For Immediate Release
October 9, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:43 A.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Okay, a couple of things for you. On the economy, in addition to the regular G7 meetings this weekend, Secretary Paulson also announced yesterday that the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors will meet this weekend. The financial crisis we're dealing with is global, affecting major economies, emerging market economies and developing economies. And so this larger meeting of the G20 will be important in making sure that a broader group of nations are coordinated in addressing challenges to the global financial system.
Q Here in Washington?
MS. PERINO: That will be at the -- I was going to say State Department -- the Treasury Department just across the street.
And also, on Saturday morning -- this is a schedule update for you -- President Bush will welcome the G7 finance ministers to the White House. The President will have the opportunity to hear directly from the finance ministers about how the financial crisis is affecting their respective economies and the steps they are taking to deal with these challenges, both individually and collectively.
The President will emphasize the importance of nations working in a coordinated way to address the crisis, while respecting the different conditions in each economy. The meeting will also include the managing director of the IMF and the president of the World Bank. And we'll have more details for you as we get closer. But that has just been decided.
Q Time and coverage?
MS. PERINO: That falls into the --
Q That's one of those details?
MS. PERINO: That falls into the details, yes. So we'll get it for you, though, hopefully as soon as possible.
Also, one thing I -- I put out a little note to you a little bit earlier and sent out the President's executive order on transition. Just a few words about that before I go to questions.
The smooth and collegial transfer of power from one presidential administration to the next is a hallmark of American democracy. And it's always an enormous undertaking and requires hard work and a lot of coordination.
It has probably never been more critical that a transition from an administration, from one to the next, is as seamless as possible. Our nation is at war, we are dealing with a financial crisis, and we are trying to protect ourselves from terrorist attacks.
President Bush directed the White House and the entire administration to be thinking about these issues and to work to ensure that this transition is as smooth as possible,
This morning the President signed an executive order on the presidential transition. It will help coordinate efforts that are already underway. This will ensure the seamless transition that the President has called for. Staff here at the White House and other officials throughout the administration have already been working with transition representatives from the two major party candidates.
The EO released today creates a Transition Coordinating Council, and that will coordinate all of the transition efforts of the agencies. The first meeting of that council will be October 15th, next Wednesday at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The Transition Coordinating Council includes people with authority and expertise relevant to presidential transitions, and in areas of special focus, including national security, homeland security, and our economy.
I believe it's fair to say that we are doing more than has been done before to prepare. And there are a couple of reasons for that. Things are a little bit different now. One thing that's different is that we have a Department of Homeland Security that we did not have in 2000. Of course, there wasn't a need for a transition in 2004. Also, in 2004, the Intel Reform Act was passed. And that bill allowed sitting presidents to start working with major party candidates' designees prior to the President-elect being named.
We've been in contact with both candidates' transition teams by phone and in person. That started last summer -- this past summer 2008, to be clear. We've worked to facilitate security clearances for key transitional personnel from both teams. We've worked to establish working groups within the White House and throughout the administration to outline internal roles and responsibilities. Each agency has been directed by the President to prepare briefing materials. And also, career executives at the agencies have been involved in a range of activities to ensure that they're ready to provide continuity during the transition.
We've provided information to assist in identifying the most important positions to focus on, including details relating to responsibilities as well as the appointment, security clearance, and confirmation processes. Throughout our discussion and efforts, I would characterize the two candidates' transition teams as being very cooperative in spirit and tone. Each candidate's designees have been treated equitably. All information that is shared with one is shared with the other and at the same time. This is not about politics; this is about doing the very best for our nation. And I'll be happy to answer any questions on it that you have.
Q Can we go to other subjects, as well?
MS. PERINO: If you want to.
Q Thanks. Does the idea of the federal government taking part ownership in a number of U.S. banks fit with the President's philosophy of free enterprise?
MS. PERINO: As the President has said, the radical and bold aggressive steps that we are taking on the economy are not ones that were part of his natural instincts. But when presented with the evidence that the financial crisis about to hit the United States would affect every single America up and down the economic food chain, this President decided that it was important that the government take robust action. That's why we worked with Congress to establish the rescue package.
Part of that package includes a broad range of authorities for the Treasury Secretary. What you're referring to, I believe, is capital injections that would actually be investing in banks but not taking them over.
Q Not taking them over, but doesn't this idea envision that the government would have part ownership in a number of banks?
MS. PERINO: It would include an equity stake, yes.
Q And how far along is that idea?
MS. PERINO: I would refer you to the Treasury Department for that, but it is a part of the range of authorities that they were given, and this is a dynamic situation. We still have a volatile stock market, and Secretary Paulson is looking at all the different tools to figure out which one should be used at what time and how robustly, and how much money to put into each. He said it's going to take a little bit of time, though, as they implement these -- the rules and regulations that Neel Kashkari is now involved in. So let me refer you over there on specifics for that.
Q But that's an idea that the President would be okay with?
MS. PERINO: It was a part of the rescue package that the President supported, and it gives the Treasury Secretary a range of possibilities, and investing in banks directly was one of those authorities. And Secretary Paulson can use that authority as he sees fit.
Q But given the fact that the markets have not reacted positively so far, or at least not very, wouldn't the President like to see that kind of authority used sooner than later?
MS. PERINO: Well, one of the things that the President wants is to make sure that these new authorities are used in the most effective and efficient way possible. They are moving at lightning speed for government-type work in trying to establish how quickly people can get in those positions so that they can work on the reverse auctions that were also a part of the authority. This -- these capital injections are something that Secretary Paulson is actively considering, but I'd have to refer you to him as to when he thinks he'd be able to make the first move.
Q And the President -- back over this ground again -- the President doesn't object to this in spite of his free market stance?
MS. PERINO: As I -- the President's natural instincts when first presented with these issues was not to have government involvement, but when he realized that it wasn't just a few executives on Wall Street who were going to lose their shirts, but it was possibly everyone in America, and now if you look around the world, everybody is suffering -- the President said the government has the tools and the ability to be able to step in and stem this crisis, and there was no way he was going to stand by and let everyone be hurt by the bad decisions of a few.
Q Is the United States still planning to take North Korea off of the terrorism list, given all the activity that's happened recently over there?
MS. PERINO: Well, with the --
Q Barring the monitors --
MS. PERINO: Well, barring the monitors is certainly regrettable. What we have said and -- which hasn't changed is that a verification protocol is essential to them getting to be able to come off the terrorism list.
Q But are you still planning to take them off the terrorism list?
MS. PERINO: Well, we still want to get a verification protocol, so the answer to both is yes. If we can get a verification protocol that we are satisfied with, then we would be able to fulfill our side of the bargain.
Q Dana, to follow on that, has the President been briefed yet on Chris Hill's talks with North Korea?
MS. PERINO: I'm not positive, although I know Secretary Rice was here either yesterday morning or this morning -- I think yesterday morning, so I believe that he probably had been -- talked to her.
Q Any sense of whether or not there was progress --
MS. PERINO: I don't -- nothing else I could provide, no.
Q Dana, the President again talked about the need to come up with a common policy for the countries to work together. How realistic does the White House believe that a common policy will be able to be reached this weekend?
MS. PERINO: Well, a couple of things. Remember, what I said is that the President recognizes that each individual country has -- is going to address their individual needs as they see fit, but that coordinating is the responsible thing to do. You saw the Fed governors decided to work together on a rate cut, so that was coordination that we could do all together. That wasn't necessarily something that you could do country by country that would be effective.
So this meeting this weekend, actually tomorrow, Friday, and then Saturday, will be important going along the way to find out what we can find.
Q Well, what's the expectation that something will come out of it from this weekend?
MS. PERINO: I would have to refer you to the Treasury Department, who sets the agenda and is going to be hosting the meeting. What we wanted to continue to do is work to stem the current crisis and address the long-term issues moving forward. Figuring out the long-term vision for a regulatory structure is going to be something that's very important, but it's not necessarily something that you can do when you're in the middle of trying to stabilize and strengthen and return confidence to the markets.
So we'll keep you updated on that. And in the meantime, you might try the Treasury Department, who has the agenda for tomorrow.
Q There were two analysts from the National Security Agency on ABC this morning saying that they monitored phone calls between military officers, journalists, aid workers in Baghdad and Kabul with their spouses, with their girlfriends -- two Americans. The President has always assured us that phone calls like that would only be monitored if one of them was affiliated with al Qaeda.
MS. PERINO: I'll have to check on it, Martha. I'm sorry, I didn't see ABC this morning. So I don't -- this is the first I've heard of it. I've not -- I'm not aware of --
Q They went on television -- basically, does that sound legal to you?
MS. PERINO: Martha, I'm not going to comment on something that I haven't seen, so I'll go back and I'll check. But I'm sorry, I haven't seen -- I didn't see ABC this morning.
Q Do you agree with the NIE that apparently said that Afghanistan is in a downward spiral and that the Afghan government basically can't do anything to stop it?
MS. PERINO: Right. I haven't seen the NIE. It's not been finalized, and I don't -- and I believe Secretary Rice even said this morning that she hasn't even seen it.
So, however, having said that, I don't think it should come as a surprise to anybody that things are tough in Afghanistan right now. We have been saying that for a while. The purpose of what we're working on right now is to put Afghanistan on the right footing for long-term success.
We have done a variety of things over the past couple of years to deal with what is a dynamic situation. The war in Afghanistan has changed dramatically. We've made significant progress since 2001, but in several of the provinces, especially on the border -- in the border area, we have a lot of problems. It's one of the reasons that we've increased our troop presence. Let me just see here, just to check -- we now have a total of 31,000 troops in Afghanistan. That's up from 21,000 that we had. Secretary Gates yesterday was in Europe asking our allies to consider adding more troops, which they've been willing to do. We also changed the command structure so that General McKiernan could have a more seamless chain of command to make sure that we are being as effective as possible.
We have some challenges in regards to just even dealing with the poverty of Afghanistan. Some people might say that we're in the middle of reconstruction. I think you could also say that we're actually in the mode of construction, because there was really nothing to rebuild.
So we have a long way to go, and we're working on it. One of the things that this transition team will do is make sure that the next team has what they need, the information that they require, so that they can hit the ground running on January 20th.
Q John McCain said recently that he knows how to get Osama bin Laden. And a couple of months ago he said that he knows how to improve our capabilities so that we would capture bin Laden. Has Senator McCain shared his knowledge with the President?
MS. PERINO: Maybe you haven't been here -- I've been very astute at not getting involved in the 2008 election, and I'm not going to start now.
Q Well, it has nothing to do with the election.
MS. PERINO: Yes, it does. It has everything to do with the election. That's exactly why you're asking the question, and I'm not going to answer it.
Q On the executive order.
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q The Department of Homeland Security has been widely criticized for the amount of time it takes to do clearances for classified information -- I mean, for classified positions. Is that one area of focus you're going to have?
MS. PERINO: What we did is we worked with the FBI and we campaigned to -- for -- to establish the security clearance process. I don't believe that we worked with DHS, but I'll -- we'll get back to you if I find that out. And the FBI does a lot of security clearances. Once we connected those two entities -- well, I guess, three entities -- we then backed out of the process. So we're not involved in the clearance process. We just made sure that they were in communication and that they could start the process so that security clearances could be granted by November 5th.
Q But my understanding sometimes is when an employee comes in or tries to -- hired as a contractor at DHS, even though they have just had classified clearances and investigations, that DHS duplicates the investigation and does it again.
MS. PERINO: Look, I'm not a security clearance expert. What I can tell you is that they work as expeditiously as possible. But these are important positions where people are entrusted with classified information, and the top secrets of the United States of America, and the security of our country is going to be in their hands. So we take it very seriously, and that's why we're trying to get them the clearances that they need so that they can get all the briefings that they need, so that we're not starting from scratch on November 5th, trying to get clearances. We will have them in hand hopefully by November 5th.
Go ahead, Victoria.
Q Some in the CIA are saying that the White House has been too slow to respond to the warning signs in Afghanistan. What's your response to that?
MS. PERINO: I just gave you my answer on Afghanistan. I don't have anything else to say. And I haven't seen that criticism.
Q And are you thinking of arming tribal militias?
MS. PERINO: I don't know.
Q Dana, on Saturday's meeting, will there be any kind of Russian participation, either as observer or --
MS. PERINO: I don't have participants yet -- a list of those. As I said the other day, the G7 finance ministers are usually -- G7 usually meets at the finance level; the G8 on the political level. This will be a finance meeting. However, as I said the other day, the Russian representative will be at least attending and listening to the meetings at the Treasury Department. I don't have a -- I don't have a participation list yet. But I'll hopefully have one in the next few hours.
Q Dana, two non-election questions.
MS. PERINO: Okay, that's progress.
Q Thank you. Agence France-Presse reports that the city of Chicago appears to be nearing completion on a deal to turn its Midway airport over to a private company. And the question: Since bidders in this offer came from France, Germany, Australia, Spain, and Canada, what concerns does the White House have about national security if this selling of our airports to foreign countries continues?
MS. PERINO: Well I -- as you know there's the CFIUS process that's run by the Treasury Department. I don't even know if this is on their radar screen yet or not. So we'll just have to see what they say.
Q The AP reports from Baghdad that Christians who identify themselves as original residents of Iraq are losing their representation in Iraq's Muslim-dominated legislature. And my question: How does the President feel about this loss of rights by Iraqi Christians?
MS. PERINO: I'll check, but I think you should double check, because I think that that was resolved and the Christians' rights were restored.
Q Any response to what Vladimir Putin has said about --
MS. PERINO: On your BlackBerry just now that just came across? (Laughter.)
Q About the economy -- it came earlier, but I couldn't find it. (Laughter.) It says, "Trust in the United States, as the leader of the free world and the free economy, and confidence in Wall Street as the center of that trust has been damaged, I believe, forever. There will be no return to the previous situation."
MS. PERINO: I'll think I'll just not respond to Vladimir Putin's comment.
Q Yesterday the President called German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussing the financial crisis. What exactly does Germany plan to do? What does he expect Germany to do?
MS. PERINO: Well, he didn't have any specific direction for Germany. Obviously, Angela Merkel is working very hard to deal with the crisis there and also to coordinate with her allies. Germany will be represented at this G7 meeting, both at the Treasury Department tomorrow and at the White House on Saturday. So I think that it's important -- let's let those meetings take place, and let the policy experts be able to have conversations to figure out how they are going to coordinate efforts and also work individually to make sure that they stem the crisis and return confidence and stability to the markets.
Q Thank you.
END 12:00 P.M. EDT