Press Briefing On Bush State Of The Union Address
Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building
Press Briefing by Ed Gillespie, Counselor to the President, on the President's State of the Union Address
2:43 P.M. EST
MR. GILLESPIE: Hi, everybody. Sorry we're a little late. Obviously, we were trying to accommodate folks who came across the security situation and had a little difficulty getting into the perimeter -- especially without hard passes, I guess.
Thanks for making some time today. Obviously, we have the President's final State of the Union this evening. As we have pointed out, and as is accurate, it is not a retrospective speech in any way, shape or form. It is very forward-looking, very action-oriented, and talking about things that need to be done in this Congress and in this election year; ways in which Republicans and Democrats can work together.
And as we did at the end of the last Congress -- and frankly, as we've been doing at the beginning of this year, when it comes to a growth package -- and the fact is the President is, as he has said before, of a mind to sprint to the finish, and the speech reflects that mentality very accurately.
It also talks about his approach to policy and to governing and to what works best for keeping us safe and prosperous as a nation. He talks about the need to trust the American people and empower them, to improve their quality of life and to create jobs and to make informed decisions when it comes to their health care and education and other aspects of their lives. And so it does have a philosophical core to it that does reflect the President's philosophy of government as well, and then has some policies consistent with that.
That's not to say while it has a philosophical core it doesn't identify areas where we can find common ground with a Democratic-led Congress, and there are areas where we believe we can do that, and the President identifies what he thinks are some common ground areas where this Congress and this White House can come together to get some accomplishments done. We have a window of opportunity to do that and look forward to working with leaders on both sides of the aisle, in both chambers of Congress, to pass new policies -- he will lay out some new policies tonight -- and also to move forward with unfinished business that is important that we get done to meet the needs of the American people.
The first part of the State of the Union address tonight is focused on domestic policy. It's about half and half: the first half is domestic and economic policy; the second half is foreign and national security policy. The lion's share of the domestic and economic policy is economic policy, again with an assessment of the current state of play with our economy and the need for us to move a package that spurs growth here in the immediate run and that is temporary.
We do have an agreement that we are optimistic about, that was made with Secretary Paulson and Speaker Pelosi and Republican Leader Boehner in the House. We're going to encourage the Congress to move that quickly; the President will encourage them to move that quickly. The timing is important. Getting it done in a way that doesn't delay it or derail it is very important, because the sooner it gets done, the more impactful it is. And so we feel like this is a very good agreement, it will have the desired effect and Congress should move it forward quickly.
In the long-term, we do believe that the uncertainty that hangs over the economy relative to the existing tax relief is not helpful, and that we need to remove that uncertainty; that we should make the tax relief permanent; that that will have a major impact on continuing to see economic growth to our economy, and job creation. And failing to do so means that 116 million Americans will see their taxes rise by an average of $1,800, and so we should make the tax cuts permanent.
The President also talks about budgeting and his budget, which will -- he will propose to terminate or reduce 151 wasteful or bloated programs; terminating the wasteful ones, reducing the bloating ones. And that would total savings of more than $18 billion -- his budget taking into account the one-time shot in the arm for the economy that we think is necessary right now, would still reach a surplus in 2012, and we believe that is important to keep as a goal, as well.
I know you've seen and heard from us about the earmarks. The President is going to unveil an unprecedented step to curtail earmarks. He talked about earmarks in the last State of the Union, encouraged Congress, cajoled Congress to make changes relative to earmarks, as many of them said they would do during the course of the campaign. That did not happen, and so the President is going to go the additional step this year and say that if Congress does not reduce the level of earmarks by 50 percent in next year's appropriations process, he will veto any bill that does not meet that goal.
And he will issue an executive order tomorrow that will direct the federal government to ignore any future earmarks that are not explicitly voted on by the Congress -- in other words those earmarks that are dropped into -- I think they're generally referred to being "air-dropped" into committee reports, and only referenced in the statutory language. And that executive order would be in effect until -- if and until the President (inaudible). And so that is -- like I said, the discussion of the tax policy and budget will dominate the first part.
But when it comes to economic policy, we see obviously housing and health care and trade and energy in that same area of economic policy. And the President dedicates a lot of dedication to those areas, as well, including on housing, highlighting the HOPE NOW program that is helping a lot of homeowners weather some turbulent times in the housing economy and in the markets, and also calling on Congress to pass reforms and to modernize the Federal Housing Administration.
On health care, he restates his call for Congress to make health care more affordable and more accessible, specifically with the tax code change that he talked about in the last session of Congress, which would make millions of Americans -- make private health insurance available to millions more Americans. He also talks about the need to expand health savings accounts, and confront junk medical lawsuits.
On trade, the President specifically applauds the Congress for moving the Peru Free Trade Agreement, and urges them to move now onto the other three pending agreements -- Colombia, Panama and South Korea -- starting with Colombia, which is a valued friend in our hemisphere, one whose government is confronting violence and terror and needs our support -- and highlights the importance of this, not only in terms of our economic policy, but in terms of our standing in the hemisphere, and curtailing drugs and helping a friend who's fighting terror. So he will focus on that, as well as talk about the need to complete the Doha round to knock down trade barriers.
The President will talk about climate change, and the need to trust in the creative genius of American researchers and entrepreneurs and empower them, to pioneer a new generation of clean energy technology. The energy bill that was passed -- as I referenced -- one of the things I referenced in the last Congress, where we were able to come together and find some common ground -- that energy bill was an important step, but we need to build on it and reduce our dependence on foreign sources of oil.
The President calls on new technologies and funding for new technologies in the federal budget to help with carbon capture for coal power and calls for moving forward with emissions-free nuclear power, and how that's advanced battery technology, among others.
He does talk about the climate change discussions that have been going on and that our administration is engaged in; the international agreement that we hope will slow, stop and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases. Such an agreement will only be effective if all of the major economies are involved and cooperating in that. No economy should be carved out or given a free ride when it comes to reducing greenhouse gases.
On the education front, the President will call on -- reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, and highlight the successes that it has had. It is a bipartisan achievement, and it is working. The fact is that 4th and 8th graders now have the highest math scores on record, as of last year. The gap between minority and white students has closed, to the lowest level ever in the history of the testing.
The President has some concerns about the declining number of faith-based and parochial schools in inner-cities around the country and low-income neighborhoods, and is going to urge Congress to enact a program he calls Pell Grants for Kids. It includes $300 million to provide for alternatives for children who are now trapped in struggling public schools. And he is going to announce the holding of a White House summit to address this phenomenon that's going on in inner-city America, where parochial and other non-public schools are closing their doors, and that's resulting in limited opportunities -- more limited opportunities for children in those areas.
That is a pretty good rundown. Those are new -- obviously the White House summit and the Pell Grants for Kids, two new things that the President is going to raise tonight, along with the earmarks, that I mentioned.
On the foreign policy front, the President is going to highlight Afghanistan and progress there, but also acknowledge that we need to do more and thank Congress for its support for our efforts in Afghanistan; note the adding of 3,200 Marines to ensure that we are successful there, but highlights -- highlight progress with the Afghan people and the Afghan government.
And of course, we'll talk about Iraq as well. Note that the surge is achieving results, that when the State of the Union -- when the President and Congress came together last year, things were clearly very different, and have improved very much in the past year as a result of the success of our commanders and our troops doing a remarkable job in Iraq. Civilian deaths and high-profile terrorist attacks are down. And as a result of that success, we are seeing our troops beginning to return home without being replaced.
And in fact, we will see this year more than 20,000 troops return on that success, and any future reductions will be -- further reductions in troop strength will be based on the same principles of gauging and hearing from the commanders on the ground, gauging success and what can be allowed in terms of making sure that we're meeting our national security objectives while bringing more troops home.
He'll also highlight the fact that that military progress is translating into progress in the political arena in Iraq, with the parliament passing pension law and de-Baathification reform, the government -- central government sharing oil revenues with the provinces. And he will highlight some of those things, and of course, in the process, call on the Congress to fully fund our troops, which has not yet been done.
He will touch on Iran and the threat posed there by the Iranian government; talk to the Iranian people and make clear to the Iranian people that we have no quarrel with them and we respect their traditions, but the Iranian government does need to, in order to rejoin the community of nations, suspend their nuclear enrichment program, come clean about any past activities, and stop the oppression of their people.
And then lastly in that area, I think he will talk about his recent trip to the Middle East and progress that we are seeing and reason that we have hopes for progress when it comes to the definition of a Palestinian state and a peace accord with Israel, a definition of that -- that would be a very successful conclusion to the talks that remain ongoing today.
When it comes to protecting our country, we believe that the Protect America Act, which does allow the government to monitor terrorist communications abroad, is a very important tool that has helped to ensure that we have not been attacked as a nation since -- on our homeland since September 11th, and the President will call on Congress to act now to ensure that this current law does not expire and that we ensure a flow of vital intelligence is not disrupted, and call on liability protection for companies, as was passed in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence bill; companies who are believed to have assisted in efforts to defend America be provided with liability protection and call on the Congress to move that legislation now.
They knew when they passed the current bill that it was a six-month bill, and they've had six months to figure out how to move it forward. We believe that there's been ample debate and now is the time for action on this bill.
The President will also reiterate calls for enacting the reforms made by the Dole-Shalala commission on wounded warriors. And we have implemented the administrative side of that committee's recommendations, and are in the process of implementing all of those. We would like to see Congress respond similarly, and move the legislative side of the proposals from the commission, get that to the President so that he can sign that into law.
And then he will talk about two new proposals for America's military families who sacrifice greatly in support of keeping the rest of us freer and safer. The President will call on creating new hiring preferences for military spouses across the federal government, and will urge Congress to enact legislation that would allow for those who get the benefit of the G.I. Bill to transfer their unused education benefits to their spouses or their children, which will be a new proposal and we hope that Congress will do so.
The President talks also about the need in the -- and as we wage the war on terror, to help reduce the lack of food and lack of hope that exists in so many areas, that allows for recruitment of young men, particularly, into terrorist activities and mind sets. And so the President will talk about the United States and our efforts to lead when it comes to global compassion. We are leading the fight against global hunger, providing more than half of the world's food aid. The Millennium Challenge is strengthening democracy and transparency in governments abroad, and should be fully funded.
When it comes to emergency food aid, the President is going to call for a shift in current practices, which is to provide food overseas and send food overseas, which is a fine thing to do and good thing to do, but we should also support buying crops overseas from local farmers in the developing world, which will help to break the cycle of hunger and famine by building a better infrastructure in the agricultural sectors of these developing countries.
Because of our efforts, we have cut malaria-related deaths in 15 African countries in half. And the President will urge continued funding for efforts to reduce malaria deaths in Africa. That will also be a focus of his trip next month, as you know. And also, the fact is we are treating more than 1 million people for AIDS, and the President is calling on Congress to double the initial commitment for -- to fight AIDS overseas, by approving $30 billion over the next five years for that purpose.
We will also touch on the faith-based and community initiative, and the work that's going on there, and ask Congress to permanently extend charitable choice, which guarantees equal treatment for faith-based organizations when they compete for federal funds. He will highlight the positive impact that the armies of compassion are having today in the Gulf Coast region, and applaud the resiliency, and reaffirm our support for those rebuilding in the Gulf Coast.
He will also tonight announce that -- to demonstrate how this great American city of New Orleans is rebounding, and is resilient, that the United States will host the North American Leaders' Summit this year in the great city of New Orleans. The summit, obviously with the Prime Minister of Canada, President of Mexico, President of the United States, and their attending delegations, was in -- I know it was in Canada last year, and I think it was in Ottawa, I want to say. Those who were there, it will be in New Orleans this year.
The President will also talk about the need to confirm judicial nominees, an ongoing struggle with this Congress, and why that's important. He will laud the landmark achievement when it comes to stem cell research. And as he says, we must trust in the innovative spirit of medical researchers and empower them to discover new treatments. Toward that end, the President is going to call for funding for the reprogrammed adult skin cells, which have the potential and do act like embryonic stem cells. This is a very ethical and very important new area of stem cell -- or of research, and the President is calling on funding, and will direct the government to fund more research, further research, in that -- following up on that breakthrough.
He will talk about competitiveness, and the need to trust in the skill of our scientists and engineers and empower them to pursue the breakthroughs of tomorrow, and ask for Congress to fully fund the American Competitiveness Initiative.
And lastly, he will highlight -- and this is not in order -- but in the course of the speech, he will highlight the need to address some of the big issues that were -- did not get addressed in this past Congress, or the past session of Congress, including the need to get control of entitlement spending. The President laid out specific proposals in that regard. Congress did not move forward with those, which is the prerogative of Congress. But Congress does have a responsibility to future generations to come up with their own proposals for a bipartisan approach to reign in entitlement spending, or future generations will face very dire consequences.
And the issue of immigration, which continues to be an important issue in our country -- again, the President came forward with some proposals, and that legislation was unable to get passed in the last session of Congress, and we hope that Congress will move forward to address the problem of illegal immigration in our country, and he will highlight steps that we are taking from an administrative perspective to address those problems.
So a mix of new policy proposals, unfinished business, laying out his approach to government -- what he thinks is best, and urging Congress to move forward on some of these important issues, understanding that given the time frame that we are in, that it's not likely they'll move forward with these major reforms in the course of this session of Congress, but as President of the United States feels that it's important that we talk about these issues in the State of the Union. If they want to get a bill done and send it to him, he'd be happy to sign it if it's one that he can sign, if they're so inclined; but we understand that they may not choose to address those two issues in this session.
So thank you for letting me give you a rundown. I hope it was helpful to you.
Q You talk about a window of opportunity. Realistically speaking, in this political season, how long is that window -- how long before that window of opportunity closes? And what are the -- you talked about finding areas of common ground. There must be a couple things that you think that you can find common ground.
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, we would hope, obviously, No Child Left Behind would be an area of common ground. It was passed with bipartisan support in the past. We're working with Senator Kennedy and other leaders on the Democratic side to try to get a proposal that would work with them. We have no -- we don't have to weaken No Child Left Behind, we don't have to accept a bad bill, obviously, because it is the law of the land, but we do think that there are some things we've learned in the five years of implementing it that could make it better, and we would to improve it and work with them to do so. So that's an area where we think we could find some common ground.
The Peru Free Trade Agreement was a positive step, as I noted, and we think that Colombia would be another positive step, and that that's something that we could get done together. I would like to think that Pell Grants for Kids may be an area that we could reach out and work with them and find some support for that. And obviously in doing this for the military families -- the Army, by the way, does allow for soldiers to transfer their education benefit to children. We think it should be extended to spouses as well, if it's an unused benefit. And we think that the other branches should do so as well. I would like to think that Congress could work with us on that.
And I would like to think that Congress would work with us on Secretary Shalala's -- the recommendations she and Senator Dole came up with to help our wounded warriors. That's a very positive proposal and would allow for a new system, adapted to a new generation and a new kind of war. And then obviously on the growth package to the -- short-term immediate growth package, that that's an area where we think we can --
Q The window of opportunity -- how long?
MR. GILLESPIE: You know, that's obviously a fluid thing, but I would think clearly before the conventions, which means before they go out for the August recess. I suspect that they'll want to move appropriations bills in July, which is the traditional time when Congress tries to move appropriations bills. We would like to work with them on those appropriations bills so that they're bills that we can -- the President can sign. So I would say between tonight and somewhere in the 4th of July-August recess time frame, we'll have some opportunities to get some things done.
Q Related to that, on timing, (inaudible), what's striking about this year is not only that it's a captivating campaign, but that because it's so compressed, we're going to be in a general election campaign for a long time. What impact do you think that has on the President?
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, in terms of the President, he is obviously watching, just like the rest of us, with interest. But the fact is, he is focused on moving his ideas and policies and agenda and trying to find some areas where we can reach common ground; a vigorous foreign policy as well.
And so my hope is that as the -- there will be some areas -- and, by the way, this is not the extent of the new policies that the President will propose in the course of this year. There are some other things that are in the works that might have liked to have gotten done in time for the State of the Union, but the policy is not ripened yet internally to unveil. And at the same time, I know that you'll want other things to cover during the course of the year, so we'll roll some of these things out.
But I think that with the politics going on and with the presidential campaign being as heated, maybe I'm naive, but I think that may be to our benefit. That means that the politics doesn't -- it's fine, all the politics playing out over there. We don't necessarily have to do it here between Congress and the executive. Maybe we can agree while all that's going on, and we're all supporting our side over there, but there are some things that we can get done here that can kind of come out of the political thicket and might be in the interest of a Congress that has a need to demonstrate to American voters that they can get some things done and would meet the needs that the President sees.
Q Can I just ask you one question on Iraq? How generally does the President try to frame the argument on Iraq, knowing that a lot of Americans have sort of tuned him out on this subject, but he's got to be looking not only to the American public, but a future President. What's most important to him about what he wants to keep in place?
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, I think, clearly, if you look at his language that he has been talking about from the outset, and this evening, wants to make sure, one, I think people do increasingly understand that we are succeeding in Iraq. And that is a change that has taken place as a result of the change in strategy, the surge. But the fact that the American people increasingly see that we're succeeding in Iraq I think makes the American people open to remembering why it is important that we are succeeding in Iraq.
And the fact is that this is the central front in the war on terror. A precipitous withdrawal from Iraq at a time when the government is getting some results and there is some real -- those who are over in Iraq right now see a real interesting political dynamic going on. There's a debate over the provincial laws and the relation between the federal government and the provincial governments that is somewhat reminiscent of a debate we had here in 1789, and it's kind of a fascinating time, and we see real progress being made. And I think the American people will recognize that allowing that progress to continue, and not only allowing it to continue but making sure that it does is in our national security interest.
And so I don't know that it's going to be as heated -- I guess, to a certain extent, what the President would like to do is make it less of a political issue by continuing to be successful there, and for people to remember why it is it's important that we are successful there.
Q On earmarks, just to be clear, the executive order is going to be talking about future earmarks, not --
MR. GILLESPIE: Future earmarks, that's correct.
Q -- talking about the past that he just signed.
MR. GILLESPIE: That's correct. We did look at that, weighed options. The President thought at the end of the day that because he did not signal to Congress that he would veto the bill if it -- everything else we laid out some pretty bright lines, and we were very direct about the $933 billion, no tax increases, no policy riders. And we were -- while we have urged Congress to act on earmarks, and had called on them to do so, and they said they were going to, they did not. But he felt like, and people made the point that, well, that's not fair, that would be blindsiding us; you didn't make that explicitly clear that you would veto legislation.
So he will rectify that tonight, and make explicitly clear that future bills that do not reduce the earmarks by half he will veto. And he will put in place the executive order directing the federal government to ignore all future earmarks that are not voted on by Congress, those that are slipped into committee reports.
Q The overall tone, for the things that he hasn't been able to -- the big things that he hasn't been able to do, will there be a tone of blaming Congress in this speech?
MR. GILLESPIE: No. No. Again, that would be backward-looking, among other things. But the fact is, he is going -- he feels -- entitlement reform and immigration are two very important issues, and while this State of the Union is realistic in understanding the time frame in which we find ourselves and the dynamic of a Congress controlled by the other party, that doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about the problems that confront us and challenge the Congress to address them. And the President feels a responsibility to do so.
Q On the economy, when you say that he's going to talk about the need to spur economic growth, is he going to outline any initiative other than the stimulus package from last week and the need to make his tax cuts permanent? Will there be anything else that's new?
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, we consider progress on health care and energy and trade to be economic growth components. When you look at the extent to which the rising cost of health care and rising cost of energy are drags on economic growth and on hiring and investment, we think that's an important thing to highlight.
And the fact is, in terms of trade, trade accounts for a significant portion of our GDP growth right now. I think the last data point I saw for the last quarter was one-and-a-quarter percent of the economic growth was directly attributable to increased trade. So we see those -- that's why I say we see those in the economic bucket. But in terms -- he will talk about specifically the growth package, the spending and making the tax cuts permanent.
Q And when you say that there are policies that aren't quite ripened yet, do those policies include doing more, in addition to the economic stimulus package that was done last week?
MR. GILLESPIE: It would be -- it sounds to me like you're asking specifically about taxes, and I think when it comes to taxes, promoting -- making the tax relief permanent is the extent of our policy push right now, along with the short-term shot in the arm. There will be other -- I think there may be other economic policies, but I wouldn't want you to think that they may involve the tax area. I don't think they will.
Q Can you just say a little bit about what the parochial school program would be; how that would work?
MR. GILLESPIE: There's actually -- we're going to give you some briefing books that we're going to leave behind, and there's some background on there. That's probably -- I'm probably better off to have you look at what's in writing, than for me to try to characterize it right now.
Q Anything new on the advanced battery technology, either new funding or anything new on that? And secondly, I noticed there was going to be a manufacturer in the First Lady's box. Is he somehow going to be highlighted in terms of the President talking about the stimulus package, or how?
MR. GILLESPIE: No, he will not be. By the way, I don't think the President is doing -- is going to do any of the -- you know, there's not always the call to the box, the Lenny Skutnik moments. They haven't always been done, and I don't think the President --
Q I don't know how many people remember the --
MR. GILLESPIE: Thank you; it's a trivia question. And so we're actually not -- I don't think the President is going to have any nods to the box. He will talk about things -- and, you know, we are briefing the networks so they know who's in the box and they can cut during certain parts of the speech -- like, Senator Dole and Secretary Shalala are going to be there. So he's not going to highlight that individual.
Battery technology I think is calling on the funding of the advanced battery technology. I don't believe it's new money.
Q Ed, has the economy taken precedence over foreign affairs for this speech? And if so, is that unique for this presidency?
MR. GILLESPIE: No, I mean, I think that if you look back over the past speeches, I guess last year I wasn't here, but I think they did the state of the economy speech separate -- I'm looking at Scott and some of the -- and so it was kind of broken out. This is a little more traditional in that it's -- like I say, it's about a 50-50 split between the domestic and economic policy and the national security and foreign policy.
Q (Inaudible) on the economy part of it.
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, the economy, we are dealing right now with concern at kitchen tables across America that we want to address and concern in the housing market. We want to address the effects of that, or possible adverse effects of that on other parts of the economy. So it's not surprising that having just reached an agreement with Speaker Pelosi that we're moving forward on a package that we would highlight that and lead off with that. I do think people have a concern there, and we want to address that right up front.
Q Ed, it seems to me that by raising immigration and Social Security that he -- the President is, in a way, issuing a call to his successor. So to what extent is he using this speech to look beyond his own administration and to lay out a vision for the country after he leaves office?
MR. GILLESPIE: You know, I don't think that's the case. I think he feels, as the head of our government, that to not talk about entitlements and not talk about immigration would have been irresponsible, regardless of prospects for major reform legislation passing in that window that I'm talking about.
So I think it was more in that vein. And that is a legitimate, tough question, but I'd rather face that question than the legitimate, tough question, how could he give an hour speech and not talk about immigration or Social Security?
Q (Inaudible) in which he's using this speech to put forth a vision for the country beyond his time in office?
MR. GILLESPIE: I think he's highlighting what he thinks are serious issues and concerns, but it's not like -- well, it's certainly not like immigration hasn't been talked about in the presidential campaign, and I think entitlement reform will be talked about in the presidential campaign as well.
But the President understands that nominees on both parties are going to have their own proposals and ideas on these fronts, and that that's the -- that's where we are in the cycle of things. But I would honestly view this in the prism of this speech tonight and his view that, as President of the United States, to stand before Congress and not mention the need to address the concerns and the problems of immigration and entitlements would have been irresponsible.
Q If I could just ask one more follow-on to David's question, given that the presidential campaigns are very interesting and engaging to the public, is the President concerned or are you concerned that he will simply have trouble getting Americans' attention with this speech?
MR. GILLESPIE: The beauty of when you're President of the United States is you get people's attention. And people are going to watch tonight, the American people are going to watch tonight, our allies will be watching tonight, our enemies will be watching tonight. And lots of people will be watching tonight. And like I say, we understand, you know, the window that we're in and that the nominees are going to take the spotlight. And we're comfortable with that. The President has run himself, his father has run. He understands that.
At the same time, we are going to sprint to the finish, and that is the mentality not only of the President, but the people who work for him. And we have business to get done. And we see an opportunity to get business done, to enact policies, to promote an agenda; and we're going to do that.
Q Ed, to follow up on what Sheryl was asking, the place that the President gets a lot of attention is among Republicans, where his support is highest. How vigorous is his fundraising effort going to be in his final year? And to add on to what he's going to be doing for other candidates in his party, what's he going to do for his own library? And then I have a follow-up to that question.
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, both of them are tough for me to answer. The President is very much in demand on the fundraising front. I think he's got some events coming up later on this week. He and the Vice President both have been vigorously raising money for the party, as part of what he sees to be his responsibility as party leader, and for the nominee. The President -- you know, all that money is going to go to -- well, not "all of it" -- all of it is going to go to help elect the Republican nominee and Republicans for the House and Senate. It's all federal money, as you know, so it will go into federal races.
But he'll continue doing that throughout the course of the year, and I think is a very strong asset to the party in that regard, very much in demand. And I think that will make a big difference, and a positive difference.
Q The library?
MR. GILLESPIE: The library, I don't know frankly much about.
Q And one quick question. The EO -- the President has new signing statements to tell the executive branch, ignore the earmarks. Is using an executive order now a -- I guess an assent that he did the wrong thing with signing statements? I mean, what possible change did that make?
MR. GILLESPIE: I don't know that he had signing statements on earmarks before.
Q Well, he --
MR. STANZEL: Signing statements (inaudible) interpretation of laws passed by Congress. I can follow up with you on that.
MR. GILLESPIE: Yes, we'll follow up. I don't -- I'm not sure that's the case, Alexis, but I'll check. But this, an executive order directing the government to disregard earmarks that have not been passed by Congress, or signed by the President, you know, will, as of tomorrow, be the effective policy of the federal government; has a full weight of --
Q But whenever the appropriations then kick in, which would be -- it would be only a couple months left in his administration, right? It would have an --
MR. GILLESPIE: No, it would last until -- remember, when we came in -- some of you may remember -- I wasn't "we" then, but when the current administration came in 2001, there were a number of executive orders that had been issued very late in President Clinton's second term that were on the books, and President Bush had to either repeal or live with. This will be on the books, and will be an executive order that future Presidents will have to repeal or live with.
Q But you're saying no future President, regardless of party, would dare say, "This is ridiculous, let's keep the earmarks."
MR. GILLESPIE: I'm not saying that. A future President may say that.
Q What are some of the -- has this ever -- has there ever been an executive order like this before?
MR. GILLESPIE: I don't know. I don't think -- I think it's -- I've seen it described as unprecedented. One other point -- just so people, by the way, understand about earmarks, you know, if you put a $100 million earmark in on an appropriation bill or on an omnibus bill, and you direct the agencies to disregard it, that doesn't mean the $100 million is not spent, it means it doesn't have to be spent on that earmark.
Q I'm mostly talking about the stuff that goes into the report language.
MR. GILLESPIE: In the report language, yes.
Q I thought that's what the signing statements were trying to tackle.
MR. GILLESPIE: I just don't know, Alexis, I'm sorry; but we'll get you the answer on that.
Q Two quick questions. One, on the earmarks: Some of the House Republicans are saying that -- saying you're going to veto any bill that doesn't cut them in half -- still assumes you have 6,000 earmarks, give or take. And I just wanted to know if the President disagrees with that; that that's an appropriate level, 6,000 earmarks in a budget. And also --
MR. GILLESPIE: I think the 11,700 was the current level, so it would be in the nature of somewhere over 5,000.
Q Does the President disagree with that? And also, when did the speech kind of become -- when did you guys agree that the speech needed to be focused on the economy?
MR. GILLESPIE: Interesting. Well, in terms of the earmarks, I don't know what the number is, but it is not -- we're not taking it to zero. It is 50 percent, which is what he encouraged in the last State of the Union. It is 50 percent from this year's level, which was a reduction over the last level, so it's -- it would come down dramatically.
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, look, from my perspective, but the fact is you could keep bringing it down. I think that it's -- you know, the other way of looking at it is it's glass half-full/ glass half-empty; it's 5,500 less than it was, or 6,000 less than it was, which is pretty good. In terms of the economic focus, it seems to me, just from the outset, the breakdown of the speech has not changed. It's not like we -- and the President started talking about the State of the Union and getting ready for it before Christmas, and wanted an outline of it for the Middle East trip, which we had, and I think in there it was up front, too.
Q Can you give me a clarification on the call for funding for stem cell research? This is on the adult line out of skin cells, right?
MR. GILLESPIE: Yes, that's correct.
Q And then on this Pell Grant for Kids, can you tell us a little bit more about that; how much he would call for, and how to --
MR. GILLESPIE: It's $300 million, and the "how to" and the qualifications are in the background that we are going to leave with you -- and I think I would trust more than me to characterize it verbally right now.
Q You highlighted Colombia as one of the areas where Congress and the White House could come together. Is that an acknowledgment that is the priority of the three deals, and is it a tacit acknowledgment that Korea and Panama are not likely to be (inaudible)?
MR. GILLESPIE: It is the first of the three deals. We would like all three deals. Colombia is the first out of the box, so it is a recognition of the scheduling.
Q And it's a priority to get all three? Do you think that --
MR. GILLESPIE: We'd like to get all three.
Q When you talk about the wasteful and bloated programs, did I hear correctly the savings -- is that the equivalent of the cost of the stimulus package?
MR. GILLESPIE: No, it's $18 billion.
Q (Inaudible) the stimulus package, when you say you don't want the Senate to delay or derail, I presume by "delay" you mean get it done by February, mid-February. But on "derail," they're expected to increase the size and scope. So are you saying if they include UI extension or food stamps, that that could invite a veto?
MR. GILLESPIE: I'm saying this is a carefully worked out agreement, bipartisan in nature, which is rare; that Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Rangel are going to -- Chairman Rangel will move out of committee and Speaker Pelosi will schedule on the floor, Leader Boehner will support, and the President will sign. And they shouldn't -- speed is of the essence, and they shouldn't derail that or run a risk of junking it up. There is plenty of time for other debate on other provisions, economic provisions, that we can have separate and apart from this agreement. But this is a good agreement that will have the effect we need in our economy, and we should move it now.
Q I'm sorry, just so -- if they were to go for it with a separate package on extending unemployment insurance, the White House might go along with it, they just want it separate?
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, that's a separate conversation, and we want to keep it a separate conversation. I don't want to rule anything in or out on any of that front right now. We want to keep our focus on what we've agreed to, not on what we don't want to agree to.
Q The idea of starting to buy crops overseas for food aid programs, that's a potentially pretty big change. Is that something that would have to go through Congress, and how big of a package are we --
MR. GILLESPIE: I think you'd have to legislate that, but I'll double-check on that.
Q Do you know how much money or commodity we're talking about?
MR. GILLESPIE: I don't. I'll have to get your more information on that, I'm sorry.
Q Yes, on Iran. Will the President (inaudible) new approach dealing with them? I know you mentioned that he will say that he has no quarrel with the Iranian people and Iran has to stop enriching uranium. But is it far-fetched to say that any (inaudible) might open a direct dialogue with the Iranian government?
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, the invitation for dialogue remains on the table if the Iranians are willing to stop enriching, which obviously they contend is for civilian purposes, but it can be converted and could be used for other purposes, and that's the concern.
And so the President will make the case that when you're deploying and developing ballistic missiles of increasing range, and you're enriching uranium when it's been offered to you, that uranium will be provided for a civilian program, and you're oppressing your people and you are supporting Hezbollah and other activities in the Middle East, that you should stop that and rejoin the international community of nations. And so he'll make that point.
Q And this current approach is working, (inaudible)?
MR. GILLESPIE: There are reasons those in the foreign policy community believe that we're seeing effect from these policies that are positive.
Q In '88 and in 2000, Reagan and Clinton gave some pretty ambitious speeches at the end of their presidencies. Do you see much risk that this one will be seen as too modest, that you're being maybe too pragmatic in not --
MR. GILLESPIE: Actually, I ticked off a number of pretty vigorous policy proposals that, if enacted, would have a very important and positive impact on our country.
And so I -- all we're signaling to you is, just so you wouldn't go out and write that the President is unrealistic about the fact that it's an election year and there's a Congress controlled by the other party, that we understand that Social Security reform and immigration reform are not likely to be done, but we think that these very important, very significant pieces of legislation can get done and that we have a window of opportunity to do it. So I guess I was just trying to avoid the other story. But you're free to write this bad story if you like, Rich, go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q A 50 percent reduction in earmarks, you're talking about the number of earmarks rather than the dollar value of those earmarks?
MR. GILLESPIE: Both. It would be -- so if it's -- if the number is 12,000, it would be 6,000; if the budgetary impact was $10 billion, it would be $5 billion.
Q And the other thing is, how will the President address -- if he will -- the issue that the Democratic presidential candidates have raised on the trail challenging his ability to strike a deal with the Iraqi government that isn't subject to congressional approval about military operations?
MR. GILLESPIE: I think there's a lot of misunderstanding about what such an arrangement would entail and what it would be. I think a lot of it is driven by the blogs. And so there's a lot of misinformation.
I think we have to educate members of Congress -- we're in the process of doing that right now, by the way -- on both sides of the aisle, about what exactly it is that's being talked about. That is not out of the ordinary, is not unprecedented, it is very much in our national security interest. It's not permanent bases; entails the Iraqi government inviting us to do some things. And so we're in the process of educating right now.
Q But he won't address that in the speech?
MR. GILLESPIE: No, no, no, I think that's a longer-term effort that we've got to engage in.
Q Will the President be talking about North Korea tonight?
MR. GILLESPIE: He does not have -- I don't think North Korea is in there tonight, no.
Q On the climate change issue, when you talked about the need to trust the creative genius of entrepreneurs and researchers, is that code for the President doesn't like cap and trade proposals?
MR. GILLESPIE: It's not code for anything. It's just that we think that clean technology is important to advance, that that holds a great prospect for us reducing greenhouse gas emissions over time. We want to encourage that and foster that. And we will talk about the international agreement that's ongoing right now, the discussions -- the Bali, and now Hawaii -- and so we'll touch on all that.
Let me take one more from Mike. Mike.
Q Just on the tax cuts, making it permanent. You did not put that in the kind of category of Social Security and immigration.
MR. GILLESPIE: No, I did not.
Q Is there any indication you have from the President's conversations with leaders that that's anywhere on the table for the Democrats in Congress --
MR. GILLESPIE: We purposely have not engaged in talking about that right now because we're keeping the focus on the short-term growth package. But the most important thing we could do for long-term economic growth is to remove that uncertainty. And we believe that as that -- after we've done the short-term package, that we'll be able to gain focus on that. And otherwise, there is the risk of 116 million Americans seeing their taxes go up by an average of $1,800. And we're hopeful that Congress would want to avoid that.
Thank you all very much.
END 3:34 P.M. EST