The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
May 19, 2008

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

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12:36 P.M. EDT

MR. STANZEL: Good afternoon, everyone; let's go right to questions.

Q Scott, when the President talked about the housing legislation, was he talking at all about the Shelby-Dodd proposed compromise, or just about other things that have been up there before?

MR. STANZEL: We haven't seen details of their supposed compromise. We understand that they're coming to some sort of agreement on framework. But those conversations are ongoing on the Hill, so we haven't seen the details of their proposal yet, and that's something that we would look forward to. But as the President talked about today, we want to make sure that the legislation includes good reform of the he GSEs, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and also want to note that FHA modernization is certainly a high priority as well.

Q And the bill that's before the Senate know, before the committee would remove one of the objections the administration seems to have -- it wouldn't rest on taxpayers, it would shelter taxpayers. Is that a step in the right direction, that sort of thing?

MR. STANZEL: Well, certainly the administration has said numerous times that we want to help responsible homeowners and we don't want to bail out lenders and speculators with tax dollars from hardworking Americans who pay their bills on time. So that is certainly something that we watch. But obviously the bill, as you noted, is in committee and it has a long ways to go. So we'll keep an eye on it, and obviously it's an important issue to the President.

Q What's the latest on SPR? And you said earlier the President intended to sign off on it -- why, if that's not something he really believes in?

MR. STANZEL: We have -- I said this morning I thought that we had received the bill late last week, but actually we expect to receive it this afternoon. So there's been no action by the President yet on that.

I would note that as we have said numerous times, we don't believe that halting the fill of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve will have much of an impact on oil prices, and therefore an impact on gas prices. What you see in this chart is basically the daily fill of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is about 70,000 barrels. What you saw on the President's visit to the Middle East, there was talk of Saudi Arabia increasing their daily production by about 300,000 barrels. Both of those were noted to be somewhat small amounts that would not probably have much of an impact on world oil prices.

I think it's worth noting that if ANWR had come on line 10 years ago, or 13 years ago when it was rejected, we might be seeing a million barrels of daily production out of that here domestically. So we think that it's important for Congress to not get sidetracked with a discussion of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. We hope that they will move on to those issues that we think will have -- make a difference in the future, like domestic production in an environmentally sensitive way. But the President is not going to stand in their way on this bill.

Q Your chart doesn't show the daily consumption, which is about 20 million barrels --

MR. STANZEL: Right, that's correct.

Q -- which makes all of these numbers relatively insignificant.

MR. STANZEL: Well, but 1 million out of 20 million is, what, 5 percent, Bill? Five percent difference is a difference.

Q Yes, but we can't get there anytime soon.

MR. STANZEL: No, we can't, because Congress keeps putting off the fact with -- going from band-aid to band-aid that they think will have an impact, but really won't. So for many, many years, for decades, we have had an energy policy in this country that hasn't served our needs. The President since the beginning of his administration has talked about increasing domestic production.

At the same time, we do more to increase CAFE standards, do more to increase the use of alternative fuels, and invest money into higher technology -- things like hydrogen fuel cells or battery technology that will take us beyond that in the future. But we can't keep being short-sighted when it comes to our energy needs in this country.

Roger.

Q Shift to foreign affairs for a second. The Venezuelan Foreign Minister says today that Venezuela detected a U.S. military aircraft in Venezuelan airspace on May 16, and the Defense Minister in that country says the U.S. pilot didn't realize he was in Venezuelan airspace. Do you have anything on that?

MR. STANZEL: I do not. I'm aware of that report; however, I would refer you to Defense Department for anything on that.

Q Do you know anything about it --

MR. STANZEL: I am aware of the report, but I don't have any information on it. So I'd refer you to the Defense Department.

Mike.

Q Scott, is the President disappointed that dozens of Republicans in Congress are supporting the farm bill? And what's the latest on timing in terms of presidential action on the farm bill?

MR. STANZEL: We have not yet received the farm bill. That was passed last week, obviously. The President's views on this have been clear throughout. In January 2007, the administration put forward a farm bill that we thought was very reform-minded, made wise use of taxpayers' monies, invested in things like conservation and research. Obviously the farm bill includes things like food aid, as well.

But the President has been disappointed with what came forward -- what came through Congress. We see a bill that is bloated; that asks taxpayers, at a time of record-high farm income, to pay -- and at a time when they're paying more for groceries, to pay even more to wealthy farmers. And we don't think that's the right approach. And the President and the administration will continue to make that case. Like I said, we haven't received the bill yet. We expect that we'll receive it sometime this week, and the President will veto it.

Q Is he particularly, though, disappointed with his own party, members of his own party supporting it?

MR. STANZEL: Well, I think that there are -- certainly members respond to different interests, maybe from their districts. But in the grand scheme of things, the President wanted a bill that would reform our farm laws for the future, that would make wise use of the taxpayers' money, that wouldn't increase subsidies at a time of record-high incomes. There are some things in this bill that are just unconscionable.

There are many earmarks that have been dropped in here. There's programs that would allow government subsidies to go to farmers even when they're receiving record-high incomes, just because the price of a commodity might drop by 10 percent in the third year over the previous two years. Things like that we don't think are really good policy, and not in the best interest of the American taxpayers. So the President will continue to make that case, and obviously members will have to defend their votes to their constituents.

Q Scott, the President, though, reportedly told some of the legislators on the Republican side that it was all right if they -- or signaled that it was okay if they voted their districts, meaning they could support it if their districts supported it.

MR. STANZEL: That is actually a bit of a rumor that came out of the meeting that the President had with the House GOP conference. He did not absolve anybody of their votes. He did indicate that obviously different factors come into weighing on people's votes. But he did not say, go ahead and vote your district. He certainly put forward the reasons why he thought that that bill was bad for the taxpayers, and one that he would veto.

Kathleen.

Q The National Association of Business Economics did a report, and they found 56 percent of the experts they talked to believe the country is in a recession or will be entering one this year. What's your reaction to that? Also, those who did think there would be -- or we're in a recession, though, are saying it would probably be short and shallow.

MR. STANZEL: Well, first thing, I understand that that's an opinion poll that was released today. One, the sort of the short-handed view of what is a recession -- two quarters of negative growth has not occurred, obviously. Last -- fourth quarter of last year, we had growth. The first quarter of this year, we had 0.6 percent growth. We don't think that's enough growth.

Also, the National Bureau of Economic Research is actually the more robust look at whether or not there is a recession. We are not there with them, either. So our economy is continuing to grow, but not at a rate that's fast enough for the President's liking. We're not creating enough jobs at this point. So the President believes what is important is what we do about it.

And at the beginning of the year, we passed a bipartisan stimulus package that provided incentives for businesses and rebate checks for individuals throughout the country. We believe that will have an impact. Our forecast is that growth will return in stronger numbers in the second half of the year. As they indicated this morning, the Treasury Department was able to get out those rebate checks a little bit earlier than originally planned, so we hope that there's potential that that could have an impact in this quarter, the second quarter. But I don't know that we'll know for some time about the full impact of the stimulus package.

Q Scott, Hamas leaders are in Egypt today to talk about the Israeli truce deal. Is the U.S. pushing for the truce deal? Is it -- has it been following that issue? Has it encouraged Israel to go along?

MR. STANZEL: I'm not sure that I'm aware of the specific truce deal that you're talking about. But obviously the President just returned from a good round of meetings in the Middle East, talked to leaders from throughout the greater Middle East -- talked with the Saudis, the Egyptians, Afghan officials, Pakistanis and the Jordanians. All of these parties are very interested in seeing peace in the Middle East and specifically a resolution to the difficulties in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Unfortunately, what we have seen from Hamas has been counterproductive. It has been not, in our view, in the best interests of the Palestinian people. We think that at some point in the future if President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert can come to a point where they have an agreement on the definition of a contiguous Palestinian state, that that vision can be offered to the Palestinian people -- and that could be a time when there would be a real moment of clarity.

But as to the specifics of your question --

Q Is there any further on the French Minister meeting with Hamas?

MR. STANZEL: I understand that the French have indicated that that's not a government official. And I also understand that Israel has indicated that they've received reassurances from France that that is not a change in their policy. So that's what I have at this point.

Olivier.

Q Scott, a couple for you. One is, will the United States be represented at the Myanmar ASEAN donors conference this weekend? And if so, what level?

MR. STANZEL: I'll have to get back to you on that; I don't know.

Q And Slovenia just announced the President is going to be heading there for the U.S.-EU summit. Can you confirm that? And what other stops are on the trip? (Laughter.)

MR. STANZEL: As you frequently find out about these things from other entities -- we don't have any details on the President's visit in June, but suffice it to say the President will be traveling in June, but we don't have any of those details yet.

Goyal.

Q Thank you, Scott. Two quick questions. One, during President's trip to the Middle East, he spoke about terrorism and terrorism -- also main issue. And as you say, he met with the President of Afghanistan, President Karzai, and also Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Gilani. And now Afghanistan is the focus, especially the FATA area between Pakistan and Afghanistan, as far as terrorism and the U.S. interest is concerned. What clear message President had for these two leaders, that they have been not getting along? And plus, as far as the fighting against terrorism and global war on terrorism and U.S. interests and all -- what they had, message for the President?

MR. STANZEL: Well, the President's message has remained consistent -- that we have to work with our allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan to confront the dangers that we all face mutually. Obviously terrorism has struck significant blows in both of those countries, and it's up to us to remain vigilant in confronting terror.

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas that you mentioned -- obviously that's an area of concern, and a NIE last year talked at length about our concerns with terrorism taking root there. And Pakistani troops, Pakistani military have suffered a lot of casualties in their confrontation of people, of terrorists in that area.

So that is the message the President received. And I think what he heard back from the leaders was that we will continue to work together because these are challenges that we face, all three of these nations.

Q And second, as far as earthquake in China and Burma is concerned, one, can you confirm there are some reports now again as far as earthquake in China, their nuclear facility was hit by the earthquake? And as far as Burma is concerned -- as far as referendum is concerned, because the military dictatorship is going ahead with the referendum. Any message the President has for that?

MR. STANZEL: On your first question about China, I can't confirm that. I'd refer you to Chinese officials on that. I'm not aware of what they're indicating on that at this point. And in terms of Burma, obviously the humanitarian crisis is overwhelming there. As I mentioned this morning, we've had about 31 flights of aid that have gone into the country. We want to continue to provide more of that aid. And I think the State Department has talked about the difficulty of having a referendum, given the current situation. So obviously, we remain concerned about the situation in Burma and will continue to follow it.

Q Well, 82 percent of Americans think the country is headed on the wrong track. The President has a pretty low approval rating right now. When he hits the road with John McCain, what's his pitch to voters? Does he think he can actually help this candidate?

MR. STANZEL: Well, I think that, first of all, it would be interesting to note the approval rating of Congress, as well, which is lower than all of those numbers that you cite. The President, when he gets out and talks on the campaign trail, regardless of what candidate he is supporting, will talk about the fact that he believes that Republicans going into this fall have the message that can be supported by voters, and that is one that keeps us strong, keeps us safe as a nation, one that uses -- makes wise use of the taxpayers' money and keeps taxes low, to make sure that the economy continues to grow.

So the President believes very strongly that if we get out and take our message to voters, that we can be successful.

Q Are we going to see a lot of them together?

MR. STANZEL: I think you'll see the President out on the campaign quite -- campaign trail quite a bit. We'll keep you posted on their events that they may have together.

Les.

Q Thank you, Scott. Two questions. The President in Israel said, "As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.'" And my question: Since the President never identified this Senator -- who was Republican Senator William Borah of Idaho -- what is the White House reaction to all those Democrat senators who so strongly in case -- in one case obscenely, denounced the President for daring to mention American history?

MR. STANZEL: Well, I think that as the President -- you've all seen what the President said, and I would just refer you to his remarks in that speech and the fact that we do carry a solemn responsibility in this country to take the words of radicals and terrorist leaders seriously, because we cannot let the mistake of the past century be repeated in the 21st century. So the President made very clear that he doesn't believe that we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, and that view of appeasement has been repeatedly discredited in history.

Q That's a good answer. And my second question -- (laughter) -- nice going, Scott.

MR. STANZEL: Thank you.

Q There have been -- there has been yet another almost nationally uniform raising of gasoline prices to more than $4 a gallon. And my question: Does the President believe that there is no sign whatsoever of any conspiracy in restraint of trade here, and does the White House believe that Election Day in November that the majority of voters will blame him or will they blame members of the majority party on Capitol Hill?

MR. STANZEL: I don't think the President is focused on blame, Lester. He's focused on solutions that will have a difference for the future. Certainly rising demand in oil around the world is having an impact on gasoline prices. You mentioned $4.00 -- the average price is not yet there --

Q It all goes up together. Did you notice that? All of those oil companies --

MR. STANZEL: I certainly did notice that.

Q -- go up together. What about that?

MR. STANZEL: Well, oil is sold on a world market, Lester, so that is a case in point of what we see. But the President believes that we should focus on ways that we can reduce our dependence on foreign sources of oil, that we can expand use of alternative fuels, that we can reduce our consumption through raising CAFE standards, and make sure that we take those measures that will help us in the future, like expanding exploration in ANWR, the Outer Continental Shelf, as an example.

Connie.

Q On faith-based, apparently there's a faith-based meeting going on. Do you have any details on that?

MR. STANZEL: Yes, that is a meeting that is taking place today, actually starting here in about five minutes. The Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Director Jay Hein and Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff are hosting a roundtable to explore the increasing role of faith-based organizations across America in disaster preparedness and response and recovery efforts. Obviously, we think that these organizations have a wonderful role to play in important issues like that. So that is a roundtable discussion that they're having, actually over in the EEOB right now.

Q Can you put out a list? And how are people chosen? Do they volunteer for these --

MR. STANZEL: I'll have Emily Lawrimore get back in touch with you. She's got all the information about that.

Q On the Merida Initiative, the Senate approved some conditions for the Merida Initiative to Mexico, for example, directing the Mexican military in order to use the helicopters and planes. My question: Is the President in favor of that condition? And the Mexican government is already talking about -- say they are going to say, thanks but no thanks (inaudible) these conditions on the Mexican military.

MR. STANZEL: Obviously that is an important initiative for the administration in terms of increasing security and confronting threats. But I'm not aware of the specific back-and-forth that you're talking about. So let me --

Q It was approved by the Senate.

MR. STANZEL: Yes, I can take that question and get back to you.

Go ahead.

Q The White House has denied that it knew about the Pentagon program that used TV military analysts --

MR. STANZEL: We've been through this before. Do you have a question?

Q Yes. There's something new. Last week emails surfaced that showed that Pentagon officials, including Donald Rumsfeld, communicated with White House officials, including Karl Rove and Stephen Hadley, about the program. One email written by a Pentagon official mentioned that Rove was approached about arranging a meeting between the military analysts and the President --

MR. STANZEL: Your question is?

Q My question is, what was the nature and extent of the involvement of Karl Rove, Stephen Hadley and President Bush in the military analyst program?

MR. STANZEL: Well, the idea that people in the administration would brief people who are talking to reporters about our programs and our policies doesn't seem like to be that far-fetched of an idea to me. So in terms of the emails, I haven't been monitoring the staff emails here, so I can't tell you what their conversations were like. But it's not unusual for administration officials to brief people who are talking about our plans and our policies. Much like I'm standing here today, briefing all of you --

Q Right, and why was the program kept secret?

MR. STANZEL: -- and much like I'm standing here answering your question, and you go out on your liberal blog and talk about the way that you see things; we brief people who talk about the President's policies.

Q Why was the program kept secret?

MR. STANZEL: You can talk to the Defense Department. It was their program -- which they've discontinued.

Q Who was in charge at the White House?

Q Just to follow-up on my colleague's question, are you discouraging any contact between the French and Hamas, and with the Europeans to a larger extent? Meanwhile, you encourage them to talk to Iran, which you consider a state sponsor of terrorism. What's the difference between the two? Isn't that contradictory, then?

MR. STANZEL: Well, we have -- the President was talking about, in his speech, not talking with terrorists and radicals. We have -- as the President has made clear, we have contacts through the P5-plus-1 procedures; we have contact with Iran. We have a standing offer to sit down with leaders in Iran if they would renounce their nuclear ambitions and stop their uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.

So the President in his speech was talking about needing to take the words of these people seriously. We cannot disregard what they say. And unfortunately we have seen a growing influence of Iran, who is supporting Hamas in Gaza, supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon, is supporting Jaish al-Mahdi in Iraq, and has indicated that they -- their leaders have said that they would like to see the end of the state of Israel.

So those are things that we have to take seriously, and that's what the President was talking about.

Q Thank you.

MR. STANZEL: Thank you.

END 12:59 P.M. EDT


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