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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 16, 2008

Press Gaggle by Dana Perino and Ed Gillespie, Counselor to the President
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

1:35 P.M. (Local)

MS. PERINO: Hi, everybody. I think Ed is going to join me in just a minute.

Q Who is?

MS. PERINO: Ed Gillespie. A couple of things that are -- obviously we're on our way to Riyadh. You all know that, and you have the schedule. You also should have the fact sheet that we put out regarding the several different areas of agreements that we're signing with Saudi today. The visit will commemorate our 75th year of friendship. We have a good relationship with the Saudis, and then so you'll see that: in terms of security initiatives, Proliferation Security Initiative, the nuclear cooperation and critical infrastructure projects.

In addition to that, two things. Mrs. Bush today will be going to follow up on something she did back in October, on her visit here. She's going to visit with breast cancer patients at King Fahd Medical City. I'll ask the First Lady's office to get in touch with you with details, but I believe they've seen a significant number of women who have come in for screenings since her visit back in October.* So that was a good outcome. And also then tomorrow, Mrs. Bush will go on a tour of coral reef and ocean conservation efforts made by the joint efforts of the Egyptian government, the United States, and NGOs, as well as others. So that will be tomorrow at 2:20 p.m. So there's two options for you there on Mrs. Bush.

One thing that has nothing to do with our trip to Saudi today, but I have to get it out there on the schedule. A few weeks ago I announced that President Bush will host the tee ball games, three of them this summer, on the South Lawn. The first one is going to be held on June 30th, and it will celebrate the contributions of Hispanic Americans to the sport of baseball. Second game will be on July 16th, and will bring together players from each of the 50 states and D.C. for an all star tee ball game. And during this game, the United States Postal Service will issue a commemorative stamp honoring the 100th anniversary of the classic baseball tune --

Q Take me out to the ball game --

MS. PERINO: -- take me out to the ball game. The first day of the issuing ceremony will take place between innings. And then the third and final tee ball game of the year will be held later in the summer, with children from each branch of the military. This game will be an opportunity for the President to honor families in the armed services.

Also, just to point out today, as you know, there's the FHASecure. This is the President's administrative effort to help people avoid foreclosure. They have had an increase over the past several months, so that now we can announce that today they've helped 200,000 homeowners. And that project will continue -- that program will continue to try to help all that we can.

With Ed join me here -- I don't think I have anything else yet on this. But there's going to be -- we'll try to bring Hadley, if I can, if their schedules allow, after their meeting in Saudi, so that you'll have an opportunity to talk to him after that.


Q Is Secretary Rice going to have any kind of a press conference in Saudi?

MS. PERINO: I don't believe so. I know that there's always --

Q There's a rumor about that.

MS. PERINO: I think there was a rumor that was not substantiated --

Q Is there a press conference?

MS. PERINO: -- that Secretary Rice was having a press conference.

Q Dana, can you just talk about some of these agreements? And obviously the price of oil is very much on Americans' minds. So can you tell us or relate some of these agreements to that? Is there a relation? Is this something that's going to help, perhaps, eventually lower prices?

MS. PERINO: I think let's let the meeting take place, and let the ceremony take place, and when we come back after the meeting, we can talk a little bit more about it. But obviously our relationship with the Saudis is broad on a number of levels. But you can see for yourself, from the descriptions there, that there are things there that will, one, help encourage better infrastructure -- critical infrastructure protection.

But in addition to that, help on the counterterrorism points, such as the Proliferation Security Initiative, which is really important for us to have Saudi involved in that initiative, because it's been successful so far, and the more nations that join it, the better it's going to be. So we'll get you more after that meeting.

Q And what is President Bush going to -- be his sort of opening point on oil discussions with the King?

MS. PERINO: I have said this repeatedly to all of you, that -- a couple of things. Clearly, the price of gas is too high for Americans, and it's causing a hardship for many families of low income. But it also is not allowing our economy to grow as strong as it could. We have had sluggish growth. With lower oil prices, we could certainly have better growth. One of the best ways to have lower prices is if there was a better calibration between the laws of supply and demand. We have little -- not enough supply, and too high demand. Trying to get more supply out there is good for everyone.

And one of the things that we need to do in America is become more self-sufficient, so we can take care of our own -- take care of ourselves more. Thankfully, our partner, in Canada, is our largest oil importer, but we do count on the OPEC countries to keep adequate supplies out there. And so the President will talk again with the King about that.

That's it?

Q Is Ed going to join us?

MS. PERINO: Ed is right here.

MR. GILLESPIE: I'm right here.

Q I just -- get another opportunity to talk about the Egypt speech -- maybe tomorrow or later today or something like that.

MR. GILLESPIE: It's actually -- it's, believe it or not, still going through some rewrites, and so hopefully though we'll be able to preview it for you beforehand.

Q Ed, can you talk to us a little bit about yesterday's speech and how much the White House may or may not have anticipated the reaction that ultimately occurred, where people interpreted this as a reference to Barack Obama?

MR. GILLESPIE: We did not anticipate that it would be taken that way, because it's kind of hard to take it that way if you look at the actual words of the President's remarks, which are consistent with what he has said in the past relative to dealing with groups like Hezbollah and Hamas and al Qaeda; relative to standing by Israel; relative to concerns about Iran developing the prospect of a nuclear weapon.

And so there was really nothing new in the speech that anyone could point to that would indicate that. There was some anticipation that someone might say, oh, it's an expression of -- a rebuke to former President Carter for having met with Hamas. That was something that was anticipated. No one wrote about that or raised that as a question. It was really designed to talk about the President's policies, the policies of the United States. And so, no, there was not anticipation that that was going to --

Q -- a rebuke to Carter?

MR. GILLESPIE: No, it was -- all I can do is point you to the actual words. And so I'm surprised and curious as to the reaction -- and frankly I just want to stay on the -- focused on the reaction of congressional leaders because that's where we deal. We're happily not in a campaign and out of the political arena, but we are dealing with the House Speaker and the leader in the Senate and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and I don't know what sentence they could point to that they would say is reckless or outrageous.

The fact is that if you look at the words, they're pretty consistent with what the President has said in the past, and frankly consistent with what many of them have said. They have said that -- I think most have said that we shouldn't negotiate with terrorists or extremists. Most have said that we should not allow for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon; that would not be in the world's interests. Most have said we should stand by Israel as an ally in the Middle East and a democracy there. So I don't know what -- again -- what sentence they consider to be outrageous or reckless, and I --

Q Does the President believe that --

Q Ed, what was new in the wording was a whole reference to Hitler and appeasement. He hasn't said that before in the policy statement. Why did he add that in in this speech? Just because he was in Israel?

MR. GILLESPIE: Well, Israel, obviously when you talk about history and people's words having meaning and not being disregarded -- we have seen in the past, in history, when the words of people were not taken seriously, and we have to take those words seriously. And so, yes, I think that -- in the Knesset, that's an area -- or an audience where an understanding of taking the words of someone like Hitler seriously in understanding the distinction between good and evil is an important one.

Q So just to be clear about that then -- that line was inserted specifically because of this audience?

MR. GILLESPIE: I think the audience was taken into account there, yes.

Q Ed, does the President believe that Senator Obama is advocating negotiating with terrorists and radicals?

MR. GILLESPIE: The President is stating American policy and his policy toward Iran and toward Hezbollah and toward al Qaeda. We are happy to allow for Senator Obama and others to express their own points of view on these things, and like I say, that's -- we're going to deal with -- I'm more interested in talking about the reaction of congressional leaders because as the President we deal with Congress.

And I think that their comments about the President's remarks are unjustified and unwarranted, and I would like to know what specifically the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Speaker of the House, or the Majority Leader, what line do they disagree with, what sentences that they take exception to: that we should stand by Israel; that we shouldn't allow for Iran to develop nuclear weapons; that we should not negotiate with terrorists and extremists? I think that in the past, they have all been positions that there's been general consensus on, so I don't know where it is they find those statements to be outrageous.

Q But the President does try to shape public debate, and including the general election debate, by using his platform. Was that his intent here, to try to shape the course of public debate in the election by using his --

MR. GILLESPIE: If you look at the President's comments on terrorism and Iran, they predate the general election, they predate the primary election, they predate the President's election in 2000. So this is something that he feels strongly about, and as the President of the United States and as a world leader, he is going to continue to rally, and to rally international opposition to the prospect of Iran developing a nuclear weapon, and trying to rally, as we'll continue to see over the next few days, the world to stop terrorism and extremism.

Q I take it you think that the media kind of misplayed this one. And let me just ask you if you think that as we're getting into the election season, that if the White House is going to be vetting speeches more closely with that in mind.

MR. GILLESPIE: Look, I'm not anyone's editor or publisher. People are -- we have a free press in this country. I would urge people to write what the President said, and use -- and allow readers to look at his words and form their own conclusions. But we live in a world of news analysis and commentary, and I understand that, so people are free to do it.

Q But will the White House be -- moving forward, will they be more attuned to that; that, you know, we're kind of in a different season now, and that things -- if a butterfly flaps its wings in Jerusalem, and roils Ohio or something like that.

MR. GILLESPIE: Look, you know, it's hard to guess what the media -- again, because we don't necessarily live in a world where people just report what the President says, they have to report what they think it means. And it's hard to guess what the media might write. But that's -- again, you're free to do it, and that's the world in which we live.

Q That actually raises an interesting question. What do you think accounted for this backlash from Democrats? How did, you know --

MR. GILLESPIE: Again, I don't know because I -- again, I would encourage you to ask them what sentences that they disagree with, what specific sentence.

Q But do you think it was -- it's the media and the way that the speech was reported yesterday?

MR. GILLESPIE: You know, I can't -- I'm not a sociologist.

Q You weren't happy with the fact that it was seen as a swipe against Obama?

MR. GILLESPIE: Again, I'm not happy or unhappy. I'm more concerned about the words of congressional leaders, because we deal with the Congress, and if they are changing some of the policies that in the past there's been bipartisan consensus on relative to fighting terrorists and extremists, or stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, or standing by Israel, if there's a shift in that kind of bipartisan consensus, that is where we operate at the White House and in the executive branch. And not sure what it is that they take exception to, or where they see a difference from what the President said.

And I would again encourage the media, whatever you want to do, it's your editors -- to ask them if maybe you might ask the Speaker of the House, or the leader of the Senate, or the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, what sentence that the President uttered, what words do you disagree with in those comments in the Knesset?

Q So when the --

MR. GILLESPIE: As opposed to -- do you disagree with our characterization of what he may or may not have been thinking?

Q So when the question of a possible rebuke to Carter came up, was the language changed, what was the discussion, what was the analysis of what might be --

MR. GILLESPIE: The -- it was put in the context of a broader discussion of approach and policy, so that it would not be seen as a reference to any individual. But obviously --

Q I'm sorry, so the language was changed from what to what?

MR. GILLESPIE: I think there was some -- I don't know, and I'm not going to go back and get drafts for you to look and see how it changed throughout. I'm sorry.

MS. PERINO: That's got to be the last one, guys. We're landing.

MR. GILLESPIE: All right, thanks.

END 1:50 P.M. (Local)

* There has been a fivefold increase in women who have come in for screenings.