George W. Bush photo

Press Briefing by Dana Perino

December 13, 2007

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:45 P.M. EST

MS. PERINO: Hello. I realize I don't have anything to start with, because we released the President's statement on Lebanon. So I'll go to questions.

Q: Senator Reid says that they're going to remove the tax title from the energy bill. Does that lift the White House veto threat?

MS. PERINO: Well, we'll have to -- there's a series of votes happening right now on the energy bill. We're pleased that they decided to take out the tax title, because that was one of the ones that the President said he would veto the bill over. But there's a long day ahead of them. They're going through a lot of amendments, so we'll have to see the final bill. But things look promising.

Q: And are there other instances -- as you look across what Congress has got left, do you see other signs of compromise coming?

MS. PERINO: Well, we were encouraged by what we have heard from Capitol Hill about the budget, and that there's a lot of details to be worked out, but the Democrats, over the next few days, are going to have to write the bill, because that is still not finished. There's a lot of things we don't know yet. We don't know what their top line would be, we don't know what policies they might try to put into the bill; we don't know what tax increases they might try to put into the bill. There's lots of things that they have to work out. But in general we're encouraged that it looks like we can get to an end game here.

Q: Senator John Ensign has announced plans to introduce legislation to create a bipartisan commission to take a second look at the intelligence on Iran that's contained in the NIE. I know the President himself has said he believes that Iran is still dangerous. Does the White House support such a commission to just get a second look at that intelligence?

MS. PERINO: Well, I think first of all, I think you should go back and look at the NIE, because the NIE also supports the President's contention that Iran is still dangerous, and that it continues to enrich uranium, moving towards fissile material that could be used to * (pawn) out new ballistic weapons that they continue to put together. Plus, they have been not forthcoming with the IAEA, as they said they would be, and they had a covert nuclear weapons program. And so there's a lot more questions that were raised by the NIE, and I don't think that anything in the NIE should give us comfort that Iran is not a danger. It remains a danger, and that's why the allies agree with us.

As to a nonpartisan commission to look at the intelligence, I'll check into that. The bottom line for the President on the NIE was that the 16 intelligence communities -- community came together, they assessed all of the intelligence. They spent a good deal of time checking it. And one of the things that they did was they told the President in August, we are due to put this NIE out in response to a congressional inquiry; we're not going to make the deadline, because there's new information, and we have to check it out. So they were very thorough, and the President appreciates all the hard work that they did on it. I just don't know if there's a need to have a second look at it.

Q: I was going to say, you yourself just said the NIE raised more questions than it answered. So perhaps that, indeed, does suggest a second look --

MS. PERINO: No, it raises questions about Iran. And the ball is in Iran's court, in order to come forward and be very truthful about its program or not. They're going to have -- the choice is theirs to make. Meanwhile, our allies, the P5-plus-one, continues to move forward on a third resolution for the U.N. Security Council.

Q: So was that statement -- to draw from that that the President is fully confident in the information contained in the NIE?

MS. PERINO: Look, the NIE -- the President accepted the results of the NIE. And I think any time -- in regards to intelligence, you learn new information. That's what it's about. It's not a precise science. And Iran is an opaque society; they're not transparent. You cannot get a lot of information out of there. So anytime that we can get more information, that's better.

What the President asked for in 2005 is for the intelligence community to go back, take another look, try harder, get us some more information. And the new NIE was a result of that.

Q: So a second look isn't --

MS. PERINO: Obviously, the intelligence community continues -- the intelligence community did not stop looking at the Iranian issue when they published the NIE. That work is ongoing, and I think that the President -- I know that the President appreciates their work, and I think that they should support it because they are doing very difficult work on behalf of the American people to try to keep us safe, and they're trying to get the most accurate, detailed information that they can from a very opaque society.


Q: When will President Bush get a look at the Mitchell Report on use of steroids in baseball? And what kind of burdens and responsibility does the President think is on the owners of baseball to do something about the problem?

MS. PERINO: Well, the President looks forward to seeing the report by Senator Mitchell. He has not seen it yet, and the President hopes that this report marks the beginning of the end of steroid abuse. I would remind you that in 2004, the President used time in his State of the Union address to highlight the problem that he saw with steroid abuse, especially because of the message that it sends to children who look up to professional athletes. The President called on team owners and union representatives, coaches and players, to take the rid -- take the initiative to get rid of steroids in baseball. We'll look at the recommendations; there might be recommendations within the report that we haven't seen yet that speak specifically to owners, and so we'll take a look at that.

Q: The President has noted that the Players' Association was not particularly cooperative. Does he call on everyone now within that community to be a little more cooperative on the issue?

MS. PERINO: Well, I -- the President would seek cooperation from everyone because it's in the best interests of baseball, the best interests of our children, and ultimately for all professional sports for there to be clear transparency on this matter.

Q: Is there a federal government role in this?

MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of.

Q: Follow on that?

MS. PERINO: Let me tell you, the one part of the federal government role is something that the President did, which is that he decided in 2004 to shine a light on this issue because he saw it as something that was important enough to raise in the State in the Union, and all of you know, cover the White House, that issues that are brought up in the State of the Union carry great weight with the President.

Q: May I follow?

MS. PERINO: Wendell.

Q: Jose Canseco, who played for the President's team from '92 to '94, has said he cannot comprehend why Mr. Bush didn't know that steroid use was going on, on the team. Does the President regret that? Has the President thought about how it was he missed that?

MS. PERINO: Well, the President said -- I would point you to the ESPN interview from earlier this year in which he said that he did not recall steroids being used or discussed in that period in 1993 or before. But now that we have this report, which is something the President encouraged, we can shine a light on this problem and hopefully bring help to those who need it, and make sure that kids know that the strength of their character is what counts, not performance on the playground.

Q: Does he regret, though, the fact that he didn't know? Does he understand why he didn't know? Did he feel he wasn't paying enough attention, or was it hidden from him?

MS. PERINO: The President said he thought long and hard about it, he just does not recall ever hearing it or seeing it. And I don't think it's time for regret; I think it's time to do what the President has done, which is take time in a State of the Union address to shine light on the issue. And now we have a result of a report that is getting a lot of attention and deservedly so.


Q: Can I just follow on that? Will we hear from the President, specifically, after the report is out?

MS. PERINO: Today? I doubt it.

Q: Today or the next day or two?

MS. PERINO: I won't rule anything out, but I don't think you'll hear from him today. But I'm here on his behalf.

Q: And do you know, generally, does he feel that Major League Baseball has essentially looked the other way on this problem?

MS. PERINO: Well, I think that this report is an acknowledgment that they have a problem and that they're trying to resolve it.

Q: Does the President feel that since baseball has looked into this it needs to expand to other sports?

MS. PERINO: That is one thing I haven't talked to the President about. But I think that steroid abuse in any professional sport would be something that the President doesn't think is necessary, thinks everyone should be able to compete on their own mettle -- and especially for children, who look up to professional athletes across the board. Steroid abuse is just -- it's not a good idea for anybody, for their own health and for the message it sends to children.


Q: I want to go on to Bali, if we're done --

MS. PERINO: Does anybody have any -- steroids -- done with steroids? Okay.

Q: Okay, Bali it is. In the Vice President's remarks -- former Vice President Gore saying that the United States is principally responsible for blocking progress there. What's your response?

MS. PERINO: I can't understand where that comes from, since the point of the conference was to establish a new framework, and a post-2012 framework so that we can have discussions and negotiations that will lead to, within the next year, a specific number. That was the purpose of the Bali conference. And so it wasn't just the United States who expressed surprise that in the draft resolution there's a specific number for a cut. And we did object to that because we're not prepared at this moment to do that. We said we wanted to have that discussion and that negotiation over the next year.

Q: But Yvo de Boer is saying that if you don't get specific in the road map then the whole thing can fall apart.

MS. PERINO: But there is a road map and part of the road map is to get to specifics, and that's what the negotiations are for, in the future. And the President is committed to reaching a consensus on this; he's the one who brought the major economies to Washington, D.C. on September 30th. And that was a significant step forward. Remember, Kyoto did not pass the United States Senate by any -- not even close; it was 97-0. We've come a long way.

And I would submit to you that this President is somebody who has put in place just a ton of initiatives to attack climate change, both from a private sector standpoint -- there are some mandatory rules; we are moving forward, we are supporting CAFE increases for SUVs and light trucks, which we've already done twice. We have a proposal for a third increase. We're supporting the automobile increase that Terry brought up earlier in regards to CAFE. And the methane-to-markets partnership, the Asian American partnership -- there's just a ton that we have done that was not done in the previous administration.

So we have moved forward while we have not set a specific target for a cut. We have said we are willing to do that, but we're willing to do that in the framework of post-2012, after Kyoto. And the Bali Conference, the specific purpose of Bali was to set out what that framework would be, not to identify a specific number.


Q: The Senate today passed a military tax relief bill, and it's partially offset by tax increases. Will the President veto a bill to help the military if part of it is a tax --

MS. PERINO: Right before the briefing you contacted my deputy about that, and he said he would look into it, and so he said he would do that.

Q: Okay, and also -- thank you -- the Senate did remove the tax title from the energy bill, but it still is in the House energy tax bill. There has been some talk about perhaps, instead of a tax increase, targeting some of the spending programs the President considers priorities. So would the White House consider rather than tax increases, spending cuts that are aimed at some of the President's priorities?

MS. PERINO: In regards to the energy bill, or on the budget?

Q: Well, in general -- the omnibus, I guess you could rename it. There are tax increases --

MS. PERINO: Well, we'll have to look at what the details are. We have recommended that if the Democrats have other spending priorities that they think that they want to put forward, well, let's look at those and have a discussion about them. But let's not just raise revenue in order to pay for them. And we've provided them with $96 billion in suggested savings so that they wouldn't have to raise taxes on the American people. But we haven't seen that. Those hard choices haven't been made by this Congress. They just decide to raise taxes on issues in order -- on the American people in order to raise more revenue in order to pay for increased domestic spending.

But we do think that it is important to have priorities when you're budgeting. But we are encouraged about the process right now. I think that we're coming to a point where there's increased discussion on Capitol Hill about how do you get to a number that the President can accept. So we'll look forward to hearing those details and, hopefully, the Democrats are talking to their Republican colleagues in the House and the Senate, because they've got to realize that they have to have Republican support and votes for these bills, or else they're not going to pass, and then, ultimately, they won't get to the President's desk anyway.


Q: Thank you, Dana. Two questions. Senator Clinton's national co-chairman Bill Shaheen has just announced that Republicans will work hard to discover new aspects of Senator Obama's youthful drug problems, which were repeatedly detailed by Shaheen. And my question: Since Clinton's spokeswoman Kathleen Strand announced that Shaheen's comments were not authorized or condoned by the campaign in any way, does the head of the Republican Party wonder why there were no reports of Shaheen being fired for this smear of Republicans and Senator Obama?

MS. PERINO: The President is not following the 2008 campaign that closely.

Q: Okay. Both Republicans and the Democrat Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee have now deplored the President's pardoning of drug dealers and carjackers while refusing to pardon two U.S. Border Patrol agents who shot a Mexican drug smuggler who disobeyed their order to stop --

MS. PERINO: I answered this question --

Q: -- and my question --

MS. PERINO: I answered this question --

Q: Wait a minute, I haven't asked it.

MS. PERINO: I'm sure it's the same one. (Laughter.)

Q: Would the White House like to respond to Chairman Delahunt, as well as Congressmen Hunter and Rohrabacher, or will you stiff-arm them with a "no comment"?

MS. PERINO: What I'll do is refer you to the briefing on Monday when Kathleen asked the same question.

Q: Not exactly the same.

Q: Dana, how is the White House going to deal with these contempt citations that the Senate Judiciary Committee put out today on Rove and Bolten?

MS. PERINO: Well, the Democrats should know the futility of trying to press ahead with a criminal case. It's long been understood that the Justice Department, in situations like these -- that the constitutional prerogative of the President would make it a futile effort for Congress to refer contempt citations to U.S. attorneys. The Department of Justice would not require a U.S. attorney to convene a grand jury or otherwise pursue a prosecution of an individual who carries out a President's instruction not to provide documents or testimony on the basis of the President's assertion of executive privilege.

And it's interesting that the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who called for this vote today, actually summed it up back in September of 1999, when he said exactly that -- that it would be futile in order to request certain documents or testimony. And I can give you the full citation later.

So we had an offer on the table that if the Democrats wanted to get this information we would provide it in a way that would not violate executive privilege, but they decided not to take us up on that. So at this point, I don't know -- I don't know what the next step is. The Judiciary Committee has this vote, and I don't know where it goes from there.

Q: It goes to the full Senate.

MS. PERINO: Well, we'll see what happens. But I'm not going to speculate.

Q: Any reaction -- back on leg stuff. There's a lot of talk about $3.7 billion for veterans health, adding that to the President's top line, whether by emergency spending or just putting it in the budget. Do you -- is that a good idea?

MS. PERINO: I think that there's a lot of rumors and a lot of discussion out there, and as I said, there's a lot of writing that the Democrats have to do as they work on this bill over the next few days. And the President has said his number is $933 billion, and we'll see what they come up with.

Q: But what do you think about that? Does -- is that --

MS. PERINO: I'm not going to negotiate in the press.

Q: And the Iraq money, does that have to come with this whole package -- the money for Iraq -- or can they wait with that -- give you something, wait with that, or what's the --

MS. PERINO: Clearly, the President has been calling for -- and others have been calling for -- the troops be able to be secure in the fact that they would have the money that they need in order to carry out their mission, and so troop funding needs to be discussed. We want the troop funding to be dealt with before they leave, and I'm not going to get into the details of how it gets -- how we get there.

Q: Thank you.

MS. PERINO: Go ahead, Laurent. One more from Laurent.

Q: Dana, regarding the statement by the President on Lebanon, is the President saying that Syria is behind the assassination of General al-Hajj?

MS. PERINO: It did not say that in the statement, and so we're not prepared to say that at the moment, but clearly Syria has been interfering in Lebanon for far too long. But in this particular regard, I'm not going to say that at this moment.

Q: Thank you.

END 1:01 P.M. EST

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

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