For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 1, 2008
Press Gaggle by Dana Perino
11:04 A.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: One announcement, and then we can go to your questions.
Today Congress is going to leave Washington for another recess without taking any action to make our country more energy independent, in addition to refusing to allow a vote on energy legislation. It looks like they will also leave town without allowing votes on nominations for positions throughout the federal government regarding energy.
For example, although the Senate just spent two weeks debating a bill regarding the Commodities Future Trading Commission, one Senate Democrat has put a hold on three nominations to the Commission. Additionally, another Senate Democrat has a hold on our nominee to serve as the Deputy Secretary of Energy. And by holding up these nominations, Senate Democrats are putting more road blocks in the path of our ability to determine America's path to addressing our comprehensive energy needs.
These positions should be filled, and we would urge them to allow for there to be an up or down vote. And if the vote succeeds, great. And if they don't, then we will go back to the drawing board. But simply not voting should not be an option.
Now I'll take your questions.
Q Dana, on the anthrax investigation and this Army scientist who has committed suicide, when was the President briefed on that situation?
MS. PERINO: I have seen that report; I have nothing for you on that report. I'd have to refer you to the Justice Department for now. What I can tell you is that President Bush over the years has maintained an interest in this case and has periodically been updated by the FBI Director on developments in the case -- not necessarily so much in specifics, but in general, so that he can make sure that the FBI continue to work to try to solve the case.
Q So was he aware that this particular person was about to be indicted?
MS. PERINO: I think the President was aware that there are -- have been developments, but for me to answer that question would be to comment on the story that is reported in the papers this morning, which I can't do at this moment. So I'm going to have to refer you to the Justice Department for now.
MS. PERINO: Okay, can I go to Roger first, then I'll come over to you?
Q Can you talk about the jobs report this morning and the administration's reaction? And I have a follow-up.
MS. PERINO: Oh, thanks for the warning. (Laughter.) The jobs report today was what we get every -- the first part of every month. We had a loss of 51,000 jobs. That was lower than what was expected, but the unemployment rate increased to 5.7 percent. At the same time, I think you can fairly call this a mixed report, as wages rose by 3.4 percent over the last 12 months, and understandably higher energy prices do eat into those wages. But it's better that they are increasing than going the other way.
Obviously we would prefer and we would -- we are working to improve the job outlook for our economy. So we are displeased with this report. And while the economy is not as strong as we would like, we are encouraged that the overall economy seems to be doing slightly better, as the GDP report showed yesterday. It showed what we had anticipated, which is that the stimulus package is having an impact. And so that is a positive sign.
And as I mentioned, the higher energy prices that eat into people's wages and the housing downturn -- while all that is going on, our economy remains very resilient. And Secretary Paulson this week at the Cabinet meeting stressed that he remains solidly confident in the long-term fundamentals of our economy. Exports are strong, consumer spending has kept up, and productivity has been solid.
One thing we are concerned about is the impact of the extension of the unemployment benefits. Our economists expect that the extension will add to the unemployment rate over the course of the year. We used to provide 26 weeks of benefits; that was extended for an additional 13 weeks. So that's almost three-quarters of a year for people that could get benefits. For some it's taking them longer to find a job, but that's one of the consequences of increasing unemployment benefits is -- or extending unemployment benefits -- unemployment rate can go up. It's of the problems with it.
Q Secretary Paulson back in May in Kansas City and speaking on the stimulus package said that it's going to lead to the creation of about 500,000 jobs.
MS. PERINO: Before the end of the year.
Q Before the end of the year. Today's report showed that there's been a loss of 463,000 jobs in the first seven months. Are you still sticking to that 500,000?
MS. PERINO: You know, I'd refer you to the Treasury Department to see if Secretary Paulson wants to revise his -- what he said in May. I haven't heard that he does, and I would again remind you that what he said to the President and the Cabinet members the other day is that we're headed in the right direction, the trends are positive, the long-term fundamentals of our economy are good, and that we're still only midway through the year. And the stimulus package, we believed, would not have the full effect until the end of the year. So I think we need to wait just a little bit while longer to see how things go; continue to try to improve our economic outlook. But I'll refer you to the Treasury Department in case Secretary Paulson has changed his opinion.
Q Dana, a bipartisan Senate group today approved an energy package called New ERA, which would expand the search for domestic sources of oil, and also make a substantial commitment to alternative fuel cars. What's your reaction to this?
MS. PERINO: I understand the legislation is just coming to light this morning, so we will take a look at it and see if there's aspects of it that we could embrace. I'm sure there are some things that are in line with what the President would like to see.
I think fundamentally we would need to see a bill that would increase the supply here in our own country across the board in a comprehensive way. As you've heard us say, we believe that we need to find more of our own traditional resources, but in addition to that, look for more alternatives and renewable energies, as well as seeking out technologies that will -- limits the amounts that we need to fuel our cars or to turn on the lights.
Q The President is basically sending Congress off on its summer break with a message to constituents that Democrats have done nothing to address higher gasoline prices. Is this something?
MS. PERINO: Well, I don't think that anyone -- any of the Democratic -- either of the Democratic leaders of the Senate or the House have shown a willingness to allow for there to be a vote on energy legislation before they leave town. They're leaving town today. This legislation is just being introduced today. So I think that the fact that they haven't acted on that shows that they have a disregard for what the Americans are -- people are concerned about, which is higher gas prices, and trying to finally address the root causes of those higher gas prices, which is a supply issue.
Q Is the White House concerned about reports that the U.S. has concluded that members of Pakistan's intelligence service helped plan the July 7th bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan? And how is this impacting U.S.-Pakistan relations?
MS. PERINO: I saw that report. It would be inappropriate for me to talk about intelligence matters here, so I'd refer you to the intelligence community, if in fact they would like comment on it.
I would point you back to the President's meeting with Prime Minister Gillani, which I cannot believe was only Monday of this week -- because it feels like it was a long time ago -- but they had a good meeting. They agreed that the war on terror was one that we needed to fight together because the enemy is going not after -- not just after Pakistanis, but the United States as well. And so our joint efforts need to be comprehensive.
So on the specific issue that you raised, I would not be able to comment, but I would say in general we continue to work with the Pakistanis to try to improve the situation.
Q Did they discuss this in their talks that day?
MS. PERINO: I would decline to comment.
Q One more. American officials with knowledge of this intelligence say that apparently the Pakistani intelligence service is also increasingly providing information to militants to block our efforts against them, and even in Afghanistan has provided them evidence -- I mean, has provided information that's helped them attack U.S. troops. The White House has got to be concerned about --
MS. PERINO: As I said, we wouldn't comment on any intelligence matters in particular, but I can tell you that the President and Prime Minister Gillani had an extensive conversation about counterterrorism efforts. And that's as much as I can say.
Q What's the status of the strategic framework talks with Iraq right now?
MS. PERINO: There continues to be discussions amongst the negotiators in Iraq. We have nothing to announce today, and I don't know if we will in the next several days either. I think that it's just going to take a little bit longer to flesh out all of the details. So no update yet.
Q Details on what? What are the --
MS. PERINO: Well, it's a comprehensive agreement. I mean, obviously they're narrowing it down to the issues, but since we haven't been commenting on what those are I'm not going to do so now. But I will tell you that since it is comprehensive -- across the board from the economic issues, political issues, and diplomatic issues -- that they are -- there's a range of issues in this agreement because we've made it more broad-based; it's not just security-focused, but it talks about political cooperation, economic cooperation, but of course the issues that we've talked about in regards to an aspirational goal for a time horizon, and when we might be able to bring more of our troops home based on success, is part of the discussion and one that's still in negotiations right now.
Q Dana, also on something totally different -- logistical thing --
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q Do you know when the President might sign the Higher Education Act that had final congressional passage?
MS. PERINO: I want to check on that, Peter, because I don't know if we've said that we -- if we have said that the President will sign that bill. It was one of the bills that we had some concerns about. I do think that they moved in our way a little bit. So before I tell you when he would sign it, let me just make sure he's going to sign it.
Q Do you know what the concerns were?
MS. PERINO: Not off the top of my head. We have two SAPs out, so I'd refer you to those for now. And Scott Stanzel back at the office might have more.
Q Thank you, Dana. The stimulus package seems to have had a positive impact. I'm wondering, does the President feel like an additional stimulus package should be forthcoming? And if so, why? And if not, why not?
MS. PERINO: We believe that we should try to let the first stimulus package have a chance to work first before we move forward on trying to get a second one. I think that a lot of the aspects of a second stimulus bill that have been floated around aren't necessarily stimulative, which was one of the key principles that both sides of the aisle had last January when we worked through the first stimulus package.
And so I think the President is not inclined to move forward on a second stimulus package right now. When we see that the first stimulus package is working -- remember, if you do a second stimulus package, those dollars would add to the federal deficit. And we just had discussions about that earlier this week as well, so it's something we need to think about prudently before we move forward. And one of the best ways to try to help improve the economy is to do -- is for Congress to act on a couple of the things that they have in front of them.
We think -- the housing bill was important to help improve and increase stability and confidence in the housing market. So that got passed this week. But one of the major -- well, the driving engine of our economy is energy, and they have not acted on that. But as they come back after their recess and realize that this is something that they really ought to do, that could go a long way to try to help improve our economic outlook.
So I think talking about a second stimulus package right now is premature.
Q And a follow-up. On the nominations, it seems like Congress is sort of dragging its heels -- if I'm reading you correctly, you feel like they're dragging their heels on some of the appointments that have been out there for some time. Do you think this is retaliatory? Do you think this is something that is tit for tat?
MS. PERINO: Well, I actually think that you could not call it tit for tat given that when Republicans were in charge of the Congress during the previous administration, we did not have this kind of problem, where you had entire commissions not being able to work because of petty politics.
But that's what's happening here, and it's really hard for me to believe that they spend all this time talking about speculators and how concerned they are about speculators, and the very entity that governs speculators is the CTFC and they have refused to move forward to allow these people, who have offered to serve and have been willing to put themselves out there for hearings and to have their lives subjected to public scrutiny, and still they can't even get an up or down vote. And we think that that is petty politics at its worst. And hopefully it will change in the future, but given their track record, we don't believe that they are doing their job.
There's two things that have to happen in a nomination: President Bush nominates somebody and the Congress is supposed to provide a up or down vote. That's what the Constitution says. And the fact that they have to play these games and to stay in session every three days to prevent us from any recess appointments is really irresponsible. What we're trying to do is fill these commissions so that people can actually do their jobs. I mean, can you imagine if in the private sector people went without a CEO or without a deputy to the CEO for months on end just because of petty politics? That would be outrageous, and we think it's outrageous here. It should not be happening in our government.
Q Two more economic-related questions. You said you're concerned about the extension of the unemployment benefits from 26 to 39 weeks, the reason being that you feel that the -- extending it 13 weeks decreases the motivation for some people to go out and find work. Is that your concern on that?
MS. PERINO: I think -- yes. I think the labor economists will tell you that the longer benefits are available, it just sometimes then takes people longer to go out and find a job. Now, for some people, legitimately it is taking them longer to find a job, but just by human nature you have more incentive to go out and really work to find something if you realize that you have a deadline that's looming. But we agreed to extend the benefits and we recognize that there are some people who really do need them, but a consequence of that is that you might see an uptick in the unemployment rate.
Q Also, a question on the stimulus -- (inaudible) -- you said earlier that Paulson says it's going to be the end of the year before we know about the impact of the present stimulus package. It seems to me just -- (inaudible) -- run out of time; in other words, he's going to wait until the end of the year to know --
MS. PERINO: No, let me clarify. The question was -- that a previous forecast by Secretary Paulson was that we would hope to see 500,000 jobs created by the end of the year. When it comes to the stimulus package, we are already seeing a positive impact on the economy, but the additional benefits from it and the data that we'll see from it aren't going to come for a little while. So it's not that we don't believe that there will be -- won't be any positive effect until December 31st, it's just that indicators lag a little bit.
Q Well, the full impact, is what you're saying. But if you're not going to know the full impact until the end of the year, haven't you kind of run out of time for the White House to be involved in a stimulus package?
MS. PERINO: Well, I would disagree because we -- the reason I would disagree is because if you look at the trend in the GDP numbers over the past three quarters, yes, the number for the fourth quarter in -- fourth quarter of 2007 was revised downward just slightly, but the next two quarters showed positive growth. And 1.9 percent of growth from just last quarter shows that we are heading in the right direction.
And so another stimulus package -- one, if it was not stimulative to the economy and was more giving out campaign benefits, basically, in an election year and then adding to the deficit, but not really having an impact on the economy, does not seem like it would be responsible.
But this President stays in very close contact with his economic advisors, and when they have told him we see a crisis looming or we see a problem looming, he has worked to act.
So, for example, last August, August 31st, the President called on Congress to pass a housing bill. And it took them 11 months to finally get it done, and they really only got it done because we were on the brink of yet another serious crisis with the GSEs. Thankfully, that has abated and we have the legislation now that will hopefully help us. But the President has been in the lead on this; Congress has lagged terribly. So I think we have to be very circumspect before we were to move forward on a second stimulus package.
Q Dana, at the risk of sounding like someone we all know, two questions. (Laughter.) Heavy and light. Heavy and light. First, just to clarify on Pakistan, you're saying that you are not going to comment on whether the issue of the Kabul embassy bombing came up during the meeting, not that it didn't come up. Was that correct?
MS. PERINO: That particular incident did not come up.
Q It did not come up in the President's meeting --
MS. PERINO: In that -- in the meeting that I was in, it did not come up. That particular incident did not.
Q Okay. So I guess maybe I should ask more broadly. Did the President raise this issue with the Pakistani Prime Minister at any time?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. But on the overall issue of counterterrorism and cooperation between our military and our intelligence services, it certainly was discussed.
Q The bombing was discussed?
MS. PERINO: No, the overall issue of counterterrorism cooperation between our military and our intelligence services was discussed.
Q Okay. And then just on a lighter note, we see a tent outside at the President's father's home. Maybe you can share with us a little bit about what he's doing here this weekend. And also, will this be his last trip to Kennebunkport as President?
MS. PERINO: Let me answer the second question first. I don't know if it would be the last one. But the President has got a lot of travel between now and the end of the month, and then we have the convention, and then there's the election. So I don't know if he will be back, given the way that the season is. So we'll get back to you if there's any changes there.
As to the activity this weekend, there is a family wedding this Saturday. There will be a reception at Walker's Point on Saturday late afternoon. The couple getting married is Chris Ellis and Rachel Williams. Rachel Williams, you may remember, was a press assistant in our office, and now works for Ed Gillespie. And Chris Ellis is working in the Advance Office. And they will be married in a private ceremony amongst family and friends, and the family is looking forward to being together over the weekend. There are several members of the family that are here.
Q Is the ceremony at St. Anne's or at the --
MS. PERINO: Since it's a private ceremony, I'm going to decline to comment until after the ceremony takes place.
Q How is Chris Ellis related?
Q Chris Ellis is the President's grand nephew, is that right?
MS. PERINO: I think it's second cousin.
Q Second -- his aunt's son -- aunt's grandson.
MS. PERINO: That's right. Wendell will be available to draw that tree for you. (Laughter.)
Q Dana, thank you. Sorry for the --
MS. PERINO: That's okay.
Q Do you expect a response by the Iranians this weekend to the offer by the P5-plus-1?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I haven't heard whether Mr. Solana has heard any more from the Iranians. We will consult with our allies in the P5-plus-1 talks, and see where we go from here. I just haven't heard from the Iranians. They're a little bit unpredictable in how they would respond. I think they've sent some messages over the week that were very -- I would say the Iranians sent mixed messages this week, and it's really hard to tell what the bottom line is. And so we'll need to wait and see if they do respond formally.
This was -- we asked them for -- we gave them two weeks, and you're right that that would be tomorrow. And if there's something later today, I'll try to provide it for you. But for the moment, I think maybe if you want to check with Mr. Solana's office to see if they've heard anything.
Q How firm is the deadline of two weeks? Is that for Mr. Solana to decide? The Iranians say --
MS. PERINO: I think that the -- all of us will -- the P5-plus-1 will stay in contact with one another as we do on a regular basis. We can decide where do we go from here. But negative consequences await if they don't have a positive response to our very generous incentives package, and that would possibly come in the form of sanctions.
Q Do you guys have any response to China's rebuking the President for meeting with the five Chinese dissidents on Monday, saying that basically he -- they say the U.S. made irresponsible remarks on China's human rights and religious situations, rudely interfered in China's internal affairs, sent a wrong, seriously wrong, message to anti-China forces?
MS. PERINO: Well, President Bush has good relationships with the Chinese, which is why he is able to have frank, open and candid conversations with them. And we are less concerned with their public comments than we are with actions on the ground in China. We would like to see an improvement in human rights, freedom and democracy in that country. And they know where the President stands. And so I think we're just less concerned about what they would say about the President meeting with dissidents than actually what happens inside the country.
Q It's my understanding that Senator Stevens was invited to go along to Alaska on Monday night, and I wonder if that invitation still stands, or if he's accepted it, if he's planning to go?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if he is going to be going on that trip, but protocol is that any member of a state is invited to travel with the President, and that did not change in his case.
Last one, Dan.
Q Follow-up on the China -- you just asked about how it has to do with actions on the ground. I mean, some of the actions recently are the Chinese have apparently gone back on their word. They will now be censoring the Internet for all the traveling press. And Nancy Pelosi has called for Bush to be more forthright, or more aggressive, I guess, in demanding human rights improvements when he's in China. Do you have, I guess, reaction to this?
MS. PERINO: I think President Bush is plenty aggressive when it comes to human rights, and he works in a way to try to be constructive and to try to actually effect change. We are disappointed in any censorship of Internet access for anybody -- not just of traveling press but for the Chinese people. Internet access has increased quite dramatically in China. President Bush believes that they have -- that the Chinese have nothing to fear from people having more information and more ability to express themselves.
And when it comes to what he will do in China, I think that no one should question this President's commitment to human rights and democracy and freedom. This is what he has shaped his whole presidency on. And so we thank Secretary -- we thank Speaker Pelosi for her interest in it, because we think that everybody needs to be sending the same message.
Q I guess -- maybe I should ask a different way. Given the event -- the Internet censorship, a lot of reports of dissidents being jailed, kind of shipped out of Beijing, all kinds of crack-down reports, what are the actions on the ground that you would point to that are signs of improvement by the Chinese leadership?
MS. PERINO: Well, admittedly, any signs of progress are very slow. And when you're trying to change perceptions of what freedom and democracy can mean for a country, it's slow and hard work. It takes a lot of deliberative effort and a lot of conversations. You could say that half a step forward would have been the agreement to allow for some areas where people would be allowed to express themselves or have a protest, hopefully peaceful protest. So I will just assure you that President Bush, when he meets with him, with President Hu, once again, at the Olympics, for their bilateral meeting on the Saturday, that he always talks about this with him in meetings, both privately and publicly; he shares the same message.
Q And also -- I don't mean to comment -- but just a minor follow-up on the Internet part. Do you know the impact on the traveling White House press corps, what that will be? Are you going -- are they going to be subject to the same -- are they in the same center as the travel pool?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I think that -- I don't know, we'll check. I think you have slightly different set-up of --
Q It's a different --
MS. PERINO: It's a difficult situation. We've been working to try to make sure that your access is as great as it possibly can be. And sometimes I think that when we -- it might take us to the last minute to try to improve upon some things, but we've been successful in the past in that regard, and we'll continue to work with the IOC as well as the Chinese.
Q Who's going to control the venue that the White House -- the traveling press corps is in?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. Stuart, do you know?
MR. SICILIANO: I would just -- Gregg Pitts will be here later today. He can help you with any of those logistical --
MS. PERINO: Okay, yes. I don't know a lot of those logistical details.
Q Okay, thank you.
MS. PERINO: Last one, Sheryl.
Q Dana, just to follow on that, I can't help but wonder as I listen to you, at what point does the President conclude that while he has talked to President Hu about this many times, and made his views very strongly known, that talking isn't really working, and that maybe there are some other steps to be taken?
MS. PERINO: What other steps, Sheryl?
Q I don't know what those -- well, that's what I'm asking you. I don't know what those steps might be, but is the White House contemplating anything further?
MS. PERINO: Well, look, we -- you are not going to see immediate change overnight in any country when they are moving to be more modern.
Q But we've used sanctions on other -- against other countries whose policies we disagree with.
MS. PERINO: Look, the President has talked about China, about human rights, from the beginning. He believes that the Olympics is a place to celebrate athletes who have reached the pinnacle of their careers, and he's going to cheer on our athletes and to support the other athletes as well.
We can talk about human rights before, during and after the Olympics, and we will. And this will be a problem that -- in terms of helping to try to improve human rights, this will be a problem that President Bush continues to work on throughout his presidency. And the next President will have to continue to work on it as well. And members of Congress, if they are so concerned, can try to work on it as well. It's going to take a lot of concentrated effort.
But when you're asking me like what else could possibly be done, I can't imagine what else you would recommend that we do, except for try to work with them, provide access to some of the dissidents to the White House, where they could tell their stories. And these stories got told all around the world because of President Bush having that meeting.
He hasn't just met with Chinese dissidents. I mean, where is everybody's concern about the dissidents in Cuba, or elsewhere? And you don't hear a lot of talk about other countries. So President Bush has been working on this issue of the freedom agenda across the board, all around the world, and he will continue to do so before, during and after the Olympics.
Q Yes, just a quickie. What's the outlook for the rest of the day?
MS. PERINO: Sunny and -- (laughter) -- I don't know. I mean, President Bush is there with his family. He got his briefings this morning. He already went on a bike ride, and he'll be kept up to date on developments as they occur on a range of issues. And if there's something more to tell you about the DOJ issue, I will let you know as soon as I can.
Q Are you planning to do anything tomorrow --
MS. PERINO: Not on Saturday or Sunday.
Q Nothing, okay.
MS. PERINO: We'll be around, but --
Q There's no more briefings?
MS. PERINO: I don't think so. Not unless -- nothing planned.
Q The President will attend the reception, the wedding reception?
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q And the wedding? And the wedding?
MS. PERINO: To be announced.
Q And any evening event? Rehearsal dinner or something?
MS. PERINO: There is a rehearsal dinner tomorrow night, but -- tonight -- but I don't -- there's no presidential involvement. But I don't think so -- to make sure that you are respectful of the fact that people want to be amongst their family and friends, and not cause a scene -- (laughter) -- with the President going.
Q Us? Cause a scene?
MS. PERINO: No, not you. (Laughter.)
END 11:31 A.M. EDT