Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:40 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. Two quick announcements. Last night, Republican candidates in Virginia and Ohio won strong victories in elections for the United States House of Representatives. And this morning, President Bush called Rob Wittman and Bob Latta to congratulate them on their victories and tell them that he looked forward to working with them in Washington.
Also, Barney Cam, you may have noticed, is now available at White House.gov. The theme of this year's video is "Holiday in the National Parks," and it features the President, Mrs. Bush, the twins, and some other very special guests, including Prime Minister Tony Blair -- former Prime Minister Tony Blair -- and country singer Alan Jackson. The entire production team did a fantastic job, and I'm sure everyone will have a lot of fun with it.
Q: Who produces those? Is that government expense?
MS. PERINO: We do it here at the White House. You might remember, the whole reason we started Barney Cam was because there was a lot of interest in 2001 for people to be able to see the decorations at the White House. And in that year, if you'll recall, after the September 11th attacks, the tours were closed, and so this was an idea that we came up with. And actually, now we've decided to keep going because there's so many Americans who would love to see the White House at Christmastime and can't make it.
Q: Is the White House making any attempt to open negotiations with Congress as it comes toward the holidays?
MS. PERINO: On the budget?
Q: Yes, on the budget -- I mean, you're about to veto SCHIP, other things.
MS. PERINO: Okay, well, I think that's -- they've all known -- let's take a step back. On SCHIP, this is a bill that has come to the President's desk and once again is in veto form. They've known that the President would veto the bill -- they knew that the President would veto the bill the first time they sent it. He's going to veto the second bill that is almost identical to the one he originally vetoed. He will veto that today. This Congress failed to send the President legislation that puts children first, and instead they sent for a second time one that would allow adults onto the program, expand to higher incomes, and raise taxes. And so that's why he's going to veto it again.
We would like Congress to send legislation to the President that he could accept, one in which we would expand, as he suggested, from -- five years, for an extra $20 billion*; he's willing to consider more money if that's needed. But he's also saying to the Senate, go ahead and extend this program now before you leave town, because that way the states can plan. And so we are trying to work with them on that. It's hard to work with a Congress that doesn't want to talk to you, and it's hard to negotiate when the Democrats have not come together on one unified position.
So, yes, we are in communication with them. The President has directed OMB Director Jim Nussle to be in contact with the Congress on the budget side of things. And in addition to that, we're calling on Congress to fully fund the troops. The troops need the money. Secretary Gates has been very clear -- since November 14th, he has said, that there might have to be furlough notices that go out if we don't get the money.
And so we're working with them on a variety of fronts. On energy, we are hopeful that we can get to a resolution on an energy bill. We've been very clear about the provisions that the President could not accept. We think the Congress might be willing to that, although it seems that Senator Reid wants to keep the tax title in there, which the President has been very clear that he won't sign.
And so they've reached a crunch time, and they're wasting time on sending the President bills, or intending to send the President bills that they know he won't be able to sign. And they don't have a lot of time to rework them to send back bills that can keep the government going. Therefore, the President is calling on them to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government running.
Q: Well, since there's not much time, is the President willing to get involved in the negotiations himself, I mean, bring the Democratic leaders down here and try to --
MS. PERINO: Well, I think anyone would understand that the President's position is reasonable, and that he has tasked his Cabinet officer, OMB Director Jim Nussle, to go up and negotiate with the Democrats and the Republicans in order to bring this to closure. But it is very difficult to negotiate when you're dealing with several different positions on the Democratic side. So once they coalesce around one position, it will be easier for us to have -- to sit down and have negotiations. But in the meantime, we've had conversations with them. We have an open dialogue.
Q: Can I follow up?
Q: The President has?
MS. PERINO: Well, the -- again, the President has many people that work with him that move forward and that -- remember, last Monday we had the Congressional Ball; he saw I don't know how many members of Congress -- probably over 400, and so he's had a chance to talk with them. But the appropriate place for there to be the discussions on the details is at Director Nussle's level, working with members of Congress.
Go ahead, Keith.
Q: How long of a continuing resolution is he looking for from Congress?
MS. PERINO: Well, that's going to be up to Congress. It's -- they just -- what he'd like to see are the individual spending bills come to his desk. We realize that now that the time is running short, they might not be able to get all those bills individually to him before they leave town for the holidays, and so they might have to have an omnibus. And so we'll have to take a look at that, but it's up to them in terms of how they want to do a continuing resolution. We just want to make sure that the government remains funded.
Q: Well, would he sign a continuing resolution that went past the New Year, that went through the holidays?
MS. PERINO: Sure, that's possible.
Q: You say he's being reasonable, but the Democrats seem to say he's being unreasonable. They're some $22 billion over his top line. They've offered to come down $11 billion. They say repeatedly that you're intransigent, that the President won't budge at all on his number.
MS. PERINO: Well, the President has been clear since last February what his priorities were. Remember, the country wants us to get to a balanced budget. The President has a plan that will get us to a balanced budget by 2012. But the only way that we can do that is if we stick to the President's fiscally responsible levels. And he also provided the Congress with numerous ways in order to have savings if they want to have spending increases in other areas. That's part of priorities; that's why you come to Washington -- you have to figure out where to make the tough cuts. And Congress has been unwilling to do that. And so the President is asking them to stick to those numbers.
Part of the thing that Congress is dealing with now, in addition, is the issue of earmarks. And the President called for earmarks to be cut in at least half this year, and again the Democrats are still having to work out amongst themselves how they're going to deal with that issue.
Q: What about Obey's idea to get rid of all the earmarks, to get down to the President's spending level?
MS. PERINO: Again, that's just another example of just one of the Democratic positions that we're being asked to respond to. And until they coalesce around one common idea, I think we will decline to negotiate through the press.
Q: So you're saying the President is sort of set in stone on both the numbers and on his unwillingness to engage in negotiations?
MS. PERINO: No, what I'm saying is, we are encouraging the Democrats to get together around one position, so that we can actually have a negotiation.
Q: But you can't have a negotiation until you're willing to talk.
MS. PERINO: We are willing to talk. We have an open dialogue. And we have Director Nussle, who is speaking for the President, acting on behalf of the President, working with them. But who do you talk to? Do you decide to talk to Congressman Obey, or Speaker Pelosi, or Congressman Hoyer, or Senator Reid? Once all of them come together on one position, then we can have a negotiation. I can't imagine that any of you would want to negotiate with four different executives at the network. (Laughter.)
Q: He could talk to anybody he wanted. I'm available to talk to anyone. (Laughter.) But I'm sure that the President could pick up the phone and just talk to anybody -- they'd take the call.
MS. PERINO: Right, but they have to have a united position for us to react to. It's unreasonable for us to try to react to four different positions.
Q: Sort of along the same lines in Congress, you said this morning, "don't raise taxes." And in connection, on the AMT fix, that's now the latest one, is it okay then to just forego $50 billion and add it to the deficit?
MS. PERINO: In our budget, the way we have done this for years, ever since the AMT went into effect in the Democratic Congress years ago, that did not peg it to inflation, we've had this problem. And no one -- this tax has never gone into effect. No one really believes it ever is going to. And so what the President is saying, let's just get rid of it. And in the meantime, if not, we do include it in the deficit.
Q: In the latest proposal up there on the House side right now there is a proposal to raise some of the money to pay for the fix by going after some of the tax-deferral income by hedge fund managers.
MS. PERINO: The President is against raising taxes. But what he is -- what he would be willing to discuss are cuts in the budget. And he provided I think it was $96 billion worth of ideas where the President -- where the Congress could look to actually get savings rather than having to raise taxes.
But they don't want to make that choice. The Democrats continually revert to type, and they go back to raising taxes. The President is not going to raise taxes on the American people. It's especially wrong at this time when we're facing a headwind from the housing market and we have a credit crunch that we're trying to deal with. Growth is still good, in terms of jobs, as well as in exports. But we have issues that we need to deal with in the economy in order to keep it strong and growing, and raising taxes isn't going to do it.
Q: Dana, you say the AMT hasn't really gone into effect, but of course it has, and it claims people every year, it just hasn't claimed as many as it might if they don't do the fix.
MS. PERINO: Fair point. Fair point.
Q: How much do you think Congress can get done between today and tomorrow before they head out on Christmas break? You asked them to do the bills before Thanksgiving; they didn't do it. What are the chances they're going to do something before Christmas?
MS. PERINO: Congress got themselves into this box, and they're going to have to try to get themselves out of it.
Q: Dana, I do want to follow up on this issue of the President not negotiating personally. It would seem that Presidents throughout the ages have taken a leadership role by meeting with leaders of the opposition party and sort of sitting down together and hammering out a deal and then expecting those leaders to go back to their people and say, look, this is what I negotiated with the President. And that is sort of part of presidential leadership. So I'm wondering why, at this crunch time, as you described it, the President isn't willing to do that.
MS. PERINO: Sheryl, who would he meet with? Should he have four different meetings, or should he -- is it --
Q: I would say that that would be up to him, but --
MS. PERINO: No, Sheryl, let me answer the question.
Q: -- the logical choices would be Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.
MS. PERINO: Let me answer your question. But we get four different -- you get a different Democrat, different answer almost every hour. There's different plans all throughout the day about how they're going to finish this out. They need to finish it --
Q: He doesn't think it would make a difference to get them in a room and talk to them?
MS. PERINO: I don't think that it's incumbent upon the President to resolve the Democrats' inconsistencies. I think that they need to work out their differences. I don't think they would want the President to meddle in their affairs and try to work out their differences for them. That's not the President's responsibility.
Q: Do Republicans have any inconsistencies?
MS. PERINO: I think that we have been very united. The President met with members yesterday --
Q: Do you agree with Congressman Boehner's suggestion to make -- (inaudible) -- in extra spending?
MS. PERINO: I think that we would consider emergency spending if we needed to at the end of the day. But I don't know -- I didn't speak to Congressman Boehner, and I saw that his spokesperson said something different in terms of clarifying his point, but I don't have that with me. But what I will say is that the President met with the four bicameral GOP leaders yesterday. We have had a united front on this. And the Democrats know what they're dealing with when they're dealing with the Republicans, but we don't know what we're dealing with when you have four different negotiating -- at least four different negotiating positions on behalf of the Democrats.
Q: Are you saying Republicans are monolithically together on every point up there?
MS. PERINO: No, I said on the bottom line on the budget, we have been -- had a united front in terms of having a negotiating position. We absolutely have.
Q: But just to follow up, you said before that he saw them at the Congressional Ball. Is that, in your view, equal to bringing the leaders into a --
MS. PERINO: I think your question was whether he had talked to any of them at all. And I -- sure, there's a lot of business that gets done at those parties.
Q: Well, was this business done at that party?
MS. PERINO: Well, clearly not -- Sheryl, I really think you guys need to think about -- if you step back -- who should the President meet with? And I don't think it's incumbent upon the President to call down the Democratic leadership, have them sit around the table in the Cabinet Room and try to hash out their differences for them. He's not the Democratic mediator, he is the leader of the Republican Party, he's the President of the United States, and he has designated his Cabinet officer, Jim Nussle, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, in order to work out the details for them before they get to the final point. And that's how a negotiation should work.
Q: New subjects, two questions. First of all, up on the Hill where General Hayden was testifying today before the House Intelligence Committee, the bipartisan leaders came out afterwards and they were very concerned about not having been informed about the videotaping in the interrogations, about the destruction of the tapes. Chairman Silvestre Reyes said, "Our committee was not informed, not been kept informed, we're very frustrated about the issue." I know you can't comment on the case specifically, but is the White House in general hopeful that the CIA will be more forthcoming in the future, more aggressive in meeting its obligations to inform Congress in matters like this?
MS. PERINO: This is like the fourth day in a row I've gone through this. I'm not going to comment on that. Part of the gathering of the facts is gathering who knew what when, and who then told who what. And I think that I have to allow that process to work itself out. The President thinks that General Hayden is committed to making sure that it is a thorough review, and that people get the answers that they are requesting.
Q: But in the way of the CIA meeting its obligations to inform Congress of matters like this, has the White House made it clear it does not want to see this sort of thing --
MS. PERINO: I don't think it would be appropriate for me to say that they weren't, because I don't know the answer to whether or not -- who was informed when. And I'm not saying that the senators or the congressmen are wrong in their recollections; I'm just saying that there is a process in place to gather those facts, and I have to let that play out.
Q: Does the White House believe it's important that the CIA keep Congress informed of matters like this?
MS. PERINO: Yes, all agencies must.
Q: And the other issue, very briefly, there's going to be a press conference on the Hill in about 10 minutes; Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and others upset that the Congress -- that the President, when he issued his pardons, did not pardon the two Border Patrol Agents, Ramos and Compean. Do you have anything to say to them about why that didn't happen?
MS. PERINO: Well, there's processes in place for pardons, and those two individuals, if they want to seek a pardon, they can go through the process, as well. The President did not pardon them yesterday, as you said. I think it was 120 individuals, but they were not included this time.** And we've had extensive comment on this, and there's appeals that are underway.
Q: Dana, the administration has in the past pointed the finger at Syria for being behind high-profile assassinations in Lebanon. Is there any suspicion that Syria was behind the latest car bombing that killed a general who was a leading contender to head the army?
MS. PERINO: I think it's best if I not speculate on who was responsible. They're still looking into it. Of course, in the past there have been incidents where we would blame Syria, but I'm not prepared to do that until that review is complete.
Q: The statement from the White House earlier did speak of forces that are trying to undermine the Lebanese stability and democracy.
MS. PERINO: Certainly when there is an assassination of one of the leaders of a country, then, yes, I think that follows the pattern of wanting to undermine the country. But I'm not -- there's not been a claim of responsibility, and that review isn't final yet, so I'm not going to point fingers at anybody.
Q: One of President Bush's Republican predecessors, Ronald Reagan, when he wanted to get budget issues through, reached out and created his own alliances with colorful groups, like the Gypsy Moths and the Blue Dog Democrats, and created the kind of majorities that he needed to get his policies through. Is that not a leadership model that this President finds a valuable lesson --
MS. PERINO: The President does reach out to the Blue Dogs and others, certainly. We have lots of meetings, some of them that we don't read out to the press.
Q: And is that underway right now?
MS. PERINO: Well, certainly at a staff level it is. But as I said, the President has asked Jim Nussle to work out those details for him, and then once we do that, once we have those details and a unified position by the Democrats, negotiations can begin.
Q: Governor Bush ran for President saying that he was a uniter, not a divider, and that he worked well with the Democrats who were in the majority in the Texas legislature. Why has that not worked in Washington?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I wasn't there in Texas, but I would hazard a guess --
Q: No, he was saying that --
MS. PERINO: I know, I understand that, but I would -- one of the things you might have had in Texas is more of a united front on the Democratic side. I don't think it's reasonable to think that the President should go and have to have at least four different meetings, and not sure what he's dealing with. And plus, to have a negotiation, to go and talk to one person, and then have that undermined by the next person you talk to and not have them talking to one another is not a good way to do business.
Q: Dana, can I follow on SCHIP?
MS. PERINO: Anybody else on this topic?
Q: On the budget? Yes, I've got one more.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q: You said you would consider -- the President would consider some of the money that Boehner is talking about running as an emergency. Isn't some of that money really just a back-door way of adding spending without having to technically breach the President's budget cap?
MS. PERINO: I said that I wouldn't speculate on terms of what we were going to get to at the end, but that there may be emergency spending at the end of the day. And so we're going to have to wait and see. But we don't -- we're not able to even to get to that point until there's more of a unified position by the Democrats and that we know what we're dealing with.
Q: But this Republican -- the Boehner proposal, you would look at some of that money, correct?
MS. PERINO: I wouldn't call -- I don't even know if there is a Boehner proposal.
Q: Well, the money that he's talked about running as emergency spending.
MS. PERINO: No, I don't have enough -- I would refer you to his office, in terms of if there was a clarification of yesterday. I saw a news report, but I didn't see anything else.
Q: He wasn't reflecting the White House views when he said that, right?
MS. PERINO: No.
Q: On SCHIP, two questions. First, with this veto, does it mean that the prospects for reauthorizing SCHIP in a new bill are dead?
MS. PERINO: That's a question you should ask Capitol Hill. They've known what the President's position is. They decided to send the President two bills that they knew he would veto and that we have the votes to sustain. So instead of coming to the table to negotiate with us, they've instead been intransigent and sent us two bills that they knew he wouldn't sign.
Q: And then on -- following up on that, you said that he wanted to negotiate with Democrats when they had reached a unified position. So obviously on SCHIP they have reached a unified position because they have presented him with a bill, which represents that position. So is he willing at this point to sit down and negotiate with them?
MS. PERINO: We have been willing for several weeks, if not months, to negotiate on SCHIP, and it is the Democrats who would not have us at the table.
Q: Has he invited the leaders in to talk about SCHIP?
MS. PERINO: Even on a staff level, we weren't invited to negotiate.
Q: Can I follow up on SCHIP? Is there some real risk that that program is going to last now?
MS. PERINO: Well, I would hope not. I would hope that Congress would go ahead and extend the program as they did before.
Q: Thank you, Dana. Two questions. In the White House's consideration of reported global warming, is there any wondering why Nobel Prize winner Al Gore has refused to accept repeated challenges to debate climate researcher Lord Christopher Monckton and other skeptics of global warming?
MS. PERINO: I have no idea. You'll have to ask his office.
Q: Okay. Will the President try to help settle the Writers Guild strike, which reporter -- Reuters reported yesterday that NBC has quietly begun reimbursing advertisers an average of $500,000 each for failing to reach guaranteed ratings levels, "the first time a network has taken such a step in years?"
MS. PERINO: The President is the Commander-in-Chief, not the mediator-in-chief, although many in this room seem to think that he should be today.
Q: But what -- he certainly has reached out. Has he done anything insofar as trying to help settle this --
MS. PERINO: It's not appropriate for the President to get involved in that.
Q: It's not appropriate?
Q: Since -- in view of the recent fatal shootings in the West, does the President regret that he did not support a -- continue a renewal of the ban on assault weapons?
MS. PERINO: Well, obviously there's tragic situations happening, and you see multiple -- sometimes these things seems to -- these stories seem to come up around the holidays, when you have incidents of individuals taking to violence in order to settle scores or act out their frustrations and rejections. That's very tragic. I can -- the President believes that the American people under the Constitution have a right to bear arms, and that they should do so in -- only in legally and lawful ways.
Q: Two quick questions, Dana. Two issues are in the news every day. One is immigration. As far as you think between now and next year, because this is a election issue and immigrants on -- illegal or legal -- they are both angry at both parties. So where do you think President stands on this issue, is it going to -- comprehensive immigration bill --
MS. PERINO: The President said that he doesn't think that the Congress has the will to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform this coming year and, while that's unfortunate, we've tried to move forward on the -- through administrative rule-makings and guidance, in order to help solve border issues and temporary worker programs such as the H-2A one, which is the agriculture workers.
Q: Second. Do you think President has faith and trust in President Musharraf now? Because emergency is still there, and judiciary and others are still in jail.
MS. PERINO: Goyal, he said that the state of emergency would be lifted on December 16th, and today is only the 12th. So let's wait and see.
Q: And he has faith and trust in General -- Mr. Musharraf?
MS. PERINO: He believes that the emergency rule should be lifted and he expects him to hold to his word and do it on December 16th.
Q: Scooter Libby did not receive a pardon this time. Is he not going to receive a pardon?
MS. PERINO: I never -- as I said the other day, I do not comment or speculate on who will or who will not get pardons from this President.
Q: Can you assure us that once the Wilsons' civil suit is resolved, the President will speak out about the Libby affair?
MS. PERINO: I would assume that once everything -- once that is settled, yes, I would hope that we could be able to comment further.
Q: Thank you.
END 1:02 P.M. EST
*If enacted, the President's SCHIP budget would spend $30 billion over five years.
**Yesterday, the President granted 29 pardons and 1 commutation. Since the beginning of his Administration, he has granted 142 pardons and 5 commutations.
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/276447