Press Gaggle by Tony Fratto
Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building
9:46 A.M. EDT
MR. FRATTO: Good morning White House Press Corps, and happy Friday to you. Actually, it's one of these funny things that I tend to gaggle on days when we have great jobs reports. As you know, it makes me happy. Today, there are -- we know that there are 132,000 more Americans who are happy about that, too. So that net increase in jobs, more than 2 million new jobs added, that's 46 consecutive months -- you know how we like to count these things -- 46 consecutive months of strong job growth. We're also seeing strong wage growth.
One of the great things about seeing this continued strength in the job market is that it's great for the American families to have someone in their household out gainfully employed and wages increasing. It's also great for federal coffers. We see that result in increased tax receipts. As we talk about a great deal, this commitment to increase job growth and reducing the federal deficit is an important goal of ours. And we want to see this continue.
The way we look at it, it's not a secret as to why we are in this position of sustained strength in job growth, and what we think will continue to translate into economic growth. It's a recipe of lower taxes, keeping spending in check, and keeping our economy open. I'm not sure from what we're seeing from the U.S. Congress right now whether they share these goals. And in fact we have some suspicion that -- and enough evidence, I think, to show that what we're seeing is looking for opportunities for increasing taxes, looking for opportunities to increase spending, and maybe avoiding one of the key jobs of Congress, which is to get their work done on time.
We know that -- we saw this with immigration, and we're seeing it with some other issues, where Congress is having an inability to take on major challenges. But what we hope that they can do is to get their basic fiscal work on time, done, and that's to move these appropriations bills.
The President recorded his radio address this morning, and he will address this subject in the radio address, and point to our concern and our urging for Congress to get their work on time and get the appropriations bills to his desk. So that's what the President did at 7:00 a.m. this morning.
At 8:00 a.m., he had his normal briefings, and then off to Camp David for the weekend. And at the end of the gaggle, I'll give you the week ahead.
Q: Did Senator Domenici inform the White House that he was going to break with the President on Iraq, and what was the President's reaction to Senator Domenici?
MR. FRATTO: I didn't talk to the President directly about it, so I don't know his personal reaction. I'm not sure whether
we got a heads-up on that or not. It's something that I'm looking into.
But I think in terms of our general reaction, Senator Domenici is someone we have an enormous amount of respect for. He's a thoughtful senator and has been for the better part of the last four decades. So he is someone we listen to.
I think there's been a bit too much, maybe, made of what some people perceive as differences in terms of what our -- what our strategy is in Iraq. I think if you go back to the President's January 10th speech and the new way forward that he laid out in Iraq, what we have always talked about -- and the President has come to this many times since then, and most recently on July 4th in Martinsburg, and his speech last week -- is how can we put Iraq into -- in a place where the environment will allow the Iraqi government to make the progress they need and where we can continue to turn over more authority for the security of the country to Iraqi forces.
Q: But that's precisely his complaint, Tony, that that isn't happening.
MR. FRATTO: Well, I think it actually is happening. We see this in a number of provinces in Iraq, and maybe Senator Domenici can -- will have an opportunity to put a finer point on what he meant. But clearly we are seeing an increase in trained Iraqi troops. We're seeing progress in Baghdad and surrounding areas. We're seeing the offensive forces of the surge taking the fight to al Qaeda and cooperation from locals in these areas who are helping us achieve the goals that we've laid out.
Now, people have talked about this as an open-ended commitment. There is no open-ended commitment here. We've been -- we've been very clear of what the ultimate goal here is, and that's for -- that's to turn over greater authority to the Iraqis so that they can take this responsibility on themselves.
The key, I think, and an important distinction to think about is, is how is what Senator Domenici and Senator Lugar and some others are saying different from where Democrats are talking about, which is, in fact, a precipitous withdrawal. And we think that's absolutely the wrong way to go. It would be dangerous. We want to get us to a place after the surge where we can think about how we can draw down troops going forward. The key is to do it in a way that doesn't lead to a collapse of security in Iraq; in a way that doesn't lead to the horrific calamity that would result from a precipitous withdrawal; in a way that gives the Iraqis time to keep security in the region.
Q: Has the White House asked members not to say anything until the September report?
MR. FRATTO: We do want senators and House members to be patient enough to look forward to the reporting from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. I think it's really important to understand -- like I said, people go back to January 10th, which seems like a long time ago when we announced the new way forward. It was only until two or three weeks ago that we actually had the surge forces in place.
It is certainly way too early to give any kind of definitive grade on how the surge is doing. We see hopeful signs of progress. We see hopeful signs of success. We're certainly not in a place to say that the surge has been a success. And we think no one is in a place to say that the surge is not a success either.
So we want to look forward to the months ahead. We know a report from Petraeus and Crocker will be coming soon, some time over the next week or so, that is a status report, a benchmark report. And then we have a report in September. And that will inform our thinking.
I think it shouldn't come as any surprise that we here in the administration, and in our conversations with Congress, and in our conversations with generals on the ground and policymakers in Iraq, are thinking about what happens after a surge; what happens after this surge. A surge, by definition, is temporary in nature. You don't surge on a permanent basis. So the question is, will the surge be successful, and can we take that success and move on to the next stage.
So if people are talking about new strategies, we hope that they're thinking a time frame of what happens after we can gauge the success of the surge.
Q: Tony, in months back, when September seemed distant, the White House seemed quite comfortable with putting a lot on September and saying that that would be an appropriate time to gauge progress. And it seems that you're saying that you won't be in a position to do that, and it would only inform thinking.
MR. FRATTO: I think that's exactly what I said. September is an appropriate time to gauge progress. I don't know that it's a time to say definitively success or failure, but it is an appropriate time to gauge progress. By that time, we will have had the surge troops in place for about three months. It's probably a decent interval of time to get a sense of what Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus think about things -- how far they've come since they got on the ground there; and also to take a -- we hope that people take a broader view of what is going on in Iraq.
There's been so much focus on military -- on the military effort and the troops. We also hope that Ambassador Crocker will actually be able to add substance to this discussion, in terms of what's going on in the diplomatic front and on the economic front, and the work of the PRTs. And also on the -- we'll be interested in the political -- what political accomplishments the Iraqi government -- I know that there's a sense of frustration out there from senators and from others. I hope you're not surprised that there isn't -- that we share some of this frustration, too that there isn't faster progress; talk about the two different speeds of the clocks, the Washington clock and the Baghdad clock.
Everyone -- this is something we all agree on -- everyone wants to see faster progress on political reconciliation and passing laws in Iraq; it's something that the President raised with Prime Minister Maliki in the SVTS earlier this week. We're in broad agreement on what the goals are here. We want to think about what's the best way to do it and what's the best way that puts Iraq in a position where it can protect its people, it can deliver basic services to its citizens, and it can be a functioning democracy. It's not going to be an environment where there is a hundred percent absence of car bombings or suicide bombings. That's an unrealistic expectation.
But we do want to take the fight to the people who are carrying out those car bombings, and that's what our guys are doing right now in the field. That's what they're -- when they're going, fighting block by block as we speak in places like Baqubah today -- that's what they're doing, and we think they are showing some success.
Q: Tony, in the meantime, what is the President going to do to stop the hemorrhaging of support from his own -- his fellow Republicans before the progress report even comes forth?
MR. FRATTO: I don't buy that characterization of what we're hearing from these leaders in Congress. I think what we are hearing is some thoughtful discussion of how we go forward. And what we're going to do, and what the President is going to do is going to continue to talk to them and continue to work together on ways forward as we work through this.
So I don't buy that characterization of it.
Sheryl. I'm sorry, Matt, go ahead.
Q: Is there no concern that these leading, influential Republicans -- Domenici, Voinovich, Lugar -- are basically parting with the President on many aspects of his policy -- and I think that's undeniable. They're calling for timetables; the President doesn't want that. They're calling for withdrawal plans; the President doesn't want to provide that.
MR. FRATTO: If a withdrawal plan is tied to -- is tied to a specific date, I think that's not a wise way to go and that's not something that we would support and that's a conversation that we would have with them. We think that is -- that's fraught with danger. But that's part of the conversation that we would have with them.
But I hope they do recognize -- and I think they do -- that we do want to get to the same place, and we share that goal. So that is a huge amount of common ground that we share, and again, distinctly different from where Democrat leaders are talking about -- where they are talking about pulling out troops in 120 days, which isn't even really possible, forgetting that it's not advisable. So what we're going to continue to do is work with them on where we go in a post-surge environment.
Q: Tony, Senators Lamar Alexander and Ken Salazar have a bipartisan bill that would, in effect, put the Iraq Study Group's recommendations into law. If that bill passes -- and it could pass, it seems, with some Republican support like that of Senator Domenici's -- would the President sign it into law?
MR. FRATTO: I'm not going to talk about, sort of, hypothetical --
Q: What's his position on this bill? Does he support it?
MR. FRATTO: What we support, and I think we've talked about this before, is, we support a lot of the broad goals of the Iraq Study Group. It's been common shorthand in town, and I see it in a lot of the writing whenever there is reference to the Iraq Study Group, that the administration dismissed it out of hand, which, I think, is an inaccurate description of how we received the Iraq Study Group recommendations.
I think what the President said at that time was that there was a lot of wisdom and a lot of -- and he appreciated a lot of the work that went into the Iraq Study Group. We do -- we have some concerns about certain elements of it. But in its broad strokes of putting Iraq in a place where we can eventually draw down U.S. troops and train Iraqi troops and make the political and economic reforms needed so that Iraq could have more control over its own country, we certainly agree with that.
Q: But in a specific stroke, this bill would shift the mission away from combat operations. And that is what lawmakers, including a number in your own party, want. Is the President prepared to support that?
MR. FRATTO: I think we're prepared to support at an appropriate time, when the conditions on the ground merit it, a different force structure in Iraq. But it will be dictated by the conditions on the ground.
Q: Tony, what's the definition of success of the surge? And what's the next stage if the surge is not successful?
MR. FRATTO: The definition of success of the surge is that there is a sufficient amount of breathing space. And by that, we mean basic security and basic delivery of services in Iraq; that the political leadership can make the reforms that they need to make in order to move Iraq to a more functioning society.
And so that means that for -- to give them the opportunity to make the political reforms that they need to make. A lot of the benchmarks that we talk about passing -- passing the oil law, de-Baathification, and training Iraqi forces to do more work on the ground -- now, we're seeing an incredible amount of progress on training up Iraqi troops. And what we're hearing from our generals on the ground is that some places there are mixed results from that, but in more places than we have seen in the past, we're seeing Iraqi troops who are willing to fight and die for this government.
Now that's a pretty important factor in this equation. If Iraqi troops are signing up to join Iraqi defense forces, they're getting trained and they're willing to fight and die and work to hold the areas that we're clearing, those are important factors and we want to see that continue. And that's a measure of progress.
So there won't be one crowning event that says, okay, now we are finally successful in Iraq. I think it's going to be a little bit more of an evolutionary process. But you know, you'll know it when you see it. And I think you'll know it when your colleagues, who are out there on the ground reporting out of Iraq, are able to go down the street and do walking tours of a neighborhood and talk to residents in some degree of safety, and talk to Iraqi officials outside of the Green Zone. And it will be those kinds of things. So I think we'll know it, but we're not going to know it on one specific day. That's not going to work --
Q: What's the next stage if it doesn't succeed?
MR. FRATTO: What's the next stage of --
Q: If it does not succeed?
MR. FRATTO: We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. But we're going to operate on the presumption that our -- that our military forces on the ground and the work we're doing on the economic and diplomatic and political fronts will be successful.
Q: If the statements by Domenici, Voinovich, and Lugar are not a hemorrhaging of support, what is it?
MR. FRATTO: I think they're voicing where they -- where they are on this very important issue. Look, this is -- this is a war, and you're going to have -- anyone who is thoughtful and wants to see us succeed and see that our forces succeed is going to take a look at this with a sober eye and make choices of conscience. And it's going to happen on both sides of the aisle.
What we hope and what we counsel with the people we talk to is to let it -- let your decisions be guided by the facts and by what we're seeing on the ground. And so we're going to have these conversations. We're going to make sure that they have as much information as they need. But to use that kind of characterization of it I think does a disservice to where -- from where people like Senator Domenici and Senator Lugar are coming from. I think it's important to remember they're not talking about a precipitous withdrawal. They are not talking about defunding the troops. Those are hugely important distinctions. And those -- again, these are thoughtful people that we can work with.
Q: To what extent will the President allow himself to be influenced by Domenici, Lugar and Voinovich?
MR. FRATTO: An appropriate -- he'll let himself be influenced by an appropriate amount. The President, as I think you know, listens to a lot of voices. He hasn't been shy about inviting members of Congress from both sides of the aisle in and both sides of the ideological spectrum. He talks to commanders in the field on a regular basis. He talks to his military leaders here in Washington on a regular basis. He's getting all the information he needs to make the best decision possible. Steve Hadley, National Security Advisor, spent a lot of time on the Hill talking to members. So we're interested in their thoughts and views, and we want to work with them on policy going forward.
Q: A lot of lawmakers are looking to this July 15th report. Can you talk about the importance of the July 15th report? And are you concerned that July 15th is about to become the new September?
MR. FRATTO: It shouldn't be. I think it will provide a good benchmark or snapshot of where things are now that the surge assets are fully in place.
Again, you're talking about taking a picture of where things stand in Iraq, maybe a month after the full complement of military resources --
Q: Are you encouraging lawmakers, Republicans especially, not to make judgments based on this July 15th report?
MR. FRATTO: I mean, look, it should inform their judgments. It will be information, and it will be information from the two senior-most officials on the ground. So it should inform their judgments, but it shouldn't lead to any final conclusions, because I think it's just too early for that.
Q: Are you talking more to members in the last few weeks since you've seen this sort of uptick in concerns being expressed by Republicans?
MR. FRATTO: I don't -- I couldn't quantify whether it's more or less. I think any time the President is here in Washington and at the White House, he is inviting members in for regular conversations. Some of them you know about -- they show up on the schedule, and you'll see them and members will come out and talk; some of them are in the residence and they're smaller groups. He talks to some on the phone.
So the conversations are -- I could tell you, for as long as I've been here at the White House, it seems to me that it's been a pretty steady conversation with members.
Q: Tony, does Domenici sting a little more, though? I mean, he's, in effect, a neighbor to the President, a New Mexican to a Texan. I mean, does it bother him a little bit more to hear it from Domenici than it does maybe these Midwest guys?
MR. FRATTO: No, I mean, I don't -- (laughter.) And I don't take any particular offense that it's an Italian American who's doing it either. (Laughter.)
Q: You're a big man.
MR. FRATTO: Exactly.
Q: Is there any view from the White House that reelection is influencing the public comments these Republicans are making?
MR. FRATTO: I think you would -- you could direct those questions to the members themselves. They can expound on that. I'm not going to try to get into their motivations. I do think that most of the members who have raised this with the President, either in public or in private, think their motivations are noble. And so I'm not going to try to characterize it beyond that.
Q: Tony, you talk about breathing space for issues of political reconciliation. Why do you think it's a question of breathing space and not just a lack of interest in carrying out oil --
MR. FRATTO: Because I think this is a --
Q: We've seen problems of corruption, we've seen problems of sort of creeping warlordism. Why is it breathing space?
MR. FRATTO: Let's be very clear, let's be very clear. We have countries that have much longer histories dealing with democracy than Iraq does today, and they have all of those same problems. Trying to find your political footing in a government that's barely a year and a half old is very difficult, and we see the same challenges in countries that have been at this for 20, 40, 60 years.
So you will not see an absence of corruption. Let's get rid of that myth. You're not going to see an absence of corruption down to zero in Iraq. You're not going to see an absence of acrimony between parties that are just now trying to find how they work together to chart a way forward for their country.
We hope that we see sufficient cooperation that they can get some of the major things done that they need to do that will allow them to go on, on their own way, under their own authority, and without the necessary blanket of 159,000 American troops.
Q: Invoking other countries who have been at this for 40 or 50 years, it sounds to me like you are taking security and the breathing space out of that equation, and you are talking about political will of a different kind. And that's what I'm getting at. Why do you think it's a car bombing issue? Why don't you think that it's Maliki just isn't interested at this point? He's happy to carry out his own policies with the presence of U.S. support. Why is it a car bombing issue? Why isn't it just he doesn't want to do this?
MR. FRATTO: Well, two things I would say that help us understand that better is that --
Q: Or the Sunnis, I should say, not just Maliki, but why are --
MR. FRATTO: Right, and the Kurds. Look, we spend a lot of time talking to them, and so we take our own judgment as to -- our own judgment as to what their political capabilities are. We think that they do have the interest and the incentive to make progress. So that's certainly one factor in it.
The other is, is that if the alternative is to turn on our heels and walk out of Iraq and just sort of be wishful thinkers as to what will happen next, isn't a route that we think is -- we think going that route is more dangerous than not.
So -- and I still have yet -- I remember, we've talked about this before -- I have yet to see any credible analysis from anyone who's been to Iraq and has -- whether a military strategist or a political strategist and looking at Iraq -- as to what would happen in the case of a precipitous withdrawal of coalition forces in Iraq. The unanimous conclusion, as far as I can see, is that it would lead to chaos. And that analysis comes from supporters of the administration policy as much as it does from critics of the administration policy.
So the best -- so the best bet is to work with this leadership and help them accomplish what we think they need to do and what we think they believe they need to do to be successful.
Q: Tony, the July 15 report, that's by Petraeus, as well, isn't it?
MR. FRATTO: Petraeus and Crocker, yes.
Q: Okay, fine. But it's just an interim thing, essentially; right?
MR. FRATTO: Yes. Like I said, we're at a point where the surge can be only measured in weeks; I don't think I could characterize it any other way.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Week ahead?
MR. FRATTO: Oh, I'm sorry. How could we forget the week ahead, Terry? You've been at this longer than I have.
Q: For God's sake. (Laughter.)
Q: I'm sorry.
MR. FRATTO: Nothing else this weekend. On Monday, July 9th, the President participates in a conversation on the Americas. This is at 10:25 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City. This event marks the opening of the White House Conference on the Americas, which will bring together voluntary organizations, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and foundations to discuss and highlight the vast array of societal interactions between the United States and its neighbors to better the lives of the region's citizens. And you might remember, those of you who were on the Latin America trip, that that was something that was discussed at that time. And if you want more information, I'm told that Tom Shannon will be doing a briefing on this over at the State Department.
Tuesday, July 10th, the President will travel to Cleveland, Ohio, for several stops; he'll make remarks. And we'll provide you more information on that as we have them.
MR. FRATTO: We'll provide more information when we have it.
Q: Yes, there will be topics. (Laughter.)
MR. FRATTO: There will be topics.
Wednesday, July 11th, the President and Mrs. Bush participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the James S. Brady Briefing Room, press briefing room; expanded pool coverage, and others will be in the room. And as of this time, no public events scheduled for Thursday, July 12th or Friday, July 13th.
One scheduling update. On Sunday, July 15th, the President will host a White House tee ball game in honor of Jackie Robinson's 60th anniversary of joining Major League Baseball. The game will host teams from the Inner-City Little League of Brooklyn -- Brooklyn, New York, and the Wrigley Little League of Los Angeles, California, the two home cities of Robinson's team, the Dodgers. This will be the 17th tee ball game at the White House and it will bring together some of Jackie Robinson's original teammates and other notable baseball icons.
END 10:16 A.M. EDT
George W. Bush, Press Gaggle by Tony Fratto Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/275889