Press Briefing by Scott Stanzel
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 14, 2007
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:35 P.M. EST
MR. STANZEL: Good afternoon, everyone. I don't have any statements, so I'll take your questions off the top.
Q Why does the President say that the year-long CR is the way to go? I'm not quite sure we followed that.
MR. STANZEL: Well, he said if Congress can't get their work done, you shouldn't drag the problems of this year into next year. You know, look, we're already two months into the fiscal year 2008. This Congress came into their work at the beginning of the year complaining about the unfinished business of the previous Congress. So we're already in the budget process here, as an administration. Obviously in February we'll be rolling out a new budget of fiscal year 2009, so we shouldn't continue to perpetuate these problems.
So we hope and we expect that Congress will want to get their work done this week, or before they leave for the Christmas holiday. But that is an option open to them.
Q And he's okay with that, right?
Q The President on Monday is going to give some kind of a financial address. Is this aimed at countering the conventional wisdom we hear from people like Alan Greenspan, that the country is headed for a recession?
MR. STANZEL: No, I think the remarks that the President will give on Monday will be informal remarks about the state of the economy. He'll talk -- he'll be visiting with a rotary club, and he'll talk about the state of the economy and what small businesses are doing to deal with some of the challenges.
We do face some headwinds with the housing market. We've had higher energy prices. But the fundamentals of the economy are still very strong. As you know, we've had 51 straight months of job growth; unemployment is low. So the President will talk about the state of the economy, but I wouldn't characterize it as countering certain people's opinions; but it's more the President's view on the challenges we face and why it's important to keep spending low, to keep taxes low, to make sure we put the fundamentals -- keep the fundamentals in place for a strong and growing economy.
Q Scott, the Bali conference looks like it might be winding up soon. Has the President made any direct calls to leaders of other countries at the conference to persuade them of the U.S. point of view?
MR. STANZEL: He has not. Certainly he's represented there by officials from the administration. Other members of his team have had conversations with partners and allies around the world, but the President has not made any calls himself.
Q We heard the President this morning talk about the Mitchell report. Does the President believe there should be similar reviews in other sports for steroid use?
MR. STANZEL: Well, I think -- he's obviously keenly interested in this issue, as you heard him say in the Rose Garden, as a baseball fan and a former team owner. It's an important issue that Major League Baseball did tackle.
Certainly all sports, regardless of the sport, there are athletes that children look up to, and when those athletes are cutting corners and abusing steroids, it sends the wrong message to children. So I haven't heard him say that other sports should take this up, but certainly it's a very important issue, and I would note that the Office of National Drug Control Policy does have a very active engagement with sports leagues and with governing bodies, both here in the United States and around the world, to address these challenges.
Q And Congress is starting to look into this again. They did, I guess, a year or two ago --
MR. STANZEL: Two years ago.
Q -- two years ago, held hearings. Is there a role for the White House beyond the bully pulpit? Is there something that Congress and the White House can do about this?
MR. STANZEL: Well, we can see what Congress will do, but certainly the President believes it's best for those -- for the leagues to take up these issues. Obviously we have laws on the books about various drugs and that sort of thing, the abuse of them. However, it's probably best that these leagues take this challenge on themselves, and the President believes it's a very important issue. And they do have a responsibility, because they're looked up to by children throughout the country. And that's why he raised it in the 2004 State of the Union address.
Q Scott, the President mentioned -- he reiterated what North Korea needs to do, in terms of lifting U.S. sanctions. Is he encouraged by the response that he got from Kim Jong-il to his letter?
MR. STANZEL: Well, you heard from him: what he will be encouraged by is if they have a full, complete and accurate declaration. And that's what we're looking forward to. I believe all of the parties involved expect that that is something that should happen; they should have that declaration as agreed to in the joint statement from September 19, 2005.
So we did -- as we indicated, the President did receive -- we did receive a verbal reply from the North Koreans, and that came -- some of you had asked this morning -- that came through on Wednesday, through New York, from their U.N. mission, and came to the State Department. But I think all the parties involved want to see -- certainly the five parties that the President mentioned want to see a full and complete declaration from the North Koreans.
Q Is it a sign of progress that you got a response at all?
MR. STANZEL: Well, I think -- you know, you heard the President mention, he got their attention. And it's good that there is attention to this issue, because it's a very important one, and we want to see a nuclear-free North Korean Peninsula.
Q Is there any frustration in terms of the time that it's taking? Are they going too slowly, in terms of kind of the health concerns that you have to look at, at some of the facilities there?
MR. STANZEL: I would refer you to the State Department officials who are very actively engaged in this. But we have the December 31st deadline, that's what we're working towards, and we'd like to see that declaration.
Q So you're satisfied with the pace?
MR. STANZEL: I think that we would always want to see more progress. It goes without saying that with any issue, we want to see quick progress. But we're looking forward to that December 31st date.
Q We didn't hear what he actually said.
MR. STANZEL: No, you didn't.
Q No, thank you. (Laughter.) Can you help us out? (Laughter.)
MR. STANZEL: You should ask the North Koreans that.
Q Well, why --
MR. STANZEL: Because we are not going to disclose what they said to us. We didn't release the President's letter on December 1st, so it's not our place to disclose what their message was to us. I encourage you to get in touch with Kim Jong-il and ask him that question.
Q You got his number? I'll call.
MR. STANZEL: Okay. We'll see if we can get that for you.
Q What caused the President to change his mind and now accept what he once called a monster spending bill for the year? And why would he now accept what he calls a down payment on Iraq, rather than the full $200 million that he asked?
MR. STANZEL: Well, we've seen a Congress that has been incapable of doing the basic work of getting the appropriations bills done. So it's just basic realism that they're going to be unable to complete that work on all of the other -- only, as the President mentioned, only one of those appropriations bills has been signed into law, so they've got a lot of work left here before they leave. So that's just a basic understanding of the situation that we find ourselves in. Unfortunately that's where we are, but the President believes that they should move forward with an omnibus that stays within those funding levels and doesn't raise taxes.
Q And the appropriation for Iraq, is the figure, $50 billion -- which was originally passed, I think, by the House -- a figure acceptable to him, so long as it doesn't have troop withdrawals?
MR. STANZEL: I'm not going to get into specific dollar numbers. But we think the troops should be fully funded. You know, in February we put forward a supplemental. We've added to that this year. We think that they deserve the funding. They are doing important work in a dangerous situation, and they're doing it quite well. And we think that they should --
Q Did I misunderstand the President when he said he would accept now a down payment?
MR. STANZEL: A down payment -- that was his line.
Q And the figure on the down payment would be?
MR. STANZEL: It would be a down payment, so I'm not going to get into the specific dollar amounts. But we think that --
Q But the $50 billion that has been passed a couple of times, I think, by the House would be a figure that's acceptable to the President?
MR. STANZEL: It is a figure, and I think that we want full funding for the troops, but we'll just have to see what Congress ends up providing.
Q Goyal -- I'm sorry -- thank you. Two quick questions. One, these days, Afghanistan is really in the news every day, and also, Secretary Gates was on the Hill last week, and he's now in New York. This was (inaudible) NATO with the same (inaudible), because NATO has been criticized that they are not doing enough for -- as far as blocking terrorism and Taliban coming back to Afghanistan. And Afghans are now really unhappy because (inaudible) -- this President (inaudible) and because of peace -- they don't see peace right now at this moment in Afghanistan.
MR. STANZEL: Okay, so what's your question?
Q So are we (inaudible) some point that replacing NATO with some other kind of international --
MR. STANZEL: No, I don't expect that, and Secretary Gates has been having conversations with NATO leaders about the importance of the mission in Afghanistan. And certainly there are -- those are ongoing conversations. And I would refer you to the Defense Department for those discussions.
Q And second, with Iran, as we enter 2008 in the next two weeks, are we still looking for Osama bin Laden or -- because he's still, according to U.S. officials and press reports, still head of the al Qaeda and instructing terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. So where he is now? Are we looking for him still?
MR. STANZEL: Absolutely. Certainly.
Q Back to the reply by the North Koreans, can you confirm that the reply was made by Kim Jong-il, himself?
MR. STANZEL: Yes. Les.
Q Thank you, Scott. Two questions. Are trade barriers something the White House would consider if China doesn't make currency and other adjustments to address the huge trade imbalance with the United States?
MR. STANZEL: Well, Secretary Paulson has been in China recently and having conversations with them. We have a very important relationship with China. And we believe that lowering trade barriers is the right approach. But I can't speak to any speculation on those fronts. But certainly we believe that lowering trade barriers is good for American consumers, and it's also good for the American economy.
Q The New York Daily News, FOX News and AP all report that 10 associates of the Reverend Al Sharpton have been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury and ordered to provide financial records of his 2004 presidential campaign, as well as six Sharpton-related businesses. And my question: Without asking you for any pre-trial comment, could you, as spokesman for the nation's chief law enforcer, tell us the White House reaction to Mr. Sharpton's stated suggestion that this is U.S. government retaliation for its leading a march in connection with the Jena 6?
MR. STANZEL: You know, that is a matter for law enforcement officials, Les, and I'll just leave it at that. I don't have anything for you on that.
Q The full-year CR that the President would call for if he can't get the omnibus package acceptable to him, Democrats aren't really expected to support that because that would mean funding levels from fiscal 2007. So would the President veto a shorter-term CR if he can't get the one-year?
MR. STANZEL: No, I mean, we need to keep the government funded, and I don't think it's in anyone's interest to deny services to the American people because the people here in Washington, on Capitol Hill, can't get their work done. So, no, the President would not be opposed to that, but that was a suggestion. Obviously we've had other lengths of continuing resolutions, and we do frequently, but like I told Deb, we shouldn't drag this year's problems into next year and just compound them.
Q On the AMT patch?
MR. STANZEL: Yes.
Q The President made passing reference to that, but the most contentious issue deals with hedge fund managers and preserving a tax break that would shelter their income overseas. So why is the President opposed to eliminating that break in order to pay for tax breaks for middle-income taxpayers?
MR. STANZEL: I'm not familiar with that specific provision, so I will have to refer you to Tony Fratto, who is our tax expert here.
Q Just one on the Mitchell report. Can we say that the President actually looked at it, or --
MR. STANZEL: I'm sorry?
Q Can we say he's looked at it?
MR. STANZEL: I'm not aware that he has. Certainly he's been following this issue very closely through the news, but I'm not --
Q Has he been briefed on it?
MR. STANZEL: He's certainly had discussions about it, absolutely, and he's fully aware of what's in the report. Sometimes you all have a chance to ask him questions about what he watches at night. He watches, you know, sports and he watches baseball quite a bit, so this is an issue that's of interest to him. So I'm fully confident that he has a great knowledge of what's in the report.
Q He seemed to be a little bit not ready to say that these guys should be punished. I was just curious as to why he took that kind of middle of the road --
MR. STANZEL: Well, it's an important issue, but you heard from him his comments about people that are in the report. I'm not aware -- I'm personally not aware what the level of burden was to get onto that list, but certainly we have -- as the President said, there is a problem with steroids in Major League Baseball, and we hope that this is the end of the steroids era in baseball. But this will be an ongoing discussion and I'm sure that baseball fans will be talking about for many weeks to come.
Yes, go ahead.
Q Thank you. What is the White House's response to the -- yesterday's House ban on certain forms of interrogation techniques? How does the Senate --
MR. STANZEL: We actually have a statement of administration policy that we released on that. That was on the -- earlier this week, on the 11th. But the administration does strongly oppose any legislation that would extend protections and requirements of the Army Field Manual to the CIA detention and interrogation program, because you have the Defense Department that has the Field Manual that's there to address interrogations that occur by defense personnel on the battlefield, during those conflicts in a normal battlefield setting.
However, the CIA's program, in contrast, authorizes a set of alternative interrogation procedures for gathering information from some of the most hardened terrorists in non-battlefield settings, in a carefully controlled setting by highly trained officials. So that's what our staff said, and that is something that we would not support.
Q I just wanted to ask about Monday's speech on the economy, what aspect of the economy -- what's the purpose of the speech?
MR. STANZEL: I had answered Jim earlier -- it's about the -- basically it's an informal address about the state of the economy and how small businesses are dealing with some of the issues that we're seeing now. I'd refer you to that answer.
MR. STANZEL: It's a rotary club, Stafford Rotary Club.
END 12:50 P.M. EST
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