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For Immediate Release
December 3, 2008
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:07 A.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Hello. Just a couple of announcements, and then we can take your questions.
The President is currently meeting with the members of the Commission on Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. This meeting gives the President the opportunity to talk to the commission about their findings and to share with them more about what he thinks about what's happened over the past seven and a half years.
Also, a scheduling announcement for you. On Monday, the President will visit the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Virginia. The visit is similar to the ones the President has done at the CIA and at the State Department and the National Security Agency. It's a chance for the President to be briefed by officials there and receive updates on work being done at NCTC. He will also thank them for all of the hard work that they've done to keep America safe. So that will be on Monday. I don't have a time for you here, but we'll get it for you on the week ahead.
Anybody have questions? (Laughter.)
Q Of course we do. Now that the automakers have submitted plans for their futures and are about to talk to Congress, can you talk about what the administration thinks of those plans, if it -- if they seem to pave the way toward viable companies that deserve federal help?
MS. PERINO: It's a little too early to say. We just got the summaries of those plans yesterday, and officials here are poring over them, as they are at the Treasury Department and the Commerce Department. There's a lot that goes into this and a lot is at stake, when you're talking about possibly putting taxpayer dollars towards any of these companies.
Secretaries Gutierrez and Bodman sent a letter last week to Congress that outlined our position on viability. That is the linchpin of where our support would lie. And we have put forward a plan, through the section 136 program at the Energy Department, which we think could get bipartisan support and be able to help the auto industry.
So we're going to be paying very close attention to the testimony that will take place Thursday and Friday up on Capitol Hill from the automakers, and then hopefully we'll have more to say after that.
Q So you think that a determination of how serious they are and how good those plans are sort of depends on what they say tomorrow --
MS. PERINO: No, not necessarily. I think that their testimony is going to be important, but what's even more important are the plans that they've provided. But since we just got the summaries yesterday we're starting to pore through them now.
We had a test that we had laid out, through the 136 program, on what viability would mean. We can talk about a variety of those things, like the labor cost, management cost, the legacy cost, the debt structure -- that's a very important piece of this. We want to make sure that a company is viable so that if the American taxpayers help the automakers now that they don't have to again try to help them in six months because the plans didn't work.
So that's what we'll be looking at. But we just need a little bit more time to pore through those documents.
Q The automakers' funding request, in their just-presented plans, totaled $34 billion in loans and credit lines, and that would be above and beyond the $25 billion in the Energy Department technology improvement funds that were already appropriated by Congress. That's quite a big sum over and above what the White House has shown a willingness to agree to or to support.
MS. PERINO: Good point, right.
Q What's your -- what's the White House --
MS. PERINO: Well, that's a good point, and we'll have to -- again, we're going to have to look at the plans and see what may or may not be able to be supported by us for those companies as they move forward.
We have said that we want to try to help the automakers, and we've put forward a plan that we think that can get bipartisan support. But we need to look at each of them and see if what we would be able to support could actually be a good investment for the taxpayers, and we just don't know that yet.
Q But you had said yesterday that $25 billion sounded -- the technology funds alone sounded pretty generous.
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that to the American people, that giving $25 billion in taxpayer dollars to a specific industry is generous. But these are very serious times, and I'm sure the companies have spent a lot of time thinking through what they think they will need. And we'll have to wait and see what their plans say. Give us a chance to look through them. Let's see what they have to say tomorrow, and let's see what kind of support they can get on Capitol Hill tomorrow, as well. I think that remains a little bit of a mystery.
Q Dana, it sounds to me like you're not ruling out more than $25 billion for the automakers. Is that correct?
MS. PERINO: I'm saying I'm not ruling anything out. I think that we need to see their plans --
Q You say you're not ruling anything out.
MS. PERINO: I'm not ruling anything in or out. I think that we just need -- it's too early -- let us have a chance to look at their plans and let them have their chance to testify, and let's see what support it can get on Capitol Hill.
Q Isn't that a movement from previously? I mean, you were pretty firm on no more than $25 billion previously allocated money, that was it. It sounds like now you're saying you might go over that.
MS. PERINO: Well, I don't recall ever being asked a question if we would actually do more than $25 billion. The debate that we were having over the past few weeks as we laid -- put forward our plan was that we thought that the money that had already been appropriated for the auto industry should be used for the auto industry, and all that Congress would need to do was amend the 136 program and allow those funds to be used now rather than just for the specific costs that they were -- or the specific issues that they were going to be allowed to use.
I don't remember being asked if we would do more than $25 billion, and I didn't say.
Q Well, as I remember it, I think you were pretty clear, and I know that Gutierrez was clear, that the administration opposes more than $25 billion. Is that still true?
MS. PERINO: I don't remember saying that. We can go back and check the record --
Q I know Gutierrez said that, and you've certainly suggested that.
MS. PERINO: Well, let us take a look at what these companies are going to put forward. And I don't remember any of the companies suggesting that they needed more than $25 billion over the past three weeks.
Q Well, now, if there was money to come from somewhere else, could it come possibly from the TARP or would there need to be some new allocation?
MS. PERINO: We need to look at their plans. We need to let them testify. And we think that Congress should take a look at the bipartisan way forward that we put to them, which was to use the money that they've already allocated for it. We think that would be the best and appropriate use of that money.
Q May I ask one final -- I'm sorry. You've emphasized repeatedly that they need to show a plan for recovery. One way that a lot of economists thinks this -- that this is achievable is if they go into bankruptcy and they will be forced to restructure. Does the White House have any sympathy for the idea of these -- of the automakers going into bankruptcy? Would that be potentially a good idea?
MS. PERINO: We don't want companies to go insolvent; that has been our position. But we do know that there are some companies do fail. And that's the way that our system works. But we also recognize the intricacies of this industry and how many people it could affect. We have said that we'd be willing to help the automakers. That's already a step beyond what the President's instincts naturally would be in a free market economy.
But we are in unprecedented times, and there's really no road map to follow for the situation that we're in. So we're going to take a look at their plans. Our experts are looking at them. We're going to let them testify, and then we'll be able to come back.
But I think it's really important to see what kind of support this can get on Capitol Hill because if they can't get support on Capitol Hill, that will put -- that will make the taxpayers think about whether or not it would be worth giving them money now to try to help them. Because, as I said, we want them -- these companies to be viable, we want them to be able to survive over the long term, but in order to do that, they're going to have to make some very tough decisions. It sounds to me like the companies have given this a lot of thought and that they are willing to make some tough decisions.
But until we understand the details of their plans, I don't think I'm going to be able to give you all the answers to your questions today.
Q You don't usually talk about which way the wind is blowing on Capitol Hill. What leads you to say -- make a comment that support for this is a mystery?
MS. PERINO: Well, I just, I think that it is. Could anybody here tell me how Capitol Hill is actually going to react to the plans that they put forward? I don't think anybody knows.
Q Well, you usually don't talk about the mood up there.
MS. PERINO: Really?
Q What are you telling -- what is the administration telling its -- telling Republicans about this whole idea of the $34 billion?
MS. PERINO: Well, as I said, we need a chance to look through the plans, Peter, so I don't think that we can -- I can answer that for you right now.
Q You're not sending any signals on this yet at all?
MS. PERINO: As far as I know, no, but I think that if anybody were to ask us, our subject matter experts, for their opinion, that they'll provide it, but I don't know if we would do that in advance of the -- do that publically in advance of the testimony.
Q Are there particular areas of their proposals where you have more questions than in other areas, like legacy costs?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. Our experts -- Keith Hennessey, Eddie Lazear and his team -- they're looking at all of this and they know what to look for better than I do, but once they have a little bit more I could see if there's something I can provide.
Anything else on autos?
MS. PERINO: Jon.
Q I have a quick one. Are you on the same page as the Speaker, who said that bankruptcy for these companies is not an option?
MS. PERINO: I think what I just said is that we have said that we want to try to help these companies and we laid -- put forward a path for us to be able to do so. And -- but we're going to have to -- we would only do so if the companies can prove viability. And that's the question right now -- whether or not these plans would provide for long-term viability -- and that's just something I can't answer for you right now today.
Q It does sound like the viability premise would leave room for allowing them to fail. I mean, logic would sort of --
MS. PERINO: I'm just not going to speculate. Let us take a look at the plans and let them have their testimony and see if we can help them. We don't want anybody to be negatively affected by a bankruptcy, but sometimes companies do fail. That's just the way it is in our system. We've put forward a path that we think could get bipartisan support. Let's just see what transpires over the next three days. We're not going to answer this today.
Q Dana, how extensive is the material the automakers provided you all? I mean, how long does it take to go through it?
MS. PERINO: I don't know, Ed. I haven't seen them. I've had a few other things to do, but you wouldn't want me looking at them anyway because I couldn't tell you.
Q No, but do you know?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't know. I think they're pretty thorough, but that's just a guess, given the report that I heard this morning.
Q Dana, does the White House support India's call for Pakistan to extradite Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders (inaudible)?
MS. PERINO: I'm going to let Secretary Rice, who is there in the region, and Admiral Mullen, who is either headed there or -- well, he's in the region; I don't know if he's in Delhi yet -- let them report back to the President before I would comment on that. But they're in the region at the request of the President to express solidarity and our condolences. Obviously six American citizens were killed and many others were negatively affected. So this feels a little bit different to us and we expect that Pakistan would cooperate fully, transparently, and follow this to its conclusion. But I don't think that I can presuppose what they're going to come back and tell the President.
Q Okay. Then I've got a bunch of Pakistan for you. The WMD Commission came back and said basically that Pakistan sits closest to the intersection of nuclear weapons and Islamist terrorism. Do you agree with that characterization?
MS. PERINO: I have no reason to disagree with it.
Q Okay. And finally, one of the striking things about the report is how many times it says that actually the U.S. margin of safety from WMD terrorism is shrinking, and has shrunk, over the past eight years -- not increased. Do you share that view, as well?
MS. PERINO: Well, the President is meeting with them right now. I think that one of the things that he will be able to talk to them about is -- and the report affirms this -- which is that we have done a lot in the past seven and a half years, and we've built a really strong foundation for the next team to be able to come onboard and continue that.
We think that there is more to do. Our highest priority is to prevent an attack on American citizens, to prevent weapons of mass destruction from being used here in our country and around the world. That's why we have the proliferation initiatives that we have -- the nonproliferation initiatives that we have been working on with many other countries -- PSI, as it's called.
We recognize that there is more to do, but what we have done is provided a really good foundation for the next team to be able to take that on and continue to try to keep us safe.
Q Any plans for any legislative proposals, administrative restructuring, anything like that in response to the WMD Commission report?
MS. PERINO: Oh, not that I'm aware of -- at least certainly not under our administration. I think that we would make sure that the President-elect's team is fully briefed and then if they decide they want to move forward when they have their team together, I think that they could do that. But I don't even know if in the report they suggest that, so I'll have to defer.
Q Has the President received and is he considering the request from Senator Dick Durbin to commute the sentence of the 74-year-old former Governor of Illinois George Ryan as an act of compassion and mercy? And also, can you share with us the President's thought process on this kind of thing, what types of criteria he uses when deciding whether to grant a pardon, commutation, or clemency? And where does the process stand? Is he considering any more of those?
MS. PERINO: Well, I can tell you that we have received the request from Senator Durbin, but I would not comment on the pardon process -- except for to say that anyone who is eligible for a pardon can apply for one, and those requests go through our pardon attorney, which is at the Justice Department. And the President just pardoned I think 14 people right before Thanksgiving. I wouldn't be surprised if there were more before he leaves office, but I couldn't tell you how many and I certainly couldn't tell you who.
MS. PERINO: I'm going to go back here just real quick.
Q Dana, the GAO, as you know, issued its latest -- its first audit, actually, on the financial recovery plan and it's very concerned about what appears to be a lack of oversight -- that banks are taking money and not tracking what they're using the money for, or may not in the future. And there doesn't seem to be any wheels on this thing or any oversight. What is the White House position on that?
MS. PERINO: Well, the report summarizes Treasury's progress in implementing the Troubled Asset Relief Program, and I think it's important to remember that that report was drafted before 60 days had even passed since the legislation actually made it through Congress and was signed by the President. So the Treasury Department actually agreed with most of the recommendations in that report and have been implementing them, and they will continue to do so. They've made significant progress on building the infrastructure to safeguard the taxpayers and make sure that the institutions are doing what they committed to do. And we will just make sure that we continue to build out that infrastructure, take those recommendations on board, and do what we can.
Les -- actually, let me go to Mike real fast and then I'll come back. Go ahead.
Q On Mumbai, about Admiral Mullen and Secretary Rice's visits, are they basically trying to manage this combustible relationship between Pakistan and India and trying to make sure that this thing does not escalate out of hand?
MS. PERINO: Well, we certainly have over the past seven years -- if you remember in 2001, we had a similar situation where India and Pakistan tensions had increased dramatically. We have something called a composite dialogue which we have tried to use to help the two countries establish open lines of communication, which they have been using over the past week, which is something that they didn't have just a few years ago.
So we're continuing to try to help them have open lines of communication. The Pakistanis have said to the Indians that they will cooperate and that they will participate in the investigation. We think that that's positive.
One of the reasons that the President wanted Secretary Rice and Admiral Mullen to go to the region was of course to help reduce tensions, which is our goal, but to also thank our Ambassador and our Consul General, who have done amazing work to try to help the American citizens negatively affected by these attacks, and also to express our condolences to the Indians and our solidarity with the Indians. We have really worked hard on both relationships, bilaterally and then multilaterally in the region, to try to help everyone realize that the common enemy is the terrorists, and it's an enemy not just for India and not just for Pakistan, not just for the United States, but for all of civilization. And that's the message that they're taking today. I expect when they get back they'll be able to provide an update to the President. And then we'll update you from there.
Q Thank you, Dana.
MS. PERINO: And then I'll go Helen.
Q Two questions. Two hundred of Israel's rabbis and other Israeli leaders, including generals, petitioned the President concerning the very serious health condition, in his 23rd year in prison, of Jonathan Pollard. And they asked the President to give him clemency. I'm wondering, does the President -- he is aware of this, and what is the reaction?
MS. PERINO: The President is well aware of the request to pardon -- or commute the sentence of Jonathan Pollard, but as I said to Kathleen, I'm not able to comment on where those things stand. I just -- it's a private matter for the President and if and when there would be an action that the President would take, then we would let you know.
Q Thank you. Bloomberg reports that Professor Igor Panarin of Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has forecast that because of the financial crisis, the United States will break into six parts. What is the White House reaction to this? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Ed Chen is as puzzled as I am, so I think I'll have to decline to comment.
Q I had a poker face. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Helen, did you have a question?
Q Yes. Is the President going to sign the anti-cluster bomb treaty? Apparently this is --
MS. PERINO: Right, this is a treaty that was passed out of the U.N. Security Council several months ago. We said then that, no, we would not be signing on to it. And so I think that the signing is actually -- we did not participate in the passage of it, and therefore we're not going to sign it either.
Q Why not?
MS. PERINO: What I have forgotten is all the reasons why, and so I'll get it for you. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you. One other question.
MS. PERINO: Oh, okay.
Q Do you have any -- do you see any linkage between the Pakistani government and the so-called terrorists?
MS. PERINO: Secretary Rice today in the region said that she would decline to comment before the investigation has some time to reach more conclusions. What we -- some of the things that we do know about individuals coming from Pakistan are more well known, but I don't think that anybody is making a direct link to state sponsor. But she said that we should decline to comment until the investigation has some more time to play itself out.
Okay, thank you.
END 11:25 A.M. EST