Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:22 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Welcome back, Wendell.
Q: Thank you.
MS. PERINO: There's one note, this is Sean Kevelighan's last day with us. We've enjoyed having him here very much.
Q: -- come to work on Monday. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: This morning, as you all know, Congressman Tom Lantos passed away. The President spoke to Mrs. Annette Lantos to express his sorrow about the passing of her husband this morning. He also called Speaker Pelosi, since he knows how very close the two of them were. And here is a statement by the President that we will release in text right after this.
"Laura and I are saddened by the death of our friend, Congressman Tom Lantos. Tom was a man of character and a champion of human rights. After immigrating to America more than six decades ago, he worked to help oppressed people from around the world have the opportunity to live in freedom.
"As the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress, Tom was a living reminder that we must never turn a blind eye to the suffering of the innocent at the hands of evil men.
"I appreciate his vision in co-founding the Human Rights Caucus. And I also appreciate his efforts to protect our environment, alleviate the suffering caused by HIV/AIDS and strengthen our friendships and alliances around the globe.
"We will miss Tom's leadership in the halls of Congress. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Annette, their daughters and the rest of the Lantos family."
Also this morning, in response to Olivier's question I said I would get more detail and response to the Burma junta's referendum -- proposed referendum, and the reaction. The Burmese junta's announcement that it will hold a referendum on a new constitution in May demonstrates its lack of seriousness about an open and fair process for the restoration of democracy. The drafting process for the constitution has not incorporated the views of opposition views parties or all ethnic groups. Nor does the time frame allow for adequate debate on the pros and cons of the proposed constitution, which has not yet been shared with the Burmese public.
The proposed constitution reportedly has many non-democratic features. For example, Aung San Suu Kyi would be banned from running for office because of her marriage to a foreigner. We call on the Burmese government to comply with the United Nations call last October, that this be an open and inclusive process that allows all of the Burmese people a fair say in the structure and form of their new government. The problem is not with the setting of a date for elections, but with the non-transparent and exclusive processes being promulgated by the regime.
Q: Was the President part of the decision-making in the seeking of the death penalty for the six terrorist suspects at Guantanamo?
MS. PERINO: No, those decisions were made by the military commissions -- the people involved in the military commissions down in -- well, at the Pentagon, and then many people are there working in Guantanamo Bay. The White House was not involved, and they made that -- they made the decision to bring the charges today because, as they said, they were ready to do so.
Q: Was he consulted in who was targeted for these prosecutions?
MS. PERINO: No.
Q: So there's no role at all in the White House in any part of this?
MS. PERINO: No. No. Obviously, 9/11 was a defining moment in our history and a defining moment in the global war on terror, and this judicial process is the next step in that story, of the history of this issue. And the President is sure that the military is going to follow through in a way that the Congress said they should, which was in the law that they passed on October 26th -- I'm sorry, October 2006, when they passed the Military Commissions Act.
Q: Dana, is the White House at all concerned that some of the evidence of the confessions by many of these men may not be admissible because they were obtained through waterboarding, which the administration admitted to last week?
MS. PERINO: Kathleen, I'm not going to able to comment about the trial from this podium. And so I'm not able to comment on that, but I'm sure that if you call the Department of Defense they'll be able to talk about it further.
Q: What about the timing of all this? Again, it was just Thursday that the Vice President, Hayden admitted the United States had used waterboarding against some of these suspects. And then, lo and behold, Monday the DOD announces they're going forward on these cases.
MS. PERINO: I can see conspiracy written all over your face, but there was none. And this decision -- as the military said, that they were ready to bring the charges and they did that today, when they were ready.
Q: So this is mere coincidence then?
MS. PERINO: As I said this morning, yes.
Q: One more, following up on that, though. When the President made his decision initially to authorize the interrogations of Khalid Shaykh Muhammad and the other two, did he weigh the possibility of criminal prosecutions and the admissibility of evidence?
MS. PERINO: I don't know, Mark. Obviously you're talking about time frames that are years and years ago. I just -- I don't know.
Q: Dana, when did you learn of the decision to seek these charges, including the capital charges?
MS. PERINO: I can try to find out for you. The President has his intelligence briefings on a regular basis, but I'll see if I can find out -- it must have been within the last couple of days.
Q: Dana, does the filing of charges against the 9/11 suspects bring the administration any closer to shutting down Guantanamo?
MS. PERINO: Well, the issue of shutting down Guantanamo Bay is separate from the issue of these -- from this trial. The President has said that he would like to be able to close down the facility. And I would remind you that we are down about under -- down over half of the original number of detainees that were there, under 300 now.
The goal is to have their home countries take them back and hold them securely in a way that will be humane. Some countries have refused to take them back. Some who are even actually calling for the closing of Guantanamo Bay won't take their own prisoners back. And so we are working through that and trying to get -- working with those countries. But at this point -- I see those two issues as separate.
Q: How does the President plan to pay for this war? There was apparently nothing in the budget that shows how we're going to pay.
MS. PERINO: Well, there is a -- there's a $70 billion component to it. And we also have supplementals that are in front of Congress. So we're waiting for those processes to work themselves through the system.
Q: That will cover the cost of the war?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think what you're referring to is that we -- the accusation against us --
Q: -- $2 billion --
MS. PERINO: -- and here I am, getting the question for you -- (laughter.)
Q: -- $2 billion a week. How is it going to be paid for?
MS. PERINO: There's no doubt that the war is an expensive -- that war is very expensive. The President has set out in his 2009 proposal for $70 billion for the Pentagon to be able to continue operations. At the same time, we have supplemental requests out there.
The reason that the request isn't in full, as others would like it to be, is because it's impossible to predict what the situation will be a little bit later from now. So we have tried to provide Congress with as much detail as possible. But they have also shown that they want to do this piecemeal, and so we're happy to work with them on that.
Q: It's going to be paid for as we go along, or in the future?
MS. PERINO: Well, we have been able to pay for the war and to bring down the deficit, but we are going to see an uptick in the deficit as a result of the economic stimulus package that the President will sign into law on Wednesday. Because we think that we need that economic stimulus package as an insurance measure in order to prevent an economic downturn. But having a good economy is one of the best ways in order to keep the government -- to allow the government to be able to fund a lot of different things, anywhere from the entitlements that we have -- Social Security and Medicare -- to the war and to other functions of government.
Q: Was the President briefed on the espionage charges brought against four Chinese nationals and one Pentagon worker? And can you shed any light on that?
MS. PERINO: No, I can't. I just saw the report that the Justice Department is making an announcement today, and so I will check on that to see --
Q: Was the President briefed on that?
MS. PERINO: That's what I said I'll check on. I don't know.
Q: Two quick questions. One, Homeland Security Secretary said that he's worried about, seven years since 9/11, there might be another attack by the same people (inaudible) took them seven years to get ready, and now seven years. Does President feel -- have the same feelings of Secretary?
MS. PERINO: We are always concerned that the terrorists who are plotting against us will be able to carry out an attack, and we have to be right all the time in order to prevent them from doing so. And one of the best ways to do that is to keep on offense, as well as to have the Congress pass laws that allow our intelligence community to do what they need to do in order to fight against the terrorists, because the best way to fight against them is to make sure you know more than they do.
Q: Second, you were speaking other day at Italian-American Foundation, and I believe it was a great speech you gave. But you spoke about also diplomacy, after leaving -- Karen Hughes, when she left the State Department -- where do America and the U.S. stand now, as far as public diplomacy, especially in the Muslim and Arab world?
MS. PERINO: I did talk about that in that speech and I can refer you to the transcript; I can get it for you. But obviously I think it's very important, and one of the things I talked about is the importance of educational exchanges.
Go ahead, Keith.
Q: Why did the President, after months of staying out of the Republican race, decide to make statements over the weekend that could be helpful to John McCain in his race against Mike Huckabee?
MS. PERINO: Well, the President was echoing what we had said last Friday, which is, in the Republican primary we have a narrowing of candidates. We don't have a final candidate yet, and the President was clear about that, but we are -- we have a clearer path to a nominee right now on the Republican side of things, and do on the Democratic side. And the President answered questions that were put to him in an interview.
Q: Okay, but -- so you say we have a clearer path to a nominee. Does that mean that he's indicating that people should fold ranks and favor this nominee?
MS. PERINO: No. I'm not saying that at all. What in anything that I said made you -- would make you say that?
Q: Well, because you said, we have a clearer path. I thought maybe you meant that McCain is the clearer path.
MS. PERINO: No, I just mean that we have less people that are running now.
Q: Okay, but the problem that McCain has, the biggest problem that he has in the Republican primary is that he's not necessarily viewed as a conservative. Rightly or wrongly, Huckabee does not have that problem. So when the President makes statements saying that McCain is in fact a conservative, isn't that helpful to him against Huckabee?
MS. PERINO: Whether it's helpful or not to Senator McCain, the voters will have to decide. That's who is going to make this decision. The President was asked a question of, does he believe Senator McCain is a conservative, and he answered truthfully that he does.
Q: So he wasn't intentionally helping him?
MS. PERINO: The President looks forward to the day when we have a Republican nominee. He is going to vigorously campaign for that individual.
Q: Was he intentionally helping McCain?
MS. PERINO: He was asked a question about McCain and he answered it. He was also asked a question about Mike Huckabee and he answered that one too.
Q: He didn't have to answer the question about McCain, though. He hasn't answered questions about it for months.
MS. PERINO: He chose to answer it, and as we said last week, we are near to a point where we have -- if you add the numbers and as we get closer, we're closer to having a nominee than the Democrats are. The President was asked questions and he answered them.
Q: Outside of a second stimulus package that Congress is expected to take up in a few weeks, the House is planning to take up an energy tax bill this week. Will the administration support it if it includes any provision to take away the oil and gas tax breaks, as it had the last time when they opposed it?
MS. PERINO: You know, I'll take a look, Paula. I haven't heard that. I thought they were moving on to a public housing bill. I hadn't hear that an energy bill was on the plan.
Go ahead. Les.
Q: Thank you, Dana. Two questions. What is the President's reaction to the Archbishop of Canterbury's call for Islamic Sharia law to operate in Britain and have power to approve polygamous marriage and female circumcision?
MS. PERINO: He's going to let the people of Britain respond to that. He's not going to respond to that.
Q: Okay. As the nation's chief law enforcer, does the President believe that this recent Nebraska Supreme Court six-to-one ruling that electrocution be ended as cruel and unusual punishment -- does he believe that was right or does he support the death penalty by fast-frying the condemned?
MS. PERINO: No, Les, why do you have to end it like that?
Q: Well, that's what electrocution is. It is a fast-frying of the condemned.
END 12:35 P.M. EST
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/277021