James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:36 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: All right. Let me give you one update. The President called Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt today. He wished him a happy Swedish National Day, and also thanked him for hosting a successful International Compact of Iraq meeting in Stockholm.
The President has been recording his weekly radio address. In it he will urge Congress to pass a responsible funding bill that gives our men and women in uniform the resources they need and the support that they have earned. There are troops in harm’s way over in Iraq and Afghanistan. This bill would give them the resources they need to defeat the terrorists. It’s been up there in front of Congress for over 16 months, and it’s now time for Congress to get to work on that. And that’s what he’ll talk about in his radio address.
Q Is there any approach that the administration can take to deal with Zimbabwe, what’s going on in Zimbabwe, other than condemnation?
MS. PERINO: I would — make sure that you have a chance to look at the briefing today by Ambassador James McGee, who is our Ambassador to Zimbabwe. He did an on-the-record briefing earlier today and said that they’re going to look at the full suite of diplomatic tools that they have available to them. But there’s no doubt that the situation in Zimbabwe is worsening, and it was already a terrible situation.
So let me refer you to them to look — we already have some U.N. sanctions on that regime, on Mugabe’s regime. But the Ambassador said today they’ll be looking at what other options they have available to them.
Q Will the President make this part of his discussions in Europe next week?
MS. PERINO: I’m sure that, given the fact that one of the things that we’ll be talking with the Europeans about is this new — not new, but this effort that we have been undertaking with Europe on a range of issues on a global reach — so, for example, on HIV/AIDS or on malaria, where we are working with the Europeans. Obviously people in Europe have a great interest in what’s going on not just around the world but certainly in Africa, a particular interest in Africa. So I would assume that the situation in Zimbabwe will come up. Remember, this week at the World Food Conference that was held in Rome, attended by people around the world, but all the Europeans that were there were — at least I saw several of them quoted being very dismayed at what’s going on in Zimbabwe and worried about the human condition on the ground.
Q Dana, an Israeli cabinet member who is very close to Prime Minister Olmert has said today that an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites would be unavoidable unless Tehran stopped uranium enrichment. Does the U.S. see that as being an unavoidable consequence?
MS. PERINO: Well, I — look, I don’t know who — I saw the reports about the cabinet minister. I’d refer you to the Israelis for anything more on that. What we have tried to do across the board is to try to solve this diplomatically and working multilaterally with many different countries to try to pressure Iran to halt its enrichment of uranium so that we can make sure that their claims that they are not pursuing a nuclear weapon — we just want to make — the international community deserves to have the verification that that is true.
And sure, I understand that Israel is very concerned about their future and their safety when they have a neighbor in the region, Iran, who says they want to wipe them off the face of the map. I think that’s probably a strong concern of theirs.
I also would point out that Israel has a strong concern about Hamas, who daily is attacking its citizens, innocent civilians, with rocket attacks and injuring many of them on a daily basis. And I think that’s more their immediate concern.
Q But the U.S. has not ruled out military options as a last resort, nor has it —
MS. PERINO: On?
Q — asked Israel to do so, has it?
MS. PERINO: Well, while the President has always said that he, as Commander-in-Chief, would never take any options off the table, I wouldn’t read anything into that. We are trying to solve this diplomatically.
Q Dana, I just want to ask you about Gitmo. We’ve got 9/11 defendants talking about martyrdom, kind of lashing out at the President with some outlandish statements and calling him a crusader, among other things. Is the President following that situation at all? Does he have any reaction, being briefed about it? And what’s your general reaction to what’s happening there?
MS. PERINO: Well, given that it is now in a trial phase, and that these people are now being given the chance to have their case said in court. It’s inappropriate for the President, as Commander-in-Chief, to make any comments about it because of concerns about command influence. So I can assure you he’s being kept up to speed, and of course he checks out the newspapers, so he knows what’s going on. But I couldn’t comment on what he feels about it.
Q Dana, the climate change bill and the action in the Senate. What do you say to those who say that by threatening to veto this cap and trade system and with a Republican filibuster, that basically, let’s just kick the can down the road for another year and postpone action on this issue?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think it would be, one, important for people to look at the fact of what really happened on this bill. This was a — they tried to have a vote on the Boxer substitute, which is Senator Boxer’s bill, that had not been fully analyzed, had not been given any economic analysis, had not been given any environmental impact analysis, and the Republicans had a beef with how the Democrat Majority Leader was treating them when it came to an agreement that they felt they had on judges. So there are parliamentary maneuvers that can be taken on both sides.
But I would also point you to many people who are concerned about the high price of gasoline today and worried about the impacts that this bill would have. And not only that, Republicans were not going to be allowed to have any chance to amend it.
So here you have Democrats in Congress saying that this is the most important bill to face this Congress, and they weren’t even going to spend enough time to allow people to have any chance of talking about it or amending it. And this is a bill that would have a huge impact on the economy, and a huge impact on people, working people, in America, and probably not have a lot of impact overseas.
I think that the other thing that this debate shows us is that solving the climate change problem is not easy. And by working on new technologies and working to make sure that China and India are at a — are at the table, that’s the way to try to tackle this problem. And President Bush will certainly talk about this when he’s in Europe next week.
Q What about the — the backers of the bill said that they think they really have the strength to pass it. And they’re citing this letter that both Senator Obama and Senator McCain signed, saying they would have voted for it had they been there.
MS. PERINO: I don’t know if that’s a clever way to try to get me to talk about ’08 politics, but let’s just say we did not support the bill. The President supports tackling the problem of climate change in a way that will be effective, meaning that it would actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the world, and in a way that would not harm our economy. If we harm the economy that’s already currently in a slowdown, if we harm it any further, no one is going to have any extra money to pay for the new technologies that we’re going to need to be able to solve this problem. So they got themselves into a catch-22. And I think it was a worthwhile debate to try to have.
But I do think there are many Democrats on Capitol Hill from places — districts around the country who weren’t excited about the bill and were very concerned about the impacts it would have on their constituents.
Q Dana, can you describe for us the President’s reaction to the latest economic numbers? And does he believe that the stimulus package will be a difference-maker in terms of making this downturn short-lived?
MS. PERINO: Well, you’ll hear from the President pretty soon, because at the swearing in for Steve Preston over at the Department of Housing and Urban Development I believe the President will address the housing number today.
We’re obviously not happy with the unemployment number that had gone up. We do think it was in line with the expectations for the current economy, and we do also believe that it’s important to look at a couple of things. One, the number in large part was increased by new job applicants, and it usually takes new job applicants a little while longer to find work. So while it’s a concern that the unemployment rate jumped to 5.5 percent, that is still historically low, and lower than the averages of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.
The most important thing we can do now is, first of all, make sure Congress does no harm. And secondly, we would ask the Democrat leadership in Congress to really take a look at their time-management issues. They just spent an entire week lobbying for — or arguing about a bill that they knew was not going to become law. They didn’t spend even just an hour on the Colombia free trade agreement — that’s all that’s needed, really, to have a vote on an agreement that we already had with them, and that would open up the market for our businesses to sell into the Colombian market and just level the playing field.
They could have spent that time talking about housing legislation, how to make sure that we modernize the Federal Housing Agency, how to make sure that we address the GSE problem. They could have spent time on a lot of other things when it comes to the economy, and instead they chose to talk about a bill that would increase gas prices by another 53 cents a gallon.
And so we just question their priorities and we would hope that next week when they get back to work, they could actually take up the war supplemental and some of these other issues that I just mentioned, because we do think that that would have a positive impact on the economy.
And a last point about the economic stimulus package. We are only one month into the economic stimulus package, and we have always said that we think that there will be about 500,000 more jobs added, but not until the second half of the year. So we’re at the beginning of June. So while it’s a concern, we do believe we have the policies in place to start to increase the job growth in the future.
Q I conclude from that that the administration is not thinking about any other new steps or anything like that?
MS. PERINO: That’s not necessarily true. We have a robust economic team in Secretary Paulson, Keith Hennessey, Eddie Lazear. And the President has a great interest in what’s going on in the economy — very concerned about the high energy prices. We believe that the policies we’ve put in place to help deal with housing are starting to have an impact, and we’re helping lots of people. I think the HOPE NOW organization has helped over 1.6 million people to be able to stay in their homes.
So there are things that we’ve done that are good. There are other things that we need to think about, such as figuring out a way that we could increase the amount of domestic oil production and exploration that could be done in environmentally sensitive ways because of new technologies that we’ve developed over the years. So there are a range of things that we continue to look at, but at the moment we would ask Congress to act on the things we think would have an impact — not necessarily an immediate impact, but an impact, nonetheless, so that the future of our economy can continue to grow.
Q What about an extension of unemployment benefits? The Democrats on the Hill have been suggesting that for months.
MS. PERINO: They have.
Q Does that get any currency down here?
MS. PERINO: Remember, the — this administration has followed precedent of previous administrations. No administration has increased — or extended unemployment benefits when unemployment was this low, at 5.5 percent. Now while we’ve seen an increase, it’s still at historically low levels.
And so we will continue to work with Congress on the other things that we’re trying to do. And at the moment the most important thing they could do is to try to — for example, on the Colombia free trade agreement — if they were able to move forward on that, then these companies that want to sell into Colombia, such as these big heavy-duty equipment — if you just think of the event a week or two ago out on the South Lawn — how many jobs that that could create. Or if we wanted to increase domestic or — domestic production or exploration when it comes to oil and gas, how that could increase the number of jobs that are out there.
There are a number of ways that the American entrepreneur could take advantage of some of these things if they were just given the chance. And on the Colombia free trade agreement, it’s a great example where Congress could act but has chosen not to.
Q Those are things that you’ve talked about repeatedly in the past. Are there additional policy steps that you’re considering?
MS. PERINO: Well, I would say that our policy team has always taken a look at what we could possibly do, but I wouldn’t lead you to believe that there’s anything imminent in terms of an announcement.
Go ahead, Laurent.
Q We’ve just gotten news that the United States intends to walk away from the United Nations Human Rights Council. Are you aware of those reports? Can you confirm them?
MS. PERINO: I wasn’t aware of it, but I’ll refer you to the State Department for more. I think they’re briefing now.
Q On unemployment extension, is there a rate of unemployment in which the administration would consider extending?
MS. PERINO: I think this is a question that you asked earlier, and there’s really been no change in the last three hours. So I think that we’ll take a look at the numbers, we’ll continue to assess them. And obviously we’re concerned about anybody who wants to have a job and can’t find one. The President wants anyone who wants to find a job in America to be able to find a job in America, and the best way that we can do that is to encourage pro-growth economic policies. And so he’ll continue to do that. We’ll take — we’ll keep a look — keep a sharp eye on the economic numbers and unemployment numbers. The best thing that we can do is try to open up these new markets.
Q Thank you.
END 12:49 P.M. EDT
White House Press Office