Poor Little Scottie was absolutely reamed silly in today’s gaggle, particularly on the subject of Iraq.
One thing I want you to notice that the helpful White House transcribers provided a hot-link in the gaggle transcript today on the word “insurgency”, which you will see below. Funny thing is, when you click on the link you get a FILE NOT FOUND response or at least I did when I clicked it at 6 PM Central Dailight Time. Here’s the link: insurgency. I guess when it comes to the insurgency, they got nothing.
Now, on with the gaggle! Let’s start by bickering over just what Chuck Hagel and John McCain said yesterday.
Q Scott, today the President said that he sees progress in Iraq, and that the strategy is working. But William Webster, Major General on the ground there, has said the U.S. is not even close to breaking the back of the insurgents, and Hagel and McCain have both accused the White House of misleading the American public about the status of the war. What’s the evidence —
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t think that’s exactly what they said.
Q That’s not the exact quote, but that’s the implication, that they’re losing, not winning —
MR. McCLELLAN: I think Senator McCain talked about the importance of not cutting and running, and the importance of completing the mission.
Q He said, specifically, that time and again we’ve been told that we’re facing a turning point, and people should be told that this is hard, this is long, and it’s going to be tough and take years.
MR. McCLELLAN: And maybe you haven’t been following the President lately, but he’s talked about — he’s continued to update the American people about the progress that we’re making in Iraq.
Q But what accounts for the —
MR. McCLELLAN: — great optimism in the Iraqi people to continue moving forward on the political front and meeting their political objectives. That’s an important part of defeating the terrorists who recognize that this is the central front in the war on terrorism.
Q Hagel specifically said that the President is disconnected from reality on Iraq.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me just say, first, that the President gets his information from the commanders and generals who are on the ground in Iraq, and he is fully confident that those leaders are firmly rooted in reality. He is regularly updated by his commanders and his generals on the ground; as he indicated earlier today, he spoke with General Abizaid; he’s going to be talking with General Casey later this week. He is regularly kept up to date on the progress being made on the ground by his commanders, and they’re the ones who have the best sense of what is happening on the ground and the progress that’s being made.
Then Les Kinsolving got in on the act.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Les.
Q Senator Hagel is quoted by U.S. News & World Report as saying, “Things aren’t getting better; they’re getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality. The reality is we’re losing in Iraq.”
And my first question: Would you deny that Al Jazeera loves such statements by Republican senators and Senator Durbin?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I already addressed this comment in an earlier question.
Q Yes, I know but — Senator John McCain, who is another Republican, said on network television: “Too often we’ve been told and the American people have been told that we’re at a turning point, what the American people should have been told is that it’s a long — it’s hard, it’s tough.”
And my question: Does the President suspect that Senator McCain is angling for another “he may run with a Democrat” national rumor, possibly with Joe Biden?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think Senator McCain has addressed those questions.
Les left an opening for a serious journalist to follow-up.
Q Going back to Senator Chuck Hagel’s remarks, which Les referenced, we also have Senators Lindsey Graham, Lincoln Chafee, McCain, as well as others in the Democratic Party, more and more expressing concern about Iraq. Representative Walter Jones getting together with Democrats to call for some kind of a withdrawal. It seems as though the pressure on the administration is building from Republicans who have concerns that the view from the White House doesn’t match the view from others on the ground. Is it time for the White House to look at how it’s talking with Republicans in Congress, and to get them back on board?
Leaving Scottie with no other choice but to question the patriotism of the reporter who asked the question.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the commanders on the ground also brief Congress periodically on developments on the ground. So are you saying that that’s not what’s happening on the ground, the assessments that they’re providing?
Q I’m saying that the —
MR. McCLELLAN: Are you questioning the commanders on the ground?
Q I’m not. I didn’t mention that at all. What I was saying was —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that’s where the President gets his briefings from.
Q What I was saying was that the senators seem to be seeing a very different view on the ground, perhaps from their briefings from the commanders, than the interpretation that the administration is putting on those briefings.
MR. McCLELLAN: And what is the interpretation that the administration is putting on?
Q The interpretation the administration is putting on is that things are going fairly well, that training is proceeding at pace with Iraqis, which is not what the other senators are saying, and that the view is far more optimistic in the short-term than the views of these senators.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me correct you, and let me tell you what the interpretation of the administration is, because it’s based on the assessment of the commanders on the ground in Iraq.
And the President constantly talks to the American people about the progress that’s being made, and he also talks about the determined enemy that we’re facing, and how high these stakes are in Iraq. And it’s important that we continue to support the Iraqi people, who time and again have defied the skeptics and defied the terrorists, and said we are going to live in freedom.
Q So is the enemy both determined and in its last throes, at the same time?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I addressed that question earlier.
Oh, yeah, we remember the “last throes” exchange from last week. Any new spin on that one, Scottie?
Q In the news conference just now, the President was asked about the Vice President’s assertion that the insurgency [there’s the mystery link] is in its final throes. He was asked if he agreed, and he didn’t say anything about it. We went around on this last week, with you, and you didn’t endorse that. Is it now the administration’s view the Vice President went too far in saying that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let’s talk — I mean, I think you should look at the context of what the Vice President was saying.
Q It’s not that — just those two words —
MR. McCLELLAN: No, not at all.
Q — are you still behind it?
MR. McCLELLAN: In fact, he was referring to how some Zarqawi lieutenants have been captured in Iraq. There’s been great progress made in going after the al Qaeda network in Iraq. Just last week our military announced the capture of another top Zarqawi lieutenant, the head of operations in Mosul, a very dangerous individual who was responsible for a lot of death and destruction in Iraq. And so we’re continuing to make progress against what is a determined enemy.
Q So is that the last throes? I mean, do you agree with what the Vice President said?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me tell you where things are. The terrorists and the regime elements are desperate. They are going to be defeated. They have no vision to offer. They have no alternative to offer, other than destruction and chaos and killing of innocent civilians. And they have shown that they are not able to stop the progress on the political front. The Iraqi people time and again have defied their desire to stop them from advancing on democracy.
Q I’m just asking if those two words — so you’re standing behind what the Vice President said?
MR. McCLELLAN: Hold on, and I’m talking — and look at what the context of what the Vice President said, because you didn’t point out everything that he said.
And finally, no endorsement for mommy?
Q Senator Cornyn today endorsed Governor Perry for reelection, called him a tremendous leader for Texas, who deserves reelection in 2006. I know the administration generally supports Republican incumbents. Will this White House be getting involved in the Texas gubernatorial race?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, the President will not be getting involved in the primary.
And let me just say that he considers both friends.
Q As do you, I’m sure. (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: I consider one mother. (Laughter.)