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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 24, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:36 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: One announcement. President Bush continues to call on the Senate to swiftly clear the pipeline of all pending nominations. Currently there are 394 nominations pending in the Senate. These nominations cumulatively represent more than 50,000 days of missed opportunity in roles that are critical to our nation's security and prosperity. Most of these nominations are for military promotions, career promotions, or non-controversial appointments whose terms expire at the end of this administration. And before leaving for its 4th of July recess the Senate should fulfill its constitutional obligations to provide these pending nominees a fair up or down vote. The President believes it's time for the Senate to finally judge the President's nominees by their qualifications and not by the political calendar.
With that, we'll take questions.
Q Consumer confidence dropped to its lowest level in 16 years. Clearly people aren't satisfied by what the President has done to try to stabilize the economy. What is the administration's reaction to this? And what can you do?
MS. PERINO: I think you've got to take a step back. One, I think that, first of all, we know that Americans are concerned about the economy; we have been concerned about the economy. And the President worked very hard to make sure that we put in place a stimulus package that was put in place earlier in the year. And we made it clear then, and we have continued to, that it's going to take a while for the stimulus to take effect.
We know that about 75 million Americans have received their checks -- that's about a little bit more than halfway through the process. There's some evidence that they are spending that money, and that's what the purpose was for, to -- people could do whatever they wanted with the money, but our economists believed that they would spend it. But it's going to take a while to see that reflected in economic numbers such as retail sales.
We are confident that it will have the impact that we thought it would towards the latter half of the year. We believe that the long-term resilience of our economy is very strong. And Secretary Paulson, last week, gave a speech in which he said -- and I consider him our best authority on the issue -- that our economy is resilient, deep and competitive, and that the long-term fundamentals are very strong, and that if it were him, he would not bet against the U.S. worker, the U.S. economy, or the U.S. financial system.
Q But when you did the stimulus package you weren't facing $4-a-gallon gasoline, and that's been a tremendous shock.
MS. PERINO: Sure. Gasoline was certainly high, because it was around that time that at least one reporter said that there might be $4 gasoline. So higher energy prices have been having an impact. That's one of the reasons that we're working to do something to send the market a signal that we want to increase supply so that we can start to bring back into balance the law of supply and demand.
It's going to take a while, and we've been very careful and cautious to make sure that we tell people there's no magic wand that anybody can wave. That's not just the President, but members of Congress, as well.
One thing that is happening on the energy front is an increase in conservation here in our own country, which is to be expected when you have higher prices. And that, coupled with aggressive research and development into new technologies, like battery-powered vehicles, will get us into a better position in the long run. But for the short term, it's important that we make sure everyone understands there's nothing we can do overnight.
Q What does the President think about John McCain's $300 million reward for somebody who comes up with a --
MS. PERINO: Haven't spoken to him about it, but obviously President Bush has been very interested in pushing R&D. And I think that since 2001 we've spent $21 billion on alternative fuel and efficiency type of technology.
And one thing that's very encouraging that the President has heard across the board from the private sector is that venture capitalists are increasingly investing in companies, entrepreneurial companies, that are looking to the next wave of energy technologies, or the next wave of vehicles that we'll be able to drive that, one, will be safe, but will also run on -- less polluting vehicles and ones that don't use traditional oil and gas.
Q Dana, is the United States considering opening an interest section in Iran? How close are we to reaching a decision on that, and why would the U.S. do that?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that Secretary Rice said it best yesterday when she said that there might be some ideas out -- floating out there, but there's nothing concrete at the moment. In regards to us reaching out and talking directly to the Iranians, President Bush goes out of his way every time he talks about the Iranian issue, which is often; he gets asked about it and he brings it up proactively himself.
But our concern is not with the Iranian people. We respect them, we respect their culture, we respect their heritage, we think that they are good entrepreneurs. It's their regime that is continuing to isolate them from the international community. The international community is speaking with one voice in that regards, as well.
One of the things that we did last month was make sure that the incentives package that was released from the U.N. Security Council -- I'm sorry, from the EU plus 3 -- was the fact that we made that public so that everybody can see -- and hopefully Iranians that are able to have access to the media and have access to the Internet would be able to see that the United States and its allies does not have any problems with them as individuals; that we are actually wanting to work with the Iranians. We've provided a path forward for civilian nuclear energy, and we want to have a relationship with them. But their regime has to agree to halt the enrichment of uranium before we can do that.
Q Is the administration interested in reaching out more directly to the Iranian public? And would an interest section --
MS. PERINO: We've tried to --
Q -- potentially be a way to do that?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'll refer you to the State Department for any ideas that are floating over there. But what I would say is that we seek opportunities to talk directly to the Iranian people wherever and however we can. And that includes sometimes through radio broadcasts, or through Internet broadcasts, or through newspapers if we can, and also just by speaking directly when the President is at a podium. Whenever he talks about Iran, I think you can go back and look, that he always takes the time and the care to make sure that he speaks directly to them.
Q Can I follow that?
MS. PERINO: Sure.
Q Is it consistent with the idea of isolating Iran to open a U.S. interest section there?
MS PERINO: I think that -- I don't know a lot about U.S. interest offices, but I know that there's -- as I read, there's one in Cuba. So I think that we've -- it's not unprecedented, and so I don't think it's inconsistent, no. And again, this is directly for the people. Just like we don't have any -- that we care very deeply for the Cuban people; we have a problem with the regime -- the same is true when it comes to Iran.
Q If Mugabe goes ahead with the runoff election in Zimbabwe, as seems likely, would the United States consider the results of that election to be null and void and to be an illegitimate ruler?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that we already think that it's an illegitimate government. We think that the MDC group won on March 29th, won that election; however, agreed to a runoff election, as consistent with the Zimbabwe constitution. I think anybody looking at this, given what the Mugabe regime has said, that they were not going to allow for a free and fair election.
And so what happened yesterday was the international community, through the U.N. Security Council, spoke with one unified voice to say that the problems that this regime has created can be solely laid at their feet. And it was important that that be a presidential statement, the President's statement out of the U.N. Security Council, because it has to be unanimous. Remember, South Africa is a part of that 15.
I know that later this week, I think this weekend, the African Union, which is currently chaired by President Kikwete in Tanzania, will be hosting a meeting to talk about various issues, but Zimbabwe is going to be at the top of that list. And the President praises the fact that many African leaders have come out stronger in speaking out against the Mugabe regime, and trying to push that -- put that pressure on the Mugabe regime so that they would change their tactics. But we are obviously very concerned about the violence that has taken place, and we remain concerned for the safety of anybody of Mr. Tsvangirai's party.
Q It looks like the Dodd-Shelby housing bill is going to pass the Senate. What's wrong with the bill as is, and what's a better alternative?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'd refer you to our -- we have a statement of administration policy that we've put out which talks about it in detail. We do think that there are some really good aspects of that Senate bill, and we have been working closely with them to try to change the bill in a way that we think it could be something that the President could sign.
A couple of things that we like are especially the section on GSE reform, which would create a new regulator with appropriate authority over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. So there are also aspects to the FHA modernization that we think should be in the bill. It does ban risk-based pricing, which we think is a mistake, so that's something that we would like to see addressed in the conference.
The most significant concern that we have with the bill is that it would provide for $4 billion to states to purchase already foreclosed homes. And our concern is that that just helps the banks, that doesn't help the consumers and the people who are trying to stay in the homes.
So I think that they're on the right path, in terms of working on a housing bill that would help the American people, but these are significant concerns, and I believe there's actually a veto threat that we have out regarding the concerns that we have. But hopefully in Congress they will be able to work something out. And we are working closely with them.
I was going to call you Laurent, but you are Olivier.
Q I am. I have a couple for you. First, you mentioned this morning the President talked to President Karzai.
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q Where are we on the President's suggestion of a border jirga assembly to diffuse the tensions of Pakistan?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think -- look, President Karzai welcomed the idea, and I think that the Pakistanis may have even started to compile a list of names of people that would be a part of that jirga, but that it's not a completed process yet.
Q Did that come up today and was that part of --
MS. PERINO: Yes. The President was updated on it.
Q Okay. And there's legislation running through the Congress now that would give Filipino veterans some benefits. It cleared the Senate pretty easily; it's now in the House. Does the President support that? Did that come up in the meeting with President Arroyo?
MS. PERINO: I did not attend that meeting, so let me check and we'll get back to you.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. In the President's real hope that we will have a presidential election that is fair to both sides, he was concerned by what The Washington Times reported that one of the two presidential campaigns sent a plane load of reporters back to Washington while this candidate, without telling them, slipped away to stay in Chicago, at which "several bureau chiefs and the Associated Press accused him of deliberate deception." And my question: Without mentioning which candidate did this, could you tell us if you have ever heard -- (laughter) -- could you tell us if you ever heard of President Bush so mistreating reporters during either of his two presidential campaigns?
MS. PERINO: I think that the reporters are going to have to take that up with the presidential nominee that you are referring to. But I think you have your facts wrong in terms of the legs of that trip.
Q The facts wrong? You reported -- that was The Washington Times.
MS. PERINO: Wrong flight, going the other way.
Q One of two major-party apparent nominees has also broken what The New York Times reported as an earlier pledge to take public money, while the other candidate noted, he is completely reversed himself and gone back not on his word to me, but a commitment made to the American people. And my question: If a presidential candidate will do such things before he is either officially nominated or elected, does the President believe everyone should be wary of such a candidate, or not? And if not, why not?
MS. PERINO: I think the President believes that the American people are going to have to weigh all the issues, and that will be one of them, and make a decision in November.
Q Dana, back on Zimbabwe. Some are saying that the elephant in the room is South Africa -- and has the President talked to Thabo Mbeki about this, I guess, conflict for South Africa? Because Mugabe was once viewed as a freedom fighter and helping them overturn apartheid, and they're kind of keeping an allegiance with him. Has the President talked to Thabo Mbeki about this?
MS. PERINO: Well, I don't know when -- I couldn't tell you when the last time that they spoke, but obviously Secretary Rice has been in contact with them. And I would point you back to the fact that this U.N. Security Council President statement yesterday had to be agreed to unanimously before it could be agreed to -- I'm sorry -- and released. And South Africa was a part of that unanimous agreement. And I believe that the international community spoke very clearly, with one, unified voice, and laid the blame at the feet of the Mugabe regime, and condemned the violence. And so South Africa was a part of the course that was shining a light on the problems that we have with the Mugabe regime.
Q And on another subject, the President supports John McCain as far as being the next President of the United States. But what does the President and this administration say about one of McCain's inner circle saying that a terrorist attack on this country would be a big advantage for McCain?
MS. PERINO: Again, I'm not -- I'm just not going to get into it and get the President involved in disputes between the campaigns.
Q This administration has been fighting vigorously against terror on the homeland. For him to say it's a big advantage, somebody that the President supports his campaign, I mean --
MS. PERINO: I also saw that the individual who said that apologized. And so I think I would point you to that apology.
Q Is the President's decision not to go to South Korea at all related to the protests over the beef imports that have occurred --
MS. PERINO: The President said he wants to go to South Korea, and he still may before the end of the year. But on this trip he's just going to go to the G8. And I would actually say that we're closer to finalizing this agreement on beef, and the U.S. Trade Representative feels very confident that we'll be able to seal it before too long.
Q How much of a blow to any effort you might have made to get the trade agreement passed with South Korea have the protests been? Has it really pushed it off the realm of possibility at this point?
MS. PERINO: In terms of what Congress is going to do?
Q Yes, in terms of the administration making --
MS. PERINO: I think you have to ask Congress. I mean, we still believe that a free trade agreement is essential for the people of South Korea. We think it's a good deal for American consumers and businesses, and Congress is -- continues to put up barriers to free trade agreements. We think that that's wrong, but I haven't heard anybody say that the recent protests regarding American beef that took place in South Korea have had much of an impact on Capitol Hill. And I think that everybody has been working towards -- very constructively to try to redo the package. That's what the Trade Representative worked on, Susan Schwab, and she reports that we are close to be able to finalizing this issue.
Q Doesn't the G8 usually have a side trip or two associated with it?
MS. PERINO: There are times that it could, but I would point out President Bush is going to meet with President Lee in Japan while they're there for a bilateral meeting.
Q And you said China is a possibility as to when you could tack on a South Korea trip?
MS. PERINO: I wouldn't rule it out, but I'm not saying that it's for sure going to happen then. But he is -- he does have additional foreign travel this year.
Q The new GAO report, critical of progress in Iraq -- what's the White House comment on that?
MS. PERINO: Well, I just think that you have to look at facts on the ground in terms of the reporting. I don't know -- I don't know what the parameters were for the GAO report. I think that from what I've read of it, it's inconsistent with the reporting on the ground that I've seen -- that I've read from reporters of the news media who were there. And certainly it doesn't -- it's not consistent with some of the facts that we have here. And I would point you to the rebuttals that the State Department and the Treasury Department provided to GAO, saying that they thought that their report was way off-base.
Progress in Iraq is undeniable. And I think one of the things that you can point to is not just the political and security gains, but certainly the economic gains that they've had, as well. And we should all be celebrating that and working towards it.
But we do have a lot more work to do. I mean, don't get me wrong, there's -- we still have tens of thousands of troops there. They're in harm's way and they need all the resources that they have requested -- the President has requested on their behalf. And we are hopeful that the United States Congress would be able to finalize that legislation and get the troops the money they need before they leave for their next recess.
Q Thank you. Two quick questions. One, Dana, Indian parliament is now trying again for the last -- as far as the U.S.- India civil nuclear agreement is concerned. Do you think it's too late, or if President has been briefed on this? And is the President trying his best to go -- get through the Congress if it goes through the India parliament --
MS. PERINO: Well, we'd like to see progress in India and that would certainly help our Congress, as well. But the President keeps regularly updated on. He thinks it's a very important agreement.
Q And second, as far as Congressman Henry Waxman is concerned -- he said that he has seen some evidence of Chinese munitions and arms in Afghanistan. Can you confirm any --
MS. PERINO: Tom Casey, the spokesperson at the State Department, talked about this earlier today. They've seen the allegations. They take them seriously, and they said that they would be responding accordingly.
Q Thank you.
END 12:55 P.M. EDT