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George W. Bush: Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino and Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Joel Kaplan
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George W. Bush
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino and Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Joel Kaplan
December 19, 2008
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

9:32 A.M. EST

MS. PERINO: Just a couple of announcements. You just heard the President talk about the automotive industry and how we've reached a decision. And you heard the President announce it. I brought Joel Kaplan, the Deputy Chief of Staff, here for his second appearance here on this topic. He was here last week and very helpful, so we thought we'd bring him back. He doesn't have a ton of time, but he'll be able to answer lots of your questions.

Just a reminder that the President and Mrs. Bush will make remarks this morning and view the unveilings of their individual portraits that will be displayed at the National Portrait Gallery. Then the President will meet with the President of the Palestinian Authority. He looks forward to meeting with President Abbas. They have many things to talk about, including their shared efforts toward peace in the Middle East, including progress made in building capable Palestinian institutions, fostering economic development, and training and deploying Palestinian security forces in the West Bank.

And then this afternoon the President will have a photo opportunity with recipients of the 2007 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers.

But first, let's hear from Joel, and then I'll come back and take the rest of your questions.

MR. KAPLAN: Thanks, Dana. Good morning. As Dana said, you all have just heard from the President on his decision on how his administration is going to go forward to assist the U.S. automakers avoid a collapse in a particularly vulnerable economic time.

As the President said in his remarks, during normal economic times he would have decided to allow the free market to control the outcome for these auto companies. Unfortunately, we are not in normal economic times. The country is facing a very serious economic challenges. We're in a recession. We've got, obviously, a continuing housing problem. We've got a very, very soft labor market. And we've got continuing challenges in our financial sector.

Under those conditions, the President and his economic team were very concerned about allowing the prospect of a disorderly failure of one or more of the U.S. auto companies, and the effect that would have on our economy.

As everybody knows in the room, the President had a legislative proposal that we worked out with the leadership of Congress a week or so ago that would have provided assistance to the U.S. auto manufacturers from already appropriated funds, and would have set a number of conditions. When I discussed it with you last week or 10 days or so ago, I made clear that the purpose of that legislation was to set the auto manufacturers on a path to one of two outcomes: either fundamental restructuring, or bankruptcy if they were unable or unwilling to achieve that fundamental restructuring towards a viable business model voluntarily.

That legislation did receive a majority support, obviously, in the House, and had a majority of support in the Senate, although it never went to a formal vote. It was -- there was a procedural vote that indicated majority support. But unfortunately, it did not pass Congress, which left the executive with a decision to make about what to do with these auto companies and how to assist them.

What the President's proposal, which Secretary Paulson will implement from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, what it does is it takes the conditions, essentially, that were in the bill that passed the House and that received majority support in the Senate. The fundamental test that was embodied in that piece of legislation was the ability within the next few months, by March 31st, to demonstrate a plan for long-term viability with a very specific economic test for what constitutes long-term viability -- discussed it last week: positive net present value going forward. That's an economic definition. It was embodied in the legislation. It's now embodied in the loan terms that the Treasury will give to the auto manufacturers that it is assisting.

During the course of the congressional discussions, there were some other ideas that came up, particularly on the Senate side, about specific requirements that the auto manufacturers should need to satisfy in order to demonstrate their viability. We thought that some of those conditions were actually very sensible.

And so in addition to the House conditions that are included in the loan terms, we've added some additional conditions as targets that basically says, you got to come forward with a plan for long-term viability. And we would expect to see in this plan for long-term viability a plan to reduce the debts of your bondholders by converting them from debt to equity in the amount of two-thirds to make one-half of the VEBA payments, the payments to the labor retiree health benefits; to make one-half of those VEBA payments in the form of stock instead of cash; to eliminate the jobs bank that pays -- continues to pay workers even though they have been laid off; work rules that are competitive with the foreign manufacturers that are operating in the United States by the end of 2009; and finally, wages and benefits that are competitive with those foreign manufacturers operating in the United States also by the end of 2009.

What these loan terms say is, when you submit your plan for viability, you've got to meet those targets or you've got to come forward with an explanation for why deviating from those targets is consistent with the economic definition of long-term viability and why deviating from those targets in any way will not jeopardize your ability to achieve long-term viability.

So that's how we have incorporated some of the very good ideas about what constitutes viability that we heard in the debate on the Hill.

I just want to reiterate something the President said similar to the legislation: If these loan terms are not satisfied, if the test for viability is not satisfied by March 31st, the loan will be called and the auto manufacturers will be forced to repay the loan at that juncture. The only reasonable prospect if that happens would be to go into a Chapter 11 process.

The bottom line of what the President announced is that we are giving these companies and all their stakeholders, their unions, their creditors, their dealers, their supplies, we're giving them an opportunity to restructure, but it's not an opportunity that they can afford to waste, because it only lasts until March 31st. And we think this is the most effective and responsible way to address this challenge, protect the economy, and protect the American taxpayers in the process.

Jennifer.

Q: A couple things. You explained the terms and that they have to pay this back by March 31st -- and all the targets that you talked about. Have the automakers and the unions and the other stakeholders signed on to all of this?

MR. KAPLAN: Well, the loan terms are to the manufacturers. The lender is the Treasury; the borrower is the auto manufacturer. Treasury continues to be in discussions with the auto manufacturers, but I would say those are on technical elements of the term sheet, not on the fundamental issues that I just laid out.

Q: So they're going to take the money?

MR. KAPLAN: I will leave that ultimately to the Treasury and to the automakers to say when the term sheet has been signed, but our expectation is that the terms that I laid out and that the President laid out in his speech are ones that both the auto manufacturers and the Treasury Department will be comfortable with.

Q: Can you take a step back, also, and just describe kind of the process of how the White House and the President arrived at this particular approach, and why?

MR. KAPLAN: Sure. The President explained why, I think, very well in his remarks. In terms of the how, look, we thought the right approach was legislation for any number of reasons, starting with the fact that it has always been our very strong preference to preserve the TARP for financial institutions of the kind that you have seen it used to assist previously. That was why we fought very hard to get agreement from the Democrats in Congress to use the already appropriated 136 funds.

There were other very significant advantages to going by legislation, the most important of which is that legislation is binding -- binding on this administration, binding on the next administration. And one of the very important components of that legislation was a provision that said, if they do not achieve viability, not only is the loan called, but no further federal financing shall be available. We thought that was a really important piece of leverage in that legislation.

Legislation didn't pass, though, and the President was faced with a decision about whether, in the absence of legislation, to permit these auto companies just to fail. For the reasons he laid out in his remarks today, he did not think that was a acceptable or responsible alternative given our economic circumstances, and frankly given that there's a new President coming into office on January 20th. And the President did not believe it would be responsible for him to hand off to his successor a disorderly failure in a very important sector of the economy that could have, you know, damaging consequences. He didn't think that was the right thing to do for the economy or for the country, and he didn't think it was a responsible thing to do for his successor.

So once you've established that first decision, then the question becomes, how do you avoid a disorderly failure? And there, there were a number of options and the President took a lot of advice and asked a lot of questions of his economic advisors about what is the best way to provide government assistance in order to avoid that very damaging economic outcome.

And there was, like I said, a lot of advice. There was a lot of discussion back and forth. We got, as you might imagine, a lot of recommendations from commentators and from members of Congress who -- some of whom had been in support of the legislation and some of whom had been support -- had been supportive of other approaches. We got a lot of incoming from them and that was something that we took very seriously, and the President took very seriously, in coming up with what he believed what the most effective and responsible approach for the country.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Speaking of Congress, in order to fulfill this agreement that was brokered, the administration will have to go back to Congress and ask for approval to release the second disbursement of the TARP funds. In brokering this deal, was there any implicit agreement that this will be -- that this will happen, that it will be easy, that you'll get that approval?

MR. KAPLAN: Let me just address the premise there in the question. It's not necessarily true that this administration in the remaining 31 days, I believe, will go back to Congress. What is clear is that the Treasury with these loans has effectively committed the first $350 billion from the TARP.

The actual disbursement of that amount is subject to approval of -- not the amount for the auto manufacturers, but for the other components of the $350 billion. Some of that has -- while it's been committed, hasn't actually been spent; it hasn't gone out the door. And there are some steps that are still going on that mean there is room within that $350 billion in the near term to address the existing commitments and the one the President made today. But in the very short term, we will need to go -- we, or the next administration -- will need to go to Congress to get the second $350 billion if they are to get the last chunk of the loan that's being discussed today. And that's about $4 billion. $13.4 billion will be made available in December and January. The remaining $4 billion is contingent on the second $350 billion. That money, based on what we know today, is not needed by the auto companies until February, which means that there will be ongoing discussions between the Secretary of the Treasury, the President-elect's transition team, and the leadership of Congress on when is the best time and the best mechanism for releasing the second $350 billion.

Q: But just a quick follow-up. Even though it's a different administration, did you get any signal from congressional leadership that it will go through?

MR. KAPLAN: It will not surprise you to know that there are different signals that you get from different members of Congress on this issue, as with all others. There are some, I'm sure, in Congress who are chomping at the bit to vote on the $350 billion in favor of it. There are others who will have questions. Those are the kind of things that we need to discuss going forward with members of Congress and also with the President-elect's team.

What's been made clear today is that the last $4 billion of this loan facility will require the next $350 billion, and that will have to happen if the loan is to be completed some time in the near future. That does not mean it has to be completed within the set period of time remaining in this administration.

Q: Joel, can you characterize what needs to be done in the next three and a half months in the auto industry -- and it seems quite ambitious, obviously, you're talking about entire restructuring of the industry. Is there enough time? Is there -- can you characterize your sense of what kind of sort of plate shifts we're going to see in the next three and a half months?

MR. KAPLAN: Well, it is an ambitious time frame, but there's a big challenge out there. And the American public and the members of Congress and the President want these manufacturers and their stakeholders to step up to that challenge. They've got to fundamentally restructure. That's been the whole essence of this debate, starting with the legislative proposal last week or two weeks ago, and with this proposal.

One of the options that was being urged on the administration from certain quarters was to have them do that restructuring right now before this administration even is out, in the next 31 days. We did not think that was a reasonable time frame to do the kind of things that you'll need to do here, which is for each of the stakeholders to make deep and meaningful concessions of the kind that I laid out of the specific targets, but others, as well.

This is a -- it's a tough thing to do, but it's an essential thing to do if these automakers are going to be successful and viable in the long term, and that's the ultimate condition of the loan. We were not interested in providing money to companies that are not willing to do the hard things needed to become viable. They've now got until March 31st. We expect that they will take that deadline seriously, they will act aggressively. There's no time to waste, and the American public expect them to get to work.

John.

Q: I'd like to ask two questions, one kind of a follow-up on that question. In net present value terms, do you have any idea how deep the hole is for these companies? And the other question is, there's the talk about also finding some aid to their financing arms.

MR. KAPLAN: You know, Treasury has spent a lot of time in the books over the last week or so making sure they understood the financial condition of the companies. So in terms of the precise -- their precise status, what their current net present value is, I'm not in a position to say. I suspect the folks at Treasury would be in a position to say. But it's clear that they do not have a positive net present value now. That's why they're headed, they were headed -- some of them -- for failure if the government didn't step in. And that's the case they've been making on Capitol Hill and to the administration for some weeks now. We do not have any reason to believe that that was not accurate.

So precise numbers, I'll have to refer you to Treasury. But bottom line is, they're not viable now. In their current business model with their current set of contracts, they need to become viable, and as with the previous answer, that's going to require some very difficult choices we think they're going to have to make.

Q: And what about the financing arms?

MR. KAPLAN: Oh, I'm sorry, yes, the financing arms. That's been a subject of ongoing discussion. You know, the -- we've said for a long time, actually, that there's a difference between the auto manufacturers and the financing companies in terms of how they've been perceived with respect to the TARP, because those are financial institutions.

Those discussions continue with the Treasury and the other regulators. I know there's been a fair amount of reporting and discussion about some of the applications that are in place, but this loan that's announced today is for the auto manufacturers' discussions with the financing companies about what assistance the government may provide are ongoing.

Ed.

Q: Joel, is there a repayment schedule in the agreement, or am I missing something? It seems a little bit open-ended on that. And second quick question is, did President Bush talk to President-Elect Obama about this agreement, this plan to announce the deal this morning?

MR. KAPLAN: On the first question, Ed, you may recall the House -- the bill that passed the House was a seven-year loan, but one that would be called if the auto manufacturers did not come up with a plan for financial viability. The loan terms the Treasury has written I believe are for three years, but with the same -- the most important date for repayment is that March 31st date, that if they don't meet the plan for viability as the President's designee determines, then the loan is due I think within 15 days of that determination.

So there is a -- as with any loan, there are regular repayments and interest rates and all that in the loan terms. But I think the most important dates remain the overall three-year duration of the loan, and the March 31st requirement, which is the real stick here.

Q: Consultation?

MR. KAPLAN: Yes, there have been consultations ongoing between the President-elect's team and the administration. I'm not going to get into any discussions that may or may not have taken place between the President and the President-elect.

Q: Can you give us a breakdown of who's getting what out of the first $13.4 billion? And is there a distinction of how much you're making available in, say, loan guarantees, which is something Ford was more interested in, versus outright cash out the door?

MR. KAPLAN: Yes. The loans that are being announced today are for the GM auto manufacturer and Chrysler auto manufacturing company. Ford, in Treasury discussions with them, I believe does not believe that it needs a loan today.

Out of the total -- I mentioned that the total is $17.4 billion -- $13.4 billion of that is going to be made available to these two companies in December and January, and $4 billion is needed in February by GM. So if I do my math correctly, I think that means that $13.4 billion also happens to be the number, coincidentally, that is going to GM, and $4 billion is the number that is going to Chrysler.

Q: And how do--

MR. KAPLAN: But it's a little confusing because these numbers just -- literally coincidentally happen to be the same, the total -- the total that --

Q: So some of it will be in the $4 billion that is the post -- or second tranche amount?

MR. KAPLAN: Right, the February tranche of $4 billion is for GM. So $13.4 billion is being divided by GM and Chrysler in December and January.

Q: Evenly, like --

MR. KAPLAN: No, not evenly.

Q: Okay.

MR. KAPLAN: I believe that it is $4 billion for Chrysler and the remainder, which would be $9.4 billion in December and January for GM, with the remaining $4 billion in February for GM. I apologize, I know those -- it's a little confusing just because of the coincidence of the numbers.

Q: And how do you resolve the Cerberus issue, because they are a private company -- it calls for warrants, the loans. How does the administration -- or the loan terms deal with that?

MR. KAPLAN: Yes, the specifics of how the Treasury intends to get warrants from Chrysler, which is privately held, I'm going to have to rely on Treasury to give the details on. But these loans are to the auto manufacturing companies of GM and Chrysler.

Q: Joel, how do you measure viability -- especially as you get close to March 31st, is there a gray area? And what's the determinant on whether or not a company is or is not viable?

MR. KAPLAN: The determinant is the economic test that I spelled out at the beginning, which is that a firm will only be deemed viable if it has a positive net present value, taking into account all of its existing and future costs. So that means they got to reduce their costs and they got to come forward with reasonable assumptions of what their revenues are going to be. And the President's designee will take a look at that and say, does that satisfy the test of positive net present value? They've also got to demonstrate that they've got an ability to repay the loan that's calculated in their existing and future costs.

And then, we've set out, again, some of these specific conditions that we think are sort of indicia of whether you in fact have made the difficult decisions, or stakeholders have, to achieve long-term viability. Those are the ones I talked about with the competitiveness rules and the work rules for labor, the conversion of debt to equity. Those are the types of things you would expect to see.

But at the end of the day, what matters is an economic equation of whether or not you've got a plan that objective observers will look at -- most importantly the President's designee -- but other observers are going to look at this, as well. I think it's fair to say this is going to be pretty highly scrutinized when they come forward with their plan. And there's an economic test and people are going to look at it and say, okay, have they really brought their costs down in the way that they said they have? And are they making reasonable assumptions about what sort of sales and revenues they're going to have going forward? And those are the kinds of things that I think the next administration is going to have to look at by that March 31st date.

I'll also say there is a intermediate milestone in the loan terms in mid-February. So not exactly, but basically halfway between now and then, where the firms have to come forward and say, this is the business model, this is what we're trying to achieve, and then they have the remaining time between February -- I think it's February 17th -- and March 31st to actually deliver; that is, to get the agreements necessary to actually satisfy the business model.

Yes, sir.

Q: Hi, yes, you said if -- you said there's room in the current first tranche of the $700 billion to reallocate things. Why don't you just do that instead of having to go and ask for the second half? And secondly, what could President-Elect Obama do to change the terms of this in any way if he wanted to when he becomes President?

MR. KAPLAN: Yes, on the first part of your question, I don't believe the Treasury Department is interested in reallocating. They've announced some very important programs that are critical to our health of our financial sector and they expect to be able to continue those programs. They have also, though, made clear that in order to access the last $4 billion in the facility, they will need to go into the final $350 billion. There's not a need to reallocate right now because they are -- that money is not needed by the auto manufacturer until February.

Secretary Paulson will have a statement at some point this morning, I suspect, and he will address more specifically the implications for the TARP and why it is that in the very short term the committed but unexpended TARP balances give him confidence that we have the necessary resources needed to address a significant market event.

So, some things to balance here, but the Secretary of the Treasury has reviewed it and has concluded that we can do these things within the amount that's been allotted so far.

Q: And on the next President? And on Obama -- I'm sorry.

MR. KAPLAN: Yes, on President-Elect, when he becomes President, they -- his Treasury Department will become the lender and they will step in for the current Treasury Department. And I expect that they will have the same considerations that the current administration has about the need for these stakeholders to make very significant concessions. As I mentioned in my answer to the previous question, this is a mathematical judgment, an economic judgment as to whether these companies are viable. And that's in the loan term.

The comments I have seen from the President-elect and the public comments and the consultations that we've had indicate that the President-elect's team views the problem very similarly to the way the President and his team does, in that he has said, we don't want to put -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- we don't want to put good money after bad and we want the automakers, the U.S. auto industry, to succeed, but we know that for them to succeed is going to require very meaningful concessions from all the stakeholders.

Q: It sounds like you're going to try and put the UAW on par with the non-union workers in the same criteria.

MR. KAPLAN: There's no question that one of the conditions, the targets that we have included in the loan terms, is a requirement that the work force for the U.S. auto companies that receive the loan become competitive with the --

Q: You want them to give up their benefits -- health and so forth?

MR. KAPLAN: We think that as a part of viability, it's going to be very important for all stakeholders to make concessions. One of the main stakeholders, obviously, in this discussion, is going to have to be the labor unions. And we think that being competitive with the -- with their competitors is part of what makes a firm viable. And so that's why we've set the conditions and we've set those specific targets.

Now, we have also said that when the company comes forward with its business plan and its restructuring plan for viability, they can deviate from the specific terms of those targets. But if they do so, they're going to have to explain why and they're going to have to explain how it is that deviating from what seemed like fairly sensible requirements but does not jeopardize the long-term health of their company, because we think that's what the American people want to see.

Q: Restructuring -- you're talking about benefits and so forth, prices, wages.

MR. KAPLAN: We're talking about costs that these auto companies have across the board, and there's no question that in order to restructure, everybody is going to have to come to the table. And part of that equation is just going to have to be labor. And --

Q: We're not talking about new cars, per se, I mean, new hybrids and so forth.

MR. KAPLAN: I believe the loan terms do include the language that was in the bill that was headed towards the Senate floor, requiring the restructuring plan to include plans to comply with applicable federal fuel-efficiency and emissions requirements. So that is a part of the plan for viability.

Just about everybody I've seen in the debate -- from the auto manufacturers to their supporters on Capitol Hill to their critics on Capitol Hill -- have recognized that part of what you need to do to be successful is to ensure that you're going to have not just reduced cost, but increased revenues and increased sales. And part of the solution for increased sales is to make sure that you're building the innovative cars that are going to be required in the years ahead. So that is part of the equation, as well.

Q: These loan terms are very tough, obviously, and I'm sure that's by design -- three-year repayment for a gigantic amount of money, all these targets you talked about, all that aside from this economic calculation. How likely do you think it is that they can meet those and avoid bankruptcy? Or is this just sort of a way station before they go into bankruptcy?

MR. KAPLAN: No, it's -- we would like them to achieve the fundamental restructuring that they need to achieve outside of the Chapter 11 process. This gives them --

Q: How likely do you think that is?

MR. KAPLAN: I don't know. That's going to be something that they're going to have to -- by "they," I mean all of their stakeholders -- are going to have to wrestle with and see what they can do in the next three months. This basically tells them, as the President said in his remarks, now is the time. This gives them an opportunity to achieve the type of restructuring that is often only achieved under the supervision of a bankruptcy court. This gives them an opportunity to do it. Whether they will take that opportunity or not, I certainly hope they will. We're trying to provide them the assistance that will incentivize them to do so. And if they don't, they will have to face the consequences of having the loan recalled by March 31st.

So I agree with you the conditions of the loan are tough, but I think that they have to be tough if we're to be successful in achieving the restructuring that I think most objective observers would say is necessary for these companies to be viable, and also necessary for them to warrant the taxpayers' assistance.

Q: Joel, this competitiveness that you're talking about, wage competitiveness, specifically, cutting debt by two-thirds -- if these elements are so important, why not make them requirements, something Republicans were pushing for, rather than targets? Is that -- it almost looks like an out of some kind.

MR. KAPLAN: I wouldn't call it an out, I'd call it a balance, which is we did not have them in our original terms because what we've been focused on is what's the final outcome. Different companies have different models, they make different decisions, they enter into different contracts. But one thing successful companies all have in common is that they have a viable business model.

We did not believe when we negotiated the original language that we were in a position -- frankly, that anybody was in a position -- to determine exactly which concessions each party has to make. We thought that what was really important was the comprehensive plan at the end of the day that altogether resulted in a plan that was viable.

That said, in the context of the congressional debate, there were some pretty good ideas. There were some good ideas about the types of things that you would want to see, or would expect to see, in a plan for restructuring. So we said we will incorporate those good ideas, but we are not going to assume that sitting here today, writing a loan term, we have a monopoly on the wisdom of what the ultimate plan will look like.

So we have --

Q: If they miss the target, do they have to -- do they have to meet it at some point? When they offer the explanation "We didn't meet this target because" --

MR. KAPLAN: They have to explain why they've deviated from it and why their complete plan -- including whatever deviations -- leads to viability. So I would expect that when they do that they're going to have to say, okay, so we didn't do a two-thirds debt for equity swap, we did a 60 percent debt for equity swap, and here's why, and here's why we think that's okay, and we think that -- I'm just using an example here, illustrative example -- why we think that nonetheless this is a plan that leads to viability. And then the burden will fall still on the President's designee at that point to take a look at the plan and say, okay, I see why those deviations were made, I see your overall plan and I agree with you that you've accomplished the type of restructuring needed to warrant the continuation of this loan.

Q: You touched on my question. The President -- the car czar, is that still in the plan?

MR. KAPLAN: What's in the plan is the President's designee. We had hoped that there would be a car czar established as a result of the legislation. The truth is we are 31 days out. In the near term, the President's designee will be the Treasury Secretary, who has leadership and responsibility for implementing the TARP. And we will remain in close contact with the President-elect's team. And if the President-elect's team believe that it will be helpful to have a person identified who could span the two administrations to work with the companies, we will certainly be open to that. But we don't -- we don't think that's something that we should impose just for 31 days, when the next administration may or may not have a different view about how they want to handle it.

So we'll remain in consultation with them, but the key is we've set the terms, we put them in the loan. Hopefully we'll have signatures sometime in the very, very near future. And then we'll just remain in contact with the Obama team and see what they'd like us to do.

Q: Does that mean Paulson is going to be getting folks together and knocking heads together, or is it --

MR. KAPLAN: You know, I think in the near term -- meaning the next 30 days -- what they really need to do is knock heads together themselves. And they need to sit down and say, okay, guys, we've got until March 31st; we've got an interim deadline by February 17th; we need to get to work and we need to figure out what's a business model that adds up to success and viability.

Like I said, if the President-elect's team believes it will be helpful for us to name somebody, with their concurrence and suggestion, we would certainly be open to that. But given that the number of days is now short for this administration, we thought the most important thing was to get the loan terms and the conditions established and get those out the door.

Ed, and then I think this is the last question.

Q: Real quickly, would it be a good move to have a merger between GM and Chrysler?

MR. KAPLAN: Ed, I'm going to just sort of repeat something I've said already, which is what we're interested in is a viable U.S. auto manufacturing industry. We are not going to tell them exactly what it will take to be viable. There are certainly people out there who have argued that a merger would be useful. That's something that obviously the companies -- their management and their boards -- will have to consider. And they'll have to make determinations as they do in the course of their normal business -- but they're going to have to do them quickly, obviously -- about whether or not that's something that makes sense. We are not going to tell the manufacturers what the right structure is for them to be viable. We're just going to tell them that if you want taxpayer assistance, you're going to have to make those decisions and you're going to have to prove it. That's the idea.

Thanks very much, appreciate the time.

MS. PERINO: Okay. Since he was up here for nearly 40 minutes, I think that was probably enough -- but if you have additional questions on this, I can answer them. I would point out that Treasury Department plans to have, I think, a technical briefing on these details at 10:30 a.m., so in about 20 minutes.

So, Steve.

Q: One thing I didn't hear was, is there a taxpayer stake in the companies, other than being promised that it will be repaid back if they can't meet their --

MS. PERINO: Not that I -- no, I don't believe so. I think it's just the fact that they would be paid back. But I will double check for you and make sure.

Q: Is that part of the House bill?

MS. PERINO: I don't know. I'll have to check for you.

Q: Dana, the U.S. is signing a strategic partnership agreement with Ukraine this morning at the State Department. My first question -- there are three brief ones -- my first question is, if this is so important as to do this a month before going out the door, why sign it at the State Department rather than at the White House?

MS. PERINO: I'm not familiar with what exactly the agreement is. Maybe it's just that it's appropriate that it be signed at the State Department by the Secretary of State. Obviously our support for Ukraine is well known and I don't think that's going to change in 31 days when the President-elect comes onboard. I think the support for Ukraine is going to hold strong.

Q: And that's actually my second question. Has this been a needle in the incoming administration President --

MS. PERINO: I don't know if it has to be, but I don't have any reason to believe that they would not support a democratically elected government of Ukraine.

Q: And lastly, I guess in the context we have been discussing here -- last but not least -- the thing that Ukraine needs most at this point is a real financial bailout. Their currency is in a free fall. The bailout that the IMF (inaudible) seems to have done more harm than good by its conditions. The question here, I guess, is, are you prepared to help your strategic partner to survive this winter?

MS. PERINO: Well, I'm sure that the IMF when they went forward to try to help the Ukrainians thought about all of the ramifications and I'm sure none of the problems are going to be solved overnight. It's probably going to take a long time to get it done. Let us check into the specifics of the needs there, but I think that the IMF has it covered. It's just going to take a while for them to shake it all out.

Q: Thank you.

END 10:15 A.M. EST



Citation: George W. Bush: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino and Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Joel Kaplan," December 19, 2008. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=85105.
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