Press Briefing by Dana Perino
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:45 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: One announcement, and then we'll go to questions.
It's been 56 days since the President sent up his request for more money for the troops, and Democrats in Congress left town last week without finishing their work. It appears they're still content to work on a bill that does not have serious plans to fund troops or make Iraq, America and the world more secure, but, rather, attempt at forcing us into giving up on Iraq without regard to the consequences of failure.
The authors of these bills clearly do not understand what it means to mandate and legislate a withdrawal from Iraq. Just yesterday, a Democratic leader described the debate in Congress as a political dance; while another said the goal was not great legislation, but rounding up votes and sending an anti-war message. Well, they've delivered their message; it's time now for Congress to deliver the money to our troops.
In addition to that, the President has just received from the House Republicans a letter with proof that the House does not have enough votes to override the President's veto. So it's time that we believe the Congress get serious in supporting General Petraeus and the troops and the ground, and not mandate and legislate failure with the current path that they're on with this Iraq war spending bill.
Q: Thanks. The Speaker said in Beirut today that -- first of all, she's criticizing the White House for what she says is ignoring other Republican lawmakers who have made trips to Syria in recent days. And, also, she said she thinks it's a good idea to establish facts and to try to build confidence with Syria. Why is that not a good idea? And how is that just a photo op?
MS. PERINO: Let me unpack that a little bit. First of all, last week when I was asked about her specific trip, I said in my comments that, in general, we discourage members from going to the region. And that is true. In fact, I looked back, when Tony Snow was asked at this podium months ago, when Senator Nelson made a similar trip, he said the same, that this was a blanket policy -- but I was asked a specific question about Speaker Pelosi, which is why I said that.
Speaker Pelosi is a high-ranking United States official. Nothing changes -- nothing has changed in Syria's behavior over the years when high-ranking U.S. officials go to see them. We sent Secretary Powell early on; the behavior doesn't change. Syria uses these opportunities to flaunt photo opportunities around its country and around the region and around the world, to say that they aren't isolated, that they don't need to change their behavior, and it alleviates the pressure that we are trying to put on them to change their behavior.
And by changing their behavior I mean as in, stop undermining the democratically elected government of Lebanon; stop allowing foreign fighters to flow from Syria into Iraq, in which they are then killing American soldiers and innocent Iraqis and Iraqi soldiers. They are state sponsors of terrorism, of both Hezbollah and Hamas, and they support Palestinian terrorism.
And so that was the reason that we said that we discouraged her from going. But that policy applies to all. So I think that maybe she wasn't able to see my exact comments, so I won't judge her on that. But the policy applies everywhere.
Q: With the court's decision today, will the President direct the EPA to decide whether greenhouse gases contribute to the changing climate?
MS. PERINO: I saw that opinion, that ruling. There were several of them that came out today. We haven't had a chance to review the opinion in full. People at EPA and across the government are going to have to do that. I can't speak to the broader implications of the bill. One thing I can say is part of this case that was being argued was with respect to vehicles and regulating CO2 out of the tailpipe. And one of the ways that you do that is by making cars more efficient, so burning less gas, going more miles. And that's precisely what we have been working to do with our increases in mileage standards for both light trucks, SUVs, and we have asked for that same authority in regards to cars. We don't have that authority now, but the President asked for it two years ago, and then again in his State of the Union.
In addition to that, the other way you get there is by mandating alternative fuels and biofuels. And in the President's State of the Union address he said that he wanted to get 35 billion gallons of alternative fuels mandated within 10 years. We call that the 20-in-10 program, which means reducing gasoline consumption by 20 percent in 10 years. The way you get there for our program is to increase CAFE standards and to increase these mandatory alternative fuels.
But in regards to this case -- so in that regard, we are regulating the vehicle sector. As far as the broader implications about the case, we're going to have to let EPA take a good look at it, and they're going to have to analyze it and think about what it means for any future policy decisions.
Q: Well, on a broader face, why did the administration and the EPA refuse to take a position on whether greenhouse gases cause global warming?
MS. PERINO: No, we -- that's actually not what the case was saying. We have long said that greenhouse gases are contributing to a warming planet, and that human-generated carbon dioxide is a large contributor to that aspect of it.
Q: Then it wasn't an EPA policy, which is what this case is about.
MS. PERINO: The question was -- it is a legal question of whether or not the federal government has the legal authority to regulate greenhouse gases as a pollutant. And the prior administration said that they thought they had that legal authority, but they did not take action. We questioned whether we did have the legal authority. Now the Supreme Court has settled that matter for us, and we're going to have to take a look and analyze it and see where we go from there.
Go ahead, Bob.
Q: Back to war funding. As I'm sure you're aware, Senator Reid is now saying that he's signing on to the more stringent legislation, the Feingold legislation. Do you have a comment on that?
MS. PERINO: There's just these shifting sands when it comes to the Democrats and their decisions. It's almost shifting so fast it's like a sandstorm. Last Thursday the Senate Democrats passed a bill that said that -- that mandated our troops leaving within 120 days from last Thursday. Over the weekend, when we said this money is going to run out in April, and he said, oh, no, no, no, they'll be fine until July -- well, then, what is it? Are you wanting troops to leave 120 days from last Thursday, or 120 days from July or whenever it is that you get this bill to the President's desk?
In addition to that, I don't know if there was polling that was run over the weekend that led them to make -- led Senator Reid to make yet another decision and take another position on this bill, but I do know is that standing with the troops means getting them the money that they need now. The Department of Defense has already said that there are impacts; there are detrimental impacts if we don't get this money soon.
In addition to that, I saw some people wondering over the weekend why we had not criticized the Congress last year when the money didn't come by the mid-April time frame. There were some complaints, but we also knew that we were getting closer to a bill that the President could sign. What we know now is that the President has said he's not going to sign the two bills that are underway. And so we respectfully ask the Congress to come back and get that work done for the troops.
Q: Dana, do you know anything about an American missing in Iran? And, also --
MS. PERINO: I have heard those reports from the State Department. I believe Sean McCormack -- I don't know if he has spoken about that today at his briefing, but we have heard that there may be an American citizen in Iran. It's not completely a unique scenario to have an American citizen go missing there and possibly need consular support. But the State Department is working to seek out as much information as possible, ascertain the facts, find out if he does need any support or help. And I just don't have any further details, but I can tell you the State Department is looking into it.
Q: And what does the President think about the video showing the British soldiers in Iran saying that they were actually in Iranian waters?
MS. PERINO: I think you heard from the President on Saturday, he fully stands behind Tony Blair and the British government in their attempts to return their sailors and their equipment. I think the President believes that the Brits have shown that the sailors were in Iraqi waters and that they need to be returned immediately and unconditionally.
Q: Dana, did the President use the word "hostage" for a specific reason yesterday -- changing it from "captives" to "hostage"? That seems to turn up the heat on this.
MS. PERINO: No. And I saw Tony Blair had used the same word in previous days.
Q: And he considers them hostages, captive --
MS. PERINO: Well, they were taken -- as the President said, they were doing nothing wrong, they were summarily plucked out of the water and are being held. So the President believes that's appropriate language. But I stress to you the President stands behind Tony Blair and we reject any notion that suggests that we are ratcheting up the language in terms of trying to prepare to go to war with Iran; that is certainly not the case.
Q: And just a little bit more on the American missing in Iran. It said -- the State Department said he had been missing since early March. Do you know why we're just hearing about this?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't. I just really don't have any more information about his whereabouts; I don't know when they reached out. So we'll try to find out more information, but probably that -- just for all of you here, I think a lot of that information is going to be able to come from the State Department, not the White House.
Q: Dana, on the testifying for Attorney General Gonzales, you've expressed a wish, the White House has expressed a wish that it be sooner rather than later. Some critics have said the reason for that push is to take the heat off Karl Rove and Harriet Miers in the push for testimony under oath. How do you respond to that?
MS. PERINO: I think that as much as they've tried to rub sticks together to try to create heat around Harriet Miers and Karl Rove, it's just not successful. So our offer stands for -- the President said they can go up and have interviews. I think that there is no credible allegation of any wrongdoing. The Attorney General would like to go up to Congress, would like to answer all their questions and be fully responsive and get on with the business of the people.
Q: Another topic, the Supreme Court rejected one of the appeals by the Guantanamo detainees today. Does the Bush administration see that as some sort of a victory today?
MS. PERINO: Well, certainly, we're pleased with the decision and, again, with all the Supreme Court decisions that come out around 10:30 a.m. We don't have a chance to fully review them and for me to get fully briefed on them, because it takes me a little while to understand everything. But, yes, I think on first glance we're very pleased with the decision.
Q: But there is a sense that there will be -- this will come to a head in the Supreme Court again.
MS. PERINO: Well, we'll have to see. I can't forecast that. But I think we're pleased with today's decision.
Q: To follow up on Bill's question, just so I'm clear. Is the administration going to take a fresh look at the emissions, and are we considering -- are you saying we're considering regulating greenhouse gases on new cars?
MS. PERINO: No. What I'm saying -- I'm sorry, I have to decouple those two things. In regards to the broader possible applications -- or implications of the Supreme Court's decision regarding greenhouse gases, we'll have to take a look. I would remind you and refer you to EPA's website, CEQ's website, in terms of all the things the President is doing. The main one, let me point out, is that the President, in 2001 -- sorry, 2002 -- established a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emission's intensity, which is the rate of growth of greenhouse gas emissions, by 18 percent by 2012. We are now in 2007, and we are on track -- well on track to meet the President's goal. And there are many other programs that we've been pursuing, both domestically and internationally.
When it comes to this particular case, EPA versus Massachusetts, and the question was whether or not the EPA should regulate greenhouse gas emissions coming out of the tailpipe, my point was that we do regulate emissions coming out of the tailpipe. We do it through the Department of Transportation's CAFE program. And the way to get cars to be more efficient is to burn less gas and to go more miles. And that's what we've been working to do, but we've done that in a way to make sure that the safety of passengers is taken into account, because the lighter you make the car, the more -- possibly the more dangerous it can be for passengers who could get in an accident.
Q: But is there an appetite to raise the standard?
MS. PERINO: Well, we already have raised the standard twice for SUVs, and we're looking at a third one. And then we've asked Congress for the authority to do the same for cars. So we're already well down that road. I can't tell you an exact number, because we try to do that based on the experts at the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration.
Q: Back on the Speaker's trip. Is it your view that her trip is, effectively, endangering U.S. troops in the region?
MS. PERINO: I'm not suggesting that. I think that the people who are endangering U.S. troops in the region are the people who are perpetrating the violence, and the Syrians, who are allowing these foreign fighters to cross the border into Iraq unabated. There's no judgment in regards to her actions leading to any possible troop being attacked by someone coming from Syria, no. What I'm saying is that it sends the wrong message; it alleviates the pressure off of Syria from things that I mentioned before, which is the human rights situation in Syria, the Palestinian terrorism situation, the support of Hamas and Hezbollah, undermining Siniora's government, the democratically-elected government of Lebanon.
These things are real. We want Assad to take action and change his behavior in regards to those items. But the more U.S. officials go there and try to talk with him, the less he feels the pressure to change. And so we haven't seen change in many years, and we think that the best thing to do is to keep them -- to show that they are isolated and that their behavior is unacceptable.
Q: Last week I asked you about Alberto Gonzales' testimony before the committee, and why didn't he suggest to them that he would like to testify earlier. And you said to me that as they had invited him, that they should be the ones to suggest that he testify earlier. Then suddenly Dan Bartlett says over the weekend that he wants to testify earlier. So what changed?
MS. PERINO: The Attorney General thinks it's in everyone's best interests, and we agree with him, that he be able to get up and talk to Congress sooner than later. I think the American people would like to see us resolve this so that we can move on and work on other things. So we'd like to see the hearing moved up to next week.
Q: Did Kyle Sampson's testimony change that?
MS. PERINO: No, I think it's been a culmination of factors. It has dragged on for many weeks. It seems to heat up over the last couple of weeks. And I think that the Attorney General thinks it's in everyone's best interests if he testifies earlier.
Q: So he doesn't feel that this is starting to get a little bit too hot?
MS. PERINO: No, he just wants to clear the air. They've been fully responsive in terms of the document requests. And now that that's completed, I think it now makes sense to try to move that hearing up. If the senators are going to be here next week, I see no reason why they couldn't go ahead and have that hearing.
Q: This week's Economist, which is a fairly friendly magazine, refers to the Bush administration --
MS. PERINO: Fairly friendly to who? (Laughter.)
Q: Fairly friendly to the Bush administration --
MS. PERINO: Wow.
Q: -- refers to the Bush administration as "this most inept of presidencies." I wondered if you had a comment.
MS. PERINO: No.
Peter, did you have one? Not to stump you.
Q: I want to clarify on the -- you're saying it was a bad idea, then, for Speaker Pelosi to go for all these various reasons to Syria. It's a bad idea, then, for Jim Baker to have gone, a bad idea for Frank Wolf to go as well, right?
MS. PERINO: We think that it is not a good idea for U.S. officials to go and meet with Assad, because it alleviates that pressure, and also because meetings haven't produced anything. They've been meeting just to meet, and he doesn't change his behavior. In fact, he uses those meetings as a reason to say that he doesn't need to do anything.
Q: When you don't meet with him, he doesn't change his behavior either.
MS. PERINO: Well, we'll see.
Q: Dana, is there a fear -- back on the Pelosi trip -- is there a fear that Pelosi will go and meet with government officials there and show that there are two U.S. policies on Syria, versus one policy that the President has stated?
MS. PERINO: Well, I don't know what she was planning to say in that meeting. I would believe that she agrees with us, in terms of the aspects that I've laid out. So I don't know what she's planning to say. We do think it sends the wrong message for U.S. officials to go and meet with him.
Q: To follow up on that, is it a contradiction that the President is denouncing the trip, but, yet, is ready for a readout when she comes back?
MS. PERINO: I was asked this morning if she had responded -- or if she had sent back any messages. I said, I don't know, I'm sure that she'd be willing to. If she wants to share information that she found out from her trip to the Middle East, I'm sure we'll be willing to hear it.
Q: But isn't that a contradiction, though? If you're denouncing it, why do you want to hear about it?
MS. PERINO: April, that is not a contradiction. What I said is that if she wanted to share, I'm sure we will listen. Imagine if I had said the opposite, you'd be asking me much tougher questions. (Laughter.)
Q: Just going to seek your comments on the Matthew Dowd interview over the weekend.
MS. PERINO: I don't know Matthew Dowd. I wish I did. I have heard nothing but fabulous things about him over the years. I know people are very fond of him. Obviously, war brings out a lot of emotions in different people, and possibly changing emotions, as he laid out in the New York Times. And, obviously, not being a close friend of his, I don't know as well as others might about the personal journey he's been on over the past couple of years. But we certainly can respect his views, but respectfully disagree with some of the assertions that he made in the article. But we certainly wish him the very best. He's a really good guy.
Q: What does that mean, personal journey?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that he's had some personal hardship, and also he has a son who's volunteered to serve in our Armed Forces and he's going to be deploying to Iraq. And I can only imagine that that affects a parent's thinking.
Q: And so it's really about him, and not about you, about the President, the White House, and the things that he's seen go wrong?
MS. PERINO: No, he might very well have those opinions, but we can respectfully disagree with -- for example, where I think one of the allegations was that the President is isolated. But I think many of you in this room have said increasingly, the President has been listening to a lot of different voices, and dissenting voices and dissenting opinions. And we certainly did that in the Iraq review on the way towards the President's new policy that he announced on January 10th.
Q: He's raised "personal journey," which was used yesterday, as well, on television -- it seems to be implying it's really all about him, it has nothing to do with any legitimate disagreement with the White House.
MS. PERINO: No, I think he has a legitimate disagreement, but I also know that he has had some personal hardship.
Q: Is that related? Is that relevant?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I don't know Matthew and --
Q: Then why do you bring it up?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that -- he brought it up in the article, and I think that it's relevant. And I think that it's true that when you have a parent who is going to see his or her son or daughter heading off to war, in a war that is -- where we are fighting a very determined enemy, in which the Congress is not fully backing the troops, it would be a concern. And I'm just not going to judge him. I'm going to allow him to have his views and wish him well.
Q: Yes, thank you, Dana. Two questions on American business. In the --
MS. PERINO: American business for 200. (Laughter.) I've always wanted to be on that show. Go ahead, Les, I'm sorry.
Q: That's all right. In the just released 2007 annual report of The Washington Post Company, Chairman Donald Graham writes, "The Washington Post circulation continued to fall, and a sharp drop in classified advertising raised questions about the future of our business." Question, since The Washington Post is a leading part of one of this nation's most important businesses, do you and the President share Don Graham's expressed questioning about its future?
MS. PERINO: No. I think that the free press is alive and well.
Q: By striking contrast, The New York Post is constantly gaining circulation. And my question, do you and the President believe that The Washington Post might also gain, rather than lose, if its editorial and reportorial writing were more like The New York Post rather than like The New York Times, which is also seriously losing circulation?
MS. PERINO: Maybe they ought to look at the tabloid format, I don't know.
Q: But how about the content, not just --
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on that.
Q: Just to clear one thing up about the Pelosi visit, are you asking her to reconsider, or have you spoken your piece now and --
MS. PERINO: We had already discouraged her from going, and other members we do not encourage them to go to Syria. But at the end of the day, every American citizen, including members of Congress, get to make their own decision, and that was a decision they made.
Q: Okay, so you're not -- this is not, like, some last appeal to say, please don't go tomorrow?
MS. PERINO: No, not from me. You can -- there might be others at the State Department or somebody who would make that.
Go ahead, John.
Q: Dana, just to follow on that, you would have preferred that Frank Wolf had not gone to Syria.
MS. PERINO: Our policy and our feelings apply to everybody.
Q: You mentioned a few moments ago about the administration's greenhouse gas emissions goals and timetables. Well, could you explain why you measure this in intensity as far as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, because it's been said you could do that by production unit but without a cap on production, you could actually meet that goal and not reduce overall greenhouse gases.
MS. PERINO: I'm not an economist. I barely know what intensity means. I have a very tenuous hold on what that means. But I do know that slowing the rate of growth was important, in regards to the economy. We did not move forward with a full, mandatory cap because we believe that it would have been harmful to United States businesses.
But let me point out, it's not just about the business aspect of it. When you're talking about global emissions, that means -- global means global. So everyone is emitting up into the air. And if there are no actions taken by the major developing countries, like China and India -- China, which is, on average, building one coal-fired power plant a week -- you're going to put the American economy at a great disadvantage, push American businesses overseas, and then do nothing for the environment.
And so our approach has been multilateral and aggressive on various, different aspects of it. But it's the cap that we rejected, and they decided early on in 2002 -- and I can refer you to Jim Connaughton for the thinking behind those decisions.
Q: But, again, this was set in 2002. There's been mounting evidence since then about temperatures rising, everything --
MS. PERINO: Absolutely. Climate change is a very real challenge. In fact, we have scientists this week that are at the U.N. meeting, at the IPCC. This is the second in a series of reports that they'll be doing, and they're full participants in the meeting and thinking about it. But I will point out to you that it is the United States who has had better performance in terms of reducing greenhouse gases, but with a stronger growing economy than many of the other countries -- I think most of the other countries who signed on to the Kyoto agreement.
Q: Thank you.
MS. PERINO: Just one more in the back, just for Joanie.
Q: Can you give the President's reaction to the FTA agreement in Korea last night, and also, how he thinks that will affect East Asia and the United States?
MS. PERINO: Well, the President was very pleased to notify Congress last night that we had finally, after much wrangling and late-night hours, reached a deal. America is a Pacific Rim country, and we have a lot of cultural and trade ties with East Asia. Our relations have never been better than they are today. And we're very pleased that the agreement was able to move forward, and looking forward to working with Korea not only on the trade agreement, but also on the security issues, such as the six-party talks that we're negotiating with them in regards to North Korea.
Q: Thank you.
END 1:11 P.M. EDT
Dana Perino, Press Briefing by Dana Perino Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/273570