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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 11, 2008

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Dana Perino
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
New York, New York

10:47 A.M. EST

MS. PERINO: All right, so, sorry that we couldn't do this on the plane, but I -- as I told you I ran out of time and doing the gaggle on ascent -- or on descent has proved dangerous in the past. So thanks for gathering here.

The President is here at the USS Intrepid. This is the aircraft carrier that came -- that left active service in 1982. About two years ago it began a major restoration, and this ceremony is the official reopening. Nearly 55,000 Americans have served aboard the Intrepid, and some of them will be in the audience for the speech. The President will pay tribute to them. I will see if I can confirm if some of the gentlemen that he met when he came off Marine One, if they were -- if some of those gentlemen served on the USS Intrepid. We'll find that out for you, okay?

The President will tell the remarkable story of the Intrepid, which served in World War II, Vietnam, the space program, and then a variety of other missions. He will talk about the new generation of Americans serving in uniform today, including five of the outstanding service members, one from each branch of the Armed Forces, who flew up with him to New York. Their names are Chief Petty Officer Shenequa Cox, U.S. Navy -- she's from Dallas, Texas; Petty Officer First Class Christopher "Chris" Hutto, U.S. Coast Guard -- Augusta, Georgia; Staff Sergeant Michael Noyce-Merino, he's with the National Guard -- is that right? I don't know, I don't have their full names on here. Oh, you have a backgrounder. You know what, I'm not going to read all these out for you. I'll just tell you the rest of their names. Their backgrounders with their bio is out from the White House, so you'll have that. Sergeant John Badon and Senior Airman Alicia Goetschel. Since I don't have their full information here, I'll just refer you to that backgrounder.

They've been invited --

Q Did they talk to the President?

MS. PERINO: They did. They spent almost the entire flight from Washington to New York with the President. And so they had a chance to meet with him. He told me that they were very inspiring and a very impressive group of people, and he enjoyed spending time with them very much.

A couple of facts for you. Under this administration we have nearly doubled funding for veterans over the past seven years -- provided more than $1 billion over the past three years for the VA to support traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder -- both the research and the treatment of that disorder; expanding the time that family members of injured service members can take away from work to care for loved ones -- that's something that we announced more recently; made it easier for active-duty service members to transfer unused education benefits to family -- that was part of the legislation that we worked on, one of the things that the military members said that they wanted the most. And since taking office, we helped enroll more than 1.9 million veterans in the health care system, and we've also cut the number of homeless veterans by nearly 40 percent. But there's no time to waste and there's more work to do in that regard.

Had a lot of questions today about two reports, one in The New York Times and The Washington Post that were sourced to an unidentified aide, suggesting that they knew what the President and President-elect Obama had spoken about yesterday in regards to the economy. What I would tell you about that is that they did speak about a range of issues, both domestic and international, and they did spend some time talking about the economy. But in no way did President Bush suggest that there was a quid pro quo when it came to Colombia free trade agreement or the other free trade agreements. They both shared their ideas as to what could be done to help improve the economy. President Bush has long stood for the free trade agreements. He believes that they can and should pass on their merits. We are a country that should be open to foreign investment and also we should try to continue to grow our export business, which has been one of the things -- the bright spots in our economy, even during this downturn.

We have 20 leaders that are going to gather together Friday and Saturday in our nation's capital to talk about the financial markets, and one of the things that the President will be talking about there is the importance of free trade. But while there's been a lot of discussion in regards to what the Democrats may or may not propose in regards to a second stimulus, as well as discussion about the auto industry, we have said we are willing to listen to ideas that the Democrats would come forth with if they have some on how to accelerate loans to the auto industry through that 136 program through the Energy Department. We've been saying that for a few days. We're anxious to see if the Democrats are going to come forward with anything. We don't think we've seen anything yet.

I've also gotten several requests wanting to know if there is irritation at the White House towards the Obama team, and you're not going to hear that from me, because I think when you're dealing with unidentified aides, as we have done over the past eight years, from all different types of aides that choose to be nameless rather than to say what they feel like they want to say on the record -- it happens. And we just want to make sure that we let everybody know that the President did not suggest a quid pro quo, but he did talk about the merits of free trade in hopes that the next administration will recognize that not only is that good for our businesses -- especially if you want to create jobs, one of the best ways to do that is to open up new markets for our businesses and our entrepreneurs.

And we've talked about, when it comes to Colombia -- in Colombia our goods go there and are taxed at a high rate, whereas the Colombian goods come into our country free of charge. We think that that's unfair, and sitting in front of Congress right now is the opportunity to change that. We also are pushing for free trade agreements with South Korea and Panama, and we think that by doing so, we would be able to help create a better job market and also bring in more money into our economy.

Q Dana, so just to make that even clearer, is it wrong to say that the President told President-elect Obama that he would consider loans to automakers if Congress passed the free trade agreement or took up the free trade agreement?

MS. PERINO: As I said, there was no linkage between --

Q So this was an incorrect report?

MS. PERINO: Well, look, there's two anonymous aides -- or one anonymous aide who is apparently telling this story. I know from some reporters who told me that they were encouraged by others on the Obama team not to write that story because it was inaccurate. So, look, I'll let unidentified aides defend themselves, if you guys can find them. But I can tell you here, on the record, not afraid to say it, the President does support free trade; that's no secret. Everyone knows the President has talked about that a lot. He even spent time in his State of the Union address talking about the concerns he has about protectionism and isolationism, which could lead to a further weakening of our economy. That's what he's trying to work against. And when he has the leaders here this weekend, he's going to talk a lot about that.

And tomorrow at 3:00 p.m., there will be an on-the-record but off-camera briefing by our sherpa Dave -- I'm sorry, our sherpa Dan Price from the NSC, for that meeting, and Dave McCormick of the Treasury Department, the Assistant Secretary for International Affairs. They will both be there to brief and set up that meeting for you tomorrow.

Q Dana, anything from the President's conversation either yesterday with President-elect Obama or from other Democratic leaders that would give them hope that the free trade deals would get approved before he leaves office?

MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of. I think that we've just been talking with members of Congress to the extent that they're in town and that they're in touch, as they start to shape their agenda for next week. It's very unclear what the Democrats will or won't do next week when they have their lame duck. We've seen a lot of trial balloons floated out there, but there's no concrete proposals.

And so I think yesterday that both the President and the President-elect put forward ideas that they had to help improve the economy. That's, I think, the goal that both leaders share. And as I said yesterday, they have policy differences, but that doesn't mean they're not both interested in helping improve the economy for the benefit of American citizens. But also, President Bush is thinking of the leaders around the country who are coming here this weekend, and he wants to make sure that they know that America is open for business.

Q Putting aside the newspaper reports about suggestions that the President made, would he be supportive of an economic stimulus package that include -- as long as the free trade agreements were also given an up or down vote?

MS. PERINO: You're trying to get me to do the same thing that that article did. I'm saying that the President believes that the free trade agreement should be given an up or down vote on their merits. And how Congress puts a package together, or even if they put a package together, will be up to the Democratic leadership. And we really don't know what they're going to do.

Q But would the administration be --

MS. PERINO: The President supports the free trade agreements on their merits. When it comes to a second stimulus package, what I have told you for a week or so is that so far we have not seen something that would stimulate the economy right away. We want to promptly help the economy, and the best way for us to do that is to implement the rescue package that we are currently doing to help improve the credit markets. That's at the root -- that's the root cause of our problems.

Some of the other suggestions that have been floated by Democrats wouldn't put a lot of money into the economy right away. If you want to stimulate the economy, that would be the test that we think that you would have to pass. We're willing to listen to their ideas of how they would like to move forward; open to suggestions as to what they think needs to be done.

But what we really also need to see them do is to talk with their Republican counterparts, because it does take three to tango in this town, and there's a House and a Senate. There are a lot of Republicans who need to be heard on this because they can help push something forward, or not -- they could also prevent something from going forward. So we'd like to see them actually exercise some of this bipartisanship that they're talking about.

Q One thing you and other administration officials have said repeatedly is that passing the free trade agreements would stimulate the economy in the short term. Therefore, if the Democrats do come up with a stimulus package with their Republican counterparts, would you want the free trade agreements to be a part of that package?

MS. PERINO: I think that's a hypothetical that I'm not going to be able to answer, because I don't know what kind of package the Democrats are going to put together. So, say they put something together next week and then you would come back to me and say, but you said he would support it if the free trade agreements were attached. I'm not going to go down that road. What I will tell you is we support the free trade agreements, and we're willing to listen to what Democrats think about what they would want to put forward in terms of a package that would stimulate the economy.

So far, what we've seen would not actually stimulate the economy and get money moving into the system again. That doesn't mean that they don't have good ideas across the board, but to call it a stimulus package would be a stretch at this point.

Q Dana, what is the President's position on this aid for the auto industry, beyond any linkage or anything, but just -- and beyond the loans that were approved by Congress earlier this year? Is he open to more help for the auto industry right now?

MS. PERINO: What we've said is that Congress created a loan program for the auto industry. When they were discussing the TARP program, Troubled Asset Relief Program, as we read it, we don't see anything in there that would give us the authority to help individual industries, but we are willing to listen to Congress as to how they might choose or not choose to provide additional authorities so that we can accelerate those loans to viable companies, as laid out in the statute.

We haven't seen that yet. We understand that they're going through a very difficult time. There's been business decisions they've made over the years that have led to this situation, but we have gone as far as we can with the authority Congress has given us in order to help industries. We rushed through those regulations to write the rules so that they could apply for those loans. If they believe that that's not enough for them, they need to continue to work with Democrats, and then we'll see what they can come forward with.

Q Do you think something is more that's needed for the auto industry beyond what's already in there?

MS. PERINO: I think that we'll just have -- I think we'll have to see what the Democrats decide to put forward, and what they can work out with their Republican counterparts, if anything.

Q He's not ruling it out.

MS. PERINO: I'm saying that we are willing to listen to them if they can figure out a way to give us more authority to accelerate loans to viable companies, as laid out in the legislation.

Q So you're saying that under the TARP there is no authority to help the automakers.

MS. PERINO: That has been our position, that the Troubled Asset Relief Program was for financial institutions, and that definition doesn't translate over to individual industries. But if Congress wants to work out a way to help us accelerate the loans that we have rushed through to try to get to them, we could listen to that. Over the weekend, Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid sent a letter to the Treasury Secretary asking him to study the feasibility of using the TARP program. And I believe he's still reviewing that letter and would respond accordingly, but I don't have an answer from him yet.

Q So, just -- sorry, just to clear that up, accelerate the loans they have already been given -- just speed up the way they can actually get to the companies?

MS. PERINO: That's right.

Q A couple weeks ago at the briefing, you mentioned GMAC and the finance arms of the automakers potentially applying for TARP and access. Is that now just -- you guys gave gone through that?

MS. PERINO: I would refer you to the Treasury Department for more, as they've tried to look at -- they've exhausted all possibilities to try to find out how they could help them, but I believe that because it's not the parent company, how the legislation is written in the original intent of Congress, which we are trying to follow and follow quickly, that's not included.

END 11:00 A.M. EST