Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:38 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello. One announcement for you. Tomorrow President Bush will deliver remarks at the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives National Conference. During his speech he will highlight the Initiative's record of helping millions in need across the country and around the world. We are working on getting you excerpts that will be released later this afternoon. I have two, though, that I can give you now.
One, he will specifically say on the philosophy behind the Faith-Based and Community Initiative the following: We followed a principle rooted both in our Constitution and the best traditions of our nation. Government should never fund the teaching of faith, but it should support the good works of the faithful.
And then on government support for faith-based and community groups, the President will say: Putting hope in people's hearts is the mission of our nation's faith-based and community groups. Groups like yours know that you are only as good as your results. It does not matter if there is a crescent on your group's wall, a rabbi on your group's board, or Christ in your group's name. If your organization puts medicine in people's hands, food in people's mouths, or a roof over people's heads, then you are succeeding, and the government should support your work.
And as I said, those excerpts will be released later this afternoon.
Q: What's President Bush's reaction to the Supreme Court 5-4 decision today outlawing executions of people convicted of raping a child?
MS. PERINO: I didn't -- I haven't seen the President to be able to talk to him, and the federal government did not have a brief in this case. And so I'm not able to really give you a specific reaction.
Q: Will you try to get one, though, or --
MS. PERINO: We can try, but I think it's important to note that the federal government has not weighed in or briefed on this case.
Q: Has the President ever considered an executive order that would ban torture specifically? There's a letter out now from a bipartisan group of former Secretaries of State, including Secretary of State George Shultz, with whom the President was a couple of weeks ago, and former Defense Secretaries and military officials saying that there should be an executive order with the force of law saying that torture is unacceptable.
MS. PERINO: Well, we certainly respect the views of George Shultz. And one thing I would point to is that we have a set of laws that have been passed during this administration, and an executive order, in fact. There was the Detainee Treatment Act, there was the Military Commissions Act, and then there was the President's executive order interpreting Common Article 3.
So we feel like we have taken steps to address that issue. And I would also point out that we face a very different enemy today than America has ever faced before. We face an enemy that respects no borders, respects no uniforms, and certainly has no regard for civilians, especially innocent women and children and the elderly. So we take his position seriously, but we do think that we have the mechanisms in place to address the issue.
Q: Dana, the Queen of England has stripped Robert Mugabe of his knighthood and I think people in this country are starting to pay a little bit more attention, especially with his rival holed up in the Dutch embassy. What aside from putting -- making sort of the kind of moves that just sort of highlight the situation -- what can actually be done there to bring about some sort of significant change in the situation?
MS. PERINO: I think what you will see, and what the President will talk about today with the U.N. Security Council permanent representatives -- who he's going to meet with in just a couple of hours -- that this is an issue where the whole world needs to be speaking in a unified way and which they can work together to bring pressure to bear. And it's really important -- the President has pointed out how important it is that, increasingly, the African leaders have banded together to put pressure on the Mugabe regime.
So it's not just across a continent or across an ocean -- that the Queen of England or the President of the United States are speaking individually; that there is a chorus of voices who are unified saying that the blame for the situation that we have in Zimbabwe, which is deplorable, can be squarely laid at the feet of the Mugabe regime. And we have called for an end to the violence, and the U.N. Security Council will continue to talk about this. We are working to make sure that it remains firmly on the agenda so that people just don't forget about what's happened down there.
Q: But I mean, beyond the symbolic, their economy is already in horrible shape. I don't know what kind of economic pressure, what that would do. So what are some of the sort of possible solutions or places you can go to turn up --
MS. PERINO: If you're asking me about military action, I don't know of any plans of that sort. But what I can tell you is that increasingly African leaders are pushing. And in fact, this weekend, President Kikwete of Tanzania, who chairs the African Union this year, is going to be having a conference this weekend in order to talk about several of the issues facing sub-Saharan Africa, and one of them, the priority agenda item, is what's happening in Zimbabwe.
Q: Why is military action not an option?
MS. PERINO: I just said, if you're asking me in terms of military plans right now -- I didn't say it's not an option, but I'm not saying it is an option. I don't want you to read anything into my comments, Jim. You're leading me down a path that -- you're trying to get me to say something that is not something I know is being contemplated right now by the United States or anyone else. So I think what I would leave it at is that the President is working with the U.N. Security Council to speak with one voice, to bring pressure to bear on the Mugabe regime.
And I think that because you have African leaders increasingly pushing, that sounds a little bit different than just countries like the United States or the United Kingdom making comments. But if your neighbors are also making such demands, then you might have a different reaction, and we hope that that's true.
Q: After the meeting with President Talabani, how close is the U.S. and Iraq to reaching an agreement on the strategic force --
MS. PERINO: Well, they continue to work on it, and I couldn't put odds on it either way. But we continue to work on it. We think that it's critically important that we have some sort of mechanism to -- legal mechanism to make sure that our forces can operate legally there. So they had a good conversation about it, and obviously the negotiators continue to work on the issue.
Q: Did they get into the details of it?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't think -- no, I don't -- the negotiators are getting into the details.
Go ahead, David.
Q: Thanks, Dana. I heard reports today that say that there is pressure coming from Israeli officials on the Bush administration to perhaps bomb Iran and target nuclear facilities there before the end of the Bush administration, and that if the U.S. doesn't do that, then they will. Does the White House agree that there is pressure being put by Israel officials --
MS. PERINO: This is a rumor that I hear quite a lot from reporters being brought to us. And what I can tell you is that President Bush believes that we can solve this issue diplomatically, and that everyone's preference is to solve it diplomatically, not just here in the United States, but with our allies and certainly with Israel.
Q: Are there differences between U.S. intelligence about Iran's nuclear capabilities and Israeli intelligence about --
MS. PERINO: I'm not in Israeli intelligence, so I couldn't tell you.
Q: Dana, back in January, when Mexican authorities arrested a suspect in connection with the death of Border Patrol agent Luis Aguilar, who was run down while trying to stop some vehicles that he believed had entered the country illegally, and they were trying to flee, apparently -- at that time, several members of the administration came forward, they expressed his condolences, praised his work and praised -- they expressed their appreciation for cooperation that they got from the Mexican government in the case. Apparently now the suspect who they arrested has been released. Does the administration know why, what the explanation for that is? And do you have any concerns about that?
MS. PERINO: I will look into it. Your note to me a little bit earlier was just something I had not known about, so I need to check into it. I wasn't able to check it with anybody in the time just now. But we'll check on it, and we'll see.
Q: Thank you, Dana. Two questions. The Washington Times this morning published Senator John Kerry and Gordon Smith's article calling for the lifting of a ban on immigration into the U.S. for those who have HIV or AIDS. And does the President agree or disagree?
MS. PERINO: They're calling for the lifting of the ban? Let me check what our official position is on it. Obviously, the President has wanted to do nothing but help people that have HIV/AIDS, and has done so across the world. So let me just check into it for you.*
Q: The New York Times reported this morning from San Francisco that the Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco is planning to ask voters to change the name of the prize-winning water treatment on the shoreline to, "The George W. Bush Sewage Plant." And my question: What is the White House reaction to this New York Times news report?
MS. PERINO: I just don't think it dignifies a response.
Q: But do you think that The New York Times doesn't deserve an answer? Is that what you're saying?
MS. PERINO: I think your question doesn't deserve an answer. (Laughter.)
Q: Wait a minute, what about The New York Times? I didn't bring it up. It was The New York Times, Dana, New York Times.
MS. PERINO: I don't think they were the first to report it.
Q: Well, don't you have any comment on The New York Times?
MS. PERINO: No. Since she's not here to defend herself, I'll pass.
Q: Thanks, Dana. European officials have said that the PEPFAR plan has really done a lot for the President's image in Europe and abroad.
MS. PERINO: Sorry, who has said?
Q: European officials, one would be the EU ambassador to the U.S. Anyway, Senator Coburn has a hold on this, along with I think six other senators. How involved has the White House been in trying to get an agreement passed on this? Is it important to do it before the G8? And does the White House agree with Coburn's position that there needs to be, I think, 55 percent of the funding going towards treatment?
MS. PERINO: I think that we've made tremendous progress towards getting this bill passed in the Senate. I think that while we would like to have it passed tomorrow, I don't think that we're putting a deadline on it in terms of the G8. We really want to make sure Congress does this before they leave for their recess in August. And we think that they could be -- they're in a position where they could actually get something done. And I think that I would go back and look at some of the progress we've made, and maybe check back with Senator Coburn's office, because we've been actively engaged with them, and I think we're making good progress.
Q: Who have been the negotiators for the White House that have been involved on this?
MS. PERINO: Well, obviously we have our Leg Affairs team, and then of course Ambassador Mark Dybul from the State Department is actively engaged, as well. And President Bush himself talks to members of Congress about it to make sure that they know how important he thinks it is that they pass this bill because of all the good work that it's doing. And I think that members of Congress recognize that, as well. I think we're just working on these details. There have been some concerns, but I think that we're able to address them.
Q: Has the President spoken to any of those Senators with the hold on it?
MS. PERINO: I don't know in particular, but -- I'll check for you, but I think that I would check back with those offices because I do think that we've made some progress.
Q: Dana, on Monday you said -- back to Zimbabwe -- the Mugabe regime was never going to allow a free and fair election to take place on Friday. Does the President believe that the election in March should be the decision for the basis of a Zimbabwe government?
MS. PERINO: Well, a couple of things. I think that we do believe that the people of Zimbabwe spoke very clearly on March 29th and that -- but consistent with their constitution, there was going to be a run-off, and it's that run-off that was not going to be free and fair. And therefore, we think that the government of Zimbabwe currently is an illegitimate government because they didn't allow for their free and fair election.
So I think that you have to go back and look. I do think that MDC won that election on March 29th, but consistent with their constitution was headed to a run-off.
Q: The hope for the U.N. Security Council is to take action; is it in the form of a resolution, and how would that resolution be enforced?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that -- they just finished -- I think Tuesday, they finished a U.N. Security Council president's statement -- I'm sorry, it was Monday -- U.N. Security Council statement, which, remember, that has to be agreed to by all parties. It's a 15-member organization that everybody has to speak with one voice. And so they had a tough negotiation, but I think at the end of the day, everyone agreed on what we thought was a very strong statement. But if you look at what the African leaders are saying and what other world leaders are continuing to say, as Jim mentioned, then the pressure on the Mugabe regime is getting tighter.
What's so tragic is that Mugabe doesn't appear to care and he doesn't care about the safety of the individuals there who -- regardless of whether they even voted or not, they just absolutely sent out terror -- terror squads and killed people. And then, I think also, tragically, whereas Zimbabwe used to be a net exporter of food, it's now an importer of food, and many people, millions of people are reliant on non-governmental organizations to help feed them, and they were banned from the country. So we have starvation on top of the other deplorable actions of the Mugabe regime. And that's why the neighbors of the region are also crying foul on the Mugabe regime, because it doesn't just -- it's a humanitarian issue and it's also quite destabilizing for that African -- that part of Africa.
Go ahead, Victoria.
Q: What was the President's reaction to the Justice Department report on improper hiring?
MS. PERINO: I said today that the President appreciated the fact that Attorney General Mukasey had already implemented all the recommendations that the Inspector General had put forth, and he expects that those should be implemented fully across the board, and that no politicization in terms of hiring practices should be allowed.
Q: Was he not surprised that such a process was taking place?
MS. PERINO: Was he not surprised?
Q: Was he surprised that such a process was taking place?
MS. PERINO: Well, I didn't ask if he was surprised or not. But we do know that he was thankful that General Mukasey had taken this on and had implemented the recommendations of the Inspector General.
Go ahead, Paula.
Q: On the Senate housing bill, are any of the provisions that you've said are unacceptable now negotiable?
MS. PERINO: I'm sorry, I can't hear you.
Q: Are any of the provisions that you have said are unacceptable now negotiable?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that there's a long way to go, because the House passed a bill and the Senate passed a bill. The House, remember, has -- had a very strong vote, and in regards to the President's position, we have a veto-proof margin in the House. So I think that congressional leaders have every reason in the world to try to work this out in conference in a way that they could get a bill to the President that he could sign.
So we are going to continue to work with them. We think that they have a lot of good provisions in the bill, including GSE reform, which we have said for a long time is essential. What we disagree with is the bailout for the lenders that was included in the $4 billion block grant proposal.
Q: On Zimbabwe, do you have any particular expectations for the African Union conference that you said was taking place?
MS. PERINO: I don't. I just know that it's taking place and that one of their main agenda items and the first order of business will be about Zimbabwe. But we can check and see if we can get more. Ambassador McGee spoke about this yesterday a little in a conference call with reporters, and his transcript is available on the State Department website.
Q: Dana, one on Zimbabwe, one on North Korea. Zimbabwe, any reason to think that the administration might be seeking to follow the Liberia model from earlier in the administration, getting Charles Taylor out --
MS. PERINO: I'd refer you to my answer to Jim. But, no, I don't think -- I have no reason -- I have no reason to suggest that. I think that the pressure is starting to build. And it's because of the leadership of the U.N. Security Council through the President's statement. But all of us are impatient and anxious and concerned for the well-being of the people who are there suffering in Zimbabwe. And it's hard to imagine what they're going through; I'm sure they feel like there's no end in sight. But I hope that they can take heart knowing that the international community is speaking with one voice and condemning the Mugabe regime and expressly working to make sure that the NGOs are able to get there in order to help people who are starving and in need of food.
Q: And on the -- on North Korea. Chris Hill says that whenever this first declaration comes, it's not expected to include an accounting of North Korea's weapons. Can you explain to me why the United States would take any steps at all to lift any sanctions, no matter how symbolic, without a full, complete accounting of North Korea's nuclear weapons?
MS. PERINO: I didn't see Chris Hill's comments. Obviously he's a little bit closer to this issue than I am. What I can tell you is that we will rigorously verify any declaration that the North Koreans put forward. Remember that part of this is that -- part of the deal is that if North Korea submits its declaration, they also have to dismantle and disable the Yongbyon plant. And that gets us closer to where we want to be, which is a denuclearized Peninsula. And also, it gives us further progress on our steps to cooperate on other goals such as a peace regime on a Korean Peninsula; a normalization of relations; a new mechanism to cooperate on peace and security in Northeast Asia, which is something that the neighborhood has talked about wanting to do; and, of course, an opportunity to improve the lives of the North Korean people, many of whom also suffer from the effects of starvation.
So in short, the six-party framework has given us an opportunity to get to this point where we are looking forward to getting a declaration, but also dismantling and disabling one of the places where they were developing weapons. Now, when that declaration comes, as Secretary Rice and the President have said, that we will rigorously verify that document.
Q: But it's not -- you're not going to be verifying things like where the weapons are or --
MS. PERINO: I wouldn't necessarily say that. We've had people on the ground there, we have technical experts there, and I think that we have learned a lot. In fact, Secretary Rice said the other day that we learn more on a regular basis, and the more we learned, the more we believe that we were right to have a concern, but also that we now have a mechanism and a framework for conversations to take place amongst the six parties -- China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, the United States and North Korea.
Q: On Dubai, what's the nature of this visit at Camp David? Is it a social visit?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that they'll do a little socializing, but they'll also do a little business, as well. President Bush met with the Crown Prince back in January -- January of 2008, and really enjoyed the hospitality, and learning more about the United Arab Emirates and all that they're working to do to modernize their country. And President Bush wanted to return the favor and the hospitality and to have them here to have a conversation about cooperation in terms of trade and investment, but also talk about issues such as working together to cooperate in tracking down terrorists that aim to harm them and us.
Q: How long will he be there?
MS. PERINO: He's coming in tomorrow. I think you guys have that on the schedule. That will be something that -- the press covers the arrival and then he's staying the night. And so there will be meetings the next day and then I think they take off Friday.
Q: And will you brief here on Friday?
MS. PERINO: I don't think so, now that -- we're going to have a Camp David day. So maybe everybody can -- of course, subject to change, but I don't think so.
Q: We just want you to brief, Dana -- always.
MS. PERINO: Who? You?
Q: Always want you to brief.
Q: I second that.
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I think there's a lot of people sharpening their knives for a vacation day.
Go ahead in the back.
Q: Back on North Korea, is the White House confident that 45 days will be enough time for a rigorous verification process?
MS. PERINO: You're talking about the State Department -- I'm sorry, state sponsor of terrorism list?
MS. PERINO: Look, I think that we are confident that we will rigorously verify this document. And just remember, we've been on the ground there for quite a while, and Chris Hill has been there. We have a lot of information to go on already. So I think that we have given ourselves the right amount of time to be able to tackle this problem in the best way possible.
Q: Dana, is the President satisfied with the $400 million package that was approved by the House last week for the Merida Initiative, without the conditions that interfere with the Mexican constitution mandates?
MS. PERINO: Well, it wasn't quite full funding that the President had asked for, so in that regards, the President is not satisfied. And I think that everyone can look at the situation -- and bringing up obviously the one that Kathleen just mentioned, in terms of violence on the border -- this initiative, this Merida Initiative is specifically aimed at trying to deal with that problem, from the drug trade and the other violence that is happening along the border. So we're going to continue to work with Congress, and we would hope that in the emergency supplemental that we expect for them to be able to pass this week that they would include full funding and everything else.
Q: Has the President ever met with a group of TV military analysts assembled by the Pentagon?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. But what -- I don't know.
Q: The Pentagon released emails saying that they were seeking such a meeting -- that was in March 2006.
MS. PERINO: I think it would probably have been a good idea if they had. It would have been a good meeting.
Q: What would such a meeting have --
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to speculate on a meeting that I don't remember, that I don't know it happened. I just will say I don't know, but I think it would have been a good idea had there been a meeting.
Q: Can you find out?
MS. PERINO: We'll see.
Q: Back on North Korea. With the lack of the weapon-related information, how can you verify -- how can you verify the weapon-related information with the lack of the weapon-related information?
MS. PERINO: I think that -- remember that there are phases. There's a phase one, two and three. This is just the, hopefully, becoming -- we're coming to the second phase here. And hopefully we will be able to move forward on something that we've been waiting for quite a while. So there's experts on the ground, weapons experts on the ground, nuclear experts on the ground, and everybody who has been there is a high-caliber, high-quality person who knows a lot about what they're doing. It's not like you and I going over to look at it. They actually know a little bit more about the substance of it. So I think that we have to have faith in not just our experts, but remember other experts from the countries of China, Japan, Russia and South Korea have been there, as well. So I think there's a lot of knowledge, and let's just wait and see what the North Koreans do, if they do it, and then we'll take it from there and hopefully provide you more information.
Q: One more technical question for tomorrow. You said in the morning gaggle that there are going to be a communication right after North Korea provides the declaration.
MS. PERINO: That there will be some sort of communication. I'm working on it.
Q: Could you -- is that going to be a statement issued by a White House spokesperson?
MS. PERINO: I'm working on it. I'm not exactly sure yet. But it could be that it's just a statement from me at first, and then we'll get you some more soon after that. But I don't want anyone to think that we're going to get up at 3:00 a.m. and do a statement in the Rose Garden.
Q: Thank you.
END 1:01 P.M. EDT
*The President has been a leader in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. He believes the participation of people living with HIV/AIDS is a critical element in the global response to this disease. The President has directed the Secretary of State to request the Secretary of Homeland Security to initiate a rulemaking to propose a categorical waiver for HIV-positive people seeking to enter the United States on short-term visas, which will provide a more streamlined process. The Department of Homeland Security's draft final rule is under review and pending final approval.
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/278291