For Immediate Release
December 4, 2008
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
9:47 A.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Good morning. I have a couple of things for you. At 11:20 a.m. this morning, the President will have an interview with John Yang of NBC News on the State Floor and the Map Room. At 5:00 p.m., the President and Mrs. Bush will participate in the 2008 lighting of the National Christmas Tree. It's the 85th year that a President of the United States has participated in that ceremony. It's coordinated by the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation.
One -- I'd like to give you a little bit of a reaction to the SOFA being finalized in Iraq today, but I expect that we'll have a statement by the President for you soon, a written one, so that -- let me just give you a little bit of a flavor for it.
We're certainly pleased that Iraq's presidency council has approved the strategic framework agreement and the security agreement, that's also known as the status of forces agreement, today, this morning -- two landmark agreements that will guide our relationships with Iraq, to help solidify Iraq's democratic gains that they've made over the past few years, affirm Iraq's sovereignty, and put its relations with the United States on a strong footing.
And we will have something from the President for you later. I think that one thing that's important to think about, when you look at the two agreements, that it covers the diplomatic, economic, political, and security work that we've been doing with Iraq over the past few years. And today is a remarkable achievement for both of our countries. We've been working on these negotiations for over -- for just about a year, and so we're glad to see it reach a positive conclusion.
Also today, the Chief of Staff, Josh Bolten, will chair the fourth meeting of the Transition Coordinating Council. We've been having several of these meetings, as you know. We've invited some outside experts to provide their input and advice on transition of governments from one to the next. The names of these guests are Jonathan Breul; Jennifer Dorn; Martha Kumar, who we all know, who will be there today; Pat McGinnis; and Max Stier. So they will be here today, at 3:30 p.m. -- I'm sorry, 3:00 p.m., in room 350 of the EEOB.
And that's it. Deb.
Q On the Iraqi agreement, I believe that the agreement requires it to go to referendum between now and, like, the middle of next year. Does that mean that it could be then rejected next year?
MS. PERINO: I know that they were thinking about having a national referendum, but since it was just finalized this morning around 7:00 a.m. our time, I haven't seen for sure. But if there is a national referendum, Iraq is a sovereign country and they could decide to do lots of different things with it. But I think that the fact that their representative leadership has signed this agreement today, that they recognize that they are going to continue to need our help for the next little while. But we have a path now to help our troops get home. And we have already bringing troops home, and we're going to be able to continue to do that, as long as we solidify the gains that we've made.
Q Has the Obama team indicated that they're going to honor this and move forward with this? Is there any indication --
MS. PERINO: I haven't heard anything different, but of course I can't speak for them. I think that they've welcomed it, as well, but this has been sort of a rolling approval of the -- by the Iraqis because of the process that they have been going through through the presidency council, their parliament, their cabinet of ministers. They have a -- they had several different ways. But if you remember, on Thanksgiving Day, we cleared one hurdle, and the President put out a statement then. Today, now it's all finalized. And so you'll hear from the President through a written statement soon.
Q What -- on Iraq -- what are the next steps from your side for this agreement to actually take effect?
MS. PERINO: I believe that we just have to do an exchange of diplomatic notes, and then the agreement would take place on -- go into effect on January 1, 2009.
Q What you call an achievement, wouldn't it be a good reason or a good opportunity for the President to pay a last visit to Iraq?
MS. PERINO: I'll let him know you think so. (Laughter.)
Q On the automakers, now that you've had some time to review their proposals, and some of the unions are now offering some sizeable concessions, do you believe that they should get the additional aid that they are requesting?
MS. PERINO: I think it's too early to give these plans a grade. They've just put them forward. They are detailed and there's a lot that goes into analyzing all of these plans. And so our team members on the National Economic Council and CEA, amongst others around the government, are taking the time to look at them. But I also think that since the Democratic leadership invited the automakers to come to Washington to testify in front of them today and tomorrow, that we should allow them to do that before passing any judgment on their plans. I think we should hear from them.
Q So when do you think that you will have something to say on --
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I think that we need to have a little bit more time to look at them and consider all the ramifications of the plans. And then -- and I'll certainly let you know if that changes. But right now I think what we need to do is let them come here and testify. I mean, they've barely pulled off the highway. And so we'll be watching that testimony closely. I think it starts in about 10 minutes.
Q Dana, it sounds like some on Capitol Hill may have already reached some kind of conclusion about the automakers. Reid is already saying he doesn't think that they have the votes for the bailout. And he and Pelosi have sent a letter to Treasury saying -- asking basically for temporary assistance to the automotive industry.
MS. PERINO: I certainly won't speak for Speaker -- for Leader Reid. But I think what he said yesterday is that they don't have the votes to change the TARP program. We have always said that the TARP program was passed for a very different purpose, and that was to prevent the collapse of our financial institutions.
The automakers, on the other hand, have a pot of money that is there for the taking through the DOE program, called the 136 program. We put forward a plan that we thought would be sensible, reasonable, and that could get bipartisan support. And it is something that we believe, if allowed to come to a vote, that Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi could actually have a victory on their hands, to be able to provide the assistance that they're talking about in the letter that they sent to us.
So we're going to continue to try to work with them. I think we need to find out if they're going to -- if they're actually going to be in session next week -- I don't know if that's determined yet -- so let us get through the testimony today and tomorrow. We're going to continue to put forward our plan for them to consider, and we think that it's the one that could actually get the most support and could achieve the goal that they're talking about in their letter.
Q Is there anything that you could hear today that would change your mind, or justify using TARP funds for the bailout, or --
MS. PERINO: I think it's more of a package. I think that we need to look at the plans that they have. We need to consider all of those ramifications about the concessions that they thought they would make, the hard work that they would do.
Remember, the linchpin of our support for the automakers has been that we would not provide taxpayer dollars unless they could prove viability, long-term viability; unless the companies were willing to say, we're now able to do the hard work necessary to restructure our businesses so that we can compete in the global economy for the years to come.
So that viability portion is critically important, and it's not something that we can make a snap judgment about. It's just going to take us a little while. I don't think that there's any one word that the automakers could say today that could all of a sudden be like a magic wand and make everything -- solve everything by the end of the day. I think it's more of a package deal.
Q And you said you'll continue to push your plan, but that's $25 billion; the automakers are seeking $34 billion. So where would that extra money come from?
MS. PERINO: One of the things that we have always said to the members of Congress is that if they felt that they needed -- wanted to put more money into that 136 program, that we would consider that; they could go ahead and try to do that.
I think that we also need to look at the plans, because I know that $34 billion is the total number, but there's a different amount of loans or lines of credit or -- I'm not exactly sure how that all breaks down, and I think it would be inappropriate for me to do so until everybody has a chance to review those plans.
But also, I think we need to hear from the automakers themselves, and see what they have to say. But we also need to hear from members of Congress. If their plans can't get support from the members of Congress, then that is another problem that they have.
So I think that they've done what they were asked to do. They were asked to come back with plans. What we've said we would have to have is plans that show long-term viability. And that's something that we're in the process of determining right now.
Q In these recent interviews, has the President ever expressed regret over attacking Iraq? And also, is Karl Rove in charge of promoting legacy?
MS. PERINO: No, I am. (Laughter.) I have a team of people who is helping talk about the President's decisions that he's made over the past eight years. I think there's no doubt that it has been a consequential eight years where huge things have happened, from the biggest terrorist attack, the biggest natural disasters, and the biggest financial crisis in a century.
So while Karl and others who have worked for the President -- Karen Hughes, Dan Bartlett, Ari Fleischer, and others -- are all participating in responding to requests, a lot of them are requests from the media to understand this presidency, and to talk about it as we are in our last 46 days.
And your first question was about Iraq. I think that you might be talking about the Charlie Gibson interview. I think it's important that people go back and look at that interview in context. Some people have pulled out one half of a sound bite and made a judgment on what the President was saying. What the President talked about was that one of his -- one of the disappointments of the administration is that the intelligence community had it wrong when it came to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And it wasn't just the President of the United States who thought that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein's own generals thought that he had weapons of mass destructions, and so did other leaders from all around the world. And so that's what he was talking about, was the specific on the intelligence failure.
What we did from there is the President revamped the intelligence community. And we have a Director of National Intelligence now, and we have other measures in place to make sure that that doesn't happen again.
Q What about the chief of British intelligence saying you were going to fix the facts around the policy?
MS. PERINO: I think that that's been debunked, and --
Q It's never been debunked.
MS. PERINO: Well, it's been debunked by me. (Laughter.)
Q Good for you.
MS. PERINO: Yes, good for me. (Laughter.)
Q And is the White House sponsoring these interviews with -- on legacy?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'm helping to arrange them, as the President's press secretary, yes.
Q You're helping to arrange them?
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q Dana, to pick up on this a little bit, the President clearly is a little more reflective as you enter the final weeks of the presidency. Do you sense a different mood in him? And does that permeate the entire White House?
MS. PERINO: I think that it has. I mean, it's inevitable that when you're getting towards the end -- and as I can tell you every day, I know how many days we have left -- and that's because we don't have a lot of time to get a lot of the important things done that we would like to be able to do, which is to make sure that we resolve the auto issue if we possibly can, and continue to work on the economy.
You know, on Wednesday night, right before -- the day before Thanksgiving, as everyone is getting ready to spend time with family, we have a horrible terrorist attack in which six American citizens were killed. And so the work of the White House never really stops.
But, yes, I would say the President and Mrs. Bush, as they start to realize that in just a month and a half they'll be saying good-bye to a lot of people who have helped make this house a home for them over in the Residence, senior staff who have been with them -- some for 14 years that the President has been in public office -- so I do think that he's thinking a little bit about saying good-bye.
There's a lot of things that end up being your "last," like this will be the last time he participates at the National Christmas Tree lighting. There's that, and there's also the last time that you'll give your -- a speech at UNGA as President of the United States. And as we've been working through this transition, the President has set the tone for all of us that we will have a smooth, unprecedented, professional transition to make sure that the next President of the United States, President-Elect Obama, will be able to take the baton, keep running.
And he's going to have a lot of issues to deal with. And if you look at what happened today, we finalized the Iraq agreement, which puts that in a better place for the Obama team when they take over. And on the economy, we're going to be continuing to work every single day that we can. There's no road map for the problems that we're dealing with, but the President is committed to trying to deal with them.
But I think that you're right, he is a little bit more reflective now. And I think that's just because we're getting -- now we really can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Q In your day-to-day interactions with him, what's different?
MS. PERINO: Not a lot. I think that we've been -- I'm fortunate to be able to see the President quite often, sometimes several times a day; sometimes I don't see him for a day. But we still have a lot of work to do.
Q Join the club.
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q Many days we don't see him either.
MS. PERINO: I'll let him know you miss him. (Laughter.)
Q Do you, when you walk out of the Oval Office, or when you conclude an interaction, do you sometimes think to yourself, he seems somehow -- his affect, his mood seems different?
MS. PERINO: Well, sometimes. Like, for example, when we did the Charlie Gibson interview last week, and I saw the President and Mrs. Bush talk about what their biggest accomplishments were during the past eight years, you realize the momentous presidency that this has been, the consequential presidency that it's been. And all of us are thinking a little bit about that.
But I will tell you that just when you think that you're going to be able to be reflective and relax, something else happens. And so the President learned that you have to expect the unexpected when you're President, and that's true for the staff, as well. So we have to continue to get up every day, work hard, and make sure that we're doing the work that we need to do on behalf of the American people.
Q What did they say was their biggest contribution?
MS. PERINO: Well, Mrs. Bush said, for what she hears people say to her around the country, is that since 9/11, that the President has kept the nation safe.
Q Follow-up on that, Dana. We've seen the President doing a lot of these -- sort of a farewell tour, going to different agencies, and even to military bases, and thanking people. How important does he think that is? And I don't know really how unique it is for Presidents to do that. And do these events bring him up, or down, because you do often see him getting a little emotional.
MS. PERINO: I think they absolutely inspire him. He has been so honored to be the Commander-in-Chief, and so, for example, last week when we went to Fort Campbell, the President -- of course, you saw he got a little teary-eyed. When he said thank you to the staff out here the day after the election -- or two days after the election, he got a little teary-eyed. Look, the President is always about right here in terms of the tears -- or, it doesn't take much, and he has admitted that over the years.
But it is a little bit of an emotional time, but at the same time we have a lot of work to do, so it's very much mixed, a mix of emotions. But we'll have plenty of time to say good-bye. It's only December 4th.
Q Dana, speaking of issues that the President-elect is going to inherit, tomorrow's speech at the Saban Forum, did the President have some parting thoughts to impart to President-Elect Obama about the difficulties of Middle East peacemaking?
MS. PERINO: Well, in the speech he won't be directing it to the President-elect. I think that to the extent that President-Elect Obama wants to speak to the President about Middle East peace, I think they probably did touch on it a little bit in their meeting before and in conversations that they've had.
The President will be happy to talk about it because it has been so -- it was so consequential, what he has been able to achieve in terms of -- now everyone agrees that there should a be two-state solution. That's a very different place from where we were when the President first came into office, which hundreds of innocent Palestinians and Israelis died that year in the fighting. Things have calmed down a little bit, but it's exceedingly complex there in the region. They've come a long way.
So on the speech for tomorrow we'll try to get you a little bit of a preview of that later this afternoon -- I'm sorry, mid-afternoon if we can, try to get it locked down.
I'm going to go over here. Go ahead, Mike.
Q Dana, what can you say, if anything, about the Treasury's plans or considerations for mortgage rates at 4.5 percent through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? And even if you can't say much, what do you think about the general idea?
MS. PERINO: Well, Treasury, HUD, and our senior economic team have been looking at all sorts of different proposals to help the housing industry, both from -- especially helping individuals. We had the HOPE NOW program, FHASecure, and the Hope for Homeowners program out of HUD. So Treasury is considering a lot of different proposals. We have no announcements to make, and I would have to refer you over to them for more, but I don't think they would have more to provide for you yet either.
Q And on the general idea of the interest rate --
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that we have recognized that the housing downturn is one of our biggest problems in the economy. We had the credit crunch and the housing downturn, and getting those -- getting people to purchase houses and to be able to rework their loans, if they need to, if they're facing foreclosure, those are the things we've been focusing on. And so anything that the Treasury Department is thinking about is towards that end to try to help us pull out of that downturn.
Q Dana, this week the Archives have been releasing new Nixon recordings from phone calls, and today the LBJ library is doing that. Can you say with certainty whether any phone calls now by the President are recorded?
MS. PERINO: I don't know of any, in terms of -- but if there are recordings of phone calls, especially between the President and foreign leaders, then those are appropriately taken care of by the National Security Council.
MS. PERINO: John.
Q Can you find out for sure?
MS. PERINO: I'll see what I can say. John.
Q On the automakers, did you have any reaction to the comments yesterday by the UAW about the concessions that they'd be willing to make?
MS. PERINO: Just in general, that obviously people recognize how serious this is, and there's a lot of different actors that have to come to the table -- Congress, the automakers, the UAW, and state governments -- as they look at this problem. And everybody seems to be taking this seriously enough that they're willing to come to the table and try to think about how do they restructure.
Now, the question will be, can they restructure in a way and take enough of the hard -- make enough of the hard decisions that it will take to make them viable. And that's yet to be seen.
MS. PERINO: Paula.
Q Just a follow-up on the TARP idea. I think one of the other ideas that some are criticizing this proposal -- though I know it's not out there -- (laughter) -- is that it wouldn't involve lowering rate for refinancing homes facing foreclosure, and that the point was to stop declining housing prices, that foreclosed homes are also a major factor in declining housing prices. So --
MS. PERINO: If and when Treasury decides to move forward with this, I'm going to let them describe it for you. I think it would be inappropriate for me to do so now.
Q And you mentioned one of the consequences over the last eight years is that we're now facing, like, the worst financial crisis in a century. So does that mean it's worse than the Depression?
MS. PERINO: Not necessarily, but it could be. That's one of the things that happened to the President when he sat in the Roosevelt Room with the Fed Chairman and his Treasury Secretary who, when he asked them, what happens if we don't act -- because that wasn't his natural instinct, was certainly not to provide a rescue package -- and they told him that we could be facing a situation that would be worse than the Great Depression. And then the President right then and there said, well, then let's act, because we have a responsibility to do so.
Rachel, did you have one?
Q When you said "could be," did you mean could have been or could be still?
MS. PERINO: Could be still. I think that we have taken some actions to help prevent it, and we're trying to stabilize and strengthen the markets now. But no, I don't think by any means -- does anybody really think that we're in the middle of a great depression right now? I don't think so. But obviously the NBER came out and said that we are in a recession. What matters now is how are we working to get out of it. And that's what we're focused on.
Q You don't dispute the characterization of this as a recession now?
MS. PERINO: No, no. As I said, we would wait for the NBER to make a statement, and they did.
Q On a different subject. Pakistan, India?
MS. PERINO: Okay, that's fine. Then I'll go to Ann.
Q Secretary Rice, today in Pakistan, said that she is convinced -- she has heard a commitment from Pakistan to fight in the war on terror, to specifically root out terrorists who may have been involved in what happened in Mumbai. What does Pakistan have to do to live up to that commitment?
MS. PERINO: Pakistan needs to act with resolve, urgency; they need to cooperate fully and transparently, and they need to keep the line of communication open between their country and India. And we will continue to try to help to make that happen.
Secretary Rice has now -- I think she's departed the region, I believe. She's been phoning in updates for the President. And then we'll let you know if we have anything more if and when she'll be coming over here.
Q But there were no more concrete benchmarks established?
MS. PERINO: Those are the basic ones. But I think that Secretary Rice herself said that she was encouraged by what she had heard from the Pakistanis and she's going to continue to push them. Because, one, it's horrible enough that it happened to innocent Indians and also citizens from 10 different countries -- I believe the number ended up being 10. But six of our own citizens were killed, as well. And so we take this very seriously. And we're going to continue to try to work with the Pakistanis to make sure they follow this to the conclusion that we expect.
Q Today another half-million unemployment claims; it's now, as of today, a 26-year high in the number of people getting unemployment benefits. What specifically would President Bush accept in another stimulus package if anything else could be done between now and the day he leaves office?
MS. PERINO: I think that we just did pass an extension for unemployment benefits. The President has shown a willingness to do so because of the job market that we're in. And so I think we need to let those benefits continue. We've also increased eligibility for food stamps over the years.
Of course, we don't want people to have to be on food stamps. We want people to be able to work and feel fulfilled in their careers. And so we're -- the work that we're doing now will pay off later. It's just going to be a while for us to get through the crunch that we're in.
Q And on SOFA -- is there anything that he would do, now that that agreement is done, between now and the day he leaves office, talking to the military commanders and ordering any change in the number of forces in Iraq?
MS. PERINO: Well, we already have brought down -- brought back five brigades. And General Petraeus, before he left, announced that he would be bringing home even more and they'd be coming home sooner. And I think some of the people that we saw at Fort Campbell last Tuesday, some of those soldiers, they had actually come home sooner than expected.
So we're seeing where we can move troops around, bring some more home, or even shorten their deployments, if possible. I couldn't predict any other announcements between now and January 20th, but we are working very closely with Secretary Gates -- because that's very easy to do, since he's the President's Secretary of Defense -- but also with General Jim Jones and others on the President-elect's new team.
Q But it goes into effect January 1st, and he's still the President. There will be no immediate impact or impetus for him to do anything else on troop levels?
MS. PERINO: I don't think so. I don't think so, because what the President has said is that since the conditions have continued to improve, he would listen to his generals on the ground, like General Odierno. And if General Odierno thought that we could do more faster, then the President would certainly listen to him, and then we may or may not move forward. I think it will just have to depend.
MS. PERINO: Yes, Les.
Q Thank you. Two questions. Page one of this morning's Washington Times reports that as President, he has visited 49 states, but never Vermont. And as correspondent for WVMT in Burlington, I'm wondering if in the next 46 days, the President will, while ignoring Brattleboro and Marlboro, will he visit the rest of Vermont?
MS. PERINO: That's a good question, but I don't have an answer for you today.
Q Okay. Since so many American citizens have been laid off their jobs, I wanted to ask, how long before the federal government begins an unprecedented drive to apprehend and deport those law-breaking illegal aliens who hold --
MS. PERINO: All right, that will do it.
Q -- so many U.S. jobs and receive many U.S. government benefits?
MS. PERINO: Look, you know how I feel about immigration; we've talked about it before. The President has put in strong interior enforcement measures, but we also think that we should have a compassionate side to the United States and to think about putting in place a temporary worker program so that we can help safeguard our economy, but also help those individuals.
Q Thank you.
END 10:12 A.M. EST