Press Briefing by Dana Perino
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:45 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. I'll start with an opening statement, and then I'll take your questions. As you heard the President today, he talked about, in his speech to the Cattlemen's Association, the Iraqi war supplemental. Today Senator Reid responded to the President by saying, "We should get real with what's going on with the world." Let me just take a moment to step back and talk about where we are in the world.
On March 8th, the President said -- we said that the President would veto any bill that tied a timetable or restrictions to the supplemental. So the Democrats have known for 20 days, nearly three weeks, that their current bill would never become law. Yet they continued down their current path. A week ago, they heard from the Secretary of Defense that if the emergency funding isn't provided by April 15th, our men and women in uniform will face significant disruptions, and so will their families. Yet they continued down their current path, and they cobbled together votes by adding extraneous spending and domestic spending for such things as the spinach, peanut, and shrimp lobbies.
So they continued down that path. And let me remind you that two months ago, the National Intelligence Estimate, released on February 2nd, predicted that withdrawing coalition forces from Iraq within the next 12 to 18 months would not solve Iraq's problems, but would, in fact, lead to catastrophe.
Democrats in Congress must take responsibility for their votes and their statements, and stop trying to have it both ways. It is completely disingenuous to stand up and highlight the intelligence community's judgment about conditions on the ground in Iraq one month, as Senator Reid did, but then vote for the precise action that the same experts say would make the situation catastrophic the next. It is also disingenuous to praise the Iraq Study Group's report in December, but now support an artificial timetable for withdrawal.
Secretary Baker, himself, says General Petraeus and our new strategy "ought to be given a chance." And the Iraq Study Group said of withdrawal, "the point is not for the United States to set timetables or deadlines for withdrawal, an approach that we oppose." Have Democrats decided to reject the judgment of our intelligence community, the Baker-Hamilton report, and our military experts? If not, then they need to stop undermining the early progress we are seeing in Iraq, so that they can sound tough without having to take responsibility for their actions.
Q: On this Iraq spending bill, does the President really think that majority votes by both houses of Congress requires no give on his part?
MS. PERINO: Well, that's -- first, let's step back and talk about that majority, which was a bare majority of 50 votes in the Senate and 218 votes in the House, which were cobbled together in order to twist arms and buy votes using domestic spending from all the different lobbies that I mentioned, plus other ones -- tropical fish -- I forgot to throw that one in there.
So if we start there, and say that is not, in any way, representative of large majorities in either side. Of course, the President understands that there needs to be give-and-take between Congress and the White House when we're talking about any type of legislation. But they've known for three weeks what the President's position is regarding arbitrary timetables for withdrawal, and that is what he said he would veto.
Q: Dana, just to follow up on that, then, perhaps a little clarity -- if a bill were to come back stripped of spinach, peanut, shrimp, tropical fish, anything else, if it came back stripped entirely of pork, but had timetables in there, would they still get a veto?
MS. PERINO: I think the President said that if there are arbitrary timetables for withdrawal that would tie the hands of our commanders on the ground, then, yes, he said he would veto it.
Q: So he doesn't want to be out before 2008?
MS. PERINO: The President would like to see troops home as soon as possible --
Q: We know all that business.
MS. PERINO: -- but the President does not want to tie the generals' hands on the ground. I'll tell you, the framers of our Constitution had it right when they realized that you needed to have one Commander-in-Chief in charge of the war, not 535 generals on Capitol Hill.
Q: The President emphasized al Qaeda in Iraq, and if they don't -- we'll fight them there. Before the war, he indicated -- he not only indicated, he said that there were no ties with Saddam. Is he responsible for bringing al Qaeda into Iraq?
MS. PERINO: I don't think the President is responsible -- no, absolutely not. Al Qaeda went to Iraq --
Q: Absolutely not?
MS. PERINO: You just have to go back to Zarqawi, and how he set up shop there in Iraq, and started fomenting the sectarian violence, and he was successful --
Q: And he doesn't think our moves brought them in?
MS. PERINO: -- and we're having to fight that now.
Q: This morning you said that if the funds stop for the troops in Iraq, that will be the fault of the Democrats, not the President. But in point of fact, it would be the President who is denying this funding from going through. So does the President really want to halt funds to our troops?
MS. PERINO: Surely there can be no excuse for the Democrats trying to pin the blame on the President. What he has said --
Q: But it's not -- it's the mechanical way this works. It would literally be the President who's stopping this. Is he comfortable being the person stopping the funding?
MS. PERINO: The President has said he is going to -- if this bill comes to him in this form and it ties the generals' hands and does not allow them the flexibility that they need, that tells General Petraeus, we really like you, General Petraeus, we really trust in you, we really want you to complete your mission, but we think it's going to fail, then, yes, the President would veto it.
And I think that if -- it's really disingenuous to try to have it both ways. If the Democrats want to end this war and they want to cut off funding, then they should go ahead and do that. But that's not what they've done. They've made -- had this charade going for three weeks, they knew the President was going to veto the bill. We've given them substantial warning and information, and we've been talking to them about all of our reasons. And so this cannot be laid at the President's feet. This will be the fault of the Democrats.
Q: In his speech today, the President also quoted from a blogger in Iraq as an example of positive developments there, people who see positive developments. Is this really representative of what's going on in Iraq, one blogger? Is this what the White House is relying on?
MS. PERINO: No, Jessica, you have to look at all the different inputs that are coming in, and General Petraeus's reports, and from the commanders on the ground, and your own colleagues' reporting over there. We know that there are real challenges. Obviously, real challenges remain. We have lots of violence. But I think what the President was doing was taking an opportunity to talk about what one person's expression is. But that doesn't mean that there aren't other people having that same expression. Certainly nobody can deny what General Petraeus has been saying and reporting.*
Q: Dana, Nancy Pelosi said she wishes the President would just take a deep breath. Any response to that?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think I would go back to the same thing, which is that -- she also said that each of us -- meaning the Congress and the White House -- has a constitutional role, and that is true. And the founders of our country realized that the Commander-in-Chief needed to be the one having the power to conduct the war, not 535 generals on Capitol Hill. And so I think that maybe Washington could take a collective deep breath, but the President has been clearly and calmly explaining that he would veto this bill if it came to him in this format.
Q: You don't feel he's overheated --
MS. PERINO: No, I don't.
Q: Democrats say they're reflecting the prevailing opinion of the American people, and the polls seem to bear them out. What's wrong with doing that?
MS. PERINO: We understand that people want the troops to come home. It's absolutely clear. We know that war is not popular, it hasn't been, and this war has not been going well, which is why the President had to have the Iraq review that he did last fall, that culminated in the new way forward that he announced on January 10th.
I don't think that the American people want our troops to not have the funds that they need when they're in harm's way. I don't think the American people want the generals' hands to be tied behind their backs. I don't think that they want to mandate failure and legislate failure, which is what these bills would do.
Q: Dana, back on the issue of the bloggers, the unnamed Iraqi bloggers that the President cited and tried to use to help make his argument for progress in Iraq -- this is an administration that doesn't respond to anonymous quotes in established media outlets here in the United States. The President is citing these anonymous -- two anonymous Iraqi bloggers to help make the argument --
MS. PERINO: It's one input from many different inputs that are coming in regarding progress on the ground.
Q: Isn't that a little ironic, though?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't think it is. You guys call me with anonymous quotes that you want me to respond to all of the time, and sometimes I do. Sometimes I do. I have before.
Q: But as a tactic, for him to be -- is there something that prompted that specific --
MS. PERINO: I'll look into the -- I think that maybe somebody found it compelling, the President wanted to include it in his speech. And I'll see if I can get more for you on it, but I don't think it's unusual. Blogs are new for all of us, and I know that you all look at them, because then you call me and ask me what we think about the blogs.
Q: Dana, two questions. One, is it your contention that there is not support for a cutoff date in Congress, that the Democrats essentially bought this with the additional spending?
MS. PERINO: I think that there's no doubt that they had to go out and get this extra domestic spending in order for them to get the bare majorities that they got.
Q: Second, Senator Levin seems to recognize that the bills will not pass -- or will not be signed into law by the President. But he says, the votes that Congress has conducted serve to put pressure on the Iraqi government to live up to its benchmarks, and that helps the President. Do you dispute that?
MS. PERINO: No, I -- remember, we believe in benchmarks, and we worked with the Iraqi government on benchmarks. Two examples that we've been talking about are the oil law and the de-Baathification law. Progress is very slow. It takes a long time to get something done. But, imagine -- I can't remember the exact date, but one of the timetables and benchmarks that they tied this funding to up on Capitol Hill is that they have to have the oil law passed and finalized by a certain date, three months from now. I can't imagine Congress being able to finalize any type of legislation -- our Congress, our fully-functioning Congress that's been in place over 200 years, being able to complete anything in three months. They couldn't even pass a budget last year. These things are complicated. We do want the Iraqis to be able to reach consensus and it is a slow-moving progress, but progress, nonetheless.
Q: Not so much the date that Congress has set, the pressure on the U.S. President serves notice to the Iraqis, Senator Levin is saying --
MS. PERINO: I think that everyone feels the pressure and is fully incentivized in order to get the situation stabilized in Iraq. I think you would have to ask no one -- all of the Iraqis, especially the ones in the government, understand the tremendous pressure that they're under, how their citizens are living in fear and how they need to get their services back up, in order -- I mean, there's no one more incentivized than the Iraqis.
Q: Dana, the President -- given the current congressional schedule, the soonest that they could get to conference on this, if they stick to their current schedule, would be the 16th of April, which is a day after Secretary Gates and other people have said that the money will start running out. Would the President like to see Congress stay, cut their recess short, in order to resolve this?
MS. PERINO: Look, that's going to be up to members of Congress. The President has said that he'll be here, he'll be in Washington and is willing to work. We have that one Easter break, but we'll be back by the 9th. And we think that if Congress wants to work these things out that they can do that.
I do think it's very real -- and the people -- Senator McConnell, this morning, had an op-ed in which he said that,"The only ones directly affected in the short-term by this action would be the American soldiers in Iraq and their families here at home. By forcing a presidential veto and delaying the shipment of supplies, they're the ones who lose." And so I think that Congress ought to take that into consideration.
Q: Has he expressed this to the leaders on either side?
MS. PERINO: Yes, the President has talked about how he would veto the bill.
Q: But his willingness to stay and work through the recess?
MS. PERINO: The President is going to be here. So it's up to them.
Q: He could sign and then they'd have the support --
MS. PERINO: I haven't heard any of that, and that will be up to Congress. But what the President has said is, let's get this over with. You've made your political statements; send the bill up here, the President will veto it, and then we can get about the business of negotiating.
Q: But he wouldn't use his power to call them back, would he? Or would he?
MS. PERINO: That's a hypothetical that I have not even -- I didn't even know he could. I think I kind of knew he could, back from civics class. But we'll have to check into it and see. But I haven't heard anybody talking about that.
Q: -- then you're holding out --
MS. PERINO: I'm not holding anything out there. You are. But I will check into it. (Laughter.)
Q: Dana, what's the administration's policy over the years of holding out sweeteners for help on funding and special projects, to get votes from members of Congress on issues that it wants?
MS. PERINO: I know that there have probably been bills in which those -- when you work with members of Congress, you have to talk those things through. I don't know about emergency war supplementals, and I would have -- I'll check into it for you. But I think that this one is separate and apart.
Q: Another question. What happened to the Sam Fox nomination?
MS. PERINO: Sam Fox nomination? Let me -- I've got a couple notes on that. As you saw, we sent up a withdrawal for Sam Fox's nomination. The President believes that Mr. Fox is qualified to serve as ambassador to Belgium. He has a proven record of leadership and a strong willingness to serve our country. He has a long list of accomplishments, including one of them being named the St. Louis Citizen of the Year.
Unfortunately, we received word that because of politics, some members of the Senate would have voted against his nomination, which would have prevented him from serving in this important position. So we are disappointed that they made their decision based upon partisan politics instead of his leadership abilities, and that's why we withdrew the nomination.
Q: The votes weren't there because of his $50,000 contribution to the Swift Boat group?
MS. PERINO: I don't know what all the reasons were in terms of individual members making that decision. But we do think that he was qualified to serve, but we have withdrawn his nomination.
Q: Do you think that his involvement with the Swift Boat group should be an issue, or should have been an issue?
MS. PERINO: I think that you look at his -- no, I don't think it is, and I think that -- but, of course, members of Congress can make their own decisions. Senators can look at any nominee and weigh that decision. I think that weighed -- if you look at that he was Chairman and CEO of the Harbour Group, Limited, served in key leadership roles in cultural, education and charitable institutions in St. Louis, on and on -- and again, St. Louis Citizen of the Year. And so I think that senators have to make their own decisions, but obviously this is a person who's qualified to serve as ambassador.
Q: Did the White House know about his contribution before they nominated him?
MS. PERINO: There's no -- I don't believe so. But I know that the President did not when he nominated him.
Q: Would that have had an effect?
MS. PERINO: I don't know.
Q: On this topic, did senators threaten to put holds --
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I do know that his nomination would not have passed today if the vote had been called up.
Q: And why not let the vote go ahead?
MS. PERINO: We just decided to withdraw his name.
Q: On the speech today, on these bloggers, does the White House know the identity, or is this just something someone came across --
MS. PERINO: Can I check? I don't know, I'll have to check. It was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article at some point. I think I let some of you know that this morning.
Q: And just now the White House came upon them?
MS. PERINO: I'm not sure. I don't know if somebody saw it initially. I don't know. We can try to check into it. We keep records on that.
Q: Dana --
MS. PERINO: Goyal, can I go to the back real quick and come back to you?
MS. PERINO: Okay. Victoria.
Q: Yesterday, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller said, again -- he admitted to mistakes, carelessness, confusion, lack of training, lack of guidance, and lack of adequate oversight. Is it time for the President to ask for his resignation and regain the trust of the American people in the FBI?
MS. PERINO: The President has confidence in FBI Director Mueller. He went up to the Senate, he answered all of their questions, he took responsibility as the Director. And I think that that was the appropriate thing to do. He also talked about all the measures that they've put in place in order to start addressing some of the issues that were brought up in those IG investigations.
Q: There was also talk among the senators and the Director about the possibility of some kind of MI-5 organization that, just basically, the FBI has too much on its plate and that they can't take it on. What does the administration think about that?
MS. PERINO: I think that those are ideas that are floating out there, but I don't know of anyone seriously considering --
Q: Does the President have a view?
MS. PERINO: I've never talked to him about it. I don't know. I think that he believes that the FBI is doing a great job in protecting this country, and I think the facts bear that out.
Q: Would the President veto a supplemental bill strictly over a withdrawal date that is not legally binding?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to negotiate from this podium. Of course, we're going to have conversations with Congress, and the President has been clear that arbitrary timetables that put handcuffs on our generals and tie funding to conditions on the ground that don't match the conditions on the ground is what he would be against.
Q: A follow-up on that. If the war effort were to literally start running out of money, doesn't the President have some emergency spending powers akin to what goes on here when there's a government shutdown? Have you been looking into that?
MS. PERINO: I'd have to refer you to Department of Defense. I'm not -- or we can look into it and try to get back to you. I don't know. What I do know is that the President has listened to Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, who has said that as of April 15th, the money is going to start running out.
Let me go to April, and then I'll go to you, Les.
Q: On that subject, basically both sides are standing toe-to-toe, looking eye-to-eye. No one is blinking. Is the President prepared to allow the troops not to be funded after April 15th? Because he continually talks about the need for flexibility, the need to fund them for what they need on the ground.
MS. PERINO: The President -- we stand ready. We have open lines of communication with Capitol Hill. You can bet that we're in constant communication. You know that the members have been down -- both sides of the aisle have been down to talk with the President, and members of our staff are up there talking to them, and I'm sure there are phone calls going back and forth.
Q: Is there any way the President will bend on all of this pork and allow some to stay in?
MS. PERINO: Again, I'm not going to negotiate from this podium, or talk about any specific negotiations that would be ongoing. But we're going to be talking to Capitol Hill that we need the money for the troops.
Q: So, basically, the President is not going to blink?
MS. PERINO: We'll be talking with members of Congress.
Q: Yes. Thank you, Dana. Two questions. What is the President prepared to offer in the way of help to Great Britain to free the 15 of its armed forces seized by the Iranians?
MS. PERINO: I do have one update. The President did speak to Tony Blair today by SVTS. This was a secure video teleconference. That was scheduled before this incident had occurred, and they did speak today on a variety of topics, including this one. The President fully backs Tony Blair and our allies in Britain.
Q: Does the President believe that PA President Abbas truly desires to be a partner for peace, when only weeks ago Abbas and his Fatah party joined the Hamas terrorist government after signing the Mecca agreement, which does not call for peace, but for more terrorism, and demands the so-called "right of return"?
MS. PERINO: Peace in the Middle East is a priority for this administration. Secretary Rice is in the region. We are talking to them, are talking to the unity government.
Q: She seems to think that this is a development for peace. And I'd like to know, where does the President stand on what PA President Abbas has done?
MS. PERINO: I do believe that the President believes that President Abbas has the intention of finding a peaceful solution. And we are encouraged by Secretary Rice's discussions with them, as one of the things that has come out of her trip is that they will be meeting -- Abbas and Olmert will be meeting bi-weekly to have meetings and discussions, and that's encouraging. We need to have them to have a continuing conversation.
Peter, did you have one?
Q: I wanted to come back for a second on the war bill. You said earlier that you thought the public does not support the kind of conditions that the House and Senate are talking about, even though the Pew poll just the other day showed, in fact, strong majority support exactly the kind of bills -- the majority says they want their representative to vote for these bills. How do you reconcile that?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think it's incumbent upon us to talk about the consequences of what these bills would do. I know people want the troops to come home, and I think it is probably attractive to think of a date when we could come home, that that would be a goal that we could all look forward to. Unfortunately -- and it is incumbent upon us to talk to people across the country, to let them know that those timetables are dates when people can -- our enemies can mark their calendars and sit back, regroup, refit, relax, and get ready to have a new safe haven from which to launch attacks. I don't think the American people would be for that.
Q: So they support it, but they're just not fully aware of the consequences?
MS. PERINO: I think that the consequences are important. I also think that if they realize that the troops weren't going to be able to get the funding that they needed while they're in harm's way, and that their families back home would also be victims of this problem, that they would not support the Democrats' position. I think that what we need to do is have us get the bill up here, let the President do the veto, and then let more discussions begin on a cleaner bill.
Q: Back to the speech, if I may. The President said, quoting the Iraqi blogger, that displaced people are coming back home and that the markets in Baghdad in busy. Does the President believe this is what's happening in Iraq today?
MS. PERINO: I believe General Petraeus has said similar things, and reports on the ground -- again, amid real challenges. We're under no illusions that there are -- that things are rosy in Baghdad. Clearly, it is a very, very tough situation and it remains so. But as General Petraeus has said, they are beginning to see some signs of improvement based on the plan that he's implementing, that the Senate sent him to do unanimously, but now says that they don't want to fund him to do.
Q: Dana, two quick questions. First, I agree with President Bush when he said yesterday that we have to pray for Tony Snow.
MS. PERINO: Yes, I think we all do.
Q: The question is, that as far as Iranian issue is concerned, number of countries who were warned not to do business with the Iranian government, that they are still doing business, as far as -- (inaudible) -- they are dealing with Iran.
MS. PERINO: What's your question?
Q: Number of countries who were warned by the United States not to do business with Iran, but they are still doing business with Iran.
MS. PERINO: I'll have to refer you to State Department. I don't know, Goyal.
Q: And second, as far as the immigration bill is concerned, which was sponsored by the President and Secretary of Homeland Security also supported the bill. And recent raids in Senator Kennedy's home town or home state -- where the Secretary was accused by Senator Kennedy that maybe there were ill treatment of the workers there or something. But Secretary was defending his move, as far as illegal immigration is concerned. My question is that as far as the small business community is concerned, and illegal immigrants, they are in fear that they cannot find any workers now, because of those ongoing raids.
MS. PERINO: Well, workplace enforcement is an important part of immigration reform. I will make sure -- everyone should go ahead and take a look at the ombudsman column from Sunday's Washington Post, in which they talked about those stories, because a lot of them were -- a lot of the stories that came out of that were not based on the facts. And I think that ICE -- the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency over at Department of Homeland Security has tried to correct those.
On immigration reform, absolutely, we have to continue to work closely with members of Congress. We need to get a bill so that we can have a temporary worker program.
Q: How close President is moving on this bill in the --
MS. PERINO: We want to get it done before August. That's what the President said.
Q: You said the Department of Justice continues looking for new documents, if they need to release more. In some of those documents that have been released, there have been non-White House addresses, email addresses, that people have written from. Is there a policy from the White House that tells employees that if they're doing White House business, it should be with their White House email? Or are people always free to use an outside address for business?
MS. PERINO: No -- and I talked a little bit about this yesterday, that there are certain individuals, limited individuals, that have responsibilities that may straddle both worlds, both White House and then have interface with political organizations. And so in those cases, they've been given these emails in which -- in order to avoid any possible potential violations of the Hatch Act, they use those emails. Of course, people are encouraged, on official White House business, to use their official White House accounts. Sometimes there might be a gray area and people have to make a judgment call.
Q: And since this came to light, has anybody inside the White House, like yesterday, issued a new directive, reminding people to use their White House emails?
MS. PERINO: I don't know -- I don't know of any new directive, but it is what we ask people to do.
Q: Dana, on the war supplemental, besides the extraneous funding provisions, there's also amendments that would include minimum wage and small business tax breaks. Is that now at a level, pertaining to the small business relief, that the administration would support if it were separated out?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment specifically. I do know that those measures were included, and we're continuing to have discussions with the Hill. Obviously, the tax relief, along with the minimum wage increase, was what we had looked for in terms of our principles.
Q: Any update on Tony Snow?
MS. PERINO: I don't have an update on Tony Snow. I tried to reach him before I came over here. I wasn't able because he was on the phone with Secretary Rice. (Laughter.) We know he is up and about and at least talking to Secretary Rice.
And I really want to thank each and every one of you, and your colleagues, for all the outpouring of support. He really feels it. And I talked to him last night -- well, yesterday afternoon about 4:30 p.m., and he said he was up, walking around. He was not in any pain, that he was in consultations with his doctors, and that his family was -- he was surrounded by family. And so I think he's in good spirits.
Q: Let's get a bus and all go over there. That will work. (Laughter.)
Q: He'd love that.
MS. PERINO: That was Roger's idea yesterday.
Okay, thank you.
END 1:12 P.M. EDT
*Omar and Mohammed Fadhil write an English-language blog, IraqTheModel.com, from Baghdad. These two brothers, who are both dentists, met with President Bush in the Oval Office on December 9, 2004. Their writings have been widely sited in news outlets like the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Investor's Business Daily. On March 5, 2007, they authored an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal entitled "Notes from Baghdad."
George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Dana Perino Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/273560