For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 29, 2008
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:08 A.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hi, everybody. A couple of announcements for you. Right now the President is meeting with the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Masoud Barzani. And I'm sure they will discuss political, economic and security progress in Iraq, as well as improving governance and the importance of all the parties and the regions to continue working together.
To that end, I wanted to note for you today that in Iraq primary security responsibility in Wasit Province was returned to Iraqi civilian authorities. That is southeast of Baghdad. It becomes the 13th of 18 provinces to take the lead for its security in Iraq. It's the second Iraqi province to transfer security responsibility in the last two weeks, and we had Babil just a week before. So now, more than two-thirds of Iraq is now under provincial Iraqi control.
In addition to that -- sorry?
Q Will another happen possibly next week?
MS. PERINO: I don't know of another one on tap, but they continue to work at it. So we'll let you know.
I also have a scheduling update for you. The President looks forward to participating in the United Nations meeting on interfaith dialogue in New York City on the 13th of November. The President appreciates King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia's initiative in calling for this dialogue and remains committed to fostering interfaith harmony among all religions, both at home and abroad.
The United States affirms its support for individual religious freedom, the right to practice one's religion, the equality of all people regardless of their religious faith, and the other principles of religious freedom enshrined in the U.N. Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The President also looks forward to holding a bilateral meeting with King Abdallah in New York on that same day.
And that's all I have.
Q You guys now have the amendment list from the Iraqis. Are any of them deal-breakers?
MS. PERINO: I've not seen them. Our negotiating team in Baghdad has them. It's possible somebody else here in the building has, but I have not seen them. And we're going to decline to comment on the content of them and our reaction to them until we have a little bit more time to look at them more closely. I'm sure that the agreement will come up when the President is talking to Barzani this afternoon.
Q There are reports that Kim Jong-il -- that his health is failing. Any concerns about them, the reports you heard? And do you put any credence into them?
MS. PERINO: I just don't have any information for you. I've seen the reports, but we just don't know.
Q Another question, and I know this is a little bit in advance, but what exactly is the President going to be doing Tuesday night? I know you said he's staying here. Who's going to be here? Can you give us a little tick-tock about what his plans are?
MS. PERINO: I'll try to get you some more information on that. He often will have somebody over for dinner or something before they start watching the returns. So as we get a little bit closer, let me try to nail that down for you.
Q This weekend Camp David and no campaigning at all?
MS. PERINO: That's right.
Q Any particular reason why no one wants him out there?
MS. PERINO: The President is pretty focused on the activities that we have here, especially getting this economy back in order. As we've said for a while, the President was going to be focusing on this. We cancelled a lot of our fundraisers, and he's going to focus on being with Mrs. Bush and others this weekend at Camp David.
Q Dana, on that issue, do you have any update on the November 15th conference? Are there any papers being prepared? Is the venue set? And what kind of prep is going into it? What kind of preliminary discussions?
MS. PERINO: The venue is set. It will be at the National Building Museum on the 15th. The night before, there will be a head of state dinner here at the White House; it will be a working dinner. And the President had identified Dan Price here at the White House and Dave McCormick at the Treasury Department to continue to work on setting up the agenda for the meeting and making sure that it's a robust one and that we make the most of everybody's time.
So I think that there will be probably two plenary sessions on the Saturday, but all of these details are still being worked out. And so we'll continue to work on the details and I'll provide them for you as soon as I have more.
Q Do you expect that there will be any papers issued, drafts, prior to the --
MS. PERINO: Typically at these meetings there is a joint statement or a communique that's issued at the end of it. I don't see any reason why that wouldn't happen here, but I don't -- I can't tell you for sure because they're talking with all of their counterparts. So when we have more I'll provide it.
Q Dana, to follow on that for a second, do you think -- all this planning that's going on for an economic summit -- do you think there's a chance that everybody sort of wakes up on Wednesday and among the things they think is -- it kind of loses its value or loses its power? Because at that point you're talking about a lame-duck President. You have another -- you have a President-elect who everyone's going to be going to for these things who may not be an intimate, integrated part of the summit. Does it -- do you worry about that at all?
MS. PERINO: I don't, given that it was the President and the other leaders that he identified in the G20 who recognized how important and serious the crisis is that we're facing in our financial markets. And international coordination is key to returning strength and confidence to the marketplace. We've taken some coordinated action so far. We don't -- we didn't want the financial crisis to happen at all and we certainly can't control the timing of it. The fact that it happened in the middle of the election is just the way that it is.
The President has said that he would look for the input of the President-elect. And I think that the President-elect would not want us to hold off on having a meeting of this importance to wait until January, or even later, because there are some serious issues that we need to start dealing with now so that we can avoid this happening again.
Q We asked you about this a couple of days ago and you talked about the input of the President-elect. Have there been any more conversations with the campaigns, and any more you can tell us about sort of what role the President-elect could be playing in this economic --
MS. PERINO: I know that Josh Bolten, the other day on -- I think it was yesterday morning on television -- said that he had heard from the campaigns that they don't plan to participate in person, but that they would be providing input to the extent -- but I think that the campaigns are both focused on the last six days of the election. And I think they appreciate the fact that we've reached out to them; they both supported the idea of a meeting. So I don't think anyone is going to wake up on Wednesday and think that a summit that's happening 15 days later, or 10 days later, is not worth it. We think that it's very important.
Q But doesn't that sort of prove the point, if neither one of the actual -- the men who could be President are going to personally be part of the summit --
MS. PERINO: I disagree, because, one, they supported the idea of the summit, they wanted us to have it. And one of the things that we'll do in that summit is identify the -- some of these things are not going to change as we move forward -- one, the underlying causes of the problem, getting everyone together to focus on that, that's not going to change overnight on Tuesday. Those are what they are. Identifying progress to date, and where we can have other actions that will continue to build strength and confidence in the markets, those things aren't going to change on November 4th. And then outlining principles for reform and regulations that we might be willing to go forward with, both globally, but most importantly, individually in our countries, as we take into account our own individual situations, that's not going to change, either. Those principles are going to be what they are.
None of this ties the next President's hand. But I think that what we are trying to do is do what the President asked us to do, which is do everything we can right now, in this downturn, in this cycle of our economy, to get it back to a period of growth so that the next President has the best possible starting point on January 20th.
Q Dana, I wanted to ask you about some recent developments in Syria. Wire reports this morning said that embassy officials in Damascus have said that the embassy could be closed indefinitely to the public. Also, Syria's government has ordered the closure of an American school and a cultural center in Damascus. I'm wondering if you could characterize the President's level of interest, level of concern, related to what appears to be a response to the U.S. attack earlier this week.
MS. PERINO: Well, I haven't commented on reports about that incident, and I'm not going to here.
Q Can you comment about the possible closure of the embassy?
MS. PERINO: No, I'd refer you to the State Department for that.
Q Dana, on the economy, GM has asked the administration for roughly $10 billion in help --
MS. PERINO: Have they said that?
Q Well, according to our sources, they're saying that. How quickly is the administration going to move on requests for aid from the automakers?
MS. PERINO: I don't have anything to add from what I said yesterday, which is, Congress, before they left, gave us two basic tools -- one in the CR which would allow us to appropriate money towards the loan program that DOE passed. And then there is the other concept of the TARP, which -- still in its infancy, even though we're trying to get it up and running as quickly as possible. So I don't have anything to add from yesterday. And I'm not here to speak for the auto industry and what conversations they may or may not have had with the administration.
Q Okay. On a separate topic, there's been some talk in Russia about Russia joining OPEC. Is the White House at all supportive of that, have any concerns about that?
MS. PERINO: I have not heard that, but we'll check and get back to you.
Q Dana, going back to the issue of how active the President has been or not -- not as active on the campaign trail. You said that a number of events were canceled. I do know when the fundraisers were canceled, you guys talked about it. But can you say whether other events recently have been canceled?
MS. PERINO: No, this was mostly just the fundraisers.
MS. PERINO: Olivier.
Q Dana, it's just a detail, but the dinner on the eve of the summit, is it head of state or head of state and government?
MS. PERINO: It's head of state -- I'll check. I need to check on that. I know that --
Q I mean, I don't -- I can't imagine you guys wouldn't include Gordon Brown, for instance --
MS. PERINO: No, no, no, I think it's attendees of the meeting.
Q And there's a -- the Pakistani government has summoned the U.S. Ambassador to protest vigorously over a series of missile strikes along the border with Afghanistan. I understand you're not commenting on the details of the missile strikes, but what is your broader message to the Pakistani people about military operations --
MS. PERINO: Well, our Ambassador would certainly go in and see the Pakistanis anytime they want to see her about these issues. We are committed to working with Pakistan to beat back what is a common enemy in the terrorists. And Pakistan has a very serious problem that -- the President believes that the Pakistanis recognize how serious that problem is. We have a lot of work to do in Pakistan. They have very serious issues when it comes to their economy, as well, in which they're trying to work with the IMF. So we remain very concerned, but we remain willing to work with them.
Q Dana, can I just follow on the automakers? I just want to clarify one point. You talked yesterday and again today about the tools that Congress have given you to work with, but philosophically, does the -- you don't have to use those tools. You don't have to pick them up and use them. Is the administration supportive of the idea, or does it oppose the idea of bailing out the automakers?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that what we're really focused on right now are the regulations that we could work to finalize in regards to the DOE program. The DOE program allows for loans so that these companies can help modernize and make more energy-efficient cars in their facilities here in the United States. So that's where our focus is. Look, these are very big companies.
You know, the President has said all along, for all of these issues, that helping out private industry is not something that has ever been in his -- it's never been one of his instincts. It was when Ben Bernanke and Secretary Paulson came to him and said we could be facing something worse than the Great Depression if we don't act, that the President realized that he had to put aside his instincts and focus on what he could do as President of the United States to help save this economy -- not to help save Wall Street, not to help save any individual economy, but to help individual Americans all across the country of all economic stripes. And that's what we've been trying to do.
That doesn't mean that we're going to necessarily help any of the automakers. It doesn't mean that we are or that we aren't. I think that where I would leave it is that Congress gave us the tool to be able to use the DOE regulations. We're trying to get those done as quickly as possible. These things take a little bit of time. They're very -- they're highly technical and there's a lot of caveats. If you look at the legislation, it laid out very specifically what the money could or could not be used for. And the automakers are well aware of that.
But I also know that we've said for some time the automakers are dealing with changing consumer preferences that really started happening when oil prices going up. So we have parallel tracks on issues that we're trying to deal with. On the energy side of things, more energy production, more energy efficiency, alternative fuels, renewable fuels, and at the same time, trying to help modernize their industry through the funds that Congress has appropriated.
Q Has the President expressed to you any sense of where his instincts are now in terms of stepping away from, say, Wall Street or the banks, when you start moving to the auto industry --
MS. PERINO: I think I'll decline to comment on the specifics, although I will tell you that the Energy Department, the Treasury Department, and the Commerce Department are keeping the President fully informed of their discussions with the automakers.
Q Has President Bush talked to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki since the Syrian strike?
MS. PERINO: Since -- while I'm not commenting on the last part of your question, but, yes, he and the Prime Minister have spoken.
Q And have the Iraqis expressed concern about Syria's --
MS. PERINO: But their conversations were about the strategic framework agreement and the status of forces agreement.
Q So you can't say whether the Syrian incident came up?
MS. PERINO: I'm not commenting on that part at all, but I want to make clear that the conversation that they had was about the SOFA.
Q Has the Iraqi leadership expressed concern about Syria's role in moving terrorists inside Iraq --
MS. PERINO: In general?
Q -- in recent days?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. In general, that has been a concern they have expressed. And their spokesperson, my counterpart, said the very same on Monday.
Q Another question, different topic. Today up on Capitol Hill, a lot of talk about infrastructure, building projects and this possible second economic stimulus package. Is the White House -- what's the line as far as, or do you know a line yet, how much you would agree to in a possible second stimulus package? You have concern, you've expressed concerns that it be stimulating to the economy. There's a lot of stuff that they're talking about putting in there. What's the level of discourse and thought about a second economic stimulus package?
MS. PERINO: I think that we'll -- I don't think we'll see a lot of activity or conversation about that until after the election. Congress will be here I think November 17th and they'll be here for about a week, and that's not a lot of time to get a lot done. We have some things that we think would stimulate the economy that they could do right away, such as vote yes or no on the free trade agreements that we have in front of them, especially the Colombia free trade agreement.
When it comes to the stimulus package, we are open to ideas, as we've said. What we have not seen from the Democratic leadership are ideas that would actually stimulate the economy. There would be a lot more deficit spending, but that doesn't necessarily help anybody in the near term. So transportation funding is a concern of ours because while it's important that we fund roads and bridges, and there are meritorious ways to get those approved through Congress, these projects take a long time to get approved, they take a long time for the money to get out into the system, and a lot of the claims that are made about how much transportation could actually help build the economy are overblown. And so the President is concerned about it. And I think it's too early to say what our number would be because I don't think we've even seen a package that we could support.
Q But as it stands now, you don't believe that they could get a package together in the week that they're back, starting November 17th?
MS. PERINO: That's not necessarily true. I think if they put their minds to it they could do a lot in a week. All of us Americans can, and we here at the White House do a lot more in a week than Congress has done in two years. But if they wanted to try to do something, they could. I just don't see a lot of activity or conversation on their behalf except for a few letters here and there. And I think for the most so far, a lot of that talk has been campaign talking points, rather than any serious discussion about how to stimulate the economy.
Q Dana, the rescue package?
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q Treasury apparently is planning to possibly change the eligibility rules so that private banks can participate in this and have equal access to the rescue money. Is the White House planning to do that?
MS. PERINO: Well, you just said the Treasury is planning to do something? I'll refer you over to the Treasury Department. I don't have any details on it.
Q Yes, on the matter that shall not be named, a question about the French -- (laughter.)
MS. PERINO: A, B, or C.
Q I had a question about the French. President Sarkozy has had some critical words about that, and he's also been leading the charge from Europe, calling for a global regulatory structure that some see as sort of a threat to U.S. global dominance. Is that strained --
MS. PERINO: What are you talking about? You're talking about the economy, or --
Q I'm talking about President -- I'm talking about Franco-American relations. Are they strained at all, with Sarkozy's criticism of the matter in Syria and of his kind of willingness to confront the U.S. on plans for the summit on the 15th?
MS. PERINO: The President has a great relationship with President Sarkozy, and they have open, frank discussions about a range of issues. The President is glad that he's been -- he was able to come to Camp David just two weeks ago. So I wouldn't think that there's anything to see there.
Q You don't even see disagreement, or you just --
MS. PERINO: It doesn't mean that friends can't disagree. That happens a lot -- happens here in this room. But that doesn't mean we can't be friends.
MS. PERINO: I'm going to go to April. Go ahead.
Q Could you explain why this interfaith meeting in New York is happening, especially now?
MS. PERINO: Well, the King of Saudi Arabia had started this dialogue, and this is the date of the meeting. The President has agreed to accept the invitation that he join the King. The President has been very supportive and appreciative of all that the King of Saudi Arabia has done, King Abdallah has done, to foster discussion and a dialogue about respecting other religions, and the President is going to be very happy to be a part of it.
Q Is the President concerned, as he's going into this interfaith meeting, about the anti-Muslim sentiment that seems to have been put in the front pages during this election cycle?
MS. PERINO: Well, it certainly hasn't been put there by this President, who has, from the beginning of this administration -- for his whole life -- has respected other people's religions. He believes that it doesn't matter what religion you are, he believes that we all pray to the same God. And he is going to be very active in continuing to work on both these interfaith dialogue issues, and also when it comes to freedom. And part of the freedom agenda has been that people should be allowed to practice whatever religion they want to practice. So the President will continue to be active in this long after he is no longer President.
Q And lastly, November 4th is coming, and there are concerns from many people about the long lines. Many are concerned that McCain supporters, as well as Obama supporters, are going to have to wait in long lines. And things could indeed cause some voting problems or irregularities because of these long waits. Is there anything that this administration is intending on doing to ensure that the voting process will be carried out fairly? We just saw that the NAACP has filed suit against Virginia because of concerns about long lines.
MS. PERINO: I think that voting is a privilege in this country, and it's a right. And everyone that has that ability should be able to take advantage of it. That said, the suit that you were just talking about was actually against the state of Virginia, and that's because the states and the localities are the ones responsible for elections. There are a lot of things that we're responsible for here at the White House, but long lines on voting day are not one of them.
Q Wait a minute. But they're not just the Obama voters, but also the McCain supporters. There are going to be long lines, and there are concerns that people are not going to extend election hours for these people --
MS. PERINO: April, that's not our responsibility. That is something that the states and the localities have to determine on their own. And, yes, there's going to be long lines. I think that means that there is a lot of interest in this election, and that's not a bad thing. It's good that people are excited about this election, and enthusiastic about their candidates and that they'll be out there. And I'm sure they'll have to get up early, but that's just part of the whole process. And I can't do anything about long lines at election day.
Q Dana. Thank you, Dana. Two questions. Was the President grateful or ungrateful that neither the Senator from Arizona, nor the Governor of Alaska allowed partisanship to keep them from calling for Republican Senator Stevens to resign now?
MS. PERINO: That's just not a subject I'm commenting on, in regards to that case against Senator Stevens. The government is the prosecutor in that case. And since the defendant has said that he wants to exercise his right to appeal, we will decline to comment.
Q How does the President contrast this with the two U.S. senators from Illinois who have never asked for the resignation from one of their university faculties of an unrepentant terrorist who led in so many bombings?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on it.
Q Yes, I wanted to come back to the economic summit, if I may. Have all the countries confirmed their participation at the head-of-government, head-of-state level?
MS. PERINO: As of yesterday, I didn't have a final on that, so we're continuing to check, and we'll do so again today.
Q And also, the French seem to be talking again about a follow-up summit somewhere in New York in December. So --
MS. PERINO: I haven't heard where it would be. We did say that we would commit to a series of summits, and we are going to host the first one. And one of the agenda items for the meeting on the 14th and 15th will be where should the next summit be and when.
Q Some Pakistani leaders are saying that the missile attacks are serving to incite the militancy. What do you say to them?
MS. PERINO: We've had that argument before in regards to lots of different things, where questions were put to the United States that we incited and that it was our fault that terrorists attacked us. Terrorism is something that needs to be confronted, and that's what the President has done. I'm not commenting on any reports of any strikes. But what I will tell you is that the President put this country on a war footing after we were attacked and 3,000 of our citizens were killed. And we have kept al Qaeda on the run. We are giving them a run for the money. And the Pakistanis themselves, the innocent Pakistanis, they also deserve to be protected from terrorists. And so we'll continue to work with them.
Q Thank you.
END 11:25 A.M. EDT