For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 12, 2008
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:08 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Okay, hello. Before I begin, I would like to welcome two people to the briefing room. One, we're happy to welcome back Helen Thomas. We're glad to have you here. We missed you a great deal, and we'll let the sparring begin here in just an instant. (Laughter.)
And we are also honored to have Zina Bhaia with us today. Where is she? There she is. Hi. Zina is a 2002 graduate from Baghdad University. She came to the United States in December of 2007 to continue her education, and is currently pursuing a graduate degree in broadcast journalism at the University of Illinois, which happens to be my alma mater where I got my graduate degree, as well. So, welcome to you. We're glad you're here.
A couple of things today. One thing the President and Mrs. Bush did this morning that you might be interested in is they taped an interview with StoryCorps, which some of you may have heard -- their programs air on NPR quite regularly. This is an oral history project, and the President and Mrs. Bush decided to participate. StoryCorps will be launching what they're going to call a "National Day of Listening" campaign. So the President and Mrs. Bush will launch that. The interview was conducted by the President's sister, Doro. And it's expected that the audio from this morning's interview will be made available also to visitors to the President's library when that's up and running in a few years from now.
This afternoon, at 1:40 p.m., the President will make remarks to the 2008 NCAA sports champions. Nine men and women's teams will be in attendance. Also, this evening, the President will make remarks at the 2008 Bishop John T. Walker Memorial Dinner and receive the 2008 Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award. Mrs. Bush will also attend the event. The Africare Bishop John T. Walker Memorial Dinner is one of the largest annual events for Africa in the United States, and the proceeds from the event support Africare's mission to improve the quality of life in Africa. The President will be presented with the award, which recognizes outstanding dedication to improving the quality of life for the people of Africa.
One final note. This afternoon, the White House Transition Coordinating Council will have its third meeting. They will continue to talk about the administration's activities to ensure a smooth transition of power. Just a reminder that we established the council in October, and we've been obviously talking about that a lot lately, and we've been working the President-elect's team on a range of issues. So I'm sure that we might have a little bit of update for you after that. But they're going to be meeting regularly, and we'll try to get you in at some point for some b-roll that you've asked about.
Q I want to talk about automakers.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q We keep asking you either questions in the weeds of what will you or not do for the automakers, and also the broader question of will the administration let any one of the automakers fail, And I want to go to the broader question, which is, will you allow one of the automakers to fail, or will you step in? You keep saying they're important to the economy, but they have problems with their business model. But what is the bottom line position?
MS. PERINO: We want these companies to succeed. We want all companies in America to succeed. There are questions regarding some of the automakers right now in regards to their earnings. You have seen them, and they've been transparent. We have said for a while that we've been talking with the automakers. You've known that the President has been meeting with them.
The President also championed through CAFE increases, which the companies were trying to deal with. One of the ways to help deal with that was a law that was passed in December of 2007 through the energy bill that would allow for those companies to apply for loans. It would help them retool their companies. That was authorized in December of 2007, but no money was appropriated for it by the Congress until August of 2008. As soon as that money was appropriated, we started working on the legislation -- I'm sorry, on the regulation that would govern how we would appropriate the money. We set a land speed record to try to get that done. It was done last week and they've started taking applications.
It won't necessarily be an immediate fix. And what we've said we would do is we would look to Congress and ask them if they are willing to amend that legislation or figure out some way to accelerate those funds so that there would be a loan to a company.
Now, one thing that's very important, in that authorization language Congress very wisely said that the companies would need to be viable in order to receive taxpayer dollars. I think everyone can agree that you wouldn't want taxpayer dollars going to something that would not be a longtime concern or something that could actually succeed in the future. I know that those companies are working hard on that.
And we are going to work with Congress. We're open to their ideas. We've seen -- we have a letter from Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid asking us to look at the feasibility and whether or not we would be able to use TARP funding for that. We don't think that that was Congress's intent. So we feel that we have done what we could with the statutes that have been authorized. But we are studying that letter, and Secretary Paulson -- I don't think he's responded yet.
Q So does that mean, bottom line, that what you would like to see is that either the tools that have been passed already or maybe something that Congress might do in the next week, that that could work? But what if it doesn't? Are you -- is the administration willing to be more aggressive, to ask Congress for more, to do more on its own and not allow one of the automakers to go under?
MS. PERINO: What I know and what I can tell you is that we're working with what we have. And we've done that to the extent that we are able to under the authorization provided by Congress. If they are going to amend or accelerate those funds, we will certainly listen to their ideas and work with them. But I'm just not able to say hypothetically what will happen. Hopefully the companies will be able to figure out a way to survive and it won't ever come to that. But it's just too early to say, and I shouldn't speculate on it.
Q What does Congress need to do to accelerate the loan program under the DOE --
MS. PERINO: I don't know. It would be up to people who write legislation and think about how it would work out. I'd have to refer you to Speaker Pelosi's office and Leader Reid's office. And hopefully they're talking to their Republican counterparts about if they do want to move forward, how they would do that.
Q Do you think it would be helpful if they removed the language referring to the viability, to the need for viability --
MS. PERINO: We think the Congress was very wise in setting some limits on these loans because a viable company is something that you think that you would want to be able to help; a non-viable company is probably not something that you would want to help, because in the long run the taxpayers wouldn't get their money's worth.
Q You say that you don't think it was Congress's intention to use TARP funding for this, and yet, the administration has interpreted the use of the TARP funds in a very different way than the original stated purpose. If you're concerned about the auto industry, why not allow some creative thinking to make additional room for them?
MS. PERINO: I disagree with that just a little bit, because while we were discussing the rescue package, the TARP funds, that was very much solely focused on financial institutions and making sure that we did not allow our financial system to collapse. And the actions that we've taken so far are working. So that's one side of it.
At the same time, Congress was talking about the 136 loans, as they're called, from the Department of Energy, and they asked us to accelerate those and we did that. While the Secretary of the Treasury has a range of tools under this umbrella called TARP, of which he just spent about an hour talking about, there are a lot of different things that fall under that umbrella. But helping specific companies or specific industries outside of the financial sector were not -- was not included in that discussion.
Q Dana, are you saying that the automakers are a bad investment?
MS. PERINO: I didn't say that. I said that that determination about getting a loan from the Department of Energy through that program means that the company has to be viable. And I'm not the judge of what is a viable company or not. That would be made -- that would be a determination made by the Department of Energy and the Treasury.
Q Dana, can I follow up on Jennifer's question and phrase it in a different way? When the government stepped in with Fannie and Freddie and AIG, the definition of the bottom line was that they were deemed too big to fail. Does that not apply to the auto industry, specifically to the Big Three? Does the administration believe they do not fit that criteria that they're too big to fail?
MS. PERINO: I'm not saying that. What I will focus on is the systemic problems that we felt we had with Fannie and Freddie and AIG and others because of the way that they're interconnected through the whole system, and that our capitalistic system is fueled by money moving through the system and it had ground to a halt. And we've got those credit markets open again so that money is starting to flow. And that's how our system works. And so that -- those discussions and those efforts were focused on financial firms. It wasn't focused specifically on any one industry or any one company.
Q The administration, the President in particular, did allow some airlines, major airlines to go into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after 9/11. Is there any reason to believe that there's been a red line established that would not allow automakers to go in that direction?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to rule anything in or out. It's just -- that's not appropriate for me to do. You know the facts. Certainly there are -- Chapter 11 exists, and some companies choose to go that route. But I'm not here to speak for the automakers as to what they may or may not do.
Q Dana, what do you say to some lawmakers -- Senator Levin did an interview over the weekend with CNN and he said, "These problems have been blossoming under the Bush administration. If the domestic auto industry falls apart, it's going to be part of his legacy, so he has not only a responsibility, but a necessity to act." Is there anything -- again, if what you're suggesting, that Congress could do -- if that doesn't happen, is there anything unilaterally the President can do? And is he concerned that this could become the capstone of his legacy -- companies like GM failing?
MS. PERINO: People can blame the President of the United States for a lot of things, a lot of things land on his desk. But the state of the automakers right now is not the President of the United States' fault. And so I would encourage the media to go back and look at the history of these companies, decisions they've made over time that got them to where we are today.
Now, what they've had to deal with are a lot of changing consumer preferences. That's one of the reasons that we accelerated the rulemaking after the Congress passed the appropriations to allow us to provide for loans so that they could retool their companies and their factories so that they could produce more energy-efficient cars, which is what consumers have been wanting. We believe that American manufacturers can compete on a global level and they can produce some of the best products in the world. That's one of the reasons we're such a great country today, because of the manufacturing sector.
But the state of these companies is not the fault of the President of the United States. We are trying to help them in a variety of ways. I have told you that the Secretary of the Treasury, the Department of Energy, and others -- Department of Commerce -- have been trying to work with those companies, in regular contact with them, to make sure that we are doing all that we could given what Congress has allowed us to do.
And one thing that you should go back and look at are some of the restrictions that they have tried to place on companies over the years there in Congress. So I think that a little bit of self reflection is needed here and not finger-pointing at the administration, when we have been trying to help them.
I'm going to go over here. Mark, did you have one?
Q I did. I was wondering if your remarks reflect the President's view that industrial companies ought to survive or fail on their own, without government intervention?
MS. PERINO: Well, one of the things that the President has said when he -- when we started down this road of government intervention was that that was not his natural instinct. He has always been a free market guy. But when you have -- when you're the President of the United States and you have your top advisors telling you that if we don't take this action, and that they thought that was the best course of action, that we could conceivably be facing something worse than the Great Depression, then you have an obligation to act. And he trusted his advisors. It was the right thing to do, because now we've got those credit markets moving again.
That doesn't necessarily mean that every individual company or every individual industry is going to be helped with taxpayer dollars. What we tried to do was prevent the complete and total financial collapse of our system. And that's what we're trying to do, we're trying to implement that. Secretary Paulson just spent an hour discussing how they're moving forward. They're trying to be very transparent with the taxpayers' money, and they're trying to make the best investments, because we want to make sure the taxpayers either are made whole or that they can actually make some money on this deal over time. But it's going to take us a while to get through this. Secretary Paulson said that we're still in a very fragile situation. It's going to take some more strengthening.
One of the things that we'll do this weekend, when the 20 leaders are here for the summit, is talk about what we can do to help prevent this from happening, or happening in the future, to such a severe degree. And I should have mentioned, at 3:00 p.m. today, Dave McCormick and Dan Price will be here and they'll provide a briefing for you to give you an update on that meeting.
Q Dana, same topic. Will the administration then accept an amendment from Congress to modify the part to include automakers?
MS. PERINO: I would really want to see what they would put forward and how they would design it and how they would think about moving forward. A lot of information -- or a lot of deal-making in Washington is made, but you can't really make any deals until you see what the other side is proposing. And so far, we don't even know if they're actually coming back for a lame-duck session. So I would refer you to the Speaker's office for more information about that.
Q Same topic. Does it enter into the President's thinking that the President-elect would be more amenable, apparently, to opening up the TARP? And in light of the President's thoughts that there should be sort of a smooth, seamless transition, does what the next President would do on this same subject enter into his thinking in terms of --
MS. PERINO: Well, we're certainly talking to them, and as we said, we want to see what the Democrats would put forward. And I would assume that Pelosi and Reid are talking to Senator -- I'm sorry, the President-elect's team. I could only assume that; we certainly are. And we are mindful of the fact that they're going to have to keep this baton and keep running with it, and they're going to have to implement programs. But we also know that we're not going to move forward with something that Congress hasn't authorized us to do. And so we're looking to see if Congress is going to make any changes.
Q Dana, on this issue but somewhat in another angle. As this whole industry issue is being worked out, is it a simple -- is the situation just a simple -- for words to come from this house to say for the American public to buy domestic cars? Even with the bad economy and people not buying cars right now as they were months ago, is one of the situations, one of the solutions, to just say, look, let's start buying more American cars?
MS. PERINO: President Bush doesn't dictate what people should buy. They can make their own decisions. And one of the things that we talked about yesterday and will continue to talk about is that we believe that we can compete on a global scale. There are three free trade agreements currently in front of Congress that they could take up and they could pass easily. It's the best way to open up markets and create jobs here in America.
We have big manufacturers, like Caterpillar, that try to sell into Colombia. They do so, and their products are taxed. When Colombian imports come into our country, they're not taxed. We simply want to level the playing field. That's something that if they do decide to come back for a lame-duck session next week that we would strongly encourage them to do, because if you're serious about opening new markets and creating jobs, we have the best way to do that right here in front of us, which are the free trade agreements.
Another point, though, is that the President thinks that consumers should be able to buy anything that they want to buy. I mean, that's one of the reasons we're trying to improve the economy, get us back on a path to prosperity so that you have all the choice in the world. The President of the United States has chosen down at his ranch a domestic vehicle, but that doesn't mean that he would dictate to anybody else what they should buy.
Q Choice is also some of the reason why the auto industry -- you're seeing stock prices way down, three, four and five dollars for many of these auto -- domestic auto companies. And also you're seeing more foreign cars being sold in America, and that is some of the reason why we're in this -- we're seeing this auto industry problem.
MS. PERINO: Well, we need to be a country that is open to foreign investment and that is open to trade. And that's one of the President's key messages that you'll hear from him tomorrow in his speech in New York and then at the summit this weekend, that we are a country that should be open for investment and that he encourages it. We went through this on a whole -- another topic in February of 2006, when we talked about Dubai Ports, and you know what the President's position has been. We should be open for trade, we should be open for investment, and we should have the confidence to believe that we can compete on a global scale, because we can.
Q Does the President believe any of the foreign policy situations we've had in the past few years -- Iraq, Afghanistan and so forth -- had anything to do with this economic crisis?
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of, no.
Q On a different topic, the President-elect just announced that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Congressman Jim Leach will serve as his representatives to the G20. Has there been discussion about what role they might play?
MS. PERINO: I just saw the report myself, although I don't know if, in the discussions with the President-elect's team, there had been some discussion. We think that that's a -- it's a good idea to make sure that there's good, fluid communication between his team and leaders who want to establish relationships with the new President and his representatives. So we welcome it.
Go ahead, Les.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. Since you are the President's chief media officer, you are no doubt aware of the news that the Ombudsman of The Washington Post admitted in print that that newspaper showed extensive favoritism towards candidate Obama. And my question: Have you wondered why she waited until after the election to admit this, while blaming no one at the Post by name for this biased reporting and editing?
MS. PERINO: I won't comment on it, except to say that I read the Ombudsman column every weekend.
Q Okay. The President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, which is Obama's hometown -- (laughter) -- noted, in his express opposition to Roe v. Wade: "If the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision were still settled constitutional law, Mr. Obama would not be President." And my question: Does the President agree or disagree with Cardinal George?
MS. PERINO: All I would say is that the President has said that he thinks it was a wonderful and inspiring moment when President-Elect Obama won on Tuesday night, a week ago.
Q Earlier in the administration, the President opposed stricter CAFE standards on lighter fuel -- lighter vehicles --
MS. PERINO: Oh, really? When?
Q It was I believe about four or five years ago.
MS. PERINO: I believe not, because I was here, I worked as the communications director for the Council on Environmental Quality, and he has long championed -- and he was the first to increase CAFE standards for SUVs and light trucks for the first time in a decade.
Q Well, wasn't the basis on less, smaller fuel-efficient cars weren't as safe as SUVs and --
MS. PERINO: There was a National Academy of Sciences report that said that, yes. And when you are working on CAFE standards, one of the things that you take into account is the safety of the vehicles. And I don't think anybody in this room would suggest that we shouldn't do that.
Q Two questions. One, according to The Washington Post, tomorrow Saudi Arabia had religious tolerance conference at the United Nations. But Saudi Arabia doesn't tolerate other religions, and also rights of the woman and human rights. And President and Dr. Rice also are going to be attending this conference.
MS. PERINO: Yes. Tomorrow in New York City, the President will make remarks at the U.N. High Level Debate on Interfaith Dialogue. This will be an opportunity for him to reaffirm his commitment to religious freedom and tolerance, and the importance of people of all faiths coming together. He welcomes the opportunity to have this event and he believes that the King of Saudi Arabia has recognized that they have a long way to go and that he is trying to take some steps to get there. But this -- and this dialogue is a good way to bring people of all religions together. And you'll hear more from the President tomorrow.
Q And second, in Pakistan, U.S. consulate was hit. Do you think this is a warning for this administration and the coming new administration?
MS. PERINO: I've seen the reports, Goyal. I'm going to decline to comment now because I don't have further information. Let me just take a last one from Mark.
Q Is the Federal Hall speech -- is it just trade, or is it a broader message to Wall Street?
MS. PERINO: It's focused on the summit. And what I'm going to try to do later today if I can -- and we'll try to release those remarks for you. I don't know if we'll be able to accomplish that, but we'll get it for you as soon as we can.
Q I think Helen had a question.
MS. PERINO: Helen has a question.
Q Yes, I do. You say the President is not at fault for the auto industry problem. Do you think he's responsible for a solution?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that he --
Q And also, is there a quid pro quo on the Colombia trade agreement?
MS. PERINO: There is absolutely no quid pro quo for that. And I was able to clarify that yesterday, and I was pleased that the President-elect's team clarified that as well. But I think that the President of the United States believes that companies are responsible for finding solutions. However, this is an industry, as I've said before, that's very important to the American people. And there are a lot of regulations that the government has tried to place on these companies over the years. And so Congress and the administration and the companies have an obligation to put their best minds towards trying to find out -- figure out what we can do to the greatest extent possible to try to keep these companies viable. And if we can do that, we certainly will.
Q Is he aware that Michigan has 9 percent unemployment?
MS. PERINO: Very well aware of it. And he's been very concerned about it. It's one of the reasons that he agreed to the UI extension from -- unemployment insurance extension that we provided in August. And we'll see what the Congress puts forward on that if they come back for a lame duck.
Q Is he aware that Detroit won World War II by retooling in a matter of days to a wartime condition?
MS. PERINO: He know how important Detroit is, how -- its history, the industry, and how many people it supports, not just in Detroit, but all across our country, and the people all around the world who work for those corporations. He's very mindful of it.
Q Dana, can I follow? At the risk of -- you said we'll see what Congress puts forward on an unemployment extension if they come back. It seems to me in the past, you opposed that, saying that it encourages people to stay out of work longer.
MS. PERINO: What we have said is that -- well, if you just look at the statistics, the historical data, that as soon as that last week comes about, that's -- it's like a hockey stick and people's employment goes up. But it doesn't mean that we're not mindful of the fact that -- how distressed some people are because we realize how high unemployment is, how tough the economy is, and how it's taken a while to get people back to work. And so, we'll just see if Congress comes back with anything.
Q Thank you.
END 12:31 P.M. EST