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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 23, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:26 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello, everyone. I'll start off with two announcements. As you all know, there's a hurricane brewing in -- off the Gulf, actually hitting land now. The federal government has been working closely with the state of Texas to prepare for the hurricane called Dolly. We've been identifying resources and pre-positioning supplies in case they are needed after the landfall. And FEMA has deployed a couple of teams there and will have more information for you if you need it.
Also today, in an effort to address the root causes of high energy prices, House Republicans are introducing their American Energy Act. Their proposal includes many of the provisions the President called on Congress to act upon, including opening up access to our energy resources in the Outer Continental Shelf, up in ANWR, allowing development of oil shale resources, and streamlining permitting processes for refineries.
The President recognizes, as do Republicans in Congress, that we don't need just one energy source, we need all of them. That's why we are making critical investments in things like solar and wind, hydrogen fuel cell technologies, hybrid plug-in vehicles, as well as cutting-edge clean coal plants and advanced nuclear power technologies.
Backers of this legislation clearly understand that we need to increase domestic fuel supply with appropriate safeguards for the environment. We hope Democratic leaders will recognize this critical need, and stop standing between the American people and the vast energy resources we have at home. And I would note that the Republicans called for a vote before they leave for their August 10th beginning of their recess.
Q On energy prices, oil prices have dropped about $10 a barrel in recent days. Does the President think that that's in any way linked with his lifting of the ban on oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf?
MS. PERINO: I haven't asked him, and it could be, but we don't predict what happens in the market. We can't really tell. Certainly taking that action would send a signal that at least the executive branch is serious about moving forward and increasing the amount of supply that we have in America, but we'll have to see what the Congress does. And if they decide to move forward with this responsible piece of legislation the House Republicans are introducing today, maybe it would have more of an impact.
It could also be that there's less demand out there. We believe that the fundamental problem of high energy prices is one of supply and demand. We've seen in our own country that people are starting to drive a little bit less, given the high prices. So markets work in that case, but markets are also -- only work best when there's enough supply. So I couldn't tell you if he thinks it's --
Q Senator McCain credits the President with that, but you're not willing to -- you don't think it's --
MS. PERINO: I don't know if we fully deserve the credit, but I do think that it was important to send a signal to the market that we are serious about moving forward. The President tried to get Congress to work with him in a bipartisan fashion, asking them to lift their ban at the same time. Unfortunately, they've not even been willing to hold even a single hearing on it. So we decided to move forward ourselves, and hopefully that would spur them to action, as well.
Q Dana, can you expand on the thinking behind lifting the veto threat on the housing bill?
MS. PERINO: Sure.
Q Specifically, how much back-and-forth was there? Was this a tough call, an obvious thing? And what's the thinking behind it?
MS. PERINO: On the housing bill, President Bush -- I'll just remind you that it was August 31st of last year when the housing crisis was emerging that President Bush held an event here and called on Congress and asked them to work with him in a bipartisan fashion to pass legislation that would do several things -- one, modernize the FHA, which is the Federal Housing Administration, and to also establish these reforms that he's been calling for for years for the housing GSEs Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Unfortunately, we're now almost to the end of July, so it's been almost 11 months and they haven't acted, even while we've had this housing crisis.
As the housing bill went through the legislative process, one of the things that was added was a $4-billion bailout for lenders in the form of Community Development Block Grants -- CDBG funds -- that the President did not think was an appropriate use of money. He thought it was wasteful and that it would encourage lenders to foreclose on properties rather than have them work with the homeowner to try to help them rework their loan and be able to stay in their house.
Over the past several weeks, or I'd say the last few weeks, Secretary Paulson has been increasingly concerned about the stability of the marketplace when it comes to the housing GSEs. I think it was about 10 days ago, on a Sunday evening, he asked Congress to help quickly pass some authorities that the Treasury needed in respect to reform of the GSEs. That provision would be included in the bill that the House is going to pass today.
We also, in the past several days, have realized that Congress is not going to get a lot done before it leaves for its next recess, which is August 10th, and they're probably not going to be back until mid-September. Given that the housing legislation is so essential right now, and that we need it promptly, the President agreed to accept Secretary Paulson's recommendation that it was more important to accept the bill in this form so that we could get the housing reforms in the form of the GSEs, and to go ahead and sign the bill, even though it has the CDBG money in it.
Q How exceptional is this? How rare is this?
MS. PERINO: In terms of a compromise?
Q Well, in terms of the President -- sounds to me like he's holding his nose and saying, I won't veto this.
MS. PERINO: No, I actually don't think it's all that unusual. I mean, there's -- when legislation finally comes to the President's desk, it often has a few things in there that he might not be able to support or that he wouldn't have recommended, but when there is bipartisan support for a bill, he will sign it.
One of the things is, we believe that we would have won a prolonged veto fight on this bill, because we think there's enough support, especially with House Republicans, to have rejected this $4 billion in bailout for lenders. However, given that we want and need for the Treasury Secretary to have these new authorities that he's asking for, we don't think that waiting until mid-September, at best, would be prudent.
Q Is this then maybe the best way to understand the severity and the urgency of the housing crisis, that he is sort of suspending his sense of dislike about this provision because something really needs to be done right now
MS. PERINO: Well, I would say that President Bush recognized the need for this legislation early on, and the call for GSE legislation reforms was made in 2003, the first time it was actually asked for in legislation. So we've waited several years. But then, increasingly, last summer, August 31st, the President said we absolutely need this legislation to help us deal with the housing downturn, the deal with the instability that has been in the marketplace for this past year. So we think that this is important for the overall health of the market. It's not just to help homeowners but to help low-income homeowners, in particular, when it comes to those housing GSEs.
But we also think it will have a positive impact on the overall economy, and that's why the President has decided to sign the bill.
Q Can you comment on camera -- I know you had a lot of comment this morning -- about the President's comments about Wall Street being drunk, and what he meant?
MS. PERINO: Sure. President Bush has had similar sentiments before when he's talking about how over the years Wall Street was dealing with very complex financial instruments, and it's clear now to everybody that those markets didn't fully understand the risk that all of those instruments posed to the overall health of the economy and the instability in the market. And the President has described it the way others have. Obviously he did it in a very -- in a way that was with much candor.
Q And more colorful. But he meant they were irresponsible? I mean, when you say "drunk" what do you mean?
MS. PERINO: Well, I actually haven't spoken to him about this, but I imagine what he means, as I've heard him describe before in public and in private, is that Wall Street let themselves get carried away and they did not understand -- the markets did not understand the risk that these newfangled financial instruments would pose to the market, and now we're having to deal with this.
Q To follow on that, Dana, I understand the President obviously could be more candid in his comments in a private situation. But why is it that he could not have been candid in these kind of terms on this subject when --
MS. PERINO: He said these other things before, and I think you should go back and look at the press conferences over the past year as the markets have been in a downturn, especially when it comes to talking about the housing issue and subprime issue. So I think that he has said things similar in public before, and we do have private moments as everybody gets to have a private moment. The President was at a private residence at a private fundraiser, and obviously everybody got a chance to see that because someone decided to release some video of it. It is what it is.
Q That's pretty sharp criticism of Wall Street, in particular, for the way it handled --
MS. PERINO: I actually don't think that -- I don't think the criticism is any different, it's just said with a little bit more candor and more bluntly.
Q Dana, what did you mean by financial instruments? I mean --
MS. PERINO: In particular, one of my examples would be just the subprime loan packages that everybody has expressed some concern about, now looking back.
Q And does the President's concern about this suggest there needed to be more regulation, which he generally opposes?
MS. PERINO: Well, President Bush -- but remember what I'm talking about in terms of this GSE reform. The key part of that, it would establish an independent strong regulator for the housing GSEs. They would do basically two things: One, make sure that the housing GSEs are focused on their core mission, which is to help homeowners, and in particular, help low-income homeowners. And secondly, it would provide for a regulator to make sure that the GSEs are well-capitalized, which will then, overall, help the stability in the marketplace, and then hopefully help improve the economy.
Q And keep Wall Street is sober?
MS. PERINO: A great new slogan.
Q A quick one to just follow on the package. The $3.9 billion is what he sort of objected to, that the provision --
MS. PERINO: Objected to the provision -- he didn't just object to the money, he objects to the concept.
Q Right, but it was -- that was the price tag on the concept.
MS. PERINO: That is what they will pass today.
Q Are you understanding the total -- or OMB's understanding of the total cost of the housing bill and not just the support for the GSEs -- how much is this sort of --
MS. PERINO: I'd have to go back and look in terms of the new GSEs -- I'm sorry -- in terms of the new authorities, we don't have a score on it. CBO issued a score. But our belief and our intent is that the GSEs will never have to use this money, they will never have to access it. They haven't yet and we don't believe that they will have to. But we think it's important that the Treasury Secretary have the authority to be able to step in and help to stabilize the market in case he needs it.
Q Dana, what do you say to Republicans who are concerned that this amounts to a bailout in their eyes, and there's already, of course, the threats to filibuster on --
MS. PERINO: Well, we absolutely understand. We are not supportive of that provision of the bill. However, as I said, given that Congress is about to leave for eight weeks or so, by the time they get back -- if they actually -- if we were in a prolonged veto fight we wouldn't have enough time to actually get it done as soon as the Secretary of the Treasury says he needs the authorities. So we had to make a hard -- a hard choice, and the choice that we made is that the President will accept Secretary Paulson's recommendation and sign the bill. And we'll sign it as soon as we get it.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q Two quick questions. One, the government of Prime Minister -- (inaudible) -- is survived by the -- (inaudible) -- vote, and also it looks like that the new -- (inaudible) -- is ready for the U.S.-India civil nuclear deal. Do you think the U.S. Congress will be ready by the time of -- before they leave? Or how hard do you think now President Bush will push this issue?
MS. PERINO: Well, we hope so. We're going to continue to work with everyone in the community that's been supportive of this bill -- or this measure, this initiative. There's some steps that have to take place before our Congress can even take a vote on it, and Congress has to be in session for 30 days for it to happen.
So we remain optimistic. We're going to try to work with these communities closely in the next few weeks, but it's getting down to the wire, and that's why we have a sense of urgency about it.
Q And second, as far as high rise of health costs in the U.S. is concerned, there is a world-famous yogi now here -- at expo center in Virginia, and he is saying that message for President Bush, which he regards very highly, he said that he can cut costs by 50 percent, and also rise in the health of the Americans in this country. He said that if President can think of bringing this issue of yoga -- (inaudible) -- in this country.
MS. PERINO: I think President Bush will let everyone choose how best to exercise.
I'm going to go to the non-birthday birthday boy, Olivier.
Q Thanks, Dana. You said last week you'd -- "you" meaning the White House -- would have a look at the International Criminal Court's efforts to get Mr. Bashir -- has the United States arrived at a position on the ICC's warrant? And I understand that there may be some action at the U.N. that would either endorse or block this effort. Do you know what the U.S. position is on that?
MS. PERINO: I will have to check on the U.N. I know that because President Bush and others have continued to push the issue in the U.N. Security Council that the issue of Darfur and Sudan, making sure that that peace agreement could actually be implemented and take hold is very important, especially when it comes to improving the human condition of the millions of people who live there.
As it pertains to U.N. Security Council action, I'll need to check. And also with the ICC, we are not a party to the criminal court, and while we can review it and monitor it, we really don't have a lot of say in it.
Q Okay. And you said this morning -- you said it was important for the Iraqis to hold provincial elections by the end of the year. Does that mean that the October -- the floated October date of the election, is that gone now? Is that --
MS. PERINO: I think the Iraqis themselves have said over the past few weeks that because the legislative debate had taken longer than they had hoped that the October date is probably unlikely, just because of all the logistics that have to get in place in order for there to be a national election. But I understand that they have started the voter registration process, I believe. So they are starting to lay the groundwork so that if they do get this law passed, they could turn the key and get the elections going.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. For years, Islamic states have been trying to push through the United Nations a proposal that it's called "combating the defamation of religion," which the American Center for Law and Justice has deplored as anti-Christian bigotry, and which the European Center for Law and Justice calls direct violation of international law. And my question: What is the White House position on this?
MS. PERINO: I'll have to check. This is the first I've heard of that particular initiative. So we'll check.
Q Could you tell us which day the President will speak at the Republican National Convention, presuming of course that he has been scheduled to do so?
MS. PERINO: Yes, it looks like Monday night, September 1st --
Q Thank you very much.
MS. PERINO: -- which is traditionally when the incumbent speaks.
Q On the subject of speeches, tomorrow the President's remarks --
MS. PERINO: The freedom agenda speech?
Q Yes. What particular aspect does he wish the highlight? What's the context?
MS. PERINO: You know, the speech is still in flux in terms of the writing and the drafting. Let me take a look at it and we'll get you something this evening. Emily will help us get something for you. I don't know if I'll be able to get excerpts out. I will try, but it's probably unlikely I'll be able to do that today.
Q Any reaction to Iran's President today saying that Iran will not change anything in its policy on the nuclear program?
MS. PERINO: Look, this is the same type of rhetoric that we constantly hear. And it's unfortunate for the people of Iran that their leaders continue to isolate them from the rest of the international community.
And I would point to last weekend, when our diplomatic process was reinvigorated because of a non-response response at a meeting that the Iranians came to. They were given an additional two weeks, and I think we should actually wait and let that process take place, and not take too much stock in the day to day comments.
Q Thank you.
END 12:42 P.M. EDT