Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:22 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. I have a short opening statement for you.
As you know, the Senate this week is considering two urgent needs. One is legislation to bolster economic growth, and then also critical legislation to reauthorize the Protect America Act. It's now been a week since the House passed a bipartisan economic growth package that would give our economy the boost it needs to deal with the challenges that our economy is facing. And while we understand that senators want to put their own "brand" on the growth package, we hope they will not treat this as a partisan exercise. We call on Congress to pass legislation quickly and get it to the President's desk. Americans are expecting action, and every day we wait will delay delivery and relief to businesses and taxpayers -- and to give them the certainty that they need.
With respect to the Protect America Act, the President signed an extension of that act last Thursday; this was a short-term extension that lasts until February 15th. The President called for long-term legislation that keeps in place the tools our intelligence community needs and liability protection for those believed to have assisted in efforts to protect our nation after the September 11th attacks. While not perfect, the Senate Intelligence Committee gave near unanimous bipartisan approval to that legislation; it largely meets the goals that the President called for. Our intelligence community needs the certainty of long-term legislation so they can count on having the critical tools provided by the Protect America Act. We call on them to do this before the next recess. As I said, it expires on February 15th.
Also, a little bit later this afternoon the administration will be announcing sanctions against individuals and companies involved in Than Shwe's military junta in Burma -- expect that sort of mid-afternoon.
Q: Is it a partisan act if the Senate wants to make changes in the stimulus package?
MS. PERINO: Well, what you see right now in the Senate is haggling over important issues, big issues -- issues that we think largely need to be debated outside of an economic growth package. The purpose of the economic growth package is to stimulate the economy. And as Speaker Pelosi, herself, has said, this needs to be timely, targeted and temporary, and that was a compromise that she hammered out with Speaker Boehner and with Secretary Paulson.
We think that that legislation that was agreed to on a bipartisan basis and originated in the House, because that's where tax bills originate, should be taken up by the Senate. We understand that they're going to do what they do in the Senate, which is haggle over these issues, but on many of them, we think that they could be -- that they are important enough to be discussed, but they should discussed outside of the economic growth package because they won't be stimulative to the economy.
Q: So I'm unclear then. Are you saying that they're acting irresponsibly if they change the package at all?
MS. PERINO: No, we're not saying that. We're saying that they need to move quickly, that there's no need for delay, that they have a package in front of them that they could move on, and we're calling on them to do it quickly. They have a vote, I think, scheduled for tomorrow.
Q: Isn't that acting quickly?
MS. PERINO: It is not guaranteed that they're going to pass it tomorrow, and pass it in a way that can actually make sense for the House to be able to come up to agreement with them quickly and get it to the President's desk. I think that's the concern that we have, that it gets bogged down in the Senate.
Mike, go ahead.
Q: Dana, how confident is the White House that the Congress will pass a Protect America Act permanent fix by the 15th? I seem to remember, I think it was Tony Fratto that said that it was talked about a patchwork of extensions. Are you worried that they're going to say, we need another 15 days, or --
MS. PERINO: Well, legislating by extension for our intelligence community is no way to run a counterintelligence program. One of the most important weapons you can have in this war against terrorists is intelligence and good information about what they are planning, how they are planning, and how we can stop them.
So we don't think that the Congress needs much more time to debate this. It's been debated not just for the last six months, but for about a year and a half. So they have this legislation is front of them, a bipartisan package that was passed in the Senate committee by 13 to 2, which is quite remarkable given the partisan nature of Capitol Hill. So we think February 15th is a hard and fast deadline that they need to meet.
Q: Dana, you mentioned some new sanctions that are going to be announced today on Myanmar's rulers. Is that going to be specifically against General Shwe or (inaudible) --
MS. PERINO: I'm going to let them announce -- the people related to the junta and companies participating in business with them as well.
Q: This is the third round of sanctions, I think, against Myanmar.
MS. PERINO: That sounds right.
Q: Have you seen any real results or --
MS. PERINO: We do know that sanctions can have an impact, and they help curtail economic activity and can further isolate the junta, which is part of getting them to recognize that they need to open up and allow the democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to be able to meet with the leaders that they said that they would allow her to do. And it's been a halting progress. They say that they're going to do things that they don't follow up on. And so the President is going to authorize these sanctions today.
And remember, just last week, Mrs. Bush, who was up in New York, did talk to President Torrijos, who is now chairing this month the Security Council at the United Nations, and she pressed him to do more, and he said he would bring it up.
Q: Two quick questions, one just to follow on the sanctions in Burma. If those sanctions will be only on the companies, or also the countries supporting Burma --
MS. PERINO: Why don't we wait for the document to come out. I can't comment on it before it comes out.
Q: And second, yesterday Mr. Hadley, NSC, was speaking at Carnegie Endowment of International Peace. He laid out some of President's trip to Africa next week. Problem is that, as far as Africa region is concerned, it's so rich in natural resources -- diamonds and oil and all that -- but so poor on this earth. The President's trip you think will bring anything like -- there is violence going on, and also Chinese influence?
MS. PERINO: Let me just make a comment about the Africa trip, since I don't think you really have a question there. (Laughter.)
Q: I'm sorry to -- the question is that of what the President will bring prosperity and (inaudible)?
MS. PERINO: Certainly, the President is going to take a message that the American people stand committed to helping the African continent, and helping on education, malaria, HIV/AIDS, trade, development. And what Steve Hadley did last night was to preview a little bit of what the President is going to go and see. But he also said, in regards to many of those difficulties that you mentioned, including the violence that we've seen, especially recently, that we have a long way to go in order to help them.
Q: Yes. Can I ask about Director Hayden's testimony on the Hill. He has now publicly confirmed that waterboarding was used against three al Qaeda suspects. He's also said that that technique remains in the CIA's arsenal. Why is this not an illegal form of torture?
MS. PERINO: I have to tell you, Mark, I literally came from a meeting. I saw the press report about this. I didn't have time to follow up on it. I didn't see what he said. I don't know the process from -- by which it was announced. And so I'm going to decline to comment on it until I have more information.
Q: Can we ask you to get back to us with an answer on that, because --
MS. PERINO: I will try -- yes, I literally came down here to do this because there's a pool event, but we will follow up.
Go ahead, Les.
Q: Thank you, Dana. Two questions. The Islamic Republic News Agency reported that Iran conducted its first successful space rocket launch with President Ahmadinejad on hand to order the takeoff and inaugurate the space center. And my question: Does the President believe that this has nothing to do with Ahmadinejad's repeated threats to destroy Israel?
MS. PERINO: Well, let's take that in pieces. What we commented on yesterday is that the actions that he took regarding the so-called space program is also the same type of technology you need to deliver a nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile. Now, we are concerned about that, and we think that those actions only further isolate Iran.
Q: Your statement issued yesterday, announcing, "The U.S. strongly condemns the terrorist attack in Dimona, Israel," it mentions not a word that Dimona is the production site of Israel's nuclear weapons. And my question: Why was there no mention of this important fact?
MS. PERINO: We are focusing on the fact that an innocent person was killed by a terrorist. I think that was the more important part of that statement.
Q: Well, yes, I know, but there was certainly --
MS. PERINO: I didn't think it was necessary.
Q: You mentioned on the stimulus package the importance of getting this done quickly. And I can understand unemployment, insurance extensions -- that could be taken up separately. But what I don't understand is if you want to boost consumer spending, why are you opposed to expanding the rebates to seniors and disabled veterans at a (inaudible) below $3,000 a year? Wouldn't they spend money quickly?
MS. PERINO: What I said is that we believe that the House package that was worked out between Speaker Pelosi and Leader Boehner and Secretary Paulson is one that they think would stimulate the economy with as much -- with about 1 percent of GDP, the amount of money that the President said was going to be necessary to have an effect.
That is the package that went over to the Senate; we think that they should act on it. I realize that there are going to be discussions in the Senate as to what may or may not be included further on. We understand that's how the legislative process works. We are urging them, though, to do this quickly.
Q: And one issue unrelated. Under the law, the President is supposed to be submitting Medicare containment legislation within the next 15 days. So I understand you want to do this in a timely manner, but by "timely," do you mean within the next 15 days?
MS. PERINO: Well, certainly -- I know Director Nussle answered that question from this podium yesterday, and Tony Fratto spoke to you about it earlier today. And nothing has changed in the past hour since you've spoken to him about it.
I would point you to the fact that OMB, through their budget last year, through the President's budget, did suggest savings that could have been taken that would avoid the situation altogether, and the so-called "trigger" would not have been enacted. So we will act appropriately, but we just don't have anything to announce yet.
Q: Dana, today is the fifth anniversary of Colin Powell's U.N. presentation on Iraq. I'm wondering whether you think the intel reforms that we've seen since then make a repeat of that kind of blunder impossible.
MS. PERINO: I didn't realize that was the anniversary today. I'm glad you keep tabs on it. I think there is no doubt that this administration took a lot of input from a lot of different places -- independent commissions, including the WMD commission, to establish reforms throughout the intelligence community, which are working very well. And I remember Fran Townsend, at her last briefing here before she left, indicated that in her experience that the agencies were giving -- sharing a lot more information and that was making our nation safer.
Q: I'd like to know -- go ahead.
Q: Do you have any reaction to Britain's Prince Andrew criticizing the U.S. for not following the advice of officials from his country?
MS. PERINO: No.
Q: I'd like to know why this morning's transcript failed to note the comment, "bearded mischief-maker"?
MS. PERINO: Well, maybe they -- I don't know. I didn't hear it either.
Q: You didn't? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: I can ask them to go back and look at the tape. (Laughter.)
END 12:35 P.M. EST
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/276566