For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 25, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:31 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Hello. A couple of announcements. One thing, earlier today the Treasury Department issued sanctions against some elements of the regime in Burma. And the President will have a statement about that after this. I won't read it for you here because it's quite long -- I'll spare you that -- but it will be released soon.
Q Do you mean a written statement?
MS. PERINO: A written statement, yes; sorry.
Also, tomorrow President Bush will deliver remarks to the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, which works to promote political, entrepreneurial and intellectual leadership of the African people and to advocate on behalf of Africa. As the President said in his roundtable interview on the flight back from Africa last week, that was one of the most exciting trips he and Mrs. Bush have ever taken. They were touched by the reception and they received a lot of inspiration from the people that they met.
During his remarks tomorrow the President wants to convey what he saw on his trip and he wants to show the American people the striking difference that their generosity is making. And then he will make clear also why he is so optimistic about Africa. The best way to do that is to show Americans what he saw, and so with the help of the White House photographers he's assembled a slide show of images from the trip to go along with the speech that he will present tomorrow. And the President will show -- use these images to show how the African nations are together fighting HIV/AIDS and malaria, improving education, reducing poverty, and strengthening democracy. And he will argue that it's essential for this life-saving work to continue.
After the President's speech, Hope Masters, who is Leon Sullivan's daughter and the foundation president and CEO emeritus of the foundation, will present the President with an award from the foundation for his dedication and commitment to -- and service to the people of Africa. So that's tomorrow's speech.
Q Dana, a couple of the governors came out of the meeting with the President today and said that the President had not ruled out the possibility of a second stimulus package, but he did say that it would be premature at this time. Is that how the White House would characterize the President's position?
MS. PERINO: I would describe it as the President having a good meeting with the governors and listening with an open mind, not making any promises, being very clear that he's concerned about anything that would raise taxes on the American people. One of the things that they talked about was their desire for more funding for transportation funding.
The President pointed out that our request from FY'08 to just the recent budget that just came out the beginning of February for FY'09 increased transportation spending requests $24 billion(*) this year. So we'll see then if Congress agrees to fund that through the budget process as we go forward.
But the other thing that the President made clear is that we have a problem of earmarks when it comes to transportation funding, and that the Public Works Committee, which is quite large, has a lot of earmarks that they put into these bills. And the President believes, and he told the governors, he thinks that they should have more input as to how transportation money should be spent in their own states. And so he talked a little bit about earmark reform, in addition to saying that he hopes that Congress will look at his request for the budget and try to get that passed sooner than later.
Q Does the door, in fact, remain open to a possible second stimulus package?
MS. PERINO: Again, I think that it would be premature to say that one was closed. The President, as I said, had an open mind when he listened to them, but he did say he was very concerned about any proposal that would raise taxes. And he's also looking to make sure that a short-term stimulus package that he just signed will have the desired effect of blunting any possible effect of a slowdown in the economy that we do expect because of the housing and credit issues.
So we'll have another number this week. I think GDP numbers come out later in the week, so we'll see where we are in terms of forecasting at that point.
Q Dana, the President talked again about FISA this morning. Have you seen any movement in the negotiations over that bill?
MS. PERINO: Up on Capitol Hill?
MS. PERINO: Well, the members will be getting back in town later today, and tomorrow, I think both the Senate and the House are in, so we'll have to see at that point. But we are at a point in the debate where we believe that with a Senate bill that was supported by a wide bipartisan majority -- it passed 68-29, which I heard some congressman say that you can't even get a Mother's Day bill passed in the Senate -- but for this bill to garner 68 votes was quite significant.
If that vote was held today in the House of Representatives, if the Democratic leaders would allow it to come to a vote, it would pass, as well, with a majority supporting it. So we have a way to get to a bipartisan bill that is supported by the intelligence community, and gives them, the people who are accountable to the American people for protecting them, the tools that they say they need.
So at this point, I don't know where the members are going to come down, but we hope that they would be able to move forward this week. They have a bill in front of them that they could call up today -- or tomorrow when they're in session.
Q Is the President's position that he would veto it without retroactive immunity?
MS. PERINO: That has been his position for a long time, and the reason is because you can't have -- without the cooperation of the companies, we won't have a program. You know, if we had a nationalized telecommunication system, then we -- the government could do it on its own, but in our system of government and the way that we are set up as a capitalist-style country, we have to have the cooperation of the private sector.
They have the technology, they have the means, and they want to cooperate, but they have been burdened with over 40 lawsuits, class-action lawsuits that would -- that, one, already are costing them lots of money to deal with. And if the suits were to go forward, it could cost them possibly billions. And that cost is going to be borne by the consumers of those businesses, the customers of those businesses. But more importantly, the companies at this point are saying that they are growing increasingly reluctant to continue to work with us because, even though they want to, they are concerned about the trial lawyer lawsuits that are pending.
Q Dana, critics would say that --
MS. PERINO: Reluctantly so. And it took a lot of work on behalf of the Justice Department and the office of Director of National Intelligence to work with the companies to work with companies to -- work with them to tell them what we need, and to tell them that we are going to continue to push for prospective and, more importantly, retroactive liability protection.
Q Who gave them the right to break the law?
MS. PERINO: Nobody broke the law, Helen. That might be your opinion, but nobody broke the law.
Q When these companies -- when no warrant is given, and they didn't break the law?
MS. PERINO: Helen, you're entitled to your opinion, but you're not entitled to your own set of facts.
Q Oh, come on, let's --
MS. PERINO: And the facts are that companies were asked to help, and they were helped --
Q Why can't they get --
MS. PERINO: -- and they allowed -- they helped with a legal program that has helped save lives.
Q Who told them they could break the law?
MS. PERINO: That is just -- that's not true, Helen.
Q Is it not the case, as the writers of the op-ed in today's Post claim, that the law protects all of this until August?
MS. PERINO: There are -- it's a little bit more complex than that, but there are certainly directives that were approved last August when the Protect America Act was passed.
Q For how long?
MS. PERINO: For one year. But it's not for -- it's not necessarily -- that does not necessarily apply to all the new targets. And it doesn't apply necessarily to maybe new companies or new providers that we would need to work with in the future, that might not already be under a directive that we're --
Q But one of your complaints of prospective. They don't affect anything that's going on right now.
MS. PERINO: That's not necessarily the case. As you heard in the letter -- you didn't hear from him, but in the letter that Attorney General Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence McConnell sent on Friday -- that there were several days last week where we lost information. Late Friday night there was a company that agreed reluctantly to continue to cooperate with us.
But one of the things you have to understand is in the world --
Q They lost information because companies wouldn't cooperate.
MS. PERINO: Correct. There was -- they are reluctant to cooperate. And during that time frame when they were trying to work with them to get them to cooperate, and to give them the comfort that they needed to be willing partners, it just took a little while. And then once that was given on Saturday morning, that the Justice Department and the Office of Director -- the DNI, put out a statement saying that they had gotten this cooperation.
But this is not the kind -- this is not the way we should be running an intelligence program where you are trying to track terrorists who are calling into or out of America. We don't want to have to be having our lawyers and other professionals in the intelligence community having to coax companies to cooperate. These companies want to cooperate. I mean, all they're saying is that they want the retroactive liability protection which passed the Senate 68-29.
Q So what does the White House think of the op-ed from the Democrats that accuse the President of using scare tactics and playing political games? And they say if the President really believed the expiration of the act created a danger, he should have accepted their offer for an extension.
MS. PERINO: Well, one, the House proved that they couldn't even pass an extension, so that wasn't an option. An extension wasn't an option. But we had a response to the op-ed, that I issued.
I think that fear-mongering and the use of the phrase "scare tactics" is something that the Democrats -- it must be, like, one of their favorite words, or it must poll very well, because they use it almost every time.
What we have done is state facts; that this is what the law said; this is what the intelligence community says that they need; this is what the bill in front of the House says, and it's one that was designed with the intelligence community, in concert with them, so that they would be able to have the buy-in and say that they would get what they need out of that bill. It passed 68-29; we think they should go ahead and pass it.
The issue really right now between the House and the Senate, as far as I can tell, the biggest issue is retroactive liability protection, and in their op-ed they just had a passing glance to that issue. But it is one of the biggest sticking points, because at the end of the day if we don't have the companies helping us, then we won't have a program.
Q But to clarify what you said earlier, did the U.S. actually lose potentially valuable intelligence on Friday, or we had difficulty securing the cooperation of the telecommunications company that eventually came to --
MS. PERINO: I'd refer you to their letter in which they said that there were several days of lost information.
Q Dana, critics would say that if those companies lose those suits, it's because they broke the law -- even if you give them prospective coverage, that there's no need to give retroactive coverage.
MS. PERINO: As we said, the program was lawful, they were asked to help their country. And look, the President's most solemn obligation is to protect the American people. And in some ways it seems that the House Democrats' most solemn obligation is to help protect the trial lawyers -- they're the ones who have brought all these lawsuits. And they're huge class-action lawsuits in which all of us consumers of telecommunications companies would be named. And if at the end of the day, say that these trial lawyers won these lawsuits -- you and I would get a dollar or two back, and they would get 46 percent of the award.
This program was lawful; and we need it. General Hayden and Director McConnell have said that this is a program that helped us save lives. It helped -- they say in their letter from Friday night that they found someone who was planning to be a suicide bomber, someone who was trying to move terrorist financing money around.
And so with the way that terrorists know that they can use technology, we have to keep up with them. We have to stay one step ahead of them. And what counts right now is seconds and minutes. It's not days' worth of time that you can spend to try to track down one of these individuals. There are times when you need to act urgently, and so you need the speed, agility and flexibility that comes from what passed in the Senate, which is a bipartisan bill that passed 68-29. And the House could pass it today if they wanted to.
Q Dana, to be clear, don't you still -- you can still pursue that information, go after it, as long as you come back within three days and get a warrant under FISA, correct? I mean, it doesn't stop them from getting information.
MS. PERINO: I'm not a lawyer; I just know, Kathleen, that it's much more complicated than that, and that the intelligence professionals and the lawyers who are working on this are trying to work with the companies to make sure that they know that we will give them everything that they need in order to be comfortable working with us.
And they have said that until they have that retroactive liability protection -- and right now, with the Protect America Act expired, there is a question from some of them as to whether or not the prospective or current activities that are ongoing, if they are protected from that. So we would just encourage Congress to go ahead and take that --
Q That really hasn't stopped the collection of intelligence, has it?
MS. PERINO: I refer you to their letter in which they said there were days lost, and that we have companies that are reluctantly working with us. And, Bill, look, take it -- do not take it from me, take it from the intelligence community professionals. These are people who are held -- would be held accountable if there were a terrorist attack. And they are saying this is what they need. They're not making this up. We wouldn't be having this debate if we didn't need this program.
Q I find it hard to believe that the communications companies involved would have cut them off if this didn't continue, with the belief that it could be made right later.
MS. PERINO: They don't believe necessarily that it may be made right later because Congress has been unwilling -- the House Democrats have been unwilling to move. They had six months to work on it; they didn't. The President graciously gave them another 14 days to work on it; they didn't do it. They even proved that they couldn't pass an extension in the House. So here we are, waiting for Congress to continue to work on it. And I will tell you, it is a fact that the companies are increasingly reluctant, whether you believe it or not. And you don't have to take it from me, but you could take it from the intelligence professionals who are responsible for making sure that all of us are kept safe.
Q If this is such a big deal, why didn't the President accept another extension?
MS. PERINO: Because the House couldn't even pass an extension bill, even if they had wanted to. They couldn't pass it. What they need to pass is a bipartisan bill --
Q The President said he wouldn't accept it, so --
MS. PERINO: Well, that's true, but they wouldn't have been able to pass it anyway.
Q -- isn't it his problem that he lost a couple of days, if in fact he did?
MS. PERINO: Absolutely not. This -- no. The President is not going to accept the blame for House Democrats not taking up a bill that passed 68-29 in the Senate.
Q Yes, but if it's such -- if it's so urgent to protect the nation's security, as you have said --
MS. PERINO: But, Bill, it still didn't do what -- the things that I have said repeatedly that it needs to do. Even if they had extended it, it doesn't provide for retroactive liability protection, which is what the companies say that they need.
Q You're still collecting intelligence.
MS. PERINO: Go ahead, Roger.
Q Dana, since the law expired --
Q -- on the 16th --
MS. PERINO: I'm sorry, I can't hear you.
Q Since the law expired on the 16th, do you know if any company -- if there have been any companies that have refused cooperation since then?
MS. PERINO: Look, I can't get into a lot -- this is a classified program, so I would refer you to the letter that Judge Mukasey -- I'm sorry, Attorney General Mukasey and Director McConnell put out Friday night. They said they -- in that letter, on the first page, it says they lost days-worth of information.
Q These companies have been reluctantly cooperating, and I'm just wondering if there have been any that have been --
MS. PERINO: I know that there was a certain instance in which they were not able to convince a company up until late Friday night, which is why they put out that statement Saturday morning.
Q Back on the economy for a second, are you saying that the GDP number later this week has some significance or some particular weight in terms of deciding whether you go to another stimulus package?
MS. PERINO: Not more than any other month. I was just making a point that it's another factor that we'll have to take into account when the numbers come out on Wednesday(**).
Q On that topic, you said going into the meeting with the governors the President was willing to listen to their ideas. Do you know if he heard anything that swayed his view, particularly on the idea of infrastructure projects, or is it still viewed that -- from the White House that those aren't stimulative?
MS. PERINO: Well, it's not -- there's no short-term stimulus to the economy for some of these projects, though I think that the -- the President listened to them with an open mind, and I think that he would encourage them to work with the Department of Transportation to see what might be possible right now, today. He talked about his budget, which would increase transportation funding by $24 billion this year alone.
And so -- and I think it was Governor Rendell who said that they have done a lot of the legwork to get these projects up to where they need to be -- for example, the environmental impact statements having been done already, and a lot of the planning necessary have been done. They're just waiting for the funding.
And so I think the President encouraged them to work with Secretary Peters. I'd just say that the President was very clear he is reluctant to support anything that would raise taxes. So we'll have to see what they come up with.
Peter, did you have one? No? Okay, John.
Q When you say he'd be reluctant to support anything that would raise taxes, are you referring to infrastructure projects tied to an increase in transportation fuel taxes or --
MS. PERINO: Well, the bottom line is the President says he's not going to raise taxes, okay. So I should say it's not just that he's reluctant to; it's that he would not sign a bill that would raise taxes.
But there's lots of different ways and Congress is very creative in figuring out ways to increase taxes on the American people.
Q Yes, but you can make an argument that if you just increased the deficit, you, you know, inevitably create a tax burden.
MS. PERINO: Well, we already -- we have already conceded that. And when we -- when the President signed the $157 billion stimulus package, he conceded that we will have a short-term increase in the deficit because of that. But what we needed in that package, which we thought was the right size, which we think that it is the right size in order to prevent the economy from sliding down into a recession or even a stronger economic downturn -- that's why we have -- that's why the President signed that bill, and we think that that was sufficient. But we don't think, necessarily, that taxpayers should have to pay for any more stimulus if it's not necessary, and if it won't necessarily have the effect that they would like it to have.
Q At the stakeout, Governor Rendell said that actually the infrastructure -- investing in that would create up to 47,000 jobs for every billion dollars that's invested, and that that would actually be a greater stimulus to the economy than sending out tax rebates. So is the issue here really whether or not it's stimulus, or how to pay for it?
MS. PERINO: I think we need to make a distinction -- any time you're pumping money into the economy, that's stimulative. But what we needed for this economy for this -- for right now is a short-term stimulus effect. I don't doubt that Governor Rendell said that, or that he feels that that would be better. The President, working with his Treasury Secretary and members of both the House and the Senate on both sides of the aisle, agree that $157 billion in tax rebates and incentives for businesses was the best way to go. But as I said, he has an open mind, but he's not going to do anything that would raise taxes.
Q You also cited the $24 billion in your proposal this year. But as you know, budgets -- at best, this won't even be agreed to probably by October 1, or even a continuing resolution. So would that really be a realistic way of spending?
MS. PERINO: You have such little faith in the Congress to actually get something done. But I think -- look, the governors are going to be talking to members of Congress, as well. The governors know that they want this money, and they will be able to lobby members of Congress, as well.
But remember, the President said that you can look at any transportation bill -- the highway bills have been passed -- especially recently, they are filled with earmarks, which takes away from governors being able to make decisions as to where they want to spend that money, and especially if they have a project all ready to go, they would rather put the money towards that, be able to get the project done for their people, create jobs in their state, and not have to spend it on something that they think is a lesser priority. But that's what happens with the transportation bills.
Go ahead, Les.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. Agence France-Presse reports that the USS Nimitz launched four F-18 fighters to intercept a pair of Russian TU-95 bombers off Japan, and escort one of them as it flew over the carrier at an altitude of 2,000 feet. And my question: What was the reaction of the Commander-in-Chief to this?
MS. PERINO: Are you talking about the incident from a couple of weeks ago?
MS. PERINO: The President said that the Department of Defense handled it well, and we didn't think of it as a hostile act. It was nothing that we were really concerned about.
Q The AP reports that at Harvard, Mexico's President Felipe Calder n, on his first trip to the United States, said, "I need to change in Mexico the perception that the Americans are the enemy. And it is important to change the perception that the Mexicans are the enemy." And my question: What evidence does President Bush have that Mexican troops and police are seriously halting Mexican illegal aliens from invading our country?
MS. PERINO: Well, look, Les, I don't think anybody here in this administration thinks that anyone from Mexico is an enemy, except for maybe those who are dealing drugs and violence on the border.
Q Well, I'm just quoting what the President of Mexico said. I didn't say it. Go ahead.
MS. PERINO: We are working with the Calder n government. And President Calder n has said he's committed to working with us, and we actually have a package right now pending before Congress, in which we want to work with them in order to help make the border even more secure from -- preventing illegal immigration, as well as helping stop drug trafficking and violence.
Q Does the President think the Mexicans have supported keeping our borders secure?
MS. PERINO: I think the President believes President Calder n is making very good efforts in trying to help secure the border.
Q Last week, President Bush said that during his visit to Rwanda he learned the clear lesson that outside forces that tend to divide people up inside their country are unbelievably counterproductive. How will the President's newfound insight affect his Iraq policy?
MS. PERINO: The President has been working towards reconciliation between the Sunnis and the Shia, and it's actually working on a political level in some ways. Especially we saw that last month, when they passed three laws in one day, which was quite a significant achievement for the Iraqis. And he will continue to work with them on it.
Q Does he know what percentage of the Iraqi people want U.S. forces to leave?
MS. PERINO: Look, what we do know is that the -- there might be polls telling -- saying different things about who wants us where. What we know is that the Iraqi government wants us there, neighboring countries want us there. And we also know that if we were to leave too quickly that the possibility for chaos and mass violence is too great, and the President won't risk that.
Q Dana, two quick questions. One, last week people of Pakistan have spoken for democracy. And there is a big call now in the opposition parties, the winning parties and also the people in Pakistan that Mr. Musharraf must step down now and let the democracy to work. How long do you think President -- or what do you think about how long he will continue support?
MS. PERINO: Well, the President does support President Musharraf for all of the work that he's done to help us in counterterrorism. And if you look at what we asked President Musharraf to do -- which is to take off the uniform, to set free and fair elections, and to lift the emergency order -- he did all of those things. And so now it will be up to the people of Pakistan to see what their new government will look like. But the President does certainly support him, and has continued to.
Q And second, as far as the U.S.-India nuclear -- civil nuclear agreement is concerned, there is a call by the U.S. senators, in Delhi they met with the Prime Minister of India and they said that now or never means by July, India must act or this bill will not go through. What President thinks, as far as U.S.-India civil nuclear deal?
MS. PERINO: Well, we have a little bit more time, obviously, on the calendar before the end of the President's term. But if there's internal pressure inside India for them to move more quickly, I think that's good. And I saw a report today that said that there are some elements within India that are very supportive of getting the deal done.
Q And is President in touch with anybody in Delhi on this issue, now, let's go and do it now?
MS. PERINO: We are in touch with different levels of government throughout -- here and at the National Security Council and the State Department.
MS. PERINO: Can I just do one more back here. Go ahead.
Q The U.S. government has called for a --
MS. PERINO: I'm sorry, who?
Q The U.S. government has called for the international community to help Cubans to start a new era of democracy. But in Latin America, the Conference of Latin America has called the U.S. to change their policy toward Cuba, like lifting the U.S. embargo after more than 40 years, that nothing happened with the embargo because Castro -- I mean, stepped out of the government because he was ill, not because of U.S. embargo. What is your response to the call from Latin American Conference to do that?
MS. PERINO: Well, this is certainly a significant time for the people of Cuba. It's their first time in modern history that they've had a change of leadership, and we've urged the Cuban government to allow the people of Cuba to move towards a more peaceful, prosperous and free future.
I would refer you to the President's speech from October 24, 2007, in which he talked about this and specifically about the embargo, and that lifting it would only, at this time, without any change in the process -- system of government in Cuba, enrich the elites and strengthen their grip. And the people who really need the support of a freer system would not benefit from lifting the embargo. So there is not a contemplation here of changing that now.
END 12:56 P.M. EST
(*) Transportation funding is expected to increase by 10 percent in FY 2008 ($52.9 billion) over FY 2007 ($47.9 billion), and will thereby provide a timely boost to the economy this year without additional resources. (**) GDP numbers will be released on Thursday, 2/28/08