Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:40 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello. I've got one comment and then we'll go to questions.
The President this morning spent time in his Cabinet meeting talking about his ongoing concern about people who are suffering in the world, especially when it comes to those that are hungry. The United States is the largest food provider for emergency food needed in the world. In fiscal year 2007 we provided more than $2.1 billion of food aid, reaching tens of millions of people worldwide. We usually provide about 45 to 50 percent of all emergency food aid every year.
We are in a process right now of looking at ways to meet some of the ongoing food needs of certain countries, beyond what has already been provided. The President has raised this issue with his national security advisors and has asked that the State Department and USAID look at what can be done in the near term. And then over the long run the source problems will need to be identified, the source of where the food is, so that there's a long-term plan in place that helps take care of the world's poor and hungry.
Over the last several years President Bush has advocated, and did so in the State of the Union address, for use of up to 25 percent of appropriated funds for the local or regional purchase and distribution of food to assist people threatened by a food security crisis. And we would encourage Congress to continue to look at that. This would allow more rapid and more cost-effective responses, and assist in the development of local and regional food markets. And as we continue to have these conversations we will update you along the way.
Thank you. Anybody? You're so polite, Deb, you don't even shout. (Laughter.)
Q: In contrast to Terry. (Laughter.)
Q: You said this morning that the story that was in The Washington Times pretty much laid out where the administration was in terms of this global warming thing. It said, basically, that, you know, he was ready getting ready to propose something. So where are we, exactly, and --
MS. PERINO: No, I think if you read it carefully that is not exactly true.
Q: Well, that's what the lead says --
MS. PERINO: We'll back up --
Q: The lead says that "We're poised to change course and announce as early as this week" --
MS. PERINO: Well, I didn't say he got everything right. (Laughter.)
Q: Okay. Well, maybe you can sum up more where we are and what we're doing.
MS. PERINO: I will; let me sum up for you, and let me just walk you through --
Q: And also is there a change of course?
Q: What are you guys working on?
MS. PERINO: Well, for those of you who follow this issue -- and I think that in the White House briefing room, reporters here have to dip in and out of this issue because you cover all the issues that we deal with at the White House. So let me take you back through just a little bit of what we've been doing.
Over the course of several years the President has advocated a range of policies, both legislative and regulatory, to address the global challenges of climate change. Last year in the State of the Union address, the President called for reducing traditional gasoline use by 20 percent in 10 years; it is called 20-in-10 program. In December of 2007 he largely got what he wanted, except it didn't go as far and as fast as he wanted to, to help us wean ourselves off of traditional uses of oil.
Also, last May he gave a speech in which he said that the United States would lead an effort to establish a post-Kyoto discussion for nations of the world to address the global challenges of climate change, and that in this process we would work to include China and India and other developing nations who were excluded from the Kyoto process, and which we believe made it unworkable. So discussions have been ongoing in the administration to follow up on these policy processes.
After that speech in May last year, he went to the G8, in which he presented this to the G8 -- and it was well received. Then in September of 2007 the President hosted a meeting here at the State Department, in which he gave a speech and talked about how the major economies of the world needed to work together to help solve this problem, and that we would all establish a national goal, and that each country would come forward with its own plan as to how they were going to reach that goal.
We are a part of that process as well. And so as we've moved along and to try to follow up and continue to be the leader in the major economies process, we've had ongoing discussions, and we have kept Congress informed along the way. That includes getting ready for this week's major economies meeting, which is being held in Paris and hosted by President Sarkozy.
On a separate track -- or at the same time, I should say -- here in this country we are dealing with what we call a regulatory train wreck. We have several different laws that were never meant to deal with -- to address climate change, heading down a path that we believe is not reasonable, nor sustainable, would hurt our economy, and is not good public policy. This would have the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act all addressing climate change in a way that is not the way that they were intended to.
At the same time on Capitol Hill, we are getting ready for a legislative debate. And Senator Reid, I believe, has called for the first week of June to be the one where they bring up these bills for debate in the Senate.
We have been in discussions with Congress. Internally, we have conversations. We have conversations with Congress to let them know where we are. And we have been not shy about saying that we don't support legislation that is currently on the Hill. We think that it would be bad for the economy, and that it wouldn't -- ultimately, it wouldn't address the problem. And so while there's nothing on the schedule this week yet for the President to actually make a speech, we do have Jim Connaughton and Dan Price of the National -- CEQ and the National Security Council, respectively, who are headed to Paris later in the week, to be there Thursday and Friday, and they'll be representing the United States as we work towards the G8 time frame, which is in July, which will be held in Japan, in which these countries would lay out their national goals.
So we are having these discussions and we are moving forward and talking about how to deal with it.
Q: The U.S. national goal, is that what you're saying?
MS. PERINO: They're working towards what we would establish as our national goal.
Q: So it would have to pass Congress then, right?
MS. PERINO: We believe that the regulatory path that we are on right now is not sustainable; it will not solve the problems ---
Q: It's a legislative proposal?
MS. PERINO: There are legislative proposals up there as well. We haven't come forward yet and said definitively where we are, and that's because we're having a very robust discussion. And I think that it's fair to say that in this administration there is -- we have had more discussion about climate change in a thoughtful, deliberative way, a way that thinks about all the different aspects of it, from the way it would affect different regions of the country. And one of our big concerns is that developing nations in the Kyoto Protocol weren't included.
So what happens in that regard is you have major economies like the United States who under the agreement would have had to ratchet down their emissions. So if we ratcheted down the emissions, that's important, that would be a good thing. But if you ratchet down too far and too fast and the technologies can't keep up, and you force businesses in America to find another place to manufacture, they're likely going to go to a place that doesn't have those emission limits or doesn't have any sort of environmental control. And those jobs that we've seen over the past have moved to countries like China and India.
But the problem when you deal with a global problem though, is if you have emissions that are going up -- if all you've done is move the emissions from here over to Asia, then you've not addressed the global warming problem, and that's what we're trying to do.
Q: I don't want to dominate here, but I just want to know what you're mulling. Are you mulling a legislative proposal? Are you mulling executive action of some sort?
MS. PERINO: There's a -- well, there's a basket of things that we are dealing with. And we are considering whether or not -- we are considering how to move forward on the regulatory path that we have. We are considering how to respond to legislative proposals that are in front of Congress right now. It's not as clear cut as I think you're asking me to make it. There's a range of issues that we have to work on.
Q: How much urgency is there? I mean, you're inside seven months to Election Day. How much urgency?
MS. PERINO: Well, we have a couple of different things. One, if you look to, like, the 20-in-10 program that we passed last year, we are in the middle of implementing that law and that is not easy. One of the things that was a part of that law was mandating 35 billion gallons of alternative or renewable fuels to replace traditional fuel use. Those regulations have to be implemented and that has to take place across the board.
But at the same time, while those things are ongoing, you have a legislative debate that you're going to have in June. And we think that the reasonable and responsible thing to do is to have a conversation that takes into consideration all of the different issues and figures out what is the right way to do something and what is the wrong way to do it.
Q: May I ask about Gordon Brown, just a little preview? Have you prepared anything on him?
MS. PERINO: No, I think -- it's quite a foreign policy week here.
Q: I know.
MS. PERINO: We have first the Pope coming tomorrow, we have Gordon Brown on Thursday, and then the South Korean President on Saturday.
Q: What are the major topics you expect to discuss and what compromises from him or -- do you expect from Gordon Brown on any of the topics?
MS. PERINO: I'll try to get you more, let me give you enough to get through today, which is the President and Gordon Brown just saw each other two weeks ago when we were in Bucharest and they had good meetings. Obviously we talk a lot about the economy. I'm sure they'll talk about the issues of hunger that I mentioned at the top of this and the cooperation we have on counter-terrorism and nonproliferation. The range of issues that we have in common with the U.K. are quite broad. Our relationship is deep and the President has worked to strengthen that with Gordon Brown over the past several months.
Q: How important -- (inaudible) -- each other?
MS. PERINO: I think as you've seen -- hopefully you'll see at the press availability on Thursday that -- what I've witnessed is that they have a very good relationship, a good rapport. They have secure video teleconferences that take place quite regularly so that they can make sure that they're sharing information and sharing ideas and working collaboratively to solve problems.
Q: Did the President order any specific action this morning when briefed by the Transportation officials on the airline delays last week?
MS. PERINO: Secretary Peters gave the President quite a thorough update this morning on the situation in the airline industry, both from an economic perspective as well as what happened last week during the inspections and the massive amounts of disruptions and inconveniences experienced by passengers.
The President did not give her specific direction because he didn't have to, because she had already taken it upon herself to address these issues. She takes it very personally and she was at the helm making sure that the flaws in the system were fixed.
Keith, and then I'll go to Matt.
Q: I just want to get a little bit more clarity on the environmental -- are you saying -- has there been no decision whether to put forth legislation, or is there a decision to do that?
MS. PERINO: That's true.
Q: There's been no decision?
MS. PERINO: Well, that's true, there's --
Q: So it's possible there will be no legislative proposal?
MS. PERINO: That's true. Right. Legislative proposals already exist up on Capitol Hill. Several different members have put forth legislation. To the extent that we have provided statements of administration policy, we have done that when bills have ripened enough to get up to the floor, but that's not the case with all the legislation.
Q: Is it true that you have talked about it, though, with Republicans, they have got to push back from Republicans who have said it might be a bad idea to start that because it may be something the Democrats --
MS. PERINO: It is true that we've consulted with Congress and we continue to have conversations, especially about the regulatory trajectory that we are on, that we think is a path fraught with peril.
But I will tell you, complications abound when it comes to climate change. And people have very strong feelings. They have regional concerns, especially if you're from a state that produces coal -- or you might have a different opinion than if you're a state that can do more renewable power. So yes, there's a lot of discussion ongoing. But I would say that this debate has ripened over time, and people are thoughtful about it, and are getting up to speed as they head towards the legislative debate in June.
Q: Just one more on the issue you brought up initially, on worldwide food shortages. Does the President feel any responsibility himself for that, because he's been such a hard backer of ethanol? I know he's talked about different sources of ethanol, but he's also really backed corn-based ethanol, and that's blamed by a lot of people for driving up prices and costs.
MS. PERINO: I think there's a lot of different issues that go in -- there are a lot of factors that go into higher food prices or food shortages in countries that need help in order to feed their populations. One is demand; demand is extremely high. You also have transportation costs. And of course energy costs come into that, when people are trying to move food from one place to the other. In addition, you have weather-related events, such as the drought in Australia, in which their wheat crops have been not as fruitful as in the past, and so the prices have gone up there.
We recognize that moving from an oil-based economy to one that's based more on renewable or alternative fuels is going to be one that requires a transition period. That's one of the reasons that the President, in the State of the Union in 2006, suggested that we move to cellulosic ethanol, which, as you remember, the famous line of using switchgrass or wood chips.
But that technology is advancing, and the President was able to go to a Dole plant where they were showing how to -- I'm sorry, I'm not sure if it was Dole, excuse me. I can't remember the name of the plant, but I remember going to the event, and looking at how the scientists were approaching this issue with gusto, with a lot of money behind them, because there is going to be demand for alternative fuels, because we realize that we have two problems: one, we are too dependent on foreign sources of energy; and two, we have environmental concerns that we want to address.
Q: Yes, what does the President think of Jimmy Carter's planned meeting with Hamas during his Middle East trip? And is there any concern at the White House that Israel has so far declined to provide any kind of assistance to the Secret Service agents who are guarding Carter?
MS. PERINO: I hadn't heard about the second part regarding Secret Service agents. The President believes that if President Carter wants to go, that he is doing so in his own private capacity as a private citizen. He is not representing the United States in those meetings, and the President is not a supporter of having conversations with Hamas. And we have made that known.
Q: Does he see -- does the President see this in any way undermining his own efforts to isolate Hamas?
MS. PERINO: I think Hamas has done a good enough job of isolating itself. We don't think that it's helpful, no.
Q: Yes, back to global warming. Cap and trade has come up frequently during these conversations over the past year or more. Is it the administration's position still that it is opposed to cap and trade?
MS. PERINO: Well, we -- remember, when it comes to market-oriented policies, we have been a supporter of those types of policies. And for example, the first cap and trade policy in America was called the Acid Rain Trading Program, whereby we have been able to drastically reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide in the air. Using that program, we added nitrogen oxide and mercury through the Clear Skies rule program; we've tried to do it through legislation, and Congress decided not to move on it. So we were able to strip out those pollutants, mostly because the technology existed to establish that cap and trade proposal.
We aren't necessarily against cap and trade proposals.
Q: I'm sorry --
MS. PERINO: We are not necessarily against cap and trade proposals. As I just said, the President proposed and implemented one when it came to pollutants, like NOx and mercury, added on to the back of the sulfur rain -- I'm sorry, sulfur dioxide program that had been put in place in the late 1990s, because that program has worked very well. But cap and trade programs can be very complicated. And what we have seen so far from Congress is not something that we could support.
Q: All right. And a follow-up to that. Is there any -- sort of following up on Ken's question, is there a package that you're developing that's primarily legislation, or is it more regulatory in whatever it is that you --
MS. PERINO: I would say it's neither. I would say it's neither. (Laughter.) We already have a regulatory package that's already -- that already exists; I mean, a regulatory trajectory that we're already on that we think is fraught with peril, and that ultimately will end up in a train wreck. That already exists. At the same time, you also have legislation that is being proposed on Capitol Hill.
So when we're having conversations about we could or could not support, or how to address this problem, and how to establish our national goal, we're talking about a range of issues. And so I just am not prepared today to provide a final --
Q: What is the range of issues? I mean, what are the different options?
MS. PERINO: Well, there's lots of different things. I mean, there's -- as I said, the President believes that each country should be able to come forward to figure out how to meet their national goal that they put forward.
Q: Through legislation, through regulation, through --
MS. PERINO: It could be a range of issues. There's -- we have -- in our country right now, we have all three. And so I'm not here to give you anything definitive today, except for to tell you we continue to have responsible, ongoing conversations about how to meet the President's goal.
Q: Okay, one -- just one last one. Is there anything that will be announced roughly between April 17 and the 26th? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I don't think I -- I think it's a trick question, but I'm not sure why. (Laughter.)
Q: It's Earth Day.
Q: Is there something going to be announced --
MS. PERINO: Oh, Earth Day. No, I don't -- I wouldn't put a peg to Earth Day, no. Remember, the President is going to be in New Orleans that day, but --
Q: Well, Earth Day is the 22nd.
MS. PERINO: That's the 22nd. It's in the range --
Q: Okay, and mine was the 26th.
MS. PERINO: You know, it was within the range that you gave me, right? The 17th to the 26th -- the 22nd is in the middle.
Q: Are you saying nothing will be coming out imminently?
MS. PERINO: I'm saying that -- no, I'm not going to say that. There could be something. I just don't have anything for you today.
Q: It could --
MS. PERINO: It could be. It could be next week, it could be never. I just don't have anything for you.
Q: The President voiced some frustration, it seemed, today, at Congress -- what the leaders of Congress have chosen to focus on, instead of Colombia free trade agreements and other issues. Do you sense, with the elections coming, the President feels the clock is running out on the ability to get something done, or to address his priorities?
MS. PERINO: Well, remember we have to be realistic about what the clock is. Under Trade Promotion Authority, after a deal is made, an agreement is made, which occurred in May of 2006, we worked then 16 months to work with the leaders in order to help establish a bipartisan framework so that the leader would call for -- the Speaker would call for a vote. She decided not to do that and, in doing so, she made a choice to kill the Colombia free trade agreement.
I do -- we haven't done this in a while -- I do have some slides that I just want to run through you -- run through real quick.
Q: I had a feeling that I was walking right into -- (laughter.)
MS. PERINO: These are good. I think it's worth noting a couple of things. The arguments that they are making about why they cannot support a Colombia free trade agreement right now -- a vote on it is -- they are flimsy and they do not hold water. One of them is the security situation, and this slide basically shows you -- and we can get you copies of these -- that homicides, kidnappings and terrorist attacks are down dramatically over the past several years. You can see the trajectory there.
In addition to that, specifically, homicides of trade unionists in Colombia have also declined. This is between 80 and 86 percent since 2002. On a different trajectory, on one going up, is the number of people in what we would call a witness protection program -- people who are protected, who are concerned about their well being and their safety. In addition to that, extraditions to the United States, so that we can bring people to justice, have increased dramatically. And this actually started under the Clinton administration, after they established Plan Colombia, which has worked very well and which has helped us get to these results.
And it's not just the administration who believes that the Speaker has made the wrong choice. Across the board, editorial boards across the country have said that this has been -- this is the wrong choice. It is bad for America. It's bad for America's foreign policy. It's bad for our reputation. It's bad for trade. It's really bad for American workers. And the list goes on and on. We'll get you copies of these slides.
I would remind you what the President said is that she has chosen to kill the free trade agreement, and if she chooses to schedule a vote on it, then we will be able to have further conversations. But earlier today I was asked if we would be willing to talk about Trade Adjustment Assistance, once she schedules a vote. We actually have been talking to them about Trade Adjustment Assistance since the agreement was first established 16 months ago. So we didn't need a decision to not schedule a vote to get us to talk about Trade Adjustment Assistance. It's something that we've been willing to do.
Q: But you haven't seemed to reach any agreement on Trade Adjustment Assistance, and that seems to be what she wants.
MS. PERINO: But the rules changed in the middle of the game. All of a sudden now -- the argument that was made last week is that this is not a deal that was good for American workers, American families -- and that's fundamentally not true. Over 90 percent of the goods from Colombia come into our country tax-free. And the opposite is not true, going the other way. If you want your workers to be able to sell more goods into another country, you should support the Colombia free trade agreement. What we're trying to do, simply, is level the playing field.
Now, as to the timing that you mentioned, are we -- in terms of the clock, under Trade Adjustment -- I'm sorry, Trade Promotion Authority, after a deal is made, after a bill is sent up, then you have 90 legislative days in which to have a vote. The Speaker and her team had been dragging their heels on scheduling a vote. And while the President did not want to have to send up the bill, and he did so reluctantly, it was only because if we look at the calendar and count backwards, we were running out of legislative days. So the day that we sent it was the last day that we thought we could do so before she has said she's going to recess.
Q: Are you -- on the broader issue of Congress's priorities, are you running out of legislative days on that, as well?
MS. PERINO: I think they're running out of legislative days. And this is a Congress that has not shown that it's willing to take on some of these bigger issues. But we do think that right now that they -- instead of dealing with issues that I know are important to some people, in terms of beach monitoring and landscape conservation, we have FHA modernization in regards to the housing industry that we think is critically important for them to pass. We also have the war supplemental to fund our troops. We would ask Congress to get that done by the end of May. So there's many different issues that Congress could be working on. We think that the Colombia free trade agreement is actually, as Senator McConnell put it, a no-brainer, and they should call a vote.
Q: Are you not going to talk to them until they -- on TAA until they schedule a vote?
MS. PERINO: We have been talking to them about TAA. That's my point, Keith, is that we -- they know that we are willing and ready and open to talking about it, and we actually have been talking about it for the past several months.
Q: But are you going to stop talking to them about it now that they have refused --
MS. PERINO: Well, I'll refer you to the Trade Representatives, Sue Schwab's office, for the discussions that they're having. I think the President made his comments known today, his feelings known. And the Trade Representative is the person who represents the trade agenda for the President, so he'll defer to her.
Q: So you're demanding the free trade agreement first, and then you'll deal with TAA?
MS. PERINO: No. But what she should do is schedule a vote, because then -- because if she doesn't schedule a vote, the Colombia free trade agreement is effectively dead. So what she should do is change her mind and schedule a vote.
Q: Can we look ahead to the Pope's visit tomorrow --
MS. PERINO: Sure.
Q: -- and the next day? It's been suggested that the President, who has met so often with Catholic leaders and reached out so aggressively to Catholic groups, and whose social views very closely reflect Catholic Orthodoxy, is actually America's first Catholic President. What do you think of that? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: He's also been called America's -- or, the first Jewish President, is what the Israelis call him, too. But I think -- President Bush is very excited to have the Holy Father here. And one of the reasons he's so excited is because he has established a bond with him, and they have a lot -- they share a lot of common values, especially when it comes to fighting terrorism and extremism; protecting minority rights, especially for people who are practicing a religion where they might be a minority in a country; advancing human rights; advancing freedom around the world. They had a great meeting last summer.
And the President and Mrs. Bush will take the unprecedented step of going next -- tomorrow, leaving here in the motorcade and driving to Andrews Air Force in order to greet the Pope. And it's a very exciting day for the White House. And then there's a slate of meetings that will take place the next day.
Q: It was actually Rick Santorum, I think, who gets credit for that. But has the President heard that suggestion before?
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q: What does he think of it? Does he have a special bond with --
MS. PERINO: I think that he shares a lot of common values with Catholics across America, across the world, from freedom and human rights and a culture of life. And he's excited to have the Pope here.
Q: Dana, on that?
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q: What is the President's reaction to the announcement that Wednesday in Lafayette Square American atheists have scheduled a speak-out concerning the papal visit? And while HBO on April the 11th telecasts Bill Maher's defamations of the Holy Father, including the claim that he used to be a Nazi?
MS. PERINO: I don't watch Bill Maher's show, so I couldn't tell you -- couldn't comment on that. But we are in America and if people want to peacefully protest and speak their minds, then they're welcome to do so; and if they want to do that in Lafayette Square, they're welcome to do so.
Q: One other. WorldNetDaily reports from Jerusalem that Israel's cabinet member Binyamin Ben-Eliezer has said, "Iran continues to aggravate the situation by supplying arms to Syria and Hezbollah. We must deal with this. An Iranian attack will prompt a severe reaction from Israel, which will destroy the Iranian nation." What's the White House reaction?
MS. PERINO: I would just refer you to the things that the President has said. I'll refer you to his speech from last week when he talked about the concerns that we have about Iran, and that Iran has a choice to make: whether to be a good neighbor to Iraq or, if they continue to send weapons in that are killing our soldiers, that we are going to take them on.
Q: Thank you.
MS. PERINO: Go ahead.
Q: Thank you, Dana. At last meeting in Singapore between U.S. and North Korea, a tentative agreement has been made for North Korea to report complete nuclear declaration. Under what condition United States is to give North Korea some economic incentive, plus the removal of North Korea from the terrorist list? How was the President's response on that?
MS. PERINO: Well, as I have said before, there's a -- there is a package that was agreed upon in the six-party talks in regards to North Korea. What we are waiting on right now is a complete and accurate declaration. We don't have one yet, but Ambassador Chris Hill had good meetings last week. An issue regarding the state sponsor of terrorism list is a part of that package, but things happen in sequence, and so it is way premature to suggest that that's going to happen anytime soon.
Q: Did he -- had made agreement with North Korean Kim Kye-gwan. The President agreed to that agreement in Singapore.
MS. PERINO: I believe so, yes.
END 1:06 P.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/277104