James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:36 A.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Hi, everybody. A couple of things for you. The President, as you saw, made remarks this morning at the military appreciation parade at Fort Myer. The President will soon have lunch with Mrs. Bush and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his wife. And then the President will make remarks on conservation and the environment, focusing on that announcement that I made yesterday regarding the marine environment.
As you may have heard, Secretary Rice is on her way to New York. She talked to the President last night about her trip. She will be going to meet with several of her counterparts. She’ll have many bilateral meetings, and then this afternoon, at 5:00 p.m., there’s a U.N. Security Council meeting that she will attend and represent the United States at.
So with that, I’ll go to questions.
Q: I wanted to look ahead to tomorrow — the lunch with all the —
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q: — the Presidents and the President-elect.
MS. PERINO: Okay, sure.
Q: Can you just talk a little bit about how that’s going to work? Are they going to have sort of substantive talks or some separate time for separate substantive discussions after the lunch? And will there be any separate, just one-on-one between the President and President-Elect Obama?
MS. PERINO: I think there is time for the President and President-Elect Obama to meet just for a little while prior to the other Presidents arriving. They will meet in the Oval Office. We’re working on the details right now, but I think you’ll be able to get a nice shot of them in the Rose Garden as they walk out of the Oval Office. And then they’ll return to the Oval Office, and then they’ll have lunch all together.
So the way — I think President-Elect Obama, I think, originally had the idea for this, but President Bush readily agreed, thought it was a great idea to get everybody together. We checked and the last time that all of the living Presidents were able to get together at the White House was in 1981. And so this is a historic moment for — that we’re looking forward to tomorrow.
Q: What sort of — what level of discussions do you expect either the two of them to have on their own, and at the lunch later?
MS. PERINO: Well, as you’ve — as I said yesterday, the President and the President-elect shared a phone call on New Year’s Day. They have had periodic calls that we don’t announce those every single time that they do. So they’ve had a chance to talk about issues.
Those are private conversations. I don’t have a lot of detail for you as to what they discuss. And tomorrow I’m sure they’ll talk a little bit about issues. But I just couldn’t tell you right now exactly what it will be. I’ll try to get you more afterwards.
And then, for the lunch, I think that it would just be — all of us would love to be flies on the wall and listening to that conversation. But these are leaders who only understand what it’s like to be in each other’s shoes. And none of us can put ourselves in their shoes. And so I’m sure their conversation will range from everything from personal experiences here — I’m sure they’ll talk a little bit about raising children in the White House, raising children when you’re a public figure, and how to protect them. And, obviously, the Obamas are doing a great job of that and got their girls off to school yesterday in a good fashion. It looks like they had a good day.
So we’re really looking forward to it tomorrow. I think it will be a little bit of a zoo, because there’s so much interest. But we’ll try to manage all of you, and make sure that everybody gets there in time for the shot.
Q: The State Department is now calling for an immediate, yet durable cease-fire in Gaza, which seems to be a new wrinkle, the use of the term “immediate” here. Is the United States trying to send a signal to the Israelis to start wrapping things up? And given the level of civilian casualties that are beginning to develop, including the deaths of 40 Palestinians at a U.N. school in Gaza today, are the Israelis being as cautious as the U.S. has been urging them to be?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that — I don’t think that calling for — that the word “immediate” actually signals anything different than what we said yesterday. We want to get to a durable and lasting cease-fire as soon as possible. And if that is immediate, then we would certainly welcome that.
There’s three elements to what we’re looking for. We want the rocket attacks from Hamas into Israel to stop. We want the smuggling to stop — this is in regards to the tunnels. And we want to return to the open border crossing in the way that we had in the — from the 2005 access agreement. Those are the three things that we would like to get to in a cease-fire, and that’s what Secretary Rice will be working towards today.
We have counseled our ally Israel to be very cautious about protecting innocents, and I do think that the Israelis take great care to do so. I saw the reports about the school. I don’t have any information about that. I think that we should not jump to conclusions, and we should wait to find out what the evidence says. What we do know is that Hamas often hides amongst innocents, and uses innocent people, including children, as human shields. So I think we need to wait and find out all the facts before we make a judgment as to what happened in this incident.
Q: Dana, on the transition, as we’re now in the final couple of weeks here, can you talk at all —
MS. PERINO: Fourteen days.
Q: Can you talk at all —
MS. PERINO: And about 18 minutes. (Laughter.)
Q: Can you just talk a little bit about whether or not the pace has increased at all as far as meetings? Has there been an increased number of meetings, or has there been —
MS. PERINO: Between the transition teams?
Q: Between the transition teams — have people come here perhaps for longer visits or —
MS. PERINO: I think it’s been pretty steady, although it has picked up as more people were named to their positions. And so you can have more conversations with people once you have that. But Rahm Emanuel and Josh Bolten, who previously had a good relationship, have continued that, and that’s deepened over the course of the past two and a half months.
Obviously, I’ve met my counterpart, and others have met with theirs. I couldn’t tell you that it’s necessarily increased, except for to say they’ve been able to identify more people that they want to have in place for their administration. And as that has happened, we’ve been able to have more meetings. But I couldn’t — I just couldn’t tell you if the pace has quickened. I do know at the agencies, that there is a very robust effort on behalf of the Obama administration teams, that they’re — the teams have swooped in and are learning everything they possibly can.
We’ve particularly focused on the national security aspects of this transition, which I think every American should be grateful for, as well as the economic transition. So as you know, the Secretary-to-be Geithner has a good relationship with Secretary Paulson. And so their teams can work closely together.
So I think just from all accounts, there’s been good, cooperative spirit; there’s been communication. And hopefully, it will be a very smooth transition when we leave office next week — two weeks.
Q: I just had a second question. The President today in his remarks at Fort Myer seemed to be very reflective. I’m wondering, has he made a decision yet on a farewell address?
MS. PERINO: No, actually, he has not. But we’re getting close to that. Look, every President has given a farewell address. I think it’s more than likely that he will. But I don’t have an announcement for you yet because we just haven’t quite decided yet.
Q: Dana, you said that the White House has counseled the Israelis to be cautious. Do you think that they are being cautious? And is the White House satisfied at the level of aid that is coming to the civilians in the area?
MS. PERINO: Well, a couple of things on that. I can’t speak for the Israelis; I’ll let them do that for themselves. We are obviously very concerned about the humanitarian situation, which is why we have provided over $85 million through the United Nations so that aid could get into Gaza. The Israelis themselves have opened up the crossings to try to get it there. It’s a very densely populated area. It’s obviously very troubled, and there’s a lot of innocent people who have been affected negatively. And we’ve always counseled that the protection of innocents is of utmost importance. And I do think that the Israelis take every precaution that they possibly can. But I’ll let them speak for themselves.
Did you have a second question?
Q: Dana, how will it work around here — I mean, two weeks out — how did it work around here? When do boxes start coming out? When do you start putting things away? When do the — when does the First Family pack up and the moving vans come in? How does all that work?
MS. PERINO: Well, you know how — the President’s style is always to be one that’s a little bit prepared early, and he and Mrs. Bush have been working to box things up. They didn’t come with a lot of things; they didn’t bring a lot of furniture here. So mostly what they have are books, obviously their clothes, and then some of the things that they’ve picked up along the way on their travels as they’ve traveled.
So they’re trying to box those things up, and then they’ll be headed down to Texas I think over time — over the next couple of weeks, a little bit before the 20th.
Q: So is there a point where moving vans pull in?
MS. PERINO: I don’t anticipate that you’ll see a big Ryder truck coming up to the White House — probably the wrong brand to use. (Laughter.)
Q: What about yourself, in terms of staff? I mean, putting — closing down offices — are you at that point? Are you starting to —
MS. PERINO: Well, part of the thing is, is that when the President said we would sprint to the finish, I think he really meant it, and we’re all panting trying to keep up behind him. There’s a lot of news happening in the world. We obviously have the situation in Gaza. We have been — we have two wars going on. We have troops in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan. But we’ve tried to position those two conflicts in a way that the next team will be able to have more troops in Afghanistan starting out, and also an agreement with the Iraqis that allows us to be there for the next three years.
I think that things will start to wind down for all of the offices. Obviously we’re not creating any new policy initiatives; we’re not up on Capitol Hill lobbying for any legislation. But when it comes to our office, you guys never sleep or stop, so I think that we’ll be at least fully staffed through next Friday. And then I’ll probably see it through at the weekend.
Q: You’ll probably pack up yourself on the 19th?
MS. PERINO: I don’t — I didn’t bring much stuff either, but I’ve — one thing that I was smart to do is keep some things like menus and things like that from — little mementos that I’ve had along the way that I have in a couple of boxes, and those will be going home soon.
I’m going to go back. Go ahead.
Q: This is regarding the conservation of the oceans.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q: There were a lot of Republicans that had criticized President Clinton for unilaterally acting to — on environmental conservation. How do you think this is different?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think some of that criticism came because they thought that there was a lack of consultation and a lack of public input. And there’s one thing that you can say about the President’s decision yesterday to exercise his power through the Antiquities Act, is that there was a ton of consultation. It took us a long time to sort through all of the recommendations. As Chairman Connaughton said yesterday, one of the recommendations was do nothing, and then also to do much more than we did. I think that we struck the right balance. And this reflects the President and Mrs. Bush’s desire to make a mark on ocean conservation, which is something that they’ve really tried to do over the past eight years.
Q: Do you know about how long the one-on-one meeting with Obama will be?
MS. PERINO: I think it will probably be less than half an hour.
Q: And do you have a view on whether Burris should be seated in the Senate?
MS. PERINO: I’m going to not touch that with a 10-foot pole. (Laughter.)
Q: The President’s meeting with the Secretary General — can we expect they will talk about the situation in Gaza?
MS. PERINO: Sure.
Q: What is the President going to say to the Secretary General, given that his own Middle East coordinator has called the Israeli incursion excessive, though he also criticized Hamas rocket attacks?
MS. PERINO: I definitely think that the President and General Ban Ki-moon will talk about Israel and Gaza and the Mideast peace effort. Ban Ki-moon has been very supportive of the President’s initiatives, starting with the Annapolis Conference. So they’ll talk about that. I’m sure they’ll talk about this afternoon’s activities in the U.N. Security Council. I’m not sure if the General will be — Secretary General will be headed back to New York or not. You’ll have to ask his office.
But of course they’ll talk about that. They’ll talk about U.N. reform; things like Burma; I’m sure Sudan will come up; possibly climate change, that they’ve worked collaboratively on; and peacekeeping efforts that the United Nations is involved in.
When it comes specifically to Gaza, what I think the President will reiterate with him is the three elements that I mentioned earlier, which is what we think is required for there to be a lasting, durable cease-fire, which is the stopping of the rocket attacks, the end of the smuggling in the tunnel routes, and also an opening for the border crossing that is in concordance with the 2005 access agreement that we had helped negotiate.
Q: You can be both supportive of the three-tiered approach and also critical of the size or scale, if you will, of the Israeli incursion. Given that the Secretary General’s Mideast coordinator has made public criticisms, what is the President likely to say to Secretary General Ban’s call to reign in the Israelis?
MS. PERINO: I think, as you said, that you can have a lot of feelings about this situation. And the President always speaks very frankly to world leaders, and he’s been able to have — develop a good relationship with Ban Ki-moon over the past year and a half. And so I’m sure they’ll talk frankly about it.
But I also think that while everyone is concerned about the humanitarian condition, and the pictures and the stories are gut-wrenching — on both sides. I mean, you have casualties on the Israel side, as well. And also, for the past several years, or at least since the summer of 2007, Hamas has been terrorizing Israel. I mean, yesterday we had — we saw a rocket launched from Gaza land on a kindergarten in Israel. Thankfully, there was nobody there. But that’s how they’ve been living for many months. And I think that the President will make that case on behalf of the Israelis, as well.
Go ahead, John.
Q: Thank you, Dana. Two questions. You said you wouldn’t touch the Roland Burris affair with a 10-foot pole. Will you touch that involving Senator Coleman and Al Franken?
MS. PERINO: Well, there’s still a legal challenge that the Coleman campaign is going to mount, and so I think that while that’s still ongoing, we’ll decline to comment.
Q: All right. The other thing — yesterday, when I covered the debate for the candidates for Republican National chairman, all except one said they would support a resolution coming up at the RNC winter meeting that denounces all of the government bailouts — financial institutions and the auto industry, as well. What is your reaction to the fact that five of the six candidates to lead the President’s party are going to go on record in a measure that attacks a key part of his policies?
MS. PERINO: I think it’s probably a popular thing for them to do. I don’t think that if they would have been responsible, as the President of the United States was, for the future of our financial system, that they would necessarily be signing on to this resolution, because it was put very plainly to the President that our entire system faced collapse if he didn’t act. And so that’s why he took the action that he did, and it was the appropriate action to take.
So it’s their right to have that debate. It’s their right to put forward that resolution. But unless they’re sitting there in charge of the economy, then they probably can’t really put themselves in the President’s shoes. And so they can move forward and have their debate, but we think that what the President did was prudent and the right — and just the absolute right thing to do to help every American.
Q: And he doesn’t favor any of the candidates, including the one who wouldn’t endorse the resolution?
MS. PERINO: The President is just going to let the RNC fight that out. That’s the appropriate thing for them to do. And they can have a good, robust debate, and we encourage them to do so.
Q: Thank you, Dana. The Georgians in Tbilisi — say they will have a new strategic partnership declaration with the U.S. before the end of the week. Can you confirm that and how will it happen?
MS. PERINO: I need to check into that, Andre. I’ve heard that, as well, mostly from media reports. I know that there has been some discussions that have been ongoing. So if you’ll let us check into it, either myself or Ben Chang or Gordon will get back to you.
Q: Hi. According to a release from Laura Bush’s office this morning, there’s going to be a set of George W. Bush state china. Any idea why it’s being delivered two weeks before he leaves office?
MS. PERINO: No time like the present. (Laughter.) I think that it just took a while for them to figure out the design that they wanted. Then it was produced and it has arrived at the White House. And so Mrs. Bush will be happy to share that with everybody soon.
Q: Do you know anything about it or why they’re doing — because not every President does this kind of thing.
MS. PERINO: I haven’t seen it yet and I’ll let her talk about that. I’ll see if I can get some more information. I just know that it has arrived.
Q: Is it a good expenditure for an administration when the economy is in the kind of state it is?
MS. PERINO: I think that it was probably done within the White House budget, but we’ll check for you.
Q: Got pictures of them? What does it look like?
MS. PERINO: I’ll check with Mrs. Bush’s office. I just — I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing it yet.
Q: Do you know those Obama plates you see on television? (Laughter.)
Q: Yes, I know, I’m wondering. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Goyal.
Q: Two questions, thank you. One, we still don’t have Osama bin Laden. Do you think President still believes that whether Osama bin Laden is alive or dead? And also, if he thinks —
MS. PERINO: What’s the question, Goyal?
Q: — whether we have him will make a difference or not?
MS. PERINO: Look, we’ve gone over this many times. The President thinks it’s very important for us to continue to go after and seek out and bring to justice Osama bin Laden. So we continue to work towards that.
Q: And second —
MS. PERINO: In the back. I’m going to go on. Go ahead.
Q: Some in the international community have criticized the White House, tying it into the 2006 Lebanon crisis, saying your reaction has basically been the same, allowing Israel to bombard at will. Is the White House pleased with the way that Israel is carrying out its current operation right now in Gaza?
MS. PERINO: I really feel like I’ve answered that question. Do you have another question or — okay.
MS. PERINO: Okay, thanks.
END 11:55 A.M. EST