White House Press Briefing - May 20, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
12:39 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello. I do not have anything to lead off with, so questions?
Q Any update on the housing bill?
MS. PERINO: Nothing too much more beyond what I had this morning. We've received the legislation recently, late last night, and so we're in the process of carefully reviewing it. It's very important legislation and we want to make sure that we understand how the I's were dotted and the T's were crossed in the legislation that was just -- passed out of committee. So it would be premature to say whether the President could accept this legislation until we've concluded our review.
We are very encouraged that the bill appears to create a strong and independent regulator to ensure the safety and soundness of the GSEs -- that's something that the President has long called for and that we believe is the most significant component of the bill. And we also are looking at the FHA provisions of it; we want to make sure we understand the financing, and we just have some questions and we want to make sure that we go through and carefully deliberate it before we make a decision.
Q But it sounds like the initial impression is positive.
MS. PERINO: Well, we're certainly grateful for all the work that Senator Shelby has done to help -- to work with the Democrats to take the Republican principles for housing legislation and advance them in this legislation. It's obviously a very strong vote out of the committee -- 19 to 2 I believe was the vote I saw. So we'll continue to look at it, and hopefully we'll be able to get something that will help lots of people stay in their homes.
Q Speaking of Senator Shelby, he's quoted as saying that he believes the President will sign it. Is he wrong?
MS. PERINO: I think it's a little bit premature to say, but we're hopeful that we'll be able to get to that point. So we'll continue to look at it and let you know if that changes.
Q I want to ask you about the denial of the Jerusalem Post story --
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q -- when you say that the White House's preference is to solve this through peaceful, diplomatic means. That still leaves the door open, though, to planning an attack. I'm not saying you are planning an attack, but by your specifically saying that your preference is to have a peaceful, diplomatic means, doesn't that leave the door open to still --
MS. PERINO: I don't see how that changes -- I don't think that what I said today in response to a Jerusalem Post article that quotes an Army Times* piece that quotes unnamed officials who were quoting unnamed officials -- seems a little bit less than ethical to run that as a big story on their website. So what I said in there was I was restating longstanding Bush administration policy, which is to work with our international allies on a multilateral way to get the Iranians through diplomatic means, bringing economic and diplomatic pressure to bear on the Iranians to get them to change their behavior so that we could sit down at the table with them. And until they halt that nuclear enrichment we're not going to sit down with them.
But what I said in terms of, as the President said before, no President should take options off the table when dealing with any situation. So -- but I don't think I said anything different from what I've said before.
Q But on the -- go ahead.
Q Dana, it doesn't -- you don't deny the premise of the Post article, the Jerusalem Post article, which was that a senior U.S. official said that the President and Vice President were of the opinion that military action is called for in Iran?
MS. PERINO: I have no knowledge of anybody saying that to anybody in Israel, no. And as I said, I will restate that the United States position is to work with our international allies to bring diplomatic pressure to bear, both economic pressure and the diplomatic pressure that comes from working with all of our allies and also the countries in the region who have grave concerns about Iran's ambitions to obtain a nuclear weapon.
And we're going to work with them, and in fact, we're working on a new set of incentives package -- a new incentives package right now that Secretary Rice is helping lead, that would continue to bring that pressure on them, and to show the Iranian people that there is a way that they could be a part of the international community; they wouldn't have to be as isolated as their government has made them. And we want to try to solve this diplomatically.
Q One quick follow on that. A broader question in the story, it also claims that there are sort of two camps in the administration: the President and the Vice President who are leaning more towards an attack, and Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates are sort of pulling them back. Is there any sort of split in the administration?
MS. PERINO: This is something that I have seen reported over the years, and I think it's just people surmising or trying to string along story lines and rumors that aren't based in fact. The President's team is well knitted up.
Q Can I ask on this one?
MS. PERINO: On this one still?
Q What about the substance of it, though? Do the President and the Vice President feel that an attack is called for -- whether someone said that in Israel, or not?
MS. PERINO: Keith, I feel that I just answered that question when I talked about what our policy is.
Q Can you answer yes or no to that?
MS. PERINO: I just told -- said what our policy is and that our preference is to solve this diplomatically. And that's what we're trying to do.
Q But that doesn't answer the question.
MS. PERINO: It does answer the question, that that is what we are working with our allies to do. But the President has said -- what I'm saying today in response to the Jerusalem Post is nothing different than from what has been said at this podium for a couple of years now.
Q But it's not quite an answer, because everyone's preference is always for peace, but someone could still think that an attack may be called for.
MS. PERINO: Look, I think that when you have a longstanding policy, such as the President has, and he's working with international allies -- we've already passed three Security Council resolutions; we're now working on an incentives package; we have multilateral agreement that Iran should not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon, or get the technology to be able to obtain a nuclear weapon, and we're all working towards that goal. But at the same time, the President has said that no President, no matter who it is, either him or anyone in the future, should take options off the table. It's not a smart way to negotiate.
Q Does the President -- do the President and the Vice President think an attack is called for on Iran? Yes or no?
MS. PERINO: I just said what the United States policy was, which is, our preference is to try to solve this diplomatically.
Q Look, skepticism seems warranted here, because in the run-up to the war in 2003, the line was officially that negotiations were still called for and that there was no decision to attack, when, in fact, subsequent reporting has shown that there probably was a decision to attack well before the attack took place. So why shouldn't we be skeptical of the claim that there's no intention to bomb Iran?
MS. PERINO: Bill, you can be as skeptical as you want to be. I stated what our policy is, and I don't have anything else that I can give you. I'm not going to be able to -- if you're going to be a skeptic, that's your right -- you're fourth estate, go for it.
Q On the back-and-forth between you guys and NBC News, one of the issues Ed Gillespie brings up is NBC calling Iraq a civil war for a period, and then Ed notes that it stopped around September of 2007. Then Ed asks in his exchange with NBC, "Will the network publicly declare the civil war has ended, or that it was wrong to declare it in the first place?" I'm wondering if you guys have gotten a response on that matter, and if not, are you still calling for a response from NBC?
MS. PERINO: We have not heard back from them on that specific matter. We anxiously await any response that we would get on it. But I think it's quite telling that they have been silent.
The reason that we sent the letter yesterday is because we had gotten fed up with the way that the President's policies are being mischaracterized, or the situations on the ground weren't being accurately reflected in the reporting. We had complained before. And it just reached a boiling point when things had boiled over when we believed that NBC News specifically edited out -- intentionally edited out -- something that the President said in response to a question in an interview regarding Iran, and that it mischaracterized the whole interview because of it.
As regards the civil war, I remember very distinctly how there was quite the pomp and circumstance when NBC, on the Today Show, decided to declare -- that they were declaring that Iraq was a civil war. But since then, after the surge and things certainly improved in Iraq, NBC has never had a corresponding ceremony to say that Iraq is not in a civil war. I was just curious to find out what they believe.
And the same goes with the economy. When we got the numbers just two weeks ago on the GDP for the economic growth, it said that we had grown at 0.6 percent. And yet the anchor that night decided to disavow that number. We're just curious what part of the official government data that's been coming out for years do they not agree with. So we haven't had a response on that.
And just another point on this is that President Bush is going to continue to state what United States policy is for the next eight months, and certainly during the six months that there's an election going on. If, for example, if tomorrow President Bush says that he believes that the tax cuts should be made permanent, that doesn't mean he's attacking anybody; he is stating his policy. And we just want to make sure it's really clear that we're not going to allow the President's policies to be dragged into the '08 election unnecessarily and unfairly.
Q Secretary Gates is going to be down here this afternoon. Did you find out anything about this important meeting that --
MS. PERINO: Look, the national security team meets regularly. I don't know anything -- specifics about that meeting. But I would say all meetings at the White House are important.
Q Right, but did you -- is it a national security meeting he's here for?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. If Secretary Gates is here and he's participating, I would assume it has to do something with national security. We'll try to find out. But, Roger, he's here a lot and they have a variety of different meetings. I'm not saying he was trying to get out of the hearing or anything.
Q Back to the housing question for a moment. Has the Dodd-Shelby bill removed some of the objections on the financing? I know you said you're studying the financing, but one of the objections --
MS. PERINO: That's what we're checking right now.
Q -- has been the use of taxpayer funds, he didn't want to do that. But by taking the profits from GSEs, doesn't that get around and answer that question?
MS. PERINO: That's what we're checking, because we don't believe that taxpayer dollars should be used to help lenders or speculators. We think that we should be able to help Americans who want to stay in their homes and can afford to stay in their homes find a way to do that without using taxpayer dollars. But that specific point is what we're analyzing right now in the bill.
Q Can you honestly maintain with a straight face that in an election season like this the White House was unaware that people would take that statement the President made as an attack on Obama or other Democrats?
MS. PERINO: What I'm saying is that President Bush was there at the Knesset to give a speech on the 60th anniversary of Israel and he restated longstanding United States policy. And I don't think that he should have to change or sit back and wait out for the next six months while an election is going on.
Q With all due respect, what's the difference between diplomacy and talking? How do you make diplomatic overtures or moves without talking --
MS. PERINO: I'll refer you to the handy-dandy handbook for diplomats. But, look, there's a different -- when we talk about when we would talk to Iran, it is with the condition that they would halt their nuclear uranium enrichment program. And if -- up and until they do that, we're not going to be sitting down just to talk with them to have talks. President Bush has been against sitting down just to have talks when we know that it wouldn't be fruitful and it wouldn't go anywhere; you wouldn't get any change in behavior. The whole point of our P5-plus-1 process is to work with our partners to bring the economic and diplomatic pressure to bear so that we can change behavior, and then move forward to see if we can get Iran back into the international community.
Q So if there's an indication of a change in behavior, either public or private, through a wink and a nod, then the United States will talk to Iran or Syria --
MS. PERINO: The phrase is that they would have to verifiably suspend. And so "verifiably" is an important adjective.
Q Can I just ask you on another topic, on the Koran, why the President decided it was important to directly tell Prime Minister Maliki that he had regret about it. And can you talk a little about this -- whether it was actually an apology, or what significance the White House attaches to how he --
MS. PERINO: I think we talked to you about this earlier today. The President yesterday had a regularly scheduled secure video teleconference with Prime Minister Maliki. He opened the meeting -- I believe it was either the first or the second issue that the President brought up to tell Prime Minister Maliki he had heard about the incident, where a Koran was desecrated, and he apologized for that, in the sense that he said that we take it very seriously. We were concerned about the reaction. We wanted them to know that the President knew that this was wrong, and that the commanders in the field have publicly reprimanded the soldier and removed him from Iraq.
Q Do you know -- the Iraqis have talked about a trial for this soldier. Does the President have a position on that, or let the military decide? How do you --
MS. PERINO: The military would have to decide what course of action would be -- would take place. And the Multi-National Force in Iraq is prepared to answer those questions. I talked to them a little bit earlier.
Q The South Korea-U.S. beef negotiations, they seem to have gone in a strange direction where back in -- out in Seoul they're saying that the U.S. has agreed to limit the age of the cows being exported, beef being exported, and the USTR saying that's not the case. Do you have any --
MS. PERINO: I don't. I wish I -- I didn't know -- I don't have an update on it. And so instead of me trying to guess here, let me take it back and get an answer for you, and get back to you.**
Q Dana, back to the Maliki video conference, "serious concerns" seems like a little mild. Was the President outraged when he heard about this?
MS. PERINO: Yes. I'm giving you the words that the President used, but certainly -- I mean, I don't want to use all the gestures and everything, but, look, the President is concerned about the reaction in the field. He was glad that our military took immediate action, publicly reprimanded the soldier, and removed him from Iraq. Not only that, but the general in the field went and visited many of the Sunni tribal chiefs and presented them with a gift of a new Koran as a gesture of how seriously we took the issue, and that we would certainly respect their religion, and we would never condone such behavior.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q WorldNetDaily reports that more than 31,000 U.S. scientists, including 9,000 Ph.D.s, now signed a petition rejecting global warming, the assumption that human production of greenhouse gases is damaging the Earth's climate. My question: What is the White House reaction to these 31,000 U.S. scientists?
MS. PERINO: I would say that everyone is entitled to their opinion. What's your next question?
Q That's all?
MS. PERINO: That's all I'm going to say.
Q As you know, the California Supreme Court, by a one vote majority, has legalized same-sex marriage. And my question: Does the White House believe that there is any more legal and moral right for same-sex marriage than for marriages that are polygamous? And if so, why?
MS. PERINO: I'm just going to decline to comment. That's a -- the subject that you're talking about, in terms of the court case, is still in litigation, and the President believes in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman.
Q Oh, good.
MS. PERINO: Goyal.
Q Dana, thank you. Two quick questions. One, many people are hurting around the globe as far as high oil prices are concerned. Do you believe two things: one, if the oil-producing countries, especially the Middle Eastern, they are blackmailing the -- blackmailing; and second, investors in the
-- on the New York Stock Exchange are predicting that maybe it will hit $150 a barrel, and do you think investors are blamed because there are more -- people are buying more oil on the New York Stock Exchange?
MS. PERINO: I'm going to refer you to -- there's lots of experts who can decide what's happening in the markets. I won't do that. Obviously, we think that the problems exist between the laws of supply and demand. That's the -- that is a law that's not going to be altered, even in the halls of Congress. So we believe that what we need to do is increase supply in a responsible way, and decrease our demand in a responsible way, which the President has started doing. But it's going to take us a long time to get out of this problem. And we remain terribly concerned about the high price of gasoline on families, and what they're going through. So we'll continue to make sure that, first and foremost, that Congress does no harm in exacerbating the problem.
Q One more --
MS. PERINO: I'm going to go over here.
Q What's your take here on the Justice Department Inspector General's report on terror suspect interrogations?
MS. PERINO: I just found out about it. It's, as I understand it, 400 pages long. I haven't had a chance to look at it, so I don't really have -- I'm sorry, I'm not able to provide a reaction for you here.
Q One of the things that it brings up is the friction between the -- among the FBI, the CIA, and military agents, in terms of how they did interrogations. What are the concerns here about that, that all these people are on different pages when it came to questioning?
MS. PERINO: I just -- I have no firsthand knowledge of it. I need to take a look at it, and I will get back to you this afternoon.
Q Thanks, Dana.
END 12:56 P.M. EDT
* Israel Army Radio
** The statement attributed to the Blue House spokesperson by Reuters is inaccurate. Under the protocol agreed between the United States and South Korea on April 18, South Korea has agreed to open its market to U.S. beef from cattle of all ages, with appropriate removal of SRMs. We have raised our concern with South Korean Government officials concerning the misstatement suggesting that the South Korean market is only open to U.S. beef from cattle thirty months and under. The South Korean Government is now looking into the matter.