For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 14, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:44 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello, everybody. First I'd like to spend a moment just sharing a word about our friend and former White House Press Secretary, Tony Snow. We appreciate all of the emails and outreach that you did to me and for Jill and the children this week -- this weekend, after we got the terrible news about his death on Saturday morning.
President Bush always says that you never know what sort of hand you're going to be dealt with, and sometimes you're dealt a hand that you didn't expect and that you don't want to play, but that you have to play it. And I think all of us can agree that Tony Snow played his cards to the best of his ability and in a way that we would all aspire to.
During his first White House press briefing on May 16, 2006, Tony said, "I feel every day is a blessing," and throughout the next 16 months people around the world witnessed him live up to the statement.
At this podium, Tony was a passionate advocate of the President's policies, a devoted public servant, and a true gentleman. He was also a lot of fun. He greeted each day with enthusiasm and each question with a smile -- but I think he usually won out in the arguments.
During his last briefing on September 12, 2007, Tony said, "This job has been the most fun I ever had." And most importantly, Tony always made clear that his family came first, and that's why today our thoughts and prayers are with Jill and his three lovely children, Kendall, Robbie and Kristi.
And as I announced this morning, the funeral service will be on Thursday, July 17th, at Catholic University, at the Basilica. The President and Mrs. Bush will attend.
I've got a couple other things; I'm going to read out the President's meeting with the Sudanese -- his Special Envoy for Sudan, Rich Williamson. The President and Ambassador Wilson [sic] spoke about his efforts to help bring together the north and the south to implement crucial parts of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, also known as the CPA. They talked about finding a lasting solution to the border area, along with a formula for revenue sharing, which remains a key to a lasting peace in the area. I said Wilson earlier -- I'm sorry, it was Williamson, Ambassador Williamson.
He also briefed the President on the situation in Darfur and the efforts to help speed the deployment of United Nations peacekeepers there. The President said he was troubled that nearly one year after the passage of the Security Council resolution that authorized the peacekeeping force for Darfur, that force is still not fully deployed or capable of protecting large civilian populations.
We are looking at ways the United States can do more to increase the number and effectiveness of peacekeepers there. We also discussed in the meeting the deplorable humanitarian situation in Darfur. The President said he is gravely concerned by the increased insecurity in Darfur and the impact it is having on the civilians and on the aid workers who are risking their own lives to help protect them. The government of Sudan needs to live up to its commitment to provide increased security to humanitarian envoys.
And finally, in just about 45 minutes, President Bush will have remarks in the Rose Garden in which he will announce that he is going to lift the executive prohibition on the Outer Continental Shelf for -- that would allow for increased domestic oil exploration and production if Congress also lifts its ban. And about a month ago, President Bush asked Congress to move forward and to work with him in order to do this. We asked Congress to take that step. They have not even held a hearing on the issue, even though there's been a lot of talk about it in the country. There's a big debate in the country, and I think Americans are increasingly realizing that we need to start to look for more of our own resources.
We have improved technology tremendously to be able to do so in environmentally friendly ways. So we will take this action today and we will continue to call on Congress to act, and now the ball is squarely in their court.
Q On that, why did the President change his mind? He was -- a month ago when this happened, everybody kept on asking him, why doesn't he do -- why doesn't he do it by himself? And there was this long defense, it wouldn't have any impact. So why did he change?
MS. PERINO: What President Bush wanted to do and still seeks to do is to get Congress to work with him because we talked about having two keys that need to be turned at the same time. There's a legislative ban and an executive branch ban. President Bush said that we should do these and we should do this in a way that -- at the same time that gets the keys turned. It's become increasingly clear that Congress is not willing to take that step on their own, so President Bush is going to lead, and we hope that they will follow us.
And there's actually a couple of pieces of legislation that are already introduced, and I think that Senator McConnell has one, as well, and they're planning to continue to try to push to get hearings on these bills. So it's not like they have to start from scratch; there's legislation that exists.
And all the legislation would allow for the states to decide whether or not they want to participate. It would get Congress to work with the states through the legislative process to figure out the amount of revenue sharing that would take place. And also, states would be allowed to try to -- to decide on their own for how far out the view shed should be, in terms of you're standing on the shore -- if you get over the horizon, that's where the wells would be.
Q Does his action today revoke entirely the executive order his father signed, or is it more nuanced?
MS. PERINO: It doesn't. It doesn't.
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q Given the reluctance of the Congress to turn the other key, is it fair to call this a symbolic gesture?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that you have seen increasingly Americans are understanding the importance of this issue; they're becoming more educated about the advances in technology that have taken place that would protect the environment. I know that across Europe, especially in the North Sea, there's a lot of offshore oil drilling that takes place, and they've been able to do it in ways that has been able to be protective of the environment.
So there's three more weeks left of Congress, and you've been in town long enough to know that oftentimes Congress gets most of its work done in just the remaining weeks right before it goes off for August recess. One thing I know that the Democrats continue to recommend is that we -- or to suggest -- is that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is the answer to all of our problems. We strongly believe that it's not. That trick has been tried before and it doesn't work.
It's unfortunate that the only place Democrats in Congress seem to be able to think we can get oil is from our insurance policy, which is the extra supply that we have in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. And to my knowledge, Speaker Pelosi or others have not indicated how long they would recommend -- or how many -- how long they would recommend taking oil out of the SPR. They've not said what the price point is they're trying to get to. They've not said how long it would last. And so I think those are -- a lot of questions have to be answered before they could even be taken seriously. I believe that Democrats believe a problem delayed is a problem half-solved -- and in this case, it doesn't work.
Q Are you seeing increased support from Democrats?
MS. PERINO: I think -- you can -- I won't speak for them, but I think you have seen increasingly there have been some Democratic members of Congress who are starting to change their position on this, and what -- in ways that they can look at the technology that has improved, the demand from Americans because they are paying record-high gas prices. And I will repeat again, there's no magic wand that's going to decrease prices overnight. But what we're trying to do is send a signal to the market that more supply would be coming on line. And we will work with Congress to try to do that.
Q Well, how can you conflate the Strategic Petroleum Reserve with offshore drilling? I mean, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, whether it's a good idea or not, would at least bring supply to the market immediately. What you're talking about in offshore oil is 10 years away.
MS. PERINO: Well, what we have seen in the past when people have tried to use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to affect price is that it hasn't worked. It might bring it down a penny or two, and that's not enough. What we want to do is get to the root cause of the problem.
Q I'm not really arguing with you on that, I'm just saying that the two things don't match up.
MS. PERINO: I actually -- I totally agree with you. Because we're saying that we should do more in terms of domestic production and exploration, and the answer we get back is we should release more oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. We're already not filling it at the rate that the President wanted to, because of a law Congress passed earlier this year that we agreed to go along with. It hasn't affected price. So I think we're in agreement.
Q Same issue. Is the President lifting the ban -- the executive ban under the belief that the oil industry is currently exploring every inch of available lease out there, that there's nothing else that they could do, other than more leases?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that it's -- I think you're referring to the -- Democrats have called it the "use it or lose it" provision. First of all, already in statute, that exists. I believe it's at the 5th, 8th, and 10th year companies have to have production or else they have to return their lease. And so first of all, that already exists. And secondly, it's nonsensical to think that anyone that has oil to sell is holding onto it right now when there's historic high oil prices. That's just not how the market works.
Q But does -- is the President satisfied that the oil industry is already doing everything it can to squeeze --
MS. PERINO: I've heard nothing to suggest otherwise. And I would say it's not only the offshore oil companies that are working on their -- to find oil that they could produce, but certainly, as one from the West, I know that it takes a while for these companies to be able to get through all the processes and the permits. So for example, if you go and get a lease, the next thing that you have to do is go through the Endangered Species Act permitting process, the Clean Air Act process -- I think that you have to get a permit for that. There's other -- the NEPA process, which takes a long time.
So it takes a while to get through all the environmental and conservation permits that you have to do, not to mention you're usually fighting in court because conservation groups have sued you. So by the time you're able to actually explore for the oil or the gas, it just takes a little bit of time. And what the President is wanting to do is speed that process up.
Q And has this administration enforced the "use it or lose it" provisions?
MS. PERINO: As far as I know, yes. There's been no changes in the law.
Anybody else on this? Wendell.
Q It's my understanding the congressional ban expires at the end of September without -- unless it's reauthorized.
MS. PERINO: Every year. It's a yearly ban that they do in the appropriations process.
Q So would what the President wants be accomplished by allowing the congressional ban to expire, or do you need new legislation?
MS. PERINO: You need new legislation. And in addition to that, one thing that's just a detail point, the President's ban or executive branch ban goes through 2012. And as Wendell said, the legislative ban is something that they repeat on a yearly basis.
Q So in the new legislation, are you willing to go along with the idea of giving states veto power over whether offshore drilling is allowed, how far out it's allowed, and willing to renegotiate the revenue sharing with them beyond -- what is it, 37.5 percent?
MS. PERINO: Yes. I think all of those things are up for discussion and there's legislation that is in front of Congress right now, and states would have -- most importantly, the states would have a chance to review the decision and make their own determination. And I think states across the board will take a good, hard look at it, and they all -- they have constituents and their citizens pay gas prices, too.
Q Dana, on another subject, is the White House disappointed that this lobbyist, Stephen Payne, is on a video tape suggesting that he can deliver high-level White House meetings, including with the Vice President, in exchange for big contributions to the Bush library?
MS. PERINO: I'd say there's categorically no link between any official business and the Bush library. Steve Payne was never an employee of the White House, but we do use hundreds of volunteers a year, as you know, for helping us do advance work. And of course I don't know all of the facts about that situation, but we certainly would not advocate for such behavior.
Q How close is he to the President and has he ever brought any of his clients to the White House for meetings?
MS. PERINO: That I don't know. I do know that he's been a Republican fundraiser for many years, so I believe the President has probably met him on a number of occasions. But he was never an employee of the White House, and so I don't know particularly about any contacts that they would have had or -- at the White House.
Q And the last thing, just to clear it up, then, would the White House be willing to release any visitor logs to show whether or not he was here with clients, because he's out there telling --
MS. PERINO: I'd have to have to check with Counsel's office. And obviously we've been down this road before with visitor logs and there's lawsuits and things, so I'll have to check where that sits with --
Q Same subject, please. Are there any written guidelines, is there any kind of an official firewall between the administration and the library?
MS. PERINO: I can check for you. I mean, I believe so, in terms of just practice of how we've been working here, but I'll have to check in terms of if there's anything written or that needed to be written. There's obviously many people who are working on the library, but none -- I don't know of anybody at the White House who has any dealings with it -- any particular dealings with the library, the development of the library, the foundation. I don't know of anybody here at the White House.
Q There's no liaison at all?
MS. PERINO: Not that -- well, liaison possibly, I think -- obviously because he'd have to do scheduling with the President and talk to the President, but I don't know of anybody in particular whose assignment it is to work on library issues in particular.
Q Dana, what -- can you tell us the status of the veto threat on the Medicare bill? Does that still stand?
MS. PERINO: In terms of when we would do it?
Q Right, when he'd do it --
MS. PERINO: It does still stand, yes. I don't know the exact timing. Part of it is we always work with Congress because they have to then take a vote to see if they can override, and that'll probably happen sometime this week.
Q I was going to ask you, have you taken a count, do you know if you have the votes to sustain?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I know it's going to be a tough fight and it will be very close, but I don't know where we are in terms of the final yet.
Q Do you expect a veto by Wednesday?
MS. PERINO: I would think so, but can I check with Legislative Affairs and just to see, because I -- part of this is not a time that we would decide. We've tried to work with Congress and be respectful of when they're going to be here.
Q Dana, the administration has taken steps to shore up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Is that the extent -- maximum extent to which the administration is willing to go to throw a lifeline to these mortgage heavyweights? In other words, is there -- is the idea of a bailout off the table as a -- if things take a turn for the worse?
MS. PERINO: I think you're referring to what Secretary Paulson announced last night, which was a package to help restore stability and confidence to what has been a very nervous market. The actions that he's taken were done in order to prevent any taxpayer dollars from being at risk. And as far as I know, the two companies, which their own regulators say they are well capitalized, have not taken advantage of the borrowing opportunities yet.
We do hope the Congress, when they get back tonight and tomorrow, since we have heard some good, positive responses from them so far, would be able to work quickly, because we think this is urgent pieces of legislation that need to get done, and that will be important for increasing confidence and stability in the market.
Q Dana, you're planning to add that to the housing measure that's out there --
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q -- what's the status of the veto threat against that housing measure?
MS. PERINO: Well, we believe that -- the reason that the President would veto the bill has nothing to do with the GSE regulator, which is something that the President has called for since 2003. Arguably, that's the most important part of this legislation. Second to that would be the modernization of the Federal Housing Administration.
But the reason the President said that he would veto the Community Development Block Grant provision was because it was $4 billion that would go to help lenders and banks, not homeowners. And the President doesn't think that that $4 billion needs to be spent in that regard. So as far as I know, the veto threat still stands.
Q So he'd rather sink the bill than accept --
MS. PERINO: Well, I think we'd have to see what happens in Congress. I think that there's many people on Capitol Hill who agree with him on the CDBG money, and I think people understand the urgency of needing to get this bill done. And it's fortunate that we have this vehicle to be able to tack this on, and hopefully get it done within the week.
Q Dana, quick question. First of all, on behalf of South Asian journalists, I pay my respect and tribute and condolences to the family, and also Tony Snow, greatly. It's a very sad day.
MS. PERINO: Thank you.
Q The question is that both the Kennedys were talking last week about Latino votes, or immigrants or immigration issues. And Senator Obama said that without Latino votes, the President will not be winner; no President will become President this election. So what President doing about Latinos? How can they win the Latino votes, because what Latinos are saying that it has not -- nothing has been done for them.
MS. PERINO: Obviously the Latino population in America is very important, it has contributed significantly to our country. But when it comes to counting votes, President Bush doesn't have to worry about it this time. He's not up for election.
Q And second and very quickly, on Iraq -- on Iran -- I'm sorry.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q As far as their missile tests and nuclear tests and nuclear knowledge is concerned, it's going still forward. One, who's helping them? Two, as far as that knowledge is concerned, do you think that they are going on the same road as North Korea?
MS. PERINO: I think that we're on the same road when it comes to North Korea in terms of working a multilateral process to solve this problem diplomatically. And what we call on Iran to do is to halt its uranium enrichment. And I think one of the things they've been asked to do is to not be so isolated from the international community. And slowly, very slowly, and with verification, North Korea is on the path to being able to have better relations with the international community. So that's the path we're on and we're going to keep at it.
Q Dana, back on Sudan, what's the White House say as to the actions of the ICC? Were they just right, or were they a little over the top? What say the White House?
MS. PERINO: We certainly urge all sides to remain calm in the wake of this decision -- or this announcement by the ICC. We will monitor the situation in The Hague. I'll remind you, April, that we are not a part of the ICC, and so our input isn't necessarily what was going to matter in this situation.
Q I understand that, but the issue is the fact that they've done -- this is a very extraordinary step that they have taken and, even so, this White House has talked about the fact that Sudan needs to follow through with the resolutions at the U.N. and they have not. So is this action -- does this action actually fit the case, fit the cause?
MS. PERINO: In terms of what the President is doing, I think as I told you, we are focused on how do we get the peacekeepers into the area; how do we get the peace agreement, the CPA, to take hold. And one of the ways that we can do that is to try the help broker a revenue-sharing agreement. That's one of the ways that we'll be able to see the goals of the CPA realized.
And we do believe that the government of Sudan needs to live up to its obligations. That's one of the reasons we have United Nations Security Council resolutions. We take them very seriously and we would expect others to, as well.
But we want the entire international community who cares about Sudan and who cares about the civilians, especially the ones who have been displaced in Darfur, to be protected. And that's why the other thing that the President focused on in this meeting today with Ambassador Williamson was the peacekeepers and how do we get them there. And I heard a very interesting statistic that in -- not in Darfur, I don't know the statistic in Darfur -- but in the south of the country, there's only three kilometers of roads. And so getting people around and getting this country moving again, after the longest civil war -- I think in history -- is something that the President is very concerned about. And that's why he met with Ambassador Williamson today and is sending him back to the region to try to work on it some more.
Q So is this meeting somewhat a result of what was going on, the controversies that have been --
MS. PERINO: They meet periodically. Whenever Ambassador Williamson is back and has a report for the President, he comes in. I think it's been about every couple or three months.
Q Where is he going? And you mentioned --
MS. PERINO: Who?
Q The Ambassador. You said the President directed him to go --
MS. PERINO: I meant more in general, that he would be going back to the table to keep the process going.
Q You mentioned that they discussed ways to get that force -- to speed up the force. Can you talk about what kind of mechanisms, what the United States can do to do that?
MS. PERINO: Not in specifics, but obviously these sources are needed to be able to move people around, and that's something that the international community has been calling for -- helicopters and the like. But I have nothing to announce right now.
Q One on Syria -- I'm sorry. President Assad says that any country that is serious about peace in the Middle East has to talk to Syria. Do you share that view with Syria?
MS. PERINO: As Secretary Rice has said, we do have diplomatic relations with Syria, and we have laid out conditions for which we would talk. And she's been willing to talk with her counterpart. And we think that the best way for Syria to have better relations with the international community and for there to be peace in the Middle East is for, first and foremost, for Syria to stop allowing fighters into Lebanon, and meddling in Lebanon's business, as well as sending -- allowing foreign fighters to get into Iraq through their border.
Q Dana, just one question today.
MS. PERINO: Wow. There's a collective sigh of relief. (Laughter.)
Q Senator McCain said that "If elected, I will ask Congress to grant me the privilege of coming before both Houses to take questions and address criticism, much the same as the Prime Minister of Great Britain appears regularly before the House of Commons." And my one question: Wouldn't the President be willing to give this McCain promise even a one-time Bush tryout on Capitol Hill, since they also do this in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, India and Sweden?
MS. PERINO: I don't think it's going to happen under this President, but I'm sure John McCain will have a good run of it.
Q Does he -- why not? Why not?
MS. PERINO: You said one question. (Laughter.)
Q -- a follow-up on the same one.
MS. PERINO: No, I don't think it's going to happen under this President.
Q Even giving this a chance --
MS. PERINO: No. No. Let's move on to Connie.
Q On oil prices, do you see any movement behind the scenes by the OPEC countries to do something to reduce prices?
MS. PERINO: Not that I've heard, Connie, no.
Q A couple of weeks ago, the Mexican authorities released a video of police being trained for torture. Some members of the U.S. Congress are worried that the President already signed into law for giving Mexico $400 million to train police and military officers in Mexico. Is there any word by the President that that agreement and money could be used to train another police --
MS. PERINO: I have no -- I would need to check into it. I -- obviously we were grateful to get the money for the Merida Initiative. We think it's very important for improving law enforcement, especially along that border region where it's been a lawless situation for a long time.
But President Calderón has been dedicated to trying to improve the situation and we will help him there. I would actually point you back to the government authorities in Mexico, who had some things to say about that video in terms of the training issues. I don't want to get in the middle of that because I'll let them speak for themselves when it comes to that.
But when it comes to the Merida Initiative, we're pleased to be able to work with them and we are going to be sharing a lot of intel -- not just intelligence, but also a lot of human capacity building. We're going to help with a lot of training down there, which we think is essential to improving the situation.
Q What's the White House view of their good friend, Israel, a democracy in the Middle East, negotiating with terrorists and having -- releasing a known terrorist -- actually it's five of them -- in exchange for possible dead bodies of murdered Israeli soldiers?
MS. PERINO: Obviously I think that you come to this with a particular point of view and I respect it, but I'll let Israel answer the questions for the actions that it's taking. We have already commented about its decisions to have conversations with some of its neighbors and we think that they made those decisions on their own, but they've kept us fully informed.
Q As part of a worldwide fight against terrorism though, as far as setting precedents of negotiating with terrorists --
MS. PERINO: I don't think that's how Israel describes the conversations that they're having. I really don't. And I respect your point of view, but --
Q That's not my point of view. I'll be glad to send you editorials as well as articles from --
MS. PERINO: I'm sure that others -- I'm sure -- and I'm sure you're not alone in that view.
MS. PERINO: But I don't think Israel describes it that way and I'm not going to speak for the government of Israel.
Q Thank you. Senator Obama is planning a trip to the West Bank. Is there any comment from the administration as to how that could potentially help or hinder America's role in the region?
MS. PERINO: No. No, I'm not going to comment on his trip.
Q Is the President satisfied with the progress of the investigation into the anthrax attacks?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if he's had an update on it, but obviously this is something that the FBI is doing. We don't do the investigation from the White House.
Q Well, is he following the progress?
MS. PERINO: You know, I'm sure he -- he gets updated by Director Mueller once a week on a variety of issues, and if that comes up, I'm sure he gets an update.
Q You don't know if he's satisfied with the progress?
MS. PERINO: I don't.
Q Thank you.
END 1:09 P.M. EDT