Press Briefing by Dana Perino
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:38 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: I have a few announcements, and then we'll get ready to answer your questions.
The President and Mrs. Bush were greatly moved at the ceremony yesterday in honor of the Virginia Tech students. They offered the prayers and support of a grieving nation. They spent a lot of time with many family members, family of the victims who had lost their lives. He also met with at least one person who had been shot, but had survived. And one of the things that the President and Mrs. Bush said to them is that they should know that the power of prayer is strong, that there are people all across the world that they will never meet who are praying for them and that they should take comfort in that.
One note that I wanted to highlight is something that Mrs. Bush said yesterday, and I think it's important -- possibly some of your children have said -- but we have heard reports that children are concerned about their own safety at their own schools after seeing some of this coverage. And Mrs. Bush asked everyone -- parents, teachers, friends of these children -- to make sure that they know that they're very loved and that there are many people working to ensure their safety at their school.
Q: What happened behind the President yesterday?
MS. PERINO: I will answer some questions after a moment; I have a few announcements.
I do have a statement by the President on the Supreme Court decision upholding the partial birth abortion ban -- we will release this in a moment, but I will read it for you. This is from the President:
"I am pleased that the Supreme Court upheld a law that prohibits the abhorrent procedure of partial birth abortion. Today's decision affirms that the Constitution does not stand in the way of the people's representatives, enacting laws reflecting the compassion and humanity of America. The partial birth abortion ban, which an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress passed and I signed into law, represents a commitment to building a culture of life in America.
"The Supreme Court's decision is an affirmation of the progress we have made over the past six years in protecting human dignity and upholding the sanctity of life. We will continue to work for the day when every child is welcomed in life and protected in law."
Later today, at 2:30 p.m. -- I hope you all got the note that we are going to open the President's meeting with the bicameral-bipartisan leadership on the Iraq war supplemental -- it will be pool at the top. The President looks forward to the congressional leadership coming to this meeting today. The troops desperately need the money.
We also look forward to Speaker Pelosi appointing conferees so that the committees -- I'm sorry -- so that the two Houses can get their differences worked out and send a bill to the President's desk. The President will veto a bill that handcuffs our generals, that includes arbitrary dates for withdrawal, or needless and wasteless [sic] spending. It's been 72 days since the President first sent up his request for this money, and the longer that Speaker Pelosi delays in appointing conferees, the worse it gets for our troops.
And finally, the United States Senate today voted to end consideration of legislation that would have had the government negotiate and set prices for prescription drugs available to America's seniors. The Senate made the right decision to do so. When the Congressional Budget Office weighed in this year and last year, they said that, at best, it would do no good. Our view is that it has the potential to do considerable harm, likely resulting in limiting access to necessary drugs for our seniors.
The Medicare prescription drug program is successfully delivering more drugs at cheaper prices than anyone predicted. And if a bill, such as the one that they were contemplating today were to make its way to the President's desk, he would veto it.
I also would encourage anyone who is interested in this story to look at Secretary Leavitt's open letter to America and America's seniors on this. It's got a lot of good points in it.
Q: What's the President's strategy for his meeting with congressional leaders today? Is he open to any talk of compromise, or is he just going to hear what they say and insist on a clean bill?
MS. PERINO: The President looks forward to having the members come down -- that's why he invited them. I think one of the things that he is looking forward to hearing is how the Democrats have decided to compromise amongst themselves first so that he knows what their position is. They have several different positions, and as you can imagine, that's really difficult to negotiate with anybody if you don't know where someone stands.
The President has laid out clear principles, and he will be able to give some remarks at the top of the meeting. And then, of course, as you know, I'm sure the members will make their way out to the stakeout afterwards.
Q: I mean, there are differences. Both the Senate and the House have passed bills, though, and both of them have some form of a withdrawal deadline, timetable. And that's unacceptable --
MS. PERINO: And here's the point on that, which is that the President has said he will not accept a bill that has an artificial timetable -- time line, deadline for withdrawal, a forced retreat, a legislative failure for our troops. He's not going to do that for our troops, and he's not going to do it to the Iraqis, or for the region, and for the safety of the American public.
The Democrats have said that they will not vote to cut off funding for the troops. And yet, they can't come to an agreement amongst themselves as to how to get a clean bill to the President. So the President is saying, negotiate amongst yourselves first; if you need to send me a bill that I have to veto, I will do it, reluctantly. But that's going to be his position. And so it's the Democrats that need to negotiate amongst themselves first before coming and asking the President to change his positions.
Q: But to pick up on that, once they have negotiated among themselves and have a unified position --
MS. PERINO: Well, let's see what that is.
Q: -- then they can negotiate with the President?
MS. PERINO: You're asking me a hypothetical situation.
Q: No, no, no, they will -- let's say that they have a coherent --
MS. PERINO: Well, that's hypothetical. It's speculative. I don't -- I would like to see if they would come forward and have a position before we talk about anything that would tie the generals' hands or have a deadline for withdrawal.
Q: But the way you're stating this leads to --
MS. PERINO: Well, what I've said for many days is that I'm not going to negotiate anything from this podium. I'm going to let them have a meeting.
Q: I'm just asking you to finish your thought.
MS. PERINO: I finished my thought.
Q: With an incomplete thought, an incomplete sentence?
MS. PERINO: No, I thought it was complete.
All right, Kelly.
Q: Earlier this week, the President made his concerns known, with military families surrounding him and members of the military and veterans. Earlier today, the Democratic leadership had some military family members with them as they gave an opposing view. Does the President think there's a point at which military families or veterans should not become the faces of this debate?
MS. PERINO: Well, he has said before that -- and I think it was on Monday, in which he said that this is a debate, we have healthy debate in America, we have a job to do in terms of getting the funds to the troops, but that he does not believe that the troops should be caught in the middle of the debate.
The families that the President met with and talked to on Monday are only a sampling of some of the ones that he hears from, in which they ask him to please not let their sons or daughters who have died over there in Iraq or in Afghanistan -- for their mission to go unfulfilled. They are reassured by the President that he is not going to let their death be in vain.
The Army and the rest of the Department of Defense have made it very clear that there are consequences to not getting this money now. And therefore, the President is going to hold the Democrats' feet to the fire and get them to come to a position. It's been 72 days; they didn't even appoint conferees. Time is wasting, and so he's going to ask them to get together and get a bill to his desk.
Q: Some Democrats will surely say that the soldiers and relatives of troops with them today are only a sampling of those they hear from, and that they are telling them that we need to begin the process of pulling out of Iraq. I want to ask Kelly's question again -- is it unseemly that the troops should be props, if you will, in this debate?
MS. PERINO: Well, I can assure you that this President doesn't think of any soldier or sailor, or any man or woman that's in uniform as a prop. He is worried about their welfare. He wants to ensure that their mission -- that they have all that they need to complete their mission, and that they are properly trained, and that they have the amount of support that they need back here at home, plus there on the battlefield. And so I do think that it was appropriate for the President to talk with those families -- just as I'm sure that the Democrats feel that it's appropriate for them, as well.
No doubt that there is -- war is a highly charged, emotional debate, and there are many people who would like the American troops to come home immediately. The President wants them to come home when the mission is finished and when the conditions are right on the ground to make sure that the horrific violence, such as we see today happening in Baghdad, can subside.
Q: I'd like to ask you a question about the speech the President gave today. What's the time frame to impose sanctions on Sudan?
MS. PERINO: Well, the President said, soon. And I don't have a number of days to attach to that, but he said it must be soon that President Bashir comply with the demands of the international community, or he will move forward with the steps that he said.
Q: This isn't a new threat. Sanctions have been threatened before.
MS. PERINO: These would be additional.
Q: Right, but how long? What does "soon" mean?
MS. PERINO: He said -- well, I don't have a date for you. And I think what he would like to see is -- we hope it doesn't have to come to us imposing any more sanctions or any other measures against the government. We want Bashir to follow through on what he has said he is going to do. He hasn't in the past, and the President is skeptical, but we're going to give it a chance to work out. But I can assure you that it won't be for very long before the President takes the next steps.
Q: What's his level of awareness about the pressure and the impatience of human rights groups, like the ones that put full-page ads in major papers today?
MS. PERINO: The President hears from a lot of people, but I can tell you that he is deeply concerned, he is personally concerned; many of you have heard him express that privately and publicly. And he thinks about it a lot. I think that the pressure that the groups are putting on is known, but I think that it only is an additional factor, given the President's personal concern about it.
Q: Dana, also on Sudan, when the President said that if President Bashir does not follow the steps that President Bush has laid out that the United States could take other measures, aside from the sanctions, was he referring to a military option on Sudan?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't believe so. I think that the President believes that this can be worked out diplomatically. However, what the President said is that, hopefully, Bashir will comply with the agreement that he just said he would comply with. There is skepticism amongst the administration as to whether or not he will actually do that, based on previous experience.
I'm not going to rule anything in or out; I have not heard that discussed in terms of military options. But I can assure you that the President is serious about possible new sanctions, both against companies and individuals. And in addition to that, he has directed Secretary Rice to work on a new U.N. Security Council resolution. And in the coming days Secretary Rice will confer with the other members and see what the next step is.
Q: Can I get your reaction to something Admiral Fallon said today when he was before the House Armed Services Committee?
MS. PERINO: I haven't seen it.
Q: He was talking about Iraq, and he said, "I believe that the things I see on a daily basis give me some cause for optimism. But I'll tell you that there is hardly a week that goes by, certainly a day that doesn't go by, without some major event that also causes us to lose ground." What's your reaction to that? You have a military man talking about events going --
MS. PERINO: I think that is consistent with what we have said, which is that there are extremely difficult and dangerous situation right now in Iraq, and especially in Baghdad. You see the bombings today. I don't have an official death count, but obviously it is entirely too high. Every life is precious. That includes all the innocent Iraqis, the men, women and children who are defenseless against a barbaric enemy. And as General Petraeus and others have said is that there are small signs of hope that the Baghdad security plan would be able to reduce the violence enough so that the Maliki government can get reconciliation in order to bring a more peaceful existence for the Iraqis.
But we have also said that it's going to be very challenging along the way. We've had higher death tolls amongst our soldiers and Marines, and I think that you can expect that that will continue, because the enemy knows how determined we are, and they are just as determined. And I think anybody who thinks that this enemy is tired, they are mistaken. This is a very determined enemy. They are watching what we are doing and what we are saying, and it's critically important that we finish the job in Iraq.
Q: But it doesn't sound that hopeful, when you talk about a military man saying --
MS. PERINO: It's going to take -- it's going to take a long time before we can finish out this new Baghdad security plan, as General Petraeus has said. I think only about half of the additional troops that we wanted to send in have arrived. He said it's going to be several --
Q: Why is it taking so long on that point?
MS. PERINO: I think it just takes a little while to get troops moved.
Q: Do you have anything more on why it's taking so long?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't, you'll have to ask DOD.
Go ahead, Mark.
Q: Sorry, Dana. At the outset, you said the troops desperately need the money. Are U.S. troops in Iraq desperate for lack of money?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that the Department of Defense has articulated the measures that they'd have to take because they don't have the money, and those have been well laid out by the Department of Defense. And they said that this is very difficult for the troops. It's difficult for the Department of Defense to move money around. And it's really unfortunate that the political debate is getting in the way of allowing the troops to have what they need. I think the political debate is going to happen, regardless, but as the President said, the troops shouldn't be caught in the middle.
Q: Dana, back on Sudan.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q: For decades, there's been fighting. Sanctions have already been placed against the Sudanese government. What more can new sanctions do, realistically, if they've already been in this spiraling conflict and sanctions and disapproval for years? What more will this do?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that we've shown that, as a diplomatic tool, economic sanctions can be very powerful. And it puts a lot of pressure on a government. And so it's just one of the many diplomatic tools that you can use in order to help effect a behavior change.
Q: So what sanctions do you think will bring a change that you didn't have before? What new will make them allow AU troops or other troops to come in to bring peace? What new?
MS. PERINO: Well, as the President said, he would allow for targeting of 29 companies, and then some individuals. I'm not going to give you any detail on that. One, I don't have it, and it wouldn't be prudent for me to do so. While Bashir has this time that he's been given in order to comply, we want to make sure that that program stays intact.
Q: The White House said in other situations that military options are not necessarily off the table. You said you wanted to do a diplomatic approach, but is there a possibility that this administration could take military action, air strikes against Sudanese interests, possibly?
MS. PERINO: As you know, the President's position is that no Commander-in-Chief or head of state should take that option off of the table. But it's not anything that I hear being actively discussed.
Q: Two quick questions. One, as far as the school shooting is concerned, my heart goes out and my condolence for the families.
MS. PERINO: Absolutely.
Q: -- in fact, from Washington to New Delhi, because among the dead at least one Indian student and also a professor from India.
MS. PERINO: Yes, professor.
Q: My question is that now there's a feel among the students not only here, but across the globe, including in India, those who want to come for the higher education here. What do you think the President will have a message for them now?
MS. PERINO: I know Sean McCormack got asked this question yesterday at the State Department, and I think it's one that not only people around the world are asking, but I'm sure that parents who are encouraging their children to go to college, and that they have it on their minds, too. Again, I would just try to assure that there people who are working very hard to make sure that places are safe. Unfortunately, there are individuals who, if they are determined to perpetuate violence and to kill people, that they have ways of doing that. And as the facts unfold in this case, we're just learning a lot more about this individual's background and behavior.
What was your second one, quickly?
Q: Second one, as far as the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement is concerned, it still is not finalized by the U.S. Congress because there are some questions by the Indian government, which is not recognizing or not agreeing to some of the conditions set by the agreement. My question is -- and also last week, India tested a missile. You think testing a missile last week, and also two Indians were arrested two weeks ago --
MS. PERINO: I don't know of any of that being related. I do know that we're working very hard with the Indian government to get the deal completed.
Q: Do you think anything on the way as far as this deal is concerned, all these issues are concerned?
MS. PERINO: I don't think there's any connection.
Go ahead, Olivier.
Q: Dana, two on Sudan. The first is -- I don't have the wording exactly in front of me, but the President talked about supporting or exploring ways to deny the Sudanese government the ability to use war planes in Darfur. Was that a reference to an international no-fly zone?
MS. PERINO: I'm going to let the details of that work itself out. Hopefully it won't even come to that, but when there's more to announce, we would announce it. But again, I would stress that hopefully Bashir will follow through on his commitments.
Q: Okay. And Tony Blair now says the first discussions on this new resolution will be tomorrow at the U.N. But Russian and Chinese diplomats are already saying it's a non-starter. Was there any effort out of the White House to reach out to either Moscow or Beijing to get some sense of where they were, or to canvas their support before coming out today and saying --
MS. PERINO: I'll check into it. I'm sure that the State Department was in contact with their officials.
Q: The critics of the Supreme Court decision today say that this is a case in which the new formation of the Court is taking away Americans' liberties, some of their rights. What does the President say to critics who don't like the change in what they see as --
MS. PERINO: Did they say that last week when the Supreme Court rules on the greenhouse gases issue? They didn't. So I think that the Supreme Court -- they decide and we all follow. And I think that that's what people will have to recognize.
Q: Does the President think this is a trend, since this is the first such decision since Roe v. Wade?
MS. PERINO: I haven't heard that from him, no.
Q: In his speech on Monday, the President said, "Families gathered here understand that our troops want to finish the job." What evidence does he actually have for that? Because there doesn't seem to be any polling data whatsoever to support the idea that the troops do want to stay and finish the job rather than go home.
MS. PERINO: Victoria, I think that there are many troops and there are many families, and the President hears it personally from them, asking to make sure that the President stays strong and completes the mission.
Q: The only polling data there seems to be is an Army Times poll that came out last December, which seems to show, really, that the doubts are whether the troops actually feel that they could finish the job and whether they wanted to finish it.
MS. PERINO: I'm not familiar with that poll. I do know that the President feels confident that when he describes what he hears from the troops, that he's being as forthcoming as he can with the American people. And you just have to -- I think that a lot of it could be anecdotal, but I'm not a polling expert and we don't, as you know, make decisions based on polls.
Q: So this isn't based on any empirical data; this is based on people he's spoken with?
MS. PERINO: I think people he's spoken with, generals he hears from that are over there on the ground, people that he talks to. I mean, he talks to many outside experts. Yes, I think that he feels very comfortable that the troops, families of the troops believe that this mission should be completed.
Q: I was wondering why you think that the House Democrats have not moved forward with conferees? Do you think they just can't reach an agreement or --
MS. PERINO: I don't know. You'll have to ask the Speaker's office. It's unfathomable. It's nothing I can explain for them -- I wish I could.
Q: Thank you, Dana. Two questions. How does the President believe it will help -- how long does the President believe it will be before the lack of a funding plan for the military in Iraq starts costing lives?
MS. PERINO: I'm sorry, how long does he think it will be?
Q: -- believe it will be before the lack of a funding plan for the military in Iraq starts costing lives.
MS. PERINO: Costing lives --
Q: Of our servicemen.
MS. PERINO: Let me just say that the Department of Defense has said that this is creating hardships for the military to do its job. They need the resources now.
Q: What does the President think of the gun control rule which prohibited guns on the campus of Virginia Tech?
MS. PERINO: I haven't spoken to him about that specifically. I do know as governor he supported weapons-free school zones.
Q: He supported?
MS. PERINO: When he was governor of Texas, yes.
Q: And he thinks that this was effective at Virginia Tech?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment about -- obviously, the investigation is ongoing at Virginia Tech.
Q: Dana, what happened yesterday when President Bush was helping the person directly behind him?
MS. PERINO: That individual was a father who lost his only daughter, and he was overcome with grief. He shared with the President later that he hadn't eaten or had anything to drink for many hours, and it was quite warm in the gym. He fainted briefly. And then the President did see him afterwards, when he met with the families in the gym, and they shared good fellowship and lots of hugs and had a nice time talking to one another.
Q: As everyone is looking back at what could have happened, what should have happened, is the President somewhat taking a look to say maybe this could have been prevented, or maybe this child should not have had -- this young man should not have had a gun, because of certain laws?
MS. PERINO: I think what the President thinks is that, in this time of mourning and grieving and thinking about the aftermath of one individual's actions, that it's only natural that you think about what led to such a tragedy and how to prevent one in the future.
Q: Are you thinking -- is he thinking about changing or stepping up gun control issues?
MS. PERINO: As I said yesterday, I think that there's going to be a debate. The President said there's going to be a debate, and it's one that we have in our country about the right to bear arms, as well as gun control policies. In addition to that, I think one of the things that we're learning out of this investigation, as we have from many of the others, is that there are some individuals who are disaffected in society, lonely, and we have to figure out as a society how to identify those individuals and get them help prior to them having -- going on a rampage and killing all this innocent life.
Q: When General Pace talked about some evidence that Iran may be supplying weapons in Afghanistan, in addition to Iraq, does the President think this is a spread of Iranian influence, or something that they've just been able to identify now?
MS. PERINO: I have not spoken to the President about it. What I would be able to say is that Iran obviously is trying to spread its elbows out and have more influence in the region, and not anything good. They are a state sponsor of terror, and the more they sponsor terrorism, the more innocent life is ruined. And this is -- and these are people that are -- the people that are in Afghanistan and Iraq and other places that are dealing with the aftermath of the Iranians providing such weapons are people who are dying -- they are innocent people who are dying. It is tragic, and the pressure that we need to put on Iran is very real.
Q: Thank you.
MS. PERINO: Thanks.
END 1:04 P.M. EDT
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/274591