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 Home > News & Policies > October 2008

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 21, 2008

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

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11:06 A.M. EDT

MS. PERINO: Hello. One thing for you, before I take questions. Today, in about two hours, the President will make remarks at the White House Summit on International Development. It will be at the Ronald Reagan Building. The President will make the keynote address and that will focus on the administration's core principles that have transformed the U.S. approach to international development by linking assistance with results. And this approach is producing historic, life-saving results for millions around the globe, and many of you have been with us on trips where we've seen that firsthand.

We have special guest speakers there today, including Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Bob Geldof. Steve Hadley, the National Security Advisor, will close out the conference this evening; so we'll have those remarks for you soon.

Q Is the White House talking with anyone in Congress now about a second stimulus package? Are there discussions underway?

MS. PERINO: I'm not aware of any. I think that we have been -- as I said yesterday and I said last week and the week before, that we remain open to listening to all good ideas that people want to put forward. What we've seen so far in regards to what's been called a second stimulus package is a series of proposals that actually would not stimulate the economy that are being talked about as something that would assist people -- but we actually don't think it would help the economy.

So that said, we will be willing to listen to people, but given that Congress isn't going to be here for about another month, I don't know if we'll see anything between now and then.

Q Well, why would -- in that interim period, in that month, why wouldn't there be discussions to lay the groundwork?

MS. PERINO: Well, I don't know if there's actually even going to be a second stimulus package. I think that you can look at what Leader Boehner has put forward, in terms of his ideas. One of the main ones being that we should not raise taxes. We all know from Economics 101 that raising taxes would actually be the worst thing to do right now, and would actually depress the economy further.

So there's some principles in regards to what we could or could not accept in the long run; that's going to be one of them. But when it comes to what they would put forward that would actually stimulate the economy, we have yet to see that.

Of course staff here talks with members of Congress, we're in touch with members of Congress on a regular basis on a range of issues. We've been briefing them on the economy and issues such as Iraq and North Korea over the past month, since they've been gone. So we do talk to them regularly.

Q Well, you say "what they would put forward" -- it seems like it would come from them. The administration is not interested in generating a stimulus package of its own?

MS. PERINO: I think you need to remember that we have a lot of money in the system right now that hasn't even gone out. This is a $700 billion rescue package that will stimulate the economy. It would actually solve the root cause of the problem, which has been the frozen credit markets. And if we can unfreeze the credit markets, then we can get money flowing again, and that's the best way to help stimulate the economy.

So we have a lot of money that's in the pipeline. It's going to be -- take a little while to work, but we think that's the best way to stimulate the economy right now.

Q So does that mean you don't support a stimulus package?

MS. PERINO: I said that we are open to all good ideas, as I said last week, I said yesterday, and I'll say it again today.

Q Why won't you say whether or not you support a stimulus package? Last time, the White House came out and proposed one. Why won't you say whether you support one?

MS. PERINO: We're not proposing a second stimulus package right now, which is why I'm not coming out and saying that we are going to support one.

Q But are you just sort of agnostic on it? You don't -- you kind of support it, but if they propose one you might support it, but --

MS. PERINO: Let me be very clear: We are open to good ideas; we will listen to people if they put anything forward that we think would actually stimulate the economy. So far we have not seen that. We've seen a lot of campaign talking points, but nothing that would actually stimulate the economy.

Q You're --

MS. PERINO: Keith, let me finish. When you have a $700 billion package that is yet to be implemented that we actually think will solve the problem of unlocking the credit markets and will stimulate the economy, we need to give a little bit of time for that to work. Just last week, Secretary Paulson announced the capital injections package. Yesterday they announced the application process for that, that would include a wide swath of things all across America. So we need to give that a little bit of time to work.

Q If you're open to good ideas, why aren't you open to good ideas from within the administration?

MS. PERINO: Why would -- what would lead you to -- why would you think -- why would lead you to say -- to that question?

Q Why not -- you can come up with good ideas right back -- why not --

MS. PERINO: That is the most ridiculous question. Why --

Q What's ridiculous about it? You're open to good ideas, why not generate some of your own?

MS. PERINO: I just told you, we have a package that we're implementing. I'm not --

Q Then why not say that you won't -- that you don't want a stimulus package now? If you have something already, then you don't want the stimulus package.

MS. PERINO: Keith, I said that we're open to the good ideas -- if you actually -- if you want to put some forward, we'll take a look at it.

Q Okay, you got it.

Q Dana, is it fair to just simply say you have no plans to put forth your own stimulus package?

MS. PERINO: Right now what we are focusing on is the urgent crisis at hand, which is to stop the bleeding, get the rescue package implemented so that we can unfreeze the credit markets. That's the best thing that we can do for this economy. It will help small business owners, it will help the unemployment rate, it should help people who are saving for college and for retirement, it will hopefully help stabilize the stock market and strengthen the stock market, give more confidence to it.

I think we need to allow that process to work. Now it's -- we're a month out from when Congress even comes back. So let's just all take a moment, let Secretary Paulson and his team do what they need to do. And of course, we're always thinking about what we might need to do or not need to do in the future. And one of those things centers around the issue of taxes.

Raising taxes on the American people right now would be the worst thing that we could possibly do for this economy. That's something that the President will not be able to support. So far, what we've seen from members of Congress that they've put forward in the guise of stimulus II would not stimulate the economy. So there's going to be some tests that have to be met.

So far we haven't seen those. That doesn't mean that people throughout Washington, including in this building, aren't thinking of some good ideas that [we] may or may not need in the future. That's their job, that's what we do. But right now we are focused on the immediate crisis at hand, which is stopping the run -- or unfreezing -- I was going to say un-thawing -- freezing in the credit markets.

Q Dana, but you are still --

MS. PERINO: I'm going to go to Matt.

Q Dana, the administration has already heard some proposals, some ideas from various Democratic members and leaders, and has rejected those so far -- has not seen one that it likes -- that it sees it being stimulative of the economy. Does that mean that if they were to take his proposals forward, and put that in the form of legislation, the White House would veto that?

MS. PERINO: Well, I think that, first -- just go back and look four weeks ago, when they actually held their vote. I don't think that it was something that could even pass the current Congress. So I think asking if whether or not the President would veto something, it's a little bit premature. We don't even know what they would put forward, or if they're even going to put forward anything. So it's a little premature. We'll keep an eye on it though.

Q Does the President regard these as the same problem? The financial rescue that is now -- you've got in place, and the economic slowdown that might need a stimulus, are those the same problem? And when he mentioned yesterday that Americans were in near panic, and that was beginning to relax, which problem was he talking about, the financial rescue or the economic --

MS. PERINO: I think he was talking specifically about the nervousness that we'd seen in the stock market over the past couple of weeks.

Q Aren't those two different problems?

MS. PERINO: I think that you -- perhaps it's a chicken and the egg situation. But what we know is that when you have a problem in the financial markets, and we have an economic slowdown, it increases people's anxiety. And so you have a self-fulfilling prophecy there. What we try to do is to stop that, return confidence to the system, try to strengthen the markets.

And it's going to take awhile for us to get these plans implemented, but they're underway. And there is some evidence, like the LIBOR rate -- but I'll refer you to the Treasury Department to give you details about that, Ann; I'm learning all about it myself. But when those rates start to come down, and you see more people being able to -- being willing to lend to one another, especially inter-bank lending, which was one of the big problems, then you start to help solve the problem. But that doesn't mean that the economy isn't going to continue to be in a downturn for a while. Hopefully what we've done, however, with the first stimulus package passed in February, and then this package that we have right now, is to soften the downturn and hopefully turn us -- and get us out of it quicker.

Q Any chance of tax rebates again like the $600 checks earlier in the year?

MS. PERINO: I'm not going to rule it in or out, because I just don't know right now.

Q Dana, has the President reached a decision on whether or not he'll close Guantanamo Bay? There's a report today that he's decided he will not.

MS. PERINO: I read that report, and I honestly think, if you went back and you read my briefing from July 3rd, you could have written the same story. I don't see anything that's new in that story.

What the President has said is that he wants to be able to get into a position where we could close Guantanamo eventually. But it's very complex, it's complicated, it is difficult. There are four basic issues that we're dealing with right now. One of them is moving forward on military commissions. That process is slow, but it is moving forward. Another one is returning home or to a third country many of the detainees. We had as many as 600 detainees at one point; we are now down to about 270. So we're continuing to work on that problem. Third, we're in habeas litigation when it comes to the Boumediene decision and then the recent decision from Judge Urbina on the Uigher case. Just last night, the appeals court agreed with us and stayed that decision. So we have that litigation going on. And General Mukasey, backed by the President, supports legislation that Congress needs to pass. And one of the bills that we could support has been introduced by Senators Graham, Lieberman, and McCain.

So there are four issues. And I'm sure that this President and the next President will come in and realize how complicated this issue is, and that we are working very diligently to try to do everything right. And it's not as easy as just snapping your fingers and closing Guantanamo Bay -- unless you don't care. Because 7 percent of the people who have been returned from Gitmo have returned to the battlefield. Many of them have been picked up again. One of them couldn't be picked up again because he was a suicide bomber who killed nearly 40 people in Mosul.

So we are working on it. But it's very difficult. It's slow work. But it's slow work because we are being very diligent in making sure that we do everything that we can to make sure that potential terrorists aren't in a position to be able to hurt innocent people again.

Q So this isn't a decision you expect the President will take or something that will happen before he leaves office?

MS. PERINO: There's nothing -- the President has made a decision to work to try to close Guantanamo Bay. That has not changed.

Q Dana, you're urging a lot of patience when it comes to judging the $700 billion plan. At what point can we start to judge it and start to look at what's next?

MS. PERINO: I think if you look at the numbers this morning -- and I think that by all accounts a lot of the smart economists across the administration and around the world say that they're beginning to see some softening, and especially where banks are willing to lend to one another. And I think that the facts will bear out once they have a chance to absorb this program, digest the news, and that the markets will hopefully stabilize and confidence will return.

That doesn't mean that we're not still in for a rocky period where people might have harder time finding work or where people might see their -- well, they won't want to open their 401(k) statement next month, that's for sure, but I'm sure when they do, they will realize that they lost a lot of wealth over the past year. So there's a lot of work that we have to do. But I think the proof will be in the pudding when they can look at some of these numbers coming out of it.


Q Back to the prospects for another stimulus package.


Q Since, as you noted, nothing is going to happen for a month, how much input will the President give his successor in this interim process?

MS. PERINO: Well, I'm not exactly sure on stimulus; I haven't heard that discussed. But in other issues such as Iraq, North Korea, and on this economic rescue package, we have briefed both candidates thoroughly and equitably. And when it comes to the summit that the President said he would have, he said he would welcome the President-elect's input on that. So I don't think it would be any different.

Q So would the President-elect have acceded the table, bargaining with Congress?

MS. PERINO: I couldn't promise that. I don't know. We still have a President of the United States until January 20th, and then there will be a new President. But we will work closely with the next President to make sure they have all they need so that they can deal with the issues all around the world and plus here at home.


Q Dana, anything more on the summit, like when or where or --

MS. PERINO: Not yet, we're still working on that. The President is consulting with other heads of state and working on figuring out both the where and the when, but also the what. So we're working on all of those things, and hopefully have more details for you later in the week.


Q What has the President done to try and close Gitmo?

MS. PERINO: I just talked about how 600 members -- we used to have 600 detainees; we now have 272. We're moving forward to try to ask Congress to put forward the legislation. We are dealing with the habeas litigation, and we're moving forward on military commissions.

Q All those seem to be efforts -- the habeas litigation and the commissions are efforts to justify Gitmo, to defend Gitmo. But what's he doing to try and close it? There's no evidence of an attempt to find an alternative to Gitmo --

MS. PERINO: I disagree, Wendell, when you have --

Q -- considering holding these people, for example, in Afghanistan, where many were picked up.

MS. PERINO: I think you need to go back to the fact that there were, at one point, upwards of 600 detainees at Gitmo. We now are down to about 272. And that's because we've been able to return a lot of them back to their home countries, or to a third country, where we get the assurances that we seek.

That's the main thing that we were trying to do. And we've cut it down by two-thirds, and we've got a ways to go. We have also some very dangerous people there. Remember, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is in Guantanamo Bay. So it's not as easy as just snapping your fingers and figuring out where else to put them.

There are also immigration laws. One of the big concerns that we have with the Judge Urbina decision from two weeks ago is that it created a whole third -- a whole other category of immigration without consulting Congress. So for example, in our country we have legal aliens who are here with documentation. They might have a work visa or a green card or they might be applying for citizenship.

Then you have aliens who are not here legally, also called undocumented. What Judge Urbina did was create a whole third category that would say you can legally be here in the United States without any background checks, and without any documentation, and just be released into the United States. And that's why I believe that the courts have agreed with us that that decision should be stayed.

These are issues that are complex. We are working towards them. But you can't -- if you care about innocent people, and the President does, you can't just snap your fingers and let these detainees back out into the world without some sort of assurance that they're not going to be able to hurt innocent people again.

Q The problem you're having with the detainees are those that you don't have evidence enough to convict. Those are the ones that have been released, and some of those have come back, which argues against them being picked up in the first place.

MS. PERINO: I don't think you can say that about all 272 detainees. When it comes to the Uighers, we have been working very hard to find a place for them to be. We want them to be safe, and we want them to be free. But in order to do that, we have to find a place where they can be safe. And that has been a challenge.

Q Why were they picked up then?

MS. PERINO: They were picked up at an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. So that doesn't mean that they're an enemy against the United States.

Q And yet there's not enough evidence to bring them to trial.

MS. PERINO: But that's 17 Uighers; we're talking about 17 out of 272 people that we're currently talking about. If this was easy, Wendell, we would have solved it a long time ago. But we have picked up very dangerous people who have been -- who have received weapons training or other -- or they've been picked up in other places around the world. The military commission's process provides a huge amount of justice -- justice that these people never would have received in their own country. But it's a slow process; we admit that. But we're doing it diligently and we're trying to do it right.


Q Dana, just a couple for you. One is, how concerned is the White House about the pace and progress in the negotiations with the Iraqi government on both the long-term relationship and the status of forces --

MS. PERINO: Well, we knew it was going to take a little while to get this done. I think we feel pretty comfortable with the strategic framework agreement. That is a broader document; it talks about our relationship moving forward on the political and economic issues. The strategic -- I'm sorry, the status of forces agreement is a little bit more complicated. We knew that the Iraqis would have several steps to go through. I saw reports that they want to -- today, and the Council of Ministers have suggested that they want to see some changes. I don't think we have seen those yet. And I'll let the negotiators in Baghdad talk about that when they get them.

Q Okay. And did the President ask Admiral Mullen to meet with his Russian counterpart in Helsinki? And is this part of a broader effort to patch up the relationship with Russia in the wake of the war with Georgia?

MS. PERINO: I don't know. I know he sees Admiral Mullen regularly. I'll see if I can find out.


Q Why hasn't the President done more for Senator McCain's campaign? I think we've only seen them together twice since Senator McCain got the nomination.

MS. PERINO: Well, we said a few things. One, we said that every presidential candidate is going to run their campaign however they see fit. And remember that George W. Bush -- George H.W. Bush had to distance himself from President Reagan; President -- Vice President Gore distanced himself from Clinton. And we recognize that John McCain has to run on his own. And we have been very diligent to make sure that we don't insert ourselves into the campaign and make this about Senator Obama versus George Bush, but about Senator Obama versus Senator McCain. And I think Americans have been able to see there's two clear choices here between Senator Obama and Senator McCain. And also the President has been -- he said that he would run for him or against him, whatever he thought would work.

But also, if you remember, just in the past three months, we've had a tremendous amount of issues hit this country, including Russia invading Georgia; we had two major hurricanes; and also this financial crisis. And the President has been fully focused on it.

Q So he's been too busy to campaign?

MS. PERINO: I didn't say that. You heard exactly what I said. I know what you're getting at, but I'm not going to play.

Q But even -- look, even Al Gore campaigned more for -- I mean, Bill Clinton campaigned more for Al Gore than George Bush has for John McCain.

MS. PERINO: What are you getting at, Bill? What do you want me to say? I'm not going to play.

Q How is the President going to vote?

MS. PERINO: How is he going to vote?

Q How is he going to cast his vote?

MS. PERINO: I'll hopefully get more for you later in the week on that -- working on it.

Q He might not be voting for McCain?

MS. PERINO: No, she said -- (Laughter.)

Q But you'd have to give us -- you'd have to get it to us later.

MS. PERINO: No, she said, the method by which he'll vote, not who he's going to vote for. I think the President has well established that. (Laughter.)

Go ahead.

Q Dana, what was the impact of the first stimulus check?

MS. PERINO: Well, I think that we saw it in third quarter growth -- or second quarter growth, and that was at 2.9 percent, which was respectable by any means. But certainly we're going to see a lot of tough times ahead, and I think GDP comes out next week and I don't expect it to be a very good number.

Q Well, Dana, if it was respectable by any means, wouldn't that be somewhat of a lesson learned and say, well, maybe we should be more open to a second stimulus check to help the economy?

MS. PERINO: I didn't say I was closed to a second stimulus. But I think that what the Democrats have put forward is certainly not the program that we put forward in February. What the Democrats have suggested for a second stimulus is not at all like what the first stimulus was like. And one of the things that we agreed with the Democrats on, early on, January of 2008, was that the first stimulus needed to be timely, targeted, and temporary. We met those three standards. This next stimulus package, if it comes to be, will have standards as well.

But I think that it's just way too premature. I know that there will be a lot of interest in it. I'll keep you as updated as I possibly can.

Q And lastly on that, do you think, if it comes to be, the second stimulus package, would Americans be receiving the same exact amount or more, as the economy is in need of more money?

MS. PERINO: Nice try, but I don't have anything for you.

Q No, it's a real question; no, seriously.

MS. PERINO: I know it's a real question, but I'm not going to answer it. I said that even that concept of a new stimulus, second stimulus package, is -- it's premature to talk about. So I can't tell you -- I can't answer your question.

Q You've talked about what Democrats have put forward, but does that mean the White House is fully behind what Republican Leader Boehner has put out there?

MS. PERINO: I haven't studied his -- I don't know. I mean, I think that there are some really good principles that he has laid out, first and foremost being that no new taxes should be raised, because we know that as soon as you raise taxes you depress the economy; just like when the President provided tax cuts across this economy, we actually saw 52 consecutive months of job growth after that. So there's some principles around what we would do in the future.

We're all going to try to have to -- we're all going to have to work together. We're two weeks away from a presidential election. In congressional elections there's a lot of political activity going on. What we're going to focus on here in the administration and the government is getting this $700 billion rescue package underway and implemented so that we can unthaw the credit markets and start to see people lending to one another again. And that should help solve a lot of the problems.

Q Dana, on the economic package, Bernanke yesterday said that in addition to a stimulus that there should be some proposals to listen to the credit market and possibly incentives, tax incentives, to encourage businesses to lend. Is the White House willing to consider those ideas?

MS. PERINO: We'll listen to all good ideas. And I'm sure that Ben Bernanke will have a large voice at the table, loud voice at the table. He's got a lot of good ideas and obviously helped shepherd us through this period that we have now, but I don't know specifically what he's referring to. We'll have to wait and see.

Q And also, Chairman Lazear a few days ago did say that a recession, at least his way of identifying it, is occurring already in certain pockets, both the United States -- and he defined them as high unemployment areas above 6 percent.

MS. PERINO: You know, I'll refer you to my gaggle yesterday, because I answered several questions on it yesterday; I'll get you the transcript.

Go ahead, Les.

Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. Does the President agree or disagree with a columnist, Marquis Childs' November 1948 statement, "A fatal flaw was the reliance on public opinion polls"?

MS. PERINO: I've never asked him. I don't know.

Q Okay. And the former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, has contended in a news release that mounting evidence of ACORN activists involved in registering ineligible persons to vote is not a real problem, but it's "Republicans skulking around in a desperate effort to steal the election." And my question, what does the head of the said Republican Party have to say about this?

MS. PERINO: I think I would just say that the integrity of the vote is so important to our democracy, and I'll let everybody else fight that out in 2008.

Mark, did you have anything?

Q I did, but I got it.

MS. PERINO: You got it.

Go ahead, Victoria.

Q What role will the President-elect play in the upcoming economic summit?

MS. PERINO: I just answered that question to Peter. I said that -- we have said for several days, and I said it yesterday, I'll say it again today, I just said it two minutes ago -- that the President would seek the input of the President-elect.

Okay, thanks.

END 11:29 A.M. EDT