The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 8, 2008

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

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9:47 A.M. EST

MS. PERINO: Hello, everybody. A few things for you and then we'll take your questions.

First of all, the President and Mrs. Bush will attend the Children's Holiday Performance in the East Room this morning. That's open press and at 10:05 a.m., and the audience will include approximately 200 children of active duty and Reserve military service members from the Washington, D.C., area. Many of the parents are currently deployed either in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The President and Mrs. Bush will make remarks and there will be a performance by the Sweet Heaven Kings, a brass band from the United House of Prayer, which is in Anacostia, D.C.

Also, later this morning the President will visit the Office of the Director of National Intelligence at the NCTC -- which is National Counterterrorism Center -- in McLean, Virginia. It is closed press. This is another in a series of briefings that the President has been getting as he's gone to some of the agencies for a visit. He will be briefed on the extensive reforms within the intelligence community that began more than four years ago when he signed four executive orders and Congress later passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act.

The President is proud of the progress made that has created a more closely integrated and more capable intelligence community. He will also attend a lunch with employees to thank them for their hard work and sacrifice here and around the world in order to protect the American people. And he'll have a chance to meet with some junior staffers, as well, which is one of the things he enjoys the most.

This afternoon the President will participate in the second of his -- second part of his two-part interview with Cynthia McFadden of ABC News; that will be in the Library.

And then a preview of tomorrow's speech for you. The President will discuss up at West Point two main topics: the changes in our military strategy since 2001, and the changes in the military, itself. On military strategy he will talk about the new approach we have taken: taking the fight to the enemy overseas; strengthening our counterterrorism partners; holding hostile regimes and state sponsors of terror to account; and discrediting the ideology of extremists by supporting an alternative of freedom and reform.

He will give an update on the progress we are making in carrying out this strategy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. And he will also highlight the importance of military transformation efforts in winning the war we are fighting today and in preparing our country for the threats of tomorrow. And he will give a summary of how far that transformation has progressed since 2001. So that will be at West Point tomorrow afternoon.

With that, I'll take your questions. Jennifer.

Q Can you talk about what the sticking points are between the White House and the Hill on an auto bailout? It seems like you guys are pretty much on the same page and yet still not there. What's the problem?

MS. PERINO: Well, we had discussions over the weekend with members of the congressional staff. In fact, our team met with committee staff Saturday night and we stayed in touch with them on our proposal. Some progress was made over the weekend, as you said, but as of this morning we still haven't seen legislative language that the Democrats are working on. So we can't give an assessment of something we haven't seen. So one of the sticking points is that, is that we just need to see the language because that's always very important.

We've had some concern about the process this morning because the Democrats are saying that they want to vote tomorrow, but if they want to vote tomorrow it seems pretty soon if we haven't seen the language yet. And as we understand it, it hasn't been shared with Republicans either. So what we're looking for is a better bipartisan effort so that we can get this done.

When we do see the legislation, one thing we want to make sure is that it does not weaken the requirement that any long-term financing only be made available to firms that have a credible viability plan. And so until we have the language I couldn't tell you exactly what the sticking points are, but that's the main issue -- right now it's just a process point.

Q But based on the conversations you all have had -- I mean, obviously the devil is in the detail and the language is important -- but based on the conversations you're having, do you feel like you're -- the two sides are essentially on the same page?

MS. PERINO: Well, we've certainly come a long way from where we were at the beginning of last week, as -- with the turnaround on the Hill late last week. And so we tried to work with them all week.

A couple of things. From our discussion this weekend, indications are that the legislation is moving more towards what the President could support. And if we're going to help the automakers it's going to have to have a presidential signature.

A couple of things that I would point out: that taxpayer assistance should come from funds already appropriated in the program specifically intended to assist the automakers, which is the auto loan program that we've been talking about for the past few weeks, the DOE 136 loan program; and that taxpayer assistance only be considered for companies willing to make the difficult decisions necessary across the scope of their businesses for them to be viable in the long term; and that assistance is accompanied by very strong taxpayer protections. We can't say for certain whether the legislation fully meets those principles, but we certainly are a lot farther along than we were last week.

Q What about this idea of an oversight board? Is the White House okay with that?

MS. PERINO: One of our ideas was a financial viability advisor. They gave me an acronym of FVA, if you want to add one to your list. (Laughter.) This is a person who would be named by the President with the authority to negotiate a credible viability plan with automakers seeking assistance. So, for example, if an automaker comes to the government seeking assistance, we will make short-term financing available, providing that the automakers and the stakeholders, like the UAW, agree to negotiate with the advisor in good faith and on a credible plan for long-term viability.

Near the end of that short-term period, the FVA will report on whether the automaker is executing a credible plan for long-term viability. And if he or she determines that they are indeed -- and progress is being made in negotiations, then additional assistance could be made available at that time. If the talks, however, are not headed in that direction and if that fails, then the FVA will submit an alternative viability plan that would involve restructuring through Chapter 11, and require automakers to repay the government the amount of their short-term bridge financing. Long-term financing in this case would only be made available subject to the approval of this new advisor.

Q So -- and that's different from what they're talking about is an oversight board?

MS. PERINO: Not necessarily. Again, we don't know what the legislative language is going to show. I think that the key is advisor, more than one, but an entity that would serve as a viability validator.

Q But what you're talking about are conditions for oversight to work, not necessarily if it's this particular person or board or whatever.

MS. PERINO: Right. Our idea was one person that would serve as an advisor, somebody appointed by the President. Of course when you're working on a negotiation, you talk to them about their ideas, as well; we'll see what they come back with. But our concern right now is on the process, because we haven't seen the legislation, so we can't give you any more details.

Q How much for the first term finance? How much for the first --

MS. PERINO: It would depend. I think that we're looking at $15 billion that reflects what congressional and administration budget analysts currently think could be made available with the program that we have, this 136 loan program. But, again, until we see the details I don't think I could go any further than that.

Q Dana, the financial viability advisor would have the power to press for concessions and even force the company into bankruptcy. Presumably those concessions could include changes in leadership. Does the White House take a position on whether there should be a change in leadership in those companies?

MS. PERINO: I think I'll decline to state, as we continue to work with the Hill, and not negotiate from the podium. And we'll try to get you more on that as we move forward.

Q Could you tell us if that is among the subjects of the negotiations?

MS. PERINO: I actually can't. I don't know.

Toby.

Q Given that you have not seen the proposal yet, what is the likelihood that you can reach some sort of a deal today?

MS. PERINO: I think it's very likely. We've made a lot of progress on Friday. If we could see the legislation -- and since it sounds like we have agreement on those basic principles that would be required for a bill that the President could sign, I don't see any reason why we wouldn't be able to make some good progress today. And I think that they have an incentive to do so if they want to have a vote tomorrow and they want to get out of town. There's no reason, I think, that if they came forward with the legislation quickly that we couldn't all work together.

We've shown a willingness to work at all hours. Our team members were up there, I think, at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night. So if they want to work with us, we'll meet them halfway.

Q Can I just follow on John's question. Do you believe that the heads of the automakers have done the type of sacrifices that they need to do in these plans that they've produced?

MS. PERINO: I'm going to decline to comment on that because people are still trying to make all those determinations. And I think that what we're focused on right now is how to provide short-term financing that could help them get over this hump while we work on a financial viability advisor who could then determine if the company is doing what it takes to have long-term viability in order to get more taxpayer money.

But remember, if the viability advisor says that they're not making progress, then that company, the automaker, would have to pay the taxpayer back right away. So there's incentive for everybody to work hard to make this work.

Ann.

Q To what extent would this advisor be -- would it be a member of the Cabinet or somebody who actually -- almost like a federal takeover of the company? This doesn't seem to approach AIG or some of the other intervention that the government has done in private companies.

MS. PERINO: I certainly don't think it would be a Cabinet-level -- at least for our administration, when we have 42 days left or something like that. But it would be somebody who would have the power to do what they need to do and the experience and the authority to be able to be credible in working with these companies. But our incentive is to try to help them. And I think they've shown a willingness to be helped and to try to help themselves. And so if we can meet halfway with Congress on some of these issues and get their legislation here, then we can get this done and we can hopefully help to turn around the automakers for a long-term viability, which will be in the benefit of everybody.

Q And each company would stand on its own -- you may very well end up with an aid packet or aid to one or two of the companies, not all three of them; is that right?

MS. PERINO: I think it will just depend, I don't think I could say right now from here. Let us get a little more detail from the Hill, and see what we can say later on.

I'll go to Ken.

Q Related to Ann's question. Does the White House go forward with this believing that each of the three auto companies has an equal chance of future viability, or do you see widely different situations among the three?

MS. PERINO: Well, I think each of the companies are different, they would admit that themselves. But I think since we're still evaluating those plans, I just think they have to be looked at individually. But as a whole, what I will tell you is that we want the automakers to succeed; we think that they can be competitive globally; we know that they want to try to meet what their consumers are demanding, for more energy-efficient vehicles. And we have a path to try to help them.

And so everybody is incentivized to try to do the right thing here, and that would be in the best interest of America. However, if the companies aren't willing, or can't get there -- I think to your point -- then they would have to repay the short-term loan, and not be eligible for more financing from the taxpayer and the federal financial viability advisor would then help that company enter into Chapter 11.

Q Would it be okay if one of these companies went out of business in the coming years?

MS. PERINO: Our preference -- as I think we've shown -- is that we want to try to help these companies. We don't want any company to be insolvent. But we're going to require some things about viability and long-term commitment to making sure that the companies can be competitive.

Q Should I buy a Ford, a Chevy, or a Chrysler, is what I'm trying to ask here. (Laughter.)

MS. PERINO: See me afterwards, we'll talk about a special parking space I saw this weekend. (Laughter.)

Q Dana, a couple developments in Pakistan. The Pakistan government moved in to detain or arrest one of the Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders that Mumbai blames for the attacks. But separately, hundreds of militants have torched hundreds of NATO vehicles destined for the conflict in Afghanistan. Is there a mixed message being sent by Pakistan here? Do you think the arrest is a credible sign that they're ready to tackle the problem? And do you think they need to take better steps to protect NATO vehicles?

MS. PERINO: I think there's no doubt that Pakistan has made -- taken some positive steps. We've seen the reports; I'll decline to comment on them in detail. But what I will tell you what's critically important now is that we continue to work together -- the Indians, the Pakistanis, the United States and our allies -- to prevent follow-on attacks after the attacks in Mumbai. That's what we are continuing to focus on.

And as to the second part of your question, I don't know if you could say that those things are related or not, and I'll have to refer you to the Defense Department as they continue to investigate that incident.

Q When you mentioned follow-on attacks, does that mean you have credible indications that there are some in the making?

MS. PERINO: I wouldn't say that. I would just tell you that it's always a concern once you have a terrorist attack that one of the things that you want to learn as quickly as possible is all the information you can get in order to prevent follow-on attacks, because we know that that's how some of these terrorists plan.

And rooting out terrorists is very hard work. It requires a sustained commitment. We've seen that in our country. It's going to take a sustained commitment on behalf of the Pakistanis, the Afghanis, and the Indians, and all the other nations working together to root out the evil.

Q Do you expect that to come up in today's trip to the DNI and the counterterrorism center?

MS. PERINO: Will the President be briefed on it?

Q Yes.

MS. PERINO: I'm sure that it will come up, sure.

Q Do you think he's likely to hear the report out of London that the Taliban now control 72 percent of Afghanistan, whereas last year they controlled about half of it?

MS. PERINO: I haven't heard that statistic. We can check on it for you and if -- I don't know what the source is, do you?

Q It's a London think tank.

MS. PERINO: Yes, well, I think that he'll get his briefings from NCTC.

Q But certainly things are getting any better.

MS. PERINO: Well, in Afghanistan we do have a challenge. And we always knew that it was going to take longer in Afghanistan than it was going to in Iraq to get things done. We have been working on our Afghan strategic review. We are nearing conclusion on it. We intend to pass our findings to the new team, as any policy adaptations would take place under their watch. This is a good example of our efforts to ensure a smooth transition and to set the new team on a solid footing when it comes to Afghanistan.

There are many different things that the President has already said that we were going to do and are currently implementing. Back on September 9th of 2008, which seems a little bit -- a year ago, but it was just two months ago that the President announced that more troops would be headed into Afghanistan. In fact, one Marine battalion that was going to be going to Iraq actually was diverted and they went to Afghanistan. Our NATO meeting last week that Secretary Rice attended focused almost exclusively on Afghanistan and the work that we all need to do together to improve coordination amongst the ISAF, as well as our crew. And we'll have more troops continuing to go in.

And I'll see if there's more that we can provide to you in the next week or so on this Afghan strategy review, but our intention is to pass it to the next team so that they can then go from there and try to combat -- I'm not going to confirm the statistic, but combat the Taliban's resurgence.

I'm going to go back here to Andre.

Q The French are calling for a new universal test moratorium -- nuclear test moratorium, and dismantling nuclear testing grounds. Do you have any response?

MS. PERINO: I haven't heard that so I'll have to decline to comment on that.

Go ahead.

Q Dana, will there be a readout this afternoon following the visit to -- and the briefing by the DNI?

MS. PERINO: Well, we'll see what we can provide. Obviously these are going to be highly classified briefings, but I have a team member who is going to be out there and we'll see what we can provide later.

Go ahead, Les.

Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Chicago Tribune Company, which owns the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun, among others, is filing for bankruptcy, while the Rocky Mountain News and the Miami Herald are now up for sale. What's the White House reaction?

MS. PERINO: I think I'll decline to comment on companies' decisions.

Q At the Army-Navy game, I heard nothing but loud applause for the President, and the midshipmen chanted, "Four more years." What was his reaction to that?

MS. PERINO: Well, I think that he was very happy to be up there, but he only has 42 more days and that's the way our Constitution has it. So that's all.

Helen.

Q Does the President approve of the blockade -- Israeli blockade of Gaza?

MS. PERINO: I haven't asked him about this recent --

Q -- food and fuel.

MS. PERINO: -- over this past few days that's occurred. I'll see if I can get some more detail for you on that because I don't know -- none of us know, can know for sure, the discussions that have been going between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas as they work on this issue. So let me check on it. Obviously we want -- we don't want people to be suffering, but we also recognize that Hamas is the one who has put the people who are living in Gaza in this position. And so let me see if I can get more for you.

Q They're democratically elected --

MS. PERINO: They're the ones that are -- remember, it was Hamas who was throwing innocent people out of their hospital beds from third story windows. And they have made decisions that were really bad for the people of Gaza and for the Palestinians. They have -- the President of the Palestinians, President Abbas, who is President of all the Palestinians, has said that he wants to work on a credible peace plan and create a two-state solution with a good partner that he has in Prime Minister Olmert and in Tzipi Livni. They've been working very hard to try to get there, but there's no doubt that there's a lot of challenges.

On this blockade issue, I do want to check it out because I'm not sure what Secretary Rice had -- she usually talks to Tzipi Livni often. Let me find out if there's more.

Q Thank you.

MS. PERINO: Okay, thanks.

END 10:05 A.M. EST


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