The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 23, 2008

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

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11:47 A.M. EDT

MS. PERINO: Good afternoon -- morning. Sorry I'm a little bit late, but I had the opportunity to go with the President to his meeting with the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative.

(Cell phone rings.)

Total cell phone violation by Jim Axelrod of CBS News. (Laughter.)

Q No, Terry is not here, sorry. (Laughter.)

Q Can we start over again?

MS. PERINO: Terry's ring is much more obnoxious. (Laughter.)

Okay, the reason I'm late is I had an opportunity to go with the President to the Middle East Partnership Initiative. This is a initiative that he and Mrs. Bush started. It's a chance -- it's an advocacy organization, run out of the State Department, to help promote freedom and democracy. It's also the organization that Mrs. Bush and many others, including Ambassador Brinker, have worked through to help spread information about breast cancer awareness. And we've done that all across the Middle East, and Mrs. Bush has traveled there several times.

Today he met with a group of 43 women from across the Middle East and northern Africa. They are involved in their elections in their home countries -- some of them running for office, others working on campaigns or a part of the election committees there. And they're here in the United States for the next couple of weeks. They're going to be fanning out across America to ten different cities, and they'll be monitoring elections here in our country and then taking that information back. And the President spent about 45 minutes with them, and it was a very exciting event for us.

Also, I have a couple of announcements for you. Earlier today, in yet another sign of security improvements in Iraq, primary security was turned back over to the Iraqis in the province of Babil. The coalition forces turned that over to provincial Iraqi control. That is a province that is south of Baghdad and home to the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon. It becomes the 12th of 18 provinces to take a lead for its security operations in Iraq. This brings the total to about two-thirds of Iraq that is now being controlled by Iraqis, and we anticipate an additional province will be handed over to them soon in the near future.

The President is appreciative of all the work that our forces have done, but also recognizes that the Iraqis have done a lot of work, too, to get to this point.

Finally, I have a statement by the President to read to you on the Beirut bombing anniversary, and then we will release it, as well:

"Twenty-five years ago, a suicide bomb destroyed the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. We remember the 241 American Marines, soldiers, and sailors who lost their lives in that attack, and we pay tribute to their families and their loved ones. The U.S. forces in Lebanon were serving as part of the Multinational Force working to bring peace and security to that country torn by years of civil war. On the anniversary of this unconscionable attack we honor the memory of those brave servicemen and women through our commitment to succeeding in the war on terror. We express our gratitude to those serving abroad to protect America and promote peace and freedom around the world. And we reiterate our strong support for the voices of moderation and justice in Lebanon."

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q What can you tell us about the new mortgage loan guarantee program that the administration is working on?

MS. PERINO: I don't have a lot of detail about new -- any new programs. I know that the Assistant -- I'm sorry, the Director* of the FDIC, Sheila Bair, will be testifying today. There's been a lot of conversations about what more we can do to help homeowners. We have a couple of good programs right now, one of them being the FHASecure program, the other one being HOPE NOW.

And then in the TARP program, which is the rescue package, there is language in that legislation that tasks the Treasury Department with working to make sure we avoid as many home foreclosures as possible. So there are a range of tools that they're looking at through the TARP program to be able to continue to help homeowners stay in their homes.

One of the ways to do that is through loan reworks, so that if you were -- if you have a certain amount of income and you had a certain amount of debt, if that can be reworked to make it more realistic that you'll be able to stay in your home, we have an obligation to try to do that and that's what we've been doing.

Q Do you have any idea how much this would cost or if there is a cost to taxpayers?

MS. PERINO: I don't, although I would remind you that in the legislation, in the rescue package legislation, it gives you some tools -- gives us some tools as the federal government -- to work within that legislation, and I believe within those dollars, to be able to work on anything that we would add to this program.

Q And also, Greenspan was up on the Hill today testifying, and said that he doesn't see any way that the United States can avoid a significant rise in layoffs and unemployment. Is that the administration's --

MS. PERINO: I think that that is right, and I think that's what we have been saying, that we're in for a rocky road for -- on the employment front. And we expect our GDP number next week not to be a good one. And the next quarter could probably be tough, as well. So I think that he's probably right, that unfortunately there are a lot of people in America who either have lost their job or are anxious about losing their job. The best thing that we can do to try to help them is to implement this rescue package, unthaw the credit freeze and get money moving again, so we can return this nation on a path to job growth.

One of the things President Bush has said to all of his team members is that he wants the next President to be able to take over and have a system in place that has us on a path to prosperity, and has us on a path to job growth. So that's what we're going to be working towards.

Q Dana, is that language that you just used, the next GDP number not good, and then the quarter after that not too -- that's forecasting from the podium, which I know you don't usually do.

MS. PERINO: I don't usually do. I'm just trying to be realistic, that we do look at the --

Q Is that preparation for next week, or for the idea of a recession starting to get out there a little more into people's minds, and you be a little more comfortable from the podium calling it that?

MS. PERINO: What I'm comfortable with is saying that in the last month, as we've seen a tremendous slowdown in our economy, and the rescue package, and the effect that all of this news has had on the markets, as the markets have tried to digest all of it, is that we're in for what is probably going to be a tough quarter, and that's just reality. I don't forecast from here, but I just was looking at reality, and how long it's going to take for people to return this country to job growth. It could be awhile. I don't forecast recessions. I don't make those determinations. There's independent bodies that do that. What I can tell you is that the President knows that we're in for a rough ride, which is why he has asked us to work every day, night and day. And that's what they've been doing at the Treasury Department to try to make sure that we do everything we can to pull us out of this slowdown so that anything that we experience in this slowdown will be shallower and shorter than we would have otherwise experienced.

Q That sounded like the closest thing to a forecast that we've heard.

MS. PERINO: I'm not here to forecast. I'm just trying to be realistic as to what we're going to face.

Q Dana, last week you urged patience on this rescue package -- the logistics of setting it up. Is it true to say that not a single dollar has changed hands as of today? And how long is it forecast to take to get this thing up and running?

MS. PERINO: I think that's accurate. You'd have to check with Treasury to make sure. Neel Kashkari, the Acting Assistant Secretary who is in charge of that program, is testifying on Capitol Hill today, so he might have already said that. One of the things that they're doing is making sure that the due diligence is done to the greatest extent possible to make sure that the contracts are signed appropriately, that we have taxpayer dollars protected to the greatest extent possible, and that we are making good investments on behalf of the American people. It will be temporary investments. It will be investments that we believe the American people will get paid back, and possibly even make money on. But all of that is going to take a little bit of time.

I think that the banks have seen that we -- they know this money is coming, and that's one of the reasons you've seen these credit markets start to unfreeze a little bit.

Q Dana, I was going to ask if -- right now the Treasury said under the law there's no actual timeline for selling these stocks back. I wanted to see if -- does the President believe that there should be a -- some sort of incentive or some sort of timeline to sell these stocks back to the private holders so that future administrations might not see it as a revenue source?

MS. PERINO: The President is trusting his team over at the Treasury Department to design this program, and he believes that they're doing it the right way. I don't have details for you on it. So we'll let them -- we'll just trust our Treasury Secretary and those that he's tasked with to implement the program.

Kathleen.

Q New subject?

MS. PERINO: No, does anybody have --

Q No, I have a follow-up.

MS. PERINO: Go ahead, Yunji.

Q Does the President believe now is the time to start directly dealing with homeowners and buying some of those bad mortgages? John McCain today said that the administration should start that right away.

MS. PERINO: As part of the program that we have -- remember, in July we had the legislation that allowed -- I think maybe it was August, in the continuing resolution that passed, that was monies that were given to FHA so that they could consider trying to buy up some of those old mortgages, or, at the same time, use that money to try to rework some of these loans so that people can stay in their homes. We'll try to move forward as quickly as possible. In the rescue package, there was language that allowed that to happen, as well; that was the asset purchase program. And the Treasury Department is just working through all the details to do it to the greatest efficiency and effectiveness possible.

Q But it's not happening now. I mean, does he want more speed with that?

MS. PERINO: We're -- the President is confident that the Treasury Secretary is moving with all due speed, but also with enough care to make sure that we're not wasting any taxpayer dollars.

Q You and others at the White House have said repeatedly that you're open to the idea of a second stimulus program. Have dialogue -- has the dialogue begun with the Hill on putting together some ideas?

MS. PERINO: We're in touch with the Hill on a regular basis, on a daily basis. But I think just realistically, you should look at the fact that Congress isn't going to be here until November 17th, so I don't anticipate you'll see a lot of action from the Hill until after the election.

Q So even staff-to-staff level --

MS. PERINO: We're in communication with them on a regular basis, even daily, but I don't anticipate a lot of action from the Hill until after the election.

Q And separate question, is the President doing any sort of recorded messages to voters for Senate or House candidates? Any sort of robocall kind of activity?

MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of. I know he's been pretty focused on the issues at hand, but voter participation has been something that the President and Mrs. Bush have encouraged ever since they've been in public office. And so we'll keep you updated; I just don't know of any right now.

Kathleen.

Q Dana, John McCain has been increasingly distancing himself from the President in these closing days of the campaign, and his criticism lately has gotten quite pointed -- in The Washington Times today, criticizing President Bush on, among other things, the early conduct of the war in Iraq, federal spending, growth in the size of government, the $10 trillion debt, the President's abuse of signing statements, his support of the Medicare prescription drug bill. Do you want to defend the President on any of these points or take issue with any of his criticisms?

MS. PERINO: This is all I'll say on it, is that the President stands by his policies. The President believes that a Republican Congress has got a lot more done than the current Democrat-led Congress. He supports John McCain and he still believes that he can and should win, and he'll continue to support him until election day.

Q Follow on that, McCain said that the President had let things get completely out of hand. That's a pretty damning statement of a President who McCain supported and supports him.

MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on the words that our candidate chooses to use. All I'll say is that the President stands by his policies. He also stands by John McCain.

Q Does Bush take it personally at all?

MS. PERINO: No, he doesn't.

Olivier.

Q Dana, the French President has come out and said that the decision to let Lehman go under was irresponsible policy. Do you stand by that policy? Any second thoughts about what happened to Lehman and how it was approached from here?

MS. PERINO: I'm not going to second-guess it because it is what it is, and the Treasury Secretary had a lengthy interview with The New York Times, which I'm sure all of you read, and I'll refer you and the President of France to that article. And I'm sure if they want to talk about it when they get here on November 14th and 15th, they'll have an opportunity to do so. They may have had an opportunity to do so at Camp David. They might have already had a conversation.

Q And did you have a chance to get an answer on whether the meeting that Admiral Mullen had at Helsinki with his Russian counterpart was part of a broader --

MS. PERINO: I have not. I have not. Although looking at his public comments, it seems it was pretty focused on military actions. But we're trying to find out if we think there's anything more I can provide you.

Back to you, Bret.

Q Yes, just a different topic.

MS. PERINO: Okay.

Q We obtained a draft of the status of forces agreement that's making its way through the Iraqi leadership.

MS. PERINO: Which number? (Laughter.)

Q The latest one, the latest one.

MS. PERINO: There's been several.

Q First, a couple of questions specific, and then another broad question. One is, it says that the U.S. must release all detainees as soon as this agreement goes into effect. Is there concern that the Iraqis have the capacity and capability to take all the detainees that the U.S. currently has in custody?

MS. PERINO: I'm not as aware of that provision as I am with some of the others. I'll tell you that we believe that the text is a good one. And we believe it's closed, or if not fully closed, then almost all the way closed. And we haven't seen the changes that the Iraqis have recommended. I'll check on that for you, because I'm not as aware of that provision as I was such as on jurisdiction or other --

Q Okay. The U.S. will cede authority for securing the international zone, the Green Zone, to the Iraqis; that's where the U.S. embassy is. Concern at all about that, security for the international zone?

MS. PERINO: If we did not believe that the Iraqis were capable of taking over these provinces, like I mentioned earlier in the briefing, or taking over more of the security -- we would not agree to it if we thought that they weren't able to take care of it.

Q Final question. On the broad timing of this, Secretary Rice said the window is closing. She seemed to pressure the Iraqis, saying that they're dragging their feet. Do you expect amendments soon? Do you think that this is going to come together soon? What's the deal?

MS. PERINO: Our negotiators are in regular contact with the Iraqi negotiators, so -- our main ones being Ambassador Crocker and General Odierno. We have not seen the exact language that the Iraqis would propose, in terms of any amendments. It would be a very high bar to see any changes to the agreement. And I think Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates put it plainly that there are consequences for not moving forward. But we are confident the Iraqis, once they can get through their political process that they have set up for this agreement, that we think we can get it signed.

I'm going to go over here to Ken.

Q Has the President voted yet?

MS. PERINO: Not yet, so we'll keep you updated. Roger, did you have one?

Q Mine was on the related -- is he going to be voting in Crawford physically?

MS. PERINO: It's unlikely. But if that changes -- I'll try to have more information for you before early next week. Okay.

Go ahead, Goyal.

Q Two quick questions. One, before U.S. and India vote on business, as far as civil nuclear agreement is concerned, there are some agreements to be signed by the President, some of those. When he is going to sign so they can get him to --

MS. PERINO: Let me check for you. I don't know -- I know that there's been a little bit of just getting through the bureaucracy for him to be able to sign some documents. But I'll check.

Q And second, on Tuesday, at the Johns Hopkins University, there was a summit on Afghanistan and terrorism in the region. And some experts were saying that really is -- NATO is not doing enough, and the detainees released from the U.S., they are on the -- back on the streets of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and they are killing people. And now, Pakistan has announced yesterday that they will bring thousands of arms to the anti-Taliban people. Don't you think, then, everybody will have arms in Pakistan's streets?

MS. PERINO: Well, we --

Q It is going to solve any problem?

MS. PERINO: Right. So, on Afghanistan, we have reviews underway both here and at the State Department, at the Department of Defense, to continue to work on what is the best strategy so that we can continue to help Afghanistan. It's a very different place from Iraq, but the NATO forces are working together. It's tough fighting. It is very dangerous and you have a very serious situation where the Taliban is trying to assert control over certain provinces of a country, mainly in the east and in the south. So we're continuing to work on that.

When it comes to Pakistan and their announcement, we have committed to the Pakistanis that we want to help them avoid the dangers that the Taliban and al Qaeda have presented to their innocent civilians. The Taliban has been chipping away at the opportunities and the lifestyles that the Pakistanis want to achieve. And so they made an announcement that they're going to try to work with tribal leaders who have shown a lot of courage to stand up to these terrorists. Many of them have lost their lives because they did stand up to them, and we're going to try to help them as best we can.

We'll see how this works out. I don't know if we have a lot of information yet as to all the details, and we'll be -- keep a close eye on it because we recognize how important it is.

Q This agreement which General Musharraf did, do you think this will work this time now?

MS. PERINO: Well, I don't know -- again, I don't have all the details as to how the Pakistanis have designed their new initiative, but I think that they've probably learned a lot from the last time around and maybe this one will be better. We hope so, but we're going to keep an eye on it.

I'm going to go to April.

Q Dana, after the 2001 -- well, 2000 election, in 2001 President Bush was working on issues of voting problems and the issues of hanging chads, dimpled chads, what have you. Now there's a concern in this country about early voting -- some problems at the polls -- and also these voter forms -- registering to vote with ACORN. Has the Justice Department and the President been talking about this? And what does the White House have to say to those who are going to the polls? There is already concern about problems. And many people are doing this early, and for November 4th, long lines are expected.

MS. PERINO: The Justice Department works with states -- remember, elections are run by states -- and so if there are problems the Justice Department can investigate, but they don't announce those in advance and the President doesn't get involved in those. So I don't know if they have. What I can tell you is that the President wants to make sure that everyone in America has a chance to vote, that they take the opportunity to vote, and that it be a process that is infused with integrity. And so that's what he's focused on.

Q Dana, the Labor Department --

MS. PERINO: I'm going to go back here. Go ahead.

Q Back to Greenspan for a second. I think this morning he said on the Hill that he was caught off guard by the suddenness and the severity of the downturn; in fact, I think he used the word "shock." Is the administration shocked? Were they also caught off guard by the suddenness and the severity of what's happened?

MS. PERINO: I think that we had recognized for a long time that we had problems with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, going back to 2002, 2003, when we were trying to highlight those problems. And then we've known for the past year, if you go back to last August when the stock market started to have serious declines, we were concerned about activity in the economy at that point, coming up to January. Then we worked on a stimulus package we were able to do quickly.

So I would just -- I would say that we knew that there was a downturn coming for a while. I didn't see Mr. Greenspan's comments. Perhaps what he was talking about was the precipitous fall in the last couple of weeks that we saw in sort of the beginning of September. I'm not exactly sure. I know that we were acting quickly and we had to move very quickly in order to get the rescue package in place, and that's why the legislation moved so quickly on the Hill.

Go ahead, Les.

Q Thank you very much. Two questions. This morning a spokesman for the Secret Service told me that to be an agent you have to have a Bachelor's degree, three years in law enforcement, and undergo a complete background check. When I asked if the applicant had any record of association with terrorists, I was told that would not be tolerated. And my first question is, is that the White House Press Office's understanding of the qualifications required to be a Secret Service agent?

MS. PERINO: I have never spent time to go through the qualifications for Secret Service agents. I just trust that they know what they're doing.

Q Right. And then considering the Obama-Ayers association --

MS. PERINO: Okay, that's it. I'm not going to answer it.

Q -- Senator Obama would not be qualified to be his own bodyguard.

MS. PERINO: I'm not going to answer it. Ann.

Q You're not going to answer that?

Q Where will the President be on election night? Will he be watching the returns? And is he sentimental at all about not being on the ballot for the first time in many years?

MS. PERINO: No, he's known for a long time he wasn't going to be on the ballot -- (laughter) -- he's known since 2004 that he wasn't going to be on the ballot, because it wasn't going to be possible. So he's not going to -- of course there's probably a little bit of sentimentality about it, but he doesn't wish for things that weren't ever going to be. He was never going to run for a third term.

So I will try to get for you by early next week what the plans are for the election. I just don't have them right now to announce.

Thank you.

END 12:08 P.M. EDT

*Chairman


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