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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 28, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:42 A.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good morning. A couple of announcements. Welcome back, first of all. Look at this, we have a new podium that is actually my size -- (laughter) -- and I can see over the top of it. So hopefully that will be a good sign.
First of all, federal officials here at the Homeland Security Council and then at the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA and the National Hurricane Center are closely watching the progression of Gustav -- this is the tropical storm -- and they're preparing for its potential landfall. The FEMA Administrator is in Louisiana today, and the Secretary of Homeland Security will travel to the area this afternoon.
Secretary Chertoff spoke to Governor Jindal yesterday regarding the state's preparation and their need for federal assistance. And then FEMA Administrator Paulison spoke to Governor Barbour this morning.
All residents in the region are encouraged to make personal preparations and listen to guidance from state and local officials. Information is available at ready.gov on how families and individuals can best prepare for the storm.
A update on a visit from a foreign leader. President Bush will welcome President Martin Torrijos of the Republic of Panama to the White House on September 17, 2008. Panama is an important friend and ally of the United States. The President looks forward to discussing a range of issues with him, including our common commitment to the United States-Panama trade promotion agreement, expanding free trade and strengthening democracy throughout the region, enhancing security cooperation and strengthening cooperation in international issues.
This visit, following President Torrijos's visit last May, underscores the ongoing deep friendship and cooperation between the United States and Panama.
And finally, we received good news earlier this morning with a strong upward revision of second quarter gross domestic product from 1.9 percent to 3.3 percent; that exceeds all expectations. This level of growth is demonstrating the resilience of our economy, even in the face of high energy prices and the housing market downturn. Another positive sign was the decline in the number of new people who are filing for unemployment benefits, and that's been a good trend as well.
Economic growth in the second quarter was led by strong growth in consumer spending, in part by the economic growth package that was passed last February, and also by very strong export growth. The strong growth in exports we've seen in recent years demonstrates just how important it is to continue with President Bush's efforts to open markets for America's goods and services. There should be no question that trade contributes to economic growth and creates jobs here at home for American workers and farmers. And when Congress gets back from its recess, it should continue this momentum by passing the Colombia free trade agreement and the other FTAs we have negotiated.
And with that, I'll take questions. Ben.
Q Dana, on two of the topics you mentioned -- on the economy, is the White House at this point seeing any vindication in these numbers given the amount of gloominess that folks have used in describing the economy, or are you a little bit more cautious --
MS. PERINO: Well, we're pleased with the numbers. We think that they are heading in the right direction. We want to make sure that we do everything we can to keep them going in the upward trend. But the way you described it, no, I wouldn't say that, and no one's doing a victory dance, but what we are doing is making sure that we continue to press Congress on one of the most important aspects, which is free trade.
If the American economy is increasingly able to export its goods and services around the world, that is good for all of us, and it's good for those countries, their consumers and their businesses, as well as for us. And so that's why we are aggressive on free trade and will continue to be over the next month.
Q Okay. And on the tropical weather, can you describe if the President has a specific role at this point? Is he talking to leaders in the Gulf or directly with --
MS. PERINO: Sure. He gets regular updates. He had one yesterday afternoon and then again this morning from senior staff. If there is an update this afternoon, I'll let you know. I think that he'll be speaking with Secretary Chertoff, but as I said Secretary Chertoff is going to be traveling so I don't know the exact time. So, yes, he's involved, engaged, and getting briefings and working to make sure that the federal assistance is there, but that obviously state and local authorities have responsibilities. And by all accounts and purposes, they are following through on those.
Q Dana, might Gustav's landfall alter the President's schedule next week?
MS. PERINO: We have no scheduling changes to announce. Remember, this is Thursday morning. Now the hurricane -- the tropical storm at this point -- if it turns into a hurricane, we'll have to then change the name. But it's now scheduled to make landfall sometime on Tuesday. So these storms have a tendency to change and so I don't have a scheduling update for you now. Right now everything is on schedule.
Q Are you watching it with an eye towards that? Do you have concerns about --
MS. PERINO: I think it's premature -- too premature to say.
Q -- sensitivity?
MS. PERINO: I think it's too premature to say. We'll just continue to watch it, do what we need to do to make sure that all the plans are in place to make sure evacuations are implemented, that we provide for the other types of materials that they need, or -- in terms of wood, or if they need ice -- wood for boarding up windows. So that's where our focus is. I think it's premature. I know that everyone is very interested to see whether or not there will be a scheduling change. I just don't have one to announce right now.
Q Would there be a role for the President? I mean, it's a local thing. Even if it hits at the time he's supposed to be in Minneapolis, it's a local responsibility, right?
MS. PERINO: Obviously a Category 3 or 4 storm is one of huge significance, no matter where it would hit in the United States. And so the President is engaged to make sure that we're doing all we can to help those state and local officials.
Q Are there any plans for the President to address the threat to the Gulf Coast in his speech on Monday?
MS. PERINO: Again, I think it's a little bit premature. Let's -- we need to see where this storm is headed. Things change.
Q Considering the third year anniversary of Katrina, is that something --
MS. PERINO: Yes, he was just there in New Orleans and Mississippi to highlight and focus on the redevelopment and reconstruction of that area. So we'll let you know if there's a change. Right now it's just premature.
Q Vladimir Putin just told CNN that the U.S. orchestrated the Georgia conflict for political purposes, and he said its defense officials told him they believe it was an operation by Washington to provide a distraction, a talking point to distract -- for one of the presidential candidates to distract from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and from economy issues. What is your reaction? And is there concern? Because obviously there's some escalating rhetoric.
MS. PERINO: I think that those claims, first and foremost, are patently false. But it also sounds like his defense officials who said they believe this to be true are giving him really bad advice.
Q Is there a concern about the escalation of the rhetoric?
MS. PERINO: Here in the United States and with our allies, I don't see an increase in the rhetoric. What I do see is unanimity for the sovereignty, the independence, and the territorial integrity of Georgia. And you've had strong statements, but I don't think that necessarily equates an escalation of the rhetoric. It's that people feel very strongly that territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence are to be respected. And in fact, throughout several U.N. Security Council resolutions, Russia has recognized the territorial integrity of Georgia. And so it's going back on its word. We also are very concerned because Russia continues not to be in full compliance with the agreement that it signed on to just two weeks ago.
And so we are going to continue to press. There will be consequences for Georgia, and I think that they -- I'm sorry, consequences for Russia -- and I think that this isolation that they are feeling throughout the world towards them is just one of those consequences, and there will be others.
Q Does this create an obstacle, what he said today? Is this an obstacle in the communication between the U.S. and Russia?
MS. PERINO: It just is -- to suggest that the United States orchestrated this on behalf of a political candidate just sounds not rational.
Q France is saying that the European Union is getting ready to consider sanctions on Russia over this. Have you heard anything about what types of sanctions they might be considering, and is the United States also considering some type of sanctions over this, or what kind of sanctions could you --
MS. PERINO: I don't know if France has shared their internal discussions with us, but even if they had, I probably couldn't discuss them here. What I can tell you is that we are in the process of reevaluating our relationship with Russia. And we are doing that in concert with our international partners such as France, but also many others, including Germany and all the NATO countries.
Q Are some sort of sanctions going to be considered by the United States?
MS. PERINO: I think it's premature to say. I don't know what ultimately will result from the process that people are in to discuss what the consequences may be. We just aren't there yet. It's premature to say.
Q Follow up on that?
Q I just have one more. Do you think that sanctions are an appropriate type of punishment for this sort of --
MS. PERINO: I think I'll just decline to say because I don't know what the final outcome will be. And so they'll have to take a look at the range of issues that could result.
I saw the other day that someone suggested -- maybe it was even President Medvedev himself who said that they don't fear a new Cold War. I don't think anyone should be looking for a new Cold War. What we would like to see is the return to the status quo before August 7th when the hostilities began; before Russia invaded Georgia; before the disproportional response to the regular flare-ups that happen in the summertime out in that area. And from there, what we would like to see is a return to a place where we can have integration of Russia into the international community.
Unfortunately, it's Russia that made the choice to take several steps backward in that regard, and I think that even if you look at the Russian economy and the questions that businesses have about whether or not to continue to do business there and what's happening in their stock market and what's happening across the board in their country, that this is very troubling for Russia and a time for the countries who believe in sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity to band together to fight against it.
Q Follow up on that?
MS. PERINO: I'll do Mark first.
Q Is there a decision on scrapping the U.S.-Russia civil nuclear agreement?
MS. PERINO: I don't think there's anything to announce yet, but I know that that is under discussion.
Q Well, did it come up in the Secretary's dinner with President Bush yesterday?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. They had a private dinner, but if I get anything more on it, I'll let you know.
Q Dana, repeatedly since the crisis began, the White House has said that the U.S.-Russia relationship is under review; you said today it's being reevaluated. Is this a formal process with a target completion date, or is this just --
MS. PERINO: No, I would say that we're just taking a very methodical look at the range of issues and working with our partners. One of the most immediate focuses that we have is to return to the status quo before the hostilities began on August 7th. That's the immediate issues that we -- issue that we need to deal with. Then the other issues will come in time. This is not something that we're rushing into.
Q And on -- the Israeli press is reporting that for the first time in the country's history, there will be a U.S.-flagged military base in the Negev. Can you confirm this? And what's the thinking behind putting a radar installation in Israel at this time?
MS. PERINO: I can't, but we'll check into it and get back to you.
Q The administration keeps saying that it's time to outline the consequences against Russia. Why not outline the consequences against Russia now? What is the delay?
MS. PERINO: Victoria, there are discussions that are underway. The United States is not going to be rushed into making decisions without having thoroughly looked at all of the issues. So I just can't give you a date as to when this will occur. I don't think -- and I don't really think it's that important.
Q Thank you, Dana. Regarding the North Korea -- threatens to rebuild nuclear programs. How does the United States respond to this?
MS. PERINO: Well, as we said yesterday, we are in close contact with our six-party partners. And we have said to the North Koreans that there will be action for action, but that means that they have to have a verified -- a verification protocol that's in place before any action that we would take would move forward. And so we are waiting on them right now to come forward with a verification protocol. And that was reaffirmed by the other members of the six-party talks.
Q Do you think the North Korea is in violation of their commitment through the six-party framework?
MS. PERINO: I think that what we are looking for is -- they've made a statement, but I think their actions are important, and I'll go back to the philosophy of action for action in the six-party talks is what has got us to this point, where they just blew up their cooling tower, where they have provided a declaration; those are the things that they were supposed to do. But the other thing -- there was a third leg of that stool, and that was that they had to put forward a verification protocol. They have not done that yet, and until they do, we will not move forward on the terrorism list.
Go ahead, Mike.
Q Dana, the President's speech on Monday, what can we expect? Is this going to be the President's legacy? Has he been given any guidance from the McCain people?
MS. PERINO: Okay, those are like four questions in one. (Laughter.)
Q I could give you more.
MS. PERINO: Yes, I'm sure you could. I think it's a little premature for me to preview the speech, but I'll see if I can do that for you tomorrow at the briefing. What I will tell you is President Bush is going to spend the majority of his time in his speech making the case for John McCain, for John McCain to be President of the United States. It will not be a reprise of the past seven and a half years. This will focus on John McCain and why he's the right person to be President of the United States, and looking forward rather than looking back.
Q And the speech is later than it was originally scheduled. He's leaving town immediately afterward. Has the McCain people told him to make himself scarce?
MS. PERINO: No, this is -- first of all, the speech is later but that is because the President of the United States will be the last speaker of the evening, so the build-up of the night will lead to the President. But the President of the United States himself decided that he would follow precedent from other Presidents who got out of town, because this is -- he is not on the ballot, this is about John McCain, and we intend to allow the spotlight to shine fully on him during this convention next week.
Q Dana, how much is the President paying attention to the Democratic Convention this week? And does he have any thoughts on the historic nature of Barack Obama's nomination, the first African American candidate to lead a major party?
MS. PERINO: I would point you back to what President Bush said when Barack Obama successfully secured the nomination back in the spring, in which he held it up as a wonderful moment for not just African Americans, but for all of America. And so he has continued to feel that way. And now the contest is between two candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain. And I don't know how much the President has been watching the Democratic Convention. He just got back yesterday afternoon.
Q Do you think he'll watch the speech tonight?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I'll see.
Q Has he been practicing his own yet?
MS. PERINO: Nope, not practicing, but it's getting -- it's nearing completion in terms of the drafting.
Q Two quick questions. One follow of Sheryl -- as far as this first not only like you say African American but also from the minorities -- does it tell that America is a land of opportunity, anybody can achieve anything, and as far as what President is --
MS. PERINO: President Bush has said and he strongly believes that America is the best country on earth and a place where everybody, if they work hard, can achieve great things. And I think what Barack Obama's nomination shows is that America is a wonderful land of opportunity and we've come a long way and it's something that we can be very proud of.
Q And second, as far as -- the President is watching or has been briefed as far as the situation in Pakistan and also in India, because after Musharraf left presidency, and now violence is on the rise in India across the border and also inside Pakistan, because chaos in Pakistan as far as the -- they cannot rule the country now.
MS. PERINO: Yes, the President is kept fully briefed on it, and I would refer you to Department of Defense, who would have more on their recent conversations with their military.
Q Follow up on Gustav, really quick --
MS. PERINO: Go here, and then I'll come right back.
Q Thank you. Does the President have any thoughts or response to some of the attacks that were levied last night in speeches by former President Clinton and Joe Biden?
MS. PERINO: No, we have studiously avoided, as you will learn, getting into 2008 politics, so I'm not going to comment.
Q Will the President call for military assets to be moved into the region -- in the Gulf region?
MS. PERINO: In Georgia? Or Gustav region? Oh, okay, sorry. (Laughter.) Wildly different questions and answers. (Laughter.) But I don't think the military -- we're assessing the needs right now. Secretary Chertoff is there to talk to both Governor Jindal, and then Governor Barbour talked to FEMA Director Paulison, to find out what they need from the federal government. I think right now the focus is on helping the state and locals perform their responsibilities, which is to evacuate where appropriate, make sure that assets are prepositioned.
FEMA is going to have a conference call for reporters this afternoon at 2:30 p.m., and they might have more of an update for you at that point.
Q Is the President calling for military assets in Georgia? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: No. But we have --
Q I couldn't resist.
MS. PERINO: -- large amounts of humanitarian aid arriving.
END 11:00 A.M. EDT