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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 22, 2008
Press Briefing by Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:17 .M. EST
MR. FRATTO: Good morning, everyone, to this holiday-shortened week. I think we all can agree, though, that you guys back there by the door -- no one opens the door during the briefing today. (Laughter.) Are we all in agreement on that? It's cold enough not letting that air in today.
As you know, the President this morning will visit -- will participate in a service project and deliver over a hundred coats collected by the Executive Office of the President for those in need this holiday season. This is the One Warm Coat holiday Service project. The President will be there at 11:10 a.m. today. The Executive Office of the President sponsored a coat drive on the White House campus from December 15th through 19th this year, and over a hundred coats have been collected. The President and Mrs. Bush will deliver these coats today.
One Warm Coat began in 1992, as a Thanksgiving Weekend coat drive in San Francisco, California. It has since grown to approximately 1,800 coat drives in 2008. Each coat drive has the same intent, to collect coats that will be given to those in need. Thousands of people participate in One Warm Coat, and there are over 450 distribution centers in all 50 states.
The location for today's One Warm Coat coat drive is Pathways to Housing, D.C., and they are one of the distribution agencies across the country. So we're happy to do that, especially during this holiday season.
And of course, as you know, the President will travel to Walter Reed Army Medical Center where he will visit with more wounded veterans, as you know he does from time to time.
Q Does the President plan to have a news conference before he leaves office, say, maybe tomorrow? (Laughter.)
MR. FRATTO: I don't have anything on the schedule on that right now, but we'll see, and you'll all be the first to know.
Q Can you rule it out?
MR. FRATTO: No, I can't rule it out. I'm not ruling anything in or out.
Q I mean, the -- first the deadline was, well, not while there's a campaign going on, so maybe after the election. And the idea seems to be waning and waning.
MR. FRATTO: Well, I think the President -- as you know, you've seen the transcripts -- the President has spoken to many reporters on various subjects, and wide-ranging subjects. And I think a lot of the things that are on your mind at this time -- I don't say that --
Q They haven't been able to talk to him about what's on my mind. (Laughter.)
MR. FRATTO: We'll keep that in mind and keep you right near the top of the list for that. (Laughter.) I don't have anything scheduled right now, but he's been speaking to a lot of reporters, on radio, on one-on-one interviews, on TV interviews, with Mrs. Bush, alone, and like I said, on a broad array of subjects. So we'll see what the next -- is it 29 days -- brings, and we'll let you know.
Q Can you rule it out for this week?
MR. FRATTO: I think so. I have no reason to believe I can't rule it out for this week. The President goes to Camp David tomorrow afternoon.
Q Is the administration going to ask Congress to release the second tranche of the TARP funds, and when might you do that?
MR. FRATTO: Is the President going to ask for it?
Q The administration.
MR. FRATTO: Oh, the administration? I've nothing for you on that right now. As Joel said -- Joel Kaplan, when he briefed on Friday regarding the auto deal, he talked about this a bit, that it's possible that this administration could ask for it; it's possible the next administration could ask for it. If we don't, it's likely the next administration will have to do that. But the President will make a decision based on what the needs of the program are and what he's hearing from Secretary Paulson on what they need going forward.
I think it's clear from the auto loan announcement on Friday that additional funds for TARP will be needed as early as February. And so it's possible that we could be the ones to ask for it, and it's possible the next administration. But no decision has been made on that.
Q Tony, the White House seemed a little perturbed with a front-page story yesterday questioning the President's approach to dealing with the housing crisis. I'm wondering if you are satisfied with how early problems in the housing market were diagnosed by the White House, and how aggressively the President and the White House approached the problems as they became more apparent.
MR. FRATTO: I think we are satisfied with the aggressiveness of our response, that when we saw the problems in the housing market we quickly tried to develop programs to deal with it. You're always going to have people looking back and second-guessing decisions that the administration makes or doesn't make. Given the severity of the crisis, we would all like to have acted more quickly and seen the potential impact of the housing crisis more quickly. But I think at the time, in the time that those decisions were made, I think most observers felt that they were the right decisions at the right time.
Our concern with the article yesterday was that it had a narrow focus, and that was to simply blame the housing crisis and the resulting financial crisis on this administration's push for homeownership. And that is about as myopic as you can get, and unsophisticated as you can get an understanding of the housing crisis and the financial crisis. And if you go back to the President's address to the nation at the time that we were requesting funds from Congress to deal with the financial crisis, the President went through a very detailed explanation for all of the causes of the housing and the financial crisis. And people are free to take a look at them and make a judgment as to whether they are the right ones, or whether each one of them is weighted properly, but I think most economists agree that it's no one factor that led to the downturn in housing and the financial crisis.
But we've acted very aggressively and we're proud of the work that we've done and the creativity here and at the Treasury Department and the actions that the Fed has taken to deal with an unprecedented crisis.
Q Joe Biden said yesterday that -- a couple things on the economy. He said the Obama administration will probably inherit the largest deficit in American history, probably more than a trillion dollars, and that's why we need a second stimulus package in the range of $600 billion to $700 billion -- some people are saying more than $700 billion, as you know. Two questions --
MR. FRATTO: I'm sorry, he said that we need a --
Q He said that's why we need a second stimulus package.
MR. FRATTO: Because of the size of the deficit?
Q Because in the long run, it would bring the deficit down because -- it's sort of Republican thinking, actually. (Laughter.) Do you agree that by January 20th, the deficit could bust a trillion dollars? And secondly, what's the latest thinking on a second stimulus package -- in the administration?
MR. FRATTO: Well, I don't think there's any chance of a second stimulus package at the end of this administration in the days that we have remaining. I know that the next administration and congressional leaders are discussing what they intend to do and what their plans are, but it's not something we'll be doing. Look, the size of the budget deficit, whatever the number is, I can't predict whether it's going to be $1 trillion or something less than that. It's going to be large. And it's going to be a very significant number.
And I think it's going to reflect two things. One, is the downturn in the economy, and the slowing of receipts coming into the federal government. It's also going to reflect the large increase in spending over the short term to deal with the financial crisis. And on the front end, the $350 billion that have been committed so far, and other funds for the financial crisis are -- they show up on the books as straight expenditures, money going out the door to financial institutions.
As we've said, these funds are actually investments in these institutions. Some of them are equity positions and other ways of holding assets in some form that will return back to the taxpayer. So over time, we believe that if it works, and if the financial institutions are as successful as we hope they'll be over time, that it should be, at worst, a wash for the taxpayers and those deficit numbers will come down.
Q Tony, on another subject, is the White House at all concerned about reports by the brother of this Iraqi journalist who is being held for throwing his shoes at the President? His brother says, in visiting the journalist in jail he sees signs he's been tortured, missing a tooth, cigarette burns on his ears --
MR. FRATTO: He's in the hands of the Iraqi system. I don't have anything more on the shoe thrower. I think it's been explored extensively and I have nothing new for you.
Q Yes, back to the second tranche, Tony. What are the things that would cause the administration to ask for that second tranche before you leave office? Is there --
MR. FRATTO: No, if the Treasury Secretary determined that he had an immediate need for it, he wouldn't hesitate to come to the White House and ask the President to request that authority from Congress. So I don't want to sort of anticipate hypothetical needs for those funds. But they at the Treasury Department are monitoring the markets every day, they're monitoring the health of the financial institutions and ways that they can make sure that our banks are capitalized so that they can do the job that they need to do, and also that our credit markets are working, and the effort to bring down the cost of credit is having an impact.
And some of the things they've announced recently haven't been implemented yet, like some of the efforts to deal with consumer credit and auto loans and home loans. Some of those funds haven't yet gone out yet. But they're moving towards that.
Q Is it going to have to do more with the banks and their credit right now, or is it going to be the burning through of the money for Detroit -- which is going to be more dependent on whether you ask for it?
MR. FRATTO: I couldn't even speculate on that. Certainly the funds for the American automakers have been committed. They haven't been released yet either. So I really hesitate to try to think of what could cause a need above the $350 billion.
Q One last chance or crack at it. Is there a better than even chance that you'd be asking for it before January 20th? (Laughter.)
MR. FRATTO: I couldn't predict how my Steelers were going to do against the Titans yesterday; I'm going to not try to make predictions on -- (laughter.)
Q Tony, in one of the fore-mentioned interviews, the President said he's been speaking to the speechwriters about a farewell address. Has he decided to actually do that?
MR. FRATTO: No, I think he said that it's something he's thinking about and thinking about some ideas, but he hasn't made that decision yet. I think if he feels that he has something important to say and it's the right way to say it, he will. But he just hasn't decided yet.
Q Two questions. One, yesterday the Jewish community, for the first time, they have --
MR. FRATTO: I'm sorry, Goyal, I missed the beginning.
Q Yesterday the Jewish community, just beside the White House, they marked the world's largest menorah by honoring those who were killed in the Mumbai attacks. And what the message they had was that this is a time that we must defeat the terrorism that we have been facing at least for the last 10 years already -- in India, 20 years. And I have question that is President going to honor those who died? And also that we live today in the threat of terrorism by bringing those who attacked us to justice.
MR. FRATTO: We do want to see those who perpetuate these attacks brought to justice, and that's something that we've tried to impress upon all the governments in that region; it's something that we try to do here also. Look, as we think about reflecting over the past seven years, certainly since the 9/11 attacks, we need to try to defeat terrorists in every way possible, whether that's through the use of armed conflict, by taking the fight to them, using our intelligence services to try to prevent attacks, and when we do find those who have committed attacks, to bring them to justice.
And we've assembled a large coalition of nations who stand with us in trying to defeat terrorism. Again, we do it on the intelligence side; we do it on the financial intelligence side, trying to track the money. And it's a global effort and we have to try to be right all the time, and bring anyone who plans or carries out a terrorist attack to justice.
Q And second, in recent days, almost everybody, every leader, including President Bush, President-Elect Obama, and Secretary Rice, and now general -- (inaudible) -- in this area, they have a warning for Pakistan that now the time has come they should not mislead the international community as far as terrorism in the name of religion and getting U.S. dollars. Now, is the U.S. on high alert? Because they might take advantage of the transition here.
MR. FRATTO: I think I would just say we do take the period of transition very seriously. As for Pakistan, we're communicating with them very well, and I think they understand their responsibility and the important role they play in the role on terror.
Q I would like to ask about the mood of the President and his wife, and also among the staff. This is the period of so many "last times" -- last Christmas break of the administration, last visit to Camp David. It's a transition not only to the next presidency, but to history of this administration. So how is the mood? And especially, when do they actually prepare the moving out? I remember when I moved to the States it was weeks of preparation. When do they -- (laughter) -- designate a time to think, this goes to the ranch, this goes to the new house?
MR. FRATTO: I honestly don't -- I would direct you to the First Lady's -- the First Lady's Press Secretary might be able to give you a little bit more on the tick-tock of moving out of the White House and back to civilian life.
Look, I've seen the President through his mood in the interviews he's done. I think what you've seen in those interviews reflects his mood right now. And he's thinking about the past. He's still very much in the present also, in terms of still dealing with some very real and urgent concerns. I don't think anyone expected us -- that any administration, and this administration, would be this busy as we've been this late into the administration. But we are, and the President is still very much occupied with those issues.
But it is an opportunity to look back and think about what we've accomplished. And of course, everyone asks the questions of how you look back on the past eight years, and so that gives them an opportunity to respond to those questions.
Q The staff, and yourself?
MR. FRATTO: I'm sorry, the staff?
Q Yes, yourself.
MR. FRATTO: I wish I had a few minutes to think about it. (Laughter.) I'm dealing with auto questions every day.
Q The Iranian police yesterday shut down the human rights center, headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi. Any reaction to that?
MR. FRATTO: I saw the report. I mean, look, you know where we stand in terms of the ability of people in any society to be able to express themselves and to speak up for human rights and civil rights. So it's troubling. We believe that these individuals are incredibly courageous to stand up in a society like Iran for the rights of their fellow citizens. So it's something that we're obviously paying attention to.
Q Thank you.
END 10:34 A.M. EST