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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

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

Press Gaggle by Scott Stanzel
Aboard Air Force One
En route Nashville, Tennessee

9:47 A.M. EST

MR. STANZEL: Good morning, everyone. As you know, we're on our way to Nashville, Tennessee, where we'll land and continue on to Lafayette, Tennessee -- for all you broadcast people, it is Lafayette.

Let me give you a readout of the President's schedule for the day, talk a bit about what we'll see in Tennessee; I'll take your questions, and then at the end I do have the President's week ahead schedule.

At 6:30 a.m. the President had his normal briefings. At 7:15 a.m., as you saw, the President made remarks to the 35th Conservative Political Action Conference. Today with us on Air Force One are Senators Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker; we also have Representatives Marsha Blackburn, Jim Cooper and Bart Gordon.

Q I'm sorry, can you repeat the first one -- Alexander, Corker --

MR. STANZEL: Blackburn, Jim Cooper and Bart Gordon.

Q They're all on the plane?

MR. STANZEL: That's correct.

Q Thanks.

MR. STANZEL: At 9:15 a.m., after we arrive in Lafayette, the President will participate in an aerial tour of the Tennessee tornado damage. Meeting us at the airport will be Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen. And also meeting us there will be FEMA Administrator Paulison. They will participate in that aerial tour, which the Governor and the FEMA director will lead.

At 10:10 a.m. the President will participate in a briefing on the regional tornado damage and the response effort, and that will be at the local fire department in Lafayette. And the FEMA Administrator and state and local officials will give that briefing; that's pool coverage.

At 10:45 a.m. the President is going to visit a neighborhood to view some of the damage up close. It's a neighborhood in Lafayette as well. And the President, following that you can expect him to make a statement to the pool on the conclusion of his tour. Then we head back to Washington, and the President will arrive at Andrews shortly before 3:00 p.m. Then he departs for Camp David.

A little perspective on the storms. Obviously, as you know, dozens of tornados hit Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama on Tuesday. There were more than 50 fatalities and many injuries, and hundreds of thousands of people are without power. President Bush, as you know, spoke with the governors on Wednesday -- of all of those states.

Tennessee was particularly hard hit; over 30 of the fatalities occurred in the state of Tennessee. And Macon County, where we're visiting, suffered numerous deaths and injuries. These are the deadliest storms -- deadliest tornados, rather -- in the United States since tornados hit Pennsylvania and Ohio in 1985, killing 76 people. And the President is traveling there to express our support for the people of the area and let them know that Americans have them in their thoughts and prayers, and it's also to support the state and local first responder efforts.

You should know, you should have been given by Carlton, disaster declarations have been requested from Arkansas and Tennessee, and those have been made. Late last night the Tennessee declaration was made after getting that request yesterday evening. The declarations differ a little bit, and I can go into that if you want -- they do differ a tad. The federal government, obviously, is coordinating closing with state and local officials. Secretary Chertoff and FEMA Administrator Paulison visited Tennessee yesterday and spent some time touring the area with the Governor. Damage assessments are ongoing.

So with that, I'll take your questions and then we can get to the week ahead at the end.

Q -- ask you about this morning, the President's remarks at CPAC. Can you talk about how you all view what he said, what he was trying to accomplish? Was this something he would have said regardless of what the state of the Republican race would have been by this morning? Or was he trying to send a sort of unspoken message of "let's rally behind" the presumed --

MR. STANZEL: You're speaking of the last several paragraphs of his speech -- obviously, the President wanted to go there to talk about how the conservative governing philosophy has led to a stronger nation over the past seven years and some of the victories that we've seen in those debates.

In terms of the '08 race, obviously you know the President has stayed studiously neutral in the race and is not engaging in commentary. And the President -- what we said yesterday about Governor Romney's decision to forego his campaign was a step towards having a Republican nominee.

In the fall we're going to have a vigorous debate between the Republican nominee that we believe will have the right positions on matters of war and peace, and matters of taxes, and matters of making sure that we use the people's money wisely. And so that time is approaching.

Q So it would be wrong -- I just want to try to be clear here -- it would be wrong to portray those remarks as trying to rally people behind McCain, even without saying it? That would be wrong?

MR. STANZEL: Yes, that would be wrong. The race -- obviously you know there are other candidates in the race, but we are approaching a time when we will have a Republican nominee and we will have a conservative running against a Democratic candidate who will have vastly different views. And that was the point the President was making this morning.

Q Would it be correct, though, to say that the President was in a way issuing a call to unity, telling the party, we've got to come together around whoever the nominee is, but that it's a time for trying to come together? Is that a fair --

MR. STANZEL: I think the party will be united in the fall, because there will be very clear choices between a Republican nominee and the nominee of the Democratic Party. So, yes, that's what the President was talking about today, is there will be some very clear differences between a candidate that wants to retreat on the war on terror, and our approach, which is to aggressively fight terror; or a candidate who wants to raise taxes versus those who want to keep them low. So there are some very clear choices and obviously people in that room have been fighting for those issues for many years, and that's what the President was talking about.

Q Would he have said the same thing, regardless of what the state of play was this morning?

MR. STANZEL: I think that the President's remarks would have been very similar, yes.

Q But just to be clear, The Washington Post claimed this morning that this was an implicit endorsement of McCain; you're saying, no?

MR. STANZEL: I think the headline writers are a little over-eager. I noticed the headline there and that was my impression of it. I think you should look at the words of the President very carefully.

Q So it wasn't an endorsement today?

MR. STANZEL: No. I just said that.

Q Because beyond the headline -- the story itself called it, I believe, an "implicit endorsement" of McCain.

MR. STANZEL: I'm not sure how you get to that point, so --

Q You don't believe that?

MR. STANZEL: No, I don't.

Q Okay.

Q Just making double, triple, quadruple sure.

MR. STANZEL: And I appreciate that, because I think it's important to look at the President's words, look at what he said, and take them for what they are, not what you believe them to be.

Q Why doesn't he view McCain as the nominee at this point?

MR. STANZEL: Well, there's a process in place. There are several candidates in the race; we have a vigorous campaign going on; obviously all these candidates are trying to amass delegates to get the nomination and that process is ongoing. And like we said yesterday, with Governor Romney choosing to forego his campaign, that gets us one step closer to having a nominee, but we're not there yet. We are studiously neutral in this race, and that is where we remain today.

Q What's different in the response today with the storms here versus Katrina?

MR. STANZEL: Well, I think over time the federal government has -- we learned a lot of lessons from that time. We have improved our procedures in terms of working with state and local authorities. We've also improved our ability to -- and changed the mind-set of being very much leaning forward.

There were FEMA personnel and assets going to the region late Tuesday night, hours after the storm. So that effort to anticipate the needs of states, and anticipate the needs of those first responders and local responders is a shift, and one that has helped us better coordinate with the states and localities.

I will say this, as well: States and localities have also given a lot of thought to these issues over the years and also are improving their capabilities. So we saw emergency operation centers being stood up very quickly in these states. We saw officials responding very rapidly. And I think that, from what we've gathered from the state and local officials, I think people have been very satisfied with the support that the federal government has been providing.

Q Scott, any plans to sign the stimulus bill soon? And is the President satisfied with the bill? It does expand on the deal that he cut with the House Speaker.

MR. STANZEL: The President -- we issued a statement last night from the President. I would refer you to that. The President referred to the plan as robust, broad-based, timely, and he said it will be effective. So he looks forward to signing it -- and it is a bill that he can support. The President in his CPAC speech, that you may not have been able to see, he did say he was going to sign it next week.

But I will note on that front -- also, the Treasury Secretary last night talked about the bill; he had a statement as well. We want to sign the bill when members have the opportunity to be back in town. Obviously, it needs to be enrolled by Congress and sent to us -- that has not happened yet either.

But I would note what Secretary Paulson said last night. He said as soon as the legislation is passed by both Houses -- which it was, obviously -- the IRS will begin its work to get payments out to more than 130 million Americans. The IRS will manage the current tax filing season, and simultaneously prepare to issue these additional payments, starting in early May.

Q Can they get started without the bill signed?

MR. STANZEL: Yes. And that was the point that the Secretary was making. And the payments will be largely completed this summer, putting cash in the hands of millions of Americans at a time when our economy is experiencing slower growth.

Further, I would also add that the effective date for the business tax cuts for equipment purchased will be December 31, 2007. So there is no delay at all in that. That's the effective date for the tax cuts for businesses who are --

Q (Inaudible) legislation or is that --

MR. STANZEL: Correct.

Q It's December 31, '07?

MR. STANZEL: That's correct. So there's no delay, and the President looks forward to signing the bill.

Q Which day is he going to sign it?

MR. STANZEL: Don't know yet; stay tuned.

Q So the first check is in --


Q In May.

MR. STANZEL: According to the Treasury Secretary, starting in early May.

Q Early May, and then ending through the summer.

MR. STANZEL: Yes, correct.

And the week ahead -- I can do this real quickly. Sunday, February 10th -- this weekend he's at Camp David -- Sunday, February 10th, making remarks in honor of Abraham Lincoln's 199th birthday in the East Room at the White House at 6:00 p.m. Monday, February 11th -- excuse me, I'm sorry, that was Sunday, I may have misspoken.

Monday, February 11th, at 1:05 p.m., the President is signing the Economic Report of the President -- and that is different from the stimulus package. And also, on that day, the CEA Chairman Eddie Lazear will hold a press briefing in the briefing room at 2:00 p.m. to answer your questions about the economic report and about economic issues.

At 4:45 p.m. on Monday, the President makes remarks at the Heart Truth reception; it's in the East Room.

Tuesday morning at 9:45 a.m., the President is making -- the President is meeting with the President of Mali -- note that was a meeting that was rescheduled from today -- that's Oval Office, pool at the top. At 12:05 p.m., the President will attend an RNC Committee luncheon at the Evermay. At 3:00 p.m., the President is making remarks at the celebration of African American History Month in the East Room.

On Wednesday, currently there are no public events.

On Thursday, at 10:10 a.m. the President is making remarks on Africa policy, and that's at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.

Q Thursday?

MR. STANZEL: Thursday.

Q What time?

MR. STANZEL: That is at 10:10 a.m. And Mr. Hadley will brief on the President's upcoming trip to Africa on Thursday afternoon.

At 7:35 p.m. on Thursday --

Q We'll be gone.

Q We're going to be leaving by --

MR. STANZEL: We'll get to you in time. At 7:35 p.m., the President and Mrs. Bush attend a Valentine's Day social dinner in the Blue Room at the White House. And at 9:00 p.m., the President and Mrs. Bush will attend Valentine's Day entertainment in the East Room.

And on Friday, the President and Mrs. Bush will depart the White House at 4:00 p.m. via Marine One en route to Benin, Africa.

Q Thank you.

END 10:02 A.M. EST