Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:40 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good morning. One quick statement. This morning the Commerce Department gave its first estimate on first quarter GDP. They estimate that the economy grew by 0.6 percent in the first quarter. This represents a small but positive growth in the United States economy, and it is about what you have heard us say we were expecting in this quarter.
Although it is good that the U.S. economy did not contract, by no means is this a rate of growth that we're pleased with. The President wants to see the economy perform to its potential, as we have seen it do for many years now, and return us to high incomes and job growth. We expected that the first quarter of this year, which shows slow growth, and that's why we worked with Congress a bipartisan basis to put the economic stimulus package in place.
The business side of the stimulus package has been in place and the stimulus paycheck -- I'm sorry, payments to taxpayers have started to go out this week. We agree with private forecasters who expect that the stimulus will give a boost to the economy in the second half of the year, increase economic growth and increase job creation by half a million jobs.
In the meantime, we continue to call on Congress to take action on legislation that will help the economy: passing long overdue housing legislation, student loan legislation, passing the Colombia free trade agreement and making the tax cuts permanent. One thing we should not be doing during this time is to increase taxes, so we intend to continue to prevent Congress from trying to increase your taxes.
Q: Is there a fear that the rebates are going to be absorbed by the higher energy and food costs?
MS. PERINO: We recognize that there are higher prices that people are paying at the pump and also at the grocery store or at restaurants around the country, but we still continue to believe that the impact of the stimulus package that we anticipated last January will continue to have that desired effect.
Q: Well, with those additional pressures and -- is there still any -- is there any thought yet of further action that you might take?
MS. PERINO: Well, one of the things that the President wants is for Congress to take action on things like I just mentioned: the housing legislation, the student loan legislation, Colombia free trade agreement and making tax cuts permanent. Those are all things that we can do to continue to help taxpayers. If you're asking me if the President would consider yet another stimulus package, his position is, let's see how this first one works first.
Q: With oil prices that just keep continuing to make record highs and food prices obviously going up, why are you still so confident that the economy is going to pick up in the second half of the year?
MS. PERINO: I listen to our economic experts, and that's what they have said. And I point you to Eddie Lazear, the President's Chief Economic Advisor, amongst others, like Secretary Paulson and Keith Hennessey, the Director of the National Economic Council. They talk to a lot of people, as well; we are not in a vacuum here, we are out talking to economic experts and we believe that that's what we'll be able to find.
The economy -- our economy in the United States has proven to be very resilient over time. We've had a lot of shocks to the system that we've dealt with over the past several years, but because of the innovation of the American worker and the entrepreneurship of this country and the hard work that Americans across the country put in, that's why we're able to withstand some of these shocks.
But make no mistake, while this was slow growth, the President doesn't believe it's anything to crow about. It's something that we need to be aware of and we need to continue to push because we need -- we want Americans to have higher wages, we want them to have more opportunities out there in the form of new jobs, which is one of the things that we think the stimulus package will help create. And we'll continue to work on ways that we can lower gas prices.
But we want to make sure it's very clear to people that, with the market that we have -- it's taken decades to get us into -- without a long-term economic policy that changes fundamentally the way that we explore and produce energy in our own country, we are going to continue to be dependent on foreign sources of energy. And that's why the President has tried to push Congress to make changes.
Q: Dana, a second U.S. aircraft carrier, as you know, has gone into the Persian Gulf. And some media reports have suggested that this was sort of a warning signal to Iran and that it may be happening at the same time as the Pentagon having military commanders draft new options to launch an attack against Iraq -- that's what some media reports have suggested. Can you comment on that?
MS. PERINO: No, and I would point you to what Secretary Gates said yesterday, that we are currently undertaking regularly scheduled military exercises in the Gulf and these exercises are not aimed at Iran. They reinforce that the U.S. has an enduring commitment to the region and to our allies and we continue to protect our allies and interests wherever necessary. But Secretary Gates said he doesn't anticipate that they would be there very long, in terms of an overlap.
Q: So the President does not want his military commanders right now drafting new options to attack Iran?
MS. PERINO: I have not heard that anyone is, but I -- you can find out from the Pentagon what they may or may not be planning for a variety of scenarios. I think they're the people to put that question to. But as far as the vessels go in the Gulf, the answer is that they were regularly scheduled military exercises.
Q: Dana, back to GDP. Does the President feel vindicated in rejecting the use of the word "recession"?
MS. PERINO: The President is mostly concerned not with what you call the economic slowdown that we're in, but with what you do about it. And that's why he's calling on Congress to act. The President has been very transparent, he's been very measured, he's been very honest about what we are seeing in the economy. And I think that we will continue to work on what we can do, not what you call it.
Q: The last GDP forecast from the White House that I remember was last November, and that forecast about 2.7 percent or 2.9 percent growth. Has that number changed?
MS. PERINO: It may have, I don't know. I'll have to ask Eddie Lazear. I know that that was the number; obviously, last August, we started recognizing that there would be a problem in the housing markets, and then we had the problem with the credit markets. And we've taken some action. We knew that we would have a slower growth in the first half of 2008. We believe that would that turn around in the last half. But as for that specific analysis and forecasts from CEA, let me go back and check.*
Go ahead, Olivier.
Q: Dana, this morning the White House expressed some concern about Russia's comments and actions related to two regions in Georgia. I was wondering if you could flesh out those concerns -- what exactly is worrisome, and what should Russia be doing, instead of what it's doing now?
MS. PERINO: I did go ahead and check; I'm sorry that I didn't have it earlier. But yes, the President has been briefed. The United States is concerned about the situation. We respect Georgia's territorial integrity, and we would urge everyone to maintain a level of dialogue, rather than take any further action. But right now the situation is changing so much it would be imprudent for me to comment further.
Q: And also, have you -- has a decision been made on whether or not the President will be going to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics?
MS. PERINO: Still where I was before, which is the President has said he's going to the Olympics. We haven't announced any final schedules.
Q: Dana, just back on the stimulus package for a second.
MS. PERINO: Sure.
Q: I can see you wanting it to work out and whether it does what it's supposed to do. But I also assume there's some planning in case it doesn't work out.
MS. PERINO: We always are considering -- we have a team of people who not only brief the President every day, but they're scanning every possible data that they could get, all the information that they need -- we have a visitor. (Laughter.)
Let me back up -- I'm not expecting -- (laughter.) Who was that?
Q: Just a courier. (Laughter.)
Q: I guess he didn't notice you. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Okay. Your question was about whether or not we're considering something else. The President is getting briefed on a regular basis, sometimes multiple times a day. His advisors and his economists are scanning all of the data and working with Congress to see if there's something additional that we need to do.
We believe that, from the administration's standpoint, that on some of the rulemaking changes that we've done, we've done a lot of what we can do, but we need Congress to do more. And so before we talk about a second stimulus package, we would ask Congress to finally take up legislation on several of the pieces that we've asked them to: on housing and on student loans, in particular; and in addition they should take up the Colombia free trade agreement.
Q: And did the President stay up late last night looking at the gas tax holiday idea? (Laughter.) He said he would take a look at it.
MS. PERINO: The President -- well, I think that he doesn't have to stay up late to take a look at it, but we'll listen to their ideas and see what they have to say. The one thing that the President doesn't want to do is take any action that would exacerbate problems.
And one of the things that I was asked about this morning was whether or not we would support a windfall profits tax. And this was tried in the Carter administration and it was an abject failure. It decreased energy production. It increased imports, which is exactly what Congress says that they don't want to do, which is to have us more reliant on foreign sources of energy.
So we'll take a look at these ideas, but we want to make sure that we are addressing the root causes of the problem, as well as making sure that people understand that short-term fixes are not available.
Q: Dana, why was Lurita Doan forced to resign now? She's been a presence around here for a long time. Why was she fired now?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'm not going to comment on a -- on the resignation. I will confirm, obviously, that she has resigned from GSA. While serving as the administrator she worked very hard to respond effectively during the times of emergency. She also worked to make sure that all of the numerous buildings in the federal government are as energy efficient as possible. And the President is grateful for her service and wishes her the best.
Q: Okay. She says she was forced out. Is that true?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment.
Q: And, well, okay, on the farm bill --
MS. PERINO: Let's try something else. (Laughter.)
Q: On the farm bill, there seems to be a consensus emerging around a bill. Has the President seen anything in that bill that he likes?
MS. PERINO: On the farm bill, we've been very clear what our position is, and members of Congress have been working hard because it's a big piece of legislation, an important piece of legislation. I think that it's premature to say that there is anything final and they continue to work, and we'll continue to have communications with them.
Q: There's one report that the White House says the President is refusing to meet with some Republican senators on that bill. Have you heard --
MS. PERINO: No, I don't think so. I don't know of anything that's scheduled, but I think that Secretary Schafer was just up there yesterday with Deputy Conner and on a staff level we've been communicating and people have access to share their views both ways and we've been very clear what our position is.
Q: Okay, one more Lurita Doan. Did the President want her to stay? Would he have supported --
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment. She tendered her resignation and it was accepted.
I'm going to go to Goyal.
Q: Dana, two quick questions on the reports. This morning State Department released (inaudible) country report on terrorism around the globe and there's a clear message that (inaudible) that Iran is murdering and is killing a lot of people in Iraq and Afghanistan also, arms and immigration and all that. And second, the report also says that as far as problem of terrorism is from the (inaudible) area, which has become issue now in the news, in the border of Pakistan. Now Pakistan and your government has agreement with the leaders there, which General Musharraf had in the past with other leaders which did not work. Do you think President is now confident that this agreement will work with (inaudible)?
MS. PERINO: We have expressed our concerns about this agreement. Obviously this is something that was tried before. It did not work before. It's important that any agreement be effectively enforced and that it not interrupt any operations where we are going after terrorists in that area. And we are continuing to work with the new government of Pakistan. We think that we can work effectively with them and we have very clear and frank discussions to make sure they understand where we're coming from.
Q: Second, (inaudible) at the Newseum yesterday released a report worldwide and freedom of the press around the globe is declining and over 90 journalists have been killed, they were doing their duties around the globe. And many governments do not recognize freedom of press or journalists; they think are enemies. What President think about freedom of the press?
MS. PERINO: President Bush has said -- I heard him say that in a democracy one of the very most important things that you need to have is you need to have a strong defense, but almost more importantly is you need to have a strong and free press, a free and independent press. We are concerned about people around the world who are acting as journalists and telling those stories and bringing those stories from all over the world, such as in Zimbabwe, for example, where journalists have been treated very badly just for trying to report on a story. And they should be allowed to do that anywhere they want to in the world, and we rely on them for a lot of information and we hope that all governments around the world would respect that journalists deserve that right. Obviously they don't have the press freedoms everywhere that people enjoy here. So we are very fortunate to live in this country.
Q: On the Warner-Lieberman bill, based on yesterday's Energy Information Administration analysis of the bill, what does the administration think the long-term economic effects of the bill will be? Because I've seen reports that look at the same analysis and abstract that it would have very marginal, negligible, 0.3 percent reduction in GDP by 2030.
MS. PERINO: I don't know whose reports you're looking at. I think that the independent Energy Information Administration, which is the statistical arm of the Department of Energy, is quite credible. And I think that anyone who looks at that report yesterday and sees that a cumulative impact on our economy of a loss of $530 billion to $1.5 trillion and a potential loss of up to 1 million jobs would say that that cost of that legislation is entirely too high.
The President laid out principles for how he would suggest climate legislation go forward, and suggesting a right way and a wrong way to do things. He believes that we can tackle this problem without ruining our economy, and in fact we won't be able to solve this problem if we have a bad economy, because we need the money to pump into the new technologies.
Q: Yes, thank you, Dana. Two questions. Yesterday, in The Washington Post, there was a page one story, plus an editorial, plus three different columns, and this morning another page one story --
MS. PERINO: But who's counting?
Q: -- all reporting the National Press Club statements of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. And my question: Since the President has undoubtedly seen these and lots of other media coverage of it, you surely won't evade my question as to what he thought -- (laughter) -- of the Reverend Mr. Wright's presentation, will you?
MS. PERINO: I surely will.
Q: You surely will?
MS. PERINO: Evade your question.
Q: Why do you want to evade --
MS. PERINO: What's your second one?
Q: Now that Mr. Aldrete Davila, the drug smuggler in the Ramos-Compean case, has admitted running drugs and conspiracy, will the President review his decision against a pardon, commutation or other clemency for the two Border Patrol agents jailed for shooting at this drug smuggler as he fled back into Mexico after abandoning a load of drugs in the United States?
MS. PERINO: I would encourage anyone to look at the facts in the case as laid out by the attorney general --
Q: We have -- they have.
MS. PERINO: -- by the county -- district attorney -- I'm sorry, the U.S. attorney in that area. There is a process under which anyone can apply for a pardon or a commutation. And if they want to take advantage of that process, they're absolutely welcome to. I'm not able to announce any --
Q: But, you know, everybody else --
MS. PERINO: And I'm going to move on to Helen.
Q: -- has been commenting on this -- the Reverend Mr. Wright. Why is it that you will fail to do so?
MS. PERINO: Sounds like you have plenty of material to work with, and I don't think I need to give you anything else.
Q: Me? How does the President intend to commemorate "Mission Accomplished" after five years of death and destruction?
MS. PERINO: What you're referring to is the banner that ran -- that was aboard the ship five years ago. President Bush --
Q: I'm talking about the anniversary tomorrow.
MS. PERINO: Yes, I get -- no, I understand. That's the anniversary of when that banner flew on that ship. President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific and said "mission accomplished for these sailors who are on this ship on their mission." And we have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner. And I recognize that the media is going to play this up again tomorrow, as they do every single year.
I think what's important is what the President would -- how the President would describe the fight today. It's been a very tough month in Iraq, but we are taking the fight to the enemy. The President, you heard him say yesterday, believes that fighting terrorists, jihadists, al Qaeda, and the Iranian-backed militias --
Q: Is every Iraqi a terrorist?
MS. PERINO: -- and the Iranian-backed militias --
Q: We're fighting the Iraqis, we're bombing their homes. What do you mean?
MS. PERINO: Helen, we are going after terrorists and al Qaeda and Iranian-backed Shia militia who are killing not only innocent Iraqis but our soldiers as well, and we're doing so in --
Q: We're bombing homes with children --
MS. PERINO: -- we are working very closely with the government of Iraq in order to take back these provinces. And I would point you to Basra and the battle on Basra, in which the initial reports was that it was an unmitigated failure. And actually if you look at it now, we were -- the Iraqis, working with us, with our support, were able to take back that port and that town. And I think what that shows is that Prime Minister Maliki, once he decided to take on these criminal elements, brought together his government, and now they're backing him and they're working together, and now they want to start taking on other militias, such as in Sadr City.
But remember, Helen, when we are going after these terrorists and the ones who hide amongst innocent civilians --
Q: We're going after Iraqis who are fighting for their own country.
MS. PERINO: But they hide amongst innocent civilians, and that is where you get problems that we obviously regret and go out of our way to avoid.
Q: How about this gentleman's question, Dana? How about him? He's had his hand up all this time.
MS. PERINO: Yes, I'm well aware. I am sure it will be a great question. Go ahead.
Q: The New York Times has reported that over the last --
MS. PERINO: Definitely going to be a good question. (Laughter.)
Q: -- over the last six years the Pentagon conducted a secret operation designed to sell the war in Iraq and the war on terror to the American people. It recruited more than 75 ex-military officers, many with financial ties to the defense industry, provided them with talking points and an extraordinary degree of access not available to ordinary members of the press, including meetings with the Secretary of Defense, and it got them higher supposedly independent military analysts by every U.S. television network. One of its participants described it --
MS. PERINO: Do you have a question?
Q: One of its participants described the program as "psyops on steroids" and others said that if they --
MS. PERINO: Is this your opinion?
Q: I'm describing the program.
MS. PERINO: What's your question?
Q: Others said that if they departed from the Pentagon's talking points, their access was cut off. And my question is, did the White House know about and approve of this operation?
MS. PERINO: Look, I didn't know -- look, I think that you guys should take a step back and look at this -- look, DOD has made a decision, they've decided to stop this program. But I would say that one of the things that we try to do in the administration is get information out to a variety of people so that everybody else can call them and ask their opinion about something.
And I don't think that that should be against the law. And I think that it's absolutely appropriate to provide information to people who are seeking it and are going to be providing their opinions on it. It doesn't necessarily mean that all of those military analysts ever agreed with the administration. I think you can go back and look and think that a lot of their analysis was pretty tough on the administration. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't talk to people.
Q: Thank you.
END 1:00 P.M. EDT
* The Administration's last forecast, in November 2007, was 2.7% GDP growth for the four quarters of 2008. This forecast will next be revised during the mid-session review in July.
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/277537