George W. Bush photo

Press Briefing by Dana Perino

April 15, 2008

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:32 P.M. EDT

MS. PERINO: Let me start off just with a couple of comments about the President welcoming Pope Benedict XVI to America today. Tomorrow in his remarks, the President will say to the Holy Father that millions of Americans have been praying for his visit. He will also say to the Holy Father that the nation he will visit is a nation of prayer that welcomes the faithful. He will tell him that the hearts of the American people are open to the Holy Father's message of hope. And he will hear from the President that America and the world need to hear his message that God is love, that human life is sacred, that we all must be guided by common moral law, and that we have responsibilities to care for our brothers and sisters in need at home and across the world.

A note just about the visit: It's a wonderful, historic visit. The President and the First Lady feel great respect, love and friendship for Pope Benedict. And the White House staff, across the board, we are all very excited. As you know, the arrival ceremony is tomorrow out on the South Lawn. We are expecting thousands of people, upwards of possibly 9,000 people. It will be one of the largest arrival ceremonies ever held at the White House. And the weather conditions are expected to be spectacular, so that will make it even more special, since this time of year can be dicey in that regard.

Every state visit and arrival requires a lot of planning. This is -- today's arrival culminates months of work from the White House staff team, and also officials at the Vatican. And we expect that they will have a very good meeting, and we're looking forward to their opening statements tomorrow.


Q: Thanks. Can you just offer a little insight as to why the President would sort of part with his own tradition of not going out to Andrews to greet leaders, and do so for a religious leader, but not having done it for political leaders?

MS. PERINO: Well, obviously, as I said, it's an historic and important visit. One of the things Anita McBride in the First Lady's office, who has been very involved in the planning of this -- she said that a lot of research went into the visit and that in researching other papal visits to the United States, found that it's customary for leaders to greet the Holy Father when he first arrives in the United States, wherever that point of origin is. And given that that is Andrews Air Force Base, that's one of the reasons we decided to go.

But the President and Mrs. Bush look forward to this being a different and unique opportunity for them to drive out today. And one of the reasons they're driving instead of taking Marine One is, because of the amount of people we're expecting on the South Lawn tomorrow, there's lots of preparations out on the South Lawn, and it was easier to drive than to try to go someplace else for a landing zone and takeoff.

Q: And I just want to follow up on the remarks; you gave a little bit of a preview there. How substantive do you expect either the President or Pope Benedict to get in those remarks?

MS. PERINO: Well, I've only seen the President's remarks, and so I'll have to leave it to the Vatican to describe his. But I expect the President will go into some but not a lot of detail about areas where they have a shared commitment and shared values, such as human rights and individual dignity, their work together to combat extremist ideology, especially in the Muslim world that -- obviously, the Pope has been no stranger to criticism by extremists, as well, and so the President and the Pope have shared a desire to work together to combat terrorism. So I expect they will talk about that.

The President is also interested in how the Pope has been working to establish an interfaith dialogue, and that's something that the President welcomes, especially as we are confronting these issues of extremist ideology around the world.

I think they will talk about religious freedom. They will also probably touch on Africa and the shared commitments that they have for helping the human rights crisis there, helping combat and eradicate disease and hunger, amongst other issues there in Africa. And I also expect they will probably talk a little bit about Lebanon.


Q: How does the White House balance the different elements for an arrival ceremony? Is it a secular head of state arrival? Is it, in part, religious overtones, with the singing of "The Lord's Prayer"?

MS. PERINO: Well, this is a little bit different, in that the head of state is also the head of the Catholic Church that is visiting the White House. And so I think we've struck the right balance, and that it's perfectly appropriate for the White House to welcome the Pope and have one of the songs performed tomorrow by Kathleen Battle -- who we are very happy to have at the White House -- she'll be singing "The Lord's Prayer." And many people across America and across the world say that prayer in order to provide themselves comfort and confidence in getting their day started. And so we think it's perfectly appropriate.

Q: Can I just follow?

MS. PERINO: No, I think I'll go over here to Mark.

Q: Actually, I wanted to follow on the subject that you spoke of on the meeting. Last year in his Easter message, the Pope said, "Nothing positive comes from Iraq." How does the President speak to the Holy Father about that subject?

MS. PERINO: Well, they have a relationship that is based on trust and they are able to have frank conversations. I will say that while Iraq has come up in the past when the President has talked to the Pope, as I understand it, they're not prolonged conversations about it. Obviously there was a difference of opinion back in 2003 and beyond, in subsequent years. But now I think that there is an understanding that with the strategy that's working in Iraq right now, the most important thing we can do is help to solidify the situation, root it into freedom and democracy so that people of religious minorities -- I'm sorry, people of a religious faith who are minorities in their countries can practice freely and be free from persecution. And that is something that they share. I expect them to touch on that a little bit.

Q: On the war, do you expect him to say, we just politely disagree, let's move on?

MS. PERINO: I don't expect any public conversation about it. But they will have a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office and it's possible that it could come up; I won't rule it out. But I don't think it will be -- I don't think it will dominate the conversation in any way.


Q: Dana, the President, you mentioned just a few minutes ago, he believes that human life is sacred, and he does say that he shares that belief with the Vatican, and a culture of life. Yet when he was governor of Texas some 152 people were executed in the state prisons -- according to some, that was a record number for a modern governor. How does the President -- first of all, does he still support capital punishment? This is something that the Vatican has said -- it's calling for a worldwide end, obviously, to capital punishment, saying it's an affront to human dignity, not in keeping with the culture of life. Does the President still support capital punishment? And how does he square that?

MS. PERINO: This is another issue where there is a disagreement, and the President does believe that the death penalty, when carried out through a system of justice, can help protect innocent life and can punish the most grievous of crimes. And so there's a place where there's a divergence. But I would caution you that there is much more agreement between these two leaders than there is disagreement.


Q: Dana, back to Iraq. I was struck by what you said, that the most important thing we can do now is to sort of -- is to basically finish and to bring about peace. And I wonder, does the -- will the President try to make that case to the Pope? In other words, even though he may have disagreed with the decision to invade Iraq, will he now try to find common ground in this way to say, look, the best thing we can do there now is --

MS. PERINO: Sheryl, I really don't think that the President is planning to spend a lot of time talking about the issues of Iraq with the Pope. There's many different issues that they can talk about, all the ones that I listed before in response to Jennifer's question.

But I do think that the root cause of -- the root issue of terrorism and extremism is something that they will talk about. And the President will thank Pope Benedict for deciding to go and visit Ground Zero and pay his respects there, and the President thinks that's a very important gesture.


Q: Dana, we often get a readout of world leaders the President is talking to. How often does he actually talk to the Pope?

MS. PERINO: Not very often. Obviously he was there last year when he saw him in June. I can't even remember if there's been a phone call, so it's not very often.

Q: Is there ever a regular -- is there ever a phone call? I mean, would he ever be in the rotation of world leaders?

MS. PERINO: Let me check for you.

Q: Dana, another visitor to the White House this week will be British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and he's coming at a time when oil prices are hitting a new peak. Brown is also pushing for oil-producing countries to increase production, rather significantly, to ease prices. Is the President ready to join in a concerted effort, a new push for OPEC, by oil-consuming countries?

MS. PERINO: I think it's a little premature to say exactly what the President and Prime Minister Brown will talk about, but certainly economic issues is sure to be high on the agenda. And within that, energy is one of the issues. Let's, I think, let the meeting take place and see if anything comes out of that in terms of a concerted effort.

But I think that if you look back to what the President has said, and then the Vice President, across the board, the administration, along with other countries that are dependent on foreign sources of energy, we do believe that because there is a supply and demand problem, that we would like to see more supply. OPEC has disagreed and they think that the market is well-supplied. So, at the same time, the other thing that we have to do as developed countries is to work on technologies that will reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy, but also be clean-burning so that we can prevent pollutants from going into the air, as well as combat the problems -- the challenges that are posed by global climate change. So let's let the meeting take place.

Q: And what does the President think about Senator McCain's proposal for a gas tax holiday during the summer?

MS. PERINO: Well, as I said this morning, I'm not going to comment specifically on the proposal. I know in the world of -- in a campaign, everybody wants a quick reaction. The White House, when new policy proposals are poised to the White House, it's not always necessarily the quickest way to get an answer. In theory and in our philosophy, we are always for lower taxes. And I think what John McCain has laid out is his proposal for how he would get there. But anytime there's a proposal such as that, whether it would come from Senator McCain or Senator Kennedy or Senator Dodd, there's a policy process we go through to look at that.

So I'm not going to comment on that one in particular, but I will say that as we near the November time frame, as has happened with other presidential elections, the distinctions between the two parties become very clear, and taxes is going to be one of those core issues that Americans are going to be thinking about, especially in a time when they feel economic uncertainty. And what John McCain is showing today is that he is representing the party for lower taxes. And I think your question is best posed to his opponents.


Q: Can you update us on a climate change announcement or decision?

MS. PERINO: I don't have anything for you yet, except to say that the conversations that we've been having with Capitol Hill as we get closer to the major economies meeting that's taking place Thursday and Friday, I would describe it as intensifying and ripening. But I don't have anything for you yet.

Q: Would there be something this week, do you think?

MS. PERINO: It's possible.


Q: There's a new Washington Post/ABC News poll that gives President Bush a 28-percent approval rating on his handling of the economy, and this is after the stimulus package and after he's spoken out about the economy. What does the President have to do to gain the confidence of the American people on the economy?

MS. PERINO: I think what -- the stimulus package has not even had a chance to go into effect yet, because it was passed and signed into law back in February, and now the checks are going to be headed out of the IRS around -- the Treasury Department sometime the first week of May and the second week of May -- the first week of May, people who want to receive their stimulus check in the form of a direct deposit, they'll get it that week; and then the week after that they'll get the paper check, if that's how they decided to get it. So it's going to take a while for that to have an impact. And I think that when you start seeing those numbers turn around in terms of the economic data, that's hopefully when people will start feeling more confident in the economy.


Q: Thank you, Dana. Two questions. The New York Times reports that in 1984, federal health officials predicted that there would be an effective AIDS vaccine "within three years, but no one yet knows whether a vaccine to prevent the disease will ever be possible." And my first question: Does the White House disagree with the Times on this statement and believe that AIDS is anywhere near to be conquered?

MS. PERINO: I'll refer you to the officials at NIH for their assessment as to when a vaccine may or may not be available. What the President is focused on is making sure that we lessen the suffering, especially by people around the world, through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. And that's going fairly well, and we are on track to double our commitment by 2010.*

Q: There have been demands that our Armed Forces be forced to accept what the Centers for Disease Control still report is the largest spreaders of AIDS. And my question: The President not only opposes this for our Armed Forces, but hopes his successor will, as well, doesn't he?

MS. PERINO: I'm not going to dignify that with an answer.

Q: You won't dignify it with an answer?

Q: Dana, can I ask you about Treasury Secretary Paulson's comments this morning about best practices for the hedge funds -- like bankers, brokers -- is there a whole new -- does this signal a sort of new wave of governance, or proposals for governance in the financial community?

MS. PERINO: Well, Secretary Paulson has taken on the responsibility of looking at, over the -- for the past year, issues of regulation and governance in regards to financial markets and capital markets. And he has laid out his ideas and plans on that, and there's probably a lot more thinking about that over at the Treasury Department to be done. So I don't have anything specific for you. But did you have a specific question?

Q: But is this designed now to in some way instill a sense of confidence in the markets, if they're going to have more and intense regulation?

MS. PERINO: Well, I'll let Secretary of the Treasury announce any specifics. But also, to answer your question about whether or not this will get confidence, I think that what Secretary Paulson was tasked to do by the President was come up with policies that are the right thing to do, not necessarily just to improve confidence, although if increased governance or revised or reformed governance can be implemented and the result of that is confidence, then that would be a good thing.


Q: Dana, you said you weren't going to weigh in on Senator McCain's proposal today on this gas tax holiday. You do weigh in, from this podium, on a number of proposals. When do you think you might weigh in from the White House on this proposal?

MS. PERINO: On the gas tax holiday? I don't know if we would.

Q: If you would?

MS. PERINO: I don't even know if we would.

Q: So whether it's a good idea or not a good idea, we're not going to hear from this White House?

MS. PERINO: I think that Senator McCain can make his case. And he's our nominee, and we're very excited about it. And I think that getting the White House involved every day in the '08 -- day-to-day '08 election is not the best use of our time, and certainly not good for the candidates.

Q: Another scheduling question. On the statement about climate change and emissions, is it going to come ahead of Prime Minister Brown's visit, and that's -- is that the reason for the timing of the release?

MS. PERINO: No. As I said yesterday, one of the things that we are dealing with right now is a basket of three major issues. One, we have the major economies meeting that's taking place on Thursday and Friday in Paris, hosted by President Sarkozy. And our negotiators and leaders in that process are headed out to Paris for those meetings, and that was not coordinated with Gordon Brown's visit. So you have that piece.

You also have the regulatory train that's left the station and headed for a wreck. And we are concerned about -- that's one of the things that we've been talking to Congress about, just to make sure that everyone understands the lay of the land. And then, thirdly, we have a legislative debate coming up in June, and we have made our feelings about some of the legislation that's up there now known. We don't see anything up there right now that we could support. And so the conversations about climate change that we are having with Capitol Hill take into consideration that basket of issues.

Q: Just to clarify, there's nothing concerning Brown, or tied with Brown --

MS. PERINO: No, it's not tied with Brown.

Q: Dana?

MS. PERINO: Yes, Goyal.

Q: Two quick questions -- two questions in one, actually. As far as this great visit tomorrow, His Holiness, Pope's visit is concerned, many believe that religion brings people together and they make them better. My question is that as far as those -- any message for the young people that what we teach them and what is the future because of those scandals? If President -- what President believes or his message to the young people as far as --

MS. PERINO: Well, I think that the Pope is going to address those issues because he is the leader of the Church. The President is the President of the United States, and he won't be weighing in on that.

Q: And if the Tibet issue is going to be discussed, because Dalai Lama is also in the U.S. visiting different places?

MS. PERINO: That's possible. It's not on the list of things that I have here, but they obviously will talk about China and human rights, so that's a possibility.

Q: Thank you.

MS. PERINO: I'll get you right afterwards.

Q: Thank you, Dana.

END 12:50 P.M. EDT

* The President's funding request for PEPFAR doubles his original commitment -- to $30 billion -- by 2013. The Administration is on track to meet this goal.

George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Dana Perino Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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