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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 27, 2008
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:37 A.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hi, everybody. The President is meeting with the President of Paraguay right now and they'll have pool at the bottom. And then the President will make remarks tonight in honor of Theodore Roosevelt's 150th birthday. That celebration will be in the East Room tonight. And other than that, I don't have anything to start with.
Q What is the likelihood of more raids into Syria like the one we saw this weekend?
MS. PERINO: The United States government has not commented on reports about that and I'm not able to here, either.
Q So we've talked about Pakistan, the raids into Pakistan, whether by ground or by air. And there's been some acknowledgment by U.S. officials that those are happening. We're now seeing this sort of thing spread to other countries. Can you not -- you can't shed any light on why, when, where, how, whether we're going to --
MS. PERINO: I can't comment on it at all, no.
Q Have you heard anything about whether the target was successful, that it hit the target?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment in any way on this; I'm not able to comment on that.
Q You're not even able to say that there has been some decision taken by the administration that "if you guys can't clean up your act we will clean it up for you"?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on the reports about this, no, I'm not. Anybody else?
Q Can you comment on Syria's protest?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on it at all. This could be a really short briefing. (Laughter.)
Q Has anybody from the White House spoken to anybody from Syria?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I don't know.
Q Let me ask you this one: You have another government making claims. At some point, you either have to confirm or deny the claims they're making, no?
MS. PERINO: Jim, all I can tell you is that I am not able to comment on reports about this reported incident, and I'm not going to do so. You can come up here and try to beat it out of me, but I will not be commenting on this in any way, shape or form today. Or tomorrow --
Q What about another agency, nobody -- if it comes, it's going to come from here, and so it's not going to -- nothing is going to come out of this?
MS. PERINO: I don't believe anybody is commenting on this at all.
Q Dana, why can't you comment? Is it a reason for national security, or is it political? I mean, why --
MS. PERINO: To give you an answer to that would be commenting in some way on it, and I'm not going to do it.
Q But, I mean, Dana, you can't give us anything? I mean, this is a major issue --
MS. PERINO: Nothing.
Q This is a major issue --
MS. PERINO: I understand the reports are serious, but it's not something I'm going to comment on in any way.
Go ahead, Lambros.
Q Any readout of the talks between President Bush and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer last Friday here at the White House?
MS. PERINO: Yes, they did have conversations on Friday. What was the question?
Q The question was can you read out between --
MS. PERINO: Any results?
Q Any readout.
MS. PERINO: Oh, readout -- the President, himself, read it out when he had his remarks after the event. So then we don't have anything to add.
Q (Inaudible) -- did discussions were the main issue between Athens and Skopje send a solution of the probabilities that the condition for FYROM to become a NATO member in December?
MS. PERINO: I was not in attendance, but I'll check for you and I'll have Gordon get back to you; he was there.
Q Switch to a domestic topic, does the President support any federal help to General Motors and Chrysler beyond the $25 billion that's already out there?
MS. PERINO: I think it's clear that the automakers are dealing with a very serious situation, they have been for some time. And I know that the Energy Department, the Treasury Department, and Commerce Department have been in contact with the automakers. We have for years and increasingly so, but I -- there's nothing I can tell you that would be specific as to what we would provide. You're right that in the CR that was passed in August, there were what we call 136 loans authorized by the Energy Department. We're working as quickly as we possibly can to get those regulations finalized, to be able to provide that, but other than that, I don't have anything to add for you.
One thing is that automakers do have financing arms -- many of them do -- and it's possible that some of those financing arms could be a part of the rescue package -- the TARP, as they call it at the Treasury Department. So that's why -- that's one of the reasons Treasury has been in contact with them.
Q Okay, so you're referring to GMAC, its lending arm.
MS. PERINO: Yes, and other companies who have similar -- I think Chrysler has one, as well.
Q You're saying Treasury is examining that as a possible candidate for --
MS. PERINO: I'm just saying it's a possibility that they could qualify under it. There's the application form that Treasury announced last week, and if those companies apply for that, it's possible that they could be included in it. But I have to refer you to Treasury for details because they would analyze whether or not they qualify.
Q Has the President spoken to Secretary Paulson on this type of financing, through the lending arm?
MS. PERINO: Let me say I assume so -- I do assume so. In terms of financing beyond the $25 billion? Not that I know of.
Q Yes, beyond the $25 billion?
MS. PERINO: Oh, with Secretary Paulson? Not that I'm aware of, no.
Q So let me just -- so you're holding out the possibility of some sort of federal aid beyond the $25 billion?
MS. PERINO: Not ruling it in or out. I can tell you we've been in contact with automakers, GM and others. And beyond that, I'm just not able to comment on any of those discussions, except for to say that when it comes to those 136 loans, we're working as hard as possible to get those regulations in place so that could move forward.
Q I'm sorry. On those loans, they seem to be stuck at DOE, and you alluded to that. Is there any way to speed those up?
MS. PERINO: I would disagree with the -- with saying that they're stuck. This is complicated. If you go back and you look at the regulations and all that it spells out as to how it has to be written up, it takes a little bit of time for the experts at the Energy Department, along with their interagency brethren, to try to work it out and figure out what all the ramifications are going to be of it, how it was going to be set up, which ones would qualify.
If you look at it, it talks a lot about helping these companies move forward, so that they could adapt, so that they could deal with the new energy realities and consumer preferences that have been changing over the years. Those things take a little bit of time. And they were supposed to be -- those loans are specifically geared towards revamping those factories. That's not necessarily going to help immediately with a capital problem. So that was -- and that was never going to be the case. So I would not say that they are stuck over there. I can tell you from watching them that they are working very closely and are keeping us updated over here.
Q In light of that, the fact that these laws really were aimed at alternative energy vehicles.
MS. PERINO: Right.
Q The question I guess, is how do they -- how do they help the current situation? Or is there some attempt to adapt them to the current situation?
MS. PERINO: I don't know what all the automakers are thinking about. I'm sure they're trying to devise ways that they can adapt and be the kind -- sell the kind of cars that consumers are wanting to buy right now. Part of the problem is that they have to change over their factories so that they could make more fuel efficient vehicles. We have regulations and laws that we have put in place during the Bush administration years that would increase both passenger car and SUV/light truck, mileage standards. So that was already underway, but those are long-term projects.
And so that's one of the things that -- when I mention the TARP, the Treasury program, it's possible that some of the finance arms could actually fill out one of the those applications and be a part of that program. So we're trying to work with them as much as we can. There are some things we may or may not be able to do. It's still going to take a little while for us to work on it, but we're moving as quickly as we possibly can. That package only was passed three-and-a-half weeks ago, so we're moving as quickly as we can.
Q Dana, the 136 loans -- do you have any idea when the rulemaking might be completed, when the rules might be able to --
MS. PERINO: I wouldn't want to put a time frame on it right now because they are trying to do all the due diligence and dot the "I's" and cross the "T's," and I wouldn't want to put a time frame on it that they either meet or don't meet and it wouldn't be fair to anybody if I did that. But I can tell you that they're working to get it done as quickly as possible.
Q Dana, have the automakers been in contact with the White House over these various issues that we are talking about?
MS. PERINO: I don't know in terms of specific White House employees, I'm not positive; it's certainly possible. But I know that the Energy Department, Treasury Department, and Commerce Department at the highest levels have been in contact with them, yes.
Q And one more thing, is it possible for you to say whether you have the goal of preventing these companies from going into bankruptcy?
MS. PERINO: I think that any of us would -- nobody wants to see any company go into bankruptcy. However, our system means that some businesses do fail. That doesn't mean that this company is going to fail or not. I'm not -- I just can't comment on it; it wouldn't be appropriate for me to do so and it wouldn't be fair to anybody. And I don't want to send any confusing signals to the markets, because I don't know what GM and other automakers are planning or thinking or talking about amongst themselves. There's nothing that I know that I can provide to you here today in the briefing room.
Q Thank you. Dana, there seems to be concern in Congress about the way the plan, the rescue plan, is going, to the extent that, like, banks have been capitalized and given infusions of cash are hinting that they'll use that money to buy other banks or that they won't move money around. There's also concern from the -- on the mortgage standpoint that the folks on Main Street are in trouble with their homes, distressed homeowners. There's nothing really until now is starting to help them. Has the plan gone slightly awry or is it missing its point?
MS. PERINO: Well, I disagree, and I think that if -- since you come here and you cover the White House you'll have more information than maybe some of our critics. But a couple of things: One, the program that we -- the proposal that we put forward to Congress was broad and it allowed for a lot of flexibility for changing market conditions. So what we have is the rescue package that the Treasury Department is working on that allows them to use a lot of different tools to address a lot of different problems. And that's what they are moving forward to do.
On the housing side of things, look, 93 percent of Americans are able to make their payments on time. There is a significant portion of the public that is facing foreclosure. Those people have been -- we've been working to try to help through two different types of programs: one through the private sector, it's called HOPE NOW, which has helped about 1.4 million homeowners keep their homes through reworking their loans; and then another about 400,000 or 500,000 through FHASecure, which has been working to rework mortgages in a way that they could get an FHA-backed loan so that more people can stay in their homes.
No doubt there are more people that need help. Those programs are still in existence and the administration is continuing to work on ideas, think through all the problems and all the consequences for how can we continue to try to help homeowners.
But in addition to that, if you look at one of the key problems that has started this whole thing was the tightening up of the credit markets. And we have seen that start to loosen. So we're not going to have an immediate fix, but we're on the right path and we have the right tools in place. And so right now we're going to continue to try to implement that. And we'll continue to try to help homeowners and workers, those who are unemployed who have been looking for work for a long time; in certain states that are automatic extensions for people, that they have too high of an unemployment rate, it looks like these people aren't going to be able to get a job.
We were mindful of all of those things. But we do think that we have the right plan in place to be able to address it.
Q Yes, I just want to ask you, the Senate Foreign Relations Chairman had recently said that the U.S. could face a generated international crisis in the first half of 2009. Was that just speculation, or does the executive branch have any information to indicate that there will be a higher --
MS. PERINO: That's a clever way to get me involved in 2008 politics, and I'm not going to fall for it. But what I will tell you is this: We have a very aggressive and thought out transition plan that we are already working through. We have been in contact with both of the major party candidates, identified people who would get security clearances, so that on November 5th, they can hit the ground running and make sure that they get all the information that they need.
We pledge to have the most professional and robust transition that we possibly can have for the safety of all of us, and for -- to the benefit of our allies. And also when it comes to the economy, we'll make sure that they have exactly what they need, so that when the next President gets here, our goal and our mission is to try to make sure that we're on a path to growth, and return path to prosperity come January, when the next President takes over.
Go ahead, Mark.
Q Dana, new home sales, surprisingly up in September, and of course, we had existing sales up last month as well. Is the housing market bottoming out?
MS. PERINO: Too early to say. Those are certainly welcome numbers, but too early to say whether it's a trend or not. That's why we have to keep working at doing what we're doing to try to recapitalize of banks, rework mortgages where we possibly can, help people stay in their homes.
But if it is a trend, we'll certainly welcome it. But we're not going to rest and hope; we're just going to continue to work. And maybe next month the numbers will show a continued improvement.
Q Dana, on Israel, what does the President think about the decision to call off coalition talks?
MS. PERINO: Well, this is Israeli politics, as the President says, it's sometimes like full-court karate -- but they made a decision that this is how their system works, that they weren't able to form a coalition and they have to call for elections. So they will have those elections coming up in the next couple of months.
From our standpoint, we're not going to get involved as to who should or who should not prevail in those elections. What we will do, though, is remain committed to the Annapolis process, which started last November 30th -- so it's been about a year. We made some significant progress through the two negotiators.
And in addition to that, we have General Jones, who is still on the ground there and is working to help the Palestinians build up their security capabilities, so that when they get to a point where they can define a Palestinian state, those security forces will be able to defend a state and also, prevent against terrorism.
Q Some have said it could really squash any hopes that the administration may have of progress in the peace process. Is the President disappointed by that?
MS. PERINO: I think that's a cynical way of looking at it. And I think what the President wants to do is continue to try to work with them. No doubt we have an uphill climb. But they have always had an uphill climb in the Middle East. The path that we set out for them is one that is one of hope. You have the first President of the United States to call for a Palestinian state, and that has provided a lot of hope. And you also have the conversation now in the Israeli election, a lot of -- basically, surrounding that issue. We think that that's positive, because people are able to talk about it, work on it.
So in the meantime , while the Israeli political system sorts itself out, we will continue to work such as with General Jones and Tony Blair's office and others, to help improve their economic and political situation, as well as their security forces, because without that security the Israelis are not going to be comfortable and the Palestinians would not be able to survive in a state on their own.
Q Thank you.
END 11:52 A.M. EDT