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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 25, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:32 A.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good morning. Very busy day at the White House. I'm going to give you a couple of points. The President had a meeting with the President of Lebanon earlier that you were there for. He also signed the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 Amendments of 2008. He then met with the Orthodox Union Leadership to acknowledge the 110th anniversary of the Orthodox Union's founding, and wished the Jewish people a very happy New Year.
At 1:15 p.m. this afternoon, the President will meet with the President of the Palestinian Authority, President Abbas. He looks forward to discussing the progress made toward building Palestinian institutions and toward realizing the vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
And then he will have a meeting with bicameral, bipartisan members of Congress, as well as the two Senators who are running for President, Senators McCain and Senator Obama. The President looks forward to this meeting. He announced it last night in his address -- I'm sure we'll have plenty of questions on that today, so I'll stop there.
This evening, the President will meet with the Prime Minister of India, Prime Minister Singh, following which they will have dinner together in the Old Family Dining Room. The President intends to strengthen the strategic partnership and build upon our progress in other areas of cooperation, such as agriculture and jobs, education, trade, and defense. This meeting comes after the approval* of the U.S.-India agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation. The conclusion of this agreement has been a priority for both President Bush and Prime Minister Singh, and strengthens the U.S.-India strategic relationship.
Two announcements. A scheduling update: Tomorrow President Bush will meet with Prime Minister Brown, Gordon Brown, in the Oval Office. The Prime Minister and the President will discuss the global economy, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Georgia, and other strategic issues of shared concern.
And in addition to that, I have another scheduling announcement, that the President will welcome President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine to the White House on September 29, 2008. The President and President Yushchenko will discuss how to reenforce democracy, security, and national sovereignty in Ukraine and throughout the region, and steps to advance Ukraine's efforts to integrate into the Euro-Atlantic community.
With that, I'll take your questions. Go ahead, Deb.
Q What can you really accomplish in an hour-long meeting at the end of the day? Isn't all the action up on the Hill? I mean, is this more like a group hug, or what are we doing here?
MS. PERINO: No, there's a lot of action up on the Hill. The President appreciates how members of Congress have pulled together to take on a very big issue. We have asked members of Congress to bite off a lot, but it's not more than any of us can chew. So what we'll do at the 5:00 p.m. meeting is have every -- I'm sorry -- 4:00 p.m. meeting, have everybody get together and hopefully start driving to a conclusion.
I can't tell you if we would have a final deal by then, or if it would emerge right after that. We'll have to see. But we think that the participation of the two candidates could help us in resolving this situation. I think that anybody who's looking at our -- the credit markets overnight understands the concern that we have for the economy and how important it is that we try to move quickly today. So this meeting is a chance for everyone to come together and try to reach a solution, which is what they've been trying to do and we really appreciate the bipartisan spirit that people have approached this with.
Q Can you take us through how this meeting came about? Can you give us a little bit of a tick-tock there?
MS. PERINO: I think I did yesterday, but I'll be happy to go through it again.
Q I guess I'm most interested in the participation of the Senators.
MS. PERINO: Well, we have said from the beginning that we wanted to work in a bipartisan fashion, and we have been. Remember the President last Friday announced this plan in a Rose Garden ceremony here at the White House. And then over the weekend, we worked with members of both parties on the legislation over the weekend and continued to have -- through the early part of this week as members of Congress held their hearings.
Yesterday, as you know, Senator McCain called the President shortly before he made the announcement that he would be suspending his campaign and that he was going to call on the President to bring a group together so that we could try to reach a solution. After conferring with the team here I was able to tell you that, one, we welcome Senator McCain's announcement, and then later on the President was able to organize everyone's schedules so that we could invite everybody down.
And we think that we have been making significant bipartisan progress on this legislation, but it -- that if the participation of the two Senators can help us finalize this situation, then that's all for the better.
Q But this -- I mean, beyond a photo op, what do you get out of today -- here, this specific meeting here?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that you -- if you look at some of the commentary that was coming out from people on background -- nobody was really willing to go on the record -- but they were all looking at each other. We're in the middle of an election campaign, there's no doubt about it. It's dominating our coverage and it was starting to seep into the debate. And even though people wanted to work in a bipartisan fashion, the thought was that bringing these two candidates together would actually help finalize the framework that we were closing in on, and we think that that's all for the better.
Q Is it a fair statement to say that actually this idea where everybody is sitting down -- bicameral, bipartisan, Obama, McCain -- that starts with Senator McCain?
MS. PERINO: Senator McCain is the one who called for the meeting and we thought that it was a good idea. And I think that everybody who is coming today thinks that it was -- it's a good idea. But certainly I would say that members from both sides of the aisle and both Houses of Congress and both of the candidates have recognized the urgency with which we need to move, and they've been trying to work together. So if this meeting can help bring it to conclusion, that will help us, too.
Q How could it? How could it help bring it to a conclusion?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that having everybody on the same page and here, airing out the final issues that we have to deal with could help us finalize it and get it to a vote.
Q But you just said you don't know if you'll have a deal before the meeting or directly after, but it sounds like we're talking imminent here.
MS. PERINO: I wouldn't say that. I think it's impossible to say. I wouldn't say that we could get one before or after; I just don't know. What I do know is that it is urgent that we get it done.
Q But, Dana, is that not happening on the Hill? You say it's important to get everyone in the room, everyone on the same page, air out the differences. Is that not happening in the meetings on the Hill?
MS. PERINO: No, I think it is, and that's why -- that's part of the legislative process. And the President now can bring everybody together after they've hashed through a lot of the issues and had their hearings and invited our -- members of the administration to come up, talk with them. We've been in the room, working with staff on details of the legislation, accepting some of their recommendations, pushing back on others.
For example, on executive compensation, I think we all understand the sentiment that executives should not have a windfall based on something that was a failure. And so -- but Secretary Paulson knows how important it is to get those details exactly right, so he's trying to work on the language so it would be what we -- enough of what we need in order to get the legislation done, and in a way that will protect the taxpayers. So those are -- that's one of the things that we're working on.
So we can do that up on the Hill. But I think this meeting is a way to bring everybody together, bring all the pieces together, everyone in one room with the President of the United States, who gave an address to the nation last night to talk about how dire the situation is and how we need to move urgently. And he's really appreciative of the bipartisan cooperation that we've had so far.
Q Dana, this sounds like a negotiating meeting at 4:00 p.m. Is it?
MS. PERINO: I didn't describe it that way, and I think that we need to let the meeting take place, and then I'll describe it for you. I don't know exactly how the meeting is going to play out.
Q Is that the intent?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think we just need to see. I think it depends on progress that has been made up on the Hill up to now. And so with members of Congress meeting as we speak behind closed doors, I think it's just too early to say.
Q Should we expect to hear from the McCain, as well as Bush during the meeting?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. You mean during the -- at the pool at the top? I don't know. I'll check.
Q Dana, you seem to be indicating that a deal is close. Nancy Pelosi just spoke; she seemed to indicate the same thing. But just this morning, John McCain gives the sense that the deal is all but dead. Which is it?
MS. PERINO: I think that we've made significant progress. We're -- have a framework that we can try to close on, and we hope that we can get it done quickly. I think that it's in everyone's best interest for us to get it done.
This is where Wall Street intersects with Main Street. And we have a lot of work to do in a very short amount of time. And we really appreciate the cooperation that we've had from the candidates, from the leaders and from the chairmen, who have worked tirelessly over the past several days. This is to help not just financial institutions, but to help every single American, when it comes to their retirement accounts, college loans, their car loans, their homes, their very existence -- this is what we're trying to protect.
Q But why would he say that it's stalling, that it's not going anywhere, and then the White House saying just the opposite?
MS. PERINO: I did not say it was the opposite. I said we are driving to a conclusion, we have a framework that we're moving forward. And I haven't seen his comments, and maybe he has information that I don't have that makes him think that this deal is almost dead. But I can tell you that members of Congress have been working together. I think if you have to look at other people's comments, that they understand the urgency.
Obviously, there's a lot of questions, and there should be. We should be held accountable, as should the members of Congress, for lots of different questions that members of Congress's constituents are asking them. But I think that everybody is going to -- coming to a place where they can get together this afternoon and, hopefully, close on a framework where we can get this legislation passed.
I think it's really important that we do it as quickly as possible. If you look at the credit markets that tightened up overnight, Secretary Paulson is extremely concerned about that situation. And I think it underscores the importance of moving quickly.
Q Speaker Pelosi apparently said a short time ago on Capitol Hill that when she comes here this afternoon, she's going to be looking for some signs from President Bush that he sees the need for a second stimulus package. What's the White House's position now on that?
MS. PERINO: Our position on the stimulus package has been that we don't necessarily think it's the right thing to do, but that we are open to listening. And I'm sure that President Bush will welcome her comments and take them into consideration.
Q Because she's making the argument now that it's going to be very difficult to try to explain to the American people -- as the President laid out the urgency of the Congress to act now -- why it is then that a second stimulus package wouldn't be needed. And the President talked about how Main Street banks could close, how 401(k)s could go down --
MS. PERINO: And I think that the point is that if we act on this legislation now, that scenario will not happen. And so I'll let her make her case to the President.
Go ahead, Mark.
Q Dana, what does the White House think of the idea of phasing in the cost of this -- not doing all $700 billion right away but putting like a down payment of a couple hundred billion dollars on it?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think, again, those are all details that are being worked out in the negotiations. I'm not going to negotiate from here. That's served me well in the past and I think I'll just continue to do that, as we work to finalize this legislation. What I would remember people is that this legislation would authorize the Secretary of the Treasury to buy assets up to $700 billion. The intent is that that -- then the United States taxpayer would, if we can hold them and then sell these assets back, that the United States taxpayer could either -- well, at least recoup a lot of the money, if not be made whole, in the future. We can't promise anything in terms of return on investment, but that's what -- that's one of the messages that we've been trying to drive and that we'll talk about this afternoon.
Q But does he need all that authority right now?
MS. PERINO: Well, he -- I think he needs the authorities, and when it comes to the financial aspect of it of how much does he need, I think Secretary Paulson made the recommendation of $700 billion because that was his assessment of how much he thought that he would need. But one of the things that we have worked with Congress on and that members of Congress were able to help us improve upon was the transparency and oversight of this program. And the President said last night that we would support a bipartisan board who would work with the Secretary of the Treasury to make sure that the taxpayers are being protected.
Q Can I follow on that, a small thing on that same thing? Where did the figure $700 billion come from? Where did the President get that?
MS. PERINO: Well, from Secretary Paulson who had made the assessment that that's how much he needed.
Q It's based on what they think they could actually use? Some people in Congress are questioning where that figure came from.
MS. PERINO: I'll the Secretary of the Treasury's office answer that in detail because all -- what I know is that they did an assessment of what they thought they would need to be able to get the system moving again because of all of these assets that were frozen, and that $700 billion was about the amount that he thought was going to be necessary.
Q And what is the President bringing to the table for the 4:00 p.m. meeting today? Does he have some ideas that he's actually going to put down?
MS. PERINO: Well, again, I'll decline to negotiate here in the press. But what we have been doing is working with members of Congress, and we have made a few steps forward and they've come a few steps our way, so we're reaching a consensus. And we're going to try and drive that to a conclusion today.
Q Dana, on the Hill, one of the concerns among House Republicans seems to be that if they were to support the President, they were worried that Senator McCain might take a different position and they felt caught. So does the President believe that it's important to get Senator McCain on board so that he can bring the party together?
MS. PERINO: I'm going to let -- I'll let The New York Times and the political reporters there hash that out and do the analysis. I'm not going to do that here.
Q I guess I'm asking, is that one reason why it's important to get the two candidates together --
MS. PERINO: The President believes that it's important to try to get these two candidates together --
Q -- to build support on the Hill?
MS. PERINO: -- because if their participation can help drive this to a conclusion, that that would be for the better for all Americans.
Q And also, in their conversations yesterday, in the President's conversations with Senator Obama and Senator McCain, did they discuss any specifics of the package? Was there any substantive discussion there about what should be included?
MS. PERINO: I wasn't there, I wasn't privy to the conversations, but I know that they were brief, but good conversations. So I don't know how much detail they could have gotten into.
Go ahead, Keith.
Q Dana, why did it take Senator McCain to call such a meeting? Why didn't the President take the initiative for bringing members of Congress together and have a discussion like this at the White House?
MS. PERINO: Well, as I said, Keith, we've been working in a bipartisan fashion and it actually has been a good spirit of cooperation. Senator McCain had a good idea to try to bring everybody together. They were out on the campaign trail; they were willing to come back to Washington, and the President thought it was a good idea to take them up on it.
Q Has the President ever held a meeting like this at the White House before on someone else's suggestion?
MS. PERINO: With Senators McCain and Obama running for President? No.
Q No, no -- I missed what you said. Has he ever held a meeting like this at the White House at someone else's suggestion? I just never heard of an outside party organizing meetings --
MS. PERINO: We don't have the corner market on all the good ideas, Keith.
Q Well, I guess what I'm getting to is, isn't this somewhat politicizing it, because if a deal comes out of this, then this is a meeting that Senator McCain arranged; it looks like a big victory for him? Isn't the President participating in politicization of this?
MS. PERINO: I think you should look at it actually the other way, which is that to get the politics out of it and bring everybody together at the same time, at the same table, that would be a way to help all American people by helping us get this resolved today.
Q Do you know what the plans are for the candidates, as well as the leaders, after the meeting? Are they going to come out to --
MS. PERINO: I don't. I'll try to check, but I don't know.
Go ahead, April.
Q Dana, could you tell us about the conversation, the phone conversation with President Bush and John McCain yesterday?
MS. PERINO: Could I tell you about the conversation? I think I already did.
Q I mean, can you -- can you give us more of the tick-tock? Can you tell us when, how, what? I mean, because something -- there's something, it seems like, that's missing from all of the things that happened, the sequencing of things yesterday. And what I'm trying to find out is how did this -- I mean, you're saying it's an effort to bring it all together, to get both sides of the aisle. But there's still a piece missing. It's kind of going back what Keith is saying, political -- making this a political stand. And you guys never even came out before with statements saying, we agree with Senator Obama. Now you're saying, we agree with Obama and McCain. I'm just trying to understand more of the dynamics, the nuts and bolts, versus -- I'm trying to see what you're saying, but I'm not getting it.
MS. PERINO: All right, well, as I said yesterday, and I'll say it again today, Senator McCain called the President shortly before he made his announcement that he was going to be suspending his campaign and that he was going to ask the President to call people together. The President took a little bit of time to think about that and he reached out -- well, the senior staff reached out to the staffs at the campaign to find out what their availability would be, if they would be coming back to Washington and would they be willing and available to meet. And Senator Obama's team said yes, and then the President called Senator Obama and the meeting was arranged.
I don't think there's much more to see than that.
Q So when you put out that statement, your email, was that approved by the President? Did the President tell you to put that out? Had he already had in his mind at that time, this is what we're going to do?
MS. PERINO: I'm not a freelancer, April. When I said that the President had invited the Senators to the White House, along with the bicameral, bipartisan leadership of Congress, of course, I was able to make that announcement --
Q But you specifically talked about Barack Obama and John McCain.
MS. PERINO: I'm sorry?
Q You specifically in that email talked about Barack Obama and John McCain. That was an unprecedented email from you.
MS. PERINO: I'm making it very clear that we want this to be a bipartisan initiative. We don't think that this is a political event, we're not trying to make it a political event. I will go out of my way to say it again, that we want them to come here to be able to offer their ideas, and if their participation could help us save this American economy, then we're going to do it.
Q Did anybody know about McCain's request at the White House before he made it, or was it just an out-of-the-blue kind of shot?
MS. PERINO: Before he called the President and told him before he made his announcement?
MS. PERINO: Yes -- I mean, no -- McCain called the President, but he did so beforehand.
Q That's when people at the White House first found about it, there was no discussion with the campaign before that?
MS. PERINO: I believe so. I don't know if anybody was -- I believe so. I don't know all the phone calls that happened at the White House, but --
Q Are you confident that the White House and Congress could reach a deal on this without this meeting at 4:00 p.m.?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to speculate. I don't know.
Q I mean, is this an essential linchpin?
MS. PERINO: At this point, it's water under the bridge and it doesn't matter because we're going to have the meeting and hopefully we'll have a deal, as well.
Q Just in terms of characterizing what we've got going on here this afternoon, is this sort of an essential linchpin?
MS. PERINO: I think it's an important meeting. Members of Congress have been working night and day along with the Treasury Department, the Fed Chairman, and the SEC and the White House to resolve differences, to craft the best possible bill. And this meeting is going to happen, and hopefully it will help.
Q Dana, I wanted to follow something Yunji was asking you. McCain's words this morning were the same things he said yesterday. He said, "No consensus has developed to support the administration's proposal to meet the crisis. I do not believe that the plan on the table will pass as it currently stands." That was as of 8:45 a.m. this morning. That's very different from what you're saying --
MS. PERINO: I'm saying we have made progress every day and we are closer today to a conclusion than we were yesterday.
Q Well, I mean, you're saying you're close to an agreement -- he's saying that's not the case; you're nowhere near one.
MS. PERINO: Okay, well, then there might be a difference of opinion. But what I'm telling you is the assessment that I have from our Legislative Affairs people -- that we certainly don't have a deal yet; there are a lot of issues in a very complicated bill that we're trying to do in a very short amount of time. Just imagine, Wall Street and Washington move on very different time frames. Wall Street moves very fast; Washington tends to move very slow. We're trying to ask them to move very quickly on something that is very complicated in which we are asking a lot of the American people. The President talked to the American people about that last night.
One thing that is for sure is that members of Congress from both sides of the aisle recognize the urgency with which we need to move. And so that's why we are starting to have -- develop a framework where we can get to a conclusion.
Q Dana, can I ask a different subject?
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q Stay on the same subject?
MS. PERINO: No, I'm going to stay on -- I'm going to go to Goyal. Go ahead, Goyal. I think we've exhausted this one.
Q As far as the Prime Minister of India's visit to the White House this afternoon, his statement is concerned, you said that he came after the approval of the nuclear -- civil nuclear agreement. They'll be talking about the earlier agreement, or now the new one, the 123 agreement? Are they going to --
MS. PERINO: We're talking about the 123 agreement.
Q Are they going to sign anything this evening, as further --
MS. PERINO: No, I don't know of anything that needed to be signed. We need to -- we have some work to do with Congress. But I think that's on the right track.
Q And second, as far as the President's U.N. visit was concerned, as far as human rights are concerned on the -- in the United Nations and around the globe, the Human Rights Council has violators of human rights and they don't respect the human rights around the globe, including women's rights and all that. And OIC -- Organization of Islamic States -- are pushing --
MS. PERINO: What's your question?
Q They are pushing for a law in the Human Rights Council and that is against the woman. What President think about those human --
MS. PERINO: I think that the President said the other day at the United Nations, that the U.N. as a body needs to reexamine the Human Rights Council and he would hope that they would look at a whole host of issues, including that one.
Q Yes, about the upcoming meeting -- why not Georgia? If Ukraine, why not Georgia?
MS. PERINO: President Bush was able to see President Saakashvili at the Iraq coalition meeting on Tuesday afternoon -- Tuesday evening at the United Nations. And we'll let you know if there's additional meetings.
Q And also, is it true that there is a hold on official high-level contacts with Russia, as reported by The Los Angeles Times, for instance?
MS. PERINO: Well, Secretary Rice met with Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday, so --
Q Yes, I know, but this is like the staff level, but they say that the -- like working level, high level -- (laughter) -- like assistant secretary, deputy secretary --
MS. PERINO: I think that they are working -- I think Ambassador Fried has been talking with his counterpart. So I'm not aware of that, but I'd refer you to the State Department. Certainly if there's a freeze it's not come from here.
Q In this financial crisis, does the Bush government expect any help from foreign countries, especially Germany? And what does the President say to the reaction of German Chancellor Merkel, who said she doesn't want to get involved into this rescue plan at all?
MS. PERINO: Well, what I would point you to is the G7 finance ministers, who have been working very closely with the Treasury and the Fed to pump money back into the system, and that actually happened last night. I don't know if Germany was a part of that or not. I'd have to refer you back to those authorities or to the Fed to see. I think that everyone recognizes the problem, and America, first and foremost, is trying to fix it here on our own.
Go ahead, Paula.
Q I know there was a question on the estimate of this cost being maybe $700 billion. If you factor in Fannie Mae, Bear Stearns, you come up to close to a trillion. The cost of the war so far is $700 billion. In the future, do you think the only determining factor for the cost of this war and the decision to leave or withdraw should be just the commanders on the ground, or should future costs of this war, given everything else going on, also be a factor?
MS. PERINO: Look, I'm not going to mix apples and oranges like you are. You're free to do that, but, look, the $700 billion that the Secretary of the Treasury has asked for first particular plan, for this particular legislation that's moving forward, it's not a spending program, it's an asset buying program. And we are not promising what the return on investment could be, but the American taxpayer will get money back once we are able to hold on to these assets and then sell them back into the system.
So I'm not going to get into the characterization as you did, but what I can tell you is that they're apples and oranges. Iraq is moving forward -- has made tremendous security gains, tremendous progress on political reconciliation, and that will be a benefit for generations to come, both here in the United States and in the Middle East.
Q Well if we're inserting Senator McCain and Senator Obama into this meeting today, Senator McCain has said that he thinks we should stay in Iraq until we have a victory, even if it takes 100 years. Can we afford --
MS. PERINO: You know what, Paula, I am not going to comment on that. I think that you should call the McCain campaign and make sure that you fully understand what he was talking about. Senator McCain has been a strong supporter of our troops and of this war for the very reasons that I just said, for the benefit of the people of the United States and to develop the democracy in the heart of the Middle East. That was the point. And I actually would refer you to them, because I think that you are on the wrong track.
MS. PERINO: Go ahead, Les, one question, okay?
Q All right, one. This May 3, 2007 executive order of the President statement says, "H.R. 1592, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act was unnecessary and constitutionally questionable." And my question, if the provisions of this bill are revived and passed by Congress, will the President veto it?
MS. PERINO: I think I'd have to take a look. I'm not familiar with that legislation.
We'll do one more from John, the last one.
Q Can you give any more kind of look ahead to the meeting with Prime Minister Brown tomorrow, and particularly on the financial aspects?
MS. PERINO: No, I can't. But he's here for the U.N. General Assembly, and was able to come meet with the President. And so they'll talk about the range of issues. Obviously, they're part of the G7, so -- and the American economy has an effect on other economies around the world, and clearly, he's very interested, very experienced and very concerned. So I think that they'll have a good, constructive conversation. I'll provide you more later.
END 11:58 A.M. EDT
*Approval refers to Presidential Determination 2008-26 which can be found at /news/releases/2008/09/20080910-6.html