Yesterday Little Scottie held forth in the first full-blown White House press briefing since August 2, as the country’s business took a backseat to the campaign for two months.
First up in yesterday’s briefing, who’s in charge in Iraq?
Q Did the President give his personal go-ahead for the offensive in Fallujah on Friday, or at some other —
MR. McCLELLAN: He’s the Commander-in-Chief, so I think — one, the decision in Iraq is made by the interim government. But it’s made in close consultation with our troops, and our forces. Our commanders are in close, constant contact with the Iraq, with Iraqi forces, as is our government. And I think that’s the way you should look at it. But as I said, it’s a two-way discussion between our forces and between the forces of the interim government.
Q But on his side of the discussion, was there a moment at which he was asked to give a go-ahead for this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he’s very well aware of the decisions that are being made in Iraq. And they are made in close consultation with the interim government. And he’s very involved in that process, as I pointed out. That’s why he had the National Security Council meeting on Friday.
Q Isn’t this a yes-or-no — I mean, there’s no veto power over U.S. forces, we know that —
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s right.
Q — even though there’s an interim government. So doesn’t he necessarily have to sign-off before an operation goes forward?
MR. McCLELLAN: He’s the Commander-in-Chief of our troops, and he looks to the commanders on the ground to make the decisions about how to go about military operations. He does not try to micro-manage that process. But as Prime Minister Allawi outlined, there’s an integrated political and military strategy that is in place to address the ongoing security challenges as Iraq moves toward free elections. And we consult closely with the interim government on those matters, and we’re there to help the Iraqi forces address these security challenges, and that’s what we’re doing.
Q Can you say “yes” or “no” whether in this particular case he said, move forward, go ahead?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he’s the Commander-in-Chief, so obviously he is —
Q I should take that as a “yes”?
MR. McCLELLAN: — I don’t know how you want to describe it, but, obviously, he is involved in signing off on these matters.
The return of the full press briefing also brought us the return of our least-favorite corpsman, Les Kinsolving. First Les had to catch the GOP hate wave by sending Arafat’s soul to eternal damnation.
Q A two-part question. At the President’s news conference when The Washington Times informed him of the story that AP later had to retract about Arafat’s death, the President said, “God bless his soul.” And my question, did the President mean to say God cleanse his soul, or is the President a universalist in believing that everybody goes to heaven?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you know what the President meant by his remarks. I don’t think —
Q No, I don’t know — that’s why I’m asking you.
MR. McCLELLAN: — I need to elaborate.
Q Is he a universalist?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t think I need to elaborate. The President addressed that last week.
Then Les redeemed himself somewhat by standing up for Helen Thomas.
Q On talk radio, which with the Internet countered so much of old big media’s attempt to drive you and the President out of the White House, there have been a number of callers who have wondered why the front row reserved seat at presidential news conferences for Helen Thomas, she has been moved to the rear. And my question, knowing that you and the President both try to be fair, could you tell us what Helen ever did that was as bad as the network that used forged documents to try to malign the President and whose reserved seat has not been moved?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know. You connected a lot of things there. But I don’t have anything against any of these people on the front row. (Laughter.)
Q No, no, no, no, I just am asking for a fair answer. Why was Helen moved back —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Gregory sometimes, but —
Q — but not that network? Give us an answer.
MR. McCLELLAN: Helen has been the longest serving White House correspondent here. And I think it’s a nice tradition —
Q Why was she put back —
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it’s a nice tradition. I don’t believe she has been —
Q She was in the press conference —
MR. McCLELLAN: No, she was here just the other day, sitting in that front row.
Q I know, here. But press conferences, I’m talking about.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, well —
Q Why was she moved back? (Laughter.) You want to evade that, don’t you?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Heidi.
Unfortunately, the return of the press briefing also brought us the reptillian Jeff Gannon:
Q Thank you. With all the reaching out that’s going on around here, the President said Thursday in his press conference that he was reaching out to the press corps. What did he mean by that, and why would he feel the need to reach out to a group of supposedly non-partisan people?
Q And despite the role that they tried to play, the President won anyhow. Is there some kind of rapprochement that’s going on here?