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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 3, 2008
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:00 A.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Hi, everybody. I do not have anything to start with today, so I'll take your questions.
Q What's the White House view of the information going out about Senator Obama's aunt and deportation orders for her?
MS. PERINO: I've read reports about it. I don't know if the White House actually has a view. I think that the Office of Personal* Responsibility at the Department of Homeland Security is looking into it, and I think that's an appropriate place for that to take place.
Q Do you think there was any involvement in putting that information out --
MS. PERINO: None that I heard, and I would be surprised by it. But since there's an investigation I'll let them do that. But none that I've heard.
Anyone else? Quiet day. Kathleen.
Q Dana, does the White House yet, or the administration as a whole, have a response to the changes the Iraqis have proposed in the SOFA agreement? And what do you say about the reports the U.S. is now looking increasingly toward having the United Nations mandate extended?
MS. PERINO: We are working towards responding to the Iraqis. Our negotiating team, led by Ambassador Crocker, is finalizing that and we expect to be talking with the Iraqis over the next week. And I think that their parliament is back in session starting next Tuesday, so hopefully we'll make some progress soon.
And I think reports about us looking at an alternative are overwritten. We are focused on getting this agreement done. I think the Iraqis recognize that it is in their interest, and it's certainly in America's national security interest for us to finalize it. So we're working through all the requested changes that they had, and there might be some that we can support, there might be some that we won't be able to support. I'll just let the negotiators work that out with them privately.
Q Dana, what's the reaction from the White House on the meeting between Pakistani officials and General Petraeus and the push-back on these drone attacks?
MS. PERINO: Well, I wasn't there, but again, reports about these attacks are something that I've not commented on from here, and so I will decline to do that, as well. But as you know, we've had many officials go to Pakistan and we're working in a cooperative spirit with them to try to rid them of the terrorist threat that threatens innocent Pakistanis, the region and certainly here -- us here in America.
So we continue to work with them. It's appropriate that General Petraeus went since he is now taking over CENTCOM and he'll be able to look at this from a broader view, rather than just having been in Iraq. And when you have partners and friends like we do in the Pakistanis, you can have frank exchanges of views and that just means that you're stronger going forward as you continue to work together.
Q But is the White House receptive to that message? I mean, obviously, they don't seem pleased with what's been happening.
MS. PERINO: I'll just decline. Look, there's a lot of tension in Pakistan right now; they have a lot of issues on their plate, from terrorists to their economy, to the concerns about their future security and their politics situation, as they have a new administration that's trying to get settled. So they have plenty on their plate to deal with, and we'll be there as partners to try to help them.
I do think that the Pakistanis, and I know that the Prime Minister recognizes the problem that they have with terrorism, and it is something we're going to continue to have to work with them on. And the next President is going to have to work with them on it, too. This is not a problem that's going to go away instantly. This has been decades in the making, with entrenched hostilities with dangerous people, with dangerous weapons, that have to be either reconciled or dealt with in another way. And so that's what General Petraeus was there to talk to them about.
Q Can I just follow --
MS. PERINO: No, I'm going to go to Jeremy. Go ahead.
Q Earlier today -- or looking towards next week with this G20 summit here at the White House -- or here in Washington, French President Sarkozy said he hoped that it would yield concrete decisions, swift and concrete decisions on global financial regulation. Is that a view the White House shares?
MS. PERINO: We'll see. We think that there's a lot of -- a lot to work through on the agenda, and our sherpas are all working and talking amongst each other to figure out what the agenda will be, the principles for reform. That was -- the purpose of this meeting as it was set out in the conversations the President had with all the leaders before he sent the invitations was to organize with them the agenda, first of all, starting with identifying the underlying causes of the problem. That is something that we all need to do so that we all understand the basis from which we want to work to improve it.
Secondly, reviewing progress to date, which has been considerable. In our country we've got a long way to go, but we're starting to get there. The credit markets are starting to thaw out, and that is exactly what we are trying to do to try to solve -- help solve the problem. And then we said that we would outline principles for reform.
Could there be concrete issues that could be agreed to? I don't know. I would refer you to my briefing a week from now, a prospective referral -- as we get closer. (Laughter.) We just need to get closer to the meeting to see what we're going to be able to work out.
Q But there does seem to be a bit of a difference. The White House and the administration has talked about principles for reform. It sounds like the French are pushing for something much more --
MS. PERINO: I think that in the -- I do think there's been a tendency in the media to try to draw distinctions and differences, even hostilities, between us and the French. That is not the case. We are working in a cooperative spirit, trying to find the path forward together, principles for reform.
Could there be areas where we might be able to agree and be able to move forward? Yes. But remember, this is not just a meeting between the French and the United States. We have invited the leaders of the G20, which means that we have emerging markets here. The President wanted them to have a say in how we move forward, and so their voice is going to be very important. The President is not going to invite them here and then ignore them. So we'll let you know as we get closer how that agenda is shaping up.
Q Dana, we're duty-bound to ask: Why is the President out of sight today and tomorrow? In the last five days we've only seen him really going to the helicopter and coming off.
MS. PERINO: Well, as we said --
Q Is he trying to stay out of sight?
MS. PERINO: Look, we are realistic about the political environment that we are in. President Bush has followed this campaign with a huge amount of interest. He's followed the issues, he's followed the candidates, followed the tactics. But he realizes that this election is not about him. It's the first time in 14 years that President Bush hasn't been on the ballot, and that's a different role for him as in the past. But we are also cognizant that this campaign, the Republican Party wanted to make this election about John McCain, and that's appropriate. And that's what we've had between -- over the last several months, you've had John McCain and Senator Obama fighting it out. And now tomorrow the voters will get a chance to decide.
The President encourages all Americans to cast their vote. He used his radio address this weekend to talk about that. And it's -- one of the great strengths of our democracy is that people get to have their say tomorrow. And we'll be here tomorrow night. The President and Mrs. Bush will be having a small dinner up in the residence tomorrow evening. I'll provide you as much color as I possibly can. I wouldn't expect a ton of it, but I'll try to provide you some little tidbits of interest.
And then, depending on the timing of the result tomorrow night, I'll come here to the briefing room and provide a readout for you of that. But there might be a cutoff time. One of the cameramen suggested 11:00 p.m. I think that might be a good compromise. So we'll see how it goes and I'll let you know. Regardless, I will try to provide you a reaction tomorrow night, at least a written one.
Q Can I follow that, Dana? Is it a distinction without a difference to say the Republicans are trying to make this election about John McCain, when this election really is very much about President Bush and about people wanting a distinct change --
MS. PERINO: I think people have tried to make it about this President, but I think that whenever you are in America and you're looking towards the future, you want to know who's going to be your leader. And George Bush will not be the President on January 21st. The next President will be taking over, and they'll have all the responsibility that comes with that honor.
The President -- President Bush remains hopeful that John McCain will pull it out tomorrow night and will win the election, and he thinks that Republican candidates all across America have the right ideas when it comes to the economy and national security. He'll be pulling for them. But he also is realistic about the political environment that we're in.
Q And that realism?
MS. PERINO: Well, look, Wendell, you guys talk about it all the time. I mean, we're not immune to the questions of -- that you ask almost daily about popularity, approval ratings. We're aware of it. But this President has taken on really big issues, and he's been tested in many ways, and this is a President who has done big things. And often when you do big things and you make tough decisions, they're not popular. President Bush understands that. That said, he loves this country, he loves the people, he's loved the job, and he'll be watching tomorrow night with great interest as the returns come in.
Q Dana, how does he not take it as somewhat of a personal rebuke?
MS. PERINO: I'm not saying that he doesn't recognize that there are people out there who want change. They have been looking for something new. Look, when it comes to the economy, we can understand that. This President was asked -- asked Americans to take on a really big issue and allow for $700 billion of taxpayer money to be reinvested so that we could get our economy moving again. That was a tough decision and a very unpopular one. It was very controversial.
What keeps him going is knowing that he's done the right thing. When it comes to protecting this country, since the September 11th attacks he's been able to do that. Iraq is in a totally different place than it was a year ago today. We have made improvements across different continents, from Africa to India. We have better relations with China than we inherited. And when he goes home to Texas, President Bush will be able to look in the mirror and know that he was true to his values and true to his principles. And that's what keeps him going.
Q You haven't heard any reflections from him of any different tone or character recently, as he's looking at election day where it appears as though -- again, if you look at the polls, it appears as though a lot of people -- record numbers of people may be going to the poll, you may have a landslide in the works, you may have a -- all predicated on running away from the President. He has -- you haven't heard any sadness, reaction, any kind of disappointment in his voice?
MS. PERINO: The President is -- recognizes what this election has been about. I also think that that might be your characterization of it. I don't think that there are Republicans out there who think that the President hasn't done a good job when it comes to keeping this country safe, replenishing our military so that they can have the resources they need to do the job. The President has asked them to do tough jobs. He made a decision to go to Iraq; he still believes that that was the right decision. And the next President will inherit a fragile, but a democracy in the heart of the Middle East because of that decision.
We have learned from mistakes. We have -- we had tremendous coordination this time around when we had two major hurricanes hit our country, that we we're able to coordinate -- also one of those having hit Louisiana.
So a lot of things have improved. And this President was tested by a lot of different issues and I think he's taken those issues head on, and we can be proud of how we've addressed them. Everybody would like to be popular. You can all remember that back in high school, everyone really wanted to be popular. Some of us just weren't. But that doesn't mean that you don't have principles and values that you stay true to. And that's what this President has done, and it's what he's taught a lot of us, including me.
Q Dana, you today and Ed Lazear last week have now indicated that there are disagreements on what the underlying cause of the financial crisis is. At the risk of being one of those people in the media who exaggerates tensions, possibly hostilities between you and the French, what are the underlying causes? (Laughter.) What are the underlying causes of this financial crisis -- just to set out where you guys are coming from.
MS. PERINO: I don't know what all the leaders will come forward with, and I think there are -- for people like those here in the administration, including the President, who was warning about the problems that we had in our housing sector for many years, including the problems with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That will be one problem. I'm sure that there will be others that come forward. We'll have a meeting that is robust in its agenda -- hopefully robust in its principles for reform to move forward.
What the President and the leaders agreed to was a series of summits. So I don't think anybody should expect next week that we're going to walk away and have everything solved. The reason that there's going to be a series is because they needed to have more than one meeting. I think it's appropriate at the first meeting to set out the principles for reform, and then task those working groups to go back, work with their financial experts in their countries, work together to figure out a way that we can continue to move forward and return this country to a path of prosperity, but also other countries as well.
These emerging economies have accomplished a lot because of free market capitalism. I don't think that they think that it's dead; we certainly don't. We believe in free enterprise. But we also recognize that there need to be some changes, especially when it comes to the interlocking nature of the economy, where something that happens here could affect the rest of the world. So that's one of the reasons the President wanted to invite the G20.
Q Can you -- it may be a little early, but can you say how many is in a series? Are we talking about different summits to address different aspects of it?
MS. PERINO: I couldn't say yet. I think that's one of the things that will also be on the agenda, is talking about the path forward and how many meetings we should have. As I said, the President-elect and his team will have input into the process. And so it's just a little too early to say how soon those meetings will take place.
Q Has everyone RSVP'd?
MS. PERINO: I'll check for you. I think nearly all, but I'll just -- I just want to check. I think that we're in good shape for attendance, but we'll see if we can get something out today or tomorrow on that.
Q When was the last time President Bush talked to -- by phone or vicariously, via Internet or what have you -- communicated with John McCain?
MS. PERINO: I think it might have been right before that Cabinet meeting that we had here on the financial rescue package.
Q Why so -- why such a gap, since he is right now one of the main leaders of the Republican Party?
MS. PERINO: April, I'm not going to answer that question. I feel like I have given you a lot about the feeling at the White House, the mood of the White House, and how we're supporting this candidate, and trying to be respectful of what they thought is the best way to run their campaign. So I'm not going to get into that.
Q You say this administration, this President has supported the candidate. Do you feel that the candidate has --
MS. PERINO: Sorry, has what? Has supported the candidate?
Q Yes. You say this administration, this President has supported the candidate. Do you think the candidate has done enough to support this President?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on that. What I will remind you of is that this President did over 80 events this year, or in this cycle, to help Republican candidates. And I will tell you that after the primary, at every single one, President Bush made the case for why John McCain would be the best President to be elected in this cycle tomorrow.
Q In terms of transition planning, does the White House feel like the council has achieved all of its objectives to date?
MS. PERINO: To date? Yes. Yes. We have a long way to go. Remember, we've been working with both campaigns leading up to tomorrow night, and then starting Wednesday. For example, whoever the candidates have identified for pre-clearance on their FBI checks -- I don't know whether those are completed, but we've already got the process started.
And that will be very important because we're facing a transition where we want to make sure that other countries know that we will have a peaceful transition and that the next crew that's coming in here knows the tools that it has to help fight the war on terror, that it knows how to prosecute the war on terror, since we -- that's our most important obligation here. They will also be getting a lot of briefings on Iraq and Afghanistan, Africa, issues on the financial summit. I mean, there's a lot of issues that have to be dealt with.
But I do think that it will be one of the most professional transitions to date. And a lot of that is because of the law that changed in 2004, but also because of this President's commitment. Starting about a year ago, the President asked the agencies to start working on their transition plans and to make sure that senior career officials at those agencies were shadowing the political appointees so that if there is a gap, a personnel gap, and they need to take over for a while, that they would be able to do so and do their job effectively and efficiently.
So we feel good to date, and we'll keep you updated as we move forward.
Q Any decision yet on the President-elect attending the financial summit?
MS. PERINO: What Josh Bolten said last week is that he had heard from both of them that they don't plan to attend.
Q Thank you, Dana. So much has been said in this campaign, invoking the President's name and attacks on him from Senator Obama's campaign. Is he aware of this criticism? And before he leaves office is he going to say something about it?
MS. PERINO: I think I've -- I don't know if you were here earlier, but I think we've talked a lot about that. The President follows politics, news, and the campaign very closely.
He's also been very busy. If you -- think about what's just happened in the past nine weeks in our country. We had two of the biggest hurricanes come through our country. We also had the situation between Russia and Georgia. And we had the most disastrous financial crisis hit our country.
So he's been extremely busy. He always said that he was going to sprint to the finish, and now we're -- he's making good on that. And he's very focused on trying to make sure that the taxpayers get paid back as much as possible, that the implementation of the $700 billion rescue package is efficient and effective and following the letter of the law, and that it will work -- that it will thaw out those credit markets and that we can return our country to a path of prosperity.
I think that there will be a lot of political analysts that look at this campaign, and I think that the best thing for us to do is to let the talking heads do that. And if the President decides to talk about this campaign in the future, we'll see. I mean, he's not one to look back; he often looks forward. And I think that what he'll do, starting January 21st, is really dig into the institute that he wants to create that would be called the Freedom Institute. It will be on the campus of SMU. And he and Mrs. Bush are very much looking forward to getting back to Dallas, where they can pick up where they left off several years ago -- I think 14 years ago when they left.
Q How's the house search going?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I'm not on the committee. (Laughter.)
Q Well, from what I hear, there's only one person on that committee. (Laughter.) That would be the First Lady.
MS. PERINO: And that -- would you have it any other way? (Laughter.)
Q No, no, no.
MS. PERINO: Me neither. (Laughter.) No, we'll see. I think that they're obviously going to have a place in Dallas, as well as the ranch. And so Mrs. Bush is -- she's conducting that search and then when she's ready to announce something we'll try to get it to you right away.
Q Can you give us an update on the administration working to in some way shore up homeowners, specifically homeowners that may be under water? There's been talk about hoping -- or helping, rather, them rewrite those mortgages at least through the lenders, maybe guaranteeing the mortgages through their lenders. Where does those talks stand right now?
MS. PERINO: So there's a lot of different proposals that are in front of us right now to try to help homeowners, in addition to the tools that we already have. Just to recap, those tools include the private sector effort, HOPE NOW, which I think has helped nearly 2 million homeowners** rewrite those loans, just like you were saying, so that people could actually make their payments and be able to afford them and be able to stay in their home -- because that's the goal. We also have FHASecure, and also Hope for Homeowners. So those are tools that we already have that we're using.
But the question on the table is: Do we need to do more to help homeowners? If that answer is yes, then there's a lot of other issues that have to be analyzed. So who would be helped? How would you make that determination? What kind of help would it be? How long would it be for? And how do you protect the taxpayers? All of those issues are being discussed when it comes to each of the proposals that have come forward. We have an interagency process. I don't have anything to announce for you right now. But what we're doing in the meantime is making sure that HOPE NOW, FHASecure and Hope for Homeowners move forward on parallel tracks and try to help as many homeowners as possible.
Q Can we expect something in the next few days, the next week? I know that this is an ongoing process.
MS. PERINO: I wouldn't put a time frame on it because I just couldn't say. It's more complicated than people would think when you start digging into the issues as to who would be deserving. And you can imagine that one neighbor might feel slighted if they're making their payments on time, but their other -- their neighbor gets a cut in their payments. How do you deal with all of that? And we're mindful of it, and that's why we're taking some time. That doesn't mean that we're not moving with all due speed.
I will tell you that, having been involved in a lot of policy development processes over the years here at the White House, that when it comes to these issues regarding the economy they have moved faster than anything I have seen before. And that's for good reason, because we're trying to help people as quickly as possible and prevent as many home foreclosures as possible.
There will be some people who will not be able to stay in their homes, that they won't be able to afford it, they got in too far over their heads. That doesn't necessarily mean that they won't be able to make the payments in the future if they were able to improve their income. However, there will be some people who just won't be able to stay in their home. And foreclosure unfortunately happens all across America. I don't know the statistic, but hundreds of thousands of homes are foreclosed on any given year.
This year we might have a bigger problem. But just because you're under water with your mortgage, meaning that your house is now less than you paid for it, doesn't mean that you're going to go into foreclosure. If you can still make your payments, you'll be able to pay it. So all of these issues are being discussed in the administration here at the White House, and we're trying to come to a conclusion as to whether or not we would support something and what it would be.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q Is there any sense in which the election outcome matters to your decision? Are you in communication with --
MS. PERINO: No. Well, I think -- well, look, President Bush would always do what he thinks is right. But that doesn't mean that the President-elect wouldn't have input as to what they might think about a certain program or other, because they will inherit a lot of policies that this administration has put forward, or previous administrations. So everything builds on previous experience. We'll have input from them I'm sure, but I don't think that any candidate would not want us to move forward to try to help homeowners. And for us to wait three months, I don't think that anybody would support that.
Q With the Iraqis coming back again with more changes to the security agreement, if you're not able to get a deal by the end of the year, do you see the possibility of ceasing operations?
MS. PERINO: Our focus has been on trying to get this agreement done. We think that the Iraqis recognize that they need it for their own security. And just this past week, even though they've made great strides, they've had some terrible violence up in the Mosul area. And we're trying to help their security forces beef up enough so that they are competent and confident enough to repel terrorists or insurgents who are trying to disrupt the political system there.
So we think that through Ryan Crocker's operation, we'll be able to work with them, and we're hopeful that we'll be able to reach an agreement. I don't think anyone contemplates seizing operations. I wouldn't -- that's not something that -- it's not in our vocabulary. We're focused on trying to get the agreement done.
Q On the free trade agreements, outside of the Colombia free trade and the other two, what else would the President like Congress to do when it gets back?
MS. PERINO: Those are the two main things. And let's just let Congress get back, and then we'll see.
Q Two quick questions. One, as far as situation you mentioned in Afghanistan and Pakistan, I'm sure the President is briefing both the candidates. And what do you think they have been briefed on, or what did their reaction of --
MS. PERINO: Wouldn't you like to know. (Laughter.)
Q When are you going to get Osama bin Laden?
MS. PERINO: We try every day to capture Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice. And there's hundreds of thousands of people across our government and around the world who are working to make that happen. And when it comes to briefings on Afghanistan or Pakistan, or any other issue, the briefings will be thorough and they'll know all of the issues, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Q And second, as far as economy is concerned, you think -- what President think about that as far as illegal immigrants -- that do you think they are plus or minus as far as this economy is concerned?
MS. PERINO: The President has said that he believes that immigrants who want to come to this country to -- want to work, and they are often doing jobs that Americans have not decided to fulfill, that they should have a way to do that through a temporary worker program. But that would mean a change in law, and it's certainly not going to happen in the next 77 days.
Q Thank you.
11:25 A.M. EST
* Office of Professional Responsibility at the Department of Homeland Security.
** HOPE NOW has helped more than 2.5 million homeowners prevent foreclosures. In addition, more than 400,000 mortgages have been refinanced under FHA.