thing to do.
Q Is the President going to say anything directly about this today?
MS. PERINO: To you all? I don't think so. I'm channeling him. (Laughter.)
Q Dana, in an interview with EWTN, the President was asked specifically, "You are now planning on going to the Olympics, to be at the Opening Ceremonies at the Olympics. How can you in good conscience go to that ceremony, Mr. President?" He answered, "Because I -- I'm going to the Olympics, for starters, and my plans aren't -- haven't changed." Dana, is he going to the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games?
MS. PERINO: I would just leave it as the how the President stated it. We haven't announced the President's schedule.
Q So you can't say right now whether he's going to the Opening Ceremonies or not?
MS. PERINO: I cannot.
Q You can only say that he is going to the Olympics?
MS. PERINO: Yes, but I'm not trying to signal anything by saying that -- I don't have the President's schedule. It is way too far in advance for us to announce the President's schedule.
Q Nancy Pelosi said today that -- about the Opening Ceremonies and the party -- that she hopes the White House realizes there's not a party going on in Tibet, saying that you shouldn't go to the Opening Ceremonies.
MS. PERINO: Well, maybe she should check out what the President just said on camera about pressuring China, both publically and privately, before, during and after the Olympics. He just said it, just now in the meeting with the Senior Minister from Singapore, in which they spent a lot of time talking about China and human rights and Tibet. And particularly -- in particular, the President said that China would be in good stead if it would just reopen the dialogue that it had with the Dalai Lama or the Dalai Lama's representatives.
Q One last thing. For people who are reading between the lines here that you're not being -- able to be pinned down on this, is it possible that the President could go to the Olympics but not go to the Opening Ceremonies?
MS. PERINO: I'll refer you to my first answer. (Laughter.)
Q But this is different, Dana. If we asked you this question a couple of weeks ago or a couple of months ago, you would have said he's going to the Opening Ceremonies. Does this suggest --
MS. PERINO: That's not true. Did you ask me that? Did I say that?
Q I think it's been pretty clear that he was planning on going.
MS. PERINO: No. He said he was going to the Olympics. We have not given out the President's schedule. And even before -- I've not given out any details about the President's schedule when it comes to Olympics. So it's wrong to say that I have changed my story.
Q Since this issue has become -- sort of moved to the forefront here, is there any reexamination, recalibration, or rethinking of the dynamics that would have the President at the Opening Ceremonies?
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware.
Q Dana, what sports -- what Olympic sports might the President be most interested in, and might his journey center around those?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. He's a sports fan, he likes it all.
Q Is it true he's going to the shot-put? (Laughter.) You won't discuss that, will you?
MS. PERINO: I don't have any details on his schedule. It's premature for me to -- Peter.
Q Back on Iraq, you mentioned earlier that the President is already at work on some issues that would pertain to the transition to his successor.
MS. PERINO: Sure.
Q Two questions. What is he doing along those lines? And will that kind of reassurance be part of the tone of the speech tomorrow?
MS. PERINO: Well, one of the things that we've been working with the Iraqis on is the overall framework agreement for our forces to be able to operate legally in Iraq. Come December, the U.N. mandate expires. And so we've been working with the Iraqis, as well as the Congress, and they've been getting updates, and they got one yesterday from Ambassador Crocker. And those negotiations are underway with the Iraqi government.
But in addition to that, we also have, through the Declaration of Principles, working with Iraqis on an agreement where we would continue to help them on the economic development, the diplomatic tracks, the cultural and scientific spheres, and several of the non-military areas as well. So the President not only is working on the legal framework, but also on how to make sure that the gains that they've made can take hold, root themselves so that there's a good base of foundation.
Now, in many ways Iraq is going to be -- is going to come back faster than Afghanistan. Afghanistan is where -- from where Afghanistan started, if you compare the two, Iraq and Afghanistan, the differences are quite stark. And Iraq is starting to spend many more -- much more money on their own reconstruction. Just yesterday I said that they had decided to pledge $350 million to three of the areas that had been beset by violence most recently, but not just to help with reconstruction, but also jobs programs and housing programs. And those are things that we can continue to help them on through the provincial reconstruction teams as well.
Q Was this idea of transition work going to be part of the tone of the speech tomorrow?
MS. PERINO: No. No. The point that I made earlier today is that the President is looking to make sure that we have enough troops in the area to do the job that needs to be done, and that we are working on the other tracks as well -- economic, diplomatic and political -- to make sure that the next President, whoever it is, has a good foundation from which to start.
Q How far can those other tracks go, as long as the kind of violence that's been --
MS. PERINO: I think that you can just look to Ambassador Crocker's testimony in that they've been able to move forward on many of the different laws that they've been working on and they have the revenues -- they're starting to get the revenue stream now that can allow them to do even more. But the security portion of it is critical if we are going to continue those gains.
Q I understand you do not intend to submit the agreement to Congress -- the agreement with the Iraqis.
MS. PERINO: We have said that we will continue to work with Congress, brief them on it fully -- that's what Ambassador Crocker said he would do. It's not --
Q But not to let --
MS. PERINO: -- an executive agreement like this isn't something that is subject to a yes or no vote by the United States Senate. Other countries, under their constitutions, may have that type of rule, but we don't. But that doesn't mean we're not going to work very closely with Congress.
Q -- to make an end run around the authorization --
MS. PERINO: No it's not, Helen.
Q -- that expired, didn't it?
MS. PERINO: No it's not, Helen. No.
Q Well, why can't you submit it to Congress?
MS. PERINO: I just explained why.
Q Dana, did the President know about the Myanmar referendum date when he spoke out in the Oval Office, do you know?
MS. PERINO: I don't know.
Q Okay. And also, yesterday Ambassador Crocker said he thought al Qaeda on the border of Afghanistan-Pakistan was a greater threat to U.S. national security than al Qaeda in Iraq. Does the President agree with that, and does that have any bearing on the debate about resource allocation?
MS. PERINO: The President is concerned about both, but I have not heard him describe it as prioritizing one or the other. Al Qaeda is dangerous, full stop.
Q Has Ambassador Khalilizad discussed with the White House his plans to leave his U.N. post?
MS. PERINO: I saw the reports about that. I know that the United Nations spokesperson is saying that he has no immediate plans to resign. And beyond that, I don't have any other information. I just saw that before I came in because I was in the Singapore meeting.
Q If the stimulus sneaks its way into the meeting today with all the other topics, has the President's opinion changed on the need for any other stimulus II-type legislation before May, before the rebates checks go --
MS. PERINO: At the moment, no. I think the President feels strongly that we should allow the first stimulus package to move ahead, and that means direct deposits the first week of May, checks going out in the mail the second week of May, for a total of $160 billion with the stimulus package. Part of that also is the small business provision that he most recently talked about when he went out to that event in Sterling, Virginia.
So he thinks that we needed the stimulus package, we need to let it work. But we'll continue to talk to Congress. And he told Speaker Pelosi yesterday that he would listen to her today.
Q Does the White House have any reaction to the fact that U.S. counterterrorism officials are confirming that senior al Qaeda commander Abu al-Masri, who was believed to have helped plan the 2005 subway bombing attacks in London and then the 2006 plan to blow up planes coming from the U.S. to Canada -- he died apparently a few months ago in Pakistan?
MS. PERINO: I saw the reports, and, no, I don't have any comment on it.
Q Dana, thank you. Two questions. First, since the Bush administration submitted a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court asking for the overturning of the death penalty of Jose Medellin, who confessed in 1993 to the rape and murder --
MS. PERINO: I'm aware.
Q -- of two teenage girls in Houston, does the President believe that former New Jersey police officer Scott Loper, who was jailed in Canada for four years without being allowed access to U.S. counselor services, deserves the same Bush support as Medellin.
MS. PERINO: I'm not aware of that case.
Q Is the President concerned that when Mr. Loper was imprisoned by Canadians, his son Eddie, now 11, disappeared and has yet to be found?
MS. PERINO: I just don't have any information for you. I'd refer you to the Justice Department.
MS. PERINO: Yes, Goyal.
Q Two quick questions, thank you. One humanitarian question. As far as United States is concerned, it's a land of immigrants and has been -- always welcomed people from around the globe. And now in Virginia, illegal immigrants are a big target and they have run out of freedom spaces, and asking the federal government and the President to give more freedom spaces for those people. My question is that you know the President's position has been very clear. He wanted a comprehensive immigration reform proposal that included a temporary worker program that would help both small businesses and immigrants who are trying to come into our country temporarily to work. And we were not successful in getting that done with Congress. We don't think that they'll take it up this year either.
Q Thank you.
END 1:03 P.M. EDT