For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 9, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:42 A.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good morning. You just heard the President speak. Then he'll be going to lunch with the Secretary of the Interior and he'll meet some of the employees there, and then he will visit Walter Reed this afternoon. Scott Stanzel will be going on that trip with you, so check in with him if you have any questions on that.
That's all I have. Go ahead.
Q Dana, there's lots of talk on the Hill about a second stimulus package, some conversations up there, we're hearing more news from the Hill about a desire for that. There's also been over the past few months periodically talk from here about considering the possibility of doing something else on the economy. Can you give us the state of play?
MS. PERINO: I think first where we should start is that the GDP numbers that we just saw have -- saw reported in the last week and the month before show that the economic stimulus package that we worked through in February is having its impact. And we're always willing to listen to new ideas. Growth is the goal, but growth with more expense that isn't stimulative to the economy would not be welcome -- I'm sorry, growth to the deficit.
One of the things that CBO just came out with today is their deficit projections, where the overall number is pretty much in line with the one that OMB put out before. And I'm sure there will be criticism of that number coming from Democrats. So I think that we have to be measured in what we consider for the economy because, on the one hand, you might want a second stimulus proposal, but on the other hand, you don't want to increase the deficit.
One of the reasons that the deficit number did go up is because of the economic stimulus package from January. So we would walk into this in a very careful way, looking at the -- looking at what is actually truly stimulative.
What we do think Congress could do in the next three weeks that would really help the economy is in regards to energy and trade; those are the two main issues. And then, of course, there's the housing downturn that we're dealing with. So if we can move forward on trade that would increase jobs, and especially because if you look at the numbers on exports, that's where we're seeing most of the growth in our economy. So we have free trade agreements that are there for Congress to work on: the Colombia free trade agreement, South Korea and Panama -- those are three things they could do right away.
And then moving forward on energy legislation could help us with the economy overall in the long run.
Q So are you saying that you guys are looking at possibly another stimulus-like or economic --
MS. PERINO: No, I don't believe that we're -- we're not crafting another stimulus package. What we would like Congress to do is work on those three things that we think would stimulate the economy. And, of course, we'll listen to Congress if they have other ideas.
Q Dana, what can you tell us about the health of Kim Jong-il?
MS. PERINO: I've seen the reports, but I don't have anything for you on it.
Q How tricky is it -- it's already challenging and tricky to sort of keep an eye on what's going on inside North Korea. In a situation like this, when you're at a critical point in terms of certain policy initiatives, how tricky is it to actually even understand what's going on inside the country?
MS. PERINO: Well, we've always said that North Korea is a very opaque society, one that is very hard to get information from, to get information about. And this situation is no different. But in regards to those specific reports I just don't have anything I can give you today.
Q Last question, because there is also a report that perhaps a stroke was suffered as early as mid-August. Is this something that at least you've been monitoring, keeping an eye on? Or when the reports came out today, was it sort of a new -- sort of hadn't been thought about or heard about before?
MS. PERINO: The best way for me to answer that question as there is nothing I can provide for you right now.
Q Thank you Dana; two questions. Certainly the President is aware of some of the speeches Senator McCain has given recently, in which he said that the country is worse off than it was four years ago, and what it needs are outsiders and reformers. Does he have a reaction to that at all?
MS. PERINO: President Bush said, I think it was reported on FOX this morning, after his interview with the game on Sunday, that John McCain is going to run as an independent. And he's encouraged him to do so.
John McCain is running as his own man. He's been a maverick here in Washington all of his career, and he shouldn't change that. He should move forward and be the person that he's going to be.
And look, when the President ran for office he was also for change -- in 2000 and 2004, he wasn't for change -- (laughter) -- but he did have ideas for policies that he wanted to see move forward, such as on Social Security, because we are a country that always wants to look forward. We want to know how we can progress and grow, and how our economy can be stronger, how we can be a better country, how we can help other people around the world realize the benefits of liberty that we have here. And so the President is certainly aware of it, and he's encouraging John McCain to do what he needs to do to win the presidency.
Q The other thing is it was widely reported today the administration will not take any action against Russia for the incursion in Georgia. And it would seem that backing away from things such as vetoing Russia's entry into the WTO is a reversal from some of the original rhetoric that came out of the administration, particularly Secretary Rice. What led to this change of position on Russia?
MS. PERINO: I found that criticism somewhat curious, because it came on the morning after the President withdrew from the 1-2-3 agreement, which was something that was a bilateral agreement that we had worked out with Russia in April. We did that with regret, but we did it because of Russia's unacceptable recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent of Georgia. And unfortunately, it's the Russians actions that led to this and Russia is increasingly finding itself isolated. And we will continue to work with our European partners and our international allies to decide how to move forward in a relationship with Russia.
Q So those reports are exaggerated about blocking Russia from the WTO?
MS. PERINO: I think everybody is reevaluating how we move forward, but I just find that the criticism that the President of the United States doesn't want to take any action against Russia curious, given that it came on the very same day that the President withdrew from the 1-2-3 agreement.
Q Can you confirm that Mahmoud Abbas will be here on the 26th?
MS. PERINO: That's right after the UNGA meeting, and I can't confirm it now. But since there are so many leaders who are going to be in the country at the time and going to New York, we will have some leaders coming around that week and so let me see if I can confirm Abbas -- there might be others, as well.
Q Can I follow real quickly on that, as far as the peace process in general -- one of McCain's top policy advisors said that there are questions about the Palestinian Authority's ability to deliver on a peace deal. Do you agree with a statement like that? And where do you stand in terms of --
MS. PERINO: I haven't seen those comments from the campaign, so I'll take a look. Obviously, President Bush has tried to move forward on a peace deal so that both Israelis -- the Israelis can live in peace and security and that the Palestinians could have their own state and try to realize some of their dreams, and that's what we're going to continue to work on.
Q So do you believe you can get that --
MS. PERINO: We continue to work towards it. Obviously it has -- the negotiations have their ups and downs. But one thing Secretary Rice has said is that because the Palestinians and the Israelis at the negotiator level work to establish trust and reliability between the two parties, they've been able to keep those negotiations, for the most part, out of the public eye; and that they do establish some measures of progress.
Obviously there are things, like the settlement announcements, that undermined the negotiations. But all in all I think that they continue to work towards it. But there's no doubt there's so many challenges to getting it done that it takes a lot of work and effort. And I would refer you to Assistant Secretary David Welch, who is a little bit closer to it on the details, if you want more updates on where they are specifically.
Q Dana, after yesterday's Fannie and Freddie announcement, mortgage rates seem to be headed down. Is this a welcome development from the White House's point of view? Or are you worried that the market may be returning to its freewheeling ways?
MS. PERINO: Well, what we wanted is market stability and we wanted availability of mortgages and affordable mortgages to be available to people. Yesterday's action -- or, I'm sorry, this weekend's action that Secretary Paulson took was action, as I said yesterday, it was action that we needed to take, not that we wanted to take. What we want is to make sure that we can establish those three goals of having the market stabilized, having mortgages be available and make sure that we protect taxpayers in the process.
Q So lower rates are good, you're not worried about over-heating at this point?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to -- look, there's plenty of mortgage experts who can talk about where the rates should be. But I think that the response of the stock market yesterday on mortgage rates is just a reaction to what is a reality, that Secretary Paulson made the right move. It was the right move at the right time.
Q Majority Leader Reid says despite the President's announcement this morning, the war in Afghanistan is still suffering at the expense of Iraq. What's your response to that?
MS. PERINO: Look, I don't know who briefs Senator Reid and I don't know what sort of staff work he gets or the updates that he gets. I think the best information comes from the Commander-in-Chief and also from the Department of Defense. I think you heard from the President today, not only has the United States increased the number of troops in Afghanistan, but so have so many other countries, because we recognize that we're dealing with a ruthless enemy.
And the President was pleased to be able to announce today that he will bring home an additional 8,000 troops based on the success that we've been able to achieve in Iraq. But we have said, and we've said since April, that we would be doing more in Afghanistan and that's what he announced today.
Q He says the "more" more is not enough.
MS. PERINO: Well, you know, when Senator Reid becomes Commander-in-Chief he'll have a little bit more credibility on that score.
Go ahead, Keith.
Q Back on the stimulus package, is it your position that nothing that increases the deficit would be acceptable to the President?
MS. PERINO: We're not even talking about a second stimulus. I think you're -- there is talk about a second stimulus, I know that, but --
Q Well, there is some talk --
MS. PERINO: -- I don't think that anybody has seen any proposals. And remember, one of the keys to the stimulus package last January was that it be stimulative. And if you can't prove that what you want to move forward on is going to stimulate the economy, then I don't think it's prudent to put forward a piece of legislation that they know wouldn't pass.
What we do know is that there are three ways to stimulate the economy that they could take right now. One is an energy bill, of which there are many bills that they could act on right now. And the other one are all the free trade agreements, which basically just need an up or down vote from Congress right now; not a lot of extra work needs to be done. And those things would be stimulative to the economy.
Q Well, those are more long-term stimuli, aren't they?
MS. PERINO: Not necessarily.
Q I mean, that's not really going to do much to boost the economy in the short-term, I don't think any economists would --
MS. PERINO: Not necessarily. Well, I think that -- I would ask what are the other proposals that are forthcoming that would actually stimulate the economy beyond those.
Q I'm trying to interpret your words, which were that you didn't want something that would increase the deficit. But a stimulus bill is not going to be very effective unless it actually does increase the deficit, because otherwise it doesn't pump money --
MS. PERINO: I don't think my words need interpretation because I said we're not necessarily considering a second stimulus package, but that we would listen to Congress on their ideas. We put forward our ideas, which is a great way to stimulate the economy would be to move forward on the energy packages and on the three free trade agreements.
If you think about the growth of our economy right now, the majority of it is coming from exports, where our companies here in America are able to sell overseas. All we're asking for is a level playing field with the countries of South Korea, Colombia and Panama.
Q So you would listen to ideas even if they did increase the deficit --
MS. PERINO: Of course.
Q -- correct?
MS. PERINO: We would listen to their ideas, but that doesn't mean we would -- that the President would sign a bill into law if it wasn't going to stimulate the economy, no.
Q But if something is proposed that does increase the deficit to stimulate the economy, would the President rule it out because it increases the deficit?
MS. PERINO: I think we need to see what proposals they come up with, because you don't even know, in terms of the -- you're trying to catch me in a red herring and I'm not going to play the game. Here's the thing: We have said --
Q I'm just trying to understand what signal you're sending to the Hill.
MS. PERINO: Keith, we don't have to send signals to the Hill, we've told them directly what we think. We think that there are -- in fact, the President just said it not in last week -- this week's radio address, but the previous week's -- welcoming them back to town and saying there are some important areas that you could work on in the next three weeks that would be very good for the economy; if you're serious about dealing with the economy, work on the energy bills that are in front of you, work on the trade bills that are in front of you, and move forward to make sure that we do something on taxes.
All of those issues are in front of the Congress. Legislation is written, it has gone through committees, and all it needs is some votes up on the Hill. So they have three weeks to do that and that would be a great way to move forward and show that you really care about the economy.
Q Does the fact that you have to do a bailout now of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac box the administration in a little bit on doing a stimulus that would further increase the deficit?
MS. PERINO: I really -- you know, I don't -- I think you and I are talking past each other and maybe it's me, I don't know -- it could be you. (Laughter.) I think that --
Q I just -- there's no short-term stimulus made by the government that doesn't increase the deficit to some extent. I mean, that's the definition of pumping money into the economy --
MS. PERINO: But we talked -- and we talked about that and were very open about that last January when we did that stimulus package. And that is reflected in the CBO numbers that we -- that are announced today and in the OMB projections that were announced in middle of July, and those are in line with one another. And we said that one of the costs of doing a stimulus package was an increase in the deficit, but it was the right move at the right time. And it has been reflected in the GDP numbers from then.
Right now, whether or not Congress comes forward with an additional package that they would like to see move forward -- we'll have to see. But what we have said is that there are three pieces of legislation in front of them right now that they could take -- maybe possibly more -- but legislation that has been through the legislative process that just needs a vote. And that's what we're asking for.
Q Following on that --
MS. PERINO: I'm going to go to -- okay.
Q How quickly could anything on energy or trade have any kind of impact? Certainly it seems not as quickly as the February package did.
MS. PERINO: Well, remember the February package was direct payments to consumers.
MS. PERINO: I don't know of anybody that's talking about doing another round of those, although maybe members of Congress will come back and that will be one of their suggestions. We'll have to see.
Q When you talk about energy or trade as stimulus measures, how quickly --
MS. PERINO: Well, a couple of things -- as soon -- if you had a free trade agreement with Colombia, where their goods are able to come into our country free of any tariffs and our goods are taxed -- I can't remember the exact number, but it seemed quite high -- if those companies in Ohio and Wisconsin and Michigan, building equipment that Colombians want to buy, are able to directly sell into Colombia, that would certainly help, and it would certainly help in the job sector.
So I can't tell you exactly when it would have an impact, Ken. I just know that it would have a stimulative impact on the economy. We're not looking just for short-term answers. We're looking for good, long-term answers that deal with the root causes of the problem. And one of them is a lack of free trade agreements, And there are three free trade agreements in front of them right now that they could have an up or down vote on before they leave at the end of September.
Q So at this point, that's the administration's, for want of a better phrase, stimulus package -- existing things on energy and trade?
MS. PERINO: I don't -- we're not talking about a stimulus package. You're talking about a stimulus package. I'm not talking about a stimulus -- I'm saying if you want to stimulate the economy, there is ways to do that and there is legislation in front of Congress in which they can take it up.
Q Thank you, Dana, very much. Two questions.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q In her nationally syndicated column, one-time Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda Chavez of Maryland wrote the following one-sentence quote: "Biggest story to emerge from the Republican National Convention was the media's effort to destroy Governor Sarah Palin." And my question: Does the President disagree with Linda and with McCain's campaign manager, who maintained what he -- mentioned what he termed a "circle of piranhas"?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on it. I'll leave the campaign to deal with those comments.
Q Chavez also recalls that in 2000, news organizations devoted considerable investigative resources to track down unsubstantiated rumors about George W. Bush's alleged cocaine usage, even when there was no credible evidence that it was true. And my question: Does the President agree or disagree with Chavez's statement? Yet those same news organizations --
MS. PERINO: Les, can I stop you there?
Q -- treat Obama's admitted and apparently heavy youthful drug use as if it were off limits.
MS. PERINO: You raise good points; so does she. And I'll let the campaign and all the other pundits sort it out. I'm not going to comment.
Go ahead, Yungi.
Q The President mentioned fighting extremism in Pakistan in the speech this morning. How much contact has he had with the new Pakistani leadership? And how does he move forward and do that, considering how much time he has left in office and the fact that there is a new President?
MS. PERINO: Well, I point you to -- President Bush met with Prime Minister Gillani soon after the Prime Minister was elected. It was when we were in Egypt. He met him again here at the White House earlier this year. He talks to them by phone often, and he spoke to Prime Minister -- I'm sorry, the new President, President Zardari, this morning. He used to speak to President Musharraf quite a lot.
So his contact is frequent and he believes that having established this good relationship with the Pakistani leadership will be something that the next President will be able to pick up on and move forward with, because that's going to be very important. A seamless transition between our change of power is going to be important because when they get to the Oval Office, whichever candidate wins will realize how important it is that we keep a strong relationship with Pakistan and other allies to continue to go after extremists.
Q Can you give us anything else on the nature of the phone call?
MS. PERINO: This morning? President Bush called to congratulate President Zardari and said he looked forward to seeing him at the United Nations General Assembly. And they pledged to continue to cooperate and coordinate efforts.
Q May I follow, Dana?
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q Two questions. One, as far as President Zardari's presidency is concerned, he's also known as -- he's not very popular really among Pakistanis in Pakistan. What the U.S. didn't get from General Musharraf (inaudible), what the U.S. is expecting from Mr. Zardari, or what the U.S. has told him or the President?
MS. PERINO: I think President Bush would say that President Zardari is going to have to do what he thinks is right for his country, regardless of public opinion. And he was elected and he has a lot of challenges in front of him, both on the economic side of things, as well as on the -- dealing with the Northwest Territories region, and in trying to establish a better relationship with Afghanistan. I believe that he and President Karzai have spoken, as well, and that they're trying to forge a good relationship so that they can work together, as well.
Q And second, Indian Defense Minister in town. He had a ceremony at the Pentagon this morning. If President, of course, is aware of his visit here. Is there anything going on between U.S. and India as far as the war in Afghanistan, war is concerned? And also, if the U.S. is asking anything of India in that connection with the 9/11 also anniversary coming up?
MS. PERINO: Okay, I'm not sure what your question was. I'll refer you to the Department of Defense in terms of the meeting that the Indian Defense Minister had over there. Obviously we're working on India on a variety of things, including the civil nuclear agreement.
Q There's a report out of Georgia, pardon me, from the secretary of the Georgian National Security Council, I guess told journalists that President Bush was presumably planning a visit to Georgia at the end of October for the summit of friends of Georgia conference that they're having.
MS. PERINO: I haven't heard that. And I don't have any information for you; I don't.
Q Is it a possibility that you'd --
MS. PERINO: I don't think so.
Q --entertain a trip --
MS. PERINO: I don't think so. I'll check. There are no travel plans on the President's calendar right now.
Q I want to go back to Iraq for a second.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q Can you talk about what the main reason, or reasons, are that the President decided not to have a bigger, quicker draw-down than what he announced today?
MS. PERINO: Well, what I can tell you is that General Petraeus made his recommendation up through his chain of command. And then Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen came to see the President last Wednesday, presented him with a video presentation, made their case for why they thought this was the best course of action.
And the President accepted their recommendation after thinking about it for a few days. So I can't say why he didn't choose something else. But he accepted their recommendation.
Q Do you -- have you or the White House been able to get a sense of -- I think a lot of people were looking towards this -- towards the security gains that have been made in Iraq and thinking that there might be a bigger troop withdrawal announcement.
MS. PERINO: Well one thing President Bush has said, and he asked his commanders, is how do we make sure that the gains that we have made in security are cemented enough so that when we do pull back, it won't be -- it won't mean that terrorists come back and fill that space. So President Bush thinks that taking 8,000 troops out is the recommendation from the Pentagon, and the one that is prudent right now.
And Secretary -- I'm sorry, General Petraeus believes that further reductions are possible in the first half of 2009, but it's going to have to depend on conditions on the ground. And so we'll continue to look at it. I think that either way, the President -- people would question -- should he send more/should he send less? He thinks that he hit it just right, that the Pentagon's recommendation was about the right size.
Q Dana, given Afghanistan's objections to air strikes, would the U.S. consider changing its rules of engagement from anticipatory self-defense to NATO's rule of overwhelming threat?
MS. PERINO: I think I'd refer you to the President's speech today. Maybe you didn't see it, but he did talk about that a little bit in his speech.
Q Dana, two quick follow ups to other people's questions. This announcement in Tbilisi, I'm told it came from Saakashvili, himself. So why would he make something or an announcement --
MS. PERINO: What I'm telling you is I haven't heard that; I don't know of any travel plans by the President right now. And I'll check on it, but there's just nothing on my calendar right now that says that we're traveling anywhere the last week of October. Outside of domestic travel, I should say.
Q And on John's point, the quotes in today's New York Times from Secretary Gates about calibrated response and all of that -- are these reflective of the overall approach, the White House approach?
MS. PERINO: I think that what that article talked about was a mature, responsible, comprehensive review of how we decide to move forward with Russia. We're obviously extremely disappointed in the Russians. We expect them to live up to their commitments and to remove their forces, and to return to the status quo ante of August 6th.
END 11:05 A.M. EDT