For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 31, 2007
President Bush Nominates Ed Schafer for Secretary of Agriculture Roosevelt Room, 2:05 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all; be seated. Good afternoon. I'm proud to announce my nomination of Ed Schafer to be the next Secretary of Agriculture.
The Secretary of Agriculture heads a Cabinet department of more than 100,000 employees. I rely on the Secretary to provide sound advice on issues ranging from our nation's farm economy and food supply to international trade and conservation programs. To carry out these responsibilities, the Secretary of Agriculture needs to be someone who understands the challenges facing America's farmers, ranchers and consumers.
Ed Schafer is the right choice to fill this post. He was a leader on agricultural issues during his eight years as the governor of North Dakota. He worked to open new markets for North Dakota farmers and ranchers by expanding trade with China. He oversaw the development of the state's agricultural biofuels industry. He helped families recover from natural disasters -- including drought, fires and floods. And he pioneered innovative programs to increase economic opportunity in rural communities.
Ed also has extensive management experience in the private sector. Before running for public office, he was the president of the family-owned business that his dad started. He's also launched a number of entrepreneurial ventures of his own. At every stage of his career, Ed has shown wisdom, foresight and creativity. Those same qualities will make him a valuable member of my Cabinet, and they will make him a trusted friend to America's farmers and ranchers.
Ed's passion for agriculture has deep roots. His maternal grandparents were Danish immigrants who worked as farmers on the plains of North Dakota. Ed has always kept their story close to his heart. And they'd be proud to see their grandson rise to become our nation's top agriculture official.
In his new job, Ed will carry on the work of another fine public servant, Mike Johanns. Mike became Secretary of Agriculture at the beginning of my second term. During his time in office, he helped open new markets for trade, promoted renewable fuels and conservation and provided timely assistance to our farmers and ranchers devastated by natural disasters. Mike leaves a legacy of integrity and dedication. And Laura and I wish Mike and his wife, Stephanie, all the best on their return home to Nebraska.
I also thank my friend, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner, for serving as Acting Secretary during this time of transition. Chuck grew up on a family farm in Indiana. He has a deep knowledge of agricultural issues. He's done an outstanding job. Appreciate the fact that you will remain as Acting Secretary until the Senate confirms Ed as Mike Johanns's permanent replacement. Thank you for joining us today.
Following Mike is not going to be easy -- but Ed Schafer is up to the challenge. With Ed's leadership, we will work with Congress to pass a farm bill that provides farmers with a safety net, protects our lands and the environment and spends federal tax dollars wisely. Ed will also join other members of my administration to continue leveling the playing field for America's farm products by concluding the Doha Round of trade negotiations. And he and I will continue to work hard to open up new markets for American beef.
As Ed takes on these new challenges, he will rely on the support of his caring family. Ed is blessed with a wonderful wife, Nancy, who came from North Dakota today. He is also blessed with four children and eight grandchildren. Their love will give Ed the strength to serve our country in his new capacity.
I urge the Senate to swiftly confirm Ed Schafer as the 29th Secretary of Agriculture. I look forward to having this good and decent man as a member of my Cabinet. Congratulations.
MR. SCHAFER: Thank you, Mr. President. It is an honor to stand beside you today to accept this assignment. I appreciate the confidence that you have in me, and if I am confirmed, I'm looking forward to serving you and the people of the United States of America in your Cabinet as Secretary of Agriculture.
It is humbling to follow my friend, Secretary Johanns, into this position. And I hope that I can live up to the high standards of performance that he set at the agency. I'm also looking forward to working with you, Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner, who has faithfully served as the interim Secretary.
And if I am honored with a Senate confirmation, it will be a great pleasure to join forces with the dedicated, talented and loyal employees of the USDA to enhance our country's vibrant agriculture economy, to advance renewable energy and protect America's food supply, improve nutrition and health, and conserve our natural resources.
As you mentioned, Mr. President, my spouse, my true friend and the love of my life, Nancy, is here with us today, and I want to thank you, my dear, for all your support and encouragement and love that has been the driving force in my life.
I'm extremely proud of my heritage, and I would like to thank our grandparents and parents and children -- in fact, our whole family -- for the warm loving embrace in which you hold me always.
I also want to recognize the people of the great state of North Dakota. Throughout the years, they have supported, encouraged and nurtured me, and that has been tremendously uplifting.
Mr. President, I come from an agriculture state, as do you. Growing up in that arena, and focusing now on the USDA, I realize that the mission of this agency goes far beyond the services delivered to the preservation of a way of life that I believe is the foundation of this country.
I thank you again for the opportunity to serve the people of the United States, and if confirmed, I will do my very best to promote, preserve and enhance the mission of the United States Department of Agriculture.
It is my honor to serve this great country, and I thank God for guiding me here today. May he bless you, Mr. President, and may God bless America.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, sir. END 2:13 P.M. EDT
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 31, 2007
Fact Sheet: Ed Schafer: A Record of Leadership in Agriculture and Business President Bush Nominates Former Two-Term North Dakota Governor To Serve As U.S. Agriculture Secretary
Today, President Bush announced his intention to nominate Edward T. Schafer to serve as the next U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. The grandson of Danish immigrants who farmed throughout their lives, Governor Schafer gained extensive experience with the agriculture industry during two terms as North Dakota's governor. Agriculture is North Dakota's leading industry. According to the North Dakota Agriculture Department, nearly 24 percent of North Dakota workers are farmers and ranchers or are employed in farm-related jobs.
If confirmed, Gov. Schafer will head the U.S. Department of Agriculture in its mission of providing leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, and related issues. USDA is charged with providing financing to help expand job opportunities and improve housing, utilities, and infrastructure in rural America; enhancing food safety; improving nutrition and health; and managing and protecting America's public and private lands, working cooperatively with other levels of government and the private sector. USDA also works with other agencies to expand markets for agricultural products, support international economic development, and further develop alternative markets for agricultural products and activities.
Gov. Schafer's Experience Working With North Dakota's Agriculture Industry Makes Him Well-Qualified To Lead USDA
Gov. Schafer served as governor of North Dakota from 1992 to 2000. He was elected to his first term by a margin of 17 percent and was re-elected to a second term four years later by a margin of 32 percent, becoming the first Republican elected to a second term in the state's history.As governor, he managed a $4.6 billion budget with 12,000 employees. During his two terms, Gov. Schafer:
Effectively directed state response to eight statewide disasters, including drought, flood, and fire. This included historic flooding and fire in Grand Forks in 1997, which led to the evacuation of tens of thousands of North Dakota residents.
Launched a successful pilot project to revive rural communities by using technology to deliver education, healthcare, and economic development. The Centers of Excellence in Rural America project was jointly run by North Dakota and Wyoming to help create a network of small rural towns deploying affordable, high-speed telecommunications services.
Gained extensive experience dealing with grain and livestock import issues.
Led an agricultural trade mission from North Dakota to China in 2000 to help open new markets for North Dakota farm products. Earlier in 2000, Gov. Schafer also represented the United States with Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman on a Presidential Delegation to China to promote Permanent Normal Trading Relations.
Oversaw initial development of North Dakota's biofuel industries.
Led in developing value-added products for agriculture. These efforts helped provide economic security for farmers by creating opportunities beyond working solely as producers.
Gov. Schafer Is An Experienced Leader Of Regional And National Organizations
In 1999, Gov. Schafer served as the co-lead on agriculture for the National Governors Association. He also served as chair of the National Governors Association Economic Development Committee in 1999.
Gov. Schafer was co-founder and co-chair of the Governors Biotechnology Partnership, established in 2000. This partnership was founded to increase public understanding and support for the benefits of agricultural biotechnology.
Gov. Schafer served as the chair of the Republican Governors Association in 2000. He also served as the Chair of the Western Governors' Association in 1997 and Chair of the Midwest Governors' Conference and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission in 1995.
Gov. Schafer became president of the Gold Seal Company in 1978. Gov. Schafer's father founded this North Dakota-based household cleaning and personal care products company, where Gov. Schafer began his career working in the mailroom at age 14. Returning after his graduation, Gov. Schafer eventually became President of the company, a position in which he served from 1978 to 1985.
Gov. Schafer earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of North Dakota in 1969 and an MBA from the University of Denver in 1970.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: "A Popular Governor" Whose Terms Were "Pivotal In North Dakota's History"
The Associated Press: "His energy, friendliness and optimism, Schafer's political friends and foes both agree, has made him a popular governor." (Dale Wetzel, "Older And Grayer, But Governor Says He's Still The Same Schafer," The Associated Press, 12/10/00)
The Bismarck Tribune: "North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer leaves office today a successful governor. He won the affection of North Dakotans for the way he went about his work. He actually gained popularity during his two terms..." (Editorial, The Bismarck Tribune, 12/14/00)
The Bismarck Tribune: "The state is better off for Ed Schafer having been governor…" (Editorial, "A Shocker, But Schafer Calls It Right," The Bismarck Tribune, 10/3/99)
The Bismarck Tribune's Tim Fought: "Historians will look at his two terms as pivotal in North Dakota's history, politics and government…" (Tim Fought, "Schafer Leaving Office On A High Note, The Bismarck Tribune, 10/3/99)
Representative Earl Pomeroy (D-ND): "I give the governor very high marks for his responsiveness and his willingness to drop everything and call whomever whenever I suggested that kind of call was necessary. We were able to work really as a team. ... It was a pleasure working with him on these [disaster-related] issues."(Don Davis, "Disasters Improve Relations Between Politicians," The Bismarck Tribune, 6/1/97)
Former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad: Gov. Schafer "'is well liked and respected by his colleagues. … He has turned this state around.' He said North Dakotans have changed over the last four years during Schafer's term. They are upbeat and excited about Schafer's administration." (Heather Ratcliff, "[Iowa] Governor Stumps For Schafer," The Bismarck Tribune, 7/27/96)
Former Secretary Of Agriculture And Former Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns: "Ed is just first class. … What you see with Ed is what you get." (Dale Wetzel, "Fund-Raisers, Meetings And Talk: Schafer Works GOP Convention," The Associated Press, 8/4/00)
Gov. Johanns: "Schafer has been a leader in developing value-added products for agriculture, Johanns said." ("Governor Announces Agriculture Conference," The Associated Press, 2/10/00)
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For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 31, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino James S. Brady Briefing Room, 12:43 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. One announcement before questions. Today at 2:00 p.m., the President will announce, in the Roosevelt Room, his nominee for U.S. Department of Agriculture. Governor Ed Schafer has a record of leadership, business and government, agriculture leadership, a fantastic governor who was reelected by wide bipartisan margins in North Dakota. He has strong bipartisan support in his state. He's well-known throughout the agriculture community. The President believes he has the right experience for the job. And if confirmed, he will work on passing responsible legislation to advance the President's trade agenda, he will work on the farm bill, and also on the President's conservation efforts, including both land use as well as ethanol and biodiesel development.
And we believe the Senate should move quickly on his nomination. He will begin courtesy visits probably tomorrow.
Q Congressman Waxman is calling on the White House to release hundreds of pages of documents regarding convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He says that the White House has released several thousand pages, but there are about 600 that you have not released. Are you asserting executive privilege over these?
MS. PERINO: This is a letter that came to the press before it came to the White House, which is, unfortunately, the pattern of behavior of Senator -- Representative Waxman's committee. We have a good working relationship with Representative Waxman. We have provided thousands of pages of documents, as you said. If he wanted more information he could pick up the phone and call us. Instead he sends a letter to reporters.
We have provided all this information in regards to the White House activities regarding Jack Abramoff. The letter -- the first sentence of the letter suggests that we are withholding documents in regards to Jack Abramoff, and as I'm told, that is not true. The requests that he has before us now regard internal documents and internal deliberations that we are probably not going to turn over. I will not say that we're issuing -- exerting executive privilege. We've gone down this path before in terms of documents. There is -- internal deliberations are protected under the law. Senator -- Representative Waxman knows that. We have provided all the information -- I think 3,700 pages of communications between any White House official and the firm that Jack Abramoff worked for and Jack Abramoff.
So we'll have -- we'll continue to have communications with the committee as to the request. But as of right now, when they're asking for internal documents, we're probably not going to be turning those over.
Q So it's no, but not an assertion --
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm -- no, I didn't hear anybody say that we would have to assert executive privilege over them, especially because they don't have to deal with what the request is actually about. Any document -- any request regarding activity between White House officials and Jack Abramoff, former lobbyist, have been turned over.
Q Can I ask you on another subject, Poland's Prime Minister designate says that they want to end their troop contribution in Iraq in 2008. Is the White House disappointed by that?
MS. PERINO: This is the new Prime Minister?
MS. PERINO: This is the first I've heard of that, so let me go back and take a look. Of course we appreciate the cooperation we have from a variety of countries. We understand that it is difficult to continue to have a troop presence, but we are -- encourage countries to continue to help us in Iraq because it's important not just for the United States' national security, but all of ours.
Q With a vote now scheduled on the Mukasey nomination for Tuesday, have you received any assurances from people on the Hill that the vote is likely to go for confirmation?
MS. PERINO: No. Well, I think the fact that they have scheduled a vote is a good thing, a good sign. Judge Mukasey is an exceptional nominee who deserves to be confirmed. It is, I believe, unprecedented to have a nominee actually be voted down in committee or on the Senate floor. And so we'll continue to work with the committee and then hopefully have a successful vote on Tuesday, the 6th.
Q If the committee wants more documents, are you going to send them?
MS. PERINO: Well, we have -- Judge Mukasey actually responded to 495 questions for the record. Just as a comparison, before her nomination, Janet Reno didn't have to answer a single question for the record before she was confirmed. We've gone over and beyond the call of duty here by any reasonable stretch. Judge Mukasey should be able to have a favorable vote on Tuesday.
Q But you haven't heard anything from them?
MS. PERINO: We haven't done a vote count or had assurances from the Chairman, no.
Q What's your reaction to Senator Specter's comment that Mukasey's confirmation is at risk at this moment because he has not answered the question --
MS. PERINO: If confirmed, Judge Mukasey will be briefed on classified programs. He has not been briefed on classified programs because he is a private citizen. Private citizens are not read into private, classified information for a reason. If confirmed, he will be read into those programs. He says in his letter that he will fully review all the legal opinions surrounding this matter. And then once he's confirmed, then Congress has the right and ability to ask him to come up and have more conversations with them, which Judge Mukasey says he is willing to do if confirmed.
Q Is that confirmation at risk?
MS. PERINO: We feel confident that he will be confirmed.
Q Iraq's Foreign Minister -- Iran's Foreign Minister is saying that the Iranians are willing to have further talks with the U.S. on improving security in Iraq. What's the White House response to that?
MS. PERINO: I think this is in the lead up to the Istanbul neighbors conference that is taking place later this week, starting on Friday. Secretary Rice will be joining that neighbors conference. Until we have more information about the agenda, we'll decline to comment. And perhaps she'll find out more once she is there. We do want all of the neighbors in the region to get along. We have encouraged that. We have encouraged the dialogue.
If Iran is serious about helping in that region, we'd be interested to know that. Actions speak louder than words, and they know what they can start doing immediately, which is stop sending foreign fighters into Iraq and attacking our soldiers and innocent Iraqis.
Q In principle, would the U.S. be willing to hold direct talks with the Iranians on that, strictly limited to that subject?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'd have to refer to Secretary Rice for that. She has said that she'd be willing to meet him anytime, anywhere. She said that most recently when they were together in Egypt, and the Iranian Foreign Minister decided to leave that engagement because he was offended by the entertainer, who was wearing a red dress -- the piano player. And so, hopefully the entertainment will be something that he can live with. And if he wants to have a meeting with her, she's willing to do that. But I don't know if it would be limited to that subject.
Q Do you have additional information on Karen Hughes telling the President that she plans to --
MS. PERINO: I do, I do. Karen talked to -- Karen Hughes has had 12 years of government experience, government service. She is a very, very close friend of the President. She told him over the summer that she thought that by the end of the year she was going to need to get back home. And while he is sad to see her go, he appreciates all the work that she has done for him over the years. She has done quite a great job of transforming public diplomacy at the State Department and establish new initiatives and programs that will serve us well even after she's gone.
A couple of things that she's done that are of particular importance were the -- she brought over Dina Powell as her deputy, and one of the things that they really put a focus on was bringing foreign exchange students back to the United States. After September 11th, there was a downturn in the number of foreign exchange students we had coming to America. The President strongly believes the best way to expand America's values is for more people to come to America and find out what it's all about, and then to be able to take that home to their country.
Karen Hughes, through her work and through Secretary Spellings and Secretary Rice, were able to turn that around. And now we have a record number of foreign exchange students here in America.
She expanded English language programs all around the world. English is a language that can help people be lifted up out of poverty and participate on a world scale, in terms of business or education. And she also started a rapid response unit, which, as you know, there's a 24-7 news cycle, and she gathers up information on the biggest news stories all around the world and provides that information to the State Department, federal employees, so that they know what is going on around the world, and at the same time, provides for the United States' position -- policy position so that our ambassadors all around the world can respond to questions in their own -- in their countries where they are serving.
There are many other things that she has done. The list goes and on. She is somebody who said that we can always call her if we need to, and I'm sure that she and the President will remain very good friends for the rest of their lives.
Q And his thoughts on the last of his inner circle, of his original --
MS. PERINO: He doesn't -- I know it's very tempting for you all to write that story, but he doesn't think of it that way. He has close friends and close advisors that he's had -- there are some who didn't come to Washington with him who he still keeps in contact with. And there were additional new people, like myself, who he's brought on board along the way, and he feels very well served.
Q Dana, can I follow up on the Karen Hughes --
MS. PERINO: Anybody else on Karen Hughes?
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q Since she assumed the position of Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, according to a Pew survey, the U.S. image remains abysmal in most Muslim countries. Favorable views of the U.S. in Turkey are at 9 percent; in Egypt they're 21 percent; in Pakistan they're 15 percent; in the Palestinian Territories they're 13 percent; in Morocco they're 15 percent.
MS. PERINO: I think I get your point.
Q But in Germany, in just the past two years, the favorable view of the U.S. has dropped from 42 percent to 30 percent. Do you discount those numbers? I just want you to address what has happened since she has taken on that role. It sounds like she didn't do --
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on that poll and I think it's preposterous to think that you could question Karen Hughes's achievements in terms of being responsible for the numbers in a particular poll. That's ridiculous.
Q -- not follow those --
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to -- I'm not discounting the numbers. Certainly the reason that the President wanted Karen Hughes to go to the State Department to help transform public diplomacy with Secretary Rice is because we realize that we need to do more about winning hearts and minds all around the world, and that's exactly what she has started there. And she has said in her statement today, this is not something we're going to change overnight. This is a long-term project, much like -- if you think about how long the Cold War took, she sees this as something that over the next couple of decades we really need to focus on.
Q So in your mind, she has succeeded in her goal of outreach to the Arab world, based on those numbers that I just cited?
MS. PERINO: Look, I'm not going to comment or respond to a poll that you just read out. I don't know about those numbers, I don't know the questions that were asked; I think it's inappropriate. What I can tell you is that she has done amazing work. Let me give another example. She started a women's outreach effort with the Middle Eastern countries and started a breast cancer initiative. And just last week Mrs. Bush went and highlighted that initiative and went to four different countries in the Middle East, had a very successful trip in explaining that women have tools at their disposal when they find out that they have breast cancer, early detection and treatment. That is precisely what the President was hoping Karen Hughes would achieve, and she has.
Q So in your view, the U.S. image in the Arab world has improved under Karen Hughes?
MS. PERINO: We are making progress. I know that we have a long way to go.
Q One more on Karen. Any observations, seriously, on why so many of the advisors are going back to Texas? Are they going to reestablish a political base there?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that any time you have people who leave their home state, they want to go back. Obviously, there's a Texas connection here because the President as governor, when he came over to Washington, D.C., as President, brought a lot of them with him, and they have family there and people want to go home. I think that Texas must be a really great place to live. That's where Dan Bartlett is headed back to. But others are staying here, like Karl Rove will be here for a while. The President feels very well-served by everyone who has supported him since his days as governor and he has a very good team surrounding him now.
Anybody else on this? Okay, I'm going to go up here.
Q On product safety, Commerce Secretary Gutierrez, earlier today, told us that he will go shopping, not concerned about China toys and things, and yet today there's another recall of a Halloween-related product that had high lead count. Given the fact that there was a recall just today, does the President feel that parents who would be buying toys in the holiday season that's just upon us should use some different standard of decision-making? Because the Secretary said consumers know what to do, and yet again today there was a --
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that -- a couple of things. I think that the Consumer Product Safety Commission in being able to identify these problems and get the word out about a recall, that that system is working. However, we realize that we have to do more. And that's why the President established the Import Safety Working Group. It is headed by Secretary Leavitt, who did a -- I think a 60- or 90-day report that came out in September, and that was to followed by an action plan that we expect in mid-November, in just a couple of weeks from now. It is possible that additional resources need to be applied or new and different systems.
We are -- there is no way that we can inspect every single item that is coming to our shores from overseas as we have such a strong trade -- such strong trading numbers around the world. Therefore, it is important that parents be aware, but -- and we understand the concern. Of course when your child wants a toy, it's going to be -- it's sometimes hard to prevent them from having exactly what they want. But by following the Consumer Product Safety Commission regulations that Nancy Nord and her team are following, we can hopefully be able to have those systems in place that the action plan would suggest. And then we'll have maybe additional resources put to that towards next year.
One thing I would mention is that the United States Senate refused to give the President's nominee, Michael Baroody, a chance to have a hearing -- this was the President's nominee to head up the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It is unfortunate that the Senate did that. We would hope that they would stop playing politics with this issue and allow us to get some additional leadership in there, as the President has requested.
Q Is the President satisfied with the job the Consumer Product Safety Division is doing?
MS. PERINO: We believe she is doing a fine job and we know she is committed to making sure that products that come into this country are safe for people.
Q Dana, is the President surprised with the delay in Mukasey's confirmation, especially after Senator Schumer early on seemed to rave about Mukasey as a candidate?
MS. PERINO: The President is disappointed in how long it has taken for the Senate to have a vote on his nomination. I believe this it longest ever that a nominee has waited for a vote out of committee. This on top of -- this comes after the United States Senate, from both sides of the aisle, said that this nominee, Judge Mukasey, was an excellent choice, an exceptional nominee, and that the Department of Justice was in desperate need of leadership. And therefore, the President would like to see this move very quickly. We are encouraged that there is a vote scheduled for next Tuesday.
Q Yes, thank you, Dana. Two questions. The United Nations, by a vote of 184 to 4, wants the U.S. trade embargo against communist-ruled China lifted. And my question: Since the President only a week ago vowed to keep the embargo in place, does he consider the U.N. vote an attempt by the international organization to impose its will on the United States?
MS. PERINO: I have to confess I don't know about that vote. Move on to your second question.
Q Newsweek reports that the William J. Clinton Presidential Library has become widely known as Little Rock's Fort Knox, because barely one-half of 1 percent of the 78 million pages of documents in this $165 million building are available to be examined by the public. And my question: When President Bush helped to dedicate this expensive building, did he believe there would ever be as much censorship of its contents, and does he believe this is right or wrong?
MS. PERINO: I'm sure that that never entered the President's mind. But I'm also equally sure that journalists like you in this room will continue to hold their feet to the fire to try to get the documents you seek.
I'm going to move on.
Q And does the President believe -- does the President believe that it should be --
MS. PERINO: Let's not yell. Let's not yell.
Q All right. Excuse me.
MS. PERINO: Mark.
Q The health care speech, did the President break his vow not to get involved in the election by taking a swing at Hillary Rodham Clinton's health care plan in '94?
MS. PERINO: That was based -- well, look, the President is not involved in the campaign. But that is a moment in our history that identified a debate that we needed to have in this country. The debate was decided in 1994, and the President's point today was that the Democrats are trying to incrementally establish government-run health care and a national program. He does not think that's the right thing for the country.
Q So he thinks the '94 plan was an attempt to nationalize health care in this country, and that Mrs. Clinton is still in favor of that and pursuing that by piecemeal --
MS. PERINO: I have to confess I did not see the speech. I read it; I don't know -- I can't remember the line that you're referring to. But I can assure you the President has no intention of getting involved in the primary politics of the season.
Q Dana, Russia slashed the number of international observers for the parliamentary elections in December. Are you concerned that these elections may not be as fair as you would --
MS. PERINO: We certainly want to see free and fair elections in Russia, and we are concerned and disappointed by the belated timing and the conditional nature of the -- of Russia's invitation to election observers. Any conditions that are placed on them are a concern to us, and we will certainly be bringing this up with the Russians.
Q Dana, what is the President's language on child pornography, for the record?
MS. PERINO: What is his language?
Q Yes. What does he think amounts to child pornography? If you have two young people, young --
MS. PERINO: Sarah, Sarah, look, those issues are dealt with in court rooms. The President wants to make sure that children are safe, and he appreciates the work that the Department of Justice has been doing on that issue.
Q One of the criticisms of the Consumer Product Safety Commission has been voluntary standards and doing things voluntarily instead of mandatory recalls. Does the administration feel that that issue should be revisited?
MS. PERINO: Well, as I said, Paula, the Import Safety Working Group is looking at the full range of issues in regards to consumer products and the safety of our consumers. And I'm going to let Secretary Leavitt present his action report to the President and not pre-judge it.
Q And on SCHIP, even Republicans are saying now that one of the main issues of this debate is actually the funding of it, and that they are acknowledging that some form of tobacco increase -- some tobacco increase will be necessary to help fund any expansion. So I still -- it's still not clear to me, if you support expansion, how you're going to pay for this.
MS. PERINO: We support expansion. The President does not believe that we need to have any tax increases. It's not regarded just -- it's not limited just to the tobacco tax. The President believes the federal government has plenty of money in order to take care of these programs in a responsible way. And we have identified a whole range of programs that could be cut; that was put out when we did the budget back in February of 2007. And I can't tell you precisely where we would find those funds, but you can rest assured that we would find them without raising taxes.
Q But you cited $92 billion yesterday which is mandatory spending, your entitlement spending. And if you oppose increases in taxes to fund AMT patch, which you support, extenders, which you support, and possibly an expansion in SCHIP, are you saying that $92 billion would be enough to cover all those?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment. We'll work it through. I can just assure you that the President will not be raising taxes.
Q Senator Specter said today he is disinclined to support retroactive release of liability for the telcoms. He says they should -- they have a strong case and they should get their day in court, and the cost just may be the cost of fighting terrorism. Is that still a deal breaker for the terrorists surveillance --
MS. PERINO: I haven't seen those specific comments. What I can tell you is the President does fully support retroactive liability protection for companies that were alleged to have helped this country after a time of crisis, in 9/11, and that they should not have to go through very expensive and litigious civil lawsuits that could go on and on for years. He thinks that that retroactive liability protection should be included. It is included in the Senate bill, and we are encouraged by that.
Q No negotiation on that one?
MS. PERINO: I'll just leave it at that.
Q Dana, two quick questions. One, I just want to bring to your attention, as far as Ms. Karen Hughes is concerned, because of her visit in India, thousands of students are here, and image in India about the U.S. has gone up dramatically. And also, I remember meeting and sitting with Ambassador Mulford in Delhi, and I interviewed at the U.S. Embassy.
MS. PERINO: Do you have a question?
Q Question is that what I am saying is that her policies you think will continue on after even she leaves --
MS. PERINO: I am confident that Karen Hughes's systems that she put in place and her dedication that she brought to the job will continue.
Q Thank you. END 1:05 P.M. EDT
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 31, 2007
President Bush Discusses Health Care, Economic Growth and Free Trade at 2007 Grocery Manufacturers Association/Food Products Association Fall Conference Renaissance Hotel, Washington, D.C., 10:48 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for coming. Thank you all. Please be seated. Billy, thank you. I asked Billy where he works. He said, well, I run Sunny Delight beverage company. I said, well, Billy, I quit drinking. (Laughter.) He said, that's not that kind of alcohol.
I thank you all for having me. Billy, thank you for your kind words. He's from Cincinnati. I was in Cincinnati the other day, stopped off and got some ribs, and he tried to ask me to compare Texas ribs with Cincinnati ribs. That's a little unfair. (Laughter.) But they're awfully good, Billy.
I appreciate you having me for this fall conference. I'm thrilled to be a sitting President coming to visit with you. I didn't realize the last one was Eisenhower. I don't know if he came on Halloween -- (laughter) -- but I did. (Laughter.) It's always an interesting day here in the Nation's Capital. This morning I was with the Vice President. I was asking him what costume he was planning. He said, well, I'm already wearing it. (Laughter.) Then he mumbled something about the dark side of the force. (Laughter.) He's doing well.
I want to talk today about health care. There's an interesting debate raging here in Washington, and it's an appropriate -- Halloween is an appropriate day to talk about it, because there's a bill moving through the Congress that's disguised as a bill to help children, but I think it's really a trick on the American people. I'm going to spend some time explaining why I have made some decisions I have made regarding this piece of legislation.
The bill that I'm going to discuss would cause moms and dads to give up private insurance and -- private insurance for their children and move them on to the government rolls. It would move us closer to a health care system dominated by the federal government. It would fund massive new spending by raising taxes on the American working people. I believe the legislation I'm going to talk to you today -- about which I'm going to talk to you today is a path to government-run health care, which I believe is the wrong path for the United States.
And I vetoed a bill -- as Billy noted, the spotlight can be quite bright when the President either shows up or does something. And I vetoed a piece of legislation. And I appreciate your giving me a chance to come by and explain to you and the American people why I did so. But before I do, I do want to thank you all very much for giving me a chance to come by. The White House is a nice place to live, but sometimes it's good to get outside the White House, to be with people who are actually making a living -- (laughter) -- that are creating jobs; that are taking risk; that are really, I hope, living the American Dream.
Laura sends her best. She's doing great. I am truly a lucky man to have married this great woman and I think the country is lucky to have her as the First Lady. (Applause.)
I want to thank Mary Fallin from Oklahoma, Congresswoman from Oklahoma, for joining us. Mary, thank you for being here. I particularly want to say something about Cal Dooley. I worked with him when he was a member of the United States Congress. I found him to be a good, honest guy. When he said he was going to do something, he would do it. And I don't know if this helps him or hurts him, but you made a pretty smart move to hire him. (Laughter.) And I'm proud to be with you, Cal. Thanks for being here. (Applause.)
One of the reasons I've come by is to remind you how important you are to our economy. In other words, I'm the kind of person who believes that it's important for those of us in government to encourage people to take risk and to take investment. I like to remind people one of the key cornerstones of my philosophy is, I don't believe the role of government is to try to create wealth. It's to create the environment in which people are willing to risk capital, to expand their businesses. And I appreciate the fact that every day you're doing that. I appreciate the fact that you have to worry about what your customers think; that you tailor your goods and services to meet somebody else's demand. I appreciate the fact that by providing a place for people to work, you help American families. And I appreciate the fact that you've been a part of a remarkable economy.
Just this morning, we learned that the economic growth in the third quarter was 3.9 percent. You hear people talking about whether our economy is strong or not; well, here's an indication that it's strong. A lot of that has to do with the ability for people to dream big dreams and to follow through on those dreams. I love the fact that people say, I own a business. Ownership is a central part of making sure this country is a helpful -- hopeful country.
I also am pleased to report to you that last September was America's 49th consecutive month of job creation. It's the longest period of uninterrupted job growth on record. A lot of that has to do with the fact that we cut your taxes. There's a huge debate in Washington about cutting taxes. I believe if you've got more money in your treasuries to spend, it's more likely somebody is going to find work. I believe when American families have more money in their pockets to save, invest, or spend, it helps keep the economy strong. I believe you can spend your money better than the federal government can spend your money.
That's the philosophy behind the tax cuts we have passed, and I appreciate you supporting pro-growth economic policies. You understand that small businesses work best when there's more money at -- in circulation amongst small businesses. Today, this afternoon, I'm going to sign into law an extension of the Internet tax moratorium. We're making some progress in convincing people in Washington that low taxes ought to be memorialized in permanent policy.
Pro-growth economic policies work. That's one of the things I want to share with you. In order to get out of a recession and recover from an attack on the United States, we cut taxes on everybody who pays taxes, because I'm not the kind of person that says, we're going to cut taxes on you because of your political affiliation and not because of you -- on you because of yours. I believe if you cut taxes, the only way to -- fair way to do so is to cut taxes on everybody who pays income taxes. And that's precisely what we did. And cutting taxes caused our economy to not only recover, but grow, just like I told you -- 3.9 percent in the third quarter, for example.
And when the economy grows, it yields more tax revenues. And by holding down spending, it means -- and by the way, setting priorities such as funding our troops when they're in harm's way -- it means you can keep taxes low, grow the economy, set fiscal priorities, and reduce the deficit. And that's what's happening, as I speak. And it's important for Congress not to unwind this process by trying to raise your taxes. And I'm going to use my veto pen to prevent them from doing so. (Applause.)
I appreciate your support for free trade. That's another controversial subject. I believe opening markets for American goods and services will help us remain a prosperous nation. I worry about protectionist sentiments in America that say, well, we don't particularly think we can compete, so let's just wall us off. I believe that would be a mistake for the United States of America. So I look forward to working with Cal and your organization to convince the Congress to pass important free trade agreements that we have negotiated with Peru and Colombia and Panama and South Korea.
The United States of America must understand that there are millions of potential customers around the world. And it makes sense to open up markets for U.S. goods and services, so that -- so we can compete on a level playing field. I want our cattlemen to understand that I spend a lot of time working to open up markets for U.S. beef around the world. I think it's good for agriculture to say, let's trade. And so we'll continue to press it. But I'm going to need your help convincing members of Congress that it's in the national interest to be confident about our capacity to compete, and it's in our national interest to make sure we have free and fair trade.
We're going to work together to secure the food supply. I think it's in the nation's interest to work to deal with childhood obesity. And I think it's in the nation's interest to expand investment in alternative energy sources. The reason why is, dependency on oil is not good for the United States of America. It's not good for economic security, nor is it good for national security. I really don't like to have our country in the position where if demand for oil goes up in the developing world, it causes your gasoline prices to go up. We shouldn't be in the position where if somebody decides to blow up a oil infrastructure in another country it causes your gasoline prices to go up.
And I also understand that alternative sources of energy will make us better stewards of the environment. And one way to become less dependent on oil is to be able to grow products that empower our automobiles. And that's why I'm such a big believer in ethanol. I fully understand that folks out there are concerned about the price of corn. I hear from my hog-raising buddies that ethanol -- driving cars with corn is causing them to have trouble feeding their hogs. And that's why we're spending some of your money on new technologies that will enable us to use wood chips or switchgrass to be able to be the source for ethanol. It's called cellulosic ethanol.
You just got to know you're talking to -- you're listening to somebody -- you're not talking, you're listening -- (laughter) -- to somebody who has got great faith in the capacity of America to use technologies -- to develop technologies and use technologies to deal with significant problems, so long as the government makes it clear these are priorities. And I want to thank you for helping us on those issues. (Applause.)
Speaking about agriculture, this afternoon I'm going to name a new Secretary of Agriculture. I'm not going to tell you who it is, because I'm trying to -- (laughter) -- but I think you'll like him. He understands agriculture, of course, and he'll be a good follow-on to Mike Johanns, who did a superb job as the Secretary of Agriculture. And I'm going to ask the Senate, of course, to confirm this person as quickly as possible.
I do want to spend some time on health care. I'm fully aware that this is a topic that is of concern to you, as it should be. And it's a concern to all families across the country. It's a topic of heated debate here in Washington. And at the root of the debate is a philosophical disagreement over the direction American health care -- good people who have a different opinion on what we ought to be doing.
Here's my philosophy -- that government ought to trust private medicine; that we've got a fabulous health care system. Does it have issues? Sure, it's got issues. But when you compare it to other health care systems in the world, the United States has got a fabulous health care system. We got great docs, we've got wonderful new technologies. Our system is so good that many people from around the world like to come here to get treatment. The goal of a good health care system is not to weaken the health care system, but strengthen it; and a goal is to bring as many Americans as possible into the private system of health care. That ought to be a goal. And the reason why that ought to be a goal is because private coverage offers choice, which is good for consumers; flexibility, which is good for consumers; and quality of care that comes from competition. Private coverage puts the medical decisions in the right hands, and that's between the patient and the doctor. And that's where the decisions in health care should be.
There's a different view in Washington. They believe -- those who have a different view believe that expanding federal control is the key to improving health care. Again, I repeat, these are good folks; they care about our country as much as I care about our country. They just have a different vision about how to deal with the health issues. At the center of their belief is that folks in Washington are in a -- the best position to decide which diseases should be treated, which procedures you can have, and which doctors you're allowed to see. That's the essence of federalization of health care. They believe that massive tax increases are the best way to fund their plans. The truth of the matter is, if you federalize health care, you're going to have to have a massive tax increase to pay for it.
For those who believe that, I would hope they would look around the world at other nations who have tried to nationalize their health care systems. I think what they would find is that socialized medicine has led to lower standards, longer waits, rationing of care. We've tried, by the way, here in Washington to have a -- to have a major effort, put the federal government square in the center of health care in 1994, and the legislation didn't pass. I believe many of the Democrats in Congress who supported that legislation have learned from the experience. So instead of pushing to federalize health care all at once, they're pushing for the same goal through a series of incremental steps. With each step, they want to bring America closer to a nationalized system where the government dictates the medical coverage for every citizen.
The strategy is to expand programs for senior citizens to include younger citizens, to expand programs for children to include adults, and to expand programs for the poor to include the middle class. I'm not making it up. I would remind you that some in Congress recently proposed to lower the eligibility age for Medicare, which would allow younger citizens onto the federal program. And we can now see the strategy clearly when you analyze the efforts to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program -- that's the -- that's the issue I was going to talk to you about; SCHIP it's called.
SCHIP was created to provide coverage for poor and uninsured children whose parents make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Let me make sure you understand the facts. When people say we're not providing money for poor children, they're overlooking the $35.5 billion a year of your money we spend on poor children through Medicaid. There is a robust program to make sure poor children in America get health care. And that's good. If you're poor and can't afford health care, that's a -- a good role of the government is to help you.
SCHIP was to help people who couldn't quite qualify for Medicaid to get help, and I supported the program. I supported the program as the governor of Texas, and I support the program as President of the United States. And that's why the budget I submitted this year increases SCHIP funding by 20 percent over five years. So you're looking at a supporter of the program. As a matter of fact, I sent a signal to Congress that if we need some more money to focus on poor children, we'll help them find the money, without raising your taxes.
And I said we got to make sure it stays focused on poor children because a half-a-million children who qualify for the program aren't on the program today. The program said, we're going to help poor children; there's a half-a-million children who qualify for the program who aren't enrolled. Now, it seems like to me it makes sense that the government ought to focus on enrolling those who qualify now and not expanding the program beyond its current reach.
But remember, the primary goal is to increase the federal reach into health care. So earlier this month they sent me a bill that would expand SCHIP far beyond its original purpose. Under the proposal that came to my desk, more than half the children in America could be eligible for government health care. In other words, by expanding eligibility, it means that more than half the children in America would become eligible for this federal program. And to fund it they would raise taxes. That's bad health policy, as far as I'm concerned, it's bad tax policy, and it's going to take the country in the wrong direction.
And let me explain why. According to the Congress's own Budget Office, the bill Congress passed would lead one out of every three children who moves on to government coverage to drop private health insurance. The government provides incentives to join the federal program, and people go from private health care to government health care. That is the wrong direction if you believe that private medicine -- private health care is the best medicine possible for the American people.
Some of those children's parents that would be moving make nearly $62,000 a year. As a matter of fact, the bill I vetoed would raise eligibility in some places up to $83,000 a year. That's not poor. That's an indication that there's a strategy afoot to expand the federal reach into health care. In all, 2 million American children would move from private insurance to the government program, and at the same time, as I told you, some of the poorest children who are eligible for SCHIP may not be -- may still not be enrolled. And adults would still be on the children's program. In about seven states in America, they've used the SCHIP money -- they're spending more money on adults than they are on children. So adults would still be enrolled in the children's program. You might call that an extended trip to the fountain of youth. (Laughter.) And the taxes they're going to raise to pay for it would fall on the working people.
So that's why I vetoed the bill. I believe that private medicine is in the best interest of the country. That's the principle on which I'm operating, and when I got a bill that would undermine that principle, I vetoed it. And my veto was sustained. And then I put out the word to Congress, I'd like to work with you on a better bill. And unfortunately, the goodwill has not yet been returned.
I named three members of my administration to hold discussions with Congress, two Cabinet officials and a senior advisor. I said, here's three people that can speak for me; I'd like them to come up and sit down with you in good faith, to negotiate a way to make sure poor children get the help they need. Unfortunately, the leaders wouldn't meet with them, nor would their designated representatives. Instead, the House of Representatives made a few adjustments at the margins of the bill and passed it again.
Now, the bill has the same major flaws. It fails to cover poor children first, it shift [sic] children with private insurance onto the government rolls, and it uses taxpayers' dollars to subsidize middle class families, and finally it raises taxes. But to be fair, there is one part of the bill that leaders in Congress changed. Somehow they managed to make this version cost even more over the next five years than the last version. (Laughter.)
If Congress sends this bill back to me, I'm going to veto it again. They know this. I mean, they've made it -- I made it perfectly clear that if you keep passing this piece of legislation, I'm going to keep vetoing it -- unless, of course, it's a piece of legislation that focuses on poor children and does not expand the reach of the federal government into health care.
They also understand that the veto that was sustained in the House will be sustained again. And yet, incredibly enough, the Senate is going to debate this issue. I view this as a pure political exercise, and I urge the Senate not to waste time on a bill that they know I will veto and will be sustained. Whatever our differences, we need to keep the important program going. I understand that. No poor child should lose health care because of Washington, D.C. politics.
Philosophical divide isn't going to go away anytime soon, but there are some common sense steps that Republicans and Democrats can do to help Americans who struggle with health care. There's some positive things that we can do. For example, Congress should expand innovative products known as health savings accounts, which allow people to pay lower insurance premiums, to save tax-free for routine medical expenses, and to be able to take such an account from job to job.
You know, a startling statistic is that if you're 30 years old, you probably have worked five, six, or seven jobs by the time you reach 30 -- this is a very mobile work force. And it seems like to me that we ought to have products that enable somebody to take their own insurance policy with them from job to job, and a health savings account is such a policy. And if you're a small business owner, I strongly urge you to take a look at health savings accounts for your employees.
Congress should pass association health plans, which enables small businesses to pool risk across jurisdictional boundaries, so you can buy insurance at the same discounts that large companies can. If Congress truly is worried about the rising cost of health care, they ought to enable small employers to pool risk; in other words, to be able to accumulate a large risk pool, so you can better afford insurance for your employees.
Congress should pass medical liability reform. These junk lawsuits are running good doctors out of practice and are running up the cost of your health care bills. And if they want to address the rising cost in health care they need to join me and pass substantive medical liability reform at the federal level.
When I first came to Washington, I said, well, maybe this isn't the proper federal role; we'll let the states handle it. And then when I became to analyze the cost to the federal government of these junk lawsuits I determined it was a federal role to do something about them. I mean, after all, we're a huge health care provider; we have Medicare, Medicaid, veterans' benefits, veterans' health care. Yet many of the doctors who we hire to provide services practice defensive medicine, so that if they get sued they got a case in the courthouse that can defend them. These junk lawsuits are running up the cost of medicine for you, and they're running up the cost of medicine for the federal government -- which is you. And if the Congress is seriously -- wants to do something seriously about solving this problem, they ought to pass medical liability reform now. (Applause.)
The amazing thing about health care, it's -- when it comes to information technology, they're light years behind a lot of America. Perhaps the best way to describe it is, is that we still got doctors handwriting files. They don't write very well to begin with, and files get lost. Health care ought to be using information technology -- and the federal government, by the way, is insisting that that be the case with the people with whom we interface. And Congress ought to focus on spreading information technology throughout health care. The dream is, is that all of us will have a -- our medical records on a little disk, a little chip that we can carry with us, that will be secure from prying eyes, but nevertheless, will be a part of wringing out cost inefficiencies in a industry that needs to have cost inefficiencies wrung out.
And finally, there ought to be more transparence. I mean, the whole purpose of reform is to have more consumerism in health care, not less, as a result of the federal government taking over the health care system. And in order to have consumerism there has to be transparency in pricing and quality of care. And the best way to encourage consumerism is to change the tax code.
Right now our tax code discriminates against people who are trying to buy and individual policy. If you work for corporate America you get a tax benefit. If you're on your own, you have to buy health insurance with after-tax money. And as a result of this discrepancy in the tax code, it is much harder for an individualized market to take root in America. And therefore, Congress ought to level the playing field for every American family, and to make sure that private medicine is enhanced by fairness in the tax code.
There are different opinions in Congress about which type of tax benefit would work the best -- a tax deduction, or a tax credit. Both of the proposals have their advantages, and either would be a lot better than federalizing health care in America. Taken together, the comprehensive set of reforms I just outlined would do far more to reduce the ranks of the uninsured than SCHIP expansion would. They'd make private insurance more affordable for millions of Americans. And Congress, rather than passing legislation that's not going to pass -- not going to become law, ought to focus on practical, common-sense reforms.
Especially a bad time for Congress to stage political theater on health care because it's got a lot of other work to do in other areas. We're now 10 full months into 2007, and the United States Congress has yet to pass a single one of the annual spending bills of the federal government. Considering how eager they are to spend your money, it's shocking it's taken so long to do so. (Laughter.) In fact, the leaders on Capitol Hill now hold a dubious record as the first United States Congress in 20 years that has failed to send a single annual appropriations bill to the President this late in the year. And time is running short. Members of Congress needs to pass these annual spending bills soon, one at a time.
They should start by sending me a clean bill to fund our veterans by Veterans Day. I feel a special obligation to make sure that our veterans get the full support of the federal government. And Congress needs to stop wasting time and get that VA bill to my desk. (Applause.) We have got troops in harm's way. And regardless of your opinion, or members of Congress' opinion, on this war they ought to put aside those opinions and focus on those troops and their families. Instead of playing politics on the floor of the House and the Senate, they need to pass the defense appropriations bill now to support the troops. (Applause.)
This SCHIP debate is an important debate because it's going to send an important signal as these other appropriations bills move through Congress. If we overspend and raise taxes on this bill, it's going to create a bad habit for the members of Congress. I think it's very important for people to understand that we can balance this budget and grow this economy if we're wise about how we spend your money, if we set priorities.
It's also important for members of Congress to understand, with federal revenues at an all-time high and the deficit declining, now is not the time to raise taxes. Running up the taxes on the American people would be bad for our economy; more importantly, it would be bad for American families. I want you to have more money, so you can make the decisions for your families and yourself that you think are necessary. I like it when the after-tax revenues -- income are up. I think it's good for America that American families are able to save for their children's education, or small businesses have more money to invest. And the surest way to dilute that spirit of entrepreneurship is to run your taxes up. And that's why I'm going to use my veto pen to prevent people from doing it. (Applause.)
You know, we're living during challenging times. I view -- but I view these as exciting times, as well. I genuinely do. I think we're laying the foundation of peace for your children and grandchildren. I know it's necessary to do the hard work now so the first chapters of the 21st century will be positive chapters.
I firmly believe that the spread of liberty is going to make it such that when people look back at this period of time, they say, thank God America had faith in certain values, certain fundamental truths. And one of those truths is that there is an Almighty, and a gift of that Almighty to every man, woman and child is freedom. And another historical truth is freedom yields the peace we want. And at home, freedom for people to invest and to make choices is important for a hopeful America. Government must trust the American people. We must trust the American people with your money; we must trust the American people as you make important decisions in health care; and we must trust the American people to continue to be the compassionate people that we are.
It's an honor to represent you. May God bless you and may God continue to bless our country. (Applause.)
END 11:25 A.M. EDT
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 30, 2007
President Bush Nominates Dr. James Peake as Secretary of Veterans Affairs Roosevelt Room, 1:09 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Caring for our military veterans is a solemn responsibility of the federal government. It is our enduring pledge to every man and woman who puts on our nation's uniform. And it is the daily work of the Department of Veterans Affairs. I am pleased to announce my nomination of an Army doctor and combat veteran who will be a strong new leader for this department: Lieutenant General James Peake. (Applause.)
Public service is a family commitment, and I'm especially grateful to Dr. Peake's wife, Janice -- a fellow Texan -- who is with us today. I appreciate you supporting Jim once again as he does the nation's work. I'm also proud to welcome Kimberly and Thomas. Thank you all for coming. We just met in the Oval Office and there's no question in my mind they're certainly proud of their dad.
Dr. Peake grew up in a home where service to country was a way of life. His father started out as an enlisted man in the Army, and became an officer who spent most of his 30-year career in the Medical Service Corps. Doctor Peake's mom was an Army nurse. His brother was a naval aviator. And as a young man of 18, he set upon his own lifetime of service when he arrived at the United States Military Academy.
After graduating from West Point in 1966, Second Lieutenant James Peake was sent to Vietnam with the 101st Airborne. There he served as a platoon leader, he led men in combat, and earned several medals for his courage -- including the Silver Star. One of those who knows him best describes his leadership this way: "End of a chow-line officer -- everyone else first."
In Vietnam, he also earned two Purple Hearts. While in the hospital recovering from his second wound, he learned that he had been accepted to medical school. And after completing his medical studies at Cornell University, he devoted his career as an Army doctor to improving care for our wounded servicemen and women. Long before the global war on terror began, Dr. Peake was changing the way we deliver medical care to our troops. As a result of his reforms, many who once might have died on the battlefield -- now they come home to be productive and having fulfilling lives.
As a medical officer and combat vet who was wounded in action, Dr. Peake understands the view from both sides of the hospital bed -- the doctor's, and the patient's. He brought that understanding to many jobs. These jobs include command surgeon in the Army hospitals, commanding general of the largest medical training facility in the world, and Army Surgeon General -- where he commanded more than 50,000 medical personnel, oversaw 16 hospitals across the world, and managed an operating budget of nearly $5 billion.
Since leaving the Army, he has served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Project Hope. There he helped one Navy hospital ship respond to the victims of the Asian tsunami and another that was sent to care for those hit by Hurricane Katrina. Most recently, he has served as Chief Medical Director and Chief Operating Officer with QTC Management, which provides military veterans with timely medical examinations, as well as electronic medical record services.
When confirmed by the Senate, Dr. Peake will bring his unique set of skills and experiences to the Department of Veterans Affairs. He will be the first physician and the first general to serve as Secretary. He will apply his decades of expertise in combat medicine and health care management to improve the veterans' health system. He will insist on the highest level of care for every American veteran.
One of Dr. Peake's first tasks as Secretary will be to continue to implement the recommendations of the Dole-Shalala Commission on Wounded Warriors. And Senator, thank you for joining us. Some of their recommendations are the responsibility of the executive branch, and Dr. Peake will be a leader in carrying them out. Others require the approval of United States Congress, and that's why this month I sent a bill to Capitol Hill that will make those recommendations the law of the land.
As Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Doctor Peake will be a powerful advocate for the prompt enactment and implementation of this vital legislation. And he will work tirelessly to eliminate backlogs and ensure that our veterans receive the benefits they need to lead lives of dignity and purpose.
In all these ways, Dr. Peake will build on the fine records of Secretary Jim Nicholson and Secretary Tony Principi. Jim is a West Point man who knows the meaning of duty, honor and country. He's a Vietnam vet and a former ambassador and a good friend. I thank him for his service and I thank his wife, Suzanne, as well, and wish them all the very best.
Principi is with us. It's good to see you, friend; thanks for coming. He's a graduate of one of our military academies -- although it's not West Point, it's the Naval Academy. Like the other two men here today, he is a combat veteran of Vietnam. And like the other two, he has served our veterans with dignity and integrity. And I appreciate your service.
Jim and Tony can be proud of their record at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Under their leadership, federal spending for veterans increased by more than two-thirds. We extended treatment to a million additional veterans, including hundreds of thousands returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. We expanded grants to help homeless veterans across the country. These men have worked well with the VSOs and I thank the leaders for joining us here today. Dr. Peake is going to work well with you, too.
And speaking of working well, it's time for the Congress to do its job for the veterans. Congress needs to send me a clean VA appropriations bill that I can sign into law by Veterans Day.
I want to thank Acting Secretary Gordon Mansfield for leading the department these last few weeks. (Applause.) He's done a fine job. He's earned the respect of all those who've worked under him. He's earned the gratitude of our nation's vets.
I appreciate Dr. Peake's willingness to step forward at this important time for the department. He' a man who' been tested in battle; he has proved himself as a soldier, as a physician, as a leader and as a good family man. He will be a superb Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and the United States Senate should promptly confirm him.
Doctor, I appreciate you stepping up again. On behalf of the United States of America, congratulations. (Applause.)
DR. PEAKE: Mr. President, Secretary Mansfield, Secretary Principi, Senator Dole, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for being here. And sir, thank you for this opportunity to come back in service. Fundamentally, I'm a soldier. I've been taking care of soldiers essentially all of my adult life. And to have that chance again, especially at this time -- at a time when the American people and you, Mr. President, have so clearly committed to the well-being of those who have served -- well, it's a high honor indeed.
I do understand that though it's an honor, this is not an honorary position, and there's a lot of work to be done as we move forward on implementing the Dole-Shalala commission recommendations. The disability system is largely a 1945 product -- 1945 processes around a 1945 family unit. About everybody that has studied it recently said it is time to do some revisions.
I am really proud of the military medics who have done such remarkable things, in terms of bringing wounded soldiers back home -- soldiers that in other conflicts would never have made it off the battlefield. I think each of these men and women deserves the right to lead as full and productive a life as is possible. This great VA system of ours reaches across the nation into every community and touches veterans and their families in so many ways, committed to the principle that I just talked about.
Well, I'm committed to that principle as well, and that's why I'm here. I know personally many of those who lead in the VA. It is a great team. If confirmed, I look forward to working with them. I look forward to working with Congress. I look forward to working with the veterans' service organizations, and particularly with the Department of Defense as we move forward to do the right thing -- not just for the short-term, but for the longer-term -- to set the future so that we can continue to meet our commitment to those who deserve our care.
Janice, thank you so much for allowing me to come on this journey, and coming with me. Mr. President, thank you so much for the confidence and the opportunity, and I'll see you on the high ground. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. END 1:21 P.M. EDT
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 30, 2007
Fact Sheet: Lt. Gen. James B. Peake (Ret.), M.D.: The Best Choice for Our Nation's Veterans President Bush To Nominate Former Army Surgeon General With Lifetime Of Military Medical Experience To Serve As VA Secretary
Today, President Bush announced his intention to nominate Lieutenant General James B. Peake (Ret.), M.D., to serve as our Nation's Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Peake is a highly decorated veteran who has dedicated his life to caring for the wounded. As he said in remarks praising senior noncommissioned officers before his 2004 Army retirement: "All my life I've been with Army medicine. My father was a medical services officer, and my mother was an Army nurse." His distinguished military career began in 1966 with service as an infantry officer in Vietnam, for which he received the Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster for wounds sustained in battle. He retired from the Army in 2004, following service as lead commander in several medical posts, including four years as the U.S. Army Surgeon General.
Dr. Peake's Career Spans Over 40 Years In The Field Of Military Medicine, During Which Time He Helped Develop Many Of Today's Lifesaving Battlefield Medical Techniques
Dr. Peake was awarded the Silver Star, a Bronze Star with 'V' device and oak leaf cluster, and Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster for his service in Vietnam as a platoon leader with the 101st Airborne Division.
Dr. Peake was wounded twice in battle and received his acceptance letter to Cornell University Medical College while in the hospital recovering from injury. He attended medical school through an Army scholarship and then returned to the Army for his medical internships and residencies.
As Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) noted, Dr. Peake's "time as an infantry officer gave [him] a unique warrior's perspective on how our wounded should be cared for." (Committee On Appropriations, Subcommittee On Defense, Hearing, U.S. Senate, 4/8/04)
From 2000 to 2004, Dr. Peake served as the 40th Surgeon General of the United States Army. In this position, he commanded 50,000 medical personnel and 187 army medical facilities worldwide with an operating budget of almost $5 billion.
Dr. Peake was also commander in several medical posts, and is credited with improving the training and techniques of the Army medical force. Notably, Dr. Peake served as Commanding General of the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School – the largest medical training facility in the world, with over 30,000 students.
Military.com's Tom Philpott: "[I]mproved training, now being used to great effect in Iraq and Afghanistan, was largely the vision of retired Lt. Gen. James Peake … in the late 1990s [as Commanding General of the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School] and during his tour as Army surgeon general from 2000 through 2004." (Tom Philpott, "Military Update," The Honolulu Advertiser, 11/14/05)
Dr. Peake has been honored with the Order of Military Medical Merit; the "A" Professional Designator; and the Medallion, Surgeon General of the United States. His awards and decorations also include the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with three oak leaf clusters, the Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, and an Air Medal. Dr. Peake wears the Combat Infantryman Badge.
Dr. Peake's Private Sector Experience Managing Medical Examinations For Veterans And Separating Soldiers Further Qualifies Him To Serve As VA Secretary
Dr. Peake now serves as the Chief Medical Director and Chief Operating Officer of QTC Management, Inc. QTC serves veterans and separating soldiers by providing timely medical examination and electronic medical record services to help government agencies manage medical data and information in a cost-effective manner.
From 2004 to 2006, Dr. Peake was the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Project HOPE, a non-profit international health foundation with offices and programs in more than 30 different countries on five continents. While at Project HOPE, Dr. Peake helped to orchestrate the use of civilian volunteers aboard the Navy Hospital Ship Mercy as it responded to the tsunami in Indonesia and aboard the Hospital Ship Comfort as part of the Hurricane Katrina response.
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President Bush Attends Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention, Discusses War on Terror
Kansas City Convention and Entertainment Center, Kansas City, Missouri, August 22, 2007 9:46 A.M. CDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Please be seated. It's good to be with you again. I understand you haven't had much of a problem attracting speakers. (Laughter.) I thank you for inviting me. I can understand why people want to come here. See, it's an honor to stand with the men and women of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. (Applause.) The VFW is one of this nation's finest organizations. You belong to an elite group of Americans. (Applause.) You belong to a group of people who have defended America overseas. You have fought in places from Normandy to Iwo Jima, to Pusan, to Khe Sahn, to Kuwait, to Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. You brought security to the American people; you brought hope to millions across the world.
As members of this proud organization, you are advocates for the rights of our military veterans, a model of community service, and a strong and important voice for a strong national defense. I thank you for your service. I thank you for what you've done for the United States of America. (Applause.)
I stand before you as a wartime President. I wish I didn't have to say that, but an enemy that attacked us on September the 11th, 2001, declared war on the United States of America. And war is what we're engaged in. The struggle has been called a clash of civilizations. In truth, it's a struggle for civilization. We fight for a free way of life against a new barbarism -- an ideology whose followers have killed thousands on American soil, and seek to kill again on even a greater scale.
We fight for the possibility that decent men and women across the broader Middle East can realize their destiny -- and raise up societies based on freedom and justice and personal dignity. And as long as I'm Commander-in-Chief we will fight to win. (Applause.) I'm confident that we will prevail. I'm confident we'll prevail because we have the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known -- the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. (Applause.)
For those of you who wear the uniform, nothing makes me more proud to say that I am your Commander-in-Chief. Thank you for volunteering in the service of the United States of America. (Applause.)
Now, I know some people doubt the universal appeal of liberty, or worry that the Middle East isn't ready for it. Others believe that America's presence is destabilizing, and that if the United States would just leave a place like Iraq those who kill our troops or target civilians would no longer threaten us. Today I'm going to address these arguments. I'm going to describe why helping the young democracies of the Middle East stand up to violent Islamic extremists is the only realistic path to a safer world for the American people. I'm going to try to provide some historical perspective to show there is a precedent for the hard and necessary work we're doing, and why I have such confidence in the fact we'll be successful.
Before I do so I want to thank the national Commander-in-Chief of the VFW and his wife, Nancy. It's been a joy to work with Gary and the staff. Gary said, we don't necessarily agree a hundred percent of the time. I remember the old lieutenant governor of Texas -- a Democrat, and I was a Republican governor. He said, "Governor, if we agreed 100 percent of the time, one of us wouldn't be necessary." (Laughter.)
But here's what we do agree on: We agree our veterans deserve the full support of the United States government. (Applause.) That's why in this budget I submitted there's $87 billion for the veterans; it's the highest level of support ever for the veterans in American history. (Applause.) We agree that health care for our veterans is a top priority, and that's why we've increased health care spending for our veterans by 83 percent since I was sworn in as your President. (Applause.) We agree that a troop coming out of Iraq or Afghanistan deserves the best health care not only as an active duty citizen, but as a military guy, but also as a veteran -- and you're going to get the best health care we can possibly provide. (Applause.) We agree our homeless vets ought to have shelter, and that's what we're providing.
In other words, we agree the veterans deserve the full support of our government and that's what you're going to get as George W. Bush as your President. (Applause.)
I want to thank Bob Wallace, the Executive Director. He spends a lot of time in the Oval Office -- I'm always checking the silverware drawer. (Laughter.) He's going to be bringing in George Lisicki here soon. He's going to be the national commander-in-chief for my next year in office. And I'm looking forward to working with George, and I'm looking forward to working with Wallace, and I'm looking forward to hearing from you. They're going to find an open-minded President, dedicated to doing what's right. (Applause.)
I appreciate Linda Meader, the National President of the Ladies Auxiliary. She brought old Dave with her. (Applause.) Virginia Carman, the incoming President. I want to thank Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Gordon Mansfield for joining us today. I appreciate the United States Senator from the state of Missouri, strong supporter of the military and strong supporter of the veterans, Kit Bond. (Applause.) Two members of the Congress have kindly showed up today -- I'm proud they're both here: Congressman Emanuel Cleaver -- no finer man, no more decent a fellow than Emanuel Cleaver -- is with us. And a great Congressman from right around the corner here, Congressman Sam Graves. Thank you all for coming. (Applause.)
Lieutenant General Jack Stultz, Commanding General, U.S. Army Reserve Command, is with us today. General, thanks for coming. Lieutenant General Bill Caldwell, Commanding General, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, is with us today, as well. General Caldwell, thank you for your service. (Applause.)
Thank you all for letting me come by. I want to open today's speech with a story that begins on a sunny morning, when thousands of Americans were murdered in a surprise attack -- and our nation was propelled into a conflict that would take us to every corner of the globe.
The enemy who attacked us despises freedom, and harbors resentment at the slights he believes America and Western nations have inflicted on his people. He fights to establish his rule over an entire region. And over time, he turns to a strategy of suicide attacks destined to create so much carnage that the American people will tire of the violence and give up the fight.
If this story sounds familiar, it is -- except for one thing. The enemy I have just described is not al Qaeda, and the attack is not 9/11, and the empire is not the radical caliphate envisioned by Osama bin Laden. Instead, what I've described is the war machine of Imperial Japan in the 1940s, its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and its attempt to impose its empire throughout East Asia.
Ultimately, the United States prevailed in World War II, and we have fought two more land wars in Asia. And many in this hall were veterans of those campaigns. Yet even the most optimistic among you probably would not have foreseen that the Japanese would transform themselves into one of America's strongest and most steadfast allies, or that the South Koreans would recover from enemy invasion to raise up one of the world's most powerful economies, or that Asia would pull itself out of poverty and hopelessness as it embraced markets and freedom.
The lesson from Asia's development is that the heart's desire for liberty will not be denied. Once people even get a small taste of liberty, they're not going to rest until they're free. Today's dynamic and hopeful Asia -- a region that brings us countless benefits -- would not have been possible without America's presence and perseverance. It would not have been possible without the veterans in this hall today. And I thank you for your service. (Applause.)
There are many differences between the wars we fought in the Far East and the war on terror we're fighting today. But one important similarity is at their core they're ideological struggles. The militarists of Japan and the communists in Korea and Vietnam were driven by a merciless vision for the proper ordering of humanity. They killed Americans because we stood in the way of their attempt to force their ideology on others. Today, the names and places have changed, but the fundamental character of the struggle has not changed. Like our enemies in the past, the terrorists who wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places seek to spread a political vision of their own -- a harsh plan for life that crushes freedom, tolerance, and dissent.
Like our enemies in the past, they kill Americans because we stand in their way of imposing this ideology across a vital region of the world. This enemy is dangerous; this enemy is determined; and this enemy will be defeated. (Applause.)
We're still in the early hours of the current ideological struggle, but we do know how the others ended -- and that knowledge helps guide our efforts today. The ideals and interests that led America to help the Japanese turn defeat into democracy are the same that lead us to remain engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The defense strategy that refused to hand the South Koreans over to a totalitarian neighbor helped raise up a Asian Tiger that is the model for developing countries across the world, including the Middle East. The result of American sacrifice and perseverance in Asia is a freer, more prosperous and stable continent whose people want to live in peace with America, not attack America.
At the outset of World War II there were only two democracies in the Far East -- Australia and New Zealand. Today most of the nations in Asia are free, and its democracies reflect the diversity of the region. Some of these nations have constitutional monarchies, some have parliaments, and some have presidents. Some are Christian, some are Muslim, some are Hindu, and some are Buddhist. Yet for all the differences, the free nations of Asia all share one thing in common: Their governments derive their authority from the consent of the governed, and they desire to live in peace with their neighbors.
Along the way to this freer and more hopeful Asia, there were a lot of doubters. Many times in the decades that followed World War II, American policy in Asia was dismissed as hopeless and naive. And when we listen to criticism of the difficult work our generation is undertaking in the Middle East today, we can hear the echoes of the same arguments made about the Far East years ago.
In the aftermath of Japan's surrender, many thought it naive to help the Japanese transform themselves into a democracy. Then as now, the critics argued that some people were simply not fit for freedom.
Some said Japanese culture was inherently incompatible with democracy. Joseph Grew, a former United States ambassador to Japan who served as Harry Truman's Under Secretary of State, told the President flatly that -- and I quote -- "democracy in Japan would never work." He wasn't alone in that belief. A lot of Americans believed that -- and so did the Japanese -- a lot of Japanese believed the same thing: democracy simply wouldn't work.
Others critics said that Americans were imposing their ideals on the Japanese. For example, Japan's Vice Prime Minister asserted that allowing Japanese women to vote would "retard the progress of Japanese politics."
It's interesting what General MacArthur wrote in his memoirs. He wrote, "There was much criticism of my support for the enfranchisement of women. Many Americans, as well as many other so-called experts, expressed the view that Japanese women were too steeped in the tradition of subservience to their husbands to act with any degree of political independence." That's what General MacArthur observed. In the end, Japanese women were given the vote; 39 women won parliamentary seats in Japan's first free election. Today, Japan's minister of defense is a woman, and just last month, a record number of women were elected to Japan's Upper House. Other critics argued that democracy -- (applause.)
There are other critics, believe it or not, that argue that democracy could not succeed in Japan because the national religion -- Shinto -- was too fanatical and rooted in the Emperor. Senator Richard Russell denounced the Japanese faith, and said that if we did not put the Emperor on trial, "any steps we may take to create democracy are doomed to failure." The State Department's man in Tokyo put it bluntly: "The Emperor system must disappear if Japan is ever really to be democratic."
Those who said Shinto was incompatible with democracy were mistaken, and fortunately, Americans and Japanese leaders recognized it at the time, because instead of suppressing the Shinto faith, American authorities worked with the Japanese to institute religious freedom for all faiths. Instead of abolishing the imperial throne, Americans and Japanese worked together to find a place for the Emperor in the democratic political system.
And the result of all these steps was that every Japanese citizen gained freedom of religion, and the Emperor remained on his throne and Japanese democracy grew stronger because it embraced a cherished part of Japanese culture. And today, in defiance of the critics and the doubters and the skeptics, Japan retains its religions and cultural traditions, and stands as one of the world's great free societies. (Applause.)
You know, the experts sometimes get it wrong. An interesting observation, one historian put it -- he said, "Had these erstwhile experts" -- he was talking about people criticizing the efforts to help Japan realize the blessings of a free society -- he said, "Had these erstwhile experts had their way, the very notion of inducing a democratic revolution would have died of ridicule at an early stage."
Instead, I think it's important to look at what happened. A democratic Japan has brought peace and prosperity to its people. Its foreign trade and investment have helped jump-start the economies of others in the region. The alliance between our two nations is the lynchpin for freedom and stability throughout the Pacific. And I want you to listen carefully to this final point: Japan has transformed from America's enemy in the ideological struggle of the 20th century to one of America's strongest allies in the ideological struggle of the 21st century. (Applause.)
Critics also complained when America intervened to save South Korea from communist invasion. Then as now, the critics argued that the war was futile, that we should never have sent our troops in, or they argued that America's intervention was divisive here at home.
After the North Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel in 1950, President Harry Truman came to the defense of the South -- and found himself attacked from all sides. From the left, I.F. Stone wrote a book suggesting that the South Koreans were the real aggressors and that we had entered the war on a false pretext. From the right, Republicans vacillated. Initially, the leader of the Republican Party in the Senate endorsed Harry Truman's action, saying, "I welcome the indication of a more definite policy" -- he went on to say, "I strongly hope that having adopted it, the President may maintain it intact," then later said "it was a mistake originally to go into Korea because it meant a land war."
Throughout the war, the Republicans really never had a clear position. They never could decide whether they wanted the United States to withdraw from the war in Korea, or expand the war to the Chinese mainland. Others complained that our troops weren't getting the support from the government. One Republican senator said, the effort was just "bluff and bluster." He rejected calls to come together in a time of war, on the grounds that "we will not allow the cloak of national unity to be wrapped around horrible blunders."
Many in the press agreed. One columnist in The Washington Post said, "The fact is that the conduct of the Korean War has been shot through with errors great and small." A colleague wrote that "Korea is an open wound. It's bleeding and there's no cure for it in sight." He said that the American people could not understand "why Americans are doing about 95 percent of the fighting in Korea."
Many of these criticisms were offered as reasons for abandoning our commitments in Korea. And while it's true the Korean War had its share of challenges, the United States never broke its word.
Today, we see the result of a sacrifice of people in this room in the stark contrast of life on the Korean Peninsula. Without Americans' intervention during the war and our willingness to stick with the South Koreans after the war, millions of South Koreans would now be living under a brutal and repressive regime. The Soviets and Chinese communists would have learned the lesson that aggression pays. The world would be facing a more dangerous situation. The world would be less peaceful.
Instead, South Korea is a strong, democratic ally of the United States of America. South Korean troops are serving side-by-side with American forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq. And America can count on the free people of South Korea to be lasting partners in the ideological struggle we're facing in the beginning of the 21st century. (Applause.)
For those of you who served in Korea, thank you for your sacrifice, and thank you for your service. (Applause.)
Finally, there's Vietnam. This is a complex and painful subject for many Americans. The tragedy of Vietnam is too large to be contained in one speech. So I'm going to limit myself to one argument that has particular significance today. Then as now, people argued the real problem was America's presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end.
The argument that America's presence in Indochina was dangerous had a long pedigree. In 1955, long before the United States had entered the war, Graham Greene wrote a novel called, "The Quiet American." It was set in Saigon, and the main character was a young government agent named Alden Pyle. He was a symbol of American purpose and patriotism -- and dangerous naivete. Another character describes Alden this way: "I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused."
After America entered the Vietnam War, the Graham Greene argument gathered some steam. As a matter of fact, many argued that if we pulled out there would be no consequences for the Vietnamese people.
In 1972, one antiwar senator put it this way: "What earthly difference does it make to nomadic tribes or uneducated subsistence farmers in Vietnam or Cambodia or Laos, whether they have a military dictator, a royal prince or a socialist commissar in some distant capital that they've never seen and may never heard of?" A columnist for The New York Times wrote in a similar vein in 1975, just as Cambodia and Vietnam were falling to the communists: "It's difficult to imagine," he said, "how their lives could be anything but better with the Americans gone." A headline on that story, date Phnom Penh, summed up the argument: "Indochina without Americans: For Most a Better Life."
The world would learn just how costly these misimpressions would be. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution. In Vietnam, former allies of the United States and government workers and intellectuals and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea.
Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. There's no debate in my mind that the veterans from Vietnam deserve the high praise of the United States of America. (Applause.) Whatever your position is on that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like "boat people," "re-education camps," and "killing fields."
There was another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam, and we can hear it in the words of the enemy we face in today's struggle -- those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens on September the 11th, 2001. In an interview with a Pakistani newspaper after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden declared that "the American people had risen against their government's war in Vietnam. And they must do the same today."
His number two man, Zawahiri, has also invoked Vietnam. In a letter to al Qaeda's chief of operations in Iraq, Zawahiri pointed to "the aftermath of the collapse of the American power in Vietnam and how they ran and left their agents."
Zawahiri later returned to this theme, declaring that the Americans "know better than others that there is no hope in victory. The Vietnam specter is closing every outlet." Here at home, some can argue our withdrawal from Vietnam carried no price to American credibility -- but the terrorists see it differently.
We must remember the words of the enemy. We must listen to what they say. Bin Laden has declared that "the war [in Iraq] is for you or us to win. If we win it, it means your disgrace and defeat forever." Iraq is one of several fronts in the war on terror -- but it's the central front -- it's the central front for the enemy that attacked us and wants to attack us again. And it's the central front for the United States and to withdraw without getting the job done would be devastating. (Applause.)
If we were to abandon the Iraqi people, the terrorists would be emboldened, and use their victory to gain new recruits. As we saw on September the 11th, a terrorist safe haven on the other side of the world can bring death and destruction to the streets of our own cities. Unlike in Vietnam, if we withdraw before the job is done, this enemy will follow us home. And that is why, for the security of the United States of America, we must defeat them overseas so we do not face them in the United States of America. (Applause.)
Recently, two men who were on the opposite sides of the debate over the Vietnam War came together to write an article. One was a member of President Nixon's foreign policy team, and the other was a fierce critic of the Nixon administration's policies. Together they wrote that the consequences of an American defeat in Iraq would be disastrous.
Here's what they said: "Defeat would produce an explosion of euphoria among all the forces of Islamist extremism, throwing the entire Middle East into even greater upheaval. The likely human and strategic costs are appalling to contemplate. Perhaps that is why so much of the current debate seeks to ignore these consequences." I believe these men are right.
In Iraq, our moral obligations and our strategic interests are one. So we pursue the extremists wherever we find them and we stand with the Iraqis at this difficult hour -- because the shadow of terror will never be lifted from our world and the American people will never be safe until the people of the Middle East know the freedom that our Creator meant for all. (Applause.)
I recognize that history cannot predict the future with absolute certainty. I understand that. But history does remind us that there are lessons applicable to our time. And we can learn something from history. In Asia, we saw freedom triumph over violent ideologies after the sacrifice of tens of thousands of American lives -- and that freedom has yielded peace for generations.
The American military graveyards across Europe attest to the terrible human cost in the fight against Nazism. They also attest to the triumph of a continent that today is whole, free, and at peace. The advance of freedom in these lands should give us confidence that the hard work we are doing in the Middle East can have the same results we've seen in Asia and elsewhere -- if we show the same perseverance and the same sense of purpose.
In a world where the terrorists are willing to act on their twisted beliefs with sickening acts of barbarism, we must put faith in the timeless truths about human nature that have made us free.
Across the Middle East, millions of ordinary citizens are tired of war, they're tired of dictatorship and corruption, they're tired of despair. They want societies where they're treated with dignity and respect, where their children have the hope for a better life. They want nations where their faiths are honored and they can worship in freedom.
And that is why millions of Iraqis and Afghans turned out to the polls -- millions turned out to the polls. And that's why their leaders have stepped forward at the risk of assassination. And that's why tens of thousands are joining the security forces of their nations. These men and women are taking great risks to build a free and peaceful Middle East -- and for the sake of our own security, we must not abandon them.
There is one group of people who understand the stakes, understand as well as any expert, anybody in America -- those are the men and women in uniform. Through nearly six years of war, they have performed magnificently. (Applause.) Day after day, hour after hour, they keep the pressure on the enemy that would do our citizens harm. They've overthrown two of the most brutal tyrannies of the world, and liberated more than 50 million citizens. (Applause.)
In Iraq, our troops are taking the fight to the extremists and radicals and murderers all throughout the country. Our troops have killed or captured an average of more than 1,500 al Qaeda terrorists and other extremists every month since January of this year. (Applause.) We're in the fight. Today our troops are carrying out a surge that is helping bring former Sunni insurgents into the fight against the extremists and radicals, into the fight against al Qaeda, into the fight against the enemy that would do us harm. They're clearing out the terrorists out of population centers, they're giving families in liberated Iraqi cities a look at a decent and hopeful life.
Our troops are seeing this progress that is being made on the ground. And as they take the initiative from the enemy, they have a question: Will their elected leaders in Washington pull the rug out from under them just as they're gaining momentum and changing the dynamic on the ground in Iraq? Here's my answer is clear: We'll support our troops, we'll support our commanders, and we will give them everything they need to succeed. (Applause.)
Despite the mistakes that have been made, despite the problems we have encountered, seeing the Iraqis through as they build their democracy is critical to keeping the American people safe from the terrorists who want to attack us. It is critical work to lay the foundation for peace that veterans have done before you all.
A free Iraq is not going to be perfect. A free Iraq will not make decisions as quickly as the country did under the dictatorship. Many are frustrated by the pace of progress in Baghdad, and I can understand this. As I noted yesterday, the Iraqi government is distributing oil revenues across its provinces despite not having an oil revenue law on its books, that the parliament has passed about 60 pieces of legislation.
Prime Minister Maliki is a good guy, a good man with a difficult job, and I support him. And it's not up to politicians in Washington, D.C. to say whether he will remain in his position -- that is up to the Iraqi people who now live in a democracy, and not a dictatorship. (Applause.) A free Iraq is not going to transform the Middle East overnight. But a free Iraq will be a massive defeat for al Qaeda, it will be an example that provides hope for millions throughout the Middle East, it will be a friend of the United States, and it's going to be an important ally in the ideological struggle of the 21st century. (Applause.)
Prevailing in this struggle is essential to our future as a nation. And the question now that comes before us is this: Will today's generation of Americans resist the allure of retreat, and will we do in the Middle East what the veterans in this room did in Asia?
The journey is not going to be easy, as the veterans fully understand. At the outset of the war in the Pacific, there were those who argued that freedom had seen its day and that the future belonged to the hard men in Tokyo. A year and a half before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan's Foreign Minister gave a hint of things to come during an interview with a New York newspaper. He said, "In the battle between democracy and totalitarianism the latter adversary will without question win and will control the world. The era of democracy is finished, the democratic system bankrupt."
In fact, the war machines of Imperial Japan would be brought down -- brought down by good folks who only months before had been students and farmers and bank clerks and factory hands. Some are in the room today. Others here have been inspired by their fathers and grandfathers and uncles and cousins.
That generation of Americans taught the tyrants a telling lesson: There is no power like the power of freedom and no soldier as strong as a soldier who fights for a free future for his children. (Applause.) And when America's work on the battlefield was done, the victorious children of democracy would help our defeated enemies rebuild, and bring the taste of freedom to millions.
We can do the same for the Middle East. Today the violent Islamic extremists who fight us in Iraq are as certain of their cause as the Nazis, or the Imperial Japanese, or the Soviet communists were of theirs. They are destined for the same fate. (Applause.)
The greatest weapon in the arsenal of democracy is the desire for liberty written into the human heart by our Creator. So long as we remain true to our ideals, we will defeat the extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will help those countries' peoples stand up functioning democracies in the heart of the broader Middle East. And when that hard work is done and the critics of today recede from memory, the cause of freedom will be stronger, a vital region will be brighter, and the American people will be safer.
Thank you, and God bless. (Applause.) END 10:29 A.M. CDT
For Immediate Release October 30, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino James S. Brady Briefing Room, 12:20 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. I have three announcements. First of all, President Bush will welcome Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Washington on November 5, 2007. The Prime Minister's visit underscores the important relationship and friendship and the alliance between the United States and Turkey. The President looks forward to continuing discussions with the Prime Minister on a range of issues on our common agenda, including the fight against terrorism, in particular our joint efforts to counter the PKK, and the promotion of peace and stability in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and the broader Middle East. The President and the Prime Minister will also discuss U.S. support for Turkey's ascension to the European Union and Turkey's efforts towards that goal.
Earlier this morning, the President called U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the situation in Burma. The President emphasized the need to maintain a clear message to the military regime that real political change aimed at a restoration of human rights and democracy is required to end the crisis. The President and the Secretary General agreed on the importance of moving rapidly to a serious dialogue between the military regime and the democratic opposition, particularly Aung San Suu Kyi, to negotiate political arrangements for a return of democratic government. The Secretary General said he expected his special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, to return to Burma for this purpose as early as November 1st, this Thursday.
The President and the Secretary General also discussed Darfur. President Bush reiterated the importance of continuing to put pressure on the respective parties to come up with an agreement that will help end the genocide, and that it is important for the United Nations to get troops into the Darfur region as quickly as possible.
President Bush also called President-elect Kirchner of Argentina this morning. He offered his congratulations on her election victory, and said he looks forward to working with her in the future.
In just about 40 minutes, the President will announce his intention to nominate Lieutenant General James B. Peake to serve as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Peake is a highly decorated veteran who has dedicated his life to caring for the wounded, and has over four decades of experience in military medicine. He also grew up in a military household, and so he is very familiar and understands the importance of caring for America's veterans and their families.
When confirmed by the Senate, Dr. Peake will bring unique experience to the job. He has experience on both sides of the hospital bed, both as a patient for sustaining wounds that he -- occurred in Vietnam, and also as a doctor for over four decades. He will be the first physician and the first general to serve as Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
He has a distinguished military career, which you will hear more from the President on that. He currently is the Chief Operating Officer for QTC Management, and former chief operating officer of Project Hope. Project Hope International he helped establish the operation of a mercy ship that helped in the aftermath of the tsunami with relief efforts to that region. So you'll hear from the President with that in about 40 minutes.
I'll go to questions.
Q Dana, why did the Bush administration give immunity to the Blackwater guards, and is the administration going to hold these guys accountable for what transpired?
MS. PERINO: This is what I can tell you: Secretary Rice has made it very clear that she takes the situation very seriously. It is under review. She said that anyone who has engaged in criminal behavior will be prosecuted. I don't have additional detail that I can provide for you, and I'll have to refer you to the State Department and Justice Department for more.
Q Has the President been briefed on this, or what does he think? What is he saying?
MS. PERINO: I do not know if the President has been briefed on it specifically. I can ask.
Q Were they given immunity or weren't they?
MS. PERINO: Helen, as I said, it's a matter that's under review.
Q (Inaudible) tough questions. Why can't you answer them?
MS. PERINO: Because it is a matter that's under review, and I'm going to refer you to the State or the Justice Department for more.
Q What do you mean "under review"? Why don't you say yes or no?
MS. PERINO: The State Department is the one that is looking into this and they are the ones answering questions on it.
Q So the administration hasn't decided whether or not the reports of that are true? You're still looking into whether or not they actually were?
MS. PERINO: I am going to refer you to the State Department on that, who is looking into it.
Q As a general question, how could you both be offered immunity and promised prosecution?
MS. PERINO: Again, this is being -- this is under review. It's not something that I can talk about from here. Obviously, anyone who is engaged in criminal activity would be of a great concern and it's very serious and it should be prosecuted. Let me let the State Department and the Justice Department answer further questions on it.
Q Also, what is being reviewed? Just so we're clear.
MS. PERINO: The entire situation is being reviewed, from the incident to the aftermath of it. And I just don't have anything more for you that I can say from the podium today.
Q Dana, in the past two months, 13 million toys have been recalled. For those of us whose children are playing with those Thomas the Tank Engines that were painted in lead, that system failed us. Why is it that the administration would oppose a measure that would increase the budget, raise penalties and expand the authority of the Consumer Product Safety Commission?
MS. PERINO: Let me make something really clear. We, first of all, support modernizing and improving the Consumer Product Safety Commission. And, in fact, it was the President that established the Import Safety Working Group that is headed by Secretary Leavitt of the Department of Health and Human Services. He first reported back in September with a report about the situation and then said he would come back to the President by
mid-November with an action plan.
We want to work with Congress on a collaborative effort in order to help modernize and improve the CPSC. This wasn't about the price tag; this was about a couple of the policies that are within a particular bill that is about to be marked up in the Senate either today or tomorrow. On two of those provisions regarding establishment of 50 different jurisdictions to be able to look into these matters, we think that that would be cumbersome and actually not serve people like yourself who are worried about your children.
So we want to work with Congress, it's just going to be something that we want to first get the report back and the action plan in mid-November, work with Congress on figuring out a way forward. So it's not about the price tag or modernizing or improving, it's about this particular bill and this provision.
Q So there's not an objection to that price tag? The administration isn't --
MS. PERINO: Well, we don't know what the price tag is going to be. I think we need to let Secretary Leavitt report back and digest that report and that action plan and then go forward from there. As you know, we don't propose a new budget until February, but it's not about the price tag; it's about the policy, and there's -- just a couple of different policies in there, like the whistle-blower provision, that we think might incentivize people to wait until a problem is too severe so that they could get a financial award rather than stopping something immediately. So it's just those particular provisions and it's something that I think that we can work through.
Q I'm sorry, the whistle-blower provision and what else?
MS. PERINO: The -- there's a state Attorney General provision that would allow for 50 different jurisdictions to be able to go after civil penalties, which we think is probably unwieldy and would not serve consumers well.
Q Dana, a follow that. The whistle-blower provision, according to Al Hubbard's letter, the primary complaint against this legislation is whistle-blowers could get 15 to 25 percent compensation on any civil damages, but that's already in government, in play with the False Claims Act. And those who say that that is working, that's causing people to come forward and report problems. So that's had a track record of success. So why is the administration opposed to it, that people come forward if they see wrong-doings when children's toys are being made or other products that could catch the problem then, before it ever gets to children's mouths?
MS. PERINO: It could be that -- you know, I don't know if there was something duplicative in here or not, but we'll try to get you more into the specific concern. But obviously we have -- we are supportive of the provisions that are currently there. We think that that has helped to identify problems. We'd like to identify problems sooner and faster.
There's never going to be any way that we will have enough people to inspect every single item that comes into this country that's going to be sold on store shelves. But you can have better systems, and that's what we're trying to work towards and I'll see if I can get you more on that provision.
Q What about the provision that they want to see a ban on all lead in children's toys? What does the White House feel about that?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that there are some -- there is some concern regarding how do you test for that. We are concerned about any lead levels that would be proven to be dangerous for children under the current scientific method that they have to evaluate how much lead is in a toy. And so I think that while we work with Congress on this, we'll be identifying these -- the two provisions I mentioned. And we'll work with them on a lead provision, too.
Q The ultimate price tag aside, Dana, do you concede that the commission needs more staff, more specialists, more money for them?
MS. PERINO: Well, that certainly could be included in what Secretary Leavitt comes back with, because we -- as I said, we want to improve and modernize the Consumer Product Safety Commission. I'd like to not prejudice his report and let him come back in mid-November. You can look at the report he did in September, and then it's the action plan that's coming in mid-November. So we're not too far away now, a couple weeks.
Q Well, had the commission caught all of these millions of faulty toys to begin with, you wouldn't have needed that report and that --
MS. PERINO: Well, I think -- well, obviously, the toy situation was very concerning, especially for all the parents out there, and also for the business community, who has to really buckle down and make sure that the products that they're making -- having manufactured overseas are going to be safe for consumers all over the world -- it's not just consumers here.
But we're increasingly becoming a country that is based on trade. And a lot of our growth right now and our economy is from exports from our country, export growth. But we're also importing a lot, as you know. And so it's not just the toy situation that would cause us to want to look at the Consumer Product Safety Commission; it's a range of issues. And also looking into the future, if you project where we're headed, in terms of a more global economy, then it's prudent to take this action now.
Q Well, one of the other objections in this letter talks about your concern that some of these provisions under the Whistle Blower Act would actually encourage whistle blowers to avoid internal company avenues first. Well, wouldn't that be a problem if you're a whistle-blower, to try to do this through internal company avenues? And also, one of the other concerns you raise is that actually some of these whistle-blowers might be doing it this route to get money -- financial incentives.
MS. PERINO: Look, this is how I understand it. If you're on an assembly line, if you work on an assembly line, if you see a problem, you want that problem reported immediately through the company. Now, if the company is non-responsive, of course the whistle-blower has a responsibility to figure out a way to make that known.
Q For example, it's slightly different, but BP -- BP has had a lot of oil spills, and out of fear of retaliation many of these BP workers go through a third party avenue. And I guess -- are you saying that they would have their addresses met better if they actually went through an internal panel?
MS. PERINO: I'm not saying that. I think that the example I gave was quite clear. I'm not going to comment on a specific company.
I'm going to go to April.
Q Back on Blackwater, what does this immunity controversy send to -- what does this say to the Iraqis? Some are saying it sends a bad message to the Iraqis.
MS. PERINO: Well, I think we need to wait and let the investigations take place, April. I think that the President, Secretary Rice, Secretary Gates, Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus have all said that they're very concerned, they are saddened when there is innocent loss of life, and that those procedures needed to be reviewed. There was a report that was given to Secretary Rice that she asked for by her main management guy, Patrick Kennedy. She has accepted those recommendations, and is going to start implementing them. But on that specific incident, I'm going to have to wait until I can provide further comment.
Q Is there a review of any kind of accountability standards for Blackwater and other private security firms there?
MS. PERINO: That's part of the Secretary of State's review.
Q Could you elaborate on what's going on? Because there's a call out of Congress -- Congressman Elijah Cummings --
MS. PERINO: Secretary Rice testified at the House Foreign Affairs Committee last Wednesday, and then again on Thursday, in front of, I think, Waxman's committee. Let me refer you to her testimony, where she talks at length about the review.
Q Well, if you don't mind, Congressman Cummings said either she was unaware or she just didn't want to give the information at the time of that testimony.
MS. PERINO: I think that it is prudent for somebody who is being asked about something that is still under investigation, for them to answer to the best of their ability, and then wait for that investigation to conclude, so that it's not prejudiced.
Q Dana, the Turkish Prime Minister today reaffirmed his readiness to send troops into Northern Iraq, despite U.S. opposition. What does the President hope to accomplish with him on Monday in their talks to prevent the situation from going out of control?
MS. PERINO: I think it goes back to what I said at the beginning, which is, the President looks forward to talking with him. We have a joint desire, a joint need to make sure that the PKK is eradicated, that they are stopped. We understand that the Turks feel that they want to protect their people, and that their soldiers should not be attacked. There are currently eight missing; they have a right to look for them. And the President will talk to them about exercising restraint, limiting the actions against the PKK, and also he will talk to them about making sure that they continue to have that dialogue with the Iraqis, because ultimately the neighbors need to work together to make sure that they solve this problem.
Q Will the President be offering any direct U.S. action or promise of Iraqi action --
MS. PERINO: Let's let the meeting take place. Let's let the meeting take place, and I'll let you know.
Q On the same subject. Do you know if President Bush and the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan are going to discuss the Cyprus issue?
MS. PERINO: Can we let the meeting take place and then I'll let you know? It's a little too early to say.
Anybody else on Turkey?
Q On Lieutenant General Peake -- Senator Patty Murray has already come out with some reaction, by saying that Dr. Peake is going to have serious and significant questions to answer about failed preparations for our returning wounded warriors. She goes on to talk about Walter Reed, and she says, I will want to know what role, if any, Dr. Peake played in the failures of the system. Do you have any reaction?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'm sure that Dr. Peake will answer all the questions that the Senate presents to him in a full way. He's going to put the care of veterans first. That's what he's done his entire career. He was one of the first to work on electronic medical records. I think it will be good to have somebody who has the DOD perspective to be able to work within the Veterans Affairs Committee -- Department. One of the things that the Dole-Shalala recommendations suggested was that there be more integration and be more understanding of how the two systems work, because as you have people coming out of combat duty and into the Veterans Affairs system, there had been a breakdown in communication. He will be able to help bridge that gap.
And so he'll answer all of the questions fully, and I think that he'll -- I think that they'll realize that having this person, who is the first general and the first physician to be in charge of veterans' care, will be a good way to run the department.
Q Are you anticipating a tough confirmation fight?
MS. PERINO: Well, that will be up to the senators. I think that he'll go up and he'll meet -- we'll have courtesy visits soon. I'd be surprised if a lot of them don't know him, but to the extent that they don't, he'll go up, meet with leadership and then the committees, and then we expand beyond that. We'd hope that they would want to confirm him quickly. The Dole-Shalala recommendations include many things that the executive branch can do, so he will assume responsibility for implementing those.
And then there's things that Congress needs to do, as well. There's the Veterans Affairs appropriations bill that has been approved by the House -- I think over 150 days ago, approved by the Senate over 50 days ago, and Congress has yet to act. And so there might be a lot of bluster about a big fight, big confirmation fight, but we don't anticipate it, and we don't see any need for it.
Q Dana, can I ask you about the President's statement this morning, in which he blasted Congress for spending -- or proposed spending that is skyrocketing, in his words. But according to even some conservative analysts, the President's budgets have grown at twice the rate of even President Clinton's, the fastest rise in spending since the Carter administration. So is this a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black here?
MS. PERINO: No, I disagree. First of all, what the President said today is that you can't find a bill that they are contemplating up on Capitol Hill where they don't want to include a tax increase. And the President is going to stand firm, and he's not going to increase taxes on the American people, because he doesn't think it's necessary. The President did, I think two years ago, show the American people how we can get to a surplus by 2012. If you pass bills that have $9 billion here, $9 billion there, $11 billion in another place, that all adds up and we won't be able to meet that goal of the country, because the Congress is not suggesting any offsets.
But what I will remind you is that early on the administration, after September 11th, we did have to spend a lot more money on national security, and the President doesn't apologize for that. However, when we had a Republican Congress, the Republican Congress worked within the President's top line in terms of the appropriations bills, and that's one of the reasons the President didn't have to veto a bill.
Q But didn't the President also usher in a new philosophy in which you could go to war and not have any tax increases, not have any additional revenue raised, or a corresponding sacrifice that was asked all across the --
MS. PERINO: Let's remember something. The President is the one who is -- who put in place pro-growth economic policies that have worked. The economy is moving forward with --
Q He was talking about the budget bill.
MS. PERINO: Well, what I'm saying is that he --
Q With a Republican Congress.
MS. PERINO: -- but part of that economic policy was a tax cut in order to help drive revenue growth in this country, which has happened, and job growth has increased as well. We can -- the President has shown a way that we can do both. The federal government has plenty of money. We don't need to raise taxes on the American people. That's the President's bottom line.
Q So why won't he -- why wasn't there a better record after having a Republican Congress for seven of his eight years?
MS. PERINO: But as I said -- but I would disagree in terms of the record. The Republican Congress stayed within the President's top line. What you're seeing now from this Congress is a $9 billion increase over here, $11 billion here, $9 billion over here, without any offsets in terms of savings. Last February we provided the Congress with, I think, $92 or $94 billion worth of cost-savings that they could identify if they wanted to raise revenue somewhere else, but they continue to turn a blind eye to that as well.
The President has had a good record working with Republicans, but the most important thing right now is to keep us on a track so we can get to a balanced budget -- in fact a surplus by 2012. That's the track we're on and we're only a few years away from it.
Q On this topic, Dana. The President said -- cited media reports this morning about this policy or this proposal to bundle these three bills together to send them up here to the White House. What do your legislative affairs people say? Does the White House believe that's actually going to happen?
MS. PERINO: There's a -- you know, you hear rumors, but we don't have a lot of information that comes to us about the exact tactics of the Democrats, and so you pick up things where you can.
The tactic of putting the Labor-HHS appropriations bill onto the bills that are supposed to fund our military and our veterans, the President thinks is an absolute no -- a non-starter. He said that our troops should not be held hostage to
a $9 billion increase -- or $11 billion increase in the Labor-HHS bill that would be for domestic spending. And the President called it a three car pile-up -- a three bill pile-up. And he is just going to reject it.
And I actually think that the American people think that's pretty unfair, as well. When the House and the Senate have both passed bills in order to fund our veterans, that they can't find it in themselves to appoint conferees to go to conference and to get a bill to the President's desk before Veterans Day, it's a little bit unconscionable.
Q So even if they roll in four to five months of Iraq spending into that DOD bill, as well, it's just a non-starter?
MS. PERINO: We think that the troops should be -- we think the troops should be fully funded. We do not have an installment plan for our troops. They are there, they're going to need money from here on out, until we finish our business there in Iraq. As the President has said, we'll have a longer-term presence, but hopefully much reduced from where we are today.
Congress has shown that it can't even get a bill passed from -- let's see, we're in the 10th month -- if we can't get one appropriations bill passed by this month, well, then, it doesn't really make sense to wait another -- to try to do this every four or five months, to fund the troops. It's not a good way to run a business; it's not a way you should run the government.
Q A follow-up on that, Dana?
MS. PERINO: No, Paula, you've already had two.
Q So have other people. This is on the budget.
Les, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Dana; two questions. Agency French Press reports that of the 100 bills passed by Congress and signed into law since the Democrats became the majority, 46 of the 100 name post offices, court houses and roads. And my question: Does the President believe this Congress is earning the title "do nothing" or not?
MS. PERINO: Well, you've heard the President, himself, say that. Look, there's many of these post offices -- are being named for veterans of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan or other places. And that is appropriate. But certainly Congress should be able to get a lot of other work done.
MS. PERINO: Last one for you.
Q How many of Southern California's fires does the White House estimate as having been caused by arsonists? And how many of these are arsonists were illegal aliens?
MS. PERINO: You'll have to -- let me refer to California authorities. I think that there was at least one arson, but I don't believe it was anyone who was an illegal alien.
Q Dana, the lead Palestinian negotiator said this morning that there will just not be any peace talks with Israel unless there is a deadline set for creation of a Palestinian state. Israelis have said no to that before. Is the peace conference that was originally supposed to be next month in trouble?
MS. PERINO: I think it's -- no, I don't think that it's in trouble. I think that you'll see Secretary Rice head back to the region later this week; within the next several days she's going to go to Istanbul, to the Iraqi Neighbors Conference and then she'll go back to the Middle East.
And I think that what you'll see between now and the time that we have a meeting is a lot of people expressing what they'd like to see. But right now the Israelis and the Palestinians are having conversations about the serious and substantive issues to get to a core set of principles that they can agree on before they have this meeting. And as they have those talks, you might hear conditions that they would like to see. But until there's something final, I think we'll decline to comment specifically on that. But when Secretary Rice goes to the region to try to continue to help pull the people together, we'll have more of an idea about the conference.
Q Is November off now?
MS. PERINO: Not necessarily, but I haven't heard anything -- I mean, it's only October 30th.
Q Dana --
MS. PERINO: I'm going to go to Olivier, because he's had his hand up the whole time.
Q Dana, two quick ones. First, at the outset, when you announced the Turkish Prime Minister meeting, you said there were common efforts to eradicate the PKK. What are those common efforts?
MS. PERINO: Well, as General Petraeus has said, we have been cooperating, but he was not going to detail that out. And so I don't think it would be appropriate for me to do so either.
Q And is Russia undermining the unity of purpose on Iran?
MS. PERINO: Look, the President had a good conversation with President Putin the other day. He believes that the U.N. Security Council still unanimously believes that Iran should not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.
Q When did they talk?
MS. PERINO: They talked last Monday.
Q A follow-up question on Iran?
MS. PERINO: Okay, I'm going to go back here. Go ahead.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two quick questions. One, Secretary of Treasury Mr. Paulson is in India with a wide variety of agenda on his mind, and we met him before he left Washington, to New Delhi. One is he is talking about the stalled U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement, which is in the Indian parliament. My question is that is it carrying really any special message from the President on this issue, and also there is some concern --
MS. PERINO: Let me just answer that question and then I'll go to Helen. The President feels that we have a very good relationship with India on a variety of levels, and that includes the civil nuclear program. We would like to have cooperation with India. We realize that there are internal politics that need to be worked out, and that's one of the -- one of the things that Secretary Paulson is talking about, but we cooperate with India on a variety of topics, and will hope -- hopefully they'll be able to sort out their internal politics and move on.
I'm going to come up here to Helen. Go ahead.
Q Would the President seek an explicit green light from Congress if he intended to bomb or attack Iran, or does he think he has that right?
MS. PERINO: Well, Helen, there is no intention of bombing Iran. We are on a diplomatic track. We are working with our partners, the U.N. Security Council. We have provided them, the Iranians, a road map to get to a civil nuclear program. They have walked away from that. We are hoping that they'll come back. We are both working with our U.N. Security Council partners as well as pursuing sanctions on our own, and there is not an intention to bomb Iran, as you said.
Q Does the President think he has the right to do it without going through Congress?
MS. PERINO: That is -- it's a hypothetical situation, Helen. I'm not going to answer it.
Q It's not hypothetical. It's concrete.
MS. PERINO: Go ahead. Sarah.
Q Thank you. Dana, does the President feel the Democrats in Congress should pass a bill allowing Allawi waterboarding?
MS. PERINO: There has been a lot of conversation about interrogation techniques. I'm not going to talk about any one in particular. The Congress has spoke on it several times, in terms of passing legislation that the President has signed, and we're just going to leave it at that.
Q Thank you, Dana.
MS. PERINO: Okay, thank you. END 12:45 P.M. EDT
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 30, 2007
President Bush Meets with President Museveni of Uganda Oval Office, 10:37 A.M. EDT
PRESIDENT BUSH: Mr. President, thanks for coming. Second time we have met here in the Oval Office, and I told the President that I remember distinctly his description of what life was like in Uganda, particularly when it comes to his raising cows; he's a cattleman, and it gave us something to talk about.
But we talked about other issues as well. I am very proud that the United States taxpayer has supported this President in his efforts to deal with HIV/AIDS. And Uganda is the epitome of how one can implement a comprehensive ABC strategy to achieve concrete and specific results for the sake of humanity. And so, Mr. President, I assure you we'll continue to support you on HIV/AIDS and, equally important, we'll support you on fighting malaria. And I thank you for your determined efforts.
We also talked about the benefit of trade between the United States and the continent of Africa, and the President reminded me how important AGOA is to promote better lives in our respective countries. And so, Mr. President, thank you for that vision.
We talked about a lot of other subjects. We talked about the security in the region. The President has got good advice and has got good judgment when it comes to issues like Somalia and the Sudan. I assured him that we're committed to peace and stability. Matter of fact, I informed the President today that I spoke to the Secretary General of the United Nations about Sudan, and how I think it is important to continue putting the pressure on respective parties to come up with an agreement that will help end the genocide. And it's important for the United Nations to get moving those troops into the Darfur region as quickly as possible.
And of course we discussed about the peace between -- the agreement between south and north of Sudan, and our desire is to make sure we implement that agreement.
And finally we talked about eligibility for Millennium Challenge. I told the President this is a very important program. I hope that Congress fully funds Millennium Challenge, and that we will work with Uganda on their eligibility.
And so Mr. President, thanks for coming. Really good to see you again. I appreciate you taking time to visit with me here in the Oval Office.
PRESIDENT MUSEVENI: I thank President Bush for welcoming me here. As he told you, we are most pleased with AGOA -- African Growth and Opportunity Act. This is where the United States opens their market for African value-added products, or products of all other types, for 6,500 products.
Now this is a very big opportunity. As you know, the United States market is a big market, $11 trillion market. The whole of the African market today is about half a trillion dollars, if it was integrated. Of course it will grow -- it will grow as the purchasing power of Africa grows, our whole market will also grow.
However in the short-run, exporting to the U.S. market is a very good stimulus for our economies to grow fast. So we are very, very pleased with President Bush for sustaining this AGOA arrangement, which has helped our economies. Uganda is already exporting processed fish from Lake Victoria to the U.S. This is good also for the American consumers because this fish is very good for health. There's very little pollution in our part of the world, so it's very good for the American people also. So I thanked him for that.
I also thanked him for the Millennium Challenge Account. That money will now be used to develop infrastructure in the country of Uganda. So if you have access to big markets in Africa, in the United States, in the European Union -- even China has opened their market partially to us; they have offered us 440 products, tariff-free, quota-free. But you need good infrastructure within a country like Uganda, as well as other African countries, so that you can produce goods at low cost. Because if you have got low transport costs, you have got low energy costs, therefore the cost of doing business are low, are reasonable. Therefore you can be competitive in the expanded markets, and also in the regional markets. So I thanked him again for that Millennium Challenge Account.
I thank him for the malaria and HIV fund. That one is very, very useful. We want to get rid of the mosquito in Uganda. We are doing research to get rid of the mosquito larvae. And again, we have worked with the Center for Disease Control in the United States, whom you sent to us. There's a hope that we can get rid of the mosquito at the larvae stage, because we have got some larvae (inaudible), which can kill it.
Of course we also talked about security issues. But most important, AGOA, Millennium Challenge Account, malaria and HIV, that's what we talked about mainly.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Sir, thank you. END 10:44 A.M. EDT
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 30, 2007
President Bush Urges Congress to Pass Appropriations Bills North Portico, 10:38 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. I just had a very constructive and important meeting with the leadership and the Republican members of the United States House of Representatives. And I want to thank you all for coming down, and thank you for your leadership.
Congress is not getting its work done. We're near the end of the year, and there really isn't much to show for it. The House of Representatives has wasted valuable time on a constant stream of investigations, and the Senate has wasted valuable time on an endless series of failed votes to pull our troops out of Iraq. And yet there's important work to be done on behalf of the American people.
They have not been able to send a single annual appropriations bill to my desk, and that's the worst record for a Congress in 20 years. One of the important responsibilities of the Congress is to pass appropriations bills. And yet the leadership that's on the Hill now cannot get that job done.
They've also passed an endless series of tax increases. You know, they proposed tax increases in the farm bill, the energy bill, the small business bill, and of course, the SCHIP bill. They haven't seen a bill they could not solve without shoving a tax hike into it. In other words, they believe in raising taxes, and we don't.
Spending is skyrocketing under their leadership -- at least proposed spending is skyrocketing under their leadership. After all, they're trying to spend an additional $205 billion over the next five years. Some have said, well, that doesn't matter much; it's not that much money. Well, $205 billion over the next five years in the real world amounts to this: $4.7 million per hour, every hour, for every day, for the next five years. That's a lot of money.
And that doesn't even include spending that would actually pay for 2 million people to move from private health insurance to an inefficient, lower-quality, government-run program. Despite knowing it does not have a chance of becoming law, the Senate will now take up the second SCHIP bill the House passed last week. I believe the Senate is wasting valuable time. This bill, remarkably, manages to spend more money over five years than the first bill did.
After going alone and going nowhere, Congress should instead work with the administration on a bill that puts poor children first; a bill that will take care of the poor children that the initial bill said we got to do; a bill that would stop diverting money to adults. You realize some major states in the United States spend more money on adults than they do on children? We want a bill that enrolls the more than 500,000 poor children currently eligible for the program who are not a part of the program.
We want to sit down in good faith and come up with a bill that is responsible, because Congress has been unable or unwilling to get its basic job done of passing spending bills. There are now reports that congressional leaders may be considering combining the Veterans and Department of Defense appropriations bills, and then add a bloated Labor, Health and Education spending bill to both of them.
It's hard to imagine a more cynical political strategy than trying to hold hostage funding for our troops in combat and our wounded warriors in order to extract $11 billion in additional social spending. I hope media reports about such a strategy are wrong, I really do. If they're not, if the reports of this strategy are true, I will veto such a three-bill pileup. Congress should pass each bill one at a time in a fiscally responsible manner that reflects agreement between the legislative branch and the executive branch.
I again ask Congress to send me a clean Veterans funding bill that we have already agreed to by Veterans Day, so we can keep America's promise to those who have defended our freedom and are recovering from injury. I again urge them to pass a clean Defense appropriations bill, and a war supplemental bill to fund our troops in combat.
I know some on the Democrat side didn't agree with my decision to send troops in, but it seems like we ought to be able to agree that we're going to support our troops who are in harm's way. I know the members feel that way, standing with me. I hope the leadership feels that way, and they ought to give me a bill that funds, among other things, bullets, and body armor, and protection against IEDs, and mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles. It would be irresponsible to not give our troops the resources they need to get their job done because Congress was unable to get its job done.
Again, I want to thank the members here. I appreciate us working together for the good of the United States of America. God bless. END 10:45 A.M. EDT
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 27, 2007
President's Radio Address
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. On Thursday, I traveled to California to visit communities ravaged by wildfires. I walked with a married couple through the charred remains of their home. I met with emergency responders. I talked with displaced families at a disaster assistance center. And I made a pledge to the people of California on behalf of all Americans: We will help you put out the fires, get through the crisis, and rebuild your lives.
State and local authorities in California were well prepared for this crisis, and they responded quickly and effectively. Officials warned those in danger, moved residents out of the path of the flames, and set up dozens of shelters for thousands of people. State officials also reached out to the Federal government for help. And we responded. Shortly after the fires broke out, we started mobilizing and providing assistance, including the deployment of Federal firefighters and aircraft to drop fire retardant on the fires. As high winds spread the fires, Governor Schwarzenegger requested more Federal help. Within one hour of that request, we approved an emergency declaration that authorized Federal agencies across the government to help state and local responders save lives, protect property, and maintain public health and safety.
On Wednesday, I issued a second declaration. This action made additional Federal funding available to the residents of the counties affected by the wildfires, so they can recover and rebuild. This Federal assistance includes grants for temporary housing and home repair, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, loans for small business owners, and funding to help clean up debris.
I was impressed by the performance of the first responders I met in California. Despite the challenges of high winds and dry weather, firefighters are gaining the upper hand and earning the gratitude of their fellow citizens. Many of these brave men and women have battled the blaze in triple-digit heat. Some have worked around the clock. And more than once, firefighting teams were forced to take emergency shelter in their fire tents when threatened by approaching walls of flame. I was grateful for the opportunity to meet them, and I thank them for their courage.
I was also encouraged by the spirit of the families I met. At one recovery center, I met an amazing young girl named Alyssa Lamborn. Alyssa told me, "I lost my house, but I didn't lose my home -- because my family and my pets are safe." I saw this same spirit in many others who are grateful for their safety and determined to rebuild.
People like Alyssa and her family are receiving help from their fellow Americans. Some have opened their homes to strangers who were evacuated and could not find a hotel room. Doctors and nurses have answered the call to help seniors who were forced from their nursing homes. And volunteers from every walk of life have come forward to provide food, clothing, and blankets -- and a shoulder to lean on.
I went to Southern California with a message: We want you to know the country cares for you. We're concerned about you, your neighborhoods, and your homes. Things may look dismal now, but there is a better day ahead. And we will not forget you in Washington, D.C.
Thank you for listening. END
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 26, 2007
President Bush Discusses Appropriations Roosevelt Room, 10:32 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I went out to California yesterday to meet with families affected by the wildfires, and to thank the state and local officials for their outstanding work in this difficult time. While I was there I saw the terrible destruction and heartbreaking loss. Yet I was also encouraged by the spirit I found -- the families determined to rebuild, the volunteers who stepped forward to help neighbors in need, and the first responders who have shown such courage in battling the flames and caring for those who were displaced.
I returned to Washington late last night. And when I got back to the White House, I was disappointed by what Congress had been doing -- and even more disappointed by what they had not been doing. This week, the majority in the House passed a new SCHIP bill that costs more over the next five years than the one I vetoed three weeks ago. It still moves millions of American children who now have private health insurance into government-run health care. It raises taxes to pay for it. And it fails to do what needs to be done: to put poor children first.
After I vetoed their last SCHIP bill, I designated members of my administration to work with Congress to find common ground. Congressional leaders never met with them. Instead, the House once again passed a bill that they knew would not become law. And incredibly enough, the Senate will take up the same bill next week, which wastes valuable time.
As the House was debating SCHIP, the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee unveiled a massive tax package that raises taxes on more than a million small business owners, among others. Earlier this week, Congress sent me a fiscally irresponsible water resources bill. The House version came in at $15 billion. The Senate version came in at $14 billion. So the House and Senate compromised -- and sent me a bill that costs $23 billion. In Washington, they call that "splitting the difference."
And today Congress set a record they should not be proud of: October the 26th is the latest date in 20 years that Congress has failed to get a single annual appropriations bill to the President's desk. And that's not the only thing congressional leaders have failed to get done.
They have yet to make the Internet tax moratorium permanent, or even extend it -- even though this moratorium is set to expire in just a few days. The House and Senate have both passed temporary extensions but have not agreed on a final bill. I urge Congress to keep the Internet tax-free -- and to get a bill to my desk that I can sign.
They have yet to move Judge Michael Mukasey's nomination to be Attorney General out of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- even as members complain about the lack of leadership at the Department of Justice.
They have yet to act on our emergency war funding supplemental -- even though our troops on the front lines depend on these vital funds to fight our enemies and to keep us safe at home.
This is not what congressional leaders promised when they took control of Congress earlier this year. In January, one congressional leader declared, and I quote: "No longer can we waste time here in the Capitol, while families in America struggle to get ahead." He was right. Only a few weeks left on the legislative calendar -- Congress needs to keep their promise, to stop wasting time, and get essential work done on behalf of the American people.
Thank you. END 10:36 A.M. EDT
For Immediate Release October 26, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino James S. Brady Briefing Room, 12:39 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Happy Friday. I do not have anything to start with.
Q Do you want to address the remarks by President Putin, who said the United States setting up a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe was like the Soviet Union putting missiles in Cuba, setting up a Cuban Missile Crisis?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that the historical comparison is not -- does not exactly work. What I can say is what President Putin went on to say, which is that the President and President Putin have said that we can work together on this. President Putin said that today, that he believes that there's a path where the United States and Russia can work to figure out a way to get the system to work in a way that works for both people -- for both countries.
The purpose of the missile defense system in Europe is to defend against a missile that would attack one of our European allies and Russia; and that's the purpose of it. And as President Putin identified two people to work with, two people the President designated -- Secretaries Rice and Gates -- who were just there last week. And our military leaders are in communication to try to figure out if we can use some of their technology in order to make this system work.
Q So you don't think this is a heightening of tensions over the missile shield?
MS. PERINO: I think if anyone takes a look at his entire comments and looks at them objectively, there's no way you could walk away without thinking that he thinks that we can work together.
Q As a follow-up, Dana, have you gotten any readout -- I asked Tony about this earlier -- on the President's conversation with Putin since the visit to Iran and what his sense was of the gap between the U.S. on this and on Iran policy?
MS. PERINO: Well, we -- yes, and I think we have provided a readout on that. That call happened I think -- maybe Monday, or earlier in the week; it was definitely earlier in the week, I think it was Monday -- might have been Tuesday. But President Putin had a conversation where they talked about a variety of issues, including the issue of Iran. And the President does believe that Iran -- that Russia agrees that Iran should not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. And he came away feeling that that was a solid answer from President Putin.
Q Staying with Iran for a second. On the unintended side events, perhaps, you know oil closed at the record-high yesterday. What's the concern that as the rhetoric with Iran gets ratcheted up, that what the main way Americans will feel the impact is higher oil prices?
MS. PERINO: Well, higher oil prices are something that has been building up for over a decade and it's something that the President has been talking since 2001 -- which is a way to try to get our country to move away from traditional fossil fuel oil use and to look at alternatives and also conservation. There's several initiatives the President has put forward; one right now is pending in front of Congress. It's 20 percent reduction in gasoline use in 10 years, by 2017. So there's a lot of different ways that we can do that. The problem here --
Q The way the markets seem to digest what was happening yesterday was that as tensions escalate, it may cut off the flow of oil.
MS. PERINO: Well, I'm not going to comment on market conditions or market movements; there's a lot of different factors that go into that. Part of what we have in our -- in the world is very high demand and not enough supply, and so providing alternatives to traditional oil use is what the President is focused on.
Look, the problem here isn't the United States, it's not the international community. The problem is Iran, and Iran has not stepped back from trying to pursue a nuclear weapon, and -- or reprocessing and enriching uranium, which would lead to a nuclear weapon. We have provided Iran with a path in order to have a civilian nuclear program. They have not taken that path. And so yesterday what we did is identify additional sanctions that we could put -- that we could use, in addition to the diplomacy, so that we can put pressure on the Iranians so that they will change their behavior.
Q And one follow. Is the White House concerned that as a result of those sanctions, oil prices may go up?
MS. PERINO: Look, oil prices are a concern across the board. We have very tight supply, and we have growing demand, and not just from our country. When you have growing countries like China, with an economic growth rate of 11 percent last quarter -- and they need a lot of resources in order to make their economy grow.
So what we have to do in the United States is look to alternatives, not just because of oil prices, but because of the environmental benefits, as well.
Q Dana, on Tuesday, FEMA's deputy administrator held what was called a news briefing to talk about the California wildfires. And from what we understand, the questions were posed not by reporters, but by staffers, and that distinction was not made known. Is that appropriate?
MS. PERINO: It is not. It is not a practice that we would employ here at the White House or that we -- we certainly don't condone it. We didn't know about it beforehand. FEMA has issued an apology, saying that they had an error in judgment when they were attempting to try to get out a lot of information to reporters, who were asking for answers to a variety of questions in regards to the wildfires in California. It's not something I would have condoned, and they, I'm sure, will not do it again.
Q Who is responsible?
MS. PERINO: FEMA is responsible, and they have taken that -- they have accepted that responsibility, and they issued an apology today.
Q But isn't -- a follow-up on that. Isn't there a normal morning call with all the press secretaries of all the agencies here, and whether somebody is having a press briefing or not is discussed?
MS. PERINIO: We have a variety of ways that we talk to the -- communicate to the communicators in the agency. FEMA is not on that daily call, no, and I don't know if the DHS -- the head of DHS communications knew about it either. But FEMA has apologized for the error in judgment.
Q Dana, why didn't this raise alarm bells, in terms of credibility, with anyone there?
MS. PERINO: You'll have to ask them. They have admitted that they had an error in judgment. I would agree with that. They've issued an apology. You'll have to ask them about why they decided to do that.
Q But isn't the President concerned, at a time when he is traveling to the area to talk about a very significant natural disaster -- there have been issues about FEMA in the past, trying to make a distinction about progress made, and for them to effectively pretend to hold a news conference, doesn't the President have concerns about that?
MS. PERINO: I just said that the White House did not know about it before hand, and the White House condones* [sic] it. And they have apologized for it. They had an error in judgment, they've admitted that. And I think that what they were -- I don't think that there was any mal-intent. I think that they were trying to provide information to the public through the press, because there were so many questions pouring in. It was just a bad way to handle it, and they know that.
Q Will anybody be reprimanded?
MS. PERINO: You'll have to ask FEMA.
Q Dana, back on Iraq for a moment. There was another Putin analogy. Yesterday he compared the U.S. imposing of new sanctions on Iran to -- we're running around like a madman with a blade in his hands. And can you comment on that and the critics' view that these sanctions are counterproductive to the U.S. objective of getting Iran to give up its nuclear programs.
MS. PERINO: The sanctions are part of the diplomatic process, and that has been laid out for several years. We are being very patient with Iran. We have laid out a schedule for them to be able to comply with the unanimous consent of the U.N. Security Council, that they need to stop the enrichment and reprocessing activities that they have going on in their country.
Again, this is not -- the United States is not at fault. The international community is not at fault. Iran is at fault for not stopping its activities. And sanctions are part of the diplomatic process, they buttress the diplomatic process. They make it clear that we are very serious about making sure that they do not have a path to get a nuclear weapon. So I reject the notion that it is irresponsible, because I think it is quite responsible and shows that we are, one, serious, but that we also are committed to the diplomatic path, and that we are going to buttress that with sanctions.
Q And as to whether these kinds of comments by President Putin show that he's not anywhere near on the same page as the Bush administration?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on them.
Q Can I ask you about President Putin? I mean, how would you characterize the relationship with President Putin? I mean, is he a strong U.S. ally with rhetoric like this? And also the Cuban missile comparison, is that helpful?
MS. PERINO: I think that -- look, the President has said that we have a good but complicated and complex relationship with Russia. And the President has a relationship with President Putin, one, that he treats him with a lot of respect, and because of that, he's able to have very frank and honest discussions with him. And I think the relationship -- in a variety of ways, we work well together on many different issues.
In any -- when you're dealing with a world leader that has a different point of view, you don't come out and slam them for that, just because they have a different point of view on a particular thing. But the bottom line is Iran does agree that -- I'm sorry, Russia agrees that Iran should not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. That hasn't changed.
We want to see China and Russia do more in regards to the sanctions that we have followed through on, that are part of the U.N. Security Council resolutions. But just because you have a complicated or complex relationship doesn't mean it can't also be a good one.
Q But it doesn't (inaudible) where this relationship is headed in the future? It doesn't seem to bode well for where the U.S. --
MS. PERINO: Well, I think the President has done a very good job of making sure that this country has good relationships with Russia, and that's across the board. And I think one of the things you can look at is just last week he sent his Secretaries of State and Defense to Russia to have conversations with the leaders of Russia for the -- with their foreign minister and defense minister. But they also met with President Putin, as well. And President Bush meets with President Putin quite often; he just saw him at the beginning of September in Sydney, and I'm sure they'll see each other again at the next international meeting.
So we have a good relationship, but it's complex. None of these things are easy. It's just something that takes time, and we are patient and we work through them all.
Anybody else on Iran or Putin?
Q Yes. The Russians seem to be concerned that -- especially in light of the latest sanctions the U.S. has proposed -- Iran is being pushed toward a corner for which there is no diplomatic solution; that it's only war. So what are your expectations of the President's -- the White House declaration yesterday, basically that if you do business with Iran you cannot do business with the United States?
MS. PERINO: Well, not only are they trying to pursue -- they are not halting their enrichment and reprocessing activities in Iran, but they are also state sponsors of terror and sponsoring terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. It is the height of responsibility to put sanctions on Iran that buttress our diplomatic efforts.
We provided a path. We, along with our -- the P5-plus-1, together, provided a path for Iran to have a civil nuclear program. They have decided to reject that path, and so we continue to push, very patiently, the diplomacy that the President has laid out, along with his allies, and we are going to continue to do so. Iran has a choice to make. The problem is not with us, it is with Iran.
Q But my question actually went to Russia and China.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q The declaration seems to be, if you can do business with Iran, you can't do business with the U.S. Are you telling Russia and China and their banks, you must divest yourself of investments in Iran, or you can't do business with the U.S.?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think it's a little bit more complicated than that -- how sanctions work, and I'll have to refer you over to Stuart Levey at the Treasury Department for how all that works. In fact, he and Secretary -- Under Secretary of State Nick Burns did a full briefing yesterday where they lay out a lot of these details, because sanctions work in different ways.
Q All right, let me ask another general question then. It was May that we had talked with Iran about providing weapons to insurgents in Iraq. Have you basically concluded that trying to talk to Iran about that is also a waste of time?
MS. PERINO: Well, look, we continue to try to talk with them. And in fact, what Secretary Rice said yesterday, she reiterated something she said for months, which is, she would meet with Iran's Foreign Minister anytime, anywhere, if they would want to meet and have these discussions. We are very concerned that Iran is targeting our soldiers in Iraq. The Iraqis are concerned that Iran is meddling in its business. And these sanctions push Iran to understand that we are very serious about making sure that our soldiers are kept safe and that they are not allowed -- to the greatest extent possible that we can -- not allowed to fund state sponsors of terror, like Hezbollah. And that's what the sanctions are meant to do.
Anyone else on this? Okay, we'll move on. Roger.
Q It's oil-related.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q Oil was trading at $92 a barrel today. That's 51 percent higher than a year ago. Is there any concern that it's going to start damaging the economy?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'm not an economist -- and we could try to get you together with Eddie Lazear -- but we do believe that oil prices are way too high, especially for families who deal -- if you have a family budget, the one item that you don't have flexibility on is on your energy cost: You have to pay to heat your home and pay for gas in your car so that you can get to work and back. We have to look for alternatives. That's what we are trying to do. We are asking the Congress to move forward as well.
What is amazing is that our economy has been so resilient over the past several years, despite high energy prices. We have good job growth, we have good exports. Of course the housing market has taken a beating and we're trying to work through that and see if we can make sure that there are measures in place to allow people to keep their homes, but certainly energy prices are a concern. One of the best ways to help bring them down is to broaden out supply. And I would submit to you that the energy bills that the Congress is now putting -- pushing forward by the Democrats do not include a lot of energy production. There's not in that -- there's not a lot of energy in the energy bill, and we would like them to take a second look at that and get something to the President before Christmas.
Q But the main two reasons are the Iran sanctions thing and the tension between Turks and Iraqis.
MS. PERINO: Look, I think there could be a lot of reasons that oil prices go high. I'm not going to comment on the market movements; there's plenty of people around this country who would. But I think that the problem comes down -- the basic problem comes down to supply and demand, and that's something that we are trying to address.
Q Same question.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q You know, back when the President Bush was running for office and he was weighing out an energy --
MS. PERINO: In 2000?
Q No, the last election.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q When he was weighing out his energy policy, he talked about the need for expanding refineries in this country, but that's gone from your vocabulary. All you talk about is renewables. Does that mean that the President is no longer in --
MS. PERINO: Well, maybe that's my fault. I mean, I can talk about -- we have an entire comprehensive package in our energy proposal, and in fact Al Hubbard, the President's Economic Advisor, sent to Congress just last week a letter outlining what we could and couldn't accept in an energy bill.
Now, of course expanding refining capacity in our country is critically important. It's really tight right now. And as you have -- when you have maintenance that has to happen every year, you have -- that refinery pressure is even more constricted. And so we do want additional refineries. You do run into some problems of citing these permits at different places around the country, because people don't like to have them in their backyards. But it's something we have to deal with.
Q Republicans and Democrats are trying to kill a refinery expansion in northern Indiana that was approved by the EPA -- part of it was approved by the EPA. And the White House and the Energy Department have pretty much been silent. They've left Governor Mitch Daniels out there to hang. I'm wondering why the administration --
MS. PERINO: Can I look into it? I don't know about that specific refinery. I do know that the President supports expanding refinery capacity in the country. We'll get back to you on it.
Q Dana, in your answer I think to Elaine about the Putin-Bush relationship, you said that "when you disagree with a world leader you don't go out there and slam them." Was that aimed at President Putin?
MS. PERINO: No, it was more aimed at you all. (Laughter.) Every time I come in here, and you ask me about President Putin's comments, it's like you want me to say something derogatory or negative about another world leader on behalf of the President. And I'm not going to do it.
Q So you weren't saying that President Putin acted inappropriately by coming out and --
MS. PERINO: No, no, I am not saying that.
Q Dana, the Committee to Protect Journalists, citing recent physical attacks on reporters in the Democratic Republic of Congo, today urged President Bush to raise that topic with President Kabila. Do you know if that topic came up?
MS. PERINO: I didn't. I didn't get a chance to sit in on that, but I'll check.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. Senate bill 505, the so-called Hawaii apartheid bill, has resurfaced recently. And this is the one that would permit native Hawaiians to declare themselves a sovereign nation. Does the administration have a position on that?
MS. PERINO: John, I know that we have expressed one in the past; I can't remember exactly what our position is. But if there's not a statement of administration policy out there -- there's a SAP out, so we'll get a copy of that for you right after the briefing.
Q The other thing, Dana, is, in California recently, campaign has started to place a measure on the ballot that would change the electoral college distribution or electoral vote distribution from statewide to winner-take-all by congressional district, the way they do it in Maine and Nebraska. And a lot of the President's friends are behind it, I noticed. Is the administration in favor of it?
MS. PERINO: Well, it's the first I've heard of it, and I don't know what the President's position is on it.
Q Read my column; it's all about it. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Great advertisement.
Q It's estimated that up to 2 million housing foreclosures could happen if restrictions aren't lifted, in terms of sub-prime mortgages. And I just wondered, does the White House have any second thoughts about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in terms of any kind of relaxation?
MS. PERINO: I'm not well-versed in all of the details. I do know that we have FHA modernization bill that we would like the Congress to pass.
One thing I should point out, last night -- well, within the last 24 hours, since the President has been in California, there have been two additions to the help that we can provide to people in California. One is the Department of Labor issued $50 million worth of grants for people looking for work. And this allows California to hire people who have lost their jobs to help with the recovery and the cleanup. And in addition to that, HUD has put a 90-day moratorium on some types of foreclosures, so that people can get their feet on the ground and make sure that they are taken care of down there in Southern California.
But I'll ask Tony Fratto to get back to you on that.
Q In the statement this morning, the President talked about SCHIP. One of his concerns was that there were not any negotiations with those that he chose. But I wondered, has the White House invited Congress -- congressional leaders to come here, or does it intend to invite them to come --
MS. PERINO: You'll recall, Paula, that it was I think maybe a week or maybe two weeks ago that the President designated three people to represent him in negotiations on the State Children's Health Insurance Program, so that we could find common ground with the Democrats. He sent Secretary Leavitt of Health and Human Services, OMB Director Nussle, and Al Hubbard, the National Economic Advisor, to Capitol Hill in order to have discussions. The Democrats wouldn't meet with us, and I think that does not bode well when you're trying to find a -- when you're to negotiate.
Q Why didn't you invite them here?
MS. PERINO: The President directed those three individuals to meet with Congress. The Congress -- if Congress wanted to actually meet with us and they wanted to find a different -- a new venue, if that would help them, if they wanted to leave Capitol Hill in order to come together, then we could consider that. But I think the fact of the matter is they didn't want to meet. They want the issue; they don't want a solution. Yesterday they passed a bill that will -- that is not substantially different from what the President vetoed originally. It appears that in the House, they yet again don't have enough votes to override the President's veto.
And incredibly enough, Senator Reid is planning to use -- eat up more precious time debating this issue in the Senate, where they're not willing to have the Republicans have a say in any of the matter. So they're going to waste more time and send another bill to the President that they know he will veto. And they will not be able to override it at this time. So we think that this is a big waste of time. We think that it would be better to sit down with us. We offered some ways that we could find common ground; we offered additional money. But we're not going to compromise on the one principle that we think is key to this debate: Poor children should be taken care of first.
Q The additional funding would be required, to be paid for, and if the White House is opposed to any sort of increase on the tobacco tax, how do you expect to --
MS. PERINO: The President believes that there is plenty of money in the federal coffers and that we do not need to raise taxes.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. The AP reports that there is considerable opposition from landowners in Texas to federal plans to build a border fence. And my question: What is the President's position on resistance to this fence that he and Congress agreed is needed?
MS. PERINO: Well, the President, as former governor of Texas, knows that there are many people on the border who disagree with having a fence on their private property, and we -- the President has asked Secretary Chertoff to work with them as we try to secure our border.
Q Senator McCain said that while he is sure Woodstock was a cultural and pharmaceutical event, no one who supports spending $1 million for a Woodstock memorial, as Senator Schumer and Clinton have, should be President. Does President Bush agree or disagree?
MS. PERINO: I think the President would disagree with that earmark. It's not a good use of taxpayer dollars.
Q Thank you.
Q Will there be a "lessons learned" exercise after the California wildfires --
MS. PERINO: We always do after-action reports. I don't know if would be called a "lessons learned" report, but they do after-action reports to find out what went right and what went wrong. And it looks -- knock wood -- that everything is going very smoothly in California.
Q Are there lessons to be learned yet?
MS. PERINO: There could be. I think it's too early to say. There could be good lessons to be learned that we could pass on to other states. Obviously it's been a model of good coordination from the federal, state and local governments.
Q Are you in a position today to confirm or deny that Syria had a nuclear facility and that it was bombed by Israel?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on those press reports.
Q One on Kosovo. They are not -- Russia said yesterday (inaudible) recognize two separate regions of Georgia as independent states -- namely (inaudible) and (inaudible). (Inaudible) -- split from Serbia by December 10th. Any comment on that?
MS. PERINO: I'm sorry, I'm not well-versed in it, but we'll try to get you an answer.
Q Thank you.
END 1:03 P.M. EDT
*The White House does not condone the way the FEMA press conference was handled.
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 26, 2007
President Bush Meets with Democratic Republic of the Congo President Kabila Oval Office, 9:51 A.M. EDT
PRESIDENT BUSH: It's my honor to welcome back to the Oval Office President Kabila. Thanks for coming, sir. The President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The last time the President was here we talked about his desire to have free and fair elections in his country. Since that time his country has had free and fair elections. And my first order of business today was to congratulate the President for garnering 58 percent of the vote.
We talked about the need to work together to help consolidate the gains. We talked about the need to -- for the United States to partner with the country to help on economic development. One of the things the President recognizes is the need for there to be investment in his country, so people can find work, and the stability that comes with economic development. And I appreciate your recognition of the opportunity to work together.
We talked about the eastern part of his country. And he shared with me his strategy to make sure that the government's reach extends throughout the entire country and that there is stability throughout the country. And I want to thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with me.
I did bring up my desire to help our friend deal with malaria. Malaria is a great concern to me and my wife and the Secretary of State. This is an issue that can be solved. We hurt when young babies are dying from a mosquito bite, knowing full well that a strategy could help save lives. So the President shares the same sense of compassion I do for people all throughout the world who are being affected by malaria.
Mr. President, you are -- you've said that you wanted there to be free and fair elections, and you delivered. And I appreciate that and congratulate you on being a man of your word. And we look forward to continuing to work with you, sir, to bring peace and stability to the neighborhood. So, welcome.
PRESIDENT KABILA: Well, Mr. President, thanks a lot. Of course, this is the second time that we meet in the Oval Office. Yes, elections were also high on the agenda in 2003. We organized those elections. And basically our priorities have now changed from elections, it's now stability, and with stability, peace and development. And I emphasized and insisted on the fact that we need continued support by the United States in order to achieve these two remaining goals, which is basic stability throughout the whole country and embark on a very, very long journey of development and really try to combat poverty, which is the biggest issue not only in the Congo, but in the region and on the African continent.
So thanks a lot for the continued support that we've always had from the United States government and the administration. And together, let's move further and further ahead.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes, sir. Glad you're here. Thank you. END 9:55 A.M. EDT
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 25, 2007
President Bush Tours Fire Damaged Southern California Rancho Bernardo Neighborhood, San Diego, California, 11:28 A.M. PDT
THE PRESIDENT: The Senator and the Congressman and the Governor and I have come up here to survey firsthand the terrible devastations done by the fires here in the San Diego area. We've met the Jeffcoats, who came up this hill, and went to what was their home. And we know how tough it is for you; 39 years of marriage -- that's something that you didn't think you'd be dealing with after all this time. So we want to let you know that the American people care for people like you who are suffering. We appreciate your spirit; we really do. I think all of us who met you were very impressed by your determination to deal with this tough moment in your life, and rebuild your lives.
To the extent that people need help from the federal government, we will help. I am here, really, to make sure that the federal effort works hand-in-glove with what the Governor has been doing. The Governor has taken the lead down here, and he's done a fine job. The thing I like about Governor Schwarzenegger, he says, you show me a problem, I'll charge it; if you show me a hill, I'll go up it -- and that's exactly what he's done.
And my job is to make sure that FEMA and the Defense Department and the Interior Department and Ag Department respond in a way that helps people get the job done. And that's what I'm here to listen to.
I want to thank the Senator for joining me. On the flight down we had a good conversation. She's deeply concerned about the citizens of California. She asked the right kind of questions, and, you know, we're going to give her the answers.
And Congressman, thank you for joining us. This is his district. It's got to be tough for you to represent the good people here and know that people are suffering.
But anyway, thanks for being here, and God bless you all. God bless the people of this state. Thank you.
Q Mr. President, a lot has been made about the contrast between this response and the Katrina response. Do you have any thoughts on that, and how you're doing?
THE PRESIDENT: You better ask the Governor how we're doing. I will tell you this: On all these responses, the thing that has amazed me most is the courage of our first responders. The firefighters here in this part of the world are incredibly brave people. The police force has done a fabulous job.
And same in the Katrina area. I mean, I know there was a lot of criticism of effort, but remember, there was 33,000 people pulled off roofs by brave Coast Guard men and women flying those choppers. A lot of people's lives were saved.
CONGRESSMAN BILBRAY: San Diego County has a centralized disaster response team made up of the County Chairman as the Chairman of the Disaster Council, and every police chief and fire chief and mayor, so there's a network here that those of us in the federal and the state level are able to come supplement. But the backbone of this response was the local providers, because they were organized. So the real heroes here are the providers, are the men and women working for the counties and the cities and the fire districts that really were here first and foremost, and we're just supplementing.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, see, that's an interesting question. I appreciate you asking it. My hearts are with the Jeffcoats right now, that's what I'm thinking. I'm thinking about people whose lives turned upside-down. The experts can try to figure out whether the response was perfect or not. All I can tell you is when the Governor calls, I answer his phone. When the Governor says we need this help, think about sending these troops here, I got on the phone, I called the appropriate people. I'm interested in helping him solve problems and helping the folks here at the county level. There's all kinds of time for historians to compare this response or that response, but those of us who are here from government, our hearts are right here with the Jeffcoats, that's where we are.
And I'm looking forward, and I know the Senator and Governor and Congressman is, to eating lunch with the firefighters. We can't thank people enough for putting their lives at risk to help a neighbor, and that's exactly what's taking place. If there needs to be more firefighters, we'll send more firefighters. Those are the kind of questions that we're asking; what does it take to get the job done?
Q Mr. President, Congressman Hunter tried to get some of the C-130s here, and they are here, but they are still on the ground and the National Guard won't let them fly. What seems to be the problem? We really need those because the flames continue to fan.
THE PRESIDENT: I'll find out. I'll find out.*
GOVERNOR SCHWARZENEGGER: I just want to add to this because I want to thank the President for coming out here today. I can tell you that when we saw on Monday the flames going out of control and it becoming really a major disaster, I told my assistant that we got to call the President and ask for help, and before I ever had a chance to make that phone call -- I remember I was in the middle of a briefing -- the President -- I was in -- I got the phone, they said, it's the President on the phone. And he called me, and he told me that he's really concerned about the fires here in California and if anything he can do, anything that we need, we should let him know; that all his entire Cabinet and his whole staff, his team, everyone is available.
So I call this quick action, I mean, quicker than I expected, I can tell you that. And since then we've been talking every day on the phone and we asked him for an emergency declaration; they got it within 24 hours. We asked for a disaster declaration; we got that within 24 hours. And then he called me back and says, I'm going to come out because I'm really concerned about the people in California and what they are going through; we want to make sure that we help them get back on their feet -- and here he is.
So I call this very unbelievable response from the federal government and the Bush administration, from everyone and from Senator Feinstein; I want to thank you also for the great response, and she was calling us every hour and being concerned. So I would say this is really great response, and you cannot do this without everyone working together. And what we have seen here, unlike other disasters, I mean, how quickly the locals, the state and the federal government came together and everyone working together was really extraordinary to watch, so I want to thank everyone, I want to thank you again, President, for coming out here today and helping us.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, thank you all.
END 11:35 A.M. PDT
* "Three fire suppression missions were flown yesterday. All six fire suppression equipped C-130s, four from the National Guard and two from the Air Force Reserve, are operational today and are dropping on the Poomacha fire in southern California this afternoon. For more information, contact Dan Stoneking at 703-607-2554." ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 25, 2007
President Bush Departs for Southern California South Lawn, 7:31 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I'm on my way out to California. I'm looking forward to seeing Governor Schwarzenegger, to thank him for all the good work that the state and local authorities are doing to help the good people of Southern California battle these wildfires. I will assure the people of California that the federal government will be deploying resources, assets, and manpower necessary to help fight these fires. As well, I will assure them that there's a -- because of the declaration I signed yesterday, there will be help for the people of California. Evidently the winds are more favorable today, which should be encouraging to the firefighters.
I'm also looking forward to spending some time with some of the firefighters. We've got some incredibly brave citizens who are risking their lives to protect people and property in California, and we owe a great debt of gratitude to our nation's firefighters.
It's a sad situation out there in Southern California. I fully understand that the people have got a lot of anguish in their hearts. They just need to know a lot of folks care about them. Looking forward to my trip out there.
Thank you. END 7:33 A.M. EDT
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 24, 2007
President Bush Discusses Cuba Policy U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C., 1:20 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Gracias. Buenos Dias. I am pleased to be back at the State Department. I appreciate the work that's done here. Every day the men and women of this department serve as America's emissaries to the world. Every day you help our country respond to aggressors and bring peace to troubled lands. Every day you advance our country's mission in support of basic human rights to the millions who are denied them. Secretary Rice constantly tells me about the good work being done here at the State Department, and on behalf of a grateful nation, I thank you for your hard work and I'm pleased to be with you.
Few issues have challenged this department -- and our nation -- longer than the situation in Cuba. Nearly half a century has passed since Cuba's regime ordered American diplomats to evacuate our embassy in Havana. This was the decisive break of our diplomatic relations with the island, a troubling signal for the future of the Cuban people, and the dawn of an unhappy era between our two countries. In this building, President John F. Kennedy spoke about the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba's dictatorship. And it was here where he announced the end of the missile crisis that almost plunged the world into nuclear war.
Today, another President comes with hope to discuss a new era for the United States and Cuba. The day is coming when the Cuban people will chart their own course for a better life. The day is coming when the Cuban people have the freedom they have awaited for so long. (Applause.)
Madam Secretary, thank you for your introduction. I'm pleased to be with you and Ambassador Negroponte and all who work here. Thanks for the hospitality. I'm pleased to be here with our Secretary of Commerce, Secretary Carlos Gutierrez -- born in Cuba. I appreciate other members of my administration who are here.
I particularly want to thank the members of Congress who have joined us: Senator Mel Martinez, born in Cuba; Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, born in Cuba; Lincoln Diaz-Balart, born in Cuba; su hermanito --(laughter) -- Mario Diaz-Balart. I want to thank Chris Smith for joining us, Congressman from Jersey; Thaddeus McCotter, Michigan; Debbie Wasserman Schultz, from Florida; as well as Tim Mahone from Florida. Appreciate you being here.
I thank the members of the Diplomatic Corps who have joined us. I appreciate the Ambassadors to the Organization of American States who are with us. I particularly want to thank the Cuban families who have joined me on the stage.
One of the great success stories of the past century is the advance of economic and political freedom across Latin America. In this room are officials representing nations that are embracing the blessings of democratic government and free enterprise. And the United States is proud and active to work with you in your transformations.
One country in our region still isolates its people from the hope that freedom brings, and traps them in a system that has failed them. Forty-eight years ago, in the early moments of Cuba's revolution, its leaders offered a prediction. He said -- and I quote -- "The worst enemies which the Cuban revolution can face are the revolutionaries themselves." One of history's great tragedies is that he made that dark prophecy come true.
Cuba's rulers promised individual liberty. Instead they denied their citizens basic rights that the free world takes for granted. In Cuba it is illegal to change jobs, to change houses, to travel abroad, and to read books or magazines without the express approval of the state. It is against the law for more than three Cubans to meet without permission. Neighborhood Watch programs do not look out for criminals. Instead, they monitor their fellow citizens -- keeping track of neighbors' comings and goings, who visits them, and what radio stations they listen to. The sense of community and the simple trust between human beings is gone.
Cuba's rulers promised an era of economic advancement. Instead they brought generations of economic misery. Many of the cars on the street pre-date the revolution -- and some Cubans rely on horse carts for transportation. Housing for many ordinary Cubans is in very poor condition, while the ruling class lives in mansions. Clinics for ordinary Cubans suffer from chronic shortages in medicine and equipment. Many Cubans are forced to turn to the black market to feed their families. There are long lines for basic necessities -- reminiscent of the Soviet bread lines of the last century. Meanwhile, the regime offers fully stocked food stores to foreign tourists, diplomats and businessmen in communism's version of apartheid.
Cuba's rulers promised freedom of the press. Instead they closed down private newspapers and radio and television stations. They've jailed and beaten journalists, raided their homes, and seized their paper, ink and fax machines. One Cuban journalist asked foreigners who visited him for one thing: a pen. Another uses shoe polish as ink as a typewriter ribbon.
Cuba's rulers promised, "absolute respect for human rights." Instead they offered Cubans rat-infested prisons and a police state. Hundreds are serving long prison sentences for political offenses such as the crime of "dangerousness" -- as defined by the regime. Others have been jailed for the crime of "peaceful sedition" -- which means whatever Cuban authorities decide it means.
Joining us here are family members of political prisoners in Cuba. I've asked them to come because I want our fellow citizens to see the faces of those who suffer as a result of the human rights abuses on the island some 90 miles from our shore. One of them is Olga Alonso. Her brother, Ricardo Gonzalez Alonso [sic], has been harassed by Cuban authorities since he was 11 years old, because he wrote things that the Cuban authorities did not like. In 2003, Ricardo was arrested for his writings and sentenced to 20 years in prison. The authorities seized illegal contraband they found in his home. These included such things as a laptop computer, notebooks and a printer. Olga, we're glad you're here. Thank you for coming. (Applause.)
Marlenis Gonzalez and her daughter, Melissa, are here. They recently arrived from Cuba, but without Melissa's father. Jorge Luis Gonzalez Tanquero dared to defend the human rights of his countrymen. For that, he was arrested for crimes against the state. Now he languishes in poor health inside a Cuban prison. Bienvenidos. (Applause.)
Damaris Garcia y su tia, Mirta Pernet, are with us today. Damaris calls the Cuban government "a killing machine" -- those are her words. They've seen relatives imprisoned for supporting liberty. One beloved family member, Omar Pernet Hernandez, was a poor man who sold candy on the streets of Havana. For advocating freedom, he is serving a sentence of 25 years. He's 62 years old, he's emaciated. Yet he remains a determined advocate for human rights for the Cuban people. Bienvenidos. (Applause.)
Also with us is Yamile Llanes Labrada. Yamile's husband, Jorge [sic] Luis Garcia Paneque, was a surgeon and journalist. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison for daring speak the truth about the regime. Yamile herself was accused of espionage and she feared for the safety of her four children. After Jos 's arrest, a mob organized by state authorities surrounded their house. The mob carried sticks and threatened to set fire to the house with the family inside. Earlier this year, Yamile and her children made it off the island. They do not know when they'll see their father again. Bienvenidos, Yamile. (Applause.)
I want to thank each of you [for] coming today. I thank you for allowing me to share your stories, and I thank you for your courage. I ask that God watch over you and your loved ones. Que Dios les bendiga a ustedes y a sus familias. And I join your prayers for a day when the light of liberty will shine on Cuba.
These are just a few of the examples of the terror and trauma that is Cuba today. The socialist paradise is a tropical gulag. The quest for justice that once inspired the Cuban people has now become a grab for power. And as with all totalitarian systems, Cuba's regime no doubt has other horrors still unknown to the rest of the world. Once revealed, they will shock the conscience of humanity. And they will shame the regime's defenders and all those democracies that have been silent. (Applause.) One former Cuban political prisoner, Armando Valladares, puts it this way: It will be a time when "mankind will feel the revulsion it felt when the crimes of Stalin were brought to light." And that time is coming.
As we speak, calls for fundamental change are growing across the island. Peaceful demonstrations are spreading. Earlier this year leading Cuban dissidents came together for the first time to issue the Unity of Freedom -- a declaration for democratic change. They hear the dying gasps of a failed regime. They know that even history's cruelest nightmares cannot last forever. A restive people who long to rejoin the world at last have hope. And they will bring to Cuba a real revolution -- a revolution of freedom, democracy and justice. (Applause.)
Now is the time to support the democratic movements growing on the island. Now is the time to stand with the Cuban people as they stand up for their liberty. And now is the time for the world to put aside its differences and prepare for Cuban's transition to a future of freedom and progress and promise. The dissidents of today will be the nation's leaders tomorrow -- and when freedom finally comes, they will surely remember who stood with them. (Applause.)
The Czech Republic and Hungary and Poland have been vital sources of support and encouragement to Cuba's brave democratic opposition. I ask other countries to follow suit. All nations can make tangible efforts to show public support for those who love freedom on the island. They can open up their embassies in Havana to pro-democracy leaders and invite them to different events. They can use their lobbies of the embassies to give Cubans access to the Internet and to books and to magazines. They can encourage their country's non-governmental organizations to reach out directly to Cuba's independent civil society.
Here at home we can do more, as well. The United States Congress has recently voted for additional funding to support Cuban democracy efforts. I thank you all for your good work on this measure -- and I urge you to get the bill to my desk as soon as we possibly can. (Applause.) I also urge our Congress to show our support and solidarity for fundamental change in Cuba by maintaining our embargo on the dictatorship until it changes. (Applause.)
Cuba's regime uses the U.S. embargo as a scapegoat for Cuba's miseries. Yet Presidents of both our political parties have long understood that the source of Cuba's suffering is not the embargo, but the communist system. They know that trade with the Cuban government would not help the Cuban people until there are major changes to Cuba's political and economic system. Instead, trade with Cuba would merely enrich the elites in power and strengthen their grip. As long as the regime maintains its monopoly over the political and economic life of the Cuban people, the United States will keep the embargo in place. (Applause.)
The United States knows how much the Cuban people are suffering -- and we have not stood idle. Over the years, we've granted asylum to hundreds of thousands who have fled the repression and misery imposed by the regime. We've rallied nations to take up the banner of Cuban liberty. And we will continue to do so. We've authorized private citizens and organizations to provide food, and medicine, and other aid -- amounting to more than $270 million last year alone. The American people, the people of this generous land, are the largest providers of humanitarian aid to the Cuban people in the entire world. (Applause.)
The aid we provide goes directly into the hands of the Cuban people, rather than into the coffers of the Cuban leaders. And that's really the heart of our policy: to break the absolute control that the regime holds over the material resources that the Cuban people need to live and to prosper and to have hope.
To further that effort, the United States is prepared to take new measures right now to help the Cuban people directly -- but only if the Cuban regime, the ruling class, gets out of the way.
For example -- here's an interesting idea to help the Cuban people -- the United States government is prepared to license non-governmental organizations and faith-based groups to provide computers and Internet access to Cuban people -- if Cuba's rulers will end their restrictions on Internet access for all the people.
Or the United States is prepared to invite Cuban young people whose families suffer oppression into the Partnership for Latin American Youth scholarship programs, to help them have equal access to greater educational opportunities -- if the Cuban rulers will allow them to freely participate.
We make these offers to the people of Cuba -- and we hope their rulers will allow them to accept. You know, we've made similar offers before -- but they've been rejected out of hand by the regime. It's a sad lesson, and it should be a vivid lesson for all: For Cuba's ruling class, its grip on power is more important than the welfare of its people.
Life will not improve for Cubans under their current system of government. It will not improve by exchanging one dictator for another. It will not improve if we seek accommodation with a new tyranny in the interests of "stability." (Applause.) America will have no part in giving oxygen to a criminal regime victimizing its own people. We will not support the old way with new faces, the old system held together by new chains. The operative word in our future dealings with Cuba is not "stability." The operative word is "freedom." (Applause.)
In that spirit, today I also am announcing a new initiative to develop an international multi-billion dollar Freedom Fund for Cuba. This fund would help the Cuban people rebuild their economy and make the transition to democracy. I have asked two members of my Cabinet to lead the effort -- Secretary Rice and Secretary Gutierrez. They will enlist foreign governments and international organizations to contribute to this initiative.
And here's how the fund will work: The Cuban government must demonstrate that it has adopted, in word and deed, fundamental freedoms. These include the freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of press, freedom to form political parties, and the freedom to change the government through periodic, multi-party elections. And once these freedoms are in place, the fund will be able to give Cubans -- especially Cuban entrepreneurs -- access to grants, and loans and debt relief to help rebuild their country. (Applause.)
The restoration of these basic freedoms is the foundation of fair, free and competitive elections. Without these fundamental protections in place, elections are only cynical exercises that give dictatorships a legitimacy they do not deserve.
We will know there is a new Cuba when opposition parties have the freedom to organize, assemble and speak with equal access to the airwaves. We will know there is a new Cuba when a free and independent press has the power to operate without censors. We will know there is a new Cuba when the Cuban government removes its stranglehold on private economic activity.
And above all, we will know there is a new Cuba when authorities go to the prisons, walk to the cells where people are being held for their beliefs and set them free. (Applause.) It will be a time when the families here are reunited with their loved ones, and when the names of free people -- including dissidents such as Oscar Elias Biscet, Normando Hernandez Gonzales, and Omar Rodriguez Saludes are free. (Applause.) It will be a moment when Cubans of conscience are released from their shackles -- not as a gesture or a tactic, but because the government no longer puts people in prison because of what they think, or what they say or what they believe.
Cuba's transition from a shattered society to a free country may be long and difficult. Things will not always go as hoped. There will be difficult adjustments to make. One of the curses of totalitarianism is that it affects everyone. Good people make moral compromises to feed their families, avoid the whispers of neighbors, and escape a visit from the secret police. If Cuba is to enter a new era, it must find a way to reconcile and forgive those who have been part of the system but who do not have blood on their hands. They're victims as well.
At this moment, my words are being transmitted into -- live into Cuba by media outlets in the free world -- including Radio and TV Marti. To those Cubans who are listening -- perhaps at great risk -- I would like to speak to you directly.
Some of you are members of the Cuban military, or the police, or officials in the government. You may have once believed in the revolution. Now you can see its failure. When Cubans rise up to demand their liberty, they -- they -- the liberty they deserve, you've got to make a choice. Will you defend a disgraced and dying order by using force against your own people? Or will you embrace your people's desire for change? There is a place for you in the free Cuba. You can share the hope found in the song that has become a rallying cry for freedom-loving Cubans on and off the island: "Nuestro Dia Ya Viene Llegando." Our day is coming soon. (Applause.)
To the ordinary Cubans who are listening: You have the power to shape your own destiny. You can bring about a future where your leaders answer to you, where you can freely express your beliefs and where your children can grow up in peace. Many experts once said that that day could never come to Eastern Europe, or Spain or Chile. Those experts were wrong. When the Holy Father came to Cuba and offered God's blessings, he reminded you that you hold your country's future in your hands. And you can carry this refrain in your heart: Su dia ya viene llegando. Your day is coming soon. (Applause.)
To the schoolchildren of Cuba: You have a lot in common with young people in the United States. You both dream of hopeful futures, and you both have the optimism to make those dreams come true. Do not believe the tired lies you are told about America. We want nothing from you except to welcome you to the hope and joy of freedom. Do not fear the future. Su dia ya viene llegando. Your day is coming soon. (Applause.)
Until that day, you and your suffering are never far from our hearts and prayers. The American people care about you. And until we stand together as free men and women, I leave you with a hope, a dream, and a mission: Viva Cuba Libre. (Applause.)
END 1:48 P.M. EDT
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 24, 2007
Fact Sheet: Encouraging Freedom, Justice, and Prosperity in Cuba President Bush Announces A Series Of Measures To Support Growing Democratic Movements In Cuba
Today, President Bush announced measures to help prepare Cuba for transition to a democratic future, including a new initiative to develop an international multi-billion dollar Freedom Fund. Before his speech, the President met with family members of political prisoners in Cuba. The President believes that now is the time to stand with the Cuban people as they stand up for their liberty. The world should put aside its differences and prepare for Cuba's transition to a future of progress and promise.
The President has asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez to lead the effort to form the Freedom Fund by enlisting foreign governments and international organizations to contribute. This Fund would help the Cuban people rebuild their economy and make the transition to democracy. It would give Cubans access to grants, loans, and debt relief to rebuild their country as soon as Cuba's government demonstrates that is has adopted, in word and deed, fundamental freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of the press, freedom to form political parties, and the freedom to change their government through periodic, multi-party elections.
The President also announced measures that the United States government is prepared to take right now to help the Cuban people directly – but only if Cuba's ruling class gets out of the way.
If Cuban rulers will end their restrictions on Internet access for all of the Cuban people, the U.S. is prepared to license nongovernmental organizations and faith-based groups to provide computers and Internet access to Cuban students.
If Cuban rulers allow them to freely participate, the U.S. is prepared to invite Cuban young people whose families suffer oppression into the Partnership for Latin American Youth Scholarship Program, designed to help them have equal access to greater educational opportunities.
The President highlighted family members of political prisoners in Cuba who have been jailed for nothing more than their beliefs.
Ricardo Gonzalez Alfonso was arrested for writing ideas that the Cuban authorities did not like, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Jose Luis Garcia Paneque was sentenced to 24 years in prison for daring to speak the truth about Cuba's regime.
Omar Pernet Hernandez is serving 25 years in prison for being an advocate of freedom and human rights and was punished for his beliefs.
Jorge Luis Gonzalez Tanquero was arrested and is serving time inside a Cuban prison, charged with crimes against the state after defending the human rights of his countrymen.
The President also mentioned leading dissidents such as Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, Normando Hernandez Gonzales, and Omar Rodriguez Saludes.
The President reiterates U.S. Government policy that the embargo on the Cuban regime must stand as long as the regime maintains its monopoly over the political and economic life of the Cuban people. Trade with Cuba under the current regime would merely enrich the elites in power and strengthen their grip. Congress should show their support and solidarity for fundamental change in Cuba by maintaining our embargo on the dictatorship until that change comes.
The Free World Can Do Much More To Show Its Solidarity With The Cuban People
The United States stands with the Cuban people in their suffering. We have granted asylum to hundreds of thousands who have fled the repression and misery imposed by the regime, rallied nations to take up the banner of Cuban liberty, and authorized private citizens and organizations to provide food, medicine, and other aid. This aid totaled over $270 million last year alone.
The President thanked members of Congress for their bipartisan support in a vote for additional funding for Cuban democracy efforts and asked them to complete work on the measure, so that he may quickly sign it into law.
President Bush also calls on other nations to make tangible efforts to show public support for dissidents in Cuba. The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland have shown their leadership and courage by becoming vital sources of support and encouragement to Cuba's brave democratic opposition. The President encourages other nations to follow their lead by:
Opening their embassies in Havana to pro-democracy leaders and inviting them to events;
Using the lobbies of their embassies to give Cubans access to the Internet, books, and magazines; and
Encouraging their country's nongovernmental organizations to reach out directly to Cuba's independent civil society.
The United States Is Committed To Helping Cuba Join The Democracies of the World
The policy of the United States is clear: to break the absolute control the regime holds over the material resources that Cubans need to live and prosper. The Cuban people are denied the most basic freedoms and opportunities – freedoms that are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and which governments in our hemisphere have agreed to honor and defend in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
Throughout the Western Hemisphere, the United States has established itself as a reliable partner that has worked to strengthen the sovereignty of our neighbors by supporting human rights, democracy, and the rule of law and by promoting open markets.
# # #
For Immediate Release October 24, 2007
President Bush Meets with Cabinet, Discusses Fires in California Cabinet Room, 10:55 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: I want to thank the members of my Cabinet for being here today to discuss a lot of issues. I started off the meeting by summarizing a series of conversations that I've had regarding the fires in Southern California. I had a conversation with Governor Schwarzenegger. My question to him was, are you getting what you need; are the people there in California getting the help they need from the federal agencies to help the good folks in California deal with these devastating fires? His answer was, yes. I assured him that if he needs anything, then, great, we'll provide it, we'll do so.
I also had an opportunity to thank him, as well as California officials, for working hard to save houses, save lives. I appreciate very much the fact that they're willing to work in a collaborative fashion with the federal government. I've been meeting with my Cabinet secretaries that are responsible for helping the state and local authorities fight these fires. I will report to you that I am -- I believe the effort is well coordinated. I know we're getting the manpower and assets on the ground that have been requested by the state and local authorities.
I wish we could control the wind, because one of the things that's hampering our joint capability of fighting these fires is the strong westerly winds. I'm told the winds may be dying down soon, in which case it will make it -- make this equipment we've got in place a lot more effective at helping fight the fires.
I initially declared an emergency declaration, which will enable us to send federal equipment and manpower into the scene, including Department of Defense help. Today I've signed a major disaster declaration, which will then enable federal funds to start heading toward the families who have been affected by these fires.
Looking forward to going out to California tomorrow. We'll continue to make sure that our efforts are coordinated, that we are responsive to the needs and people. And most importantly, I want the people in Southern California to know that Americans all across this land care deeply about them, we're concerned about their safety, we're concerned about their property, and we offer our prayers and hopes that all will turn out fine in the end. In the meantime, they can rest assured that the federal government will do everything we can to help put out these fires.
Thank you. END 10:58 A.M. EDT
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- October 24, 2007. Carlos Gutierrez I appreciate this opportunity to discuss with my fellow Americans our relationship with Cuba, which I believe is an important foreign policy issue today.
While a majority of our regional neighbors are moving forward on the paths of progress, there are those in Latin America who do not share our vision of equal opportunity for everyone. In Cuba, people remain repressed as the economy remains closed. Restrictions on the Cuban people have nothing to do with the U.S. embargo. They have everything to do with the oppressive Castro regime.
We recognize the future of Cuba is in the hands of the citizens of Cuban. We hope that some day we can welcome Cuba into the community of democracies and into a hemisphere of freedom, hope and opportunity for all.
I hope I can shed some light on the issue of our relations with Cuba by answering a few of your questions.
Jason, from Manhattan Beach, CA writes: Hello Secretary Gutierrez. I was wondering why the U.S. has a no-trade policy with Cuba and Embargos. While I understand that they are a communist regime, isn't China, as well? The U.S. does not seem to make a fuss, trading, or doing any sort of business with them. If it is a matter of human rights then again what about China's record? I was lastly wondering why we do not have much of a relationship with Cuba when most of the world such as Europe does have one.
Carlos Gutierrez Thank you, Jason, for your insightful question. We believe that open economies create opportunity and growth. When people are allowed to invest, make business decisions, be entrepreneurs and have a wide range of consumer choices, economies and people flourish. Though China does not have a full, market economy it does exhibit much of the behaviors and benefits of an open economy. In China, people can open a business. They can invest. There is a tremendous amount of choice for consumers. A Chinese worker can get paid directly for their work. The Cuban people don’t enjoy the same opportunities. And, though millions of dollars have poured into Cuba from Canada, Europe and other points around the globe, it has not benefited the average Cuban. More investment and money spent in Cuba means more money lining the pockets of the Cuban dictator and his cronies. Instead of comparing Cuba with China, we should compare Cuba to other countries that are similar, such as North Korea.
John, from DC writes: Hello Secretary Gutierrez: Fidel Castro is a dying man. When he's dead and gone, what plans and policy will the White House impliment in order to ensure that there is a free democracy providing the ideals of life and liberty to Cubans currently living under communist rule? Thanks you for addressing my question.
Carlos Gutierrez Thanks, John. I am happy to answer your question. Since July 2005, I have had the privilege to co-chair, with Secretary Rice, the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which was established by President Bush in 2003. Cuba is at a critical point in its history and is poised for change. The policy of the Bush Administration has been to help the Cuban people achieve their freedom through democratic change, and not to turn our backs on them by allowing another regime to maintain its tight grip over the Cuban people. Last year, we issued a “Compact with the People of Cuba,” which clearly lays out the intentions of the U.S. government. The United States stands ready to work with the Cuban people to attain political and economic liberty.
James, from Sioux Falls, South Dakota writes: Why do we continue to sanction and shun Cuba when it has not been a threat to us in over 30 years?
Carlos Gutierrez Good question, James. Over the past decades, the Western Hemisphere has moved forward in significant ways: economically, politically, culturally. Under the Castro dictatorship, however, Cuba has moved backward. As long as regime resources are available, a threat is posed. The embargo was put in place for one major reason: to deny Castro the resources to do damage to this country and other countries in the world.
Andrey, from Florida writes: Good day, Secretary Gutierrez. Thanks for bringing such interesting topic. I have two questions. 1. Why treatment of Cuban illegal immigration is different from other illegal? I meant so called Dry land law. If they are refugees so why does USCIS deport back home everyone caught in a sea and grants status to everyone landed?
2. With the end of cold war Cuba that once was important strategic island became ordinary non-democratic country, no different from others similar. It will be interesting to know why does Cuban problem is still a problem in 2007? Dont you think that all these economic sanctions and immigration exceptions are blast from the past?
Carlos Gutierrez Thank you for your questions, Andrey. Our policy consists of safe, legal and orderly migration. The focus needs to be on the desired change in Cuba; which the people want. Cubans want political freedom and opportunity. They have the spirit of freedom in their hearts—the ability to invent, to dream and to create a society of prosperity, equality and hope. Cuba is one of the few remaining communist nations in the world, so while the rest of the world has moved on from failed Marxist policies, Cuba has not. “Blast from the past” is the Cuban regime and Cubans deserve a better future.
Scott, from Washington, DC writes: How do you expect Cuba's allies to behave once the turnover of power is complted? For example, Hugo Chavez has been pressing in his influence, trying to engage Castro and his followers all the more - will this alliance deteriorate or evolve once Castro has passed?
Carlos Gutierrez I appreciate your question, Scott. It is important that we prove that through freedom, equal opportunity and the power of individual initiative and creativity, Latin Americans can achieve growth and prosperity. Cuba provides us with a very vivid example of what “revolutionary” rhetoric delivers. Our positive vision empowers the people of the region with the tools to take ownership and improve their lives. There is a choice and the Cuban people must know they can make their own decisions and march toward progress. History has shown that eventually every regime that denies fundamental freedoms and human rights will deteriorate.
Michael, from Powell, Tn writes: What would be our suggestions for the next leader of Cuba to be?
Carlos Gutierrez That is a thought provoking question, Michael, thank you. This year, I’ve been speaking about what I call the “promise of the Western Hemisphere.” It is one of freedom, growth, prosperity and social justice. When you have freedom and growth, everything is possible—education, social programs, health care, environmental programs. Growth empowers people with the tools to take ownership and improve their lives. It promotes trade and investment. It encourages economic expansion. I would suggest that the next leader of Cuba give Cubans the freedom to strive for a better life.
John, from Richmond, California writes: With respect to the new measures against Cuba announced by President Bush, I have the following question for Mr. Gutierrez, our Secretary of Commerce: How is it that punishing an entire people, depriving them of food medicineetc. through economic sanctions, is to bring about change in a country (Cuba) where the vast majority of its citizens support the government they currently have? It seems to me that the Cuban people are being punished for choosing a leadership that does not meet the needs of our foreign policy objectives.
Carlos Gutierrez First of all the Cuban people, did not choose their leadership. Cuba is run by a dictatorship. We would like to see political parties allowed in Cuba so that free elections can take place and the people of Cuba can truly choose their leaders. It is important to note that the communist regime in Cuba, and no one else, has punished the people of Cuba.
With today’s announcement President Bush wants to engage the international community so that we can help the Cuban people achieve the fundamental freedoms and human rights that we all take for granted. We recognize that in the end, it is the Cuban people who are in charge of their own destiny.
Bill, from Australia writes: Why don't you believe lifting the economic blockade on Cuba and opening up trade relations with Cuba instead won't work the same way as it did in Eastern Europe?
Carlos Gutierrez Thanks, mate, good question. The changes in the Soviet Union started within the Soviet Union. We believe that the changes in Cuba will also start inside Cuba. So, it is not Washington’s policy that needs to change, it is the Cuban political, economic and social system that needs to change.
Carlos Gutierrez Thank you for your great questions.
The President today announced a new initiative to develop an international multi-billion dollar Freedom Fund for Cuba. This fund would help the Cuban people rebuild their economy and make the transition to democracy. The President asked Secretary Rice and myself to enlist foreign governments and international organizations to contribute to this initiative.
The Cuban government must demonstrate that it has adopted, in word and deed, fundamental freedoms. These include the freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of press, freedom to form political parties, and the freedom to change the government through periodic, multi-party elections. And once these freedoms are in place, the fund will be able to give Cubans -- especially Cuban entrepreneurs -- access to grants, loans and debt relief to help rebuild their country.
Cuba is at a critical point in time. The country is poised for change. The policy of the Bush Administration has been to help the Cuban people hasten the day of their freedom, and not to do them a great disservice by legitimizing a successor regime and helping it maintain its tight grip over the Cuban people.
As we've stated in our Compact with the People of Cuba, "Cubans who want democratic change should count on our friendship and support." The U.S. will hold to that promise. The people of Cuba deserve freedom, dignity and true social justice. We share the dream of a better tomorrow for them and their families. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 24, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino James S. Brady Briefing Room, 12:49 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello. I have two announcements and then a scheduling update, and then we'll go to questions. First of all, this is a statement by the President that we will release, so this is in his words: The confirmation of Judge Leslie Southwick to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit is a victory for America's judicial system and for the citizens of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Today's bipartisan vote resolves a longstanding judicial emergency and will help the people of the 5th Circuit operate more effectively. Judge Southwick is a man of character and intelligence who will apply the law fairly. And I appreciate the Senate's approval of his nomination.
While today's vote resolves one judicial emergency, many of America's federal courts continue to have unnecessary vacancies. I have now nominated highly qualified men and women to serve on these courts. Now the Senate must act. In the final two years of the past three administrations the Senate has confirmed an average of 17 circuit court judges, but since January of this year, the Senate has confirmed only five circuit court nominees. The Senate has more work to do. I once again call upon the Senate to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities and promptly provide these nominees fair up or down votes.
An update on Burma. The United States applauds Australia's actions today for placing sanctions on 418 individuals associated with the Burmese junta, including members of the State Peace and Development Council, cabinet ministers and senior military figures. As President Bush said on Friday, business as usual with the Burmese junta is unacceptable. And we welcome the strong actions of the Howard government. Australia is helping to reenforce the international community's message that Than Shwe and his fellow junta members cannot continue to oppress the Burmese people, and that progress toward democracy is necessary. We call on others to follow the example set by Australia and other like-minded countries to make sure that it is not business as usual for those who deny the Burmese people their liberties.
An update for the trip on Thursday -- we don't have specific details so bear with us. This gives -- giving you a little bit more information about what will happen tomorrow. The President will depart the White House early tomorrow morning for southern California. He will participate in an aerial tour of the damage via helicopter upon arrival. The pool will participate in the same tour. The President will receive a briefing by local, state and administration officials on the wildfires, and the President will return to the White House late tomorrow evening. And we are working on a more detailed schedule for you and as soon as we have that, we will provide it. I would anticipate it a little bit later this afternoon.
Let's go to questions.
Q Can I ask about the federal help to California? Is the government -- is the federal government going to wait for requests for help, or is it going to jump in where it sees the need? How does that work?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think it's a coordinated effort there on the ground with -- Secretary Chertoff and Administrator Paulison are there, as well as DOD officials, USDA officials, Department of Interior officials, everyone working together. And I think that if there are requests we'll certainly provide them, but if we can see an area where we can provide more help then we can suggest that. I think that it's more of a team effort than people operating in silos.
Q And has, in the feedback that you're getting, is there -- what's the response of California about what you've provided? Are they asking for more or --
MS. PERINO: President Bush has asked the Governor on several occasions as they've spoken over the past two -- well, Monday and Tuesday; they haven't spoken today -- if he was getting everything that he needed. He said that he was and the response from California so far has been good. I understand Dianne Feinstein on Capitol Hill just said the same. So the effort for tomorrow is that the President will go -- he wants to see firsthand the devastation. He wants to make sure that he talks with the federal, state and local officials that are working on the effort there on the ground to make sure that we are doing everything we can to help those who are fighting the blazes. And he also wants to comfort the victims who have lost their homes or their businesses, or are worried that they've lost their homes and businesses. And so right now the coordinated efforts seem to be working very well, and the President wants to make sure that that continues. It's one of the reasons he's going tomorrow.
Q Has anybody talked to the private insurance companies? There was some issue in Louisiana about a feeling that people who suffered losses weren't getting reimbursed by private insurance companies.
MS. PERINO: I don't know if that has happened yet. Obviously, that is something that people, as they start talking to their insurance company, will have to deal with. But having gone through this many times before, like with the tornado in Kansas and Katrina and the tornados I think down in Alabama, it is an issue that we'll take care of when we get to that point. I think it's a little bit premature, and I haven't heard anyone talking about it yet.
Q Dana --
MS. PERINO: I'm sorry, just to finish up. A lot of people who are there in the shelters don't know if their homes have been destroyed or not, or if their businesses have been destroyed. So they haven't even been able to call their insurance company because they don't know. So it's just a little premature.
Q Dana, the fact that the President will be on the ground tomorrow in southern California, how much is that a reflection of lessons learned by the White House that -- from Katrina that even though the President may be engaged behind the scenes, there's a need -- the public wants to see him more involved?
MS. PERINO: Remember -- we've gone -- these fires are not the same disaster that we had in Katrina. There's so many differences. Katrina wiped out 90,000 square miles of the United States, and there was no electricity, there was no sewer system. And they knew for days that the storm was coming. This is just a very different situation. The President visits disasters -- any President visits disasters regularly. And I think that -- I would not see the President's visit tomorrow as part of lessons learned. I actually would look to more of -- look at the coordination efforts amongst the state, federal and local governments that are working to make sure that everybody has what they need.
For example, evacuation planning is one of the things that people learned about after Katrina, that local jurisdictions need to have a plan. And according to the Homeland Security Council, the local jurisdictions have done a tremendous job of managing the evacuation there in southern California. There are rapid changes to respond to when you have shifting winds in a fire like that, and so they've done a very good job because of their advanced preparation and their efforts.
Another thing that we've worked on with state and federal -- state and local governments is prescripted mission assignments, so that there is a lot of pre-planning, pre-positioning of assets when they know something is going to happen. As I mentioned earlier today, Secretary Kempthorne who runs the Fire Center that is based in Boise, they knew that this was coming and so they started to pre-position assets that they had to be able to provide.
And then the most critical point I think is the close collaboration between the state, federal and local partners. And you have everyone working together for the same goal, lots of early and often communication, and that's one of the reasons I think you've seen a difference.
Q Dana, following on that?
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q You're talking about the evacuation planning and the communication, but doesn't it help that income plays a significant part, with New Orleans versus San Diego? You have -- evacuation in New Orleans -- 27 percent of the New Orleans residents that were there did not have vehicles, versus 5 percent in San Diego; they're able to move.
MS. PERINO: Vehicles are very important, but I don't think any natural disaster discriminates or chooses who they're -- where it's going to hit. When it does hit an area that is poor or needs additional public assistance, that's provided. As you know, we've given $110 billion federal taxpayer dollars to Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region in order to help them rebuild.
I don't know what the price tag is going to be in California, and right now the price tag is not a consideration. Making sure that people are taken care of is what we're most concerned about.
Q But you do admit, at least, that scenarios, income-levels, people who have a little bit more money are able to move, go somewhere, versus people who don't --
MS. PERINO: I think that's logical. Absolutely that happens. And I think that when we see hurricanes that hit -- for example, when the hurricane hit Haiti, it affects people differently, and a lot of people lost shelter completely and didn't have anywhere else to go. We are fortunate in the United States that we have generous people that are willing to provide shelter. We have a system in place, a system of government that allows people to get a hotel voucher if they need it. And then because of the President's signing the disaster declaration today, that provides for additional assistance for individuals such as if they are looking for crisis counseling, if they need food coupons, whatever they need to get back on their feet. We're very fortunate in America to have the means to take care of our citizens.
Q And lastly, on the HUD issue that I asked you yesterday, do you know anything -- can you talk about the national housing locator that's in place, how is that going to affect the displaced now in San Diego?
MS. PERINO: In San Diego? It's a little --
MS. PERINO: In California? It's premature to say, but Secretary Jackson was here today and -- he was there at the Cabinet meeting, and one of the things that the President talked about at the very top of the meeting was that all the agencies are going to have to take a look at what they could do, and the HUD part of it comes in just a little bit later.
Any more on this?
Q You were talking about all the differences between disasters. Does the White House feel that it's unfair to compare the federal response to, say, what's happening in California now to what happened in New Orleans with Katrina?
MS. PERINO: I think it's inevitable. I am not one to think that a massive hurricane, the largest hurricane to ever hit the United States, is comparable to the fires. But I understand that the comparison is going to be there. So I'm not going to call it unfair, no.
Anybody else on fires?
Q California is a huge part of this country's economy, and especially that part of California. Has there been any consideration yet about the economic impact from these fires?
MS. PERINO: I haven't heard conversation about that. Obviously the most important thing right now is keeping people safe and getting them back into their homes, or at least getting them the information that their home and their business is -- has survived. We've had several deaths and many injuries, so first and foremost you have to worry about that.
The economic impacts are something that we're going to have to deal with. California is a very resilient state. They have many natural disasters that have come to -- come into its borders over the years. Fires is one of them, but they have earthquakes, as you'll remember, and California has a tremendous ability to bounce back. And there will be federal assistance if it's needed in that regard, too. But it's a wonderful place to live and people like to do business there, so I think they'll be just fine.
Any more on fires? Okay, Jim.
Q Dana, I wanted to ask you about the CBO estimate for the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan. Why is that $2.4 trillion figure wrong?
MS. PERINO: Well, part of it is that when you start having all -- just a ton of speculation. It's a hypothetical that was created based on questions that Democrats in Congress who don't want us to be in the war asked the Congressional Budget Office to provide. Our force structure in Iraq and Afghanistan has fluctuated. Already this year, the President said that 5,700 troops would come home by December. We don't know what the costs are going to be over the years, and so because that fluctuates, it's just wildly premature to put out a number like that.
Q Okay, so what might be a more reasonable estimate? I'm sure folks at OMB have their own counter.
MS. PERINO: Look, spending to fight the global war on terror is an investment in our security and it is something that the President is committed to prioritizing in the budget. We hope that Congress would agree. We don't know how much the war is going to cost in the future. We do our best to try to provide those projections, as we did last February when we sent up the budget and we said we think this is how much we're going to need, $146 billion -- $149 billion. We added $46 billion to that in the supplemental that we asked for last week.
You can't project that far into the future. We are starting to see good signs of success -- I'm sorry -- signs of progress in Iraq. We want those trend lines to continue. We want our troops to have the force protection they need, the equipment that they need, and the care for our wounded warriors and their families need to be factored into this, as well. But $2.4 trillion is pure speculation.
Q If you can say it's inaccurate and others can say it's wildly inaccurate, surely there must be some kind of quantifiable sense as to what this --
MS. PERINO: I think what they looked at 10 years ago -- the answer is we just don't operate that way in terms of providing a federal budget. We provide as much information as we can, but there are changing conditions on the ground and it's just -- it would not serve the public well to put out numbers that we don't have any confidence in.
Q Is that number -- if that number turned out to be somewhere close to accurate, do you think that would be a reasonable amount of money to be spending on the war --
MS. PERINO: You're asking me another hypothetical question; if that were to be true. I'm not going to answer that.
Q -- that doesn't strike you as --
MS. PERINO: Look, what I can tell you is that I'm not going to worry about the number. What I'm worried about is making sure that the President gets what he needs in order to provide the safety and security for the country. And we have spent a lot of money on the global war on terror. I think we're spending it smartly and we are going to continue to do that. And whoever comes in as President is January of 2009, I'm sure when they sit down and have their first briefing is that they're going to feel the same way.
Q Dana, could I follow up on that?
MS. PERINO: Sure.
Q For fiscal '09, there's a $50 million placeholder for it. Given the fact that the supplemental --
MS. PERINO: $50 million?
Q -- $50 billion, I'm sorry.
MS. PERINO: Go again.
Q Given the fact that the request for '08 in the supplemental is now $250 billion, is $50 billion for '09 seem realistic?
MS. PERINO: Again, what we try to do is, as we said back in February, we're going to try to provide Congress with as much information as we possible can, but it's -- and I believe Rob Portman, who was the OMB Director at the time, said it's too difficult to project that far into the future because we don't know what the commanders on the ground are going to need. One of the reasons that we've asked for an additional $46 billion is because General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker came back, gave their congressionally-mandated testimony, reported to the President, and the President said, carry on, fulfill this plan, and come back in March and tell us how it's going, provide a progress update. So it's just -- it's difficult to try to project this too far into the future.
Any more on that? Okay, I'm going to go to John.
Q Back on the CDC testimony. You said this morning that Dr. Gerberding's testimony was not watered down. Can you tell us why it was altered to leave out any discussion of serious health effects relating to global warming, and to leave out her original comment that, "CDC considers climate change a serious public health concern"?
MS. PERINO: Look, I haven't seen the specific edits. What I can tell you is that she's giving a speech today at the Atlanta Press Club and she plans to address this issue. Little bit about -- take a step back. This administration's policy on climate change is an open book. There is robust information about where we stand on policy, on the science, on the initiatives, and on the international cooperation that we have initiated under this President.
One of the things that happens under our administration and previous administrations is that testimony comes to a process where everyone gets a chance to have a look at it. In this case, the testimony I believe came a little bit less than 24 hours before it was going to be given. The CDC, they are the experts when it comes to disease vectors. There are experts that deal specifically with climate science. For example, at USDA, people who work on crop rotation issues and the health of crops know how climate change is going to affect -- they can study how climate change might affect crops. At EPA they consider how climate change will relate to public health and air benefits -- I'm sorry, air quality. And somebody like NOAA would look at the weather-related events.
CDC's specific responsibility is on public health, and she testified about that yesterday. And one of the things that she told us this morning, late morning, is that she, at the Atlanta Press Club, is going to reiterate that she in no way felt inhibited or hindered by what she was going to say. But when you take a very complicated issue, like climate change science, and you have the International Panel on Climate Change, which reported last spring -- this is a study that the United States largely funded, and that we embraced in its conclusions -- as I understand it, in the draft there was broad characterizations about climate change science that didn't align with the IPCC.
And we have experts and scientists across this administration that can take a look at that testimony and say, this is an error, or this doesn't make sense. And so the decision on behalf of CDC was to focus that testimony on public health benefits -- there are public health benefits to climate change, as well, but both benefits and concerns that somebody like a Dr. Gerberding, who is the expert in the field, could address. And so that's the testimony that she provided yesterday, and I would refer you to her comments in Atlanta today, as well.
Q Can you just describe what the problem was? I mean, was it going too far? Were these alarmist --
MS. PERINO: No, I think what it is, is when you take -- when you try to summarize what is a very complicated issue and you have many different experts who have a lot of opinions, and you get testimony less than 24 hours before it's going to be given, you -- scientists across the administration were taking a look at it, and there were a decision that she would focus where she is an expert, which is on CDC.
Anybody who wants to look at what the President thinks about climate change looks -- needs to only look back three weeks ago to when he gave a major address on climate change when he invited all 15 of the major economies of this world to come together to work on a solution -- work on a path to get to a solution to help the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. And we have an open book on the subject.
Q But would it have been outside her purview to say that the CDC considers climate change a serious public health concern?
MS. PERINO: No, I think that -- she has said that before. And in fact, she just -- she was telling us that she has co-authored a -- one of the folks there at CDC has just co-authored a major paper that ran in a publication about that very issue. So CDC is on record saying that climate change is a public health concern, and we agree.
Q What is the current U.S. assessment of Fidel Castro's health, and did that play any role at all in the timing for the President's speech today?
MS. PERINO: Well, what we do know is he's still alive. We don't have any other information about the state of his health or how he's feeling. But clearly we are nearing -- he's nearing the twilight years, the end of his life, and because of that, we see a groundswell of support growing in Cuba for democracy. And what the President will do today is stand up for those deprived of their fundamental rights in Cuba.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights should apply to everybody and everyone in the Western Hemisphere. People of Cuba don't necessarily get to have those benefits. And the President will stand up today and say that we are not asking countries to endorse our embargo policy, but we are asking them to seriously consider helping those people get to a democracy. There are many countries who have been helpful that -- with that in the past. To name a few, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland has been very supportive. But they -- pro-democracy activists in the UK and France and Germany have also supported human rights in Cuba, and the President will have a very strong speech in just about 20 minutes.
Q To follow on that, Cuba's Foreign Minister told Prensa Latina that President Bush is "obsessed with Cuba," saying "the President sees his mandate coming to an end, has been unable to make Cuba surrender and get the results the mafia and the Cuban ultra-right wing in Miami were expecting." Do you have a response?
MS. PERINO: Our policy is based on supporting human rights in Cuba. The President has spoken out about it several times. The President is obsessed with human rights -- if that is an accusation that they want to lodge against the President, we'll take it as a compliment. He is obsessed with human rights. He believes everybody is born with the right to be free, and that includes the people of Cuba. And he doesn't want the international community to turn a blind eye to what they're going to go through in this transition.
Q You talked about scheduling for this speech, that it was a speech in the making for quite some time, that the President met with dissident families last week. Yet is this also a scheduling issue because the U.N. General Assembly is about to vote on this Cuban resolution --
MS. PERINO: No.
Q -- to demand the end to the embargo on October 30th?
MS. PERINO: No, and in fact -- no, the National Security background official last night said that he couldn't even remember what the date was. I can tell you that President Bush has wanted to give a speech about Cuba for a while. We looked at the calendar; this was the best date that worked for him being in town and for us to be able to give this speech. And I think the date is less important than what he's going to say. I will tell you, he will meet with some dissident families, as well, today before the speech, and they will be there in the audience.
Anyone else on Cuba? Okay, Peter.
Q Back on the CDC, Dana. You said many experts have a lot of opinions. So why wasn't the Senate committee able to hear Dr. Gerberding's full opinion? Why were 10 pages of 14 taken out?
MS. PERINO: I disagree, Peter. I think that she was able to give her full opinion, and she will say so, as well. I talked to her -- we talked to her today; Tony Fratto did. And she feels that this is being blown out of proportion; that she was able to provide Congress with her thinking and her expertise on this issue.
Clearly we think climate change is a problem. We know that the Earth is warming. We believe that humans are largely responsible. And the President has initiated a process so that we can get to a framework to have discussions about how to end global warming after 2012. I shouldn't say "end global warming" -- we know it's going to happen -- how we can help curtail it and stop the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.
Q Is it typical for the White House to cut that much of an administration official's prepared --
MS. PERINO: I don't look at -- what I can tell you, it is typical for us to review testimony that comes across. And I think that when you have an issue as large as climate change and as complicated -- and the White House reaches out to all sorts of scientists across the administration when it comes to climate change -- if they have concerns that the IPCC document, which we agreed to its conclusions on, does not align with the testimony, that the prudent thing to do is to move forward, to have her testimony -- remember, we only suggest the edits. CDC made the decision as to what testimony they were going to provide. And so Dr. Gerberding feels very comfortable with what she provided.
Q So some of the senators are asking to see the full, uncut version. Will the CDC supply that to them?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'm sure there will be a request, and we'll talk to them and we'll see. I'm not prepared to say whether or not they'll turn it over.
Q It's being circulated by some outside groups, doctors groups and so forth, that had access to it beforehand.
MS. PERINO: It's likely that there will be a request. And I'm not prepared, from this podium, to be able to say whether they'll turn it over or not.
Q Why wouldn't they?
MS. PERINO: This is a CDC document, it's not a White House document.
Q Who initiated the communication between Dr. Gerberding and the White House today?
MS. PERINO: We called to find out -- her spokesperson is quoted in several of the stories that ran this morning, saying that she was very comfortable with her testimony and did not feel inhibited. We wanted to call and make sure that he was quoted accurately. So that's why we reached out to him.
Q There's another CDC in that article -- another CDC official was saying that the testimony was "eviscerated," which is pretty -- I guess accusing the White House of playing very heavy hands.
MS. PERINO: I understand what they're accusing us of, but I can -- I just reject it. I will tell you that, again, we believe climate change is real; we believe that humans are largely responsible; we are working on a way to solve the problem. And in the meantime, we are working with experts like Julie Gerberding to figure out what are going to be the health benefits and the health concerns of climate change, of which there are many. And she testified fully on it yesterday.
Anybody else on this? Okay.
Q As I'm sure you're aware, there have been a lot of scientists that have gone before Congress and have said that their testimony has been edited, and that it has been basically -- I wouldn't say eviscerated, but with certain things not included in the testimony --
MS. PERINO: I think you're -- I know of one instance that you're referring to, Paula, and I will tell you that, once again, it was edited to make sure that it comported and aligned with the science that was provided by our own National Academy of Sciences. There are experts in this area that can look at it and know exactly what they would say to make sure that it's in line with the science. If you're not an expert on the science, I think -- to me, it makes sense to ask an expert on the science if what you're saying is accurate. And if we are guided by the IPCC document and our own National Academy of Sciences, I think that's pretty good company.
Q One of the issues that was edited was the human factor, the involvement of the human factor in --
MS. PERINO: We are on record -- Paula, Paula, that was several years ago, and it was based exactly upon the words -- you can take it right there in the black and white from the National Academy of Sciences document, which is what the President asked for and what he accepted when he got it.
Q I have a question relating to the DREAM Act.
MS. PERINO: Anybody else on this?
Q Just one quick -- following up on what Jim was getting at. Did you ask -- did the White House ask her to go before this Atlanta press audience?
MS. PERINO: No, she already had it scheduled, and she said she wanted to address it.
Q She had a previous speech scheduled --
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q -- or a speech on this --
MS. PERINO: She had an appearance at the Atlanta Press Club scheduled, and she said she wanted to address this.
Q Did she have to get your permission to do that?
MS. PERINO: Absolutely not. Just as she didn't have to ask permission to publish a commentary in the Journal of American Medical Association, JAMA.
MS. PERINO: On the public health concerns of climate change, which just recently got published. It was one of the things that she was going to bring up. Those types of things don't go through White House -- testimony does, which is different.
Q The administration put out a SAP today on the DREAM Act. And the point being made was that it felt that preferential legal status was being made to certain alien minors. My question is, some of those alien minors who have served either in the military for two years or attended college for two years, the administration objects to them getting permanent status. And I just wondered why there's an objection -- if alien minors can serve in the military for two years, why does the administration feel that they shouldn't be given permanent legal status?
MS. PERINO: Paula, we continue to believe that the best way to address this issue is through a comprehensive bill, one that would put border security and interior security first, and that creates a temporary worker program and helps immigrants assimilate into our society. You may recall in the immigration debate we supported an alternative to the DREAM Act, in the context of overall comprehensive immigration reform. That's obviously what is not being considered now, and we will review it. But I would note that the President has not supported it as a standalone measure in the past.
Q Dana, Prime Minister Maliki said he's going to close the PKK offices in Iraq. Prime Minister Maliki made the same promise in September of last year. Why should Turkey trust Prime Minister Maliki on this?
MS. PERINO: I did look into that, Olivier, and we can understand why the Turks would be skeptical, because that pledge was made. It does need to be fulfilled. We'll be talking to the Iraqis about that, as well.
Q And one more. You mentioned that there are health benefits to climate change. Could you describe some of those?
MS. PERINO: Sure. In some cases, there are -- look, this is an issue where I'm sure lots of people would love to ridicule me when I say this, but it is true that many people die from cold-related deaths every winter. And there are studies that say that climate change in certain areas of the world would help those individuals. There are also concerns that it would increase tropical diseases and that's -- again, I'm not an expert in that, I'm going to let Julie Gerberding testify in regards to that, but there are many studies about this that you can look into.
Q Can you just explain why the administration takes issue with the CBO's projections of the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it's perfectly reasonable to put out -- OMB puts out a five-, 10-year budget deficit projections?
MS. PERINO: Well, remember the budget deficit projections include our war costs, and so we look at those, that's a -- we do projections for the budget and the deficit every year. That's a pretty good economic -- they have it down to a science over at OMB. We're not always a nation at war and that is different and there are changing circumstances on the ground, and when you don't know what the generals are going to need, then you have to wait and see. That's why we think it's too speculative to put out a number like CBO did.
Q So how can OMB then put out that five-, 10-year budget projection if they don't know, for instance, how long the war will go five or 10 years out?
MS. PERINO: As I said, we try to take as many -- we take into account the projections that we can. In the budget deficit projections that we have we have included those war costs in the past -- I can't remember -- the past, I think five years -- I'm sorry, four years, but Sean Kavelighan at OMB can give you more information about it. He was here talking to me about it earlier. We just don't think that it's appropriate to wildly speculate and throw out a number like $2.4 trillion that is based on just hypotheticals. It's just -- it's not a smart way to run a railroad.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions: The AP reports from Denver that Senator Clinton said that if elected she would "consider giving up some of the executive powers assumed by President Bush and Vice President Cheney." And my question: Does the White House know of any such powers assumed by the Bush administration that do not constitutionally belong to the President and the Vice President?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on her comments. I can refer you to the RNC for those or to her campaign.
Q Therefore, what's your --
MS. PERINO: The President and the Vice President operate within the Constitution.
Q Therefore, the White House considers this more of candidate Clinton's sometimes --
MS. PERINO: Okay, that's it. That's it. No, moving on.
Q -- astonishing rhetoric, wouldn't you say that?
MS. PERINO: No.
Q You wouldn't?
Q Dana, this morning Secretary Rice testified in front of the House Foreign Relations Committee and said that errors were made in the case of Maher Arar -- the rendition of Arar to Syria, where he was tortured, and that changes have to be made. Is the White House aware of this? And if so, what sort of changes is the administration thinking of in cases of rendition?
MS. PERINO: I'm not -- I didn't have a chance to see her testimony because I was in the Cabinet Room, so we'll have to get back to you. And I would also note -- I saw a picture from that hearing where a lady in Code Pink with red painted on her hands disrupted the hearing. And I think it's despicable. And unfortunately, it seems that increasingly Congress is being run by Code Pink. We do thank Chairman Lantos for trying to restore order to that hearing.
Q There's a quote extensively that during a telephone communication yesterday between President Bush and the Turkish President, U.S. government is considering now seriously air strikes including cruise missiles against PKK Kurdish rebels -- any comment on that?
MS. PERINO: No comment on that. And I will just remind you, is that we are trying to encourage the Iraqis and the Turks to work cooperatively with one another. Obviously Turkey has a right to defend itself. They have eight soldiers that are missing right now. They have a right to look for them. And what we would urge is that when they go after the PKK that they have it -- that they make that targeted and limited just to that action. END 1:22 P.M. EDT
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 23, 2007
President Bush Visits National Defense University, Discusses Global War on Terror Washington, D.C., 10:08 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Please be seated. (Applause.) Thanks for the warm welcome. Madam President. (Laughter.) Thank you for that kind introduction. Thank you for welcoming me back to the National Defense University. I really enjoy coming here. After all, this is a great American institution that has educated our nation's top military leaders and national security thinkers for more than a century.
Today, you're training the next generation of leaders to prevail in the great ideological struggle of our time -- the global war on terror. We're at war with a brutal enemy. We're at war with cold-blooded killers who despise freedom, reject tolerance, and kill the innocent in pursuit of their political vision. Many of you have met this enemy on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq -- you have served with valor in the defense of our country. Students here at NDU have earned three Purple Hearts and more than 90 Bronze Stars since the war on terror began. All of you who wear the uniform are helping to protect this country, and the United States of America is grateful for your service. (Applause.)
In this war, we're on the offensive against the enemy -- and that's the only way to be. We'll fight them in foreign lands so we don't have to face them here in America. We'll pursue the terrorists across the world. We'll take every lawful and effective measure to protect ourselves here at home. In an age when terrorist networks and terrorist states are seeking weapons of mass destruction, we must be ready to defend our nation against every possible avenue of attack. I've come today to discuss the actions we're taking to keep our people safe -- and to update you on the progress of an initiative I announced on this very campus in 2001, and that is our efforts to defend America against a ballistic missile attack. My administration made a commitment to the American people then that we will defend you against all forms of terror -- including the terror that could arrive as a result of a missile. And we're keeping that commitment.
Another topic of concern is the devastation caused by the wildfires in southern California. All of us across this nation are concerned for the families who have lost their homes, and the many families who have been evacuated from their homes. We send our prayers and thoughts with those who've been affected, and we send the help of the federal government, as well.
Last night I declared an emergency which -- open up the opportunity for us to send federal assets to help the Governor and those who are fighting these fires. Today I have sent Secretary Chertoff and Director Paulison of the FEMA to go out to California to listen, develop an inventory of supplies and help that we can provide.
I appreciate very much the fact that the senior Senator from Alaska has joined us -- no stronger supporter for the United States military than Ted Stevens. We're proud you're here, Senator. Thank you for coming. (Applause.) I want to thank Congressman Todd Akin for joining us, as well, from the state of Missouri. Proud you're here, Congressman. Appreciate both of you all taking your time. (Applause.)
There's a lot of high-ranking officials here, but I do want to single out one -- that would be your Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, United States Marine James "Hoss" Cartwright. General, thank you for coming. Appreciate you being here. (Applause.) Thanks for letting me come by.
The men and women of the National Defense University understand what is at stake in today's war. First of all, you understand we're in war. And secondly, you understand the stakes of this war. On September the 11th, 2001, terrorists struck us five miles from this very spot. They crashed a plane into the Pentagon and killed 184 men, women, and children. And from this campus, you could see the smoke billowing across the Potomac. You lost one of your own that day -- Navy Captain Bob Dolan, Class of 1998, who was working in the Pentagon office when the plane hit it. With us today are four NDU students and one professor who helped with the rescue effort. These souls pulled victims from the wreckage, they provided emergency medical care, and they flew choppers to support recovery operations at the site of the attack. The attack that day was personal for people here at NDU. I took it personally, as well.
With the presence -- with the passage of time, the memories of September the 11th have grown more distant. That's natural. That's what happens with time. And for some, there's the temptation to think that the threats to our country have grown distant, as well. They have not. And our job, for those of us who have been called to protect America, is never to forget the threat, and to implement strategies that will protect the homeland. On 9/11, we saw that oceans which separate us from other continents no longer separates us from danger. We saw the cruelty of the terrorists. We saw the future they intend for us. They intend to strike our country again. Oh, some dismiss that as empty chatter; I'm telling you, they intend to strike our country again. And the next time they hope to cause destruction that will make 9/11 pale by comparison.
This new kind of threat has required a new kind of war -- and we're prosecuting that war on many fronts. Our Armed Forces have captured or killed thousands of extremists and radicals. We have removed terrorist regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq that had supported terrorists and threatened our citizens. In these two nations we liberated 50 million people from unspeakable tyranny -- and now we're helping them build stable democracies that can govern justly and protect their citizens, and serve as allies in this war against extremists and radicals.
And one of the real challenges we face is will we have confidence in the liberty to be transformative? Will we lose faith in the universality of liberty? Will we ignore history and not realize that liberty has got the capacity to yield the peace we want? So this administration, along with many in our military, will continue to spread the hope of liberty, in order to defeat the ideology of darkness, the ideology of the terrorists -- and work to secure a future of peace for generations to come. That's our call.
In this new war, the enemy seeks to infiltrate operatives into our country and attack us from within. They can't beat our armies; they can't defeat our military. And so they try to sneak folks in our country to kill the innocent, to achieve their objectives. And that's one of the reasons we passed the Patriot Act -- and over the past six years, our law enforcement and intelligence officers have used the tools in this good law to break up terror cells and support networks in California, in New York, in Ohio, in Virginia, in Florida, and other states.
In this new war, the enemy uses advanced technology to recruit operatives and to train suicide bombers and to plan and plot new attacks on our country. And so we passed the Protect America Act, which strengthened our ability to collect foreign intelligence on terrorists overseas. It closed a dangerous gap in our intelligence. Unfortunately, this law is set to expire on February the 1st -- 101 days from now. Yet the threat from al Qaeda is not going to expire 101 days from now. So I call on Congress to make sure our intelligence professionals have the tools they need to keep us safe by strengthening the Protect American Act, and making it the permanent law of the land.
In this new war, the enemy conspires in secret -- and often the only source of information on what the terrorists are planning is the terrorists themselves. So we established a program at the Central Intelligence Agency to question key terrorist leaders and operatives captured in the war on terror. This program has produced critical intelligence that has helped us stop a number of attacks -- including a plot to strike the U.S. Marine camp in Djibouti, a planned attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi, a plot to hijack a passenger plane and fly it into Library Tower in Los Angeles, California, or a plot to fly passenger planes into Heathrow Airport and buildings into downtown London.
Despite the record of success, and despite the fact that our professionals use lawful techniques, the CIA program has come under renewed criticism in recent weeks. Those who oppose this vital tool in the war on terror need to answer a simple question: Which of the attacks I have just described would they prefer we had not stopped? Without this program, our intelligence community believes that al Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland. This CIA program has saved lives -- it is vital to the security of the American people.
In this new war, the enemy seeks weapons of mass destruction that would allow them to kill our people on an unprecedented scale. So we're working with friends and allies to stop our enemies from getting their hands on these weapons. We increased funding for a threat reduction program that is helping us to secure nuclear warheads and fissile materials in Russia. We launched the Global Threat Reduction Initiative that has removed enough material for more than 30 nuclear bombs from around the world. We launched the Container Security Initiative and other programs to detect and stop the movement of dangerous materials in foreign ports, and intercept these materials before they are placed on vessels destined for the United States.
With Russia, we launched the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, a coalition of more than 60 nations that are using their own resources to stop the illicit spread of nuclear materials. We established the Proliferation Security Initiative, a coalition of more than 80 nations working to intercept shipments of weapons of mass destruction on land and at sea and in the air. With our allies, we're going after the proliferators and shutting down their financial networks. And through these and other efforts, the message should be clear to the enemy: We're not going to allow mass murderers to gain access to the tools of mass destruction.
The war on terror will be won on the offense -- and that's where I intend to keep it, on the offense. Yet protecting our citizens is -- also requires defensive measures here at home. It's a new kind of war. It's a different conflict that you're studying here at NDU. It requires us to use all assets to keep the pressure on the enemy. There should be no day where they do not feel the pressure of the United States of America and our allies.
But at home, we've got to put defensive measures in place, measures that we have never had to put in place before. Since 2001, we've taken unprecedented actions to protect our citizens. After all, it's our most solemn duty in Washington, D.C., to protect the American people. We created the Department of Homeland Security. We established a new Northern Command at the Department of Defense. We established new programs to protect our cities against biological and radiological attacks. We beefed up airport and seaport security at home. We've instituted better visa screening for those entering our country. Since September of 2001, my administration has provided more than $23 billion to America's state and local first responders for equipment, and training, and other vital needs.
One of the most important defensive measures we have taken is the deployment of new capabilities to defend America against ballistic missile attack. On 9/11, we saw the damage our enemies could do by hijacking planes loaded with jet fuel, and turning them into missiles, and using them to kill the innocent. Today, dangerous regimes are pursuing far more powerful capabilities, and building ballistic missiles that could allow them to deliver these weapons to American cities.
The ballistic missile threat to America has been growing for decades. In 1972, just nine countries had ballistic missiles. Today, that number has grown to 27 -- and it includes hostile regimes with ties to terrorists. When I took office, our nation had no capability to defend the American people against long-range ballistic missile attacks. Our research, development, and testing program was hampered by a lack of funding. Our efforts to develop and deploy missile defense were constrained by the ABM Treaty -- a 30-year-old agreement negotiated with a Soviet Union that no longer existed.
So one of my administration's first national security initiatives was to reinvigorate our country's efforts to defend against ballistic missile attack. Here at the National Defense University, I announced America's intention to move beyond the ABM Treaty, and deploy missile defenses to protect our people, our forces abroad, and our allies around the world against limited attacks. I also pledged that as we build these defenses, America would undertake significant reductions in nuclear weapons -- and that we would establish a new approach to deterrence that would leave behind the adversarial legacy of the Cold War, and allow us to prepare for the threats of the 21st century. Over the past years, we have delivered on these pledges.
The first step we took was to withdraw from the ABM Treaty. At the time, critics warned of a disaster, with some declaring that our -- my decision could "give rise to a dangerous new arms race with Russia." Russia did not agree with my decision to withdraw. Yet President Putin declared that the decision at the time "does not pose a threat to Russia." And far from a new arms race, he announced that Russia would join the United States in making historic reductions in our deployed offensive nuclear arsenals.
The second step we took was to make missile defense operational, while continuing our research and development efforts. Instead of spending decades trying to develop a perfect shield, we decided to begin deploying missile defense capabilities as soon as the technology was proven ready -- and then build on that foundation by adding new capabilities as they matured. By the end of 2004, we had a rudimentary capability in place to defend against limited missile attacks by rogue states or an accidental launch. As new technologies come online, we continue to add to this system -- making it increasingly capable, and moving us closer to the day when we can intercept ballistic missiles of all ranges, in every stage of flight: from boost, to mid-course, and terminal.
The third step we took was to reach out to the world and involve other nations in the missile defense effort. Since 2001, we've worked closely with countries such as Israel, and Italy, and Germany, and Japan, and the Netherlands, and Britain, and others on missile defense. Together with our friends and allies, we're deploying early warning radars, and missile interceptors, and ballistic missile defense ships. We're working to jointly develop new missile defense capabilities. As a result of this collaboration, missile defense has gone from an American innovation to a truly international effort to help defend free nations against the true threats of the 21st century.
Our decision to make missile defense operational was validated in July of last year, when North Korea launched a series of destabilizing ballistic missile tests, including testing a system our intelligence community believes is capable of reaching the United States. Had these tests taken place just a few years earlier, they would have underscored America's vulnerability to a ballistic missile attack. Instead, because of the decisions we took in 2001, and because of the hard work of people in this room, our military had in place a capability to track the North Korean vehicle and engage it if it threatened our country. So a test North Korea intended to showcase its power became a demonstration that the pursuit of ballistic missiles will ultimately be fruitless -- because America and our allies are building and deploying the means to defend against this threat.
Last month, the Missile Defense Agency conducted its 30th successful "hit to kill" test since 2001. We got a lot of smart people working on this project, and they're proving that our vision can work. With this most recent success, our military commanders believe we can now have a credible system in place that can provide the American people with a measure of protection against threats emanating from Northeast Asia. The next step is to take a system that has passed demanding tests in the Pacific theater and deploy elements of it to Europe -- so we can defend America and our NATO allies from attacks emanating from the Middle East.
The need for missile defense in Europe is real and I believe it's urgent. Iran is pursuing the technology that could be used to produce nuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles of increasing range that could deliver them. Last November, Iran conducted military exercises in which it launched ballistic missiles capable of striking Israel and Turkey, as well as American troops based in the Persian Gulf. Iranian officials have declared that they are developing missiles with a range of 1,200 miles, which would give them the capability to strike many of our NATO allies, including Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, and possibly Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia. Our intelligence community assesses that, with continued foreign assistance, Iran could develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States and all of Europe before 2015. If it chooses to do so, and the international community does not take steps to prevent it, it is possible Iran could have this capability. And we need to take it seriously -- now.
Today, we have no way to defend Europe against the emerging Iranian threat, so we must deploy a missile defense system there that can. This system will be limited in scope. It is not designed to defend against an attack from Russia. The missile defenses we can employ would be easily overwhelmed by Russia's nuclear arsenal. Russia has hundreds of missiles and thousands of warheads. We're planning to deploy 10 interceptors in Europe. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to do the math. (Laughter.)
Moreover, the missile defenses we will deploy are intended to deter countries who would threaten us with ballistic missile attacks. We do not consider Russia such a country. The Cold War is over. Russia is not our enemy. We're building a new security relationship, whose foundation does not rest on the prospect of mutual annihilation.
As part of the new relationship, we're inviting Russia to join us in this cooperative effort to defend Russia, Europe and the United States against an emerging threat that affects us all. For his part, President Putin has offered the use of radar facilities in Azerbaijan and southern Russia. We believe that these sites could be included as part of a wider threat monitoring system that could lead to an unprecedented level of strategic cooperation between our two countries.
For our part, we're planning to deploy a system made up of 10 ground-based interceptors located in Poland and an X-Band tracking radar located in the Czech Republic. Such a system would have the capacity to defend countries in Europe that would be at risk from a long-range attack from the Middle East. We're also working with NATO on developing capabilities to defend countries against short- and medium-range attacks from the Middle East. We want to work on such a system with Russia, including through the NATO-Russia Council. The danger of ballistic missile attacks is a threat we share -- and we ought to respond to this threat together.
The effort to develop ballistic missile defenses is part of a broader effort to move beyond the Cold War and establish a new deterrence framework for the 21st century. In 1960, President Eisenhower spoke to the students at this campus. He told them, "Our first priority task is to develop and sustain a deterrent commanding the respect of any potential aggressor." And during those early years of the Cold War, deterrence required building a nuclear force large enough to survive and retaliate after a Soviet first strike.
Today, our adversaries have changed. We no longer worry about a massive Soviet first strike. We worry about terrorist states and terrorist networks that might not be deterred by our nuclear forces. To deal with such adversaries we need a new approach to deterrence. This approach combines deep reductions in offensive nuclear forces with new, advanced conventional capabilities and defenses to protect free people from nuclear blackmail or attack.
So in 2001, I directed the Department of Defense to achieve a credible deterrent -- a credible deterrent -- with the lowest number of nuclear weapons consistent with our national security needs, including our obligations to our allies. These reductions were eventually codified in the Moscow Treaty, which commits the United States and Russia to reduce our operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 within five years from now. Since the Moscow Treaty took effect, the United States has retired all of our Peacekeeper ICBMs, and reduced our operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads from more than 6,000 when I took office to fewer than 3,800 today. When the rest of the reductions we have set in motion are completed, the total U.S. nuclear stockpile will be one-quarter its size at the end of the Cold War, the lowest level since the Eisenhower administration.
As we reduce our nuclear arsenal, we're investing in advanced conventional capabilities. These include new unmanned aerial combat vehicles, and next generation long-range precision weapons that allows us to strike enemies quickly, at great distances, without using nuclear weapons. We're investing in the next generation of missile defenses -- because these systems do more than defend our citizens, they also strengthen deterrence.
Think of it this way: A terrorist regime that can strike America or our allies with a ballistic missile is likely to see this power as giving them free rein for acts of aggression and intimidation in their own neighborhoods. But with missile defenses in place, the calculus of deterrence changes in our favor. If this same terrorist regime does not have confidence their missile attack would be successful, it is less likely to engage in acts of aggression in the first place. We would also have more options for dealing with their aggression if deterrence fails.
In addition to strengthening our deterrent, missile defense also strengthens our counter-proliferation efforts. One reason for the dramatic proliferation of ballistic missile technology over the past 30 years is that America and our allies had no defense against them. By deploying effective defenses, we reduce incentives to build ballistic missiles -- because rogue regimes are less likely to invest in weapons that cannot threaten free nations.
Missile defense also helps us dissuade nations from developing nuclear weapons. Through our missile defense partnerships with nations in Asia and Europe and the Middle East, we can help friends and allies defend against missile attack. These defenses will build their confidence. And these defenses will make it less likely that they will feel the need to respond to the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea by developing nuclear weapons of their own.
Missile defense is a vital tool for our security. It's a vital tool for deterrence, and it's a vital tool for counter-proliferation. Yet despite all these benefits, the United States Congress is cutting funding for missile defense. Congress has cut our request for missile defenses in Europe by $139 million, which could delay deployment for a year or more and undermine our allies who are working with us to deploy such a system on their soil. Congress has eliminated $51 million from the Airborne Laser program -- a critical effort that will allow us to intercept missiles in the boost stage of flight, when they're still over the country that launched them. Congress has slashed $50 million from the Multiple Kill Vehicle program that will help us defeat both the incoming warhead and the decoys deployed to overcome our defenses. Congress has cut $50 million from the Space Tracking and Surveillance System, a constellation of space satellites that can help us more effectively detect and track ballistic missiles headed for our country. Each of these programs is vital to the security of America -- and Congress needs to fully fund them.
The greatest threat facing our nation in the 21st century is the danger of terrorist networks or terrorist states armed with weapons of mass destruction. We're taking decisive action at home and abroad to defend our people from this danger. With bold investments today, we can ensure that the men and women in this hall have the tools you need to confront the threats of tomorrow. We will ensure that you have the tools necessary to do the solemn duty of protecting the American people from harm.
I want to thank each of you for stepping forward to serve our country. You're courageous folks. Because of your willingness to volunteer in a time of war, there's no doubt in my mind we can prevail in this war. It requires determination, resolve, steadfast -- steadfastness in the face of a brutal enemy. And having served as the Commander-in-Chief for nearly six-and-three-quarters years, there's no doubt in my mind that the United States military has that resolve and has that courage. God bless you. (Applause.)
END 10:40 A.M. EDT
For Immediate Release October 23, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino James S. Brady Briefing Room, 12:47 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. I have three things to go over with you before we go to questions. First of all, the President continues to monitor the situation in southern California regarding the wildfires. He's being provided updates by senior staff. And Secretary Chertoff and FEMA Administrator Paulison are on their way to southern California as I speak. Tonight they will provide the President with an update on ongoing federal efforts and the situation on the ground in southern California.
Yesterday the President spoke with Governor Schwarzenegger, and Secretary Chertoff and Administrator Paulison have been in regular contact with the Governor's staff and local officials. Overnight the President declared an emergency in southern California. FEMA is coordinating federal support to state and local officials -- going to try to see if we can pull up some slides here. We have one. I just wanted to show you a little bit about the -- just to give you some little bit of detail about what is being provided.
To date, there has been a lot -- many different agencies coming together: DHS, DOD, USDA, and the Interior Department, just to name a few. They are providing crews, engines, helicopters. And DOD also, because they have eight DOD installations in the area, are able to provide a lot of different things such as personnel and cots, and 280,000 bottles of water is one of the other things that they can provide.
So we will provide you an update on the President's readout of that call tonight, after he talks to Paulison and Chertoff, when they're on the ground.
Q Will the President be going himself anytime soon?
MS. PERINO: I'll get to questions in a moment.
On a personnel announcement, today President Bush is going to announce his intention to nominate Bobby Sturgell to serve as administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration. He is currently the Acting Administrator and Deputy Administrator of the FAA. Bobby has worked tirelessly to modernize our nation's air traffic control system. He was part of the announcement that the President made about six weeks ago. He has over three decades of real-world experience in the field. He served as a flight operations supervisor and a line pilot for United Airlines. He was an instructor at the Navy Fighter Weapons School -- it's also known as Top Gun. Some of you may have seen the movie. He shares the President's strong commitment to continuing to preserve the safest period of aviation on record. And we will call upon Congress to swiftly confirm him.
One last thing, on a personnel note, which is Judge Mukasey. He is an exceptional person; he's an exceptionally well-qualified nominee to be the next Attorney General of the United States. He showed that in his hearings last week in the Senate, over two days. He had scores of personal visits with members of Congress and committee members, two full days of public hearing, which is unusual for a nominee. The Senate Judiciary Committee failed to list the Judge's nomination to committee this week. We are actively encouraging the Senate to do that.
Just a couple of reminders. Senators on Capitol Hill have claimed that the Department of Justice is bereft of leadership and that they want somebody in there, and actually, three of the main Senators, Senators Schumer, Reid, and Leahy have all said that Judge Mukasey would actually be the person that they would want to have in there. Schumer said that this nation needs a new Attorney General and it can't afford to wait. Therefore, we are calling on Congress to actually schedule this vote. They're waiting until Thursday now to provide questions for the record. As soon as we get those questions for the record we will turn them around. But as you can see, Senator Reid and Senator Leahy, the Chairman of the committee, have said that Judge Mukasey would be an excellent Attorney General. Therefore, we see no reason for them to continue to delay his nomination.
Go to questions.
Q I'd like to ask you about the missile defenses and the threat posed by Iran. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov says North Korea poses a fundamental threat, but Iran does not. The President said today that Iran is going to have the ability to strike the United States and many European allies by 2015. How do you reconcile the two positions?
MS. PERINO: Well, the President -- I go back to what the United Nations Security Council unanimously has said, which is that Iran should not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. That is why they are under U.N. Security Council regulations and are under Chapter 7 regulations by the U.N. Security Council, that was unanimously passed because the world community does not believe Iran should be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.
We have provided a path for Iran to have a civilian nuclear power program. And Russia has been very supportive of that, as well. The President spoke to President Putin yesterday. He said that he feels confident that Russia agrees that Iran should not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. And what the President was talking about today is a anti-ballistic missile system that would protect our country and countries that are allies of ours, such as the NATO countries, from threats near and far. And we have a system now that's up and running in Alaska and California; we'd like to provide the same for our European partners for threats from countries like Iran.
Q But do you find it troubling that Russia is saying that Iran is not a threat?
MS. PERINO: I think that the President feels confident that Russia believes that Iran should not have a nuclear weapon. It's one of the reasons we have a unanimous U.N. Security resolution saying just that. And the international community is working together. We have what's called the P5-plus-1 process in order to pressure Iran. And we're looking at a possible second round -- I'm sorry, third round of economic sanctions that we're discussing with all of those countries, including Russia, right now.
Q Dana, the aggressive response to the fires, how much of that is done sort of with lessons learned from Katrina?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that there were lessons learned from Katrina, especially in regards to early communication and coordination between the federal, state, and local governments. Obviously, the situation is different. When you have a hurricane, there are days when you can prepare and prepare for evacuation. These fires can spark up overnight and literally your house is going up in smoke. And so that's why the President declared the emergency so that we can help people get to a place where they can be safe.
Clearly, when they're talking about increased coordination that means that you can get assets like those DOD assets and the U.S. Department of Agriculture assets, the Department of Interior assets to that region quickly. And I would say that the state and federal -- I'm sorry, the state and local governments are working quite well together, as well, which is why we've had a good coordinated response. It's a very dangerous situation. You have over 300,000 people evacuated, and the President is very concerned for not only their safety, but for how we are going to help them afterwards.
Q Well, when you send Secretary Chertoff out or Director Paulison or you take a minute to show us 280,000 bottles of water, is that designed to make sure folks know that the administration won't repeat its own mistakes?
MS. PERINO: I would say that it's not designed to do anything for me to show you that; it's to alert people to what the federal government is doing in order to help the people of southern California. The whole world is watching how much of the state -- the southern part of the state is on fire. The federal government is very concerned, the President is concerned himself, and that's why we're providing these assets. We did provide assets at Katrina. But there were lessons learned out of Katrina and I think that we are applying some of those, especially when it comes to early communication, early and often communication between our staff here at the federal level and then the Governor's staff and the Mayor's staff.
Q Is the President going to go out?
MS. PERINO: We don't have anything to announce in terms of the President going out. Right now it would be premature to announce because of the situation on the ground requiring so much of the security assets to be put towards helping people get out of harm's way, or to fight -- actually fight the fires. And so we are going to continue to update the President. He'll get a briefing tonight from Secretaries Chertoff and -- I'm sorry, Secretary Chertoff and Administrator Paulison. And then if we have more to update you on when -- whether he might go, we'll let you know.
Q And as far as he knows right now, is everything going as well as it could be going? I've seen a couple of wire reports that at the -- center they were asking for water and other things, donations.
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that -- again, being such an emergency where you have so many people needing to be in one place immediately, obviously they would need a lot of support; not only bottles of water, but cots, diapers, baby formula. People have had to leave immediately. Governor Schwarzenegger did tell the President he felt he was getting what he needed, but the President said, you've got an open line of communication, and if you need more, you just have to let us know.
Q The President said that Iran could have the ICBM by 2015. Do you believe that U.S. missile shields in Europe will be operational by then? And also -- I had a question on Russia.
MS. PERINO: Oh, okay, so we'll do this one first. What we're doing right now is having discussions with the Czechoslovakia government and the Polish government to talk about basing arrangements, where we would put the missile defense system. Those discussions are ongoing. At the same time, the President has directed Secretary Gates and Secretary Rice to work with Vladimir Putin's government in Russia in order to identify possible areas of cooperation.
The anti-missile defense system is not aimed at Russia. It is -- the whole purpose of it is to protect countries from rogue states, like Iran, from nuclear weapons or ballistic weapons that would happen to -- they would have range enough in order to hit one of those countries that is our NATO allies, or eventually to hit us. And so there's a lot of groundwork that has to be laid. They're currently working on the technologies, but until you have those basing arrangements, I think that it's a little premature to say exactly what date it would be turned on and deployed.
Q Apparently, Secretary Gates told the Russians that the United States would consider delaying -- delaying the missile defense system --
MS. PERINO: The way I read that is that we are going to continue doing all of these negotiations for the basing arrangements, working on the technology, continue to -- continuing to work with the Russians to see if any of their previous technology would fit with ours and be something that we could use jointly. So all of that groundwork is going to be laid.
I think that what he was talking about was an idea that lends to what we're all working towards, which is we don't want Iran to have a nuclear weapon; we are working to make sure that we can use all diplomatic means possible to make sure that they stop the enrichment and reprocessing of uranium; and that we can eventually, if they want to, if Iran wants to, they know exactly what they can do in order to reach a point where we can provide to them a civil nuclear power program, using the idea that the Russians had in order to provide the fuel and pick up the fuel, so that they can -- if they really want it for clean-burning nuclear energy, then they have a path to get there.
Q About what Secretary Gates said today and what the President said today. The President said that it's a serious situation we need to take care of now -- as far as the missile defense system in Europe. Secretary Gates said that there might be this deal where they could build it, but not activate it until there is definitive proof of a missile threat from Iran. How do you square the two statements there at the same time?
MS. PERINO: I think that we're all talking about the same thing, which is that we want to have a diplomatic solution to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon. It would be wonderful if we lived in a world where we didn't need an anti-ballistic missile program. But unfortunately, right now we think that we do. So we are going to continue to lay the groundwork. And if we get to the point were Iran decides that they do not want to have a nuclear weapon, where we can verify that, then we might decide that it wouldn't be necessary eventually. But we are working towards getting that through the basing arrangements, getting the technology organized and starting to build those platforms before we turn it on.
Q So the President supports this idea of leaving the switch off until --
MS. PERINO: I haven't talked to the President about it. I do think that Secretary Gates was talking about trying to solve the Iranian situation diplomatically, which is what we all want.
Q Did the President authorize Cheney to threaten Iran with serious consequences -- same language that we went into Iraq on?
MS. PERINO: Helen, I don't believe that the Vice President threatened Iran and I don't think that he said anything different than what the President --
Q He certainly did --
MS. PERINO: -- has said before.
Q -- "serious consequences," same language.
MS. PERINO: The Vice President didn't say anything different from what the President said before. If you look at the Vice President's speech, he said, we want to try to solve this diplomatically, but no President is going to take any option off the table. That's exactly what the President has said before. So it wasn't different.
Q He also threatened serious consequences. One other question. Is there any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?
MS. PERINO: Helen, we've talked about this before and I'm going to --
Q No, no, no, you've never answered it.
MS. PERINO: I know. (Laughter.)
Q How can you threaten a country that may have them, and know that another country does have them?
MS. PERINO: Helen, I'm going to let those countries speak for themselves.
Q Dana, back on the wildfires for a moment. Senator Barbara Boxer, this morning in a hearing, suggested that they're limited in the amount of National Guard equipment available to them in California because of commitments in Iraq. Specifically she said, "Right now we are down 50 percent in terms of our National Guard equipment because they're all in Iraq. The equipment -- half of the equipment, so we really will need help." Do you have a response to that?
MS. PERINO: I haven't heard that specifically. I know that that has been a concern. I think in another natural disaster that I'm -- I'm sorry?
Q In Kansas, Greensburg.
MS. PERINO: In Kansas. So obviously this nation -- we are a nation at war and when you are a nation at war you have to use assets that are available to you. And sometimes those come from the National Guard. I haven't heard about those concerns specifically. The President has said we will get them what they need. To the extent that there are holes in the system or not enough equipment, you can bet that the Defense Department and the President will be making sure that we provide what they need.
There are other places to get assets, as I mentioned; U.S. Department of Agriculture has fire engines and tanks that they can bring in, in order to help, as well. So we'll try to make sure that we get them what they need, either through additional DOD assets from other places -- I understand that the Nevada National Guard was going to be willing to help in California, as well. So there are ways to help.
Q But does it raise questions, though, about having these National Guard pieces of equipment elsewhere, outside of the state of California, where it was obviously intended to be used?
MS. PERINO: When we are a nation at war there are priorities that you have to make sure that the National Guard units that are serving -- that live in California, but are serving right now in Iraq, you want to make sure that they have the equipment that they need in order to protect themselves. And so you have to weigh those priorities. But I think that there are ways that we can make sure that California has what it needs.
Q You mentioned the suddenness of the fires in southern California. Aside from that, is this on a scale of the disaster you saw with Hurricane Katrina, and are you responding to it in a different way than the administration responded to Katrina?
MS. PERINO: I think that's too early to say in terms of the situation. Obviously a lot more people were evacuated and are safe, but their homes have been destroyed. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed. So while there might be similarities there, I think it's too early to say. And it's a different type of natural disaster, but what it does remind us is that natural disasters have a way of uprooting people's lives and making a situation where people have to start over. And it's -- I actually lived in San Diego for three years; I know what it's like to live in the West in a very dry part of the world and to worry about whether or not every fall and this time of year, when the Santa Anas come, that you could be vulnerable.
Q Are you using any of the lessons learned from Katrina in the federal response?
MS. PERINO: That's a similar question that Jim had, and we are obviously working to communicate better and earlier. And that was one of the things that -- out of Lessons Learned that we said that we could do. And we've applied that not just here, but in Kansas and in, I believe, tornadoes in Alabama, and then again with the bridge collapse in Minnesota. So I think that clearly those lessons were learned and they're being applied.
Go ahead, Bret.
Q On a different topic, Representative Pete Stark addressed the House today and apologized to colleagues and to the President and to his family, and also to U.S. troops offended by his remarks, saying that he hopes that with the apology he'll become as insignificant as he should be in the continuing debates over Iraq and health care. Does the President accept his apology?
MS. PERINO: This is the first I've heard of it. If it's true that he has apologized, I think that's appropriate. I hadn't heard it.
Let's go to Mark, and then over here.
Q Dana, can we talk about the Cuba speech tomorrow? As I understand it, the President wants to outline steps that the international community, including the United States, can/should take to help prepare for the day of the end of the long tyranny and the arrival of democracy. Are there specific steps that can be taken now, while the communist party is still running Cuba?
MS. PERINO: It's a little premature for me to get in front of the President's speech. Let me tell you a couple of things. First of all, it is true that soon the decades-long debate about our policy towards Cuba will come to a time when we're going to have an opportunity here, when Castro is no longer leading Cuba, that the people there should be able to have a chance at freedom and democracy. That opportunity is coming. The President will call on the world to come together and to support the people of Cuba in their growing support for democracy in the region.
One of the things the President will talk about is that the Cubans are prohibited by their government from participating in things that all of us have come to take for granted -- owning a business, or having access to the Internet. And these are things that can help provide for freedom and hopefully for the future of democracy, if they could lay the groundwork for people to be able to have their own business and to be able to educate themselves and have access to the outside world.
And the President has talked about Cuba in standalone speeches three times before: May 18, 2001, May 20, 2002, and October 10, 2003. This is a time for the President to remind people of our commitment to support the Cuban people's aspirations for freedom. And to the extent that we have more detail to give, we'll either have it later today or tomorrow morning.
Q Let me just ask you one thing, though, about -- Fidel Castro -- apparently it's already written in the Cuban media about the speech ahead of time -- predicting that the President is going to adopt new measures to accelerate the transition period in a way that is equivalent to a new conquest of Cuba by force.
MS. PERINO: Dictators say a lot of things, and most of them can be discounted, including that.
Q Dana --
MS. PERINO: Do you want to stay on Cuba?
Q Yes, just real quickly, Dana. Why now? What's the timing factor --
MS. PERINO: I checked on that. The President has wanted to give a speech on Cuba for a while. There's no significance to tomorrow's date, it just worked with the calendar. As you know, last week also the President met with one of the families of one of the Cuban dissidents who is suffering in prison right now. He's met with many of those families over the years and it's on his mind -- he talked about Cuba in the trade speech on October 12th -- and so we looked for an opportunity for the President to talk about it.
Q So was that meeting last week, was that some sort of an impetus to this?
MS. PERINO: No, it was on the schedule before that.
Q On the war supplemental, given that Democrats say they won't take it up till next year, the President wants it by Christmas, what is he going to do about it? Is he just going to take any opportunity he can, like this talk on the budget later this week, to keep bringing this up? Is that his plan?
MS. PERINO: Yes, the President is going to continue to talk about the war supplemental. Look, there's some time before DOD absolutely must have the money, but not that much time. And we saw last year that the Democrats are willing to play politics when it comes to providing money for the troops. They did it last June when they sent the bill -- the supplemental bill to the President. It was laden with pork. They sent a bill to the President they knew he would veto. He vetoed it and then we had negotiations and we got money for the troops.
Remember last February, at the request of Congress, the President provided an extensive amount of detail for what we thought we were going to need in the war on terror. And at that time, we also said we believe we're probably going to have to ask for more later in the fall. And then the congressionally mandated testimony of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker took place September 15th.
Following that is when the Department of Defense and the Department of State finalized what they would need for the troops. And so the President is going to continue to call on them. The Congress has not had a very good track record of getting things done this year. They've had the President's budget request since February. There have been no appropriations bills sent to the President's desk, even though it is 23 days after the end of the fiscal year. And no appointees have been named to the conference reports that Nancy Pelosi needs to name. Therefore, we can't get anything done.
And so the President is going to call on them to get this work done before they leave for the holidays. It's the least that they could do for the troops. And hopefully, the troops will be able to -- the troops' families will know by the holidays that they're going to be taken care of.
Q Dana, one on Turkey, one on Iran. On Turkey, apparently leaders there are now raising the prospects of possible U.S.-Turkish joint military operations against the PKK. Any reaction to that? Are you open to that idea? Is that a good idea?
MS. PERINO: Well, let me just remind you that yesterday the President reached out to -- by SVTS to Prime Minister Maliki, and he also spoke to -- by phone -- to President Gul of Turkey. What he urged for both of them was to exercise restraint, for them to communicate and to cooperate, because we do not want to see additional violence in that region.
That said, I would refer you to the multinational forces in Iraq to see what sort of support that they can provide. I am not aware of any American support for an air strike, like you said, but actionable intelligence is something that we can provide.
Q On Iran, several of my colleagues have tried to get an answer on this -- on Mr. Gates' comments, and the question is about the missile defense shield, it's not about the nuclear weapon. He said that the United States would build it and would hold off on activating it until we saw, what he'd said, was "definitive proof of an Iranian threat." Are you saying that if Iran backs off its nuclear program, there's no need to activate the missile?
MS. PERINO: Well, not necessarily. I think that what he was saying is an idea based on Iran. I haven't talked to Secretary Gates; obviously he's over in Europe. The way I read it is that he was proposing an idea that we go ahead and do what we said we would do, get the system built so that we can have it in place. And we don't -- we do believe that we are going to need it to prevent against a threat from Iran. But I think what Secretary Gates was talking about is the possibility of it maybe not having to be deployed if we can verify that Iran doesn't have ballistic weapons that they could aim at our NATO allies or at us. But those are a lot of "ifs." It's one of the reasons we don't answer hypotheticals, and so -- move on.
Q A lighter one. People are interested in the human side of people. How do you feel, and how does the President and the Vice President feel, when you're parodied the way you are today and this week in Doonesbury, or the way you are on the Daily Show? How do you really feel? Does it get under your skin?
MS. PERINO: No. I hardly have time to check it out.
I'll go to April.
Q All right, Dana, back on the fires, what is the involvement of HUD? We understand after Katrina, they started working out something in case there was a national disaster on that kind of scale when there is not enough housing. And we're hearing out of that area of California that more people are coming to areas who haven't even registered to stay in certain places. What is the role of HUD right now -- to find temporary housing for these people?
MS. PERINO: There will -- I think that right now the most important thing we can do is make sure that people are safe and that they have what they need in order to get through the next few days. Obviously, there is going to be a housing need. It's premature for me to say what the role of HUD is going to be. They have helped with vouchers and other types of assistance in the Gulf region after Katrina. And HUD provided that type of assistance, as did Department of Homeland Security. So it's a little premature for us to say, but we can -- we'll monitor it for you and let you know.
Q And as you're saying, some heads of agencies are over there and they're monitoring, they're going to give the President a call. What would be the criteria to make the President fly over there? What is needed for the President to go to California?
MS. PERINO: We'll let you know if he's going to go. It's just premature to say.
Q I mean, but what --
MS. PERINO: April, there's a lot of different factors that go into those decisions.
Q You mentioned about the importance of getting these appropriation bills to the President's desk, its November 16 deadline. That's also the deadline for the SCHIP program. I wondered how negotiations are going on that.
MS. PERINO: Well, obviously, we are very grateful for the 38 House Republicans who have all signed a letter saying that they want to expand SCHIP based on principle of making sure that poor children are taken care of first. That is a good place to start. That's where the President is on this bill. And so I'll not negotiate here from the podium, but we are having ongoing discussions with members of Congress.
Q And also on the emergency war supplemental, I know the President wants this done by Christmas, but in the meantime, DOD appropriations has a $50 billion bridge fund in it. So would the President support that bill?
MS. PERINO: What we would like is full funding out of the supplemental. We think that's the best way to go. Kicking the can down the road is not a good way to steer the taxpayers' money.
Q But does the President support the Defense appropriations bill, because that would buy a little time, wouldn't it?
MS. PERINO: I need to check. I think that we have a SAP out on it.
Let me go to Finlay.
Q Were you in San Diego in 2003 during the wildfires?
MS. PERINO: I was not. I've been here since right after September 11th.
Q Okay, but in 2003 there was a big dispute between San Diego and FEMA over reimbursements for cleanup and for housing. Can you assure the victims in San Diego and around San Diego and the local governments that there won't be the same kind of snafu or bottleneck --
MS. PERINO: Well, I don't know what all the details were there and all the discussions. But what I can assure you is that the President wants good coordination between the federal, state and local governments. And there are laws that govern a lot of this reimbursement. And so, to the extent that there are difficulties or bottlenecks, the President would want to see those broken through, so that we can cut through red tape and make sure people have what they need. But I'm just not prepared to talk about all the details that went into the 2003 decisions.
Let me go to Les.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. Yesterday, when the President posthumously awarded our nation's highest military honor to Navy SEAL Lieutenant Michael Murphy of New York, Senator Schumer of New York was present. But New York's other U.S. Senator was absent, "campaigning in California," her office explained. And my question: Does the White House believe that any political campaigning justified this New York candidate for a commander-in-chief of our armed forces being absent from this ceremony for a killed-in-action U.S. Navy hero from New York?
MS. PERINO: Les, I don't know -- look, I don't know the details surrounding that Senator's schedule, and I'll let the people of New York and the people of the military decide that.
Q In other words, your answer is no.
MS. PERINO: Let's move on to the second one.
Q There are reports that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has delegated key inspection requirements for Mexican trucks to a non-governmental trade organization. And my question: How can this nation's road, safety and border security be maintained when such responsible positions are turned over to organizations holding multiple loyalties?
MS. PERINO: I have not heard of that before, and I'll let Scott Stanzel respond to you.
MS. PERINO: Go ahead. Let's go over here.
Q Two quick questions. One back to Iran. I don't mean to sound naive, but what do you think of Ahmadinejad's assertion that the concern over a nuclear bomb is outdated, given -- I believe what he said in his 60 Minutes interview, that given what's going on in Iraq, that the war of the present and the future has much more to do with terrorism, hand-to-hand, IEDs, rather than a nuclear bomb?
MS. PERINO: Look, we believe as well as the rest of our allies in the U.N. Security Council that Iran should not have a nuclear weapon. And we believe that the reason we have to have these sanctions is because they want to get one. And so I think that until they make a full declaration that they do not want to have a nuclear weapon and they halt their enrichment and reprocessing activities, we are going to continue to move forward with the sanctions and with the missile defense system because we believe they want a nuclear weapon.
Q Okay, and the second question has to do with Annapolis.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q Given the gap between what the Palestinians are saying their goal is of the talks and where the Israelis are, what if anything is realistically expected to occur, and if so, do you have any clear idea of when?
MS. PERINO: Well, Secretary Rice was in the region last week and Steve Hadley is actually leaving tomorrow to go to the region, as well, to talk to the Palestinians and the Israelis about the underlying issues. We do believe that right now is the time to move forward on the core issues, to have a serious and substantive discussion about how do we get a Palestinian state. And until there's more detail to announce we'll decline.
Sara, go ahead.
Q Thank you. Dana, how does the President plan to bring peace to Iraq with the U.S. troops now focusing on the Shiite militias?
MS. PERINO: I'm sorry, how does he plan to what?
Q To bring peace to Iraq with the U.S. troops now focusing on the Shiite militias?
MS. PERINO: Look, our troops are focused on the threats that are there against the Iraqi people and our troops and the rest of the troops that are there for the multi-forces -- multinational forces in Iraq -- includes al Qaeda and all insurgents.
Thank you. END 1:17 P.M. EDT
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 22, 2007
President Bush Presents Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, U.S. Navy East Room, 2:24 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, and welcome to the White House. The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration that a President can bestow. It recognizes gallantry that goes above and beyond the call of duty in the face of an enemy attack. The tradition of awarding this honor began during the Civil War. And many of those who have received the medal have given their lives in the action that earned it.
Today, we add Lieutenant Michael Murphy's name to the list of recipients who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Deep in the mountains of Afghanistan, this brave officer gave his life in defense of his fellow Navy SEALs. Two years later, the story of his sacrifice humbles and inspires all who hear it. And by presenting Michael Murphy's family with the Medal of Honor that he earned, a grateful nation remembers the courage of this proud Navy SEAL.
I welcome the Vice President; Senator Ted Stevens; Senator Chuck Schumer, from Lieutenant Murphy's home state. I appreciate very much the fact that Congressman Tim Bishop, from Lieutenant Murphy's district, is with us today. Welcome. Thank you all for coming.
I appreciate the fact that Deputy Secretary Gordon England has joined us; Secretary Pete Geren of the Army; Secretary Don Winter of the Navy; Secretary Mike Wynne of the Air Force; Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs; Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations; and all who wear the nation's uniform. Welcome.
I appreciate the fact that we've got Barney Barnum, Tom Kelley, Tommy Norris, and Mike Thornton, Medal of Honor recipients, with us today.
We do welcome Dan Murphy and Maureen Murphy, father and mother of Michael Murphy; John Murphy, his brother; and other family members that are with us today.
It's my honor to welcome all the friends and comrades of Lieutenant Michael Murphy to the White House. And I want to thank Chaplain Bob Burt, Chief of Chaplains, for his opening prayer.
Looking back on his childhood in Patchogue, New York, you might say that Michael Murphy was born to be a Navy SEAL. SEALs get their name from operating by sea, air, and land -- and even as a toddler, Michael could find his way through any obstacle. When he was just 18 months old, he darted across a neighbor's yard, and dove into the swimming pool. By the time his frantic parents reached him, Michael had swum to the other side with a big smile on his face. As he grew older, Michael learned to swim from one side of a nearby lake to the other -- and he developed into a talented all-around athlete.
But beyond his physical strength, Michael Murphy was blessed with a powerful sense of right and wrong. This sense came from devoted parents who taught him to love his neighbor -- and defend those who could not defend themselves. Well, Michael took these lessons to heart. One day in school, he got into a scuffle sticking up for a student with a disability. It's the only time his parents ever got a phone call from the principal -- and they couldn't have been prouder. Michael's passion for helping others led him to become a caring brother, a tutor, a lifeguard, and eventually, a member of the United States Armed Forces.
Michael's decision to join the military wasn't an easy one for his family. As a Purple Heart recipient during Vietnam, Michael's father understood the sacrifices that accompany a life of service. He also understood that his son was prepared to make these sacrifices. After graduating from Penn State with honors, Michael accepted a commission in the Navy -- and later, set off for SEAL training. Fewer than a third of those who begin this intense training program graduate to become Navy SEALs. Yet there was little doubt about the determined lieutenant from New York. And in 2002, Michael earned his Navy SEAL Trident.
Michael also earned the respect of his men. They remember a wise-cracking friend who went by "Mikey" or "Murph." They remember a patriot who wore a New York City firehouse patch on his uniform in honor of the heroes of 9/11. And they remember an officer who respected their opinions, and led them with an understated, yet unmistakable, sense of command. Together, Michael and his fellow SEALs deployed multiple times around the world in the war against the extremists and radicals. And while their missions were often carried out in secrecy, their love of country and devotion to each other was always clear.
On June 28th, 2005, Michael would give his life for these ideals. While conducting surveillance on a mountain ridge in Afghanistan, he and three fellow SEALs were surrounded by a much larger enemy force. Their only escape was down the side of a mountain -- and the SEALs launched a valiant counterattack while cascading from cliff to cliff. But as the enemy closed in, Michael recognized that the survival of his men depended on calling back to the base for reinforcements. With complete disregard for his own life, he moved into a clearing where his phone would get reception. He made the call, and Michael then fell under heavy fire. Yet his grace and upbringing never deserted him. Though severely wounded, he said "thank you" before hanging up, and returned to the fight -- before losing his life.
Unfortunately, the helicopter carrying the reinforcements never reached the scene. It crashed after being struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. And in the end, more Americans died in Afghanistan on June 28th, 2005 than on any other day since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. This day of tragedy also has the sad distinction of being the deadliest for Navy Special Warfare forces since World War II.
One of Michael's fellow SEALs did make it off the mountain ridge -- he was one of Michael's closest friends. Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell of Texas, author of a riveting book called "Lone Survivor," put it this way: "Mikey was the best officer I ever knew, an iron-souled warrior of colossal and almost unbelievable courage in the face of the enemy."
For his courage, we award Lieutenant Michael Murphy the first Medal of Honor for combat in Afghanistan. And with this medal, we acknowledge a debt that will not diminish with time -- and can never be repaid.
Our nation is blessed to have volunteers like Michael who risk their lives for our freedom. We're blessed to have mothers and fathers like Maureen and Dan Murphy who raise sons of such courage and character. And we're blessed with the mercy of a loving God who comforts all those who grieve.
And now I ask Michael's parents to join on stage, and the Military Aide will read the citation.
MILITARY AIDE: The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, as the leader of a special reconnaissance element with Naval Special Warfare Task Unit Afghanistan on 27 and 28 June 2005.
While leading a mission to locate a high-level anti-coalition militia leader, Lieutenant Murphy demonstrated extraordinary heroism in the face of grave danger in the vicinity of Asadabad, Konar Province, Afghanistan. On 28 June 2005, operating in an extremely rugged, enemy-controlled area, Lieutenant Murphy's team was discovered by anti-coalition militia sympathizers who revealed their position to Taliban fighters. As a result, between 30 and 40 enemy fighters besieged his four-member team.
Demonstrating exceptional resolve, Lieutenant Murphy valiantly led his men in engaging the large enemy force. The ensuing fierce firefight resulted in numerous enemy casualties, as well as the wounding of all four members of his team. Ignoring his own wounds and demonstrating exceptional composure, Lieutenant Murphy continued to lead and encourage his men. When the primary communicator fell mortally wounded, Lieutenant Murphy repeatedly attempted to call for assistance for his beleaguered teammates. Realizing the impossibility of communicating in the extreme terrain and in the face of almost certain death, he fought his way into an open terrain to gain a better position to transmit a call. This deliberate heroic act deprived him of cover, exposing him to direct enemy fire. Finally achieving contact with his headquarters, Lieutenant Murphy maintained his exposed position while he provided his location and requested immediate support for his team.
In his final act of bravery, he continued to engage the enemy until he was mortally wounded, gallantly giving his life for his country and for the cause of freedom. By his selfless leadership, courageous actions, and extraordinary devotion to duty, Lieutenant Murphy reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
(The Medal of Honor is presented to Lieutenant Michael Murphy's parents.) END 2:45 P.M. EDT
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 22, 2007
Fact Sheet: 2008 War Funding Request Protecting The Force, Equipping Troops, Strengthening National Security
Today, President Bush transmitted to Congress an update of funding requirements in 2008 to continue the Global War on Terror and address other urgent national security needs. The request ensures that U.S. military forces will remain protected, well-equipped, and ready for future operations; supports ongoing military and intelligence operations in Iraq and Afghanistan; provides care for Wounded Warriors and their families; supports diplomacy and development in Iraq and Afghanistan; and provides economic, security, and humanitarian assistance for urgent needs around the world.
In February, the President requested and Congress budgeted for $145 billion in war costs, which reflected the best estimate available at that time of the full costs of the war in 2008. In response to a bipartisan call, the Administration included the request in the President's FY08 budget. Detailed justifications for FY07 and FY08 were provided to Congress and the public on government websites.
Congress should listen to the recommendations of our military commanders and fully fund our troops. Today's request is based upon the findings of General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. In September, they reported that conditions on the ground in Iraq had improved, but more funding was needed to continue this progress. In testimony before Congress, Defense Secretary Robert Gates provided lawmakers with the expected total cost of the war for 2008.
2008 War on Terror Request ($ in billions)
Department of Defense (includes classified activities)
Department of State and other international operations
Ensuring Our Armed Forces Remain Well-Equipped And Trained
Protecting Our Forces: The President is committed to protecting our men and women in uniform. The amendment requests additional funding of $14.1 billion.
$11 billion to procure, deliver, and maintain more than 7,200 mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles.
$3.1 billion to enhance efforts to protect U.S. forces from snipers and improvised explosive devices (IED).
Supporting Operational And Intelligence Activities
Ongoing Military Operations: The President is committed to providing our troops with the resources and equipment they need.
$8.1 billion for ongoing military and intelligence requirements in the Global War on Terror, including costs related to the increase in troop levels in Iraq and the announced plan for a staged withdrawal of five Brigade Combat Teams by July 2008.
$1 billion to expand the Iraqi security forces and improve their ability to conduct independent counterinsurgency operations. This request supplements a substantial investment by the Iraqi Government.
$1 billion to increase the number of trained Army National Guard and Reserve units, permitting shorter deployments.
$242 million for the Commander's Emergency Response Program in Afghanistan, which allows commanders to address urgent needs of local communities.
$762 million for increased fuel costs.
Providing Adequate Infrastructure: $1 billion for military construction projects in theater, including airfield improvements, roads, hardening of buildings, and other mission critical facilities that protect U.S. forces and support their operations.
Improving Strategic Readiness: $5.4 billion to fill Army equipment shortfalls and to enhance training of next-to-deploy units.
Repairing And Replacing Damaged Equipment: $8.8 billion to refurbish or replace worn-out or damaged equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Caring For Servicemembers And Their Families
Honoring The Sacrifice: The President is committed to ensuring that servicemembers and their families receive the best possible care and support.
$504 million for a sustainable medical and rehabilitation system to care for Wounded Warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
$416 million to accelerate the transition from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to the National Military Medical Center, Bethesda and the new Ft. Belvoir Army Community Hospital.
$840 million to enhance support for servicemembers and their families affected by repeated and continued deployments.
Supporting Diplomacy And Development In Iraq And Afghanistan
Supporting And Expanding Our Diplomatic Presence In Iraq And Afghanistan: $561 million to address the additional extraordinary security and operating costs associated with supporting U.S. diplomatic and reconstruction activity in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Providing For Investment In Iraq: $25 million to initiate a new enterprise fund that will help Iraqi-owned firms access the capital that they need, and $100 million to re-start state-owned enterprises in Iraq to create jobs.
Strengthening Afghan Self-Reliance:
Supporting critical reconstruction needs: $50 million for roads, $115 million for emergency power projects in Kabul and surrounding areas, and $5 million to help the Afghan government implement Reconstruction Opportunity Zones to encourage export growth in support of economic development.
Improving democratic process and governance: $100 million to support national elections in 2009, and $225 million to help build the governance capacity of the Afghans to extend the reach of the central government into the provinces and improve governance at the local level.
Responding To Needs Of Displaced Iraqis: $160 million to provide basic health services and education for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon; and $80 million to provide emergency relief supplies, health care, and water and sanitation infrastructure to people displaced in Iraq.
Support For Pakistan And West Bank
$375 million for the West Bank to help the Palestinian Authority resolve its fiscal crisis and enhance Palestinian security capabilities.
$60 million to help the government of Pakistan improve economic and social conditions in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
Darfur And Southern Sudan
$724 million to support the new UN peacekeeping mission to improve security, support the peace process, and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Darfur.
$70 million to support elections in Sudan in 2009, an important element to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the North and South.
Moving Forward With North Korea On Denuclearization
$106 million to provide Heavy Fuel Oil or an equivalent value of other assistance to North Korea on an "action-for-action" basis in support of the Six Party Talks in return for actions taken by North Korea on denuclearization.
Mexico And Central America
$500 million for Mexico and $50 million for Central American countries, in their unprecedented cooperative efforts to address common threats to our nations by combating transnational crime and drug trafficking.
$350 million for emergency food aid needs mainly in Africa and $35 million to assist Palestinian refugees.
# # #
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 22, 2007
President Bush Discusses the War Supplemental Roosevelt Room, 1:48 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all for joining me. I just finished visiting with veterans and members of military support organizations, the family of the fallen. Thank you all for being here. I'm proud you're here.
These patriots have come to the Oval Office to make sure -- and to make clear -- that our troops have the full commitment of our government. And I strongly agree that we must provide our troops with the help and support they need to get the job done. Parts of this war are complicated, but one part is not, and that is America should do what it takes to support our troops and protect our people. And today, I sent Congress an updated supplemental war funding request that will do just that.
The majority of the supplemental funding is for day-to-day -- is for day-to-day military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The bill provides for basic needs like bullets and body armor, protection against IEDs, and Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles. It also funds training missions, vital embassy programs, improvements in Iraq and Iraqi security forces, and intelligence operations that protect our troops. These are urgent military necessities, and the supplemental was prepared in close consultation with our commanders on the ground. This funding is what General Petraeus and other military leaders say we need -- and Congress ought to give it to them.
Our military commanders will use this money to continue carrying out their missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan, our troops, NATO allies and Afghan forces are making gains against the Taliban and al Qaeda. In Iraq, our campaign to provide security for the Iraqi people has been difficult and dangerous, but it is achieving results. Al Qaeda and other extremists have been driven from strongholds in places like Anbar Province and parts of Diyala Province. In Baghdad, the number of Iraqi civilians murdered by terrorists and death squads is down sharply. Throughout Iraq, the number of American service members killed in September was the lowest since July 2006. And the level of violence during Ramadan was down significantly from last year.
Last month, General Petraeus said he believes that our successes in Iraq mean we can maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces. I accepted this recommendation that we not replace about 2,200 Marines who left Anbar last month. We expect to bring home another 3,500 soldiers by Christmas. The funds in the supplemental are crucial to continuing this policy of "return on success." Every member of Congress who wants to see both success in Iraq and our troops begin to come home should strongly support this bill.
I know some in Congress are against the war, and are seeking ways to demonstrate that opposition. I recognize their position, and they should make their views heard. But they ought to make sure our troops have what it takes to succeed. Our men and women on the front lines should not be caught in the middle of partisan disagreements in Washington, D.C. I often hear that war critics oppose my decisions, but still support the troops. Well, I'll take them at their word -- and this is the chance to show it, that they support the troops.
Along with support for our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, the supplemental also includes emergency funding for other critical national security needs. It includes money to improve medical care for our wounded warriors. It funds equipment repair, and upgrades the strategic readiness of the Army. It provides crucial relief for Iraqi refugees. It supports the peacekeeping mission of the United Nations in Darfur. It delivers vital assistance for our partners in Mexico and Central America, who are working to break up drug cartels, and fight organized crime, and stop human trafficking. All of these are urgent priorities of the United States, and the Congress should fund them without delay.
One reason Congress can move the supplemental quickly is that it's had more than eight months to study most of the provisions. In fact, nearly 75 percent of the funding requested in the supplemental was submitted along with my annual budget in February. We took this step in direct response to requests from Congress. Members of Congress should consider the supplemental promptly. They should keep it focused on true necessities, not pet projects. And they should pass a good, clean bill as soon as possible. Congress should not go home for the holidays while our troops are still waiting for the funds they need.
In addition to passing the supplemental, Congress also needs to complete clean appropriations bills for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. The House and the Senate have passed versions of both these bills, but leaders in the House have not yet named conferees. They should name them now -- so that members of Congress can work out their differences and send me these vital bills as soon as possible.
I want to thank all those who are standing with me today for their strong support for our troops, our veterans and our military families. May God bless you all. Thank you. END 1:04 P.M. EDT
For Immediate Release October 22, 2007
Press Briefing by Tony Fratto James S. Brady Briefing Room, 12:29 P.M. EDT
MR. FRATTO: Good afternoon, everyone. As you know, the President and the President of Mongolia signed the MCC Compact today. And the President is in lunch with the President of Mongolia now.
I have nothing else to read out right now. I think you got the schedule update that the President will make a statement about the war supplemental this afternoon at 1:55 p.m.
And with that, I'll take your questions.
Q How much will he ask for?
MR. FRATTO: You'll have to wait until then for the details. Although, I think we've seen a lot of that out there.
Just a reminder on this, back on February 5th, OMB Director Portman, when he presented the budget to Congress also presented the Iraqi -- I'm sorry, the Global War on Terror Supplemental. That went up to Congress. You might recall, some members of Congress were concerned that in supplementals in the past were not fully detailed, did not have all of the information they felt they needed to act on the request; they didn't feel like those requests came up in a timely fashion. So Director Portman sent that request to Congress on February 5th.
They've had, you know, upwards of 75 percent of what the total request would be. That was a good faith estimate at that time, what we thought the FY '08 spending required would be. So today the President will augment that request with the needs that we have learned from Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus for Iraq and also for Afghanistan -- and also very important funding for State Department programs on the political side.
Q And when does current funding run out? When are you up against the wall on funding?
MR. FRATTO: You know what, I'll let DOD explain those details in terms of the timing of when --
Q It's not imminent, is it?
MR. FRATTO: It's not within -- no, not within weeks or months. But what we want to make sure is that the Department of Defense and the Armed Forces have the certainty that they need going forward. So we do want Congress to move sooner, rather than later.
Q Is the President involved in the diplomatic effort to persuade Turkey not to stage cross-border raids into Iraq?
MR. FRATTO: I'm not aware that the President has made personal calls on his own with the leadership there. As you know, Secretary Rice has. Secretary Gates has been involved in, I think, communications. Our ambassador -- both our Ambassador to Turkey, Ambassador Crocker, and our Ambassador in -- I'm sorry, Ambassador to Iraq, Ambassador Crocker, and our Ambassador in Turkey have been in communications.
I think we are all unified -- the Turks, the United States, the Iraqi government -- in asking the PKK -- not "asking" the PKK, but addressing the situation of the PKK to stop these attacks on the Turkish people and the Turkish army. That's a unified position, and we want to see swift action and we want these attacks to stop.
Q But it doesn't reach the President's level?
MR. FRATTO: It does reach the President's level. He's been in communication with Secretary Rice and others in this administration. I don't know that he has had an opportunity to make personal calls yet.
Q But you sound as if he plans to.
MR. FRATTO: I'll let you know if that changes.
Q Tony, Iraqi Vice President Talabani's office is saying that the Kurdish rebels are preparing to declare a cease-fire as early as tonight. Have you all received any official word on that? And what would the reaction be?
MR. FRATTO: I haven't heard of any official word on that. I've seen that same report. We just want to make sure that the PKK stops these activities, stops these attacks. It's not helpful in that part of the world right now and so we want to see it stopped.
Q Tony, what do you make of Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Larijani's resignation over the weekend? How are you reading that?
MR. FRATTO: Well, it doesn't change the fact that Iran needs to comply with the U.N. Security Council resolutions to stop their enrichment and reprocessing activities. Changing the lead negotiator doesn't change the need for Iran to change its policy.
Q But do you read it as a hardening from the Iranians?
MR. FRATTO: I think it's -- as we've said before, how Iranian decision-making is made is not very transparent, so I'm not sure that I can analyze it from the podium. But at the end of the day it doesn't change the requirements of the international community on Iran to deal with this issue.
Q But it may very well signal Iran's saying, you know, sort of back off even more. This guy was a little bit more moderate and now he's gone, so prepare to dig in, we're really going to get hard line about this.
MR. FRATTO: Well, I don't know about that. That's reading tea leaves and I'm not in a position to make that analysis right now.
Q On Iran, why should the American public trust that the administration isn't making a case laying the groundwork for military action, when you have the President and the Vice President talking about World War III and the possibility of the country facing serious consequences if they don't stop their nuclear pursuit?
MR. FRATTO: Look, the President and the Vice President, Secretary Rice, Secretary Gates, have all been incredibly clear and consistent in our message on Iran, and that is that we first seek a diplomatic solution and we are committed to a diplomatic solution and we're committed to working with out international partners in a unified way to put pressure on Iran to stop this activity. No one wants to see an arms race in Iran, and the world community -- certainly here in Washington and certainly with the U.N. Security Council -- is unified in that position.
Q So it's a coincidence the President and Vice President both step up their rhetoric in days of each other?
MR. FRATTO: I wouldn't call it stepping up rhetoric. And in fact, what the Vice President said I thought was a very clear review of the situation in the Middle East. And by the way, it's not at all different from what he has said before and what the President has said before and what Secretary Rice has said before in very clear ways.
Q Has Secretary Rice or anybody else gotten assurances from Turkey that they won't launch military strikes, even in the short term?
MR. FRATTO: Well, I know Secretary Rice spoke to Turkish authorities last night. And I don't know whether she got a clear confirmation that they wouldn't, but they certainly had a discussion about restraint with regard to cross-border incursions. And so I'd refer you to State Department to see if they can give a little bit more of a readout on that.
Q Tony, back to the supplemental, the President just vetoed SCHIP -- you know, an extra $35 billion for children's health care, saying he wanted to be fiscally responsible; hold the line on federal spending. How does he then justify coming out of the gate with an -- you know, in such a short period of time and saying, now I need an extra $40-plus billion for Iraq?
MR. FRATTO: Well, I could see that point if that was what the President said, but that's exactly not what the President said. What the President said was is that they have the policy wrong on SCHIP, not that it's too expensive or is --
Q They were asking for too much, though, right?
MR. FRATTO: No, they were asking for a policy that was bad. Let me tell you something about the -- what the SCHIP bill that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are proposing, okay. If you look at the eligible communities in this bill, it would result in 57 percent of children in this country and about 53 percent of families with children on public assistance, or at least eligible for public assistance.
Now what the President has said is that poor children should come first. Now there are a lot of things you can say about half the families in America. Half of them aren't poor. And so the President has said that the policy is wrong. He didn't say that it's too expensive -- although it is too expensive to spend money on the wrong policy. So what he has said is the policy is wrong.
Now, with regard to the supplemental request, children -- the right children, poor children getting their health care, and the needs of our troops can both be accomplished. They're both priorities and we can handle both of those requests.
Q I have a question on climate change legislation. Lieberman and Warner came out with a bill last week, and it focuses on technology incentives, just like the administration has advocated. There would be no carbon tax and it would target the free industries that pollute the most. And I just wondered what is the White House's feelings on this?
MR. FRATTO: I have to apologize, I probably should have taken a look at that before coming out today. Look, the President has a clear policy on dealing with climate change. He's focused on what we can do domestically, both for climate change and for energy security, and that's implementing the 20-in-10 plan to reduce gasoline consumption. He's also worked to bring the international community together, the major economies -- brought them together for a meeting here and will bring them back again to make progress on climate change.
Certainly, reliance on technology is something that you've noted that the President is really focused on and has spoken to at great length. I can't speak specifically to Senator Lieberman's bill, but I'm sure we can take a look at it and come back to it.
Q But it does have a declining cap on these three industries that make up, like, 75 percent of all the greenhouse gas emissions?
MR. FRATTO: I know I don't look like Dana Perino up here. Dana would have all of the details on environmental policy and be able to speak to it with much more eloquence than I can.
Q Two quick questions. Congressman Bobby Jindal will become the first Indian American governor in the U.S. history. And also he's a Republican and also there is another son of immigrants, Governor of California Schwarzenegger. My question is that you think in the future this will change, as far as immigrants are concerned in this country, the political system? And what President had to say about Congressman Bobby Jindal?
MR. FRATTO: Well, the President spoke to Bobby Jindal yesterday, congratulated him. It was really an excellent win for Bobby. I think the race was a little bit tougher than the numbers showed. I think something that we were all encouraged about was the strength of Republicans down on the ticket who also performed very well.
On the question of immigrants, first generation Americans -- speaking as a first generation American, having the opportunity to serve your country or your state or your city is an incredible honor, and obviously very happy for Bobby Jindal.
Q Second, as far as last week, President spoke with the Prime Minister of India, one more thing about the nuclear issue, which is stalled in the Indian parliament. The left of congress in India are not in favor of the agreement. What was the discussion, and how does the President feel about this, because he has worked so hard, and he will change the U.S. policy towards India on civil nuclear agreement? Where do we stand or where do we go from here?
MR. FRATTO: Well, we certainly remain committed to the civil nuclear agreement. We don't believe we can close the book on that yet. I think there's still some work to do. We want to work with India. We understand that they have to deal with their local politics, just like we frequently have to deal with our local politics in dealing with these kinds of issues. So we want to stay encouraged. We want to continue to dialogue with Indian authorities.
I don't have a specific readout on Prime Minister Singh's conversation with the President, but I can assure you that the President would have reiterated our commitment to that agreement and our interest in having it accomplished.
Q Is he disappointed?
MR. FRATTO: I think it's too early to express disappointment. I think we have some work to do and I think we can get it done.
Q Tony, what type of consultations has the White House already had regarding the war supplemental with members of both parties of Congress?
MR. FRATTO: I think we've had extensive conversations. I know, first, OMB Director Portman has spent a lot of time talking with leaders of the appropriate committees on the Hill and the budget committee, I know Director Nussle has had his conversations. Secretary Gates and Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte testified on Capitol Hill a couple of weeks ago on the elements of their request. So I think there's been a great deal of collaboration on this. I think they understand where we are on these requests, and we hope that they can act swiftly on it.
Q How would you describe their receptivity to this supplemental, Democratic members in particular?
MR. FRATTO: I haven't heard directly from Director Nussle on what he's hearing from Democrats on this. I think we understand if you say that you support our troops and we understand what the mission is going forward, that our troops need the equipment and the resources they need to carry out this mission, and that's what we're focused on. We want to make sure the troops have what they need, they have the equipment, they have the mine-resistance ambush vehicles, that they're able to replenish their -- you know, whether it's stockpiles of arms or get the replacement parts for the equipment that they're using, and it's critical for our troops and we want to see Congress act quickly.
Q Tony, what's the feeling on a possible third round of sanctions against Iran in the United Nations?
MR. FRATTO: Well, those are -- those are entrain already. In September at the UNGA meetings in New York, the Permanent 5 members plus Germany got together and talked about the need and in fact issued a statement about the need for a third round of sanctions on Iran. I know that Under Secretary Burns over at the State Department is having conversations with his counterparts in the P5-plus-1. And so I know they're making progress on that. I know they're looking for more information to come back from people who are in Iran and we'll see how that goes, but I think we're definitely progressing on that.
Q You said it's not a ratcheting of the rhetoric from what the Vice President said yesterday, what the President said last week. But is there a disappointment with what the other allies are doing in regards to Iran? The Vice President said Tehran is engaging in delay and deception, and yet you saw the Russian President, and his actions in Tehran. The President addressed some of that last week.
MR. FRATTO: Look, we go through this every time we draft a U.N. Security Council resolution. They are probably never -- I doubt that there's ever been a U.N. Security Council resolution word-for-word written the way the United States would write it. They are always negotiated agreements.
I think what's critically important is that when you get the P5-plus-1 together and you get the language right and then you can come out of the U.N. Security Council with a unanimous vote, that has a huge impression on moderate voices in Iran. It also has an impression in terms of the effectiveness of the sanctions. And we are seeing that the sanctions, both bilateral sanctions and the U.N. Security Council sanctions that have been implemented, are having an impact in Iran.
Q So there's still options (inaudible)?
MR. FRATTO: Absolutely.
Q Thank you, Tony. Two questions. Ontario, California's Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, as well as WorldNetDaily, report that Mexican soldiers and civilian smugglers engaged in an arms standoff with nearly 30 U.S. law enforcement officials at the U.S. border near the Rio Grande, 50 miles east of El Paso and 200 yards inside the U.S. What's the White House reaction to this?
MR. FRATTO: It's the first I've heard of that. If it's true, Les, I don't have anything for you on that.
Q Okay. A New York Times editorial has noted that Governor Schwarzenegger has just vetoed a bill which would have permitted the distribution of condoms "in California's AIDS-ravaged prisons," which the Times contended is "self-defeating and a denial of the reality of life behind bars." And my question: Does the White House agree with the Governor or with The New York Times?
MR. FRATTO: I think that's an issue for the Governor of California and the people of California to determine.
Q I want to know, where does the President stand?
MR. FRATTO: Like I said, that's a state issue.
Q A spokesperson of the Iraqi government told me a few minutes ago that they are expecting in Baghdad a visit of the foreign affair minister of Turkey, and there is some kind of three-party negotiations. Can you describe how important is U.S. on these negotiations?
MR. FRATTO: I haven't heard that, but I could tell you that we certainly are working and communicating and want to work in concert with the Turkish authorities and the Iraqi government to take action against the PKK and make sure that they're dealt with swiftly. So I know that we're in communications. I haven't heard anything about a meeting that would be taking place. But this is the way we want to see action proceed, is that we're all working together towards the common goal of stopping these practices by the PKK.
Q Thank you.
MR. FRATTO: Thank you. END 12:46 P.M. EDT
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 22, 2007
President Bush and President Enkhbayar of Mongolia Sign the Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact Roosevelt Room, 11:53 A.M. EDT
PRESIDENT BUSH: Mr. President, thank you very much. Welcome. Thank you.
Mr. President, thank you very much for joining us. Today we're going to sign an important agreement between the United States and our friend, Mongolia. Before we sign the agreement -- which is to codify a Millennium Challenge Compact -- I do want to say a couple of things.
First, Laura and I loved our trip to your country. It was most interesting. I still vividly remember the fierce-looking warrior on horseback. And I was reminded of how thankful I am I've never met him on a battlefield. (Laughter.) I remember the skill of the horsemen. I remember the warm hospitality. I remember the yaks milk. (Laughter.) And I remember your gracious and kind words, sir. And I want to thank you again, sir, and the people of your wonderful country for such warm hospitality for Laura and me.
I also want to thank you very much for your strong support in the war against radicals and extremists. After our nation was attacked on September the 11th by cold-blooded murderers, you and your country stood in solidarity with the American people. And since then you have been a stalwart in helping defeat extremists by helping young democracies survive and thrive. And I want to thank you and the Mongolian people for supporting the young democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's been hard work, but we're making progress. And I know it's been hard for some in your society to see the benefits of free societies emerging, but I appreciate your vision and I want to thank your troops. The Mongolian troops are well-trained, well-disciplined, and are a great credit to your country.
The Millennium Challenge Account is an important part of our foreign policy. It's an opportunity for the United States and our taxpayers to help countries that fight corruption, that support market-based economies, and that invest in the health and education of their people.
The Millennium Challenge Compact encourages countries to make a firm commitment to basic principles, principles that mean the government will listen to their people and respond to the needs of the people. And today, Mr. President, we honor the success of your country and the commitment of your government to basic principles. That's what we're doing. We hope that the $285 million will help you modernize your railroad and infrastructures, all aiming to make sure that the market economy you put in place inures to the benefit of your people.
Congress must understand how important this program is for U.S. foreign policy. The Millennium Challenge Account has been effective. It's been effective across the world. It will be effective in Mongolia. And when the United States Congress considers full funding for the Millennium Challenge Account, they must think about countries such as Mongolia and the long-term benefits that this program will mean for a solid friend.
And so, Mr. President, I welcome you to the mic. I want to thank you for coming, and then I look forward to signing the document.
PRESIDENT ENKHBAYAR: Mr. President, it's indeed a great pleasure to be here in Washington, D.C. today, attending the ceremony which lays down the beginning of a new and important partnership between Mongolia and the United States. I am proud that our joint efforts, which started with the qualification of Mongolia in May 2004 into the list of the countries eligibly for the Millennium Challenge Account have brought us to this very important stage.
On behalf of the entire nation, its government and the people of Mongolia, I wish to extend our sincere gratitude to President Bush for his initiative, to the government, and the people of the United States for their confidence and support rendered to Mongolia. Thank you.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thanks very much.
PRESIDENT ENKHBAYAR: The idea of rewarding the successful democracies through supporting their goals inspire the Mongolians from the beginning of this initiative. We welcome the concept for -- we sense that the initiative will eventually contribute to the betterment of the life of ordinary people. Mongolia also appreciates and upholds the principle of aid with accountability and ownership advocated by the government of the United States. Indeed, the whole process through we have arrived at the signing of this compact today is a testimony to our shared commitment to ensuring the (inaudible) good governance and accountability to our citizens.
We have to always remember, and I know that those are the people who elect us, and sometimes criticize us and say whatever they think about us.
PRESIDENT BUSH: So it happens there as well? (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT ENKHBAYAR: As a partner country of the MCC program, Mongolia has been truly in the driver's seat at every stage of identifying its own development priorities and investment needs and policy directions. This new approach of cooperation is the key to ensuring efficiency and effectiveness of the program. The compact prepared through the broad consultative approach in Mongolia will support our efforts to broaden and deepen the country's economic development, focusing on four key areas.
These areas are in the line with Mongolia's national development strategy, the draft of which was submitted to the parliament for the consultation and approval. The strategy sets out the vision of a democratic society centered on developing a healthy and educated citizen and a prosperous private-sector-led economy, a society of true partnership and Mongol stakeholders, including the civil society.
I am confident that the compact program will have a truly transformational impact on Mongolia's poverty reduction efforts through investment in our human capital, rehabilitation of vital transportation infrastructure and strengthening the institutional capacity of the public service agencies.
It should be noted that the compact is about opportunity and excess [sic]. We want our people to seize this opportunity to improve their livelihood with training and employment, to participate and benefit from the country's economic growth; to have access to high-quality service and education.
Hand-in-hand action has to have the trophy, says a Mongolian proverb. I'm certain that this compact will inspire long-lasting, fruitful and mutually beneficial cooperation between the United States of America and Mongolia. Now we will embark upon the task of successfully transforming our people's ideas and expectations into reality. Your support has been indispensable in reaching this point, and we trust in your continued partnership in the future.
Mr. President, friends and colleagues, thank you again for this memorable occasion. And I would like to again invite President Bush to visit Mongolia after he goes to Beijing Olympics. President Bush knows that it's not very far away from Beijing.
PRESIDENT BUSH: That's right. (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT ENKHBAYAR: And I hope that he will again enjoy the hospitality of the Mongolian people.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you, sir. (Applause.)
(The compact is signed.) (Applause.) END 12:03 P.M. EDT
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 20, 2007
President Bush Signs Executive Order to Protect Striped Bass and Red Drum Fish Populations The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. St. Michael's, Maryland, 10:12 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Stuart, thanks for the introduction. Thanks for the invitation here to the Maritime Museum. It's a beautiful site you got here. I can see why people want to live in St. Michael's, and I do want to thank the good citizens of this community for coming out and greeting me and Laura. By the way, Laura is not here -- she's headed over to the Vice President's house. They've kindly invited us for lunch. I guess you could say she's the taster. (Laughter.)
The Vice President tells me there's a lot of fine fishing here, and I'm looking forward to going out and trying to catch some. I love to fish. And the good news there's a lot of good fishing here is because the Secret Service won't let me go hunting with him. (Laughter.)
I'm going to sign an executive order today to protect our striped bass and red drum fish populations, that's what I'm here to do. The executive order is part of our commitment to end over-fishing in America and to replenish our nation's fish stocks and to advance cooperative conservation and responsible stewardship. And this is a good place to come and sign the executive order. I thank you all for coming up and letting me say hello to you and witness this presidential act.
I want to thank the Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, for joining us today. He cares about our waters and our fish stocks just like I do. And I appreciate Carlos Gutierrez, he's the Secretary of Commerce, for joining us as well. He's in charge of NOAA, as is Conrad Lautenbacher -- run NOAA -- you've got a fancy title, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. That means he runs NOAA. (Laughter.) And I appreciate your concern about our waters, Conrad, and I want to thank you for your service to the country.
I appreciate Wayne Gilchrest, he's the congressman from this district. Mr. Congressman, I'm honored you're here; thank for taking time, appreciate you welcoming us. I want to thank all the state and local folks who've joined us. Particularly I want to thank people who care about fishing, and thank you for being here. I want to thank the different groups represented here. I want to say one -- there's a fellow up here named Walter Fondren, he's a fellow Texan. He had a lot to do with making sure conservation efforts on the Texas Gulf Coast worked. He proved, as have others here, that if you get together with responsible officials you can help get these fishing stocks back to robust. We were losing our red fish in Texas, and he, along with other concerned citizens, came together and said let's do something about it. And as a result, red fishing is good again. But we want to make it as good as possible all throughout the country, because fishing is important to the country.
Listen, it's important to be a commercial fisherman; I understand that. But the commercial fishermen and the sport fishermen don't have to be antagonistic. It's not a zero-sum game. Good policy will help our commercial fishermen and good policy will help our sport fishermen. And that's what we're here to talk about. And it's important to recognize here in America that sport fishing is a important industry; a lot of people make a living because of sport fishing. I don't know if people know this, but millions of Americans are spending about $40 billion a year on sport fishing. I know in our state, Walter, there's a lot of people, a lot of entrepreneurs making a good living -- they're fishing guides. A lot of bait shops and small business owners are doing well as a result of good sport fishing policy.
And so we're here today to talk about sport fishing. As a matter of fact, I'm fixing to go do some sport fishing. I can't guarantee I'm going to catch anything. I hope that frogman out there does his job. (Laughter.)
I want to talk about a little bit of the comprehensive strategy we've put in place. In 2004, our administration released an Ocean Action Plan, the whole purpose of which was to make the oceans and the Great Lakes and the coast cleaner and healthier and more productive. The plan is producing some positive results. On one of the results of the plan was the -- the Marine National Monument in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands that I declared. The action created the largest single conservation area in the history of the nation. It is the largest protected marine area in the world. It is a visible sign that we care about conservation and good water policy.
I also signed the bipartisan Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act. It's a good piece of legislation. Many here worked on it and I want to thank you for working the halls of Congress to get this bill to my desk. The legislation closes loopholes in the law by setting a firm deadline to end over-fishing in America by 2011. The law puts in place market-based incentives to help replenish our fish stocks by granting fisherman the right to catch a designated amount of fish during a specified season. The law increases enforcement and raises penalties for those who break our fishing laws. This law improves data collection to help ensure our decisions are based on sound science. It is an important piece of legislation. And I want to thank the authors of the bill for getting it done. I think it's going to help a lot when it comes to managing our fish stocks in a constructive, smart way.
In addition to the Magnuson-Stevenson [sic] Act, over the last couple of years we've made a strong commitment to improve, restore and replace our wetlands. I set out the goal that during my presidency we would restore -- improve, restore and replace 3 million acres of wetlands. The reason I did that is because wetlands act as what we call nature's nurseries by helping small fish survive before they head into deeper waters. We're going to make that goal. We will have replaced, improved and restored over 3 million acres of wetlands during my presidency.
Another significant problem is marine debris. And I was talking to Dirk Kempthorne, and he's going to host a symposium on the Gulf Coast to call our nation's attention to this issue. Our strategy is going to be to work with the private sector to help clean up the debris. I don't know if you understand -- it is a significant problem. Out there in the Hawaiian Island area that I set aside, Laura went out there and a lot of birds are eating this stuff that gets washed up as a result of people just dumping whatever they want to in the ocean. It's like a -- people kind of view it as, I guess, a giant garbage heap. And part of making sure that doesn't happen is to make it clear to our public the consequences of people just getting on our waters and just dumping whatever they feel like dumping out there.
And we're also going to work with the international community. A lot of the nets we're picking up out of that beautiful sanctuary in the -- or the monument in Hawaii of -- wash ashore because some trawler decides they don't want to mend the net or store the net or take care of the net -- they just cut it and let her go, and the currents wash all that stuff ashore. We literally pulled out tons of material off these islands. And so we're going to develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with this and call people to account, and ask them to join in protecting our oceans and waterways.
We're also talking about today to make sure that [we] not only protect the waters, we're going to protect the marine life in the waters. And so I want to talk today about two of the most popular recreational fish: the striped bass and the red drum. The striped bass -- I don't know if our citizens follow the striped bass, but it's a good fish to catch. It's a lot of fun. It's also a good fish to eat. We've got to make sure we've got enough to catch as well as enough to eat, and we can do both in a smart way.
Striped bass range from the St. Lawrence River in Canada to the St. John's River in Florida. They inhabit parts of the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico. Some people call them stripers or rockfish. I guess we're going to call them rockfish today. (Laughter.) They can live up to be 30 years old. In the old days you could catch them up to 55 to 70 pounds pretty easily. And what we're trying to do is to make sure that the old days come back; that the striper is plentiful and that you can catch some good-sized ones, too -- nothing like catching a big striper.
They were once so plentiful back in 1614, that Captain John Smith wrote this, he said, a man could cross over the water "dryshod" by walking on the backs of all the fish. What's interesting is the striped bass was also one of the first species to be protected by the American people. In 1639, Massachusetts forbade the use of striped bass as fertilizer. By the early 1980s, striped bass were significantly depleted by poor water quality and over-fishing.
Over the years since that time, there's been some progress made to protect the striped bass. But not enough has been made, so today we're going to try to make some more progress.
Red drum is another popular fish that has experienced over-fishing. These fish are called reds, or redfish, or channel bass or spottail. What happened to this particular fish was that it became popular to eat. The restaurants found it to be good food and it became a popular dish and they got over-fished.
Now, we put protections in place both at state and federal level to protect the red drum. Unfortunately, the red drum species is still trying to recover. That's why I'm going to take this additional step today, because the recovery is not complete. In the waters from North Carolina to the tip of Florida, the numbers are still too low. And in parts of our Gulf, we're not sure of their status. So if you're not sure of the status, we ought to be taking special precaution. It's important that our fish stocks be full and robust and healthy.
And so I'm about to sign an executive order all aimed to help the federal government conserve striped bass and red drum in three key ways. First, the executive order directs the Commerce and Interior Departments -- that's why the two Secretaries are standing here -- to work with our fishery management councils and commissions to protect -- to prohibit the sale of striped bass and red drum caught in federal waters.
Second, this executive order encourages the periodic review of the status of the striped bass and red drum populations. This will ensure we have the most up to date information for determining whether breeding stocks are attaining healthy numbers and size in federal waters. Data is important when it comes to managing the fishing stocks. To improve the quality of our data we're building a recreational saltwater registry that will collect information from sportsmen about local fish stocks, which will help us better protect striped bass, red drum and all our fisheries. We're going to count on the people who really care about the fish stocks to get good, solid, sound information so we can do a better job not only today, but tomorrow, in making sure our fisheries are strong.
And finally, the executive order encourages states to take a look at their own management of the fish stocks. See, we believe in cooperative conservation. That means cooperation at the federal, state and local levels. We believe in a collaborative approach. The federal government ought to work with all stakeholders to achieve common consensus. And I respect the state's role in the management of the natural resources under their care. So I'm directing federal agencies to work with state officials to find innovative ways to help conserve striped bass and red drum.
And one such way is to use the state designation of "gamefish" where appropriate. I hope the state officials take a serious look at gamefish designation; it is an effective tool to protect endangered or dwindling species. See, it prohibits commercial sales, which removes the incentive to catch the fish for anything other than recreational purposes. State designations of gamefish have helped the recovery of species such as trout and large-mouth bass and tarpon and snook. People need to take a look at this tool to make sure that the fisheries are robust. Strong fisheries mean local sales. Local sales means better local economy.
And so the executive order shows our commitment to conserving our nation's resources. Our hope, everybody -- the hope of everyone here is that decades from now our children and grandchildren will see oceans, lakes and rivers teeming with fish and sea life. I can't guarantee they're going to be able to walk across their backs -- (laughter) -- like John Smith observed. But I can guarantee that we're committed to taking care of that which we have been given. My hope is people look back at our oceans' policies and our record of conservation and say, we're grateful that concerned citizens came together to protect our heritage.
And so I want to thank you all for coming and giving me a chance to visit with you about a vision that is a hopeful vision and an important vision. And I thank you for witnessing the signing of the Executive Order to Protect the Striped Bass and Red Drum Fish Populations.
God bless. (Applause.)
(The executive order was signed.) (Applause.) END 10:28 A.M. EDT
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 20, 2007
President Bush Discusses Migratory Bird Conservation Patuxent Research Refuge - Endangered Crane Complex Laurel, Maryland, 9:01 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Listen, thank you all for coming. I appreciate the hospitality you've shown us here at Patuxent Research Refuge. I want to thank all the good folks who work here from the Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as the U.S. Geological Survey.
One of the things we've discussed here is a significant environmental challenge we face here in America, and that is birds are losing the stopover habitats they need and depend on for their annual migrations. And therefore I've come to discuss a strategy to enhance those habitats, without which many birds could become severely challenged.
To me, this is a national issue that requires national focus. And so I appreciate very much you all giving me a chance to describe our strategy and thanks for your -- thanks for working for the country.
I am proud to be here with Laura, bird-watcher extraordinaire. I appreciate Secretary Dirk Kempthorne running our Interior Department. I do thank Wendy Paulson, who's joined us. She's on the board of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Some of the recommendations -- or all the recommendations that I'm describing today were brought to our attention by Wendy and a friend of mine from Texas named Rusty Rose, both of whom serve on this important university lab -- the board of the lab. I appreciate Judd Howell, the director, who gave us a tour. And Brad, thank you very much for joining us.
I also want to thank George Fenwick, he's the President of the American Bird Conservancy, for joining us as well. Appreciate the staff members here who worked on this initiative. Thanks for your hard work and your -- and bringing what I believe the American people will find is a commonsense policy that makes sense for our future.
I don't know if you know this or not, but each year more than 800 species of migratory birds brave stiff winds, harsh weather and numerous predators to fly thousands of miles. Their final destination is the warm climate of the American south, or the Caribbean or Mexico, where they stay for the winter. These amazing travelers will then return to their breeding grounds in the north. And as they span these distances, they fascinate and bring joy to millions of our citizens. A lot of folks across the country love to watch birds.
For these migratory birds, surviving their long journey depends on a stopover habitat. That basically means they got to find a place to rest, a safe place to prepare to continue their journey. Unfortunately, expanding civilization has made it harder for these birds to find places to stop and to rest.
And so that's the challenge we face and, you know, one area that -- one reason we came here is because the National Wildlife Refuges like this one provide stopover habitat, and they play a really important role in our conservation efforts. My administration has supported the National Wildlife Refuge system. We've expanded some of the existing sites, we created 10 new ones, and we restored and improved hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat for migratory birds. In other words, we recognize the refuge system is an important part of preserving our bird populations.
And we've set a goal that by the time I leave office we will improve another 200,000 acres. And I appreciate, Mr. Secretary, you joining us and committing your Department to achieving that goal.
In addition to the wildlife refuges, we're also working to improve habitat for migratory birds in our national parks. We've increased funding. But we've got a new initiative that I want to -- want the American people to be aware of, and it's called the National Parks Centennial Initiative. And the idea is to match taxpayers' money with private donations to the tune of $3 billion, so that we can improve our national parks. And some of that money is going to go to restoration, to the restoration of a variety of wildlife habitats, including some that directly benefit birds.
Improving our nation's long-term protections for migratory birds requires conservation beyond the boundaries of our national parks and refuges. And so one of the things this administration has done is to bring together citizens and private groups and officials from every level of government in the spirit of cooperation. In other words, we recognize that the federal government alone cannot provide the habitat necessary for migratory birds. We call this program cooperative conservation, and part of the emphasis is to restore critical habitat.
One of the most important cooperative conservation efforts has been what they call joint venture programs for water fowl. This program has brought together federal, state and tribal agencies with private groups and corporations to improve habitat on private lands. It's worked so well for water fowl that we're now using it for other migratory birds. We've had -- we have 18 joint ventures now underway, and next year we're going to add three more to help conserve birds along the Rio Grande corridor, the Appalachian Mountains and on the Northern Great Plains.
Here's the way they work. Each venture, joint venture brings together a team of biologists and land managers -- these are the experts -- and they make -- and then they work with the bird conservationists in a particular region to design and carry out critical habitat improvement. To enhance habitat conservation we're going to put forth next week an innovative policy called recovery credit trading. This policy will provide incentives for landowners to improve habitat for migratory birds and other species. Landowners can earn recovery credits for the habitat they improve and then they can sell those credits. The idea is to provide incentive for our private landowners to help deal with the concern that I started the speech with, and that is to make sure there's critical habitat available for migratory birds.
There's something else we can do. I asked Congress to provide tax incentive to reward landowners who donate conservation easements. Conservation easements are a good way to ensure the long-term preservation of habitat. They allow people to give up the right to develop parts of their land and then count the value of that right as a charitable contribution. The proposal would allow good citizens who give these conservation easements -- allow them to deduct a higher portion of the donation from their income taxes, both in the year they donated and the years that follow. In other words, this is additional incentives for landowners to become a part of this comprehensive national strategy and Congress needs to pass this piece of tax legislation.
You know, another important measure we've taken is in the conservation title of the farm bill. This title encourages farmers and ranchers to set aside critical habitat through a program called Conservation Reserve Program, or the CRP. And our proposal to Congress as they rewrite the farm bill, we're asking them to dedicate $50 billion over five years to make sure that this program continues in effect. The program has been effective for our farmers and ranchers and, equally importantly, for our bird populations. And my hope is that Congress recognizes its effectiveness and will continue to fund this program.
We're making progress in rural areas, but there needs to be some work in urban areas. And so we've got an interesting program underway to help five cities turn parks and local backyards into stopover bird habitats over the next two years. In other words, what we're trying to do is to make sure that we have a successful strategy in five cities that could become the blueprint for cities all around the country.
Many species of birds live part of their lives here in the United States and part in Mexico. So we have a strategy to work with Mexico to enhance bird habitats in their country. I've talked about -- I've talked about this issue with President Calder n. He shares my concern about making sure there's critical habitat available for our migratory birds. The Secretaries of State, Interior and Commerce are working with their counterparts in the Mexican government. Non-governmental partners are working to undertake important habitat projects in Mexico as well.
One of the things we have done is we've identified five priority habitats in Mexico. We listened to the experts who pointed us to five important areas and we have provided $4 million to support conservation initiatives there. I also directed federal agencies to increase our nation's participation in an international effort to protect coastal and marine migratory birds such as albatrosses and petrels. Restoring habitats at home and abroad is going to help us achieve the objectives and goals I have set out, which is providing critical habitat for migratory birds.
Our efforts to restore habitats are strengthening bird populations. Since 2004, the Department of Interior has improved the status of five migratory bird species, and the Department is helping ensure that more than 62 percent of our nation's migratory bird species are healthy and at sustainable levels. But that's not good enough -- 62 percent is good, but we can do better. And so I've asked the Secretary to -- Secretary Kempthorne to focus on the status of five more species over the next five years. And to achieve this goal we need good data. I mean, we just don't want to be guessing about bird populations, we want to measure. And so I've asked the Secretary to produce a State of the Birds Report by 2009. This report will chart our progress, it'll identify species that need additional protections, and help us bring more of America's bird species into a healthy and sustainable status.
And Mr. Secretary, I appreciate your commitment. I appreciate the fact that you understand America's greatness is not measured by material wealth alone; it's measured by how we manage and care for all that we have been given. We're people united by our belief that we must be good stewards of our environment. The cooperative conservation policies that we have put in place show our commitment to protecting America's migratory birds, conserving the habitat they depend on and ensuring that generations of Americans will enjoy the beauty of birds for decades to come.
I appreciate you all joining me. I want to thank you for your interest. God bless our country. END 9:13 A.M. EDT
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 19, 2007
President's Radio Address
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This weekend, I will join millions of Americans in one of our favorite national pastimes: fishing. I'm going to be on the Chesapeake Bay. For those who love fishing, the most important thing is not the size of your catch but the enjoyment of the great outdoors. Every year, millions of Americans grab their tackle boxes and head out to their favorite fishing holes. No matter where they drop their lines, they build memories that last a lifetime. And in the process, they contribute billions of dollars to our economy.
My Administration is committed to protecting the environment that our sportsmen depend on. We believe that to meet the environmental challenges of the 21st century, we must bring together conservationists, fishermen, sportsmen, local leaders, and Federal, State, and tribal officials in a spirit of cooperation. I call this "cooperative conservation." Instead of the old environmental debates that pit one group against another, we're moving our country toward a system where citizens and government can come together to achieve meaningful results for our environment. One way we are practicing cooperative conservation is through our efforts to preserve our fisheries. Almost three years ago, I announced an ocean action plan to promote an ethic of responsible stewardship that will make our waterways cleaner, healthier, and more productive. Last year, I was proud to establish a marine conservation area in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. This is the single largest conservation area in the history of our Nation -- and the largest protected marine area in the world. We're also working to clean up marine debris and to address harmful fishing practices in international waters that destroy corals and other vital habitats. Earlier this year, I signed a law that will help end overfishing and create market-based regulations to replenish our fish stocks so we can keep them strong for generations to come.
Prior to my fishing trip I am signing an Executive Order that will preserve two of our Nation's most popular recreational fish -- striped bass and red drum. These two species were once abundant in American waters, but their stocks have been overfished. The Executive Order I sign will protect striped bass and red drum caught in Federal waters by moving to prohibit their commercial sale. It will promote more accurate scientific records about fish population levels. And it will help the Federal Government work with State and local officials to find innovative ways to ensure these two species are conserved for future generations.
As we work to protect our Nation's fisheries, we're also working to help migratory birds thrive. Each year, more than 800 species of birds make their way south for the winter, and then return home to their breeding grounds the following spring. Their ability to survive these long journeys depends on stopover habitat. Unfortunately, some of the areas where birds once stopped and rested on their great migrations have been lost to development. So we're working to protect these species by restoring or replacing their stopover habitats.
One key way we're doing this is by expanding our National Wildlife Refuges, creating new ones, and restoring and improving hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat for migratory birds. At the same time, we're bringing together Federal, State, and tribal agencies to work with private groups and corporations to improve habitat on private lands. The Department of the Interior is also working with cities across our Nation to build stopover habitats in urban areas. And this weekend I'm announcing new policies -- including new efforts with Mexico to foster greater habitat conservation for the migratory birds.
America's national parks also play a vital role in our conservation efforts. Earlier this week, Laura spoke at the first-ever Leadership Summit of the National Park Foundation. She discussed the National Parks Centennial Initiative -- a public-private partnership to raise funds for the park system's 100th anniversary in 2016. This initiative will support many vital projects to improve habitats for local wildlife -- including some that will directly benefit birds.
As Americans, we've been given a beautiful country to live in, and we have an obligation to be good stewards of the environment. With the cooperative conservation policies we have put in place, we show our commitment to preserving our Nation's heritage. By making responsible choices today, we will ensure that our children and grandchildren will enjoy a cleaner and more vibrant environment. Thank you for listening. END
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 19, 2007
President Bush Discusses Sanctions on Burma Diplomatic Reception Room, 1:47 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Laura, thank you for joining; and Madam Secretary. In the last few weeks, the world has been inspired by the courage of the Burmese people. Ordinary men and women have taken to the streets in peaceful marches to demand their freedom and call for democratic change. The world has also been horrified by the response of Burma's military junta. Monks have been beaten and killed. Thousands of pro-democracy protestors have been arrested. And Burma's dictator, Than Shwe, continues to hold captive the leader of Burma's largest democratic party -- Aung San Suu Kyi.
Burma's rulers continue to defy the world's just demands to stop their vicious persecution. They continue to dismiss calls to begin peaceful dialogue aimed at national reconciliation. Most of all, they continue to reject the clear will of the Burmese people to live in freedom under leaders of their own choosing.
Last month, the United States tightened economic sanctions on the leaders of Burma's regime, and imposed an expanded visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights, as well as their family members. The Treasury Department designated 14 top leaders of the Burmese regime for sanctions -- including Than Shwe and his deputy, Vice Senior General Maung Aye. And the State Department added 260 names of Burmese officials and their family members to the visa ban list.
In light of the ongoing atrocities by these men and their associates, the United States has today imposed additional sanctions.
First, the Treasury Department has designated 11 more leaders of the Burmese junta for sanctions under existing authorities.
Second, I've issued a new executive order that designates an additional 12 individuals and entities for sanctions. This executive order grants the Treasury Department expanded authority to designate for sanctions individuals responsible for human rights abuses as well as public corruption, and those who provide material and financial backing to these individuals or to the government of Burma.
Third, I have instructed our Commerce Department to tighten its export control regulations for Burma.
Burmese authorities claim they desire reconciliation. Well, they need to match those words with actions. A good way to start would be to provide the International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations access to political prisoners; to allow Aung San Suu Kyi and other detained leaders to communicate with one another; and to permit U.N. Special Envoy Gambari to enter their country immediately. And ultimately, reconciliation requires that Burmese authorities release all political prisoners -- and begin negotiations with the democratic opposition under the auspices of the United Nations.
We will continue to review our policies and consider additional measures if Burma's leaders do not end the brutal repression of their own people whose only offense is the desire to live in freedom. Business as usual is unacceptable. So I applaud the efforts of the European Union and nations like Australia that have announced targeted sanctions on the Burmese regime. I commend nations such as Japan that have curtailed their assistance to Burma in response to the atrocities. I appreciate nations such as Singapore and the Philippines and Indonesia, who have spoken out against the atrocities. I ask other countries to review their own laws and policies, especially Burma's closest neighbors -- China, India, and others in the region.
The people of Burma are showing great courage in the face of immense repression. They are appealing for our help. We must not turn a deaf ear to their cries. They do have many friends around the world -- including Laura. I am proud of Laura for all she has done to awaken the conscience of the world to the plight of the Burmese people. I believe no nation can forever suppress its own people. And we are confident that the day is coming when freedom's tide will reach the shores of Burma.
Thank you. END 1:54 P.M. EDT
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 18, 2007
President Bush Meets with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia Oval Office, 10:34 A.M. EDT
PRESIDENT BUSH: It is such an honor to welcome back to the Oval Office the President of our friend and ally, Liberia. Madam President, thanks for coming, and thanks for your very strong spirit and your deep desire to enhance democracy and improve the lives of your people in Liberia.
We had a good discussion. I want to emphasize a couple of points that we discussed. First of all, we are committed to helping you relieve your debt. This weekend, IMF will be meeting in Washington, D.C., and it's very important for our friends in the IMF to recognize that debt relief is -- for Liberia is a part of our agenda, and I would hope that they would help you -- help you with debt relief. I think it's important. And so Secretary Paulson will be taking that message to the IMF.
Secondly, I want to thank you very much for your dedication and focus on helping the children of Liberia get a good education. You've worked extremely hard to encourage parents to send their children to school, and we want to help you, to the extent that you ask for help. The United States believes it's important that young boys and girls get a good education not only here in America, but around the world. And the President is committed to universal education in Liberia, and have made great strides since the days of your civil strife.
I also am very dedicated to helping you on malaria. Laura and I care deeply about the fact that young babies die on the continent of Africa and elsewhere needlessly. They die simply because of a mosquito bite. And so the President and I talked about our desire to put in place a malaria initiative that will save lives in Liberia. We're going to -- we'll be sending a person on the ground there pretty soon to help implement the malaria initiative, and that initiative will mean spreading nets and insecticides throughout the country so that we can see a reduction in death of young children that -- a death that we can cure.
And finally, the Peace Corps has been gone from Liberia, and we talk about the fact that now we'll be able -- we're going to move the Peace Corps back in. And the Peace Corps has been in touch with our State Department and the Liberia folks and it looks like we're going to start moving some teams pretty quickly back into Liberia. And the reason why we feel comfortable doing that is because of the leadership of this strong person right here.
And so, Madam President, proud to call you friend and proud to welcome you back to the Oval Office.
PRESIDENT JOHNSON SIRLEAF: Mr. President, thank you. We're so pleased to be back here.
Liberia continues to make progress, despite the many challenges we face. And this progress we owe a lot to you and to Mrs. Bush for the support we've received. The State Department, National Security Council, Treasury have all just been there for us. Whether we're -- working on debt relief, or whether we're trying to improve our educational system, or get our infrastructure fixed, we've always had a willing hand. The Ambassador has been supportive and been a real partner on the ground with us.
We were very pleased, Mr. President, that you granted the delayed enforced departure for some of our citizens who couldn't go back home because we weren't prepared to receive them with the jobs and the homes and the basic services they needed. So the 18-month reprieve you've given them gives them time to prepare themselves, and enable us to prepare to receive them at some point.
Liberia was included among three other African countries in the special education initiative, and we're very pleased about that. And we've just discussed today that you'll be behind us as we try to fight malaria. Malaria is one of the greatest killers in our country, particular among our young children. And so we'll be working to make sure that we get a program where we can have some measurable actions so we can reduce this scourge that afflicts our children.
Over all, we're just so pleased with the relationship. Liberians are very proud that you were one of the first ones that set us on this road to peace, and a road that's enabled us to get the progress we have today. We are committed to make Liberia a post-conflict success story. We want it to be part of your legacy. We want you to be able to look back and say, when I was there I helped Liberia to be a success, to come out of the ashes of war and to be a successful economy responding to the needs of its people. Thank you for being there for us.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Madam President, thank you. END 10:40 A.M. EDT
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 17, 2007
Press Conference by the President James S. Brady Briefing Room, 10:45 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. We're now more than halfway through October, and the new leaders in Congress have had more than nine months to get things done for the American people. Unfortunately, they haven't managed to pass many important bills. Now the clock is winding down and in some key areas Congress is just getting started.
Congress has work to do on health care. Tomorrow Congress will hold a vote attempting to override my veto of the S-CHIP bill. It's unlikely that that override vote will succeed, which Congress knew when they sent me the bill. Now it's time to put politics aside and seek common ground to reauthorize this important program. I've asked Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, National Economic Council Director Al Hubbard, and OMB Director Jim Nussle to lead my administration's discussions with the Congress. I made clear that if putting poor children first requires more than the 20 percent increase in funding I proposed, we'll work with Congress to find the money we need. I'm confident we can work out our differences and reauthorize S-CHIP.
Congress has work to do to keep our people safe. One of the things Congress did manage to get done this year is pass legislation that began modernizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA is a law that our intelligence professionals use to monitor the communications of terrorists who want to do harm to our people. The problem is that Congress arranged for the measure they passed to expire this coming February. In addition, the House is now considering another FISA bill that would weaken the reforms they approved just two months ago. When it comes to improving FISA, Congress needs to move forward, not backward, so we can ensure our intelligence professionals have the tools they need to protect us.
Congress has work to do on the budget. One of Congress's basic duties is to fund the day-to-day operations of the federal government. Yet Congress has not sent me a single appropriations bill. Time is running short, so I urge the Speaker and the leader of the Senate to name conferees for six of the annual appropriations bills that have already passed the House and the Senate. The two Houses need to work out their differences on these bills, and get them to my desk as soon as possible. They also need to pass the remaining spending bills, one at a time and in a fiscally responsible way.
Congress has work to do on education. As we saw from the recent Nation's Report Card, the No Child Left Behind Act is getting results for America's children. Test scores are rising. The achievement gap is beginning to close. And Congress should send me a bipartisan bill that reauthorizes and strengthens this effective piece of legislation.
Congress has work to do on housing. Back in August I proposed a series of reforms to help homeowners struggling with their mortgage payments. More than six weeks later, Congress has yet to finish work on any of these measures. These are sensible reforms that would help American families stay in their homes, and Congress needs to act quickly on these proposals.
Congress has work to do on trade. Earlier this year my administration reached out to the Congress, and we forged a bipartisan agreement to advance trade legislation. Now Congress needs to begin moving on trade agreements with Peru, Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. These agreements expand access to overseas markets, they strengthen democratic allies, and they level the playing field for American workers, farmers, and small businesses.
Congress has work to do for our military veterans. Yesterday I sent Congress legislation to implement the Dole-Shalala commission's recommendations that would modernize and improve our system of care for wounded warriors. Congress should consider this legislation promptly so that those injured while defending our freedom can get the quality care they deserve.
Congress also needs to complete the Veterans Affairs appropriations bill that funds veterans' benefits and other ongoing programs. Look, we have our differences on appropriations bills, but the veterans' bill is where we agree. So I ask Congress to send me a clean bill that will fund our veterans, a bill without unnecessary spending in it. And they need to get this work done, and I hope they can get it done by Veteran's Day. It seems like a reasonable request on behalf of our nation's veterans.
Congress has work to do for law enforcement and the judiciary. I want to thank the Senate Judiciary Committee for beginning hearings today on Judge Mukasey's nomination to serve as the Attorney General. I urge the committee to vote on that nomination this week and send it to the full Senate for a vote next week. The Senate also needs to act on the many judicial nominations that are pending, and give those nominees an up or down vote. Confirming federal judges is one of the most important responsibilities of the Senate, and the Senate owes it to the American people to meet that responsibility in a timely way.
With all these pressing responsibilities, one thing Congress should not be doing is sorting out the historical record of the Ottoman Empire. The resolution on the mass killings of Armenians beginning in 1915 is counterproductive. Both Republicans and Democrats, including every living former Secretary of State, have spoken out against this resolution. Congress has more important work to do than antagonizing a democratic ally in the Muslim world, especially one that is providing vital support for our military every day.
It's little time left in the year, and Congress has little to show for all the time that has gone by. Now is the time for them to act. And I look forward to working with members of both parties on important goals that I've outlined this morning.
And I now I look forward to taking some of your questions -- believe it or not. (Laughter.)
Q Mr. President, Turkey's parliament is debating sending military forces into Iraq to pursue Kurdish rebels. Do you think that Turkey has the legitimate right to stage a cross-country -- cross-country offensive -- cross-border offensive?
THE PRESIDENT: I've talked to Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus about this issue this morning. We are making it very clear to Turkey that we don't think it is in their interests to send troops into Iraq. Actually, they have troops already stationed in Iraq, and they've had troops stationed there for quite a while. We don't think it's in their interests to send more troops in.
I appreciate very much the fact that the Iraqi government understands that this is a sensitive issue with the Turks, and that's why Vice President Hashimi is in Istanbul today, talking with the Turkish leaders to assure them that Iraq shares their concerns about terrorist activities, but that there's a better way to deal with the issue than having the Turks send massive troops into the country -- massive additional troops into the country.
What I'm telling you is, is that there's a lot of dialogue going on, and that's positive. We are actively involved with the Turks and the Iraqis through a tripartite arrangement, and we'll continue to -- dialoguing with the Turks.
Q Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Matt.
Q Why are going to attend the Congressional Award Ceremony for the Dalai Lama today --
THE PRESIDENT: Why -- when am I, or why am I?
Q Why are you going to, when China has expressed outrage about it? And what, if any, potential damage do you see to U.S.-China relations, considering that you need their support in dealing with Iran and North Korean nuclear issues?
THE PRESIDENT: One, I admire the Dalai Lama a lot. Two, I support religious freedom; he supports religious freedom. Thirdly, I like going to the Gold Medal ceremonies. I think it's a good thing for the President to do, to recognize those who Congress has honored. And I'm looking forward to going.
I told the Chinese President, President Hu that I was going to go to the ceremony. In other words, I brought it up. And I said I'm going because I want to honor this man. I have consistently told the Chinese that religious freedom is in their nation's interest. I've also told them that I think it's in their interest to meet with the Dalai Lama, and will say so at the ceremony today in Congress. If they were to sit down with the Dalai Lama they would find him to be a man of peace and reconciliation. And I think it's in the country's interest to allow him to come to China and meet with him.
So my visit today is not new to the Chinese leadership. As I told you, I brought it up with him. I wanted to make sure he understood exactly why I was going. And they didn't like it, of course, but I don't think it's going to damage -- severely damage relations. Matter of fact, I don't think it ever damages relations when the American President talks about religious tolerance and religious freedom is good for a nation. I do this every time I meet with him.
David. Welcome back.
Q Mr. President, last time you used that line and we were here -- (laughter) --
THE PRESIDENT: But you know something, the interesting thing about it is it works every time because -- (laughter) --
Q I know.
THE PRESIDENT: -- because there's a grain of truth. (Laughter.) I won't use it again, though. (Laughter.)
Q There's a report today from Israel Army Radio indicating that the Syrians have confirmed that the Israelis struck a nuclear site in their country. You wouldn't comment on that before, and I'm wondering if now, on the general question, you think it's appropriate for Israel to take such action if it feels that there is mortal danger being posed to the state?
THE PRESIDENT: David, my position hadn't changed. You can ask me another question.
Q Can I ask you whether -- did you support Israel's strike in 1981 on the Iraqi reactor outside Baghdad?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, Dave, I don't remember what I was doing in 1980 -- let's see, I was living in Midland, Texas; I don't remember my reaction that far back.
Q Well, but as you look at it as President now --
THE PRESIDENT: -- private citizen back there in 1981 in Midland, Texas, trying to make a living for my family and --
Q But you're a careful -- someone who studies history --
THE PRESIDENT: Student of history? I do, yes. No, I don't remember my reaction, to be frank with you.
Q But I'm asking you now, as you look back at it, do you think it was the right action for Israel to take?
THE PRESIDENT: David, I'm not going to comment on the subject that you're trying to get me to comment on.
Q Why won't you? But isn't it a fair question to say, is it -- given all the talk about Iran and the potential threat, whether it would be appropriate for Israel to act --
THE PRESIDENT: Hey, Dave -- Dave --
Q -- in self-defense --
THE PRESIDENT: I understand --
Q -- if Iran were to --
THE PRESIDENT: -- I understand where you're trying to take --
Q -- develop nuclear weapons?
THE PRESIDENT: I understand where you're trying to take. It's a clever ruse to get me to comment on it, but I'm not going to. Thank you.
Q Well, I'm just wondering why you think it's not appropriate to make that judgment, when it's a -- it is a real-world scenario, as we know, since they apparently took this action against Syria --
THE PRESIDENT: Dave. Welcome back. (Laughter.)
Q Good morning, Mr. President, thank you. I don't know if you saw the picture on the front page of one of the papers this morning of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Vladimir Putin.
THE PRESIDENT: I did.
Q It looked like they were getting along pretty well. And they are among --
THE PRESIDENT: Surprised they weren't kind of fighting each other on the front page of the paper? No, man, come on.
Q It looked like they were enjoying each other's company. And I'm wondering, since they were leaders of five Caspian Sea region nations that have now declared each country will not be used as a base to attack the other, A, what do you make of their growing relationship? B, does it complicate what the United States can do in the region? And C, would you characterize that arrangement as some sort of Caspian Sea Truman Doctrine or something like that?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, I -- I think it's hard to judge how their conversations went from a picture. Generally leaders don't like to be photographed scowling at each other or making bad gestures at each other. So I'm not surprised that there was a nice picture of them walking along. I try to make sure that when I'm with foreign leaders, there's a pretty picture of the two of us walking down the colonnades, or something like that, to send a good message.
Q Are you saying it's not so warm?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't know yet. What I'm about to tell you is, is that I'm looking forward to getting President Putin's readout from the meeting. I think one of the -- the thing I'm interested in is whether or not he continues to harbor the same concerns that I do. And I say "continues" because when we were in Australia, he reconfirmed to me that it is -- he recognized it's not in the world's interest for Iran to have the capacity to make a nuclear weapon. And they have been very supportive in the United Nations. And we're working with them on a potential third resolution.
So that's where my concerns -- I don't worry about the pictures. I understand why they meet. I am -- will continue to work with Russia, as well as other nations, to keep a focused effort on sending Iran a message that you will remain isolated if you continue your nuclear weapons ambitions.
Q But this declaration doesn't speak to that, Mr. President. This declaration doesn't suggest isolation for Iran. Just the opposite, that Russia and Iran are going to do business.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we'll find out, see. You're trying to get me to interpret the meeting based upon a news story or a picture. I'd rather spend some time with Vladimir Putin finding out exactly what went on. Thank you.
Q Let's stay with the nuclear -- here. When North Korea tested a nuclear device, you said that any proliferation would be a grave threat to the U.S., and North Korea would be responsible for the consequences. Are you denying that North Korea has any role in the suspected nuclear --
THE PRESIDENT: See, you're trying to pull a Gregory.
Q Yes, I am.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, well, I'm not going to fall for it. But I'd like to talk about --
Q Don't Americans have a right to know about who is proliferating, especially when you're negotiating with North Korea?
THE PRESIDENT: No, you have a right to know this, that when it comes to the six-party talks, proliferation -- the issue of proliferation has equal importance with the issue of weaponry, and that North Korea has said that they will stop proliferating, just like they have said they will fully disclose and disable any weapons programs.
Step one of that has been dealing with shuttering Pyongyang. Step two will be full declaration of any plutonium that has been manufactured, and/or the construction of bombs, along with a full declaration of any proliferation activities. And in my judgment, the best way to solve this issue with North Korea peacefully is to put it in -- keep it in the context of six-party talks. And the reason why is that diplomacy only works if there are consequences when diplomacy breaks down, and it makes sense for there to be other people at the table so that if North Korea were to have said to all of us, we're doing to do x, y, or z, and they don't, that we have other -- people other than the United States being consequential.
There's a lot of aid that goes on with -- between North Korea and China, or North Korea and South Korea, and therefore, if they renege on their promises -- and they have said -- they have declared that they will show us weapons and get rid of the weapons programs, as well as stop proliferation -- if they don't fulfill that which they've said, we are now in a position to make sure that they understand that there will be consequences.
And I'm pleased with the progress we're making. Is there still work to be done? You bet there's work to be done. Do I go into this thing saying, well, you know, gosh, the process is more important than results? I don't. What matters most to me are whether or not we can achieve the results that I've said we're hoping to achieve. And if not, there will be consequences to the North Koreans.
Q Was Syria part of those talks? Is Syria part of the talks?
THE PRESIDENT: Proliferation is a part of the talks.
Q Including Syria?
THE PRESIDENT: Elaine.
Look, in all due respect to you and Gregory, this is not my first rodeo. And I know where you're trying to get me to comment. I'm not going to comment on it, one way or the other.
Q But, Mr. President, your administration has talked about --
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Martha. Martha, thank you. Elaine.
Q Mr. President, on Iraq, you've talked repeatedly about the threat of al Qaeda in Iraq. And we've also heard a lot about the military progress that's been made against that group. Can you tell Americans how close the United States is to declaring victory against that group? And if you're not able to do so, does that suggest that your critics are correct that this war cannot be won militarily?
THE PRESIDENT: The Iraq situation cannot be won by military means alone. There has to be political reconciliation to go with it. There has to be an emergence of a democracy. That's been my position ever since it started.
Al Qaeda is still dangerous. They're dangerous in Iraq, they're dangerous elsewhere. Al Qaeda is not going to go away anytime soon. That's why it's important for us to be finding out what their intentions are, and what are their plans, so we can respond to them. This is a -- this war against al Qaeda requires actionable intelligence. That's why this FISA bill is important. And they still want to do us harm, Elaine, and they're still active. Yeah, we've hurt them bad in Iraq. We've hurt them bad elsewhere. If you're the number three person in al Qaeda, you've had some rough goes -- you've either been captured or killed. And we're keeping the pressure on them, all the time.
And so, yes, we're making progress. But, no, I fully understand those who say you can't win this thing militarily. That's exactly what the United States military says, that you can't win this military [sic]. That's why it's very important that we continue to work with the Iraqis on economic progress, as well as political progress.
And what's happened is, in Iraq, is there's been a lot of political reconciliation at the grassroots level. In other words, people that hadn't been talking to each other are now talking to each other. They're beginning to realize there's a better future than one of -- that one -- with a country with deep sectarian divide. And what's going to end up happening is, is that the local reconciliation will affect the national government. In the meantime, we're pressing hard to get the national government to complete the strategic partnership with the United States, as well as pass meaningful legislation, like the de-Baath law, or the provincial government law, or the oil revenue-sharing law.
Q Sir, given that, what you just laid out, should the American people prepare for a large number of U.S. forces to remain in Iraq after you are finished with your presidency?
THE PRESIDENT: The troop levels in Iraq will be determined by our commanders on the ground and the progress being made. Thank you.
Q Mr. President, I'd like to follow on Mr. -- on President Putin's visit to Tehran. It's not about the image of President Putin and President Ahmadinejad, but about the words that Vladimir Putin said there. He issued a stern warning against potential U.S. military action -- U.S. military action against Tehran --
THE PRESIDENT: Did he say U.S.?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, he did?
Q He said -- well, at least the quote said that -- and he also said, "He sees no evidence to suggest Iran wants to build a nuclear bomb." Were you disappointed with that message? And does that indicate possibly that international pressure is not as great as you once thought against Iran abandoning its nuclear program?
THE PRESIDENT: I -- as I said, I look forward to -- if those are, in fact, his comments, I look forward to having him clarify those, because when I visited with him, he understands that it's in the world's interest to make sure that Iran does not have the capacity to make a nuclear weapon. And that's why, on -- in the first round at the U.N., he joined us, and second round, we joined together to send a message. I mean, if he wasn't concerned about it, Bret, then why did we have such good progress at the United Nations in round one and round two?
And so I will visit with him about it. I have not yet been briefed yet by Condi or Bob Gates about, you know, their visit with Vladimir Putin.
Q But you definitively believe Iran wants to build a nuclear weapon?
THE PRESIDENT: I think so long -- until they suspend and/or make it clear that they -- that their statements aren't real, yeah, I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon. And I know it's in the world's interest to prevent them from doing so. I believe that the Iranian -- if Iran had a nuclear weapon, it would be a dangerous threat to world peace.
But this -- we got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously. And we'll continue to work with all nations about the seriousness of this threat. Plus we'll continue working the financial measures that we're in the process of doing. In other words, I think -- the whole strategy is, is that at some point in time, leaders or responsible folks inside of Iran may get tired of isolation and say, this isn't worth it. And to me, it's worth the effort to keep the pressure on this government.
And secondly, it's important for the Iranian people to know we harbor no resentment to them. We're disappointed in the Iranian government's actions, as should they be. Inflation is way too high; isolation is causing economic pain. This is a country that has got a much better future, people have got a much better -- should have better hope inside Iran than this current government is providing them.
So it's -- look, it's a complex issue, no question about it. But my intent is to continue to rally the world to send a focused signal to the Iranian government that we will continue to work to isolate you, in the hopes that at some point in time, somebody else shows up and says it's not worth the isolation.
Q Mr. President, you are sponsoring the international peace conference. President Abbas said he is not going to come unless there is a timetable.
THE PRESIDENT: Who said that?
Q President Abbas. Secretary Rice said that failure is not an option. You talked about substantial issues need to be discussed. What is the minimum expectation from you that you would call this conference a success? What you're offering the Arab nations to encourage them to participate?
THE PRESIDENT: Right. Well, that's why Condi is making the trip she's making, is to explain to people in private, as well as in public that, one, we're for comprehensive peace; two, that there is a -- the meeting, the international meeting will be serious and substantive. In other words -- as she said the other day this isn't going to be just a photo opportunity. This is going to be a serious and substantive meeting.
We believe that now is the time to push ahead with a meeting at which the Israelis and Palestinians will lay out a vision of what a state could look like. And the reason why there needs to be a vision of what a state could look like is because the Palestinians, that have been promised all these years, need to see there's a serious, focused effort to step up a state. And that's important so that the people who want to reject extremism have something to be for.
So this is a serious attempt. And I'm pleased with the progress. And the reason I'm pleased is because it appears to me that President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert are, one, talking -- I know they're talking a lot -- but they're making progress. And in order for there to be lasting peace, the deal has to be good for the Palestinians, as well as the Israelis. Our job is to facilitate the process.
Another reason I have an international meeting is to -- is to get Arab buy-in for a state. In other words, part of the issue in the past has been that the Arab nations stood on the sidelines and when a state was in reach, they weren't a part of the process encouraging the parties to move forward. And so this is -- that's what I mean by comprehensive. It's comprehensive not only for what the state will look like, it's comprehensive in getting people in the region to be a part of the process. And so I'm feeling pretty optimistic about it.
Q -- and Jerusalem and security and other issues --
THE PRESIDENT: They are -- the important issue -- the important thing -- I have discussed those publicly, as you know, early on in my presidency, when I articulated a two-state solution. The important thing is for the Israelis and the Palestinians to be discussing them. That's the important issue. The United States can't impose peace. We can encourage the development of a state. That's precisely what I have been doing since the early stages of my presidency. In order for there to be a Palestinian state, it's going to require the Israelis and the Palestinians coming to an accord. We can facilitate that. But we can't force people to make hard decisions; they're going to have to do that themselves.
I'm encouraged, I'm encouraged from what Condi tells me is going on in the Middle East, that there is -- the attitude is, let's work together to see if we can't lay out that vision for the sake of -- for the sake of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. And it's possible. I believe that we will see a democratic state, and I understand how hard it is. And the reason it is hard, by the way, is because there are extremists who don't want there to be a democracy in the Middle East, whether it be in Iraq or Lebanon or in the Palestinian Territories. That's the struggle, that when you see people trying to blow up the opportunity for a state to exist, you just got to understand it's broader than just the Palestinian Territory. It's a part of this struggle, this ideological struggle in which we're engaged. We've got to ask ourselves, why don't they want there to be a democracy? And the answer is, because it doesn't fit into their ideological vision -- "they" being the extremists.
Another issue with Iran, by the way, that is of great concern to us is their willingness to fund groups that try to either destabilize or prevent the rise of a democracy. Anyway, I'm optimistic this can be achieved, and we'll continue working to that end.
Q Mr. President, could I ask you about a domestic matter?
THE PRESIDENT: Sure.
Q The Commerce Department reported today that the housing starts last month fell to the lowest level since 1993. How concerned are you that this housing recession will spill over into the broader economy, and what more can be done to prevent that from happening?
THE PRESIDENT: Ed, I'm encouraged by the rate of inflation, the job growth. We've had 49 consecutive months of uninterrupted job growth, which is a record here in America. I'm pleased with the fact that our deficit is shrinking. But like our Secretary of the Treasury, I recognize there's softness in the housing market. By the way, we had growth in the GDP because of exports. In other words, there's positive elements of our economy. But no question the housing is soft.
And the fundamental question is, what do we do to help homeowners? I don't think we ought to be providing bailouts for lenders, but I do think we ought to put policy in place that help people stay in their home. And that's why this FHA modernization bill is really important, because it will extend the reach of the FHA, and to -- to help more people be able to refinance their homes.
Part of the issue in the housing market has been that as a result of asset bundling, that it's hard sometimes for people to find somebody to talk to, to help them refinance. In other words, in old days, you go into your saving and loan, your local savings and loan, and sit down and negotiate a house deal, and the person with whom you negotiated would be around if you had financial difficulties, to say, can't you help me restructure? Today the originator of the note no longer owns the note, in many cases.
The securitization of mortgages actually provide a lot of liquidity in the market, and that's a good thing. But it also creates a issue here in America, and that is, how do we get people to understand the nature of the mortgages they bought, and how do you help people refinance to stay in home -- stay in their home? And so that's what Secretary Paulson, Secretary Jackson have been working on, particularly with the private sector, to facilitate the ability to people to refinance.
And finally, we need to change the tax laws. You're disadvantaged if you refinance your home. It creates a tax liability. And if we want people staying in their homes, then it seems like to me we got to change the tax code. That's why I talked to Senator Stabenow the other day and thanked her for her sponsorship of an important piece of tax legislation that will enable people to more likely stay in their homes.
So there's some things we can do, Ed. In the meantime, you just got to understand, it's going to have to work -- when you got more houses than you got buyers, the price tends to go down. And we're just going to have to work through the issue. I'm not a forecaster, but I can tell people that I feel good about many of the economic indicators here in the United States.
Q Mr. President, following up on Vladimir Putin for a moment. He said recently that next year when he has to step down, according to the constitution, as President, he may become Prime Minister, in effect keeping power and dashing any hopes for a genuine democratic transition there. Senator McCain --
THE PRESIDENT: I've been planning that myself. (Laughter.)
Q Senator McCain said yesterday, when he looks into Putin's eyes, he sees a K, a G and a B, and he would never have invited --
THE PRESIDENT: Pretty good line.
Q And he would never have invited him to Kennebunkport. And he said it's time we got a little tough with Vladimir Putin. I'm wondering if you think -- is Senator McCain right? And what would it mean for Russian democracy if, when you leave power, assuming you do, in January 2009 -- (laughter) -- if Vladimir Putin is still in power?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, one of the interesting -- well, my leadership style has been to try to be in a position where I actually can influence people. And one way to do that is to have personal relationships that enable me to sit down and tell people what's on my mind without fear of rupturing relations. And that's how I've tried to conduct my business with Vladimir Putin. We don't agree on a lot of issues; we do agree on some. Iran is one; nuclear proliferation is another. Reducing our nuclear warheads was an issue that we agreed on early.
But I believe that diplomacy requires good relations at the leadership level. That's why, in Slovakia, I was in a position to tell him that we didn't understand why he was altering the relationship between the Russian government and a free press -- in other words, why the fress press was becoming less free. And I was able to do -- he didn't like it. Nobody likes to be talked to in a way that may point up different flaws in their strategy. But I was able to do so in a way that didn't rupture relations. He was able to tell me going into Iraq wasn't the right thing. And to me that's good diplomacy. And so I'm -- and I'll continue to practice that diplomacy.
Now, in terms of whether or not it's possible to reprogram the kind of basic Russian DNA, which is a centralized authority, that's hard to do. We've worked hard to make it appear in their interests -- we made it clear to them that it is in their interests to have good relations with the West. And the best way to have good long-term relations with the West is to recognize that checks and balances in government are important, or recognize there are certain freedoms that are inviolate. So Russia a complex relationship, but it's an important relationship to maintain.
Q Will you be disappointed if he stays in power after you're gone?
THE PRESIDENT: I have no idea what he's going to do. He -- I asked him when I saw him in Australia, I tried to get it out of him, who's going to be his successor, what he intends to do, and he was wily. He wouldn't tip his hand. I'll tip mine: I'm going to finish -- I'm going to work hard to the finish. I'm going to sprint to the finish line, and then you'll find me in Crawford.
Q Mr. President, I'd like to turn your attention back to Capitol Hill. A year ago, after Republicans lost control of Congress, you said you wanted to find common ground. This morning you gave us a pretty scathing report card on Democrats. But I'm wondering how have you assessed yourself in dealing with Democrats this past year? How effective have you been in dealing with them on various issues, and do you think you've done a good job in finding common ground?
THE PRESIDENT: We're finding common ground on Iraq. We're -- I recognize there are people Congress that say we shouldn't have been there in the first place. But it sounds to me as if the debate has shifted, that David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker's testimony made a difference to a lot of members. I hope we continue to find ground by making sure our troops get funded.
We found common ground on FISA. My only question is why change a good law? The way that law was written works for the security of the country. That's what the American people want to know, by the way, are we passing laws that are beneficial to the American people. This law is beneficial because it enables our intelligence experts to -- and professionals to find out the intentions of al Qaeda. Now, the law needs to be changed, enhanced, by providing the phone companies that allegedly helped us with liability protection. So we found common ground there.
Hopefully we can find common ground as the Congress begins to move pieces of legislation. The reason I said what I said today is there's a lot to be done. As you recognize, I'm not a member of the legislative branch, probably wouldn't be a very good legislator. But as the head of the executive branch, it makes sense to call upon Congress to show progress and get results. It's hard to find common ground unless important bills are moving. They're not even moving. And not one appropriations bill has made it to my desk. How can you find common ground when there's no appropriations process?
We found common ground on a trade bill -- trade bills; really important pieces of legislation, as far as I'm concerned. One of the reasons why is exports helped us overcome the weakness in the housing market last quarter. If that's the case, it seems like it makes sense to continue and open up markets to U.S. goods and services. And yet there hadn't been one -- there haven't been any bills moving when it comes to trade.
Veterans Affairs is an area where we can find common ground. I've called in -- I asked Bob Dole and Donna Shalala to lead an important commission, a commission to make sure our veterans get the benefits they deserve. I was concerned about bureaucratic delay and concerned about a system that had been in place for years. But this didn't recognize this different nature -- a different kind of war that we're fighting.
I don't like it when I meet wives who are sitting by -- beside their husband's bed in Walter Reed and not being supported by its government, not being helped to provide care. I'm concerned about PTSD, and I want people to focus on PTSD. And so we sent up a bill and I hope they move on it quickly. There's a place where we can find common ground, Sheryl.
Q Is it all their fault that these bills aren't moving, that you've got these veto threats out?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it is their fault that bills aren't moving, yeah. As I said, I'm not a part of the legislative branch. All I can do is ask them to move bills. It's up to the leaders to move the bills. And you bet I'm going to put veto threats out. Of course, I want to remind you, I put a lot of veto threats out when the Republicans were in control of Congress. I said, now, if you overspend I'm going to veto your bills, and they listened, and we worked together. Whether or not that's the case, we'll find out.
And by the way, on the S-CHIP bill, we weren't dialed in in the beginning. The leaders said, okay, let's see if we can get something moving. And I'm surprised I hadn't been asked about S-CHIP. It's an issue that hadn't been --
Q How far are you planning to go?
THE PRESIDENT: -- surprised I hadn't been asked about S-CHIP yet. It's a -- I made it abundantly clear why I have vetoed the bill. I find it interesting that when Americans begin to hear the facts, they understand the rationale behind the veto. First of all, there are 500,000 children who are eligible for the current program who aren't covered. And so, to answer your question on how far I'm willing to go, I want to provide enough money to make sure those 500,000 do get covered. That ought to be the focus of our efforts.
Six or seven -- in six or seven states they spend more money on adults than children. And finally, the eligibility has been increased up to $83,000. That doesn't sound like it's a program for poor children to me. And I look forward to working with the Congress if my veto is upheld to focus on those who are supposed to be covered. That's what we need to get done.
Q Sir --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q I wonder if you felt blind-sided by the very blistering criticism recently from retired General Ricardo Sanchez, who was one of your top commanders in Iraq. He told a news conference last week that there's been glaring, unfortunate display of incompetent strategic leadership within our national leaders on Iraq.
THE PRESIDENT: Right.
Q Seems like quite a lack of common ground there, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: You know, look, I admire General Sanchez's service to the country. I appreciate his service to the country. The situation on the ground has changed quite dramatically since he left Iraq. The security situation is changing dramatically. The reconciliation that's taking place is changing. The economy is getting better. And so I -- I'm pleased with the progress we're making. And I admire the fact that he served. I appreciate his service.
Q Should the American people feel disturbed that a former top general says that?
THE PRESIDENT: Massimo.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. As Commander-in-Chief, are you in control of and responsible for military contractors in Iraq? And if not, who is?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I'm responsible in that the State Department has hired those military contractors.
Q Are you satisfied with their performance? And if not, what are you doing to satisfy yourself that --
THE PRESIDENT: I will be anxious to see the analysis of their performance. There's a lot of studying going on, both inside Iraq and out, as to whether or not people violated rules of engagement. I will tell you, though, that a firm like Blackwater provides a valuable service. They protect people's lives. And I appreciate the sacrifice and the service that the Blackwater employees have made. And they, too, want to make sure that if there's any inconsistencies or behavior that shouldn't -- that ought to be modified, that we do that. And so we're analyzing it fully.
Q I wanted to ask you about S-CHIP and why you even let that get to a situation where it had to be a veto? Isn't there a responsibility by both the President and congressional leadership to work on this common ground before it gets to a veto?
THE PRESIDENT: Right, as I said, we weren't dialed in. And I don't know why. But they just ran the bill, and I made it clear we weren't going to accept it. That happens sometimes. In the past, when I -- I said, look, make sure we're a part of the process, and we were. In this case, this bill started heading our way, and I recognize Republicans in the Senate supported it. We made it clear we didn't agree. They passed it anyway. And so now, hopefully, we'll be in the process. That's why the President has a veto. Sometimes the legislative branch wants to go on without the President, pass pieces of legislation, and the President then can use the veto to make sure he's a part of the process. And that's -- as you know, I fully intend to do. I want to make sure -- and that's why, when I tell you I'm going to sprint to the finish, and finish this job strong, that's one way to ensure that I am relevant; that's one way to sure that I am in the process. And I intend to use the veto.
Q Thank you, sir. A simple question.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. It may require a simple answer.
Q What's your definition of the word "torture"?
THE PRESIDENT: Of what?
Q The word "torture." What's your definition?
THE PRESIDENT: That's defined in U.S. law, and we don't torture.
Q Can you give me your version of it, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: Whatever the law says.
Q You talked about sprinting to the finish, and then you also, just a moment ago, sounded a bit resigned to the fact that if legislators don't move there's not much you can do. So --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm doing it right now, see -- not to interrupt you -- but it's called the bully pulpit. And I hope to get your -- I was trying to get your attention focused on the fact that major pieces of legislation aren't moving, and those that are, are at a snail's pace. And I hope I did that. I hope I was able to accomplish that.
Q One on veterans, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: Go ahead -- he hasn't asked his question. I rudely interrupted him.
Q Do you feel as if you're -- do you feel as if you're losing leverage, and that you're becoming increasingly irrelevant? And what can you do about that to --
THE PRESIDENT: Quite the contrary. I've never felt more engaged and more capable of helping people recognize -- American people recognize that there's a lot of unfinished business. And I'm really looking forward to the next 15 months. I'm looking forward to getting some things done for the American people. And if it doesn't get done, I'm looking forward to reminding people as to why it's not getting done.
But I'm confident we can get positive things done. I mean, you shouldn't view this as somebody who says, well, this is impossible for Congress and the President to work together; quite the contrary. I just named some areas where we have worked together. And we're going to have to work together. We have to make sure our troops get the money they need. We have to make sure America is protected.
Having said that, I'm not going to accept a lousy bill, and the American people don't want there to be a lousy bill on this issue. The American people want to know that our professionals have the tools necessary to defend them. See, they understand al Qaeda and terrorism is still a threat to the security of this country. In other words, they're still out there, and they're still plotting and planning. And it's in our interest to have the tools necessary to protect the American people. It's our most solemn duty.
So there's a lot of areas where we can work together. This just happens to be a period of time when not much is happening. And my job is to see if I can't get some of that movement in the right direction, and at the same time, make sure that we're part of the process. And one way the executive branch stays a part of the process is to issue veto threats and then follow through with them. And so that's what you're going to see tomorrow, as to whether or not the Congress will sustain my veto on a bill that I said I would veto, and explained why I'm vetoing it.
And again, I want to repeat it so the American people clearly understand: One, there are half a million children who are eligible under this program but aren't being covered today; two, states are spending -- some states are spending more money on adults than children. That doesn't make any sense if you're trying to help poor children.
By the way, in Medicaid, we spend about $35 billion a year on poor children. So if somebody is listening out there saying, well, they don't care about poor children, they ought to look at the size -- the amount of money we're spending under Medicaid for poor children.
And finally, to increase eligibility up to $83,000, in my judgment, is an attempt by some in Congress to expand the reach of the federal government in medicine. And I believe strongly in private medicine. Now, I think the federal government ought to help those who are poor, and it's one of the reasons why I work so hard on Medicare reform, is to make sure that we fulfill our promise to the elderly. But I don't like plans that move people from -- encourage people to move from private medicine to the public. And that's what's happening under this bill. And so I'm looking forward to working with the Congress to make sure the bill does what it's supposed to do.
Listen, thank you all for your time. I enjoyed it. THE END 11:32 A.M. EDT
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