Press Gaggle by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
9:45 A.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Good morning. The President had his normal briefings at 8:00 a.m. At 11:40 a.m. he will have an interview with Ann Compton of ABC Radio -- excuse me, News Radio. At 12:00 p.m. he has the traditional background lunch with television anchors. At 9:00 p.m. he will deliver his final State of the Union address.
One update -- I think that this was announced on the overhead -- Ed Gillespie's briefing for the press, which will be on the record, off camera, will be at 2:30 p.m. today. We were going to try to hold it here, but we have too many interested reporters, so we're going to have to hold it over at 450, so they're asking for you to gather out here on the driveway; final access will be at 2:15 p.m.
A couple thoughts just to get you through this morning, because I know we all have a long day. The President will have one more read through this morning; he had one over the weekend, yesterday afternoon. We'll just do one this -- he'll have one more read through this morning at 10:30 a.m. -- don't think we'll do another one today. The speech is locked down and he feels pretty comfortable with it.
As I had said last week, you will hear the President talk about how we should trust and empower citizens to make decisions on a whole host of issues. He will reaffirm his belief in the power of freedom to improve lives around the world. And as we've indicated, it will reflect his desire to be forward-looking; he will not spend a lot of time rehashing the past seven years. Although I will say that throughout the course of the speech with the first half, as I said, being on domestic policy, the second half really on foreign policy, many of the issues that he will talk about are ones that he has laid out to Congress before, for example, on health care.
The President had new and innovative proposals that he talked about last year, in last year's State of the Union. Many of those are actually part of the healthy debate ongoing right now within the Republican Party, while the candidates hash out their positions through their debates. So you'll see a little bit of that, including the President talking about No Child Left Behind and also talking about energy on the domestic front. And on the foreign policy front he will spend a significant amount of time talking about Iraq and the Middle East peace process.
Let's see, one thing I will let you know -- you probably have already heard, we are confirming this morning that the President in the State of the Union will announce unprecedented steps he's taking to reform and reduce the amount of earmarks. The President will say that if these spending items are worthy, Congress should debate them in the open and hold a public vote. He will state his commitment to veto any spending bill that does not succeed in cutting earmarks in half from 2008 levels, and he will announce that tomorrow -- on Tuesday -- he will issue an executive order directing agencies to ignore any future earmarks included in report language, but not in the legislation, which is traditionally how they end up on the books.
Another item of note: Today the President is going to sign the National Defense Authorization Act. He appreciates the cooperation of both House and Senate leaders to quickly address the concerns raised by the President over the Christmas holiday. Congress passed the legislation swiftly, and that is a very good thing for our troops and the Iraqi people.
Q: So on the earmarks, he said at the end of last year that he was directing OMB to look and see what they could do to reduce the earmarks that Congress had passed last year. You suggested the thing that he's doing tonight, or announcing tonight in the State of the Union, addresses future earmarks. What happened to the plan to tackle earmarks last year?
MS. PERINO: The President decided that he needed to give the Congress a very clear indication of what he was going to do. Last year he called on Congress to voluntarily cut the number of earmarks in half; they did not do that. The President will not go retrospectively back to the earmarks that were in the omnibus, but he will take this action for 2009 appropriations.
Remember, an executive order remains in place unless a future President decides to rescind it or change it. So we think this is a good, solid action, and it's a good way to do business, in terms of signaling exactly to Congress what you plan to do and then taking further action if they -- since they didn't voluntarily reduce the number of earmarks.
Q: But what happens -- what was the plan, then, to deal with all the earmarks from last year?
MS. PERINO: As I said, I --
Q: Are they still up in the air or --
Q: Or are you just going to let them go?
MS. PERINO: We're not going to -- there's no further action on them.
Q: Oh, so he's dropping that, what he said.
Q: In other words, fiscal '08 appropriations (inaudible) and the application applies for the first time to fiscal '09 appropriations?
MS. PERINO: Peter.
Q: Well, why wouldn't Congress then just write all the earmarks into legislative language, since you've now told them what you're going to do, the way around it is to make it law.
MS. PERINO: Well, if they're going to be in legislative language, that means that they have to be open for all to see, and it means that they would have to be actually voted on. And if Congress makes a decision that peanut storage is meritorious, and it should move forward, and it -- and that's a wise way to spend federal taxpayer dollars, then so be it. And then we'll take -- and if Congress can pass that, then they would.
Q: It could be thousand-page bill, and a lot of people aren't going to read the whole thing, whether it's in the legislative language or conference reports, does it really that make that big of a difference?
MS. PERINO: It's the conference reports that are the problem, as I understand it.
Q: What happened to the line-item veto?
MS. PERINO: The best way to be able to deal with this issue would be for the President to have a line-item veto. He reiterated that in the --
Q: Did he give up on it?
MS. PERINO: -- documentary that aired last night on Fox News. I'm sorry?
Q: Did he give up on it?
MS. PERINO: No, the President doesn't ever give up on anything, but I think that this Congress has not been willing to move forward on that. So what the President can do in order to get a handle on this problem is to reduce them by saying that he will veto -- clearly signaling that he will veto any bill that doesn't cut them in half, and that for the future he's telling -- going to tell the agencies to ignore any future earmarks that aren't voted on.
Q: Dana, what's in it for the Congress to help along the freedom agenda at this point? Any other policies they can pursue?
MS. PERINO: Well, certainly the President will call on Congress to fully support our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he will explain to the American people how important it is that we continue to work for peace in the Middle East. It's important not only for a more hopeful region, but for the security of our own country.
Q: On Iraq, what is going to be his message, and is he going to mention troop levels?
MS. PERINO: The President will reiterate what he has recently said when he was in Kuwait -- I couldn't remember where we were -- in Kuwait, that he will listen to his commanders on the ground when it comes to troop levels, that it's critically important that we recognize that we have made the gains that we have because of the surge, and that having too quick of a withdrawal, a precipitous withdrawal would possibly risk those gains. And so the President will look to General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker for recommendations on troop levels.
Q: Is there going to be anything new on Iraq in the speech?
MS. PERINO: Well, there's a few more hours before the speech. If I told you that, and then, like, two hours later you're going to ask me for something additional, something that's new. I don't think you'll hear a lot new on Iraq. But it will be a chance for the President, a year after announcing the surge, to remind people what Iraq looked like a year ago and because of the gains that we've had, even though there are still troubling times ahead and very tough fighting we can expect, there has been a significant decrease in the amount of civilian deaths, in the sectarian violence, and the number of our troops who are being killed.
So there are improvements -- there have been political improvements. The President will talk about that, and he will push the Iraqis to do more. But this is a chance for the President to remind people that it was a bold decision to send more troops into Iraq at a time when things were so dire, and it would be a really bad decision to rashly pull troops out at the moment.
Kathleen, did you have one?
Q: You're not going to tell us how many versions? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: How many versions of the speech? Several.
Q: How long are we looking at? How long?
MS. PERINO: It's still running at about 40 minutes, without any interruptions.
Q: Without interruption. So it's probably being closer to like 50 minutes.
MS. PERINO: Forty-five, 46 -- I don't know, it depends on how long the applause is.
Go ahead, John.
Q: Thank you, Dana. Whose idea was it in the White House to give the appointment succeeding Senator Thompson as chairman of the key board to Paul Wolfowitz?
MS. PERINO: Whose decision was it? Well, the President makes those decisions. Was it the -- this is the board that Paul Wolfowitz is now on at the State Department?
Q: That he was made chairman of, succeeding Senator Thompson.
MS. PERINO: Is it a few weeks ago? I think it was at the -- I guess it was at the State Department. That's what we were asked a while ago. But it's a State Department appointment, not a presidential appointment.
Q: Okay, just confirming.
MS. PERINO: But I don't know who at the State Department. I would assume ultimately Secretary Rice.
Q: Dana, will the President talk about comprehensive immigration reform? And if so, what might he say that's different, and why broach that subject when it seemed to be politically --
MS. PERINO: He actually -- he will mention it, but he's not going -- he's not under any illusions that this Congress is going to actually act on comprehensive immigration reform. He will talk about the importance of politicians dealing with this problem in a way that will keep our borders secure, be aggressive when it comes to interior enforcement, but also realizing that a temporary worker program is something that would be good to help our economy. So you'll hear him talk about that. But he's not going to call on Congress to pass it. He's aware that that's not going to happen this year.
Q: Dana, you guys periodically announce delegations to major funerals. I missed one for Suharto. Are there any plans for a U.S. presence?
MS. PERINO: I think that just happened yesterday. I would doubt it, but we'll check.
Q: You said it's the final State of the Union. Is it, in a way, an attempt to shape the legacy? And in what way, if it is?
MS. PERINO: No, I think it's -- I can understand why many people, especially those that cover the President in the press could see that the President would approach this as his legacy speech, but no, not at all; this is a very forward-looking speech. The President doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about that. Look, the President thinks his legacy will shake itself out when people look at the record, and history will tell.
Q: Do you think it's the last chance for -- last big chance for him to really shape the agenda for the last year?
MS. PERINO: It's an important time, yes. This is a time -- the State of the Union is a great tradition in American history, and it is a chance for the President to tell the Congress this is what he'd like to get done -- he or she would like to get done in the coming year.
Q: Is the country better off --
MS. PERINO: The what?
Q: Is the country better off now than seven years ago?
MS. PERINO: Certainly seven years ago -- well, seven years ago, right before September 11th, I think that people would say that the country certainly felt better off. There's been -- once we were confronted with terrorists who would fly jumbo jets into buildings and kill thousands of our citizens in an instant, it created a sense of fear and nervousness about our security. And that's why the President decided to take on the terrorists head on and go on the offense.
And we have done that around the world. We have been successful so far in preventing another attack on our country. But it's not for their lack of trying. And that's another reason why the President -- tonight you'll hear him call on Congress to pass the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reauthorization. They have until Friday to do that, and the President sees no reason why they shouldn't be able to get that done.
Q: You mentioned that the President would bring up the standard health care -- the proposals from last year in the State of the Union. Would it be one of mentioning it again, or is he going to urge Congress to pursue that?
MS. PERINO: That falls into the category of unfinished business. The President will ask them to continue to debate it. And even if the Congress -- one of the things that the Congress can do and a President can do is raise up these issues and start a public debate, and the President will call on them to move forward on that. One of the things that would do on some of these health care issues is to at least have a hearing so that people -- so the legislative process can get started.
Q: Will he raise counterterrorism -- not counterterrorism, cyber security issues at all? The concern over that? What can be done?
MS. PERINO: I don't think there are cyber security issues in the speech, but obviously that's an issue of concern that many agencies across the federal government are dealing with.
Q: Is there any doubt that the President has the power to use an executive order to tell agencies to ignore something Congress has done?
MS. PERINO: No, and there is legislative language -- I'm sorry, language from -- let me find it; I have it somewhere -- there's a couple of rulings from the Supreme Court that said report language is not -- I don't have it with me -- can you get that to them? We'll attach it to this transcript and release this transcript.
Q: Are those directly on point or tangential?
MS. PERINO: What do you mean, "directly on point or tangential"?
Q: Do they really count? (Laughter.)
Q: -- make this up. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Here it is. It says the Supreme Court says report language is not legally binding. And here are the two cases: Lincoln versus Vigil --
Q: Oh, that's a recent one. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: And the Cherokee nation versus Leavitt. Because I know you're diligent enough and have all sorts of time today, you will look those up.
Q: Dana, what nation -- Turkey nation?
MS. PERINO: Cherokee.
Q: Oh, Cherokee nation. (Laughter.)
Q: (Inaudible) said they going to be voting on the stimulus package on Tuesday, tomorrow. Any thoughts on that, and what the President will tell the Senate tonight (inaudible)?
MS. PERINO: He will talk about the economic growth package and say that we have a chance here at a bipartisan agreement, but it's only going to be effective if it's done quickly. And so he will call on Congress not to delay or do -- well, Congress, and specifically the Senate, not to delay or derail this agreement.
Q: Will he delineate specifically what he doesn't want them to do, and say he'll veto it if they do do it?
MS. PERINO: No. And it's pretty clear what the President's position is. That's not in the speech.
Last one, Deb.
Q: On the energy policy that he's going to talk about, is he going to mention the CAFE standards that were passed, or talk about autos --
MS. PERINO: No. Again, it's not a speech that looks backward. The President has already increased SUV -- miles-per-gallon standards for SUVs and light trucks twice already in his presidency, and we have a proposal for a third. And then in the State of the Union last year the President talked about it for automobiles, passenger cars. That was finally passed in the energy bill that the President signed in December.
So he'll continue to -- he will say to Congress, we should still continue to work together on energy issues, like renewable energy and nuclear power and clean coal, and the technologies that we've moved forward on, like advance battery technology. But I don't expect him to talk about CAFE standards again.
Q: Dana, excerpts?
MS. PERINO: Still planning for around 5:00 p.m.
END 10:00 A.M. EST
George W. Bush, Press Gaggle by Dana Perino Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/277273