For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 6, 2008
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
9:37 A.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Hi, everyone. I've got a couple of announcements for you. Just a reminder, in case you hadn't seen it, on September 9th, the President announced that as a result of security gains in Iraq, that he would continue the policy of "return on success," reducing American combat forces in Iraq as conditions on the ground continue to improve. Because of those continued improvements that have been proceeding at a very steady pace, violence is way down. And because the Iraqi security forces are growing in strength and numbers and competence and confidence every day, one of the brigades the President talked about on September 9th will be able to come home several weeks earlier than planned. U.S. soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, the 101st Airborne Division, currently serving in Baghdad, will redeploy to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in November. So they'll be home before the holidays. They were originally on a 15-month tour. That has been reduced to 13 months, and I'm sure those soldiers and families are excited.
This morning the President will meet with his Cabinet to discuss his priorities between now and the end of his term. Most important is continuing the unprecedented efforts throughout the federal government that began more than a year ago to ensure a smooth and effective transition of power. We will continue our work in partnership with the Obama transition team, that reflects our shared responsibility to ensure a seamless transition of power to the next President.
A couple of examples to that. We are providing intelligence briefings to the President-elect and his team. We're giving security clearances to members of his transition staff. We are ensuring that the Obama transition team has all the equipment and space necessary to do their jobs. And we are starting to brief the Obama team on major ongoing policy issues, ranging from the financial markets to Iraq; preparing career employees, especially those in the most critical positions, to take on added responsibilities while the Obama team gets to work through all of the resumes and its appointments process, to prevent any disruption of essential functions in the federal government during this next couple of months.
Following the Cabinet meeting, the President will also address the staff of the Executive Office of the President. He will emphasize that the nation is at war, our homeland is under threat of attack, and the ongoing efforts to deal with a global financial crisis means that all of us here at the White House have a special responsibility to ensure that the next President and his team can hit the ground running on January 20th.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q Hi, Dana. Two questions, please. On the Middle East, with Secretary Rice in the region, President Bush has long expressed confidence about a Middle East peace deal by the end of the year. Does he still have that confidence, or is he backing away from that statement at all?
MS. PERINO: We realize that with the political changes that have happened in Israel over the past couple of months, and really since early summer that that started, that the prospects of being able to get one done became more unlikely. And it's important that we maintain momentum for the negotiations. It's our experience that over the past year we have laid some very good groundwork for the Palestinians and the Israelis to be able to continue to have their discussions. And remember, President Bush is the first one to ever call for a Palestinian state. And that has meant a lot to the people in the region who are working to bridge the divide between the two and establish the definition of a state. But, no, we do not think that it's likely that it would happen before the end of the year.
Q And I'd like to follow, too, on your comments about the transition period. Does the election of President-elect Obama change President Bush's approach or his agenda at all during this period of transition? Is there any deference at all to a new leader coming in, or is that an inappropriate way to --
MS. PERINO: He doesn't change his principles, nor his policies. But what we have pledged to do and we are doing is to work and consult with the Obama team on issues as we move forward -- one of those being the financial summit that's coming up next week. Those conversations -- as part of the financial markets update, part of that discussion will be on the summit.
So those conversations are already underway, and we are certainly going to be mindful of the need to have their input on a lot of different issues as we move forward. We have a lot of responsibility. Right now we have the war in Iraq, and we're trying to right now not only bring our soldiers home because the conditions on the ground are improving, but to finish up our negotiations on the strategic framework agreement and also the SOFA, the status of forces agreement. That's underway.
We're working to implement the rescue package, the Troubled Asset Relief Program -- TARP -- that the Treasury Department is working on. There are other rules and regulations that we have -- that have been in the pipeline for a while, and the due diligence on those takes a while. We have to have all the interagency input, take all the public comment, and get those out in a reasonable time frame. So there's a lot of work to be done on our end, and we'll be keeping them consulted along the way.
Q Dana, how much direct contact do you expect the President to have with the President-elect? I know that the President already reached out in more of a sort of informal way, but how much direct contact over the transition do you expect the two men to have?
MS. PERINO: It's a little too early for me to say. I don't know. The President did extend the invitation for President-elect Obama to come at his convenience. Obviously he's got a lot on his plate because you can imagine all of the thousands of positions that they have to fill in the government. He first has to establish his Cabinet and his main senior staff here at the White House. So we'll welcome him with open arms as soon as he can get here.
Q But do you expect them to speak on a weekly basis, monthly basis?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I don't know, Yunji.
Q Dana, you mentioned the economic summit. Has President-elect Obama been invited to attend, or have any members of his team been invited to attend?
MS. PERINO: I think that we've been consulting with them, but they, I think, have already said that they don't -- I don't think that they've said that they don't plan on him attending it. But we'll be consulting with them all along the way.
Q Okay, and then also --
MS. PERINO: And we're -- actually, I think we're working with them to make sure -- we have Dan Price as our National Security Council representative, our -- he's also called a Sherpa. I think that we're working to identify somebody on the Obama team who can work with him closely over the next couple weeks.
Q On Russia, Russia issued sort of a pointed remark yesterday about the President's missile defense system to President-elect Obama. What's the President's response to that, since this is, in fact, his proposal?
MS. PERINO: Well, we've long said that the missile defense program is not aimed at Russia and the sites in Czech Republic and Poland pose no threat to Russia from our perspective. We have tried to work with the Russians to explain that to them. We've offered to work with their teams on the technology pieces. We find the action yesterday disappointing.
But I would also say that there are a multitude of world leaders who are aligned to establish a relationship with the President-elect. We are helping to facilitate that. We have lots of calls coming in, and letters and requests for meetings. And so I think you'll see both -- that play out publicly in some way, where world leaders try to establish a new founding with the President-elect. We think that's healthy. We think it's good for continuity. And they've gotten a lot of requests so we're trying to help facilitate those.
Q Do you see the Russians trying to use this transition time as leverage to their advantage?
MS. PERINO: One thing I can't do is divine what the Russians are thinking. So I'll just say that our reaction to the statement yesterday is that it was disappointing and that our missile defense system is in no way designed to pose any threat to the Russians; it is designed to help prevent against threats from rogue states.
Q Dana, what's the President's reaction to Nancy Pelosi's call for Republican and White House cooperation in the passage of at least $61 billion in new economic stimulus measures?
MS. PERINO: Well, we've long said that the package that they have put forward so far was not something we thought that we could support. But I would also -- it takes three to tango in this town, right? They have to have the House and the Senate approval and the White House. I don't think that the Democrats are quite settled yet on how they would pass that through the Senate. So I think we need to let them work that through and we'll see what they come up with.
Q President-elect Obama is getting his first full-blown intelligence briefing today. My understanding is President Bush gets those six days a week. I'm wondering if there's a way you can characterize the value the President gets from that kind of daily briefing with -- from intelligence professionals.
MS. PERINO: President Bush has a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for our intelligence community and all that they do for our country -- men and women all over the world that work very hard to make sure that we keep our country safe, and that we help our allies, as well.
President Bush has really enjoyed that he has been able to invite these brilliant people who have lots of studying under their belts when it comes to different countries and regions around the world. He will often get the -- he'll get the daily intelligence briefing. And sometimes he'll also ask, just because he wants to learn more about a particular area or a particular issue, they'll come in with something a little bit more specialized for him in that regard.
So the value of an intelligence briefing is immeasurable, and it's nothing that any of us who are not President of the United States, or aren't going to be President of the United States, can understand. I think that that is something that a very small group of people in our country, those who have been President, and the current President and the one to be, understand the gravity and the seriousness of the threats that we face. And so those briefings will hopefully prove very helpful to him. Not only will he get the intelligence briefing, but he will also, as Director Hayden said, be able to understand the full range of capabilities that we have in order to help continue to protect the country.
Q There's been a lot of talk about the transition and the early months of the new administration being a time of possible danger as people may try to test it. Is there any chatter in the system? Is there anything that's being picked up?
MS. PERINO: I don't know of anything specific, but that is something that we're very concerned about. We've seen that in other countries -- Spain obviously had that terrible bombing. We know that al Qaeda and others try to test a new administration. What we are determined to do is make sure that we overlap, in terms of our understanding and capabilities, so that on January 24th [sic], when we hand the baton to the Obama team, that they have that full range of capabilities, and also all the knowledge that they need to help continue to keep us safe. I don't know of anything specific. But we do know that this is just a heightened period of concern.
Q To what extent does the President feel the need not to consult with President-elect Obama, but to advise him about the processes involved in decision-making before President Obama, or President-elect Obama, actually takes office? To what extent does he feel the need to really bring President-elect Obama in on the decision-making process for the next two months?
MS. PERINO: I don't think that President Bush will be presumptuous in trying to talk to Barack Obama about how he makes decisions, or how Barack Obama should make decisions. I think that the President probably will share how he's made decisions and some of the things that he feels are important. They'll have a chance to visit whenever Senator Obama can get here at his convenience. The President will be willing, I'm sure, to talk to him if he wants to, prior to that meeting -- as you were saying, Yunji.
But I don't think that the President will presume to tell Barack Obama how he should make decisions. I think that the American people decided that this is the man that they want to be President of the United States, and that he'll be the one that they trust to make decisions.
Q I think what I was really asking is keeping him in the loop, not really telling him how to make decisions but rather to what extent will he feel the need to keep President-elect Obama in the loop on the processes.
MS. PERINO: We feel a strong obligation to make sure that they have all of the information that they need going forward, and that is why, for the past year, the President has been tasking his team to make sure that we are ready for this period. And I think you'll see that not just here at the White House, but you'll definitely see it across all of the agencies, as well, from the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, Energy Department. All of those agencies have plans, and they're ready to receive their teams when they swoop in and try to help them so that they can hit the ground running.
Q Dana, is the White House braced for a big jump in unemployment tomorrow?
MS. PERINO: Obviously, I can't forecast what those numbers are. There's no secret we've had a very shocking blow to our financial system over the past several months, more increasingly over the past two months. Tomorrow's numbers I'm sure will be not anything that we will want to be happy about. They will be of concern, because behind every one of those numbers there is an individual, a man or a woman who no longer has a job, and they're probably very worried about their future. So the best and most important thing that we can do to try to help turn that around so that we have a better and more robust job market is to focus on getting credit moving back in the system. That's how jobs are created, and that's what the Treasury Department is trying to do.
Q Dana, can you flesh out a little bit the requests from world leaders and overseas diplomats to meet with the President-elect? Is that just a matter of protocol that comes through the State -- is it coming through, like, the State Department, through the White House, how is it --
MS. PERINO: Whatever they come through -- I mean, they come through the State Department or they come through the National Security Council or the Situation Room. We keep a log and we make sure that they get that information either if it's a phone call -- I'll get to you in a minute, Ellen -- if they get -- if it's a letter or a phone call or a request in some other way, we keep a log and make sure they have it.
Q Dana, is it a surprising number of requests -- a lot? Can you characterize?
MS. PERINO: No. It was characterized for me as about the same amount as when President Bush was elected.
Q And you mentioned the drop in violence in Iraq and the return, the early return, of some of the troops. Has the situation changed so much in Iraq that you are less concerned about the President-elect's stated plan to withdraw troops fully?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to get in a debate about that. You know what our position is. It is a conditions-based dates for what we could aspire to. And that's what we are trying to work with the Iraqis on right now as we finish up the negotiations. But I'm not going to presuppose anything, what the next President would or would not do.
Q My question is similar but different, which is, that in terms of the economic summit, other countries that have not been included, how have -- have they been calling? How have you been sort of dealing with countries that want to be part of it but aren't part of it?
MS. PERINO: I'm not really involved in those calls. I'm sure there have been some from some countries who are not part of the G20, because they have concerns or they have ideas and I'm sure that we're taking them onboard. But this will be a meeting of just the G20.
Q Two questions. One would be, who are the intelligence officials briefing the President-elect today?
MS. PERINO: I'll let the DNI's office disclose that if they want to. We never --
Q So you don't know if they're the same folks who do the briefings for the President?
MS. PERINO: I don't know.
Q Second, can you just list off the full range of policy issues you're briefing the Obama folks on? I think you listed Iraq and the economy.
MS. PERINO: The list that I gave you off the top of my head is not meant to be exhaustive.
Q Can you think of anything off the top of your head besides Iraq and the economy?
MS. PERINO: Energy price -- Jon, it just -- it runs the gamut; it's everything. And that's why when I said that all of the agencies are ready, I mean, you can imagine -- I'm not going to -- I can't -- there's no possible way, we'd be here all day if I went through all of the issues.
Q Press relations? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Press relations. (Laughter.) That will be an interesting conversation. (Laughter.)
Q I thought you were talking about just a small list, but I realize you're talking about something different.
MS. PERINO: Jon, it is every issue. Every issue is going to need -- as I said to Tom, every agency is responsible for making sure that they are able to brief the Obama teams that come in, so take the issue -- I mean, they could be anything from the biggest issue at the Department to the smallest issue. So, it's everything.
Q On the economy, you've been very consistent in saying that there is nothing yet that you think you could support in what you're hearing on the Hill. But back in June, the President signed a supplemental, and there were several provisions in there that you didn't support, but the President didn't veto. So if you receive a bipartisan economic package, even if there's things in there that you don't like --
MS. PERINO: That happens a lot --
Q -- would the President --
MS. PERINO: It happens a lot, in terms -- that's how you do negotiations. And we'll see. I just think that -- they have to figure out what they want to do first, before they can expect us to sign on to something. We're signing on to thin air at this point.
Q I was just going to ask the very latest on the SOFA negotiations -- the U.S. has, in fact, responded or replied? Could you just bring us up to date?
MS. PERINO: Sure. We have gotten back to the Iraqis with a final text. Through this step we've concluded the process on our side, and now it is in their court to move forward with their process.
Q The clock, obviously, is ticking. I mean, how much pressure does the administration feel, at this point? Obviously, I know a month ago we were talking about perhaps July and --
MS. PERINO: We've been trying to get it done, and we recognize that there's a deadline for when the U.N. security mandate expires. But we're moving forward. Now they have our response to the request of the changes that they had. So they'll move forward now. I think their parliament is in session for the next two weeks. I don't know all the details in terms of how -- what the next steps are on their end, but we've returned a final text to them.
Q Two questions, Dana, thank you. Senator Barack Obama became the first minority to be President of this great nation. And how does President feel that -- he feels that the dream of Martin Luther King came true?
MS. PERINO: I think that you should look at the President's remarks yesterday. They were -- it was a very gracious statement, and very statesmanlike, and I think that that will answer your question.
Q And second, as far as world leaders' comments are concerned, is White House getting any comments or any praise or anything from the world leaders; how they feel about --
MS. PERINO: Sure. I think people are very excited about our next President, and they're interested in getting to meet him and putting their ideas or their agendas in front of him to make sure that they continue to have a good, seamless relationship with the United States of America, and we're going to help facilitate that.
Q Dana, what was the response to the Iraqi amendments? I mean, it's now no longer a negotiation since you written a final text.
MS. PERINO: I would say that we responded positively in order for this to be able to move forward in the Iraqi process. But that's all I'm going to say.
MS. PERINO: Jon.
Q Dana, one other thing. There's speculation about who will be you in the next administration. We're not asking you to talk about that, but since that will be in the news today, what, if you --
MS. PERINO: It's going to be in the news today?
Q Yes. (Laughter.) Apparently Robert Gibbs is going to --
MS. PERINO: Whoever it is, I look forward to working with him or her in making sure they have everything they need. We obviously have just redone the press briefing room, so they'll be able to inherit a really great space, and we'll help them make sure that they know how to gather you all and move you around. (Laughter.)
Q But what piece of advice would you pass on to that person?
MS. PERINO: What piece of advice? I'm going to have to think about it. Piece of advice that I would say publicly here, at the podium? (Laughter.)
Q As opposed to the note that you leave in the desk? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Jacket. Yes. This is a very special position. Being the press secretary provides you an enormous amount of opportunities and responsibilities and challenges. And I am sure that whoever Senator Obama chooses to be his next press secretary will rise to the challenge, and that you will have a really good relationship with whoever it is moving forward. And we're going to make sure that they have what they need --
Q Only time will tell.
MS. PERINO: -- that there will be hopefully no hiccups along the way.
Q Dana, would you recommend that it's important to have daily press briefings?
MS. PERINO: Yes, I think so. (Laughter.)
Q How often? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: That's going to be up to the next press secretary. They're going to have to decide.
Q How often should the next President have news conferences?
MS. PERINO: That will be up to them.
Q No recommendation?
MS. PERINO: No, none from me.
Q When will this President have a news conference? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: I told you, Sheryl, you have to dress up every day. (Laughter.)
Q Dana, I'm ready, I'm ready.
MS. PERINO: Tom.
Q Has there been any direction at all from the President or from the Chief of Staff, or anybody else, to members of the executive branch about how to conduct themselves in the next two months? At the end of the Clinton administration there were allegations that perhaps offices were not left as tidy as they should have been, of the missing Ws, what have you. Has there been any, at all, direction about what is expected of staff members over the next two and a half months?
MS. PERINO: We would be expected to conduct ourselves like we are expected to conduct ourselves on any given day, that we always represent the President of the United States and we have to always keep that in mind and work to make him proud. So that is the direction that we have every day, and that will certainly be no different as we move forward.
I think this President has taken the transition more seriously than some might have anticipated. This has been a year-long process, and he realizes how important it is to help make sure that we continue to keep the country safe, that we make it really smooth, and that we make it very professional. And the cooperative spirit that we have enjoyed so far, even working with both campaigns before the election, has been very good. And it warms the heart, because we are partners in this moving forward, and our country is quite remarkable in what it is able to do in a transition like this.
Q Dana, there's been a lot of analysis by pundits and commentators about the Obama victory and election, saying that that was in fact a rebuke or repudiation by the voters of eight years of George W. Bush's leadership. How do you react to that?
MS. PERINO: I think there's going to be plenty of time for a lot of political analysts to look at this election. We know a couple of things: One, it is very difficult for any political party to convince the American people to give them a third term. It has only happened once since World War II, and that was when the President's father won in 1998. So we were already facing -- sorry, 1988. We were already facing that one challenge because the American people traditionally have shown that they like to have the pendulum swing back and forth in Washington when it comes to who's in power.
No doubt the economic crisis that hit our country right before the election was a challenge for Senator McCain. And no one can doubt that Senator Obama tapped into something very special in the country and got a lot of people to come out and vote for him and celebrate his victory.
All of those things taken together I think made it very difficult for John McCain to be able to win. That doesn't mean that he didn't have the right policies, from our perspective. And also, when the President called him the other night after he conceded in his speech, I think the President said it well when he said that "You left nothing on the field." And I think that's how John McCain has lived his life. And that's one of the reasons all of us have admired him for so long, and that he'll continue to make great contributions to our country.
Over the next couple of months our team will have an opportunity to talk about the President's record. And for the past two years, we studiously followed the President's direction, which was to not insert ourselves in the campaign, not to rise to the debate when we were attacked. And it was really hard sometimes. I made the mistake one time of defending the President during one of the primary debates on health care, and I ended up -- was right in the middle of all the 2008 election debate, and that's not what the President wanted. So we worked very hard to be disciplined and not get ourselves involved in the 2008 campaign. Now we'll have a chance to talk more about what the President has done in the world of education, HIV/AIDS, immigration, energy policy, the economy. We'll have a chance to do that, and I think you'll start seeing that sometime in December.
Q Now that the voters have ruled, do you see in any way the voters' decision against another Republican term as being a reflection on how they feel about the President?
MS. PERINO: I think it could be a reflection of a lot of things. It was a huge election that lasted for two years. We know that the political environment was very challenging for Senator McCain and Republicans. I think they fought very hard. They did better than some thought they would do in the House and Senate races. And now the political party will have a chance to regroup and decide where they go from here. And that will be a -- that's a good, healthy process to go through. We went through it in 1992 as well, and we were much better and stronger for it. And I think that can happen again.
Q Dana, to what extent now is the President making plans for his own transition back to private life? You said that Mrs. Bush -- he and Mrs. Bush are looking for a house. Can you share with us anything about it -- what he wants to do once he leaves office? Have they found a place to live? That kind of thing.
MS. PERINO: I'll let Mrs. Bush announce that when they're ready. They will have a home, a place to live in Dallas. And then they'll have the ranch as well. I think there's plenty of time for the President to talk about what he wants to do next. He's obviously going to have the institute. But in the meantime, as he said, we have to sprint to the finish and there's a lot to get done. We have a lot on our plate, especially when it comes to the economy. But hopefully, we'll have a little bit more for you as we get closer to the end.
Q Thank you.
MS. PERINO: Thanks.
END 10:03 A.M. EST