The afternoon gaggle yesterday was really a response to Senate passage of the emergency supplemental appropriation for Chimpy’s Vanity War in Iraq.
Dana Opens By Spitting Fire
MS. PERINO: Eighty days after President Bush submitted his troop funding bill, the Senate has now joined the House in passing defeatist legislation that insists on a date for surrender, micro-manages our commanders and generals in combat zones from 6,000 miles away, and adds billions of dollars in unrelated spending to the fighting on the ground.
The Gagglers Spit Back
Q Dana, though, last year it was a Republican Congress that took 118 days to get you a war funding bill, and the White House didn’t complain that it took a long time. So why is 70 or 80 —
MS. PERINO: There’s a key difference. One is that — a couple of things. We did not provide the Congress the detail in the request that we did this year with the budget. In fact, we provided it to them later than when the budget came out. This year, we heard their complaints, and we got the request for the supplemental to them the same day as we sent up the regular budget of the United States.
In addition to that, there were some complaints, but the major key difference is, last year we knew that eventually — that we were going to get a bill that the President could sign.
Q The point is, though, that it took 40 days longer for a Republican Congress to pass a war funding bill, and the money still got to the troops in the field. So isn’t this — aren’t you exaggerating the effect on the troops in the field? Last year it took 40 days longer.
MS. PERINO: No, I don’t think that we’re exaggerating at all.
Another Logic Problem For Dana
Q The President has accused the Democrats of holding up funding to the troops. But it’s the President’s veto that will, effectively, put the funding — stop the funding in its tracks. So if this is so urgent doesn’t he at least share some of the blame?
MS. PERINO: No, Matt —
Q — some of the blame for the holdup, for failing to have his White House and his fellow Republicans achieve a workable compromise with the Democrats?
MS. PERINO: No. For several weeks the Democrats have known that if the bill, in its current form, is sent to him, that he would veto it. They’ve also said that they don’t plan on cutting off funds for the troops. And given that, since they don’t have and they know they don’t have the votes to override the President’s veto, it is their responsibility to send the President a bill that he can sign.
Screw The American People
Q Dana, the latest CBS News poll has 64 percent of those polled in favor of setting timetables for an Iraqi withdrawal of American troops. And that dovetails, I think, with an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that had similar results yesterday. So, clearly, the administration is not on the same page with the majority of the American public.
MS. PERINO: I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll just repeat it. We understand that Americans are tired of this war, they are weary, and they are frustrated, and they want the troops to come home. We want the troops to come home as well, and you’re talking about a date for withdrawal. The President is the Commander-in-Chief. He stands on principle. He does not make decisions —
Q But what is —
MS. PERINO: His principle is that he is not going to put our troops into the position of having a date — a surrender date without providing the Iraqis the chance that they need in order to get the political reconciliation that they need.
Q But here’s my question. Isn’t his principle, at this point, clearly in opposition with the majority of the American people?
MS. PERINO: Look, I’m not going to — I can’t tell you exactly how your poll ran, or how the question was phrased. I do think that the American people would understand that rashly pulling out quickly, without conditions being right on the ground, is dangerous for the long-term security interests of the United States. Now it is incumbent upon this administration to explain why we think that is the case, and I understand that there are people who disagree, people who are ready for the troops to come home. The President strongly believes that setting a date for surrender is not the way to do that.
Q Let me just follow once on that, because I think what’s most interesting in this poll is that two weeks ago the number was 57 percent, and now it’s 64 percent. So Americans are watching, they’ve been watching the last two weeks. The movement is against what the administration’s position is.
MS. PERINO: Jim, you’ve covered the White House long enough to know that this President does not make decisions or change with the wind as the polls change. He understands that it’s not popular. He understands how he could be popular, but he’s going to continue to have the principled stand that he has.
Q This isn’t an issue about popularity at this point, it’s a question of which path are you going to take. And the President continues to stay on a path which, at least the polls as a representation of some kind of national opinion, seem to suggest are more divergent than ever.
MS. PERINO: Jim, one thing I would say is that it’s not just the President who believes that a precipitous withdrawal is a bad idea. General David Petraeus, who was on Capitol Hill yesterday and gave a press conference today, has said similar, as did the Iraq Study Group, the Baker-Hamilton group, as did the National Intelligence Estimate that is the consensus of the 16 intelligence agencies that looked into this issue. They all said that a precipitous withdrawal would be devastating for Iraq and for the region, and then ultimately have negative consequences for the long-term security of this country.
How Long Is Now?
Q Dana, why isn’t it working? I mean, General Petraeus talks about — the security situation is obvious. But what has to happen here is for the political track to kick in. It hasn’t. How do you expect the American people to have patience with Maliki again? This is where we were last year.
MS. PERINO: Well, I think if you listen to David Petraeus, it’s not exactly where we were last year, and that he has said the sectarian violence is down by a third.
Q But Maliki has not made that much progress.
MS. PERINO: There has been some progress. And granted — and President — we recognize that there are many issues, like those three that I just mentioned — the de-Baathification law, and the oil law, and the provisional regional elections — provincial elections — has not moved forward fully, it’s not finalized. But there has been progress and steps forward.
Q The President told the American people and addressed Maliki in January that the time for this to happen, this political progress, was now. What does that mean?
MS. PERINO: And I think that they are starting to make some progress. The oil law has now —
Q How long is now?
MS. PERINO: I’m sorry?
Q How long is “now”? What does “now” mean? What’s the President —
MS. PERINO: The President has said — well, I think the way that I would look at it is that the President has said, we’re going to try the surge to try the — to quell the violence there in Baghdad so that the government can have a little bit more time.
Dana Gets So Flustered Over “Mission Accomplished” That She Forgets The Name Of The Aircraft Carrier Chimpy Strutted Upon
Q Can we also go to something you said this morning, which you said, opponents of the administration have misconstrued the carrier appearance by the President four years ago. I don’t know how they’ve misconstrued it. The President said, “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”
MS. PERINO: And he specifically also said, and this is a quote, “We still have difficult work to do in a dangerous country, which needed [sic] to be rebuilt.” He also said, “The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time.” And he has also said — let me remind you what he said on January 10th —
Q But he said major combat operations are over. I mean, I don’t even know why you’re still arguing about that. I think the President —
MS. PERINO: What the President has said — what we were talking about then was the fighting — we toppled the Iraqi government, we toppled the Iraqi army, and that was a pretty quick succession of events.
But what the President then said, and he said on January 10th, is that he acknowledged many times that the U.S. underestimated the insurgence and the foreign fighters’ ability to foment sectarian violence and to perpetrate terrorist attacks. And then he also said, “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.”
Q So why quibble over something like this, that he said something that really didn’t happen?
MS. PERINO: The President — because of what — I think that if you only take the one line, that the end of combat operations — major combat operations, that’s true, but the President also —
Q Yes, but the banner is consideration, as well.
MS. PERINO: Okay, well — and that’s what I meant by that this morning. And we have explained it many times. And you know what? I have a feeling I’m just on the losing end of this battle because the left has decided to believe what they want to believe, which is that the President was saying that the war was over and the troops were coming home. That’s not what he said, and I just told you specifically what he said, and I encourage people to read the whole speech.
And that ship — I’ll get to you in a second — USS America [sic] Lincoln had been deployed for well over its stated period. It was supposed to be gone for six months, and I think it was several months later, that they were coming home. And it was the ship that — that mission was accomplished. And the President never said, “mission accomplished” in the speech, and people use it that — now I understand that that’s what the banner said, I understand that. But I’m telling you what the President —
Q I’m concentrating on the President’s words, more than that.
MS. PERINO: But Martha, what the President said is that the transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time. It is — we still had difficult work to do in a dangerous country which needed to be rebuilt.
Q But on the question of major combat operations, isn’t it more broadly just that, when you said earlier that the American people are weary and frustrated, they want the troops to come home, isn’t that due in part to the fact that the President set unrealistic expectations with speeches like that, which suggested to the American people that this was going to be done very quickly?
MS. PERINO: As I said, the President has acknowledged numerous times that he and the administration underestimated the sectarian violence and the ability of al Qaeda in Iraq to foment these spectacular — I’m sorry, to perpetrate these spectacular bombings, in which hundreds of innocent people are killed. And he said that where any of those mistakes were made, that the responsibility rests with him. And I think that the American people can rest assured that their Commander-in-Chief, number one, takes on that responsibility, and number two, has only the best interests of their security in mind when he makes these decisions.
Such A Snide Bitch
Q Okay, on the political briefings, there seems — there’s no shortage of political information out there. Why does the White House feel it’s necessary to give these employees these briefings in the first place?
MS. PERINO: I think that’s kind of ridiculous question. I mean, there’s — sorry, I usually don’t say those things, but I do think that that one was. Look, there is nothing wrong with political appointees providing other political appointees with an informational briefing about the political landscape in which they are working.
Q I understand. That’s not an answer, as ridiculous as the question was.
MS. PERINO: What, you think that we should just look at the CBS/New York Times poll and make our decisions based on that?
Q It’s 20 briefings —
MS. PERINO: Jim would agree.
Q Well, I’m trying to get to the motivation for this, and it’s 20 briefings —
MS. PERINO: The motivation is to provide people information.
Q But why? Why do they need this information —
MS. PERINO: Why are you asking me these questions? You’re asking information, as well.
Q No, no, but —
MS. PERINO: My point was that you’re asking —
Q Was there any intent to try to tell people that they need to do something about the election, and to take some action?
MS. PERINO: These are information — they’re informational briefings about the political landscape.
Q Okay, so there was — there was no intent to do that? Who — did they ask for the briefings, or was it the White House that decided they wanted to give these briefings?
MS. PERINO: I think it sort of goes both ways. I do know that political appointees around the government — I used to work at an agency, and you are interested in — the reason that you’re here working for the President is that you want to support his policies and his agenda, and so it’s good to get information from time to time.
Q Well, who’s idea — it was the White House idea, initially, or was it the agencies?
MS. PERINO: I think that these briefings — well, I know the Clinton administration had similar briefings. Where did they originate? I don’t know. I couldn’t give you a date.
Q Can I follow up? I just wondered why, then, did, according to apparently six witnesses that have apparently spoken to Congressman Waxman, say that at the end of the one of these briefings the head of the GSA said to, I think it was Scott Jennings, one of Karl Rove’s aides: What, then, after getting this briefing can we do to go help Republican candidates? And he said, let’s talk off line about that.
MS. PERINO: I never talked to Scott Jennings about that. I think that —
Q Well, why would he suggest that?
MS. PERINO: Well, I’m not going to speculate as to what he would have meant by that or not. I mean, he could have meant that that was an inappropriate comment to make in front of other people and talked about that off line, instead of embarrassing her in front of —
Q But if you don’t know the answer to that, how do you know that no laws were broken or there was nothing unethical, if you —
MS. PERINO: Checking with Counsel’s Office and talking about informational briefings about political landscape, that that is okay, that that is acceptable; there is nothing in the law that says you can’t do that, it’s not unethical. And it is something that is absolutely reasonable and appropriate, to provide political appointees with information about the landscape in which they’re working.
Q But what if at the end of those briefings there were other conversations about, then, how you could help —
MS. PERINO: “What if?” “What if?” I’m not answering “what ifs,” Ed.
Q But you don’t know the answers to those questions, do you? I mean, how can you make a blanket statement that no laws were broken, as you said this morning, when you don’t really know what happened at these briefings or after the briefings?
MS. PERINO: You’re asking me to prove a negative and I can’t — nobody can do that.
Q Then how can you make a blanket statement saying no laws were broken? You just made blanket statements without knowing the details.
MS. PERINO: The question is whether or not the political briefings are inappropriate, unethical or unlawful. And the answer to all three of those questions is, no.
Q Even if, at the end of it, an aide to —
MS. PERINO: “Even if,” “Even if,” I’m not — you can —
Q Well, but six people who were there say it; it’s not just a random “if.” Six people.
No Advanced Clearance For Briefings
Q Did the legal Counsel’s Office approve — all of these —
MS. PERINO: As a general rule — as a general matter, yes, they had approved them.
Q But they didn’t go back to them for each one, to approve each one?
MS. PERINO: Not necessarily, no.
Les Kinsolving, Who Once Accepted $2,500 In Stock From A Lobbyist In Exchange For Favorable Reporting On Apartheid-Era South African, Is Still An Ass
MS. PERINO: I’ll take one from Lester and then we’ll be done. Les, go ahead. Just one.
MS. PERINO: I’ve got to go.
Q Yesterday, a Republican National Committee cited the AP report that Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean said the following: “If you want to hear anybody’s true views, you cannot do it in the same room as the press. If you want to hear the truth from them, you have to exclude the press.” What’s the President’s opinion of this prescription of the end of press freedom in politics coming from a former governor and national chairman of one of our two main parties?
MS. PERINO: Let me decline to comment now. I’ll take a look at the comments; this is the first I’ve heard of them.