James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:26 A.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Hi, everybody. The shoe check-in policy and checkout policy will begin tomorrow. (Laughter.) You just saw the President had a meeting with President Saca of El Salvador.
Tomorrow, he will make remarks on national security, homeland security and the freedom agenda. That will be in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, at the Army War College. He will highlight steps taken to keep America safe from attacks on our homeland since 9/11. Keeping America safe since that tragic day did not happen by accident, as you’ve heard the President say before. He will discuss the strategy he’s pursued to protect Americans here at home: bolstering defenses, taking the fight to the enemy, cutting off financing, which has been a very important tool, and promoting liberty abroad as the great hopeful alternative to terror.
He will talk about the results of this strategy, which, as you all know, we have not been attacked on our soil since 9/11. But also he will explain that the war on terror will continue long after his presidency, and that he will outline the tools and institutions that his administration will leave behind for future Presidents to prevail in the long struggle ahead.
One scheduling update for you. President Bush will welcome Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House on Friday, December 19, 2008. That’s this Friday. The President looks forward to discussing with him our shared efforts toward peace in the Middle East, including progress in building capable Palestinian institutions, fostering economic development, and training and deploying Palestinian security forces in the West Bank. So that will happen on Friday. I don’t have a time here for you, but we’ll get it for you as soon as possible.
Q: Hi, Dana. Two topics, please. On auto legislation, from the White House perspective, how important is it that concessions be part of any prospective deal — concessions from the automakers, the union, or other stakeholders?
MS. PERINO: Well, as we made clear, if we’re going to use taxpayer financing to assist the automakers, all stakeholders are going to have to come to the table and be willing to show that they are capable and willing to make really tough decisions about the way forward, that they want — we need them to become viable, competitive firms in the future. And in order to do that, concessions are going to have to be made by stakeholders.
So that’s one of the things that we’re in communication with them about, and that we’re considering as we weigh all of our options in the wake of not passing legislation last week.
Q: So that’s being considered, but it’s too soon to say that that would be required as part of any deal?
MS. PERINO: I don’t think that there’s any possible way that this President would agree to allow taxpayer financing to go towards firms that are not willing to make tough decisions to become viable and competitive in the future. I just do not think that will happen.
Q: I was just going to —
Q: Go ahead.
MS. PERINO: So polite.
Q: The speech tomorrow, just real quickly.
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q: How would you say that it’s going to be sufficiently different from what the President spoke about at West Point last week? It sounded like a lot of similar themes there.
MS. PERINO: I think there are similar themes, because it’s a similar topic, on national security. But again, remember when he was at West Point, one of the things — he’s mindful of his audience. He always keeps in mind — he talks to the people at large, the United States, he speaks to the enemy, he speaks to the military and the military families. And so he’ll have another chance to do that tomorrow at the Army War College in Carlisle.
So I think it will be similar in theme, but I think he’ll focus a little bit more on the tools that have been used in order to help keep America safe here at home, and how those tools will help future Presidents, including President-Elect Barack Obama.
Q: When you say you’re considering options for the automakers, who are you talking to? Are you talking amongst yourselves? Are you talking to them? At what point are you going to present them with options? How far along is this process? We were led to expect that it would be almost immediate, and yet it’s sort of —
MS. PERINO: I think you all led yourselves to believe that it would be almost immediate. We did not signal that it would be almost immediate. I think that there’s been lots of rumors, and I know that stakeholders who are involved, either from the Hill or from the industry, have tried to push the story that something is imminent. I don’t know of an imminent announcement coming from us.
We are taking the time to try to do it right, and weighing all of the options. And, of course, we’re talking to them, and we’re talking amongst ourselves, and we’re trying to figure out how could we help companies, if we decide that we need to, become viable and competitive in the long term.
Q: Well, it sounded like you already decided that you needed to. The President seemed to indicate that you already decided that you need to help the automakers.
MS. PERINO: The President does not think that we can sustain a disorderly bankruptcy. One of the options here is allowing the companies to go into a disorderly bankruptcy. That’s one of the options that is the least favored by the President. Put it at the bottom of the list, because he does not think that in the current weakened state of our economy, that we could sustain such a body blow. So that’s why we’re trying to see if there are other ways that we can try to help them, so long as they’re willing to make tough decisions about concessions they’ll have to make in order to become viable.
Q: But, Dana, the assumption that you’ve allowed to become fact is that the White House, the administration, is going to help them. So the question then is where is it, and what’s the deal?
MS. PERINO: No decisions have been made. We’re gathering financial information from the automakers. I will tell you that on the timing of when this announcement will be made, I have seen it is being fueled not by the White House; it is being fueled outside of here by outside forces who are trying to work with you all to try to pressure us to do something soon. We will do it if we decide to do it, and we’ll do it in the time that we think that is right.
But, yes, of course, the President has said – one, he’s signaled from the beginning, since last September, that he was willing to try to help the automakers, but willing to do it using funds that had already been appropriated for the auto industry through the 136 loans. We thought that that was appropriate. It didn’t pass, and now we’re considering our other options.
Q: Just one more time. Why do you say, “if we decide to do it”?
MS. PERINO: Because I don’t have an announcement for you, Bill. And if at the end of the day we don’t do something, then you would come back and say, why did you not tell me that you weren’t going to do something. So I’m not going to — I’m just not going to fall into the trap.
Q: As the White House negotiated the legislation on the Hill, you had something that the administration supported, you had Democrats on board, sort of basically a framework for a deal with the automakers for aid. I guess my question is, why is it taking a while to — not to — are you reformulating that? Are you adding — I mean, is it direct negotiations with the automakers? I mean, what seems to be, when you have a framework, a holdup of sorts?
MS. PERINO: The framework that we were working for was because we did not believe that we had — we didn’t have the authority to use the 136 money without a change from Congress. That’s what we were trying to get put forward. And it garnered the support of majorities of both the House and the Senate. It just didn’t get the 60 votes that it needed in the Senate in order to move forward.
So that doesn’t mean that you can just take that and cut and paste it into another deal, that then you can just write a check and give it to the automakers and walk away. The President had very clear principles about taxpayer money going to help any of these companies, and that was that they would have to be — make concessions in order to be viable, competitive firms in the future.
Those weren’t agreed to on Capitol Hill, and so we’re — I think that we are moving with all deliberate speed in order to try to do this in an orderly fashion. But we’re not going to be rushed into it just because there is pressure from the media, or others coming through you, on us to do something rash. We’re trying to do something that’s responsible.
And so it’s just taking us a little while, but as soon as we have something, I promise you that we will get it to you immediately. And I would just be just cautious and aware that the rumor mill is churning very fast. And check with us and we’ll be happy to steer you one way or the other if we possibly can on whether a rumor is true or not.
Q: Okay. To that end, Senator Levin yesterday indicated it could be — a White House announcement could come as early as tomorrow. Do you want to shoot that down? I mean, is this week possible?
MS. PERINO: I thought that the email that I got last night was that it could be as early as today. So now it’s tomorrow? Look —
Q: Levin said that yesterday —
MS. PERINO: We’ll announce — okay, but others —
Q: — about Wednesday.
MS. PERINO: Others — not you, but there was another outlet here, I won’t name them — who told me it was supposed to be today. Look, I just don’t have an announcement for you today right now, or even this afternoon.
Q: Should we expect something this week?
MS. PERINO: I don’t know, Jeremy. We’re moving as quickly as possible. As the President said, we don’t have a ton of time. We’re trying to help prevent a disorderly bankruptcy situation with these companies.
Q: And one final thing. Most of the focus has been on using the remaining funds from TARP in the — from the first tranche, from the first $350 billion. Is that the primary avenue that the White House is pursuing?
MS. PERINO: Nice try, but I’m not going to comment.
Q: How is your eye?
MS. PERINO: Fine.
Q: Does the President think that, had the gentleman thrown something other than a shoe, or thrown his shoe more accurately, that he was well enough protected, standing as he was, at that news conference?
MS. PERINO: Well, it was just a shoe, and the President saw it from his vantage point. He felt fine about it. I think you saw he let the Secret Service know he thought he was okay, and the Secret Service jumped in as quickly as they thought they needed to. And then they were able to back off and let the Prime Minister of a duly — the duly elected Prime Minister of a sovereign Iraq taking questions from journalists there who never would have been able to do that five years ago. And the President just thinks it was just a — it was just a shoe.
People express themselves in lots of different ways. Obviously he was very angry. I can’t think — I don’t — I can’t tell you exactly what the shoe thrower was thinking, but I can tell what the President thought, was that he was fine. And he said immediately — you saw his reaction was, don’t worry about it; it was okay.
So we hold no hard feelings about it, and we’ve really moved on.
Q: And he’s satisfied with the — satisfied with the protection — had it been something other than a shoe?
MS. PERINO: Look — yes, he is satisfied that he was well protected by the Secret Service, as he always has been.
Q: Dana, specifically, does the President —
Q: — in the aftermath concerning the punishment?
MS. PERINO: No, the only thing that he’s — what he said publicly is what he said privately to Prime Minister, was, don’t worry about it, that he was fine.
Q: Why not worry about it? Doesn’t it reflect the feelings of the people?
MS. PERINO: I don’t think that you can take one guy throwing his shoe as representative of the people of Iraq. And I will tell you that Prime Minister Maliki and the journalists who were there in the room, who apologized on behalf of the Iraqis, saying this is not how they would treat a guest — I know that there are people in Iraq who are angry — angry at their situation. It’s been a very rough five years. What we were there talking about, though, is how much progress Iraq has made because of our troops and because of the wonderful work of the Iraqi security forces and their military, and how their economy is coming back. And they’ve grown in leaps and bounds, and so the country is on its way to becoming a wonderful country that can govern, sustain and defend itself, and they will be an ally of ours in the war on terror.
Q: But he wasn’t a guest. It was occupied.
MS. PERINO: No, we’re not, Helen. We are absolutely a guest.
Q: It was occupied.
MS. PERINO: We all went there and he signed the agreement, the status of forces agreement. If the Iraqis didn’t want us there, we wouldn’t have been signing that agreement that allows our troops to operate there for the next three years.
Q: — a bunch of people self-picked by us who run the country.
MS. PERINO: Are you suggesting that Prime Minister Maliki was not elected by the people of Iraq? That’s preposterous.
MS. PERINO: Because there was an election and they — he was elected.
Q: When you have an occupation, can you really have a free election?
MS. PERINO: I have never once heard somebody suggest that that was not a free and fair election in Iraq. It was one of the highlights of the last several years that they were able to pull off an election like that, and how many people came out to vote. And absolutely, Prime Minister Maliki is their duly elected Prime Minister.
MS. PERINO: Yes, go ahead.
Q: Does the President believe that the journalist needs to be punished?
MS. PERINO: I think the President believes that Iraq is a sovereign country, a democratic country, and they will have a process that they follow on this. But as I said, the President harbors no hard feelings about the incident.
Q: Season for pardons. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Is he for a pardon? Is that what you said?
Q: Season for pardons.
MS. PERINO: Well, see, that would be in Prime Minister Maliki’s bailiwick, and I don’t know what their constitution says about pardons.
Q: Back to autos. In the consideration of federal funds for the auto industry, is there any difference in treatment of publicly traded companies such as General Motors, versus privately held Chrysler, in the use of federal funds? Does that cause a problem in how you might divvy up the funds?
MS. PERINO: When we have something to announce, we’ll do so, and then maybe we can answer a question like that. I don’t know. I’m not intimately involved in negotiations. I’ve actually been on a plane for, like, 48 hours.
Q: Right. And a follow-up. The statements out of the White House have always emphasized the hope to avoid a disorderly bankruptcy. Does that mean you wouldn’t mind a orderly one?
MS. PERINO: Well, remember, when we were talking — remember —
Q: What’s the difference?
MS. PERINO: Well, one, disorderly and orderly. But the — if you look back to the conversation that we were having with the Hill last week, there was one of two options with the proposal that we had. One was possible long — more long-term financing if they were able to ensure viability, or an orderly bankruptcy that the car czar would have helped organize for them. Look, I’m not a financial expert. I’m sure that economists could tell you the difference between an orderly or disorderly bankruptcy, but one that is chaotic certainly would not help our economy right now.
Q: Does it make a difference if you have a car czar right now during this sort of shorter interim period?
MS. PERINO: You know, I don’t know what the conversations are about that, so I think I’ll just wait, and we’ll hopefully be able to — well, we will answer all of your questions to the best of our ability as soon as there is something that is announced.
Q: Dana, is the President satisfied with the way the Securities and Exchange Commission has handled this Madoff case, given all of the warning signals that they obviously — apparently had going into this?
MS. PERINO: I’ll tell you I read the reports. I’ve not talked to the President about it. I’ve read all the news stories about it, and I will tell you — I would have to maybe even check with him, because I haven’t spoken to him about it and I just don’t know enough. Plus, given that it’s now in the middle of litigation, I don’t know if I’d be able to actually say anything anyway.
Q: Do you know if the President has ever met Madoff?
MS. PERINO: I don’t — I have no idea. I don’t think so, but I don’t know.
Q: Can you say whether the administration, the Treasury, or the White House is negotiating directly with some of these stakeholders like the debt holders and the automakers, the unions —
MS. PERINO: I would not be able to comment on that from here.
Q: Dana, Senator Bob Corker was — had two sticking point;, one, John mentioned, the GMAC bond holders didn’t want to take a hit. But number two, he wanted the workers to take a pay cut next year, and their contract expires in 2011, and the unions said, we’ll do it in 2011, we can’t do it now. Is the President adhering to Senator Corker’s position, or does he have maybe a more flexible position?
MS. PERINO: I’m just not going to be able to comment on our discussions and our deliberations. But once we have an announcement, then we can walk back through it and try to reconstruct everything for you.
Q: Yes, the consumer prices numbers today — a drop of 1.7 percent, a whopping decline. Is the White House — is the President’s team worried that this might be the beginning of the deflationary spiral in the economy?
MS. PERINO: Well, that’s one way to look at it. But another way to look at it would be that lower prices are actually good for American consumers because that means that you have more money in your pocket in order to spend it on other things. And it’s welcome in that energy prices act like a huge tax cut, because people have to get to work and back, and so they have more money in their pocket. But it’s something that we watch closely, and the Federal Reserve, I’m sure, will be taking everything into account as they deliberate about future actions.
Q: Thank you, Dana. Two questions. Republican Congressman Louis Gohmert of Texas —
MS. PERINO: This ought to be good.
Q: — has proposed a two-month payroll tax holiday. Does the President agree or disagree?
MS. PERINO: A two-month payroll tax holiday?
MS. PERINO: I think I’ll just decline to comment because I have not talked to the President about it.
Q: Okay. The New York Times’ page one headline, “Sorry, Obamas, Early Check-In Isn’t Available” appeared on the same day The Washington Post reported that Sally McDonough declined to say what events had been booked at Blair House. And Blair House has 14 guest rooms. Why can’t the Obamas use two of these before January the 15th so their children can begin school in Washington after Christmas vacation on January the 5th? Or why can’t they stay in the White House?
MS. PERINO: Look, we’ve never talked about the private events that are at Blair House. I will tell you that we had some ideas for some events that we could have there up until about the 15th, which is traditionally when the President-elect can join — can move into Blair House.
A couple of examples I can give you, though, of events that have taken place at Blair House include we had the entire diplomatic corps there for an event where we launched a global breast cancer awareness initiative. Steve Hadley had a dinner at the Blair House, in which he invited all living former national security advisors. And, of course, we’ve had a few events over there where the President has been, as well.
So I’m not going to comment on the specific events, but those are the types of events that we have had in the past. And we have worked very well with the Obama team in helping provide office space and other things like that. And they’ll be able to move in on the 15th.
Q: But why don’t you —
MS. PERINO: I think that’s three questions you already asked.
Q: — let them — in consideration of these children that are going to go to school, why not let them come?
MS. PERINO: Thank you.
END 10:42 A.M. EST