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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 18, 2008
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:33 A.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Hello, everybody. A couple of announcements for you. As you just saw, the President spoke today about efforts to improve travel for all Americans during this busy holiday season. He announced an expansion of the Thanksgiving Express Lanes, which were utilized on the East Coast during last year's Thanksgiving season.
This year we have expanded the use of military airspace to areas of the Midwest, Southwest, and the West Coast. In addition to that, the FAA and then the TSA, working with the airlines, will have more staff available during the holiday season in order to speed up the check-in process and boarding and to help address passenger concerns. And in addition, new regulations that we talked about have -- a while ago have just been completed that will provide increased protections and compensation for things like lost baggage, cancellation, and other travel hassles that we all have to deal with from time to time.
In addition to that, I have two scheduling announcements for you. On Friday, December 5th, President Bush will make keynote remarks at the opening session of the Saban Forum here in Washington, which is an annual meeting of policymakers here in the United States, and U.S. and Israeli officials, for a dialogue on issues facing the two countries and the larger Middle East region.
In addition, on Saturday December 6th, there will be two events. The President will travel to Philadelphia to view the commissioning of his portrait at the Union League's Presidential Portrait Collection. The League's tradition for collecting presidential portraits started in 1862. And then later that day he will attend the Army-Navy football game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
So that's all I have for you. Deb.
Q Why is the Interior Department shifting political appointees into civilian jobs? And is this something that is being done to give the Bush administration a lasting imprint on environmental policy? And secondly, is this being done at other agencies, as well?
MS. PERINO: No -- well, let me back up. First of all, The Washington Post didn't bother to call the White House on this story, so we have a little bit of a beef there. And I think that if they would have, they would have had better information. As a matter of policy, the White House has not encouraged non-career appointees to seek career positions in order to further the President's policies. The White House doesn't play a role in that career hiring process. There's a very specific process that OPM had put forward, the Office of Personnel Management, that gives guidelines for people who are eligible to apply for career positions. Once they do that, they are handled on a case-by-case basis by OPM, and the review is conducted by career employees.
There are -- I think that conversions in our administration in the past year have been numbering around 20. That compares to 47 in the Clinton administration. And these jobs are also advertised for -- everybody can apply for them. And they win -- if they win the -- go through the process and they actually get the job, it is because they do so on their merits.
And there's a lot of detail from the OPM staff that were provided to us, and we'll try to get more facts and figures that maybe I can attach them to the end of this briefing. I don't have all of them at my fingertips. But we did look into it, and I mean, we think that it was a little bit overwritten, that story this morning.*
Q I have something on a different topic. In a Washington Post interview, Paulson said that he's going to be urging the Obama administration to endow the federal government with broad new powers to take over not only banks, but other private enterprises, as well. Is this being -- is this something that the White House is --
MS. PERINO: I read that article quickly. I'm not exactly sure what he's referring to. Unless this is the same issue that he talked about last week in his press conference that he gave at the Treasury Department, when he talked about possibly expanding -- to help with consumer credit and the like. So I'll refer you to Treasury for more specifics, but I think that's what they're talking about.
Q A couple questions. First of all, just to follow up on the last question. So as far as these appointees, I mean these political figures being slotted into government jobs, so you don't feel that that is any way obstructionist at all, depriving the Obama --
MS. PERINO: Absolutely not.
Q -- the incoming administration of --
MS. PERINO: Absolutely not. First of all, if somebody wants to come -- if the next administration decides that somebody shouldn't be in a particular job, they can make a decision to not have them in that job anymore. But in addition to that, I think there's a real difference here. When you have people who -- you have a certain amount of slots, of political slots. We're not taking those away from anybody. The Obama administration will still be able to have -- to fulfill their slots as they see fit. So we're not suggesting that; we're not trying to dictate the process.
But there are people in the federal government who -- and you should want people who have worked in the administration who think that they might want to make their careers in government. We have a lot of smart people all across the government with a lot of expertise -- in the financial sector, in the energy sector, in the environmental sector, the Labor Department, et cetera.
What we have done is follow the OPM guidelines -- just like the Clinton administration supposedly did -- and our conversions, as I said, are about 20 this year, compared to 47 in the last year of the Clinton administration.*
Q The other question -- according to two Obama advisors, apparently his incoming administration is unlikely to bring any criminal charges against any government officials who either authorized or engaged in some of these harsh interrogations that some allege may have been torture. Any thoughts on that? Is the administration reassured about that?
MS. PERINO: I think I'll just decline to comment on it.
Q And just one other thing on that. He's also -- apparently Obama is going to be reviewing interrogations, the whole policy practice of what constitutes a valid interrogation, what isn't waterboarding, et cetera. They're going to have a panel on this. Does it concern the Bush administration at all that this is in any way going to be tipping our hands to terrorists in the future?
MS. PERINO: I'm sure that the next Commander-in-Chief will be very discreet and discerning in looking at information and making sure that he understands the full capabilities of tools that we have available to protect the country.
This President has said that we did interrogate terrorists, and we did so to protect the country from possible imminent terrorist attack. We did not torture. And the laws that we have on the books are ones that we follow. And I am sure that when the national security teams that stay on through the transition process, that they will be as forthcoming as possible with all information, and that they'll have the information that they need to do their job.
Q Congressman Hoyer says he is hopeful that the Democrats can reach a compromise with the White House on aid to automakers. Does the White House believe that such a compromise can be achieved this week, or are you beginning to see this as something that's going to have to be left for -- to be worked out with the Obama administration?
MS. PERINO: Well, of course we remain hopeful that we can find a bipartisan solution. We think that we already have a bipartisan solution, because we have legislation that's already on the books, where money has already been appropriated to help automakers through the DOE loan program, 136 loan program. We've already put forward regulations that would guide how that would work. What we're simply saying is that maybe we can work together to amend that process so that companies that can prove viability could take advantage and have that money sooner if they need it during this rough patch.
The House and Senate are in today, but they're having hearings. I think tomorrow you'll probably see a little bit more action once they're able to bring something to the floor. We still don't know exactly what they would bring to the floor. But we think that we have a solution here that is very logical and very reasonable. Perhaps it's so logical and so reasonable that people really just can't get their arms around it, because it's Washington, D.C. But we think that we have a path forward. And we'll let you know as we continue to work with members of Congress whether or not we can forge an agreement. We hope to do so this week.
Q When you say "amended," do you mean amended so that it is not required to be used for fuel efficiency?
MS. PERINO: Right, that those funds would be freed up and that they could use those funds for other things. That does not mean that we are relaxing any standards when it comes to fuel efficiency. President Bush proposed the changes that we are starting to implement now; Congress finally passed them. And we have a chance now to really improve the fuel efficiency of these vehicles.
What we're saying is that the Congress already passed $25 billion for the auto industry so that they could retool their factories and meet those standards. They're still going to have to meet those standards, but if they need that money sooner and need it for other purposes, we're saying simply amend that bill and allow that money to be used for other things.
And if in the future they decide -- the next administration and the Congress decides to add additional funds to help the automakers to meet those standards, that will be up to them. We just don't think that we should provide the $25 billion that was already on the table, plus an additional $25 billion, unless companies can show us that they have a long-term path for viability.
Q So, Dana, is the primary sticking point, then, just the source of the money? If it comes from TARP, you don't like it; but if it comes from the Department of Energy, you do like it? I mean, does the White House completely agree that automakers do need and deserve this money?
MS. PERINO: We want the automakers to succeed. There is a pot of money that exists, it's there for the taking, it's on the table. And we think that a simple amendment to the law that has already been passed to allow them to be able to use these funds is the best way for us to be able to help the automakers right now. And so we're going to try and help them do that.
We don't think that these funds should be taken from the TARP. That was never the intent of Congress. That money is specifically for the financial industry, to help prevent collapse in our financial system. And that's what Secretary Paulson and Ben Bernanke are talking about this morning on Capitol Hill.
Q So that's the only difference is that you don't like one source and they like a different source? I mean, I don't really see -- it seems like that is very close to an agreement.
MS. PERINO: It's a significant difference. Well, it's a significant difference when you're talking about which pot of money to use, because we want the money that has already been appropriated, that we have rules that govern how it would be used. We also went through the process of rushing through, but doing it in a proper way, the rules of the road to prove viability that's defined in our legislation. What the Democrats put forward yesterday is a proposal that fails to require automakers to prove viability.
We don't think that taxpayers should be asked to throw money at a company that can't prove that it has a long-term path for success. That's a key difference between us and them.
Q Isn't it true that they want both? They don't one or the other, they want both.
MS. PERINO: Right, they want the money that's already been appropriated and they want an additional $25 billion, which we think is unnecessary and unreasonable at this point.
Q On the hearing today, House Financial Services Committee hearing, Secretary Paulson has repeated his opposition to using some of the bailout money to help guarantee home loans, to prevent foreclosures. Understanding what the administration is already doing on that front with those various programs, there is a clear split here with FDIC Chair Bair and her proposal for $25 billion to be used. Where does the President stand on this, and why?
MS. PERINO: There are several proposals that came forward to the President, not just from FDIC, but from HUD, as well as Treasury and other places, that we are considering in order to try to provide more help to homeowners if we can do so. As you said, we already have several programs that are underway -- HOPE NOW, which is a private sector initiative that has helped over 2 million homeowners, and they've just announced a way to help even more. And the private sector has stepped forward to try to help homeowners be able to stay in their homes, and HUD has several programs, as well. The help that we've provided to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should help in that regard, as well. So we have several programs underway.
There have been a lot of proposals that have come forward that really required a lot of weighing of the pros and cons of the cost-benefit analysis, the fairness issue of which homeowner do you decide to help. If my neighbor decides to get help and I don't get help, I think that there are really serious issues that we have to consider about the fairness of all of this. We are working through the challenges in those questions on that.
One thing in regard to the TARP is that when that money was passed it was intended for financial institutions and to help prevent the collapse of our banking industry. And the rules of the road for that program is that Treasury has to look at an investment and decide, is this the best way to provide taxpayers a good return on investment? Can they be made whole, and can they even possibly make money on this deal? What the FDIC proposal puts forward is a suggestion that we should give direct subsidies to lenders. We don't know if that's the appropriate use for that money. And so I'm sure Secretary Paulson will talk more about it today, but that's where the rub is.
Q Shouldn't we stop calling it TARP, since it's not really any more a troubled asset relief program?
MS. PERINO: Yes, I have thought the same myself. I don't know --
Q It's no longer that.
MS. PERINO: I don't know what we could call it. I also call it the rescue package. It's not a bad point.
Go ahead, Roger.
Q Just to make sure I'm clear on something. The Democrats want the $25 billion from DOE, plus the $25 billion from TARP financial rescue. The administration's support stops at the $25 billion that exists from DOE, and nothing more?
MS. PERINO: At this point, right. But our money is tied to one key point, which is can these companies make the tough decisions necessary to restructure and be viable. And that's what the taxpayer should be asking.
Q Right. But there's nothing beyond $25 billion?
MS. PERINO: In our proposal, no. But I would be surprised if the car companies were actually asking for anything more than that $25 billion right now. But they'll have a chance to testify on Capitol Hill this afternoon and you'll hear more from them.
Q Given the unpredictable nature of economy as it impacts the automakers -- everything from consumer attitudes to fluctuation in gas prices -- what are the benchmarks for them to predict their viability? What is the administration looking for?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'd refer you to one of the things that we've already done, which is the technical experts and the financial experts worked on those regulations to implement the 136 loan program out of DOE and they've defined viability there.
The proposal that Senator Reid produced yesterday does not require viability. They talk around the edges of it, there's a lot of rhetoric, but it doesn't require it. And that is going to be a test for us to be able to actually reach a compromise.
Q Viability --
MS. PERINO: Viability issue.
Q Dana, beyond the DOE loan program for the automakers, what the automakers really want to do is get a lot of their pension obligations off their books. And there's talk that some of that would actually be pushed over to the pension benefit guarantee -- government entity. So isn't it true that the true cost ultimately to the taxpayers could be far more than these DOE -- these energy figures that are being talked about?
MS. PERINO: I think it would be inappropriate for me to speculate on what the companies may or may not do in the future with their pension obligations. But, obviously, the PGBC exists for a reason. And I'm sure people are thinking about that and are mindful of it as they move forward.
One of the things that we've talked about is that if we were to provide this money, it will be tied to viability. And part of that means companies that will be willing to make the hard decisions necessary to restructure their firms so that they can be competitive in the long term, compete in the global marketplace like we want them to do.
Q But would you concede then that ultimately the long-term cost could be far more than the DOE figures that are now being talked about?
MS. PERINO: It's hard to say. What we want is for these companies to be able to succeed. We think that we can provide them access to the money that's been -- already been appropriated for the purpose of helping the automakers modernize themselves, that that would be an appropriate thing to do. But we are not in favor of even an additional $25 billion in taxpayer money on top of that.
Q But are you saying that you would be -- you wouldn't be in favor of the additional $25 billion, even if they could prove future viability?
MS. PERINO: No, I think we're going to just draw the line at $25 billion that has already been appropriated through the DOE program.
MS. PERINO: Goyal, and then I'll come to you, Les.
Q Two quick questions, Dana, thank you. One, as far as this U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement is concerned, you think the President is going to leave this up to the next President-Elect Obama, as far as final bureaucratic things are still on his table?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that the next administration will be able to decide for itself whether or not they want to continue that relationship that we've established with India. But I would see no reason why they shouldn't.
Q And second, I hope President saw last night on ABC Nightline, as far as, I think many people said there may be a concern to national security, KKK are dangerous -- maybe they are. What President think about those, their views and their determination, maybe --
MS. PERINO: The President's views about that organization is well known, but I don't think he saw the Nightline program last night.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions.
MS. PERINO: Okay, and then I'll go to Ann.
Q Thank you. Sunday's lead editorial in The New York Times had this statement: "We believe the military needs 65,000 additional Army troops, and the 27,000 additional Marines that Congress finally pushed President Bush into seeking." What is the White House reaction to that statement?
MS. PERINO: Was that in Afghanistan, or in general?
Q I'm just saying that --
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I didn't read The New York Times editorial this weekend, so I don't know.
Q Okay. Does the White House believe there is no question at all about the birthplace, and thus the required U.S. citizenship of the President-elect?
MS. PERINO: I think we're in good shape on that. (Laughter.)
Q You are in good shape?
Q Dana, in July the President held a full news conference. It's now November. Is that a format that he just doesn't think useful to him anymore? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Everyone did dress up. We made it clear during the campaign season that we would not be doing press conferences. Right now, the campaign season is over. Are you eager to have them back?
MS. PERINO: Okay. One yes from Les. (Laughter.) Do you think that's -- do you think that's going to help my case? (Laughter.)
Q We all want them --
Q In the last weeks of his presidency, does he think it's just not something that he needs to --
MS. PERINO: I don't know. We never announce press conferences before we actually are going to have one. I wouldn't be surprised if there's one before we leave. But it's just as possible that there might not be any.
Q Is he going to have a Christmas party?
Q We'd like to see him in this room.
MS. PERINO: Paula.
Q You mentioned a moment ago about foreclosures and limiting that. But if you do that, won't that end up having more homeowners go into bankruptcy? And if they're in bankruptcy and file bankruptcy, then they're not going to be able to do anything and merit credit, they won't have credit cards.
MS. PERINO: I'm not sure I follow your logic. If we're helping homeowners avoid foreclosure, then more of them are going to go into bankruptcy? That's your suggestion?
Q I mean, the proposals that are out there are to expand that, to prevent more foreclosures. And if the administration wants to basically put a cap on that, won't those people go into bankruptcy if they are not able to avoid foreclosures?
MS. PERINO: Paula, I don't think I'm following you. But we'll follow up with you later. We're trying to help as many people as we possibly can. I went through all the programs that we have.
Q Dana, is there any kind of support around this White House for someone, a "car czar" to oversee any monies that will be given or could be given to the auto industry to prevent any kinds of mishandling of those funds, as we've seen with AIG --
MS. PERINO: Well the program that we're talking about would be administered through the Department of Energy. And so, those funds would be overseen by their officials and the inspector general at the Department of Energy. So I don't know if you need anybody in addition. But I'm -- if the President-elect thinks that that is something that he would want to have, then I'm sure we would work with him to consider it. But I haven't heard any more further talk on that.
Q Because there's some talk -- Nancy Pelosi is bringing that up to allow --
MS. PERINO: It could be that they want to move forward with that, but I think the most -- before we start talking about establishing a czar to oversee the money, we actually need to pass a bill that would provide funds for the auto industry.
Q Just a point of clarification. When you talk about compromise on -- from the White House perspective -- on the automakers, your compromise would be on using the retooling money for this more immediate thing. That -- when you say "compromise" --
MS. PERINO: Right.
Q -- that would be the compromise, not any kind -- you don't see room for any kind of compromise on this additional $25 billion they're requesting?
MS. PERINO: I don't see that right now. And in addition, Deb, there's just no appetite for it in the Senate, as well. I don't think they could actually even get that bill through the process. And we are in a situation where we need to move very quickly. So it seems prudent to me, and reasonable and sensible, to move forward to amend the bill that's already in place. And we could try to get that $25 billion that's right there for the taking into play to help these companies for the next little while, until they can get on a better path to prosperity.
Q I just want to ask regarding the two border agents -- that was in the news again last week. Now that the President is ending his term -- calls are renewed for a pardon or a commutation. Is there anything on that you --
MS. PERINO: We never comment on pardons. People who are eligible to apply for a pardon can do so through the pardon attorney at the Department of Justice. And we don't comment on the deliberations that are underway.
END 11:54 A.M. EST
* The White House has not encouraged non-career appointees to seek career positions as a way to advance the President's policies. The White House does not play any role in the career employee hiring process.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) outlines a specific hiring process for political employees who seek career positions. Requests are handled on a case-by-case basis by the agency and OPM, and the entire process is conducted by career OPM employees. If a non-career appointee is judged to be the best qualified for the career position in question, a separate merit staffing review is conducted by OPM before the agency is permitted to appoint the individual to the career position. These positions are open to anyone and are listed on USAjobs.gov.
An Agency's management can convert a particular position from non-career to career. This was done when the Solicitor of the Department of Interior decided to fill previously non-career positions with career SES civil servants in an effort to improve performance. This action does not remove non-career positions from an agency's congressional allotment, which are used based on the direction of the White House Chief of Staff. Furthermore, the action could be reversed by the new management of the Department after January 20.