Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:34 A.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: All right. I will have an update for you about the President's activities on the economy in a moment, so bear with me though, I have a couple of other things. The President at 2:05 p.m. today will have a secure video teleconference with PRT leaders, provincial reconstruction team leaders in Afghanistan, and President Karzai will join him for that. PRTs are helping to improve the lives of Afghan citizens, and they'll have a chance to hear about their progress.
Following that, the President will meet with President Karzai in the Oval Office. He looks forward to discussing with him the state of the international community's ongoing efforts to help improve security there and reconstruction in Afghanistan, as well as the governance of Afghanistan. And it will give them a chance to talk about the expansion of the Afghan National Army, the continued training of that army, and the strategic partnership talks.
Just for your -- just as a reminder, the two leaders last met in Egypt in May during the President's visit to the Middle East.
Also, at 4:20 p.m. today, as I told you yesterday, the President will meet with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown. That will be in the Oval Office, and they will discuss the global economy; certainly Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Georgia, and other issues of shared concern.
At 7:00 p.m. this evening, the President and Mrs. Bush will attend the 2008 National Book Festival Gala performance and dinner. Both events are being held at the Library of Congress, Jefferson Building, here in Washington. There are approximately 400 guests and we can provide you more information, or the First Lady's office could, too, if you're going to have anything on that.
Also, we welcome the Senate's ratification yesterday evening of Albania's and Croatia's ascension to NATO. This step recognizes the tremendous progress made by these countries in recent years. Their membership in NATO, once ratification by other allies is completed, will be a great asset to the alliance. Both countries are already active participants in military operations, along with U.S. forces and those of our allies. The Senate vote underscores how these new democracies have helped to close a dark chapter in the history of the Balkans, and are making strides in ensuring the entire region is peaceful, democratic, and on the path toward full Euro-Atlantic integration.
We also hope to welcome Macedonia as a member of NATO as soon as the issue of its name is resolved, and to continue NATO's enlargement process to include other allies in the future.
Now, you heard from the President already this morning about the economy. I know you've been following the developments on Capitol Hill. Let me just give you a little bit of what is going on here at the White House to help bring this to a conclusion. The President has been talking with his senior advisors Josh Bolten, Joel Kaplan, Ed Gillespie, Dan Meyer, Keith Hennessey, Eddie Lazear, and others. The President spoke to the Republican leaders this morning, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. He will be on the phone with other members today, I would expect, and I'll provide you updates as possible throughout the day.
Josh Bolten and Joel Kaplan have been on the phone regularly with members of Congress, as well. The President instructed his legislative affairs team and his economic policy advisors here at the White House and at Treasury to keep working with Congress. Keith Hennessey, the Director of the National Economic Council, is on the Hill right now meeting with members. He's also been on the phone with members to discuss the policy options and the concerns and trying to find a way that we can resolve them.
Dan Meyer, who is the Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs, was in the meeting last night on Capitol Hill. He was up there again this morning, and his staff, John Emling and Chris Frech are also up there working with members to address their concerns. Secretary Paulson is also on the Hill, and he's calling in providing updates to Joel Kaplan and Josh Bolten and to the President, as well. He was also meeting with members, and then working the phones last night.
So we have a lot of work to do, but I think things are continuing to head in the right direction. One thing we know is that everyone understands the urgency with which we need to get something done.
Q: When you said that they're working, that people from the White House are working with Congress, are they working to push the administration plan, the Paulson plan, or are they exploring avenues of compromise?
MS. PERINO: As the President wanted them to do yesterday, is to listen to the concern and see if there were areas that we could find compromise that would still allow the plan to work. So I don't have the nitty-gritty details on what they are, but the President has said let's listen to their concerns.
We've already come their way on a few things, on both the Republicans' and the Democrats' side. For example, when we put out the legislation last Saturday, which was an outline, we asked for their feedback. One of the things that understandably people wanted to have was more transparency and oversight. So we are willing to work with them on that. I think there are still some modifications that some of the members would like to see in that regard. We're willing to look at them.
In addition to that, there's the issue of executive compensation, and should there be limits for companies whose CEOs participate in this program. And Hank Paulson is trying to work with his team on the details as to what that would look like.
Q: But you're talking about modifications of the administration plan. What about the sort of separate idea that House Republicans have broached -- is the White House pushing back against that? Are you asking them not to go there?
MS. PERINO: I think that's the way I would describe it. There are some alternatives and variations to what we had proposed that have come forward. What the President said he would do is at the end of the day, when this legislation is crafted, that he would look to his Secretary of the Treasury and Ben Bernanke, the Fed Chairman, and he would ask them one question: Does this legislation do what needs to be done in order to help save the economy? And if the answer is yes, then we'll all have done our duty on behalf of the American people.
So that's the -- that is the spirit with which we have gone forward with these negotiations. And we're trying to reach a conclusion that would also solve the problem.
Q: Dana, can you help me understand what happened yesterday when there seemed to be a deal, and then it appeared to all fall apart at the White House meeting? What happened in that meeting?
MS. PERINO: Well, I would disagree that it fell apart at the White House. The President invited the leaders and both presidential candidates to come to the White House yesterday, gave them an opportunity to each have the floor to express any concerns. I would say the meeting was very constructive -- the large majority of it.
There's obviously concerns -- we've asked Congress to do something huge. We've asked them to bite off a lot and to pass some -- pass a massive package in a very short amount of time. And they've worked very hard. They had hearings quickly; they've educated their members. And the President thanked all of them. The members thanked the President for the speech that he gave Wednesday night, which they thought helped.
Now, there are alternatives and variations that some House Republican members have wanted to put forward, and Speaker Pelosi has been very clear that she wants to see a certain number of Republican votes. And John Boehner is working very hard to find -- to figure out a way, how can my members' considerations and concerns be included in this package in a way that will still solve the problem? So that's what they're working towards.
Yesterday afternoon was something that I think was -- it was a good moment for everyone to vent their frustrations, as well, if they had them. But I think what you see today, from the reaction of the members of Congress who left here, went back to Capitol Hill and worked until late into the evening -- they brought their staffs back in early this morning, and they're going to have further negotiations today. They all understand that they can get it done, and I appreciate that Senator Reid said that he doesn't see any reason why we couldn't get this done before opening bell on Monday.
Q: How important is it to get it done by opening bell Monday?
MS. PERINO: I'm just going to say it's important that we get it done as quickly as possible. Secretary Paulson has talked about the concerns across the board with the economy, but certainly with the credit markets that have shown troubling signs of tightening up even more in the past several days. And what that means is that it hurts everybody down the food chain. It hurts people who are trying to get loans for their homes or their businesses; you can't grow your business -- everything that freezes up. And if no one in the financial community trusts each other to lend money, then we're going to have a complete and total financial collapse. And that's what we're trying to -- that's what we're trying to prevent.
So I would say it's critical we get it done quickly. I appreciate that Senator Reid said that they think they can get it done before opening bell on Monday.
Q: Whatever Congress comes up with as a final package, if they pass it, will the President basically sign it?
MS. PERINO: Well, what I -- I'll tell you once again, this is what the President is going to do. He's going to continue to work with the members of Congress. He has a staff up there working with them very closely. And once it's finished and once there's a deal, the President will turn to Secretary Paulson and say, does this solve the problem?
I don't think there's any member of Congress that doesn't want the package ultimately to solve the problem, which is why they're all working so hard today.
Q: And what happens if it doesn't get done by Monday?
MS. PERINO: Look, we're just going to keep -- we are going to keep working at it. We don't have any reason to believe that we can't get it done by Monday.
Q: Dana, Secretary Paulson has said publicly that the approach the House Republicans want, mortgage insurance, won't work. Is the President going to --
MS. PERINO: Look, I don't think that there's --
Q: -- consider something the Secretary already said won't work?
MS. PERINO: I think that I'd be careful. We don't know all the details and all the discussions that are ongoing, because we are not negotiating in the press. So I don't know exactly how Republicans are framing this and putting forward their considerations. I know that Minority Leader Boehner has just sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi that outlines some of their concerns and asks for consideration. We will be considering those issues, too. And that's what we're doing up there right now.
Q: But he's considering an approach that his Treasury Secretary is rejecting?
MS. PERINO: I don't know that anybody up there on the Hill thinks that the insurance suggestion would take over the whole program. So I think we just need to let the negotiators continue to work it out.
Q: Dana --
MS. PERINO: I'm going to go to Elaine.
Q: Dana, Senator McCain is heading to the debate now -- it's been announced, it's official. First of all, what's the White House reaction to that? And then secondly, does that -- should that be interpreted as a sign that things are well enough in hand, in terms of the negotiations, that his presence in Washington is no longer needed?
MS. PERINO: I think you'll be very dissatisfied with my answer, that I'm going to let Senator McCain and political pundits decide what it means. But I think what I would point you to is the public comments from Senators Reid, Senator Gregg, and the fact that the President has his whole team with all hands on deck to make sure that we get this solved.
Q: But didn't you want his presence yesterday in order to help drive things to a conclusion? That's what we kept hearing --
MS. PERINO: What we've said is that if the two presidential candidates -- since we're trying to pass this massive package in the middle of a presidential election -- that if their participation in the meeting yesterday could help finalize things, that that would be for the better. I'll let others decide and analyze, and once it's all finished, everybody can take a look back and see if it was helpful or not. I do think it was actually very useful for everyone to be able to meet yesterday with the President of the United States, talk about the discussions they've had over the past several days and where they needed to go to drive this to a conclusion, and the President was very clear that there's going to be one test for this legislation: Does Secretary Paulson and does Ben Bernanke believe that this will solve the problem?
And that's -- so that's the framework everyone is driving towards.
Q: Senator Obama said --
Q: What do you think -- what progress do you think happened between yesterday and just now for John McCain to say he's going to resume his campaign and go to the debate?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I couldn't tell you what his --
Q: He says there's been progress since yesterday's meeting.
MS. PERINO: Senator Reid said the same thing; so did Senator Gregg. And I'm going to let the negotiators continue. As I said, we've been -- we feel like we've been close, but we're not quite there yet. There are many members of Congress, especially on the House Republican side, who have a lot of concerns, and I understand those concerns. We get it. This President did not want to have to take this route, either. But it was after being briefed repeatedly by his Secretary of the Treasury and his Fed Chairman that if we did not do something drastic, that we would have -- we would be facing financial calamity, that the President of the United States said we can't sit by and let that happen. If we have a way that could fix it and to stabilize and strengthen the financial markets, we have an obligation to do that.
Q: Do you think the debate adds to or detracts from the work that will be done on the Hill?
MS. PERINO: I just don't know. But I think it'll be fun to watch. (Laughter.)
Q: Senator Obama said that it was unhelpful to inject presidential politics into the delicate negotiations. What's your take on that?
MS. PERINO: I don't have a take on it. We're focused on trying to get the legislation done, and I'll let political reporters like yourself, or pundits, decide.
Q: -- saying it was a bad idea to have the meeting yesterday --
MS. PERINO: What I just said is that I think that it was useful to have everybody at the table yesterday so that we knew where we stood and that we could go forward and try to get a deal.
Q: Whose idea was it to have the presidential candidates there? Was that John McCain's suggestion --
MS. PERINO: Yes, yes. That's what we've said before.
Q: Dana, you mentioned in your opening remarks that the President called the leaders Boehner and McConnell this morning. Has the President reached out personally to any of the rank-and-file House Republicans, either by phone or in person, to try to personally persuade them --
MS. PERINO: I'll have to get back to you, because I don't know who all he might have seen over the past week. But those are -- he's trying to work with the leadership as they try to manage their caucuses.
Q: And is he at all disappointed that members of his own party, you know, these are people -- you know, obviously, he's still the titular head of the Republican Party -- are not going along with his exhortations?
MS. PERINO: The President understands that a lot of them have reservations -- even about the concept, about the government intervening in the free market. He had the same instinct. But he believes that with the education that he got and then the ones that he -- what we have provided to members of Congress, that they understand that we should -- we cannot stand by and just let this happen if we have a way to try to fix it.
You'll recall that this President has been -- has shown bold leadership on many different issues. And there have been a couple of them that come to mind where not all the House Republicans were with the President. Not all the Senate Republicans were with the President on issues. But he has led on important issues like Social Security, immigration, and now this one, where we try to help drive to a conclusion.
The President believed in the urgency of Social Security and immigration, but they pale in comparison to the urgency of this package.
Q: What does the President think about Gordon Brown's call for tighter global regulations to prevent this thing from spreading and recurring on a global level?
MS. PERINO: Well, here in our own country we know that we need to improve our regulatory system. We're dealing in the 21st century with something that was designed ad hoc in the 1930s and not in a systemic way. So we need a systemic solution to the immediate problem, and then we need to look at the regulations.
As we've said, President Bush -- and even going back to President Clinton -- they tried to deal with the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac issue in a way that was not receptive by members of Congress, both led by Republicans and led by Democrats. We finally got legislation when we were in the middle of a major crisis just this past August. There's going to be a time and a place for us to go forward with regulations. I would submit to you that Secretary Paulson has a very good blueprint that he recommended last spring; unfortunately, it fell on deaf ears. But I think now people have woken up and will start having hearings on that as soon as they can.
Q: But he's talking about regulations at a national level. Is the President --
MS. PERINO: Right.
Q: -- is the President open to giving international organizations --
MS. PERINO: Let's let them have the meeting today and find out. I think that the G7 ministers have had good conversations; they've been very supportive of the action that we have been trying to take over the past week. So let's -- let us have the meeting today and then we'll see if there's any more we can add.
Go ahead, Roger.
Q: You said he had made some calls to McConnell and some of the others. Has he made them to people like Cantor, who are --
MS. PERINO: I think I just told Mike -- he's talked to the -- he's been working through the leadership, but I'll check and see if there's been any other contact.
But let me just point out I'm sure Secretary of the Treasury has; Josh Bolten or Joel Kaplan could have talked to them, as well, but I just don't know.
Q: Dana, I think a couple things everybody agrees on is that the root of this problem and the downward spiral will continue until you have the housing market stabilized. And another factor is crisis of confidence that also could cause this to worsen. If you try to, as you said, put a massive package through in a very short period of time, and you're sending a message that if you don't do this the economy could collapse --
MS. PERINO: And your question?
Q: -- aren't you creating a crisis of confidence? And aren't you --
MS. PERINO: Those are the very problems that we're trying to solve. And I think if you look at the reaction that we had from the vast majority of people who have looked at this problem, who understand it, think that we have a package that could help stabilize the markets. That's what we're trying to do.
Q: But this is uncharted territory, and you're saying that you're not going to go forward until you're sure that you have a plan that will fix it. How can you say that?
MS. PERINO: Well, why would we go forward with a plan that we didn't think would fix it?
Q: Because it's uncharted territory. How do you know for sure that it'll work?
MS. PERINO: Looking at -- I trust that Secretary Paulson and Ben Bernanke and all the experts that they are working with, and the members on Capitol Hill and their very experienced staff, are all working towards trying to make sure that we get the right package.
Q: Another subject -- Iran.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q: Is that -- word from the United -- from the U.N. that there is agreement with Russia on more sanctions.
MS. PERINO: I have not heard that, so let me check. That might be coming out of the U.N.
Q: -- Ambassador was --
MS. PERINO: Okay, I'll check. Obviously we've been working very hard. I know the President plans to talk to Gordon Brown about Iran today and we've been trying to make the point to our U.N. Security Council partners that we have to continue to push forward to respond to Iran's non-response; that there are negative consequences for not answers the demands of the international community. So I will check.
Q: Dana, back to the meeting last night, Senator Reid has basically blamed this all on Senator McCain. Can you help me understand what was McCain's role in that meeting last night?
MS. PERINO: Look, I -- one of the things that's very difficult about this situation is that we are dealing with a major crisis in the middle of presidential election. I've worked very hard to navigate a path where I'm not inserting myself into presidential politics, and I think that Senator Reid -- I'll just let him speak for himself and I'll let political analysts or reporters like yourself try to ferret out whether they think it was a good or a bad thing to have the meeting.
I think we -- from our perspective, we think it was a good thing to have everyone there. The President opened it up so that everybody would have a chance to speak. Senator Obama and Senator McCain both had a chance to talk about their views last night in the meeting. And ultimately, I think that it will be helpful, because we're going to get to a conclusion hopefully sooner than later.
Q: Well, what did McCain say?
MS. PERINO: Oh, I wouldn't -- I haven't said what anybody said in the meeting. Go ahead, Connie.
Q: Thank you. Two questions. First of all, on Gordon Brown, will the President be consulting, or will he be asking for advice? Can you go into the agenda in detail on that meeting?
MS. PERINO: You missed the top of the briefing, so I'll give you that -- so, no, I'm not going to provide any detail. The President will talk to him about the global financial -- I'm sorry, the -- America's financial crisis, which threatens the rest of the world. And I think everyone recognizes that, especially the G7 ministers.
And the members of -- the heads of state that the President saw up at the U.N., from developing countries to developed countries, all were focused on this issue, wanted to know what America was doing, and that's why the President addressed it up at the U.N. Let me let Gordon Brown and the President have their meeting, and we'll provide a readout.
Q: One more question. (Inaudible.) But one other question, how is the morale of the staff at this time? It's a difficult way to end an --
MS. PERINO: I think we're holding up just fine. I mean, look, we understand that this is -- this is the time when everyone needs to pull together, work extremely hard. We're working hard here, but so are members of Congress and their staffs, people at the Treasury Department and the Fed and the SEC.
So everybody's working hard, because this is a moment where you need to rise to the occasion and get something done.
Q: But is the staff totally focused on the crisis, or are you looking towards the future, your future?
MS. PERINO: Am I worried about my future? I'm not worried about my future.
Q: Dana, two quick questions. One, as far as Prime Minister of India's meeting with the President yesterday, he got caught in the midst of so many things happening in Washington. You think this civil nuclear agreement still on, or it's going to take place, or going to pass this before Congress leaves?
MS. PERINO: We hope so. And we're trying to work with members of Congress to see if we can get it done before they adjourn.
Q: And second, as far as President's meeting with Afghanistan's President, and also he met with the President of Pakistan in New York. There's a fight going on between Afghanistan and Pakistan on the border, and there's some kind of tensions are also building up, and as far as the Secretary of Defense is concerned, he's also not very much happy, as far as the help from Pakistan in the future is concerned. What does he think about after meeting with Mr. -- President Zardari?
MS. PERINO: President Zardari and President Bush both agreed that we need to continue cooperation, that we are friends, that we respect their sovereignty, we respect their democracy. We also recognize that the common enemy is al Qaeda and the terrorists. And it is -- it became very clear there when the President talked about Prime Minister Bhutto, the late Prime Minister Bhutto who was killed by terrorists, that President Zardari and the rest of his team understand what they're up against.
We're going to continue to push them, we're going to cooperate with them, and we're going to make sure that we repel this threat.
Did you have one?
Q: Actually, Dana, sorry, can I follow on that?
MS. PERINO: Okay. Sure.
Q: The Pakistanis have been firing at coalition aircraft in the past couple days. Is that the way an ally in the war on terror behaves?
MS. PERINO: I think that -- I would refer you to the Department of Defense for an explanation about all the details yesterday about the -- about a mile away, there was flares -- I'll let Department of Defense explain that. We're talking with them and communicating with them and we'll try to provide you timely information as well as we can. But what I will tell you is that President Zardari and President Bush pledged their commitment to work together.
Q: Just to follow up on the meeting -- two questions. One, do you think that in hindsight, you know, having these delicate negotiations and having this high-level meeting yesterday was a good idea? What's the President's view on that?
MS. PERINO: I think history will be the judge, but what I have said is I think that overall, at the end of the day, having the meeting allowed everyone to realize where we were in the negotiations and what needed to be done to help finish the discussions.
Q: And has he been surprised at the level of non-support from the rank-and-file Republicans?
MS. PERINO: I wouldn't call it -- I wouldn't say that the President was surprised, because he's kept regularly updated. I think that he is concerned that they feel like their concerns, their alternatives, their variations on the proposal have been listened to. We've tried to accommodate them in some ways, but the President also understands that fundamentally, at their core, they probably do not want to support this plan.
A lot of people don't want to deal with this. No one's happy about having to do this. No one wants to do this right before an election. Nobody wants to do this, because they want to be out on the campaign trail. But there are times in America when you put aside partisan differences and you come together and you try to find the best package in order to help Americans. That's what we're trying to do today, and I think Republicans --
Q: Is he surprised at the level of opposition, though?
MS. PERINO: No, I think -- I couldn't describe it either way. I mean, this is a huge issue with -- to use Paula's word, it's uncharted territory. It's not something that we have dealt with before in our country's history, so I don't think that there's -- you don't have anything to compare it to. I think that's what I'd say.
Q: One more quick one. Do you think President Bush has confidence and trust in ability and willingness of President Zardari because he had with Prime Minister Bhutto?
MS. PERINO: As I said, we're going to continue to work with them.
Let me go back here. Go ahead.
Q: Yes, I just wanted -- McCain put out a statement saying that -- excuse me -- the McCain campaign put out a statement saying that whatever remarks Senator Obama did give in the meeting yesterday were "political posturing." Is than an accurate characterization?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to characterize it. Let me put it to you this way, having been there: I think everybody there was constructive and focused on trying to find a solution.
Q: So that contradicts what Senator McCain said.
MS. PERINO: I'm just saying that -- this is from my perspective, from where I sat. I'm sure that during a political season, there's going to be political rhetoric that goes back and forth. I'll let all of you sort that out. I'm just not going to get in the middle of it. I don't think it's appropriate for me to from this podium. And I think that the most important thing that we can do from the White House on behalf of all Americans is continue to focus and get this package done.
Q: OMB just sent out a -- looks like a veto of the second stimulus package. It says it doesn't meet the test like the first one. Can you explain that a little bit?
MS. PERINO: Well, you just got the document. You're a little bit at more of an advantage than I am, sitting here -- standing here. But we have talked before about the best way to stimulate the economy is to pass an energy bill. The best way to make sure that we stimulate the economy is to pass this rescue package.
There's some elements of the package that have been put forward by Democrats for a second stimulus that we do not think would be stimulative to the economy, such as unemployment insurance -- the food stamps, we believe we have met the need and that we were prepared to do more and there is reserve money available for that. So I'll let you all read that document that just came out from OMB, but that's -- our position on the stimulus -- second stimulus package hasn't changed.
END 11:59 A.M. EDT
George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Dana Perino Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/285450