George W. Bush photo

Press Briefing by Dana Perino

September 17, 2007

James S. Brady Briefing Room

1:50 P.M. EDT

MS. PERINO: Greetings everybody. (Applause.) Let me start off just by reiterating something that took place this morning. The President has nominated his intention to send up the nomination of Michael B. Mukasey. He is a federal judge from New York. He's got a wealth of experience. He will be our 81st Attorney General if he is confirmed. He was first appointed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan. He served 18 years as a federal judge, six of those as the chief judge. He possesses a tremendous amount of experience as a prosecutor, as a judge, and has handled some of the nation's most complicated terrorism-related cases.

The average length of time to confirm an Attorney General is three weeks. And, in fact, the Senate Republicans confirmed Janet Reno back in 1993 in just 13 days. So we are calling upon the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate to move quickly on the nomination; we'd like to see it him confirmed by the October 8th recess.

I'll take questions.

Q: How quickly are you going to send up the nomination?

MS. PERINO: As soon as we can possibly get the paperwork finished and get it to them.

Q: You don't expect them to start work before they get the nomination, though?

MS. PERINO: I think that our paperwork should go up very soon, and I think that the other thing that we can do is what he's doing today, which is Judge Mukasey is making phone calls to members of Congress, and then courtesy visits will start tomorrow.

Q: The Democrats seemed very receptive to this nomination. Do you think that this is going to defuse the White House problems with Senator Leahy's committee about the White House answering questions on the fired U.S. Attorneys and other matters?

MS. PERINO: Well, I think that that issue is unrelated to Judge Mukasey. I think that he is a well-qualified nominee. Everyone agrees that the Department of Justice in this critical time -- especially at a time of war -- needs a leader, and he can be a leader that can help lead that Justice Department and make it feel -- raise the morale for folks who have been under the gun over there. They are very professional people. They are public servants for the most part, and I think there's 115,000 employees and just a handful of, percentage-wise, political appointees.

Those other issues that you mentioned are ones that we have continued to work with Congress on. And I do think that he has been well received by both sides of the aisle in Congress. Initial feedback is very good and, obviously, the courtesy visits are important and then the hearing will be important. And we expect it to get a very hard look, a thorough review, just like the President did when he chose the nominee. So it will be up to the Senate Democrats to see how the committee reacts.

Q: But, Dana, isn't this a sign the President has less political clout, that he went with somebody that Chuck Schumer likes?

MS. PERINO: I think that that's just a really cynical way of looking at it and a way to try to get a good story out of this. Look, the President took his time and looked at a range of candidates to come to this decision. He met with Judge Mukasey back on September 1st. This was the day before he left for Iraq and APEC. He was very impressed with him. He met with other candidates; he thought about other candidates; he was kept up to date -- let me just clarify that. I'm not positive how many other candidates he met with. I know that many other candidates were presented to him and that Josh Bolten, the Chief of Staff, and the Counsel, Fred Fielding, they kept the President up to speed on all the different people that they had in mind. And the President believes that Judge Mukasey is the right person for this job at this time.

Q: So why then did you have to spend some time reassuring conservatives that he's not too middle-of-the-road for this President?

MS. PERINO: Sure, Judge Mukasey, having been in the federal judicial circuit for over 18 years, is well known in legal circles. He's not that well known in Washington political circles. And I think that for the conservatives who care about issues that we care about, it's only fair that they get a chance to meet him and have a chance to think about if they could support his nomination.

Q: But after Senator Reid said that Ted Olson would be unacceptable, in previous years the President might have fought the Senate Democrats and said, look, this is my guy. But he decided not to go with Ted Olson. Why is that?

MS. PERINO: I think the President -- well, remember, first of all, before Harry Reid ever made those comments, President Bush had met with Judge Mukasey back on September 1st, many, many days before Senator Reid made those comments.

Q: Had he met with Ted Olson before that, too?

MS. PERINO: Obviously, I'm not going to comment on whether or not any other person's name was on the list. The President had an abundance of well qualified nominees to choose from. He personally liked Judge Mukasey. He appreciated that he has the same philosophy when it comes to national terrorism cases; that he'd had the experience that he had in prosecuting and then having the 2nd circuit uphold his prosecution of the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. And the President chose the person that he thought was best suited for the job at this time.


Q: You mentioned the initial feedback. Has it been uniformly positive, or has there been any opposition? Is it mixed at all?

MS. PERINO: In terms of members of Congress?

Q: Yes.

MS. PERINO: I believe that initial reactions are positive. Obviously, not that many people know Judge Mukasey. There are some who do -- again, people who are in legal circles and some people on the Judiciary Committee might have been familiar with him. But there are a hundred members of the United States Senate and obviously other members on the House side that don't know him. So we have some work to do in order to introduce him to them.

Q: Have you gotten any assurances that there will be a speedy confirmation?

MS. PERINO: No. No, not that I believe.

Q: Is the President looking forward to debating President Ahmadinejad at the U.N.?

MS. PERINO: I don't think that will happen.

Q: Because you know that the invitation was issued?

MS. PERINO: Yes, the State Department approved the visa.

Go ahead, Peter.

Q: These courtesy calls, are they going to go beyond that? Is he going to be prepared to answer specific questions from senators before the confirmation hearings?

MS. PERINO: I've not been in those courtesy visits, but my understanding from having been involved in the Supreme Court nominations is that there are -- members of Congress ask lots of different questions and that usually the nominee is able to provide frank answers. But, of course, there might be issues that the nominee doesn't know about in particular. There are specific areas of interest that members of Congress bring to -- from their constituents to Capitol Hill in order to represent and, frankly, the nominee might just not know about those. And oftentimes it's a chance for them to get to know each other a little bit on a personal level and for the member of Congress to let the nominee know what they might be asking them when it comes to the hearing. So there's a little bit of -- just an initial meeting and then they go to the hearing.

Q: As for the conservatives, conservatives away from the Hill, is there any concern here about groups and individuals who are raising questions and saying this guy is not conservative enough for us? Is there any kind of a White House campaign to respond to that, or do you even care?

MS. PERINO: Well, we certainly talk to members of the conservative community. We have lots of outreach. I would encourage folks to take some time to look into his background and those 18 years of cases -- there are a lot of cases that you can look at, on all types of issues, not just the national security issues that I've mentioned, but especially in terms of crime fighting and other types of cases in terms of civil or immigration cases.

And so there's a lot of material there. We are available to answer questions about his record. And I think that we feel confident that people will be able to support his nomination.

Q: Were you surprised that it was conservatives who raised the most questions about him?

MS. PERINO: Look, I think that there are people on both sides of the aisle -- I heard this morning that there were some left-wing groups are saying that they would oppose him without getting to know him first. Sometimes people just have an initial reaction without getting to know somebody first. So, no, I don't think I was surprised, but we are continuing to reach out to members of all different types of groups that we usually reach out to, through the Office of Public Liaison.

Q: Do you make him available to left-wing groups, as you did to conservatives?

MS. PERINO: That hasn't happened yet and I wouldn't anticipate it. I mean, somebody like a Human Rights Watch, who has already come out and said -- well, I don't have their quote but, obviously, from John's reporting they don't want to be supportive. I can't imagine that we would support a meeting like that.

Q: And meeting -- in your outreach with conservative organizations, the kinds of questions he answers there, are they the same questions he would answer in his Senate confirmation hearings and would there be something these people would be likely to ask him that he couldn't answer in Senate confirmation hearings.

MS. PERINO: Well, I didn't attend the meetings, I don't know. Obviously, members of Congress are free to ask a nominee anything that they seek -- anything that they want to ask him. So that's certainly possible.

Q: There are certain questions that of course a nominee traditionally does not answer in confirmation hearings --

MS. PERINO: I'm not aware that he answered any questions or was posed any questions yesterday that he wouldn't be able to answer in a hearing.

Q: Dana, on the issue of terrorism, the President and he share the same values, I gather, and that was a big impact on perhaps his nomination. What about other issues out there, such as privacy, right to life? Where do they stand on that? Is he very much aligned with the President?

MS. PERINO: Obviously, I wasn't there for the President's private meeting with him. But one of the things that the President does is get to know somebody on a personal level. And one of the things he does not do is have a litmus test for anyone's personal positions on how they should -- would act.

The President, as President of the United States, wants members of his Cabinet who can offer frank assessments, give their candid advice, and who also share his philosophy. In this regard, the President's number one priority is fighting the war on terror and they saw eye-to-eye on that.


Q: Can you say if Judge Mukasey has ever been considered for another job by this administration?

MS. PERINO: I can't, because I don't know. And I probably wouldn't say if I did.

Q: Do you know how he got on this list?

MS. PERINO: Yes. The search for an Attorney General was led by Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and Council to the President Fred Fielding. I don't know if those two knew him personally beforehand, but I was told that his name was raised by members from both sides of the aisle as a possible candidate.

Q: Can you say who the members were?

MS. PERINO: No. Go ahead, Olivier.

Q: Dana, you and the President have repeatedly described Iraq's government as sovereign. In light of the decision regarding the Blackwater security firm, do you expect that firm to pack up and leave Iraq?

MS. PERINO: I don't know and I'd have to refer you to --

Q: They canceled the operating license there.

MS. PERINO: I saw that report, but I don't know enough about it to answer it for you.

Q: The French Foreign Minister says his country has to be prepared for the possibility of war against Iraq. What does the President think of -- I guess, Iran, sorry -- over its nuclear program. What does the President think if his French allies take a position like this? And does he believe the United States has to prepare for the possibility of a war as a worst case scenario?

MS. PERINO: The President believes that our problems with Iran can be solved diplomatically. As the President has said, any President should never take any option off the table. But we are working through diplomatic means in order to get Iran to comply with its international obligations under the U.N. Security Council. Under Secretary Burns is going to be meeting with his counterparts later this week and then there will be obviously meetings during the UNGA next week in New York. And we are encouraging people to tighten those economic sanctions in order to put pressure on Iran to comply with its obligations.


Q: Dana, Iraq and the amendments are going to start coming up in the Senate this week. What is wrong with an amendment requiring that soldiers deployed in Iraq have the same amount of time at home as they do on deployment?

MS. PERINO: Well, one of the things I would do is refer you to what Secretary Gates said yesterday on the Sunday shows. He was very emphatic that he would recommend a veto -- that the President veto the bill. His reasons -- and, again, I'll refer you to his exact words -- were that it would be -- it would tie the hands of our generals who are trying to move troops around; that it might mean longer troop deployments for some troops; that it would impede his stated policy and the President's stated policy of trying to get to a more predictive and stable rotation schedule -- for active Army for example, one year on, one year off; and for National Guard Reserves, one year on, three years off. That is the goal that everyone is working towards. And Secretary Gates strongly believes that the Webb amendment would not be able to achieve these -- would impede them from achieving these goals, amongst other problems that he sees with the bill. So he would recommend a veto.

Q: And has the President decided that yes, he would veto this?

MS. PERINO: As you know, usually what we do with these bills is say what the President's advisors would recommend, and I haven't talked to the President about it.

Q: Does the President believe that anything that proposes a rule that would in any way limit U.S. commanders would be vetoed, basically?

MS. PERINO: Look, the President has wanted to impose a rule on -- on himself and on the Department of Defense. They want to get to, for the active Army, one year on, one year off; and for the Reserves, one year on, three years off. Right now that is not the case. We have some that are serving 15 months. One of the brigades is going to be able to start coming home -- is going to be able to come home early, given what the President announced last week with the brigade that will be home by Christmas. They would have stayed longer had we not had "return on success."

So I think the President has already, himself, recognized that there is a problem with troop rotations. It's one of the things when he goes to see wounded soldiers, or when we were in Anbar, he asks -- every troop that I've seen him with, he asks, How is your family? How are you doing with the troops? And oftentimes the troops will say that they're okay and that their families are okay, but that it's tough -- and, you know, especially for a soldier who is going to miss his child's second year of school. That weighs heavily on the President's mind. And so he and Secretary Gates are trying to get to a new policy, and in addition to the rotation matter, trying to grow the forces so hat we have more people.

Q: Does he have the votes to prevail on this?

MS. PERINO: I don't know. Goyal.

Q: Dana, two questions. One, first of all, congratulations for your first White House Press Secretary briefing.

MS. PERINO: Thank you.

Q: My question, going back to Iran -- Iranians so far have been buying time and they have been going forward with their nuclear program. And as far as (inaudible) -- on the U.N. and sanctions (inaudible) -- they have not been working so far. And he's coming, the president of Iran is coming to the U.N. to attend the General Assembly meetings. So where do we stand as far as the future --

MS. PERINO: Well, I just said, Goyal, that we're pushing for tighter sanctions. And that's what the Secretary is going to be talking about later this week.

Q: Second one is local one. D.C. voting rights is moving now in the (inaudible). Where does President stand on this issue, because he has said in the past that he is for the rights of the D.C. and (inaudible) rights and --

MS. PERINO: Our position on the D.C. voting rights bill has been well known and it hasn't changed.


Q: On the Attorney General -- back on that. What is the White House response to some conservatives' objections or questions about the Dong asylum case?

MS. PERINO: Let me just see, I think I have a little bit of notes on this. This is a case that was really an immigration case. And until 1996 the law did not afford refugee status to men and women who were subject to China's one-child policy. And so what Judge Mukasey did was follow the law. He ruled that the immigration courts had properly denied an application for asylum.

Subsequently, that law changed and in 2006 Judge Mukasey participated in an appellate decision recognizing that the 1996 change in law and ordering further proceedings for a woman who desired asylum on the basis that she underwent forced sterilization in China, he ruled -- when the law changed, that's how he ruled.

So these are the kind of judges that the President looks for, ones who will look at the law, call it like they see it. The other thing I would tell you is that I believe that every other court of appeals that looked at that case agreed with Judge Mukasey.

Q: Would you say that this has been one of the main question marks from conservatives?

MS. PERINO: It is a case that has come up.

Q: Dana, you mentioned the 115,000 employees that work at the Justice Department. What type of managerial experience does Judge Mukasey have?

MS. PERINO: Well, he served for six years as the Chief Judge of the Southern District of New York district. That is obviously a job that requires some management skills. But admittedly, on a scale of managing a department of 115,000, he doesn't have that. He does have the leadership skills, he does have the integrity, he has the independence, and I think he will gain the respect of the men and women at the Justice Department. And one of the most important things somebody like that can do is surround himself with people who can help in the other areas.

Q: You also mentioned that morale is low at the Justice Department -- you said that a little bit earlier.

MS. PERINO: I didn't say morale is low, I said that morale could be higher. (Laughter.) Just to be precise.

Q: All right. Isn't it important to have someone who has a long history of management experience leading the Justice Department at a time when morale is so low?

MS. PERINO: No, I think that -- I think anyone, by any objective measure that looks at Judge Mukasey would see that he's going to be a fantastic Attorney General and he will lead the Department very well.


Q: Thank you. On a personal note, what are your goals, your aspirations as Press Secretary?

MS. PERINO: Just to get through this. (Laughter.)

Q: You're doing a good job. And to re-ask what I asked Tony last week, will you try to consider encouraging the President to be more democratic in his choice of people he recognizes --

MS. PERINO: I have sway with some things. I'll give it a shot.

Q: Thank you.

END 2:08 P.M. EDT

George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Dana Perino Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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