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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 15, 2008

Press Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto
Aboard Air Force One
En route Grand Rapids, Michigan

11:43 A.M. EDT

MR. FRATTO: How are you doing? We're on our way to Michigan, as you know. Before departing the White House this morning the President had the Cabinet meeting. He also participated in a video teleconference with Iraqi provincial reconstruction team leaders and brigade combat commanders.

Shortly after taking off the President called Prime Minister Harper of Canada to congratulate him on his election. They had a good conversation. They spent some time talking about the global financial crisis and the efforts by the G8, certainly the U.S., and what European nations are doing to address the crisis.

At 12:45 p.m., after landing in Grand Rapids, the President will participate in a lunch with local business leaders, will discuss the economy -- you'll get a backgrounder of the participants. And following the lunch, the President will make some remarks to the pool. And this afternoon the President will attend a Congressional Trust 2008 reception. This is at a private residence in Ada, Michigan. And that event is supporting the Congressional Trust 2008, which, as you know, is a joint RNC/NRCC Committee helping Republicans across the country.


Q What does the President think about the drop in retail sales? And does this foreshadow basically a recession on our hands in the fourth quarter?

MR. FRATTO: We've been through how you label what the economic conditions are. There's no question -- not just the recent retail sales data, but the payroll data that we've seen in recent months and some other economic data recently, combined with this severe shock because of credit, that our economy is in a weak state right now and it's going to take some time to recover. And I think everyone is very understanding that we're looking at some period of time where growth is going to be weak.

So what we're focused on is putting in place the policies right now as quickly as possible that will support growth in the future. That's what we should be focused on, and that's where we're focused on.

Q Can you tell us what the President knows about Vice President Cheney's procedure?

MR. FRATTO: Sure, yes, I'm sorry, I'm glad you asked. The President saw the Vice President this morning. The Vice President was in the morning briefings with the President, as he is usually, and the Vice President updated the President on his health condition that he'll be dealing with today. I think the Vice President's office put a statement out on this, but the President was made aware by -- directly by the Vice President.

Q What was he told? I mean, was he having pains or --

MR. FRATTO: I'm not the Vice President's doctor. I'll refer you to the Vice President's office for that.

Q Are you able to at all characterize this for us -- characterize it for the country as to how serious this condition is?

MR. FRATTO: The Vice President? No, I'm not. I'd prefer to leave that for his doctors. And the Vice President will deal with his health situation, and at an appropriate time if an update is warranted, I'm sure the Vice President's office will do that. But I don't have anything more for you right now. I don't know any more.

Q And any particular reaction from the President?

MR. FRATTO: Much like he would with any friend, he's concerned for him, wish him well, and told him to go and make sure the doctors do what they need to do.

Q The phone call was -- to Canada was from the plane here, right?

MR. FRATTO: Here from the plane shortly after takeoff, yes.

Q Any response to the report that the number two al Qaeda agent in Iraq has been killed?

MR. FRATTO: I haven't heard that. This is the first I've heard of it -- sorry.

Q Iraqis are saying that they've got a deal on the status of forces agreement that would require U.S. troops to leave by 2011 and allow U.S. soldiers to be tried in Iraqi courts. Is that true?

MR. FRATTO: We've never at any point in time gotten into the details of any of our discussions with the Iraqis on our agreements. Obviously we continue to talk. We're working on forging ahead to finalize an agreement with the Iraqis so that the Iraqis can take over more control -- can take over control of their country, and allow U.S. forces to return home having completed their mission successfully.

So that's where our focus is on. Obviously we saw the -- the President met with PRT leaders this morning. They're working on improving economic, political, and security conditions in Iraq, helping with governance, and I think everyone would like to see that continue. But for now, we're communicating with the Iraqis. The talks continue. We're updating Congress and consult -- having our discussions --

Q There's no agreement?

MR. FRATTO: No. No, talks continue.

Q Tony, what should we expect in the President's comments to the pool with the business leaders -- I mean, substantively, do you think they'll be similar to what he said after the Cabinet meeting?

MR. FRATTO: Well, I don't want to say exactly what they would be because, as they usually are with these kinds of things, they're reflective of what he hears in the meetings. And so he'll want to hear directly from these business leaders as to how they're dealing with the present conditions. One thing we're fairly confident that we will hear from them is the difficultly that they've had in dealing with the tightness of credit in -- certainly in recent months and especially recent weeks.

And so we'll want to hear on how they're dealing with it. And the President will have an opportunity to talk to them about the very bold steps that we've been taking to try to loosen up credit in the economy. We are confident that it will have a positive impact on the credit markets.

The effort -- or the announcement yesterday from Treasury to inject capital into the banking system is a -- it's a very important measure. It's exactly what the system needs right now, which is more capital so that banks can go out and support lending in this economy for consumers and businesses. It's done in a very -- it's a passive investment in these banks. It will allow the banks to run their businesses as they ought to. Banks are in the business of lending money; we'd like to see them get back to the business of lending money to consumers out there. It's critical for our economy.

Thank you.

END 11:50 A.M. EDT