Q What does the President think of the gun control rule which prohibited guns on the campus of Virginia Tech?
MS. PERINO: I haven’t spoken to him about that specifically. I do know as governor he supported weapons-free school zones.
Q He supported?
MS. PERINO: When he was governor of Texas, yes.
Unka Karl Told Dana To Hammer His Idea That The Democrats Are Divided
Q What’s the President’s strategy for his meeting with congressional leaders today? Is he open to any talk of compromise, or is he just going to hear what they say and insist on a clean bill?
MS. PERINO: The President looks forward to having the members come down — that’s why he invited them. I think one of the things that he is looking forward to hearing is how the Democrats have decided to compromise amongst themselves first so that he knows what their position is.
Q I mean, there are differences. Both the Senate and the House have passed bills, though, and both of them have some form of a withdrawal deadline, timetable. And that’s unacceptable —
MS. PERINO: And here’s the point on that, which is that the President has said he will not accept a bill that has an artificial timetable — time line, deadline for withdrawal, a forced retreat, a legislative failure for our troops.
The Democrats have said that they will not vote to cut off funding for the troops. And yet, they can’t come to an agreement amongst themselves as to how to get a clean bill to the President.
Q But to pick up on that, once they have negotiated among themselves and have a unified position —
MS. PERINO: Well, let’s see what that is.
Q — then they can negotiate with the President?
MS. PERINO: You’re asking me a hypothetical situation.
Q No, no, no, they will — let’s say that they have a coherent —
MS. PERINO: Well, that’s hypothetical. It’s speculative. I don’t — I would like to see if they would come forward and have a position before we talk about anything that would tie the generals’ hands or have a deadline for withdrawal.
Q But the way you’re stating this leads to —
MS. PERINO: Well, what I’ve said for many days is that I’m not going to negotiate anything from this podium. I’m going to let them have a meeting.
Q I’m just asking you to finish your thought.
MS. PERINO: I finished my thought.
Q With an incomplete thought, an incomplete sentence?
MS. PERINO: No, I thought it was complete.
Using The Troops As Political Props
Q Earlier this week, the President made his concerns known, with military families surrounding him and members of the military and veterans. Earlier today, the Democratic leadership had some military family members with them as they gave an opposing view. Does the President think there’s a point at which military families or veterans should not become the faces of this debate?
MS. PERINO: Well, he has said before that — and I think it was on Monday, in which he said that this is a debate, we have healthy debate in America, we have a job to do in terms of getting the funds to the troops, but that he does not believe that the troops should be caught in the middle of the debate.
The families that the President met with and talked to on Monday are only a sampling of some of the ones that he hears from, in which they ask him to please not let their sons or daughters who have died over there in Iraq or in Afghanistan — for their mission to go unfulfilled. They are reassured by the President that he is not going to let their death be in vain.
Q Some Democrats will surely say that the soldiers and relatives of troops with them today are only a sampling of those they hear from, and that they are telling them that we need to begin the process of pulling out of Iraq. I want to ask Kelly’s question again — is it unseemly that the troops should be props, if you will, in this debate?
MS. PERINO: Well, I can assure you that this President doesn’t think of any soldier or sailor, or any man or woman that’s in uniform as a prop. He is worried about their welfare. He wants to ensure that their mission — that they have all that they need to complete their mission, and that they are properly trained, and that they have the amount of support that they need back here at home, plus there on the battlefield. And so I do think that it was appropriate for the President to talk with those families — just as I’m sure that the Democrats feel that it’s appropriate for them, as well.
“I’m Not Familiar With That Poll“
Q In his speech on Monday, the President said, “Families gathered here understand that our troops want to finish the job.” What evidence does he actually have for that? Because there doesn’t seem to be any polling data whatsoever to support the idea that the troops do want to stay and finish the job rather than go home.
MS. PERINO: Victoria, I think that there are many troops and there are many families, and the President hears it personally from them, asking to make sure that the President stays strong and completes the mission.
Q The only polling data there seems to be is an Army Times poll that came out last December, which seems to show, really, that the doubts are whether the troops actually feel that they could finish the job and whether they wanted to finish it.
MS. PERINO: I’m not familiar with that poll. I do know that the President feels confident that when he describes what he hears from the troops, that he’s being as forthcoming as he can with the American people. And you just have to — I think that a lot of it could be anecdotal, but I’m not a polling expert and we don’t, as you know, make decisions based on polls.
Q So this isn’t based on any empirical data; this is based on people he’s spoken with?
MS. PERINO: I think people he’s spoken with, generals he hears from that are over there on the ground, people that he talks to. I mean, he talks to many outside experts. Yes, I think that he feels very comfortable that the troops, families of the troops believe that this mission should be completed.
Losing Ground In Iraq
Q Can I get your reaction to something Admiral Fallon said today when he was before the House Armed Services Committee?
MS. PERINO: I haven’t seen it.
Q He was talking about Iraq, and he said, “I believe that the things I see on a daily basis give me some cause for optimism. But I’ll tell you that there is hardly a week that goes by, certainly a day that doesn’t go by, without some major event that also causes us to lose ground.” What’s your reaction to that? You have a military man talking about events going —
MS. PERINO: I think that is consistent with what we have said, which is that there are extremely difficult and dangerous situation right now in Iraq, and especially in Baghdad.
Q But it doesn’t sound that hopeful, when you talk about a military man saying —
MS. PERINO: It’s going to take — it’s going to take a long time before we can finish out this new Baghdad security plan, as General Petraeus has said. I think only about half of the additional troops that we wanted to send in have arrived. He said it’s going to be several —
Q Why is it taking so long on that point?
MS. PERINO: I think it just takes a little while to get troops moved.
Q Do you have anything more on why it’s taking so long?
MS. PERINO: No, I don’t, you’ll have to ask DOD.