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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 19, 2008

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

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12:05 P.M. EST

MS. PERINO: Good morning. A couple of announcements for you. This morning the President and Mrs. Bush celebrated the reopening of the National American History Museum and viewed a naturalization ceremony as part of the occasion. I know I'm glad that it's back in business because I have a lot of out of town guests that love to see it and I'm sure you do, too.

I want to point out to you today that at 12:30 p.m. this afternoon at the National Press Club, HUD Secretary Steve Preston will give an important speech on the latest steps the administration is taking to help keep families in their homes. There are a number of programs that we already have underway to help Americans avoid foreclosure. There's the FHASecure program, the HOPE NOW program. And then out of HUD we have also Hope for Homeowners, which was the new program created by Congress last summer.

In his speech today Secretary Preston will announce reforms to the Hope for Homeowners program. The reforms will help more distressed borrowers refinance into affordable government-backed mortgages. Specifically -- I'll give you just three of the changes, and then I'll refer you to his speech. One is to reduce program costs for lenders and borrowers. Two, help lenders qualify more borrowers for the program. And three, put more borrowers into sustainable mortgages with permanently lower monthly payments.

And then one fun announcement. Today we kick off the contest to name the 2008 National Thanksgiving Turkey. We have a couple of ideas, as I look out into the room. (Laughter.) The President will pardon the turkey during the annual ceremony, which will take place at the White House on November 26th. And we encourage everyone to log on to our website, whitehouse.gov, to vote for your favorite name for the National Thanksgiving Turkey. This year marks the 61st anniversary of that presentation.

And with that, I can take your questions. Deb.

Q I just have a quick one on Iraq. The Hill is being briefed on the final agreement. What happens if the Iraqi parliament does not approve it on Monday -- or Sunday or Monday? Do you have to then go to the U.N., or what happens there?

MS. PERINO: Well, our focus is on Plan A, and trying to get Plan A to work, which is to get this agreement done. I think that all we need to do is to have them -- have the reading, let the parliament debate, as you would in a democratic society, and then have a vote. We think they'll be able to do it later this week, or early next week.

Q So you don't think there's any Plan B that's going to take place?

MS. PERINO: We think we're on a good trajectory right now.

Q If I can follow up on that, Dana. In the past, lawmakers have not been given a copy of that classified briefing. Can you just tell us whether they will now and what the basic gist of that talk is going to be?

MS. PERINO: Members of Congress on the committees and those that have expressed an interest have been given briefings all along the way. We've had a concerted effort to make sure that they knew the pace of the negotiations, the status of the negotiations; and the content of the document. And we do have people up on the Hill today working to brief Congress more, and they'll also hear from the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense as well. So I don't know exactly who else is getting the briefings and at what levels of classification they're getting them, but they have been briefed, and I'll just have to get back to you on specifics if I can.

Q The Senate Republicans and Democrats right now are trying to work out some sort of compromise on the auto bailout on the Hill. What kind of a deal would be acceptable to you?

MS. PERINO: Well, Senator Reid appeared to foreshadow this morning that the Congress will fail to address this issue before they leave. And I'd like to just make a few points clear on that. One, there is legislation that's being introduced by Senators Bond and Voinovich that the administration supports. That proposal would redirect existing funds already appropriated for the auto industry, rather than spending an additional $25 billion on top of the $25 billion we already support using, as we've said over the last few days.

That proposal of theirs would not rob the Treasury program of much needed funds to help save and strengthen the financial system. The purpose of the $700 billion was clearly intended for financial institutions, and we wanted to keep that whole.

The Bond-Voinovich amendment would require that the auto manufacturers make the hard choices necessary to become financially viable. The Reid proposal does not. And we think that is a key difference. There's a difference between restructuring a loan for viability and just an out and out bailout. And we think that that is something that the American people would not want. We think that the American taxpayer dollars should go to firms that can prove long-term viability. And there's some hard decisions that they're going to have to make in order to get there.

We believe that the Bond-Voinovich amendment would have bipartisan support if Senator Reid would allow it to come to a vote. And we are extremely concerned that he may not even be willing to allow a vote on such a proposal. It's hard to imagine that the U.S. industry -- auto industry, in it's current condition, that Senator Reid would just go home and unilaterally decide that they don't need to have a vote on something that actually could be supported for manufacturers that have a plan to become financially viable.

Senator Reid said this morning that if the Senate fails to act, he would hope that Secretary Paulson would just go ahead and use the TARP money. There's no appetite for that, and Secretary Paulson discussed that yesterday with members of Congress.

If the Congress fails to act, the most logical interpretation would be that they don't agree than an additional $25 billion needs to be given to the auto industry. And therefore we would hope that they would look at this bipartisan solution of using the $25 billion that's already been agreed to, authorized, and appropriated, and is there for the taking.

We support the Bond-Voinovich amendment. What we are concerned about is that Congress could leave without acting on it. And if Congress leaves for a two month vacation without having addressed this important issue, and especially if the Senate leaves without Senator Reid even allowing a vote on this amendment, then the Congress will bear responsibility for anything that happens in the next couple of months during their long vacation.

Q So you take issue then with what Reid said -- you were obviously quoting in there, but he says, well, if they're not able to work things out, he says, "It will still be up to the White House and the Treasury Department." So he's trying to say, no, you're going to be the ones to blame.

MS. PERINO: Look, I think if they don't act, what is clear is that they don't agree that there needs to be an additional $25 billion for the auto industry. And if he doesn't even allow a vote on it, it hardly seems that it would be our fault.

Q What if they come back, though? There's been reports they might come back after Thanksgiving.

MS. PERINO: I think you'd have to ask them. I don't think that they have indicated that they would come back. Now if Congress doesn't act on the proposal that the President can sign and a firm faces imminent failure, then we would expect that the Congress would want to come back. But they've certainly not said that they would. And I don't think that that would be necessary. We have a bipartisan solution that could be voted on if they would just allow a vote. And let's see how that goes. And if it doesn't pass, well, then we'd have even more clarity as to where everybody stands.

Q How come you didn't put as many caveats on Wall Street in viability in terms of $700 billion?

MS. PERINO: I'll disagree and say that there is. The firms that we have invested in are ones that we think will hopefully make the taxpayers whole, or even make the taxpayers money in the long run. And there are executive compensation limits on the firms, and a whole list of things that they have to agree to. And part of it is that they have to pay back the taxpayers, and they have to pay them back first. And so that is one of the limits we've put on them.

I'm going to go to April and I'll come back to you.

Q Dana, on the tape, what is the White House saying about the tape from al Qaeda's number two? And also, does this raise the question again to the government officials here and those who are trying to work on this bin Laden case that he could, indeed, be dead? Does that raise that question that he did not do this tape?

MS. PERINO: I'd have to refer you to the intelligence community for that. I don't believe that we have any intelligence that suggests that he is not living. But let me address the tape. What we have here is more despicable and pathetic comments by al Qaeda terrorists. And in America, we are going to have a smooth transition from one administration to the next, and that will be a period of change in our country. What won't change is our commitment as a country to fighting terrorism. And I think that these comments just remind everybody of the kind of people that we're dealing with.

Q A follow-up. Does this make it clear that it's not necessarily about race, it's about the presidency, what al Qaeda is attacking? I mean, granted, they've put a lot of racial statements in the statement, but it's mostly about the power structure, what America represents, not --

MS. PERINO: I think that the comments that al Qaeda makes are totally irrational. They attack everything and anything that is American. And so they just look for targets of opportunity, both verbally and physically, and that's why we have to stop them.

Mike.

Q Dana, you've had to deal with a lot of difficult economic news from the podium. Why not use the second half of the TARP funding before you guys leave office?

MS. PERINO: Well, the decision of whether or not to use the additional funds -- he asked for the first $350 billion of the total $700 billion; I want to make sure people don't think we're asking -- we're not asking for an additional $350 billion. He used the first -- not quite, hasn't used all of the $350 billion to start with.

And the decision whether to use the additional funds will be made by Secretary Paulson and we would have to ask Congress to be able to use that. And he's continuing to work and design and develop programs to be able to help strengthen and make safe the financial system. We're starting to make some headway in that, but if he doesn't think that he needs the additional $350 billion right now, then I think the prudent thing to do is not to ask for it.

Q Any reaction to Senator Inhofe's piece of legislation basically suggesting freezing what is left of the first $350 billion and then forcing the Treasury Secretary or the administration to go to Congress for an affirmative vote to get access to the second $350 billion?

MS. PERINO: Well, I think that there is already a process in place that was passed into law when we first got the rescue package that required a notification and a request of Congress for the second $350 billion. And when I say he hasn't used all of the first $350 billion, I think it's close, I think there's only, like, $50 billion or $60 billion more.

So I haven't seen Senator Inhofe's specific proposal -- and we understand that we are accountable to the Congress and that's why Secretary Paulson and Fed Chairman Bernanke spent hours up on Capitol Hill yesterday, and they'll continue to work with Congress as we go through this.

Mark.

Q Dana, Paulson took a pounding on the Hill from some members yesterday. Is the White House satisfied with the degree of results from the TARP funds that have been spent?

MS. PERINO: Well, we always want to see more and we want to see -- we want to see more improvement. But that's what Secretary Paulson wants to see, as well, and he gets up every day, hardly sleeps, working to make sure that the investments that we're making will help solve the problem and get credit moving again -- which we're starting to see; help stabilize and strengthen the markets, which we're starting to see. But it's going to take a while for all of this to shake out. The economy suffered a tremendous shock.

And so we know that the Secretary of the Treasury and many other people across the administration are working on this day in and day out and we're satisfied that they're giving it their all. We just know that, unfortunately, we're going to have to ask the American people for a little bit of patience as we put these monies to work on their behalf. It's just going to take a while.

Q Another issue. What is the U.S. going to do about the Somali pirates? And has the President been briefed about the situation? Is unilateral or a concerted effort planned?

MS. PERINO: The President has been briefed about it, and ensuring the safety and well being of the crew is of paramount importance in preventing or dealing with issues of piracy. We're working with other members of the Security Council right now to see if there are actions that we can do to more effectively fight against piracy and prevent it.

It's a very complicated issue. There's a lot of international laws that factor into these efforts. One of the things that's clear is that piracy is something that is affecting a lot more -- many more waters than any of us would have known about. I mean, if you look at some of the charts that have come out, that piracy is not something that just happened back in the 1500s. This has been going on for a while. The problem is now that it's much more dangerous and they have a lot more weapons that they're using. And the goal would be to try to help get this ship to safety, secure the crew, and then work with our international partners to try to alleviate the piracy problem full stop.

Q Dana.

MS. PERINO: I'm going to go to Ann.

Q Is President Bush planning any pardons before he leaves office? And will he do what some other Presidents have done, and wait to release the names of those pardons in the very last minutes of his administration?

MS. PERINO: We never discuss pardons and the process. Of course, anybody who is eligible to request a pardon can do so, and they are given due consideration at the Justice Department, at the Office of the Pardon Attorney. I can't tell you when the President would be issuing pardons; I expect that there would be some. I don't expect them in the last day, though.

Paula.

Q On these HUD program changes, do you know -- do you have an estimate of how many more or what percentage more of homeowners facing foreclosure could be helped by this?

MS. PERINO: I don't. Hopefully, several hundred thousand more. But Secretary Preston will be able to tell you more when he does his speech here in about 20 minutes.

Q And I guess one of the other arguments is that the economic impact of losing your home would be far worse than keeping it. So is there any response to that --

MS. PERINO: I can barely hear you, Paula.

Q -- that one of the concerns is that the economic impact of losing a home would be worse than keeping it. Is there any response to that?

MS. PERINO: We take -- I think that circumstances are different for lots of different homeowners, and that's one of the reasons that this problem is hard to solve. There's not a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to helping homeowners keep their homes. And so we're taking all of that into consideration.

Mark.

Q Yes, sorry, Dana, back to the Iraq agreement again that the Hill is being briefed on. Can you remind us again why this agreement is not the timetable that the President fought so hard against, and also how this does not attempt to tie President-elect Obama's hands in any way?

MS. PERINO: You remember back in the debate when we were talking about arbitrary dates for withdrawal, that was when there were some members of Congress just suggesting that we get our troops out of Iraq, win or lose, without any sort of planning or thinking about the conditions on the ground. What we've seen since then is that as a result of the surge, we've been able to have tremendous successes on the security front, both because of the bravery of our soldiers and the work that they've done, and also the provincial reconstruction teams that are peopled by people from the State Department and USDA and other places to try to help on the political and diplomatic side of the equation, as well.

This is a mutually agreed to agreement. And that is one of the things that is different about an arbitrary date for withdrawal, when you want -- when you say you're going to leave, win or lose. We believe that the conditions are such now that we are able to celebrate the victory that we've had so far, and establish both a strategic framework agreement, which is a much broader document and talks about all sorts of cooperation that we'll have with Iraq from here on out -- from trade and health care and exchanges on science, and a real strong bilateral agreement that you would hope we would have with any of our allies.

These documents usually take years to negotiate. We've been able to compress that and do it within the year so that we can look at the conditions on the ground, work with the joint command and with the Iraqis at the plans that they have. And some of the dates that are identified in the document follow the joint command plan. So we are able to consider now having a date that we could have our troops come home. And the details of all of this will be finalized hopefully soon, and then hopefully you'll hear from the President, as well.

Q So the difference is that we're winning now, so the time line is okay?

MS. PERINO: Well, look, this is a mutually agreed to agreement. This is two sovereign countries, having worked for over a year on negotiations, coming together, recognizing what the conditions on the ground are, what their capabilities are, their competence, their confidence has increased tremendously. And so that's why we're able to work on a date. Now, remember, this is also a negotiation and in a -- you don't start at the final point. We asked for some things that we didn't get, they asked for some things that they didn't get. And we met them somewhere right in the middle.

Q And this does not tie President-elect Obama's hand into a long-term commitment?

MS. PERINO: Absolutely not. And both the next President and the Iraqis can consider the conditions on the ground and think about making changes to this either way. Hopefully we'll be in a situation where we can actually speed up even more than we already are bringing our troops home. Remember, we had 20 brigades in Iraq; we're going to get down to 14. That's sooner than we thought we would be able to bring all of those troops home, and hopefully we'll be able to bring more home sooner based on the conditions.

Les.

Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. The new Capitol Visitors Center was supposed to have cost $265 million -- and the final tab was $621 million for, among other things, a 530-seat restaurant, 26 public bathrooms, and two theaters. And my question: What is the White House's reaction to such profligate spending by Congress?

MS. PERINO: Well, obviously it wouldn't be -- we would have preferred for all projects to come in on time and under budget. That's not always possible. And I think that the American people will benefit from having a visitors center. And we'll all get to take our guests not only to the American History Museum but to the Capitol, as well.

Q Does the President believe or reject the contention that the First Amendment grants the 33-year-old Summum organization a right to erect a monument to its Seven Aphorisms in the city of Pleasant Grove, Utah, because there's a Ten Commandments monument?

MS. PERINO: Les, I really don't understand why you ask me these questions at the briefing. It's kind of a waste of your time, and it's a waste of everybody else's time. And it's really a waste of my time.

Q No. This was page one.

MS. PERINO: I missed it.

Q It was page one.

MS. PERINO: Lambros.

Q Ms. Perino, FYROM, before yesterday, addressed the main issue to -- (inaudible) -- against Greece delaying the solution at least for another five years. I am wondering if the President is concerned, who wanted very much -- you know that better than me -- filed to become a NATO member in December 2008?

MS. PERINO: We've been disappointed with the pace of progress on getting Macedonia into NATO. We think that they deserve it, and we're going to continue to work on it.

Q Any -- (inaudible) -- the White House not to delay the solution for another five years?

MS. PERINO: Look, we have 62 days, so I can't really talk about the next five years.

Thank you.

END 12:23 P.M. EST


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