For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 24, 2008
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:48 A.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello, everybody. A few things for you. The President is currently attending briefings at the National Security Agency. This visit is similar to the ones the President has done at the CIA, at the State Department and at other places. I expect he'll be doing that as much as he possibly can between now and the end.
In addition to receiving updates on the work of the NSA, the President will also have an opportunity to have lunch with employees there and to thank them for their hard work in helping keep all of us safe.
This afternoon the President will sign the NATO Accession Protocols for Albania and Croatia. Prior to the signing the President and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer will deliver remarks. The President has supported NATO enlargement as part of an important vision of a Europe that would be whole, free and at peace. He is proud to have supported the aspirations of Albania and Croatia from the beginning of this administration. The invitation to join NATO is recognition of a country's achievements on the path to prosperity and peace. And in return, NATO membership promises the security and stability of that country going forward. And the President looks forward to signing the U.S. ratification protocols, and that will then Albania and Croatia one step closer to NATO membership.
The President recorded the radio address this morning, and in it he discusses the current economy and the upcoming economic summit that he'll be hosting here in Washington on November 15th. I have an update for you on the venue for that location. I'm happy to announce that a site has been chosen for the November 15th Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy. The summit will take place at the National Building Museum here in Washington, D.C.
A scheduling update for you. On November 11th, Veteran's Day, the President will visit the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York, and make remarks at the rededication of the museum. The President will be presented with the 2008 Intrepid Freedom Award, which recognizes world leaders who embody the ideals of world freedom and democracy.
Of the many guests in attendance, 2,500 of them will be veterans, who will also take place in New York City's Veteran's Day Parade.
And with that, I'll go to questions.
Q The stock markets around the world are plunging today on fears of a global recession. I know you don't comment on stock market movements, but is there any assurances that you can give about the economic crisis?
MS. PERINO: At this -- you're right, I don't comment on the daily fluctuations in the markets. What I can say is that at this time the markets are digesting a lot of information, a lot of economic news that is coming in, as well as implementation of the policy tools that we have implemented here, and that other nations around the world have started to implement as well. So it's taking a while for the markets to digest that.
The President and his team are focused on addressing the issues as best we can. I do have an update for you on -- in regards to the summit, in regards to international markets. The President has designated three officials to help organize this summit, and to make sure that the substance is clear, and that we can have an effective meeting on November 15th.
They will be helping to define the agenda, and then incorporate ideas and recommendations from their international counterparts, and then work on consensus regarding the principles for reform that then the task force will take back and work on individually. But it would be Dan Price, who is the Assistant to the President for International Economic Affairs; Reuben Jeffery, Under Secretary of State; and Dave McCormick, Under Secretary of Treasury. Their work has been underway for some time. And we'll keep you updated as we go forward.
Q Are your goals still as you stated the other day, kind of a broad set of principles to guide any policy changes, and not policy changes themselves coming out of November 15th?
MS. PERINO: I think that what's going to happen on that day -- well, there will be the dinner the night before, which will be a working dinner, and then the next day's meeting. But the President and his counterparts will look to do a few things. One, define the problem, the underlying problem, the causes of the financial crisis, review progress to date. We've taken a lot of steps here in our country. We've coordinated steps with others. And then individual countries have taken action themselves. So we'll get a report on that progress. And then they will talk about these principles for reform, identify those, and then have working groups that are tasked with going back and working with their financial experts in their countries as to how they would be implemented in their own countries.
Q Dana, what's your message to people who are looking at what's happening -- another 400- or 500-point drop right now -- they're looking at this and seeing a disconnect between a multi-billion-dollar bailout that is seemingly at this point having no effect and saying, wait a minute, we could have got this for free. What's your message to them about how to sort of -- why it's necessary to throw all that money and still have this kind of terrible fallout?
MS. PERINO: Well, we've looked for an opportunity -- ever since the bill passed said it was going to take a little bit of time for all of us to dot the I's and cross the T's to get all of the policies in place. And that's taking place right now. We've had Neel Kashkari, who is the Assistant Acting Secretary for the rescue package implementation, was on Capitol Hill yesterday talking about the progress.
What we tried to warn people about across the country is that it's going to take a little bit of time. We weren't talking weeks, we're not talking months -- we're talking just a few weeks for us to be able to hire the contractors. There are so many people that have to be hired and they have to -- we have to make sure that we're getting the right people. And before money can go out the door we want to make sure that those contracts are rock solid and that we're doing the best we possibly can to make sure the taxpayers are paid back.
So we're in that period right now where -- we're waiting for that implementation. We're closer than we were yesterday. They work as hard as they possibly can. So what I would ask is that Americans be a little bit patient with this program. We do think it is big enough to solve this big problem; it's just going to take us a little while to get through it.
Q So people who are looking at this need to understand, wait a minute, the cash hasn't actually gotten out yet, and you're confident that once that money does start seeping into the system, that these rocky 400- and 500-point days, that should draw to a close and the market should stabilize and begin to strengthen?
MS. PERINO: Look, we make no guarantees about what's going to happen in the stock market going forward. But we do realize that we had a massive problem and so we designed a massive solution to be able to deal with it. So it's big and bold and decisive. It is going to take a little bit of time, but we -- one of the root causes of the problem has been two things. One, the credit markets froze up. And once that happened, no one was willing to lend to one another; inter-bank lending was coming to a standstill. And we started to see that unthaw a little bit, so that money can start moving through the system. So we know that the plan is starting to work that way -- just even on the suggestion and the promise and the application process that is moving forward. People realize that the government is not going to let the system fail.
And then secondly, we did today receive a bit of good news in the housing sector. We're not out of the woods yet by any means when it comes to falling house prices and our fundamental problem of an over-supply of homes, but we're getting nearer to the bottom every day. So we just can't make any promises, but we do think that we have the right tools in place to help get this back to a place where we need it to be.
Q Countries worldwide took coordinated action several times to try and calm the financial markets, and it doesn't seem like it's had much of an impact. So in the near term looking forward, what other steps can the United States take, along with its partners overseas?
MS. PERINO: I just told you that our three -- the President has three officials who are working with -- not just on the meeting, but they are tasked with making sure that their counterparts are well informed about all of our actions here. It's going to take a little bit of time for the markets to digest all this information.
And four weeks ago one of the questions I got in this room was, is this just a United States problem? And what we've realized is that it is not, and that individual countries all across the world are feeling effects -- not just developed countries, but developing countries as well. And it's like wildfires that pop up, and you're trying to extinguish them in a coordinated fashion.
But also, countries are going to have individual ways of addressing these problems themselves. We'll be working with them and coordinating with them. You saw today that the IMF is continuing to work with developing countries. And our Treasury Department is in contact with the IMF to try to help them get through this economic crisis. So I don't have anything new to announce to you. We're trying to implement the program that we have.
Q I have another subject.
MS. PERINO: Anyone on this subject?
MS. PERINO: Okay, Wendell.
Q Yesterday, the President's former Treasury Secretary said that the push for homeownership, the bipartisanship push for homeownership simply went too far. And he went beyond saying that unqualified people --
MS. PERINO: Are you talking about Greenspan, or --
Q I'm talking about John Snow.
MS. PERINO: John Snow, okay. Was he testifying?
Q Yes, he testified to the House committee.
MS. PERINO: Okay. I didn't see his remarks. So hopefully, I'll be able to answer your question.
Q Well, maybe you won't. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: That was my warning to you.
Q Yes. He went beyond saying, you know, unqualified people were given loans. It goes without saying that that happened. He said the push for homeownership went too far; it should have been more focused on saving, less focused on this ownership society that was a big part of the President's agenda. Does he disagree?
MS. PERINO: Since I didn't see the comments, I won't comment on that. But let me tell you what the President's policy was, and why he had it. Homeownership is a really great thing for lots of Americans. The President did promote homeownership, especially minority homeownership, which went up at an amazing rate. The President never recommended risky loans. And in fact, we were trying to put the kibosh on that for a long time, and we didn't have a willing partner in Congress.
We do think that people being able to own their homes is a way to help establish good communities, good families and help improve the economy. So we did support that. But no one in this administration, nor the previous administration, would have supported people getting into situations that they weren't going to be able to -- where they weren't going to be able to pay for their own mortgages.
John, you still on this?
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q Any further discussions about a lame-duck session, and what might be done then, and could it possibly include more action on the housing situation?
MS. PERINO: I think people are aware of it and talking about it. I think that the Democrats will come back and call for a lame-duck session. But I don't know that for sure. I'd have to refer you to the Speaker's office for that. But I don't think that you'll see any actions before the election on anything that would be shaped up for that lame duck.
Q Do you need any action on anything?
MS. PERINO: Well, we have several things that we would like to see. One of the best ways to deal with one part of our economy that has been doing very well -- which has been exports, and it's been starting to shrink -- it would be to open up more markets to American workers and American businesses. And we have three free trade agreements in front of the Congress right now: Colombia, Panama and Peru -- I'm sorry, South Korea. And we'd like to see those voted on there in front of Congress. It would be the fastest way to be able to help a lot of workers across this country. That is something that we would like Congress to be able to do. But when you asked me is there anything we need to have done, I don't think so.
Q Same subject?
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q The Senate isn't scheduled to come back now until November 17th. Do you think that, given the chance -- or at least, Pelosi is talking about coming back sooner than that -- that it would be a good idea to come back --
MS. PERINO: Call the Speaker's office and see what they're really thinking. I don't know. I can't speak for them. I don't know what they're thinking up there. Who else had their hand up?
Q Same thing.
MS. PERINO: Okay, Goyal. Then I'm going to go to Kathleen. Go ahead.
Q Oh, okay. One, how you think this White House summit -- financial summit will be different than the World Bank and IMF? Recently world leaders were there?
MS. PERINO: Well, I laid out for you the agenda to the extent that we have it. I know that it's loose, but we'll be filling out those details for you as we get closer to the meeting. But this is talking about the problems that we've had, and the ways to coordinate going forward on reform. So I think it will be significantly different. But those two entities will be there at the meeting.
Q And second, that many countries are in crisis, including the U.S., and many countries seeking help from the IMF and the U.S. Now there's demonstrations in Pakistan. They are seeking help from the IMF to forgive their debt like (inaudible), $37 billion during President Musharraf now. Is U.S. going to help?
MS. PERINO: We've been long concerned about Pakistan's economy, and the concerns there about instability that could come from that. And we know that they have been talking to the IMF, and we're working with them too. We recognize that a stronger economic situation in Pakistan will help all of us be safer.
Q Dana, President Bush often speaks proudly about Afghanistan's fledgling democracy, the need to support it and defend it. And he talks about how women can vote there, and how young girls can go to school there. I'm just wondering if he's aware of, or concerned about, the case of the young journalism student, the 24-year-old student Parwez Kambakhsh. He's been -- he had been sentenced to death for blasphemy recently. But it was just reduced to 20 years in prison. And according to reports, he asked questions in class about women's rights under Islam. And he also had printed an article off the Internet that asked why Islam does not modernize to give women equal rights.
Now a group of Reporters Without Borders has called on Hamid Karzai to intervene. The case can still go to Afghanistan's Supreme Court. Is the President familiar with it? Is it something that he would consider bringing up with President Karzai?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if he's familiar with that particular case. I am, having read reports about it. And we're obviously disturbed about it. We think that everyone should be able to express their views. And of course, we think, and the President has been the biggest champion for women across the world, starting here in this White House and going all the way to Afghanistan, Africa, China, India -- any place.
But one of the things that we are very concerned about, as well, is that these reports are very disturbing. But so are reports about what the Taliban is doing to innocent people. And just this week you had buses -- a bus stopped where 30 people were brutally murdered. And I think that Afghanistan has a long way to go. They do have a fragile democracy. We have NATO forces there. I'm sure that the President and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer will talk about that today. I will try to find out if he knows about this individual case and if he's brought it up with the President.
Q Quick one. OPEC made a decision to cut its output by 1.5 million barrels a day. How do you see this affecting the U.S. economy? And has anybody from the White House contacted any of the OPEC members about this?
MS. PERINO: We have regular contact with all of those countries. But our position has been well known, which is that we believe that commodities should -- that the prices of commodities should be determined on the open market. And we also believe that the NATO -- excuse me, not NATO, but OPEC members recognize that when there's a slowdown in the economy and there's a lower demand for their product, then we -- the price will go down, that's one thing. But also, if we have markets that are well supplied and the market is determining the price, then everyone would be better off.
So we deliver that message regularly. I couldn't tell you what impact their meeting today would have on our economy, though I would -- I'm sure you're following the oil prices, which continue to go down, and they're lower now than they were, I think -- well, certainly this summer, and then probably even this spring; it's down about $64 a barrel. So I don't know what sort of impact it's having on the market.
Q Dana, on NATO, NATO expansion plans. Plans for providing MAPs -- Membership Action Plans -- to Georgia and Ukraine dead now, given their position in Europe?
MS. PERINO: No. Not at all. The President and Secretary Rice and others, including Angela Merkel, have said that those meetings should go forward and we should debate those issues on the merits and see if we can get that process moving forward. They said last April that they would meet in December at the foreign minister level. As far as I know, that meeting is still to take place, and our position certainly hasn't changed.
Q Is the President still as confident as he was that they will get MAP status this December?
MS. PERINO: We see no reason that they shouldn't get MAP status, but I haven't heard lately if we have any other designs on it. I think that we have seen growing support for Georgia and Ukraine, given what happened this summer, when Russia invaded Georgia.
Q So he is as confident as he was.
MS. PERINO: As far as I know, yes.
Q Is he going to talk about that today?
MS. PERINO: I don't know.
Q Quick question on the summit. Have all the world leaders confirmed that they'll be in attendance?
MS. PERINO: I'll check for you. I don't know.
Q Thank you.
Q Dana, anything nailed down on the President's voting?
MS. PERINO: I'm going to try to get that for you by the end of the day.
END 11:05 A.M. EDT