For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 28, 2008
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:51 A.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello, everybody. Just one announcement for you. As you know, we've been talking to you about our process for the transition and the unprecedented measures that we're able to take because of the 2004 intel reauthorization bill. And so we're taking full advantage of that. Of course, it's in our economic interest and in our national interest to make sure that the transition is as smooth as possible.
Just wanted to update you, as I said I would. There will be a meeting of the council today. This will cover a range of transition issues, and they're going to bring in several outside experts to offer insights on subjects such as continuity planning and preparing career executives for increased responsibilities during the transition period. I'll give you their names, varying backgrounds and representing both parties: Andy Card, who is our former Chief of Staff and also was a member of the Cabinet for the President's father; Mac McLarty, Chief of Staff to former President Bill Clinton; Jenna Dorn, who's the National -- she's at the National Academy of Public Administration; Norm Ornstein at the American Enterprise Institute; and Max Stier, which is the Partnership for Public Service.
Representatives from the campaigns will not attend today's meetings, but we're keeping in close contact with them and keeping them updated on all the various issues as we move forward.
And with that, I'll take any questions.
Q Yes, on the Iraq security agreement, when it was struck with the Iraqi government, there was a lot of talk coming out of Washington about how this was essentially Washington's best offer and that now what it needed to do was to proceed through the Iraqi political system. And I guess we're seeing some of the fruits of that today; the cabinet said they want Maliki to reopen talks. How open is the Bush administration to renegotiating or relooking at this agreement?
MS. PERINO: We've known for a little while that this -- well, we've known for a while that the process of getting this through the Iraqi political system was going to be not an easy one. And that's proven to be true. We feel like we have provided them with our best thinking on it, our best offer, and we've said for a couple of weeks that anything that they would want to change would have to clear a very high bar for us. We think that the door is pretty much shut on these negotiations.
That said, we have not seen the amendments yet that they want to have addressed, and so we'll wait to see those, and our negotiators, led by Ambassador Crocker, will take a look. But we will tell you it will just be a very high bar for them to clear for us to change anything.
Q But you're not ruling it out entirely?
MS. PERINO: I think until we see the amendments it would be irresponsible for us to do that.
Q The amendments had to do with the timeline that was so hard fought to come to agreement on that, or the jurisdictional issues. Are those things that are off the table?
MS. PERINO: Again, I think that we have provided our best thinking on it, our best offer. We came their way on a few things and they came our way on a few things, so that's what you get in a negotiation. Without seeing the amendments I think it's a little premature for me to say what we would or would not accept. I would just say that it's going to be very hard for us to accept any changes. And I think that the Iraqis know that. But let us have a chance to look at their amendments and then we'll let you know.
Q Dana, can we get an update on White House thinking about a possible GM-Chrysler merger?
MS. PERINO: I've seen a lot of reports about that and obviously the automakers are going through a particularly difficult time as they deal with consumer preferences that have changed over the years, especially when it comes to energy efficiency.
One of the things that we've been trying to do is to work with the tools that Congress gave us. So Congress has given us a couple of different tools. One was the language in the energy bill from last December which would allow us to provide for up to $25 billion in loans -- maybe it's more than that, but around $25 billion in loans to help these automakers retool their plants so that they can help build more energy-efficient cars. We've been working on the rulemaking because that's what you have to do after you get the legislation. But we actually didn't have any authorizing language* until Congress passed the continuing resolution this past August, so just about seven weeks ago. So we're working on those rules that would help in that regard.
One of the things that I said yesterday and -- is that many of these automakers have finance arms such as GMAC or the like. And what Congress provided us in the rescue package was within that Troubled Asset Relief Program, companies can apply to see if they are eligible for those type of funds. And there's a whole range of tools within that TARP program, as Treasury calls it. And the regulators at Treasury would determine whether or not those companies were eligible to participate in the TARP program.
So the automakers have been in contact with us. We've been talking to them at various levels and at different departments, including Energy, Treasury and Commerce. And we're trying to work with the tools that Congress has provided us.
The discussions on whether or not any companies decide to merge are discussions that they are having between themselves. Those are choices that they are going to have to make themselves. And at the end of the day, we'll see what happens.
Q There's a school of thought out there that's developing that takes a look at the automobile industry now, and says the government -- it becomes inching closer and closer to where the government decides sort of who shall live and who shall die, which is a principle that offends a lot of people. What are your thoughts about that?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think what I would point you back to is that decisions on whether or not -- that these companies have in front of them as to how they will move forward and how they will deal with these changing market conditions and changing consumer preferences will be ones that they make. What we're doing in the administration is working with the tools that Congress has provided us. So when it comes to loans for retooling the factories and their floors so that they can produces more energy-efficient cars, we're working within those means that Congress passed for us to be able to do that. And the same is true when it comes to the Troubled Asset Relief Program, where we're looking at that.
But the Treasury Department is going to have to take a good, hard look at whether these companies would be eligible for that type of help. And meanwhile, if they decide to consolidate, that will be a decision at the end of the day that those companies make themselves. What we're doing is working with the programs that Congress provided us to help provide for more capital for banks. I mean, that's one of the things that we're doing -- finance arms for companies that -- while that might be something that could be eligible.
Q One follow-up on that. Does that then open the door -- for instance, Whirlpool could develop a Whirlpool holding company -- a financial arm of any troubled company could then say that becomes the excuse to get you involved in all sorts of other businesses aside from strictly the finance industry.
MS. PERINO: I don't know -- I don't know if any company would decide to do that. I think that would be prospective and speculative as to whether any company would want to do it.
Q I'm just asking where the line -- where does it stop?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that's one of the things that the regulators have to look at. And so they have people within the Troubled Asset Relief Program within the past three and a half weeks who are trying to move as quickly as possible and efficiently as possible, but also methodically, so that we protect the taxpayers when we're moving forward to try to implement what is a really big program. But it's a big program to address a really big problem.
No doubt that the automakers are big, important companies -- important to a lot of families, and important to a lot of regions in this country. But they also are dealing with some decisions that they've made in the past. And we are in a global environment and they're competing globally.
But as the President has said, we have -- some of the best engineering minds in the world live right here in the United States. And we are capable of competing at a level where these companies can succeed; they might just need a little bit of help. And that's what Congress asked us to help provide them through the Energy Department program, and now possibly also through the TARP.
Q Follow-up on that. Can you confirm that the management of GM and Chrysler have directly asked the U.S. government for a $10 billion rescue plan to help fund the merger, where the government would then get -- they would provide $3 billion in exchange for preferred stock in the merged automaker -- can you confirm any of those --
MS. PERINO: I could not confirm that. I don't know any of those specifics. I do know that they have been in contact with the administration on various levels. So I'll have to let that lie for a while.
Q Dana, you laid out some of the things that the administration is considering as it relates to the automakers. Is there any kind of timetable that the administration is looking at as far as making decisions on its part of this whole arrangement?
MS. PERINO: Well, when it comes to the regulations for implementing the continuing resolution language that authorized the loan program, which was the -- on 136 loans -- I don't know why they're called 136, I think it's section 136 of the bill -- we're trying to get those done as quickly as possible. And I think you hear a lot of chatter about it, is because people are starting to finalize and narrow down the final remaining issues before we can promote those regulations.
So that's one side of it. And the other side of it is Troubled Asset Relief Program, which is -- has a range of tools. And so I think it's just too early to say.
Q Dana, I just want to follow on something that Jim was saying. If we -- if that's open to any company, then, with a financing arm, does that mean retailers could then come in and try to ask for money, since they have credit lines? I mean, where does that stop?
MS. PERINO: It's a good question. It's not one that I can answer, because I'm not part of the -- I'm not an economist that is a regulator looking at the Troubled Asset Relief Program. I don't want to -- I don't think the White -- I don't think the White House would be open to that, but I just don't know. I think that -- I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself, and I need to let the regulators look at that and consider what eligibility would be. I have -- I will just tell you, I have heard no one talking about other companies moving forward to create financing arms, or retailers asking for such type of support, either. So I want to make it clear that I'm not suggesting that that is a possibility.
Q Is the President aware of concerns not only among consumers, but also among small business owners that banks are effectively hoarding money now and they're still not sort of free flowing as we all suggested might be the case?
MS. PERINO: Well, one of the things that the Treasury Secretary has said and the President has said is that when we move forward with this program what we're trying to do is get banks to do what they are supposed to do, which is support the system that we have in America. And banks exist to lend money; that's how they make money. So we think that one of the things that we have to do is help recapitalize them so they have a capital base so that they are willing to lend money.
And we're starting to see some evidence that that's starting to happen. But it's probably not happening as fast as some small business owners would like, but we're starting to see some thawing of those frozen assets.
Q Is there any pressure that the administration can apply, or is it effectively a circumstance --
MS. PERINO: Well, the banks are regulated by the Treasury Department, and the Assistant Secretary, Tony Ryan, gave a speech in New York today that I recommend to you, where he talked a little bit about this. And they will be watching very closely and they're working with the banks. But again, the way that banks make money is by lending money, and so they have every incentive to move forward and start using this money.
Q And a quick follow. On nuclear power, we've talked a bit about the fact that it's been 30 years since we've had a new reactor built in this country. Is the President confident that sometime between now and the end of his administration that maybe that will change, perhaps in Virginia or other places?
MS. PERINO: Well, we have -- I don't remember the exact number, but from the work that we've done over the past few years, I think it's a loan guarantee program they call it at the Department of Energy -- this is a separate loan guarantee program and it's for nuclear energy. And there's been several requests for the Energy Department to look over applications for those types of funds. It's actually probably a dozen plants that I think some companies have come forward and said that they wanted to build. We'll get the exact number for you. But there's not going to be a nuclear power plant built --
Q Or started?
MS. PERINO: -- like groundbreaking?
MS. PERINO: I think it might be hard because they have to go through all the NEPA processes, the environmental processes and all those regulatory requirements. But one of the things we try to do is to streamline those, so that instead of doing reviews consecutively, right, so you get one permit done and then you go back to the drawing board with another local board and you do that one, but to do them all at the same time, so that these companies can be guaranteed that if they're going to put that type of work into -- and investment -- into a nuclear power plant, that it will actually be built and that they'll be able to provide power and recoup that investment. That's something that the President has been interested in. And I'll get you more information about the Energy Department program.
Q A couple of follow-ups on the autos, Dana. You said that the automakers have been in contact with us. Can you clarify, have they been in contact with you on TARP, or on the $25 billion loan guarantee, or both?
MS. PERINO: I would say both of those things, but possibly other things, too. I'm not saying we have new policies that we're going to announce, but I'm not involved in the discussions at that level. But I think there have been very -- obviously the automakers have been very interested in the Energy Department program, which was passed last December and then finally got authorization* in August. The automakers were very instrumental in trying to get that passed, so that when Congress provided that authorization, then the administration could do what Congress wanted, which was to start moving forward on that.
So that's one of the issues, and I'm sure they're talking about the Troubled Asset Relief Program, as well. I just don't have the details.
Q And on the DOE thing, there's been an attempt to speed up the rules and stuff like that. Do we have any sense of whether something might come out from DOE, $5 [billion] or $10 billion, this week, or are we talking in several weeks --
MS. PERINO: I would say they're moving as quickly as possible, and we'll update you as soon as we can.
Q And finally, the President's schedule is blank, at least the public schedule for today. Is he devoting part of his time today to autos?
MS. PERINO: Well, he has a lot of private meetings on his schedule. I wouldn't tell you what they were because they are private. He's out on an excursion right now. He'll be back soon. I don't know if he's arrived yet -- do you know? No, we don't know. If he had arrived, I couldn't tell you.
Q Is he seeing Mr. Paulson today?
MS. PERINO: I'll check. I don't -- I know Paulson decided to stay here in D.C. I don't know if they're going to see each other or not, though. But he sees his senior team all of the time. I mean, there's a lot of -- as I said yesterday, the Energy Department, the Treasury Department and the Commerce Department have all been in discussions with the automakers.
MR. FRATTO: He's arrived.
MS. PERINO: I just -- the President has arrived at his destination, so I will just give you an update that he decided to go over to RNC headquarters this morning. He wanted to thank all of the staff there for their hard work over this past cycle. He wanted to thank them for their support over the past eight years. He was planning to talk to them about how he sees the GOP -- which is a party that is forward-thinking, that is positive in its thinking, has a positive agenda for America -- and he's going to remind them that usually the last weeks in the campaign is the most important week in a campaign. So he'll be there for just a little bit over an hour.
Q Could I ask just one more follow-up? Rick Wagoner is the CEO of General Motors. Has he seen the President in the last few days?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't think so.
Q New topic. We have one senior military official confirming that the U.S. is essentially moving forward actively with plans to talk to elements of the Taliban. This would be a major shift in U.S. policy. Can you talk to us about that?
MS. PERINO: We have an ongoing strategic review that is being led by General Lute here in the administration, being coordinated by the National Security Council, so I won't announce anything out of that review since it's ongoing and they're trying to wrap that up.
We all agree on the need for the people of Afghanistan to reconcile. We saw that in -- that need in Iraq, as well. There are different ways to try to do that. If there was outreach to the Taliban -- we remain skeptical that there are some Taliban that would actually renounce violence and renounce extremism, and work for the greater good of Afghanistan. So we'll let the Afghanis come forward with their ideas. We have our strategic review underway, as well.
But we do recognize the need to try to reconcile with some of these elements. And we've been able to do that in other parts of the world. If you look at what President Uribe has been able to do in Colombia -- I know it's a different part of the world, but he's done a similar thing with the FARC terrorists in trying to bring them out of the jungle and bring them back into society. President Maliki -- Prime Minister Maliki was able to do that in Iraq, with our help, trying to reconcile some of those elements. Pakistan is trying a similar angle. And we realize that we have to reach out on some level, but I'm not able to announce anything today.
Q But you're talking lower levels, right? I mean, you're not going to sit at a table with Mullah Omar anytime soon --
MS. PERINO: I find that hard to imagine.
Q Is this an acknowledgment that, essentially, Afghanistan is not working the way it's working now, and that something dramatic has to happen to turn the tide in both the relationship with Afghanistan and Pakistan?
MS. PERINO: We have made progress in Afghanistan, in a lot of different places. But the violence that has increased in the east and the south of the country is a great concern to us, and that's one of the reasons that we're doing a review here and that we're working with our NATO partners to figure out the best way to position the best troops and the -- and make sure that we can beat back the Taliban. We saw some savage attacks last week, where the Taliban beheaded I think 26 young people who were on their way to work. They were riding a bus and they were forced off of it and beheaded. And then you saw on Sunday, 1,000 Afghanis got together and protested the Taliban, which had not really happened before. And so sometimes terrorists go a little bit too far, even in their own countries, and people start realizing that they are not all that they say they are. And this is the ideological struggle that we're talking about.
In Afghanistan, we have some work to do. And we've seen violence go up. We've seen our soldiers increasingly at risk, and we want to do everything we can to protect them, and to protect the people of Afghanistan, too.
Q So you're hoping for an Afghan awakening, much like a Sunni awakening happened in Iraq.
MS. PERINO: I don't know if -- I don't know if we can draw direct parallels between the two. But I also don't think that it's apples and oranges. I think that there are programs that have worked in other countries; I mentioned a few of them. It's possible that it could work here. It's just a little bit too early to say. But we realize that we have to try to reconcile some of these groups. But whether or not some elements of the Taliban would renounce violence and extremism and work for the greater good of Afghanistan remains to be seen.
Q Dana, Senator McCain today said Senator Stevens should resign. Does the President believe Senator Stevens should resign?
MS. PERINO: Well, given that Senator Stevens has said that he is going to fight his conviction and that he is going to appeal -- and that is his right to do -- since it's going to be a matter of ongoing litigation, we'll decline to comment for now.
Q Dana, a quick follow-up on Iraq. Are you considering a Plan B in case there is no agreement by the end of the year? Is, for instance, the renewal of the U.N. mandate still an option?
MS. PERINO: It's certainly not our preference. It wouldn't be what we want to do. We want to be able to move forward with both a strategic framework agreement that we've organized with the Iraqis that talks about the broad contours of our relationship, both economic and diplomatic and also political. So we want to be able to move forward with that with them.
But when it comes to the strategic -- I'm sorry, the status of forces agreement, we remain confident that we'll be able to get one. However, if we don't, there will be consequences for that. And Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates have both talked about that. And I don't think there are Iraqis -- I don't think there are any Iraqis who think that they are ready to do this all on their own -- deep down. They might say that and it might help politically for them in their own country domestically to be able to say that they could do it on their own, but even just yesterday we saw two of our soldiers who were killed in a suicide bombing, so Iraq still has a lot of violence that they have to deal with. Our soldiers are the ones who are there to help them deal with it, and they're going to need our help for some time. And that's how we got to the agreement that we have, with the broad outlines that you've seen reported in the press.
So we'll continue to work with them. We'll see what the amendments say. There might be something that we can work with, it might not. So I need to see those amendments and I need to hear from Ambassador Crocker before I say any more.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. New Mexico's Senator Jeff Bingaman has just joined other leading Democrats in calling for restoration of the so-called Fairness Doctrine. And my question: Does the President believe that this yearning for electronic media censorship is right, when there is no such calling for a Fairness Doctrine for newspapers, magazines or wire services?
MS. PERINO: The President has made his position very clear on the Fairness Doctrine. He absolutely does not support it.
Q Thank you. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich has compared the Soviet-dominated Polish press attacks on Lech Walesa to what he termed the "vicious, dishonest" and totally biased media treatment of Governor Palin. And I wondered if -- does the President believe Mr. Gingrich is wrong? And if so, why?
MS. PERINO: I haven't spoken to the President about Newt Gingrich's comparison.
Q I just want to ask one more automaker question. The government allowed Lehman Brothers to fail -- some question that decision -- but didn't do the same with Bear Stearns. Would the Bush administration allow any of the automakers to go bankrupt?
MS. PERINO: I think what we're trying to do right now is use the tools that Congress gave us to try to help companies where we can. So when it comes to the automakers -- which are big, important companies to regions in this country that are suffering right now, and we also have a lot of families that are dependent on those automakers, and we want to have a big, thriving auto industry here in our country -- we are trying to use the tools that Congress provided us.
So we have the possibility of loans, regarding the retooling of their plants that will help them be more competitive in the future. And we also have the possibility that under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, that they would be able to take a part in that. So I think we'll have to see if we can help them in those regards.
Q It sounds like -- I mean, is it fair to interpret what you're saying as you don't want -- you're trying to keep them from going bankrupt, but you're not willing to go beyond the tools you already have to do that? Is that a fair summation?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if there's anything else that we would do. I know that what we're doing -- I can tell you what we're doing right now, which is trying to get those regulations finalized, so that we can publish them, so that we can move forward in helping automakers in our country, across the board -- it's not just two companies that would be able to participate in that -- and then also the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Those are tools that Congress gave us; we have the authorization to be able to do it. And so we're trying to implement those as quickly as possible.
A lot of these programs, like the TARP program, in any other normal times would take months or years to implement, and we're trying to do it in a matter of weeks, but we're making progress.
Q Thank you.
MS. PERINO: Thanks, guys.
END 11:14 A.M. EDT
* The Advanced Technology Vehicle program was authorized in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, while appropriations were included in H.R. 2638 which became law on September 30, 2008.