Press Briefing by Dana Perino
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: One announcement and then -- well, three announcements. First, we'll start off with a happy birthday to Ann Compton.
PRESS: Happy Birthday!
MS. PERINO: We'll leave Terry Hunt to sing later. (Laughter.)
President Bush will welcome President Valdas Adamkus of Lithuania to the White House on February 12, 2007. Under the leadership of President Adamkus, Lithuania has been a close partner of the United States in advancing freedom in Belarus and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. As one of the newest members of NATO, Lithuania has made substantial contributions to the security and reconstruction of Afghanistan through its leadership of a provincial reconstruction team and participation in other Alliance activities. Lithuania continues as well to help secure freedom in Iraq. The President looks forward to discussing these and other shared global interests with President Adamkus.
A few notes about the State of the Union address that is coming up next Tuesday, January 23rd, at 9:00 p.m. In his State of the Union address, President Bush will address big issues facing our nation, including the war on terror, energy, immigration and education. The State of the Union is an opportunity for the President to unveil a positive, comprehensive agenda that will improve the daily lives of the American people, and to explain how our actions in the world will make our nation safer and better.
Americans should expect a discussion of the common sense principles that will provide the basis for President Bush's approach to governing with a new Congress -- again, as Tony said yesterday, it is not a laundry list of proposals.
President Bush will outline issues where he believes we can find common ground with the new Congress. Both parties share many of the same goals for the people they serve. We can find practical ways to advance the American Dream and keep our nation safe without either party compromising on its principles.
President Bush will discuss his determination to defeat the terrorists who are part of a broader extremist movement that is now doing everything it can to defeat us in Iraq. If the extremists prevail in Iraq, the American people will be less safe and our enemies will be emboldened and more lethal.
The President realizes the strength of our economy requires to address some of the biggest issues facing the American people: greater energy security, comprehensive immigration reform, affordable health care and education reform.
The President believes balancing the budget through his pro-growth economic policies and spending restraint better positions us to tackle the longer-term fiscal challenge facing our country, which is reforming entitlements. Reforming Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid will enable future generations to benefit from these vital programs without bankrupting our country. The President looks forward to working with the House and Senate around the common goal of success with policies here at home and abroad.
Q: You talked about seeking consensus with Congress. Speaker Pelosi said today that on Iraq, the President has dug a hole so deep that he can't even see the light. She says it's a historic blunder. Do you have any reaction to that? And given that statement, how do you reach a consensus?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think one of the things that's happening up on Capitol Hill is there is a sound bite war going on. For Pelosi to say, "The President knows that because the troops are in harm's way that we won't cut off the resources, that's why he's moving so quickly to put them in harm's way" is poisonous, and it's certainly not in keeping with the bipartisan spirit and civility that the Democrats pledged and that we looked forward to. The President will again call for that in his State of the Union.
Speaker Pelosi was arguing, in essence, that the President is putting young men and women in harm's way for tactical political reasons, and she's questioning his motivations, rather than questioning his policies. The one thing you can say about President Bush is that he's not moving forward with this new plan because he thinks it is popular; he is doing it because he thinks it is right. He is sending troops to Iraq quickly because he wants to win. General Petraeus and many of the President's military advisors believe that we still can win and that securing Baghdad is the way to do that.
Q: Has he contemplated the cost of what he thinks --
MS. PERINO: Absolutely.
Q: -- the number of people are going to die in this?
MS. PERINO: President Bush has talked about the sobering calculations of his decision and about the situation in Iraq and what is in the best interests of our country. Recent policies, plans that have been announced on Capitol Hill don't take into consideration the consequences of a Baghdad that would collapse -- that would certainly cause Iran to come in, feeding into the militias. You'd have the possible collapse of the government, the fracturing of the military, much for violence, entrenched radicalism and a recruitment for al Qaeda.
Q: But if you're sending two brigades or seven brigades in, whatever it is, aren't you also going to cause more violence?
MS. PERINO: As the President said, it could get worse before it gets better, and he fully understands that. But we also believe that by securing Baghdad -- which you cannot ignore the situation in Baghdad; you must secure it, because if you don't, all of these other things I just mentioned could happen, and that's the way you go in to get to peace, and that's the way that you also, frankly, are going to get to the political and economic reforms that everyone says that they want to have.
So serious plans have to take into consideration the situation in Baghdad.
Q: Could I ask an unrelated question --
MS. PERINO: Why don't we stay on this, I'll go to Bill and come back.
Q: Given the way that you're talking here of Speaker Pelosi, it sounds like positions have hardened on both sides. I mean, how can there be any consensus?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think the President has made clear that he plans -- he is moving forward with his plan. He spent four months with an exhaustive review process that in many ways, as you all know, was a little bit in the open, because people were talking about different ideas. We also had the Iraq Study Group that came forward. His thought process was quite extensive. And what he wants to do, he wants to win.
To say that this is only the President's war makes a mockery of the notion that when we are a nation at war we should all hang together. The President really hopes that in this time of an epic struggle against radical Islam that when we are facing an enemy that is determined to hurt us in Iraq and to hurt us here at home, that we can come together and be constructive. And if there are arguments about the policies, we welcome those, and the President has had no short of a number of both Republicans and Democrats who are -- many of them very skeptical.
Q: To say that this is "poisonous" -- didn't you just escalate it by calling it "poisonous," if there's a war of words going on? Is this not an escalation just now?
MS. PERINO: I think that questioning the President's motivations and saying that he is sending troops into harm's way for political reasons was the one that -- I think she was being provocative in that statement this morning. And I don't think that just because -- I think that we should be able to defend the President's policy and his decision and his beliefs without necessarily calling that an escalation.
Q: But are you also suggesting that we should all rally behind the President, and if we don't, we're not --
MS. PERINO: Absolutely not. If there's a question about the President's policies, let's hear them. And the President has been hearing them. We've had numerous members of Congress into the White House in order to talk about his planning, the plans for the new way forward, but also, just as important, his decision-making process.
Q: Is it unfair for Democrats to refer to is as the President's war, if many lawmakers no longer support the war?
MS. PERINO: I think the point I'm trying to make is that we are a nation at war. The Attorney General said something interesting yesterday, that at the Justice Department, every day is September 12th. And I think that is true across the federal government. And that is not a partisan issue. We are all facing an enemy that is determined to hurt us anywhere that they possibly can, whether it be in Iraq or here in the United States or at our embassies and such around the world. And so it is something that we are all facing together.
The President has nothing but the utmost respect for people that have disagreements with him. He's been very honest, and he understands that his decision is not popular. But he has the courage of his convictions, and he believes what he is doing is right.
Q: How do you anticipate this may be part of the atmosphere Tuesday night during the State of the Union address, when, for the first time, it will be a Democratic Speaker of the House sitting behind him?
MS. PERINO: Well, I certainly have hopes that it will be a good atmosphere. I think there are a lot of shared priorities that we all have as Americans. I think that the issues that the President has chosen to talk about in the State of the Union are ones that we all agree on the ultimate goal -- maybe not on every single detail -- but we have different paths of getting there. And I think that he believes that there are ways that we can work together -- on energy reform, there's a lot of common ground there. On education reform, No Child Left Behind is beginning to show some results. And so as that gets reauthorized this year, under the leadership of Secretary Spellings and Senator Ted Kennedy, I think that a lot can get done there.
So I think he's picked areas that he can talk about on the domestic side of the fence, where there's a lot of common ground. And, as I mentioned this morning, when he talks about the global war on terror and the war in Iraq, it won't necessarily be a reprisal of the Iraq speech that he gave last Wednesday night. It will be much more broad and talk about the global threat that we face. And also thinking back a little bit to the President's speech about extremists versus moderates that he gave in September during that series of speeches, you'll hear a little bit of that, as well.
Q: Could you respond to Majority Leader Reid's assertion that the President does not have the authority to launch military action in Iran without first seeking congressional authorization?
MS. PERINO: I'm puzzled about that press conference, because there seems to be fanning of flames where there's no fire. The President, Secretary Gates, Secretary Rice, Joint Chairman Pace, Tony Snow -- you want to add him in -- have all said that our focus is on Iraq, that if there is targeting or intelligence that says that there will be harm to our troops or to Iraqi civilians or Iraqi troops by Iranian influence, that we are going to deal with that. But they've all said that we can deal with that inside of Iraq. So there is no provocation here, except for on the part of the Iranians, who continue to be meddlesome in Iraq. And we are going to deal with that, but deal with that inside of Iraq.
Q: There's also a second carrier group in the Persian Gulf now, in a move that Secretary Gates says was specifically made to show Iran that we're not tied down in Iraq.
MS. PERINO: And the other thing that he said is that it is our commitment to show our allies in the region that we are committed to peace in the Middle East.
Q: I think I've been asking a variation on this for four years, but would it be so terrible for the President to accept it if Iraq breaks into three different segments?
MS. PERINO: The President does not support that, and, more importantly, the Iraqis don't support that -- 12 million of them voted on a constitution that would unify the country, and I believe even the Iraq Study Group said that that wouldn't be a good idea.
Q: On this Chinese missile test, how serious is that?
MS. PERINO: Well, we do have concerns about it. The United States has expressed those concerns to China, both here, with our officials here in Washington, D.C., and in Beijing. I noted that this morning, that both the Japanese and the Australians put out strong statements of concern, as well. We have not heard back from the Chinese, as far as I know. And so we'll wait to hear from them. But we do want a civil space cooperation with the Chinese and others. So I don't have any additional details for you, because we just haven't heard back from the Chinese yet, that would explain what they did.
Q: Thank you. Let me ask you a question on North Korea. North Korea said that North Korea reached an agreement with the United States on the nuclear issue after the meeting in Berlin. Do you confirm that there is an agreement between United States and North Korea?
MS. PERINO: I didn't actually get to see our ambassador Chris Hill's response to that. I think it's premature to say that there is an agreement -- premature, to say the least. We do support the six-party talks, we support the process; but, no, I don't have anything additional for you.
Q: On the list of what you called promising nuggets this morning, you mentioned the Iraqis taking a harder look at their relationship with Iran. Can you flesh that out a little bit? What specifically -- and how do Talabani's comments fit into that new look at Iran?
MS. PERINO: I confess that -- I actually read that in the newspaper. So I saw the reports on it. I haven't dug deep into talking to the National Security Council to get further detail on it. But we can see if we can get you more.
Q: Thank you, Dana. Two questions on the domestic front.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q: All right. Several members of Congress said at a breakfast last week that they have spoken to the President and expressed concerns about published reports that he may permit some form of tax increase in Social Security reform. And they all said the President looked them in the eye and said he was absolutely against a tax increase. In addition, Karl Rove has privately told people they're against a tax increase. Why don't the President and Karl Rove just simply say in public what they're being quoted as saying in private and end all of the media speculation that, in the end, he will acquiesce to a tax increase?
MS. PERINO: I think that even Tony Snow, the President's spokesman, has talked about that issue from this podium and has said that obviously people know very well the President's position oh taxes is to keep them low.
On the specific issue of Social Security, what the President has said is, we're not taking any issue off the table. In fact, we're just hoping that someone will come to the table from the other side so that we can all sit down and try to fix a problem that is going to affect our children, grandchildren, and hopefully -- hopefully we can all come to the table and find a resolution that will solve it once and for all.
Q: Well, why can't he say, let them come to the table, but there will be no tax increase discussed?
MS. PERINO: I think the people who are asking to come to the table know the President's position very well. And when in trying to encourage someone to come to the table, I don't think it's a really good idea to take anything off of the table. People know what the President's position is, he is for low taxes.
Q: One other question. Thank you. You mentioned the No Child Left Behind. Is the President aware of criticism of the reauthorization coming from his own party, particularly from the Republican study group?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if he's aware of that particular criticism. Obviously, we know that this is a big issue facing our country. We think that this is a law that is starting to show the great promise of closing that achievement gap. We have a long way to go in terms of getting this bill reauthorized. It does have to be reauthorized this year. Secretary Spellings and the leader -- I'm sorry, Senator Kenny and John Boehner have all said that they are committed to working together to get this bill reauthorized. And so we will take the criticism as it comes and deal with it and make sure that we're trying to address it so that everybody understands what we're trying to achieve.
Q: Just days before the State of the Union, there is a back and forth, escalating and escalating. How is the President handling this back and forth, up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, as he's getting ready to deliver this major speech? Is he weary a bit? Because we're hearing some things that he may be a little bit tired from the Iraq fight?
MS. PERINO: I was fortunate enough to see him yesterday in a meeting. He didn't seem at all weary to me. He --
Q: Is he tired of the fighting?
MS. PERINO: I think that he's always disappointed in the partisan tone in Washington. But, no, I would not characterize him as weary at all. He has the courage of his convictions. He believes that what he has done in setting up this plan is the right thing to do. He believes that it's in the best interest for not only the Iraqi people and the region, but for this country. And so he feels quite confident in that.
Q: Thank you. Going back to the word "poisonous," do you think that that is a good word to use as he is going to the Hill?
MS. PERINO: I'm sorry, which word did you say?
Q: Poisonous. Do you think that was a good word to use as he's going to the Hill?
MS. PERINO: I think those particular comments were poisonous. I think questioning the President's motivations and suggesting that he, for some political reason, is rushing troops into harm's way, is not appropriate, it is not correct, and it is unfortunate, because we do have troops in harm's way. And they need to know that we are having -- if we're going to have a debate, let's have a serious one, and let's have one that talks about the realities of the plan that we're trying to put forward.
Q: In the same interview this morning, the House Speaker say that -- well, she was critical of the President's Iraq plan and she called for diplomatic and political initiatives. In the meetings that the President has had with Democrats and House Speaker Pelosi, have they been specific about what they want, what they see as diplomatic and political initiatives?
MS. PERINO: Well, I haven't been in all of the meetings. I know that -- the story about the Iraqi Study Group and this administration and critics have talked about the need for political reconciliation. That's partly the de-Baathification law. This is where we would have people who were formerly members of Saddam Hussein's party be able to come back to work and to work in the schools and fire departments and other things. And so that's one aspect of it. And the Maliki government has said that it's moving forward on that and we hope to see something soon.
And another one, just for an example, is the oil law -- the oil and gas law that would help distribute the wealth across the country equally so that everybody is benefiting from that. And then a third one would be the regional conference to make sure that the neighbors are also -- we do support that. I saw yesterday that one of the members on the Hill said that we are not supportive of a regional conference. That's not accurate. We are. And we'll help -- we can help participate, but the Iraqis are in the lead on that.
Q: I just wanted to follow up on something you said a minute ago about the President being disappointed about the tone in Washington. Does the White House not bear some responsibility for setting that tone? We heard from the White House during the campaign, for instance --
MS. PERINO: I think in this particular issue we're looking at the Iraq new way forward that the President announced, that we have unprecedented extensive outreach to members of Congress. The President listened to all that they had to say. He did his best to explain to everyone why he made the decisions that he made. And we have continued to listen to them. And he has said, if you have a -- if you have a plan that is going to help secure Baghdad, and secure Iraq, or if you have a better idea for how we can help secure this country, I want to hear it.
And so in that particular issue, I think the President has been very responsible. I also think that the President has given a very sober assessment of the situation in Iraq. He has taken responsibility. Anything that happens in Iraq, he has said that he bears the responsibility as Commander-in-Chief. He fully understands that. He understands the weight of what that means, as well, especially when you have troops that are in harm's way, and innocent Iraqi civilians, as well, that are dying, and violence is very hard to take. He understands how difficult it is, and how -- that it might get worse before it gets better.
I think he's been very responsible in trying to lay that groundwork and to try to also explain that he understands that one speech that he gave about Iraq is not going to cut it, that American people -- that the American people and members of Congress are going to have to see some change on the ground on behalf of the Maliki government in order for there to be a change in attitude about this new way forward. And we're starting to see that.
Q: They complain that they weren't properly consulted, that the decisions had already been made on the policy before they were talked to.
MS. PERINO: I've heard that criticism and I can understand where it comes from, in part. However, it was no secret that the President had been undergoing this review for many months. The President had many meetings with members of Congress on all sorts of issues. Especially right after the election, we had many members down here. Everyone knew the Iraq Study Group was coming forward with its plans, and the President has an open door. And so if they had an idea or a plan prior to that, that they wanted to share, we welcomed their ideas then, and we welcome them now.
Q: He's pledged to have more consultations in the weeks and months ahead. Is Speaker Pelosi still welcome to join these?
MS. PERINO: Of course. Of course she is.
Q: Thank you.
MS. PERINO: Is that all? Okay, thank you.
END 1:32 P.M. EST
Dana Perino, Press Briefing by Dana Perino Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/272887