For Immediate Release
September 2, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:48 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: We have a scheduling update. President Bush will address the GOP convention today, but from the White House. He'll do that from the Cross Hall in the 9:30 p.m. half hour. You'll have to call the convention and get the exact time on that. But he'll be able to address them today. It will be a shorter speech than was planned in the hall, but the entire convention is a little bit shorter.
So the President is very grateful for this opportunity. He's going to express his gratitude to all the people gathered in the hall. He will talk a little bit about the hurricane, but mainly the speech is going to focus on John McCain and why he believes that John McCain has the qualities that are demanded by the commander-in-chief role.
So I think we'll have excerpts for you later today, so we're working on that. But there's a little bit -- everything is fluid, and so just bear with us, but I think maybe by 5:00 p.m.
Q The remarks this morning on the hurricane seemed sort of remarkable in that they pivoted back to politics in themselves, and focusing attention on Congress and what it needs to do, returning to his energy message. It's a pretty quick pivot from solely focusing on the hurricane and the victims and what's happening there, to injecting some politics and policy into it.
MS. PERINO: Some people -- people are welcome to look at it that way if they want to. The President, I can tell you, was not thinking about politics, he was thinking about the people there. And it is a fact that 25 percent of the oil that we use in our country comes from that region. And one of the things that we have been asked about most is if there was damage to the oil rigs, if there was damage to getting -- damage to the production load, and also damage to the pipelines. Thankfully, so far it looks like the assessments are showing that there isn't. But it is certainly an issue that this country is going to have to grapple with. And whether or not other states decide that they would want to open up their shores for offshore oil rigging -- oil drilling will be up to them. But it is something that this Congress needs to deal with.
And they should deal with it when they get back. The President wasn't trying to be overly political, he was stating a fact.
Q But do you think it was time, just a day after the hurricane hit, to sort of look toward Congress and what they're leaving undone?
MS. PERINO: I don't think -- I looked at those points; I don't think that they were at all even up to the line in terms of being political. And I would say that our opponents, the Democrats, use every day, every opportunity to bash this President, and I just don't think we're going to worry about it. We'll focus on what we need to do.
Right now the industry is trying to do an assessment as to what may or may not be needed going forward in terms of repairs. It also takes them a few days to get back online because they need to -- they brought all their people in for safety sake, and since safety is a priority, they have to take a few more days to get people out there and get the rigs back up. But so far, so good. It looks like that, structurally, everything was sound. And then in terms of supply, the assessment is ongoing and the industry is in touch with Secretary Bodman, and President Bush got an update from Bodman this morning.
Q Dana, if you say, "so far, so good," why doesn't the President go up and deliver his address in person?
MS. PERINO: One of the things that you learn in hurricanes is that just when you think everything is safe and sound, there are still concerns. And in addition to that, we have many other storms that are churning out there. We have Tropical Storm Hanna, and Ike that's following behind that, and possibly another one behind that. And so it's appropriate that the President be able to be here at the White House.
And he did speak to Secretary -- I'm sorry -- Director Paulison this morning. One of the things that they talked about is, how do you make sure, now that the people have heeded the warnings to evacuate, that they also heed the warnings not coming back sooner than the city officials can take care of -- they have to clear the streets. There's many people still without power, and the reentry plan is really important. We also have an issue to make sure that the hospitals are well equipped and have enough people to take care of those who are either in the storm or critically ill patients that need help now.
And so the President will stay behind. Obviously, the convention is shaved by at least a day, and then the -- well, the program last night was quite truncated. And the President is happy to have a chance tonight to address the GOP.
Q Can you just talk a little bit about -- you said his speech is shorter -- about how long the other speech was, what is different? Obviously, the hurricane --
MS. PERINO: I think the speech originally was around 15 minutes. And this one will be running a little bit less than eight.
Q Can you give us any information about the decision? Was it the President's decision not to go to St. Paul?
MS. PERINO: Well, we left it up to the convention as to how they were going to decide what to do with the program. Obviously, for Monday, they decided to not have an evening program at all. And then, as of last night, even the convention hadn't made a decision as to what they would do today, and we said we would go along with whatever they decided to do.
And we can control a lot of things. We can control the preparedness, we can control the response, but we can't control Mother Nature's timing. And this hurricane decided to strike when it did, and I think the GOP has handled the timing of the convention and the program in an appropriate way.
Q So the convention said, don't come?
MS. PERINO: I wouldn't put it that way. We were in touch with them and we were trying to figure out what would work best for them, and also what would work best for this President. I mean, the most important thing we can do is make sure that the follow-through is as good as it looks like the preparedness was.
Q And what should we make of the fact that his speech is before the 10:00 p.m. primetime network coverage?
MS. PERINO: I don't know the timing of how all of this worked, but the whole convention was turned on end and they're putting it back together, to try to figure out the best way to get the most efficient -- or the most efficient way to get as many speakers to speak as they possibly can. It will be sometime between 9:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. Eastern time I should have said.
Q Will you try and disabuse us of thinking that the convention is trying to lower his profile?
MS. PERINO: You know what? I'm going to let all the psycho -- leave all the psycho-babble to -- and the political psycho-babble to the press. There is nothing I am going to be able to do to disabuse all of the reporters in the world from any storyline that they want to follow. What I will tell you is President Bush is very pleased that he's going to have a chance to address the GOP Convention tonight. We can't control the timing of hurricanes; that's just the way it is. The President will spend the majority of his speech tonight to rally the party faithful, to make sure they do all they can to elect John McCain to be President of the United States.
Q What does President Bush think of the pregnancy of Sarah Palin's daughter?
MS. PERINO: I think that President Bush, having talked to him just quickly about it yesterday, believes that this is a private family matter, and that the family obviously loves their daughter very much and that this baby, when it is born, will have the full love and support of a very loving family. And the President I don't think will have any other comment on it.
Q Well, as the head of the party, there are --
MS. PERINO: I'm trying to figure out what the head of the party has to do with a young teenager's pregnancy.
Q Because this is now going to be a very important issue in presidential politics. And he is the head of the party. And so a lot of Republicans are having some questions and concerns raised; Democrats have a whole new sort of line of criticism and --
MS. PERINO: Oh, really?
Q Yes. An all-you-can-eat buffet.
MS. PERINO: I think that whether or not this is an issue in the campaign is actually more up to the media than it is to any of the politicians, who have all, across the board, said this is a private family matter and that they support the family. So the media is the one that's going to have to decide whether or not this is a story that they want to follow and they want to exploit. And that will be up to you all.
Q Would it be an issue if it was a Democratic candidate in the situation?
MS. PERINO: I think the response from all the politicians has been absolutely responsible and supportive of a young woman who is going to grow up faster than any of them would have wanted.
Q The Republicans who I've talked to who are raising questions about what this says about John McCain's decision-making practice is that it's, in the words of some, a reckless decision, that you can't possibly have vetted somebody extensively enough in such a short period of time. Does the President have any concerns, as the head of the party, about what this decision does -- says about John McCain's decision-making?
MS. PERINO: There is no way you're going to drag me into that discussion. I have no doubt that there are some Republicans who may have said that to you. What I can tell you is I speak for the President; the President of the United States believes that this is a matter that this family has chosen to work through together. And I'd refer you to the campaign as to when they knew and when they didn't know. They've all been on the record saying that they -- that Senator McCain knew about it. And Sarah Palin and Todd Palin deserve a lot of credit for standing by their daughter.
Q One last question for you, because this is another one that you hear a lot -- this issue is raising a lot of questions and sort of prompting a lot of debate about -- the idea of Sarah Palin, mother of five, soon to be grandmother of one, coming to Washington potentially as a vice president, in the most demanding job one could imagine. Any issues raised there about the whole motherhood-work divide?
MS. PERINO: You know, I don't think that those questions would be asked if it was Todd Palin that was the nominee. And I think that Sarah Palin has proven that you can choose as a woman to be a mother and be a strong executive, and to have a wonderful, loving family. And that's what she's chosen to do. And I think that's why the party has rallied around her so fully.
Q Dana, can I just clear something up? You said to Mark's question that the convention -- that you talked to the convention about the timing and the President's appearance. But you said in answer to mine that it was the President's decision; he wanted to stay here because of the hurricane. Was there a discussion --
MS. PERINO: I think that we would have tried to make it work no matter what the convention thought that they could work out. If the hurricane had decided to hit on Wednesday, we probably would have still been able to make the appearance on Monday night. But that's not how it worked out and --
Q No, I'm sorry, for tonight, for his appearance tonight, that he is not going up there in person, that he's staying here instead -- was that a White House decision?
MS. PERINO: I think that it was a mutual decision. I think that it worked best -- because also, remember, when you're moving the President of the United States, you can't just run over to Reagan National Airport and hop on a shuttle to the Twin Cities. It takes a lot of logistical effort to move a President anywhere. And thankfully, there's technology that exists today that President Bush can give a satellite address that will be live for the people in the hall. And another reason that the speech would be shorter is that -- I don't know if you've ever been there, but watching something on video for a whole 15 minutes taxes the patience. And so I think that the better thing to do is to do it this way, and have the President focus on the highlights of his speech where he can -- from the longer speech -- to focus on the pieces that he thought were most important that make the case for John McCain.
Q New subject?
Q Anybody else still on this subject?
Q Is he disappointed?
MS. PERINO: No, the President is grateful that he's going to be able to address the convention tonight.
Q Disappointed that he won't be there?
MS. PERINO: Of course he would have liked to have been there. But again, we can't control the timing of the hurricanes, and not just Hurricane Gustav, but the ones that are churning out in the Atlantic.
Q -- one on the subject.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q Given the President's low popularity ratings, though, isn't there an advantage to the Republicans that not only is he not there, but that he is also speaking outside of primetime?
MS. PERINO: I'll let you figure that out. I could ask the same question about the media's approval ratings, but I'm not -- I'm just not going to.
Q Dana, is it an RNC camera he is speaking to in the Cross Hall?
MS. PERINO: I don't know how that works. Let me -- I'll check.
Q Yesterday, the EU issued a condemnation on Russia, did not pursue sanctions. Is there any update on the progress of the U.S. of what it would pursue against Russia? And are sanctions off the table, as one Kremlin aide suggested earlier today?
MS. PERINO: I wouldn't put too much stock in what the Kremlin says in terms of what is or is not on the table in another country. But that's not to say that there is anything ruled in or out. We're still working through our process. We certainly welcome the EU's decision yesterday to move forward after the summit that they had, and especially then it recognized Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity and independence. Those are the three key positions that we have been looking for support for Georgia on.
In addition to that, Vice President Cheney will travel to the region today. The trip had been under consideration for quite a while, but obviously it takes on some added significance since the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Vice President will have a bill of particulars to talk about in each of the stops that he goes to, but the message will be clear, which is that we support the territorial integrity in Georgia, Georgia's sovereignty and Georgia's independence, and we have an abiding interest in the well-being and security of this part of the world. You remember Vice President Cheney is going to Kyiv, as well. And so he'll be sending that message.
And we'll maybe have more for you later on. I don't expect any announcements from the Vice President on this trip.
Q What kind of timetable are you looking at for any sort of decision on these kinds of --
MS. PERINO: I'll just decline to say. We're trying to wrap it up and narrowing down a response. But what we're also trying to do is work very closely with our European partners. And the fact that they had their summit yesterday and worked through a lot of difficult issues was a good impetus for us.
Q On the subject?
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q Crisis management is basically a thankless task, so did the Vice President volunteer for the trip, or was he asked to do it? How did it work out --
MS. PERINO: As I just said, the trip that the Vice President is going on had been under consideration for some time, and he was planning to go to Georgia even before Russia invaded those two territories.
Q And another -- is the U.S. bringing weapons into Georgia these days?
MS. PERINO: We have supported its military, but I'd refer you to DOD in terms of any particulars that they're able to report.
Q Is the President distressed to learn that his friend and then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales mishandled classified documents on a couple of very important classified operations?
MS. PERINO: I've not -- I don't know all the details of that report since I've been working on all the convention issues, but the President was aware that the report had come forward and that the Attorney General had said that he had had this issue. And we encourage appropriate document protection and retention wherever there is classified information, and we think that there are lessons learned here that everybody can take to heart.
Q Yes, but these are two programs that the President feels strongly about -- the interrogation program and the monitoring program.
MS. PERINO: I think that the Inspector General's report speaks for itself that it was not intentional.
Q Two quick questions. One --
MS. PERINO: I'm going to go in the back, Goyal, first.
Q What impact does the President think Prime Minister Fukuda's resignation will have on the future of U.S.-Japan relations?
MS. PERINO: We have been through a couple different Prime Ministers during this administration and we have good, deep relations with Japan that go back even before Prime Minister Koizumi. So we will look -- we will work with whoever Japan decides will be their next prime minister. We have good relationships and we have a lot of issues that we work on together, including energy -- just look to the G8 summit. We had a lot of issues that we dealt with and that -- and Prime Minister Fukuda ran a very good G8 and President Bush was pleased to be able to both be there to witness it and is thankful for all the work that he did on it.
Q Dana, on energy and the convention, the Republican platform approved yesterday calls for dropping the ethanol mandate in the energy bill the President signed late last year. What's his response to that?
MS. PERINO: I haven't read the -- I wasn't aware of that update, and obviously we've supported ethanol programs so let me go back and look. But as far as I know, there's been no change in our position. We think that ethanol is going to be an important alternative and renewable fuel source that we can add to our mix here. And one of the things President Bush is doing is trying to move the country away from corn-based ethanol to a cellulosic-based ethanol. And the technology isn't quite there yet to be able to do that in a way that is efficient, but we're working on providing resources to that to make that more cost-effective.
Q Dana, a clarification on the weapons issue -- do I understand your response correctly as meaning that you are not in favor of stopping weapons deliveries to the war zone at this point?
MS. PERINO: What I did was refer you to the Department of Defense, which I'll just --
Q But this is a political decision.
MS. PERINO: I'm going to refer you to Department of Defense.
Q On the energy bill, in the bill the President signed, it authorized up to $25 billion in direct loans to automakers, auto suppliers to retool plants. Both Senators Obama and McCain have endorsed the idea. Does the White House support this?
MS. PERINO: It's something we're aware of and we're talking to the members of Congress and also the people in the industry, and thinking about what they might think would be required from their perspective. And I just don't have an update for you. Let's -- I've been pretty focused on the Hurricane and the convention --
Q But if they support it, would the White House support it -- that idea?
MS. PERINO: I'm just not -- I'm not prepared to say what the White House would or would not support. And there's a lot of details that go into something like that, so if you can just bear with us and let us get through the next day or two and then we'll get back to you.
Q Thank you.
Q Dana, should we expect a New Orleans visit this week?
MS. PERINO: I don't have any announcement on travel, but stay tuned.
END 1:06 P.M. EDT