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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 20, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:12 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: It's one of those days I have nothing to start with.
Q So? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: It's one of those days, I had a feeling.
Q China sent more troops into Tibet to crack down on the demonstrators. The United States have any reaction to that?
MS. PERINO: I hadn't heard about that development. What I can tell you is that last night Secretary Rice spoke to the Chinese Foreign Minister to very directly reiterate our views and concerns about the situation and told the Chinese that we would urge restraint in dealing with protestors, to refrain from non-violence [sic] and then Secretary Rice informed the President this morning of that conversation.
Q And what was the reaction from the Chinese side?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'll let them characterize their reaction. But I can say that --
Q Are we satisfied?
MS. PERINO: We spoke -- well, we're going to keep a very close eye on what's happening over there. We're concerned about innocent people's safety and well-being, especially because we believe that everyone should have the right to peacefully assemble and express their views.
Q Can I just follow?
MS. PERINO: Quickly.
Q Yes, quick. Dana, I remember when Dalai Lama came to the Oval Office and he met with President Bush, and with holding hands he was begging the President that freedom and human rights for his people. And today he's been saying that same thing, but Chinese are not moving. Where does President stand now on this issue, in which he believes in human rights and freedom around the globe?
MS. PERINO: Well, as I just said, the President had had Secretary Rice call the Foreign Minister in China. We believe that the Dalai Lama is a person of peace and of non-violence. And what we would urge China to do is to establish a dialogue with him so that they can resolve their dispute peacefully, rather than through violence.
Q Dana, can I just follow on our colleague Martha Raddatz's interview with the Vice President? Let's set aside the meaning of the word "so" for a second, and get to something the Vice President then said about fluctuations in the public opinion polls: "You can't be blown off course by fluctuations in public opinion polls." That would suggest that at any point in recent memory that the American public has been behind the war. It's not that there's been fluctuations in polls; it's been different degrees of opposition to the war. So is the Vice President saying it really doesn't matter what the American public thinks about the war?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't think that's what he's saying, and obviously I haven't spoken to the Vice President since he's traveling today and was in Kabul visiting with President Karzai a the request of the President. But what he went on to say is that President should not make decisions based on polls. And we fully recognize that people across America are unhappy with the war; possibly they didn't agree with the decision in the first place. They might have been unhappy with the conduct of the war. They might have disagreed with the President's decision to send in more troops, which was a very unpopular decision across the board.
But what the President has said is that while people might not like the decisions that he makes, he has to do what he thinks is right for the country, and he cannot try to chase an opinion poll and try to make things better that way. He has to act on what he thinks is right, and that's what he's done.
Q So at what point -- I mean, I guess I just -- there is the impression that the Vice President doesn't care about what the American people think in policy like that. Is that a wrong impression? And does the President share that impression?
MS. PERINO: I think that is the wrong impression. I think that the Vice President and the President both, together, all of us across the administration, would like for people to support the President's decisions. We realize that that's unrealistic, especially in a time of war -- and in particular this war. And while we're not able to change public opinion, we also have to follow a principle and stand on principle. And you have to ask yourself, what kind of a person do you want in the Oval Office? And America will have this choice to make in November of 2008 -- before I get ahead of myself.
So we believe that the President stood on his principle. He hasn't chased public opinion polls. He's aware of them, but he hasn't made decisions because of them, and I think there's a distinction. Just because you don't make decisions based on opinion polls doesn't mean you don't care what people think. We are all Americans. We care deeply about what people think.
Q The American people are being asked to die and pay for this, and you're saying they have no say in this war?
MS. PERINO: I didn't say that, Helen. But, Helen, this President was elected --
Q Well, what it amounts to is you saying we have no input at all.
MS. PERINO: You had input. The American people have input every four years, and that's the way our system is set up.
Q Every four years.
MS. PERINO: And we listen to --
Q It sounds familiar.
MS. PERINO: -- different points of view. The President, in fact, had many meetings with members of Congress leading up to his decision about the surge.
Q Supposed to be a government for the people, of the people, by the people?
MS. PERINO: I would submit to you that people across America, if asked what type of a President do you want: one that stands on principle or that one that chases polls? And I think that they would want --
Q What's the principle of going to war against the people who did nothing to us?
MS. PERINO: Helen, the President went to war to remove Saddam Hussein. He talked all about this yesterday in his speech. I'll refer you to that.
Q Dana, on the Vice President's trip, after he went and talked to Iraqi leaders, there was this what you characterized as sort of a breakthrough on the provincial elections. Do you believe that those provincial elections are now on track? What do you know about them? And where does it stand? And was it because of the Vice President's trip?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think it's because of what the Iraqis did in terms of getting together, but obviously we've been supporting them and encouraging them to try to work this out. What you're talking about is the provincial elections laws and provincial powers laws. This provincial powers is similar to the United States in terms of our relationship between the federal government and the state governments. And in Iraq they're setting this up for the first time.
And so there's a lot of issues that have to be dealt with. And in this particular bill, one of the Vice Presidents, Vice Presidents Mahdi, had a concern with one of the technical parts of the bill in terms of whether or not the central government could dismiss one of the provincial governors. So he raised a veto. In their constitution, he's allowed to do that, and to block the law from going into effect until there's further review. And upon that further review, his concerns were addressed, and now it's being moved forward so they'll have that law in place.
But the question about the elections, yes, I think they will be held. In the law it says they have to be held before October 1st. And I think what the Iraqis are going to have to do now is figure out if they should all be held on the same day, and what date that's going to be. So all those details will be worked out between the Iraqis.
Q But was that external arm-twisting by the Vice President's visit?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think, obviously -- look, we have Ambassador Ryan Crocker there, and he's been working very closely with them. And I don't know if the Vice President was able to push it over the top, if his conversation helped or not. In fact, I'm not sure if he met with the Vice President Mahdi. But we are pleased that it came to a resolution.
Q Dana, back on China for a moment. I know you've said in the past that President Bush attending the Olympics, that he's really doing so just as a sports fan and not to make any kind of political statement. But can you really separate the two? Can you really sort of divorce the two? He is obviously the leader of the United States. And for him to be attending, many people say it's impossible not to be there as a political statement.
MS. PERINO: One, the President -- one of the things the President has said also in regards to this is that any country who's going to be hosting the Olympics will have a bright light shined upon it. And it is a chance for that country to put its best face forward, and it's also a chance for other countries to learn more about the country.
And we are very concerned about what's happening in Tibet, and we have expressed those concerns. And that's something that President Bush and Secretary Rice can do that other citizens, concerned citizens around the world aren't able to do, just because they're not elected as a head of state. But the President, as head of state, has spoken very frankly to President Hu, and Secretary Rice has done the same with her counterparts, and we will continue to.
And then as it pertains to the Olympics, certainly the President wants to make sure that our athletes have a really good experience, and I think that most heads of state around the world believe that, too.
Q Follow on that? There is ample precedent for kind of a politicization of the Olympics. In 1980 the U.S. boycotted altogether because the host country, Russia, had invaded Afghanistan. Does the President think -- intend to go to Beijing and have absolutely no political voice at all while he's in China?
MS. PERINO: Actually, I think if you look back to some of the things he's said before, that it -- on a trip like that, he would make it a priority to have a meeting and a conversation with President Hu, which is something, again, that I said that he as a head of state is able to do, that other people aren't able to do. And he's able to speak very frankly to the Chinese President or the Russian President or whoever it might be, and that the President, in a private setting, can speak very frankly with people from all around the world in terms of at the head of state level. And he may do that.
Now, if you're looking back in terms of 1980, I don't know if this President would have made that same decision, and we're not going to relitigate it, but this President certainly hopes that our athletes who are training very hard have the best possible experience at the Olympics.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. An appeals court in California has delivered a ruling that is being interpreted as banning home-schooling, and one advocacy group has suggested an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to recognize such parental rights. And my question: Is this a concept the President would support?
MS. PERINO: Obviously we've supported home-schoolers in the past. I'm not familiar with that legal decision out of the appeals court in California, but I'm sure it will probably be appealed and then we'll see how it goes from there.
Q Page one of The Washington Times reported that the Department of Homeland Security spent $20 million on a virtual fence to better secure 28 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, but has no way to measure its effectiveness, and never consulted with the field agents who will use the system before it was installed. And my question: Since illegal immigration is a very serious national problem, could you tell us what does the head of the nation think about this page one bad news?
MS. PERINO: I haven't talked to the President about it. Let me refer you over to Department of Homeland Security and Secretary Chertoff about it. Obviously we have taken --
Q Will you talk to the President about it?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if I'll see him today before he leaves for Camp, but obviously this President has worked very hard on border security as well as other aspects of immigration. And so let me refer you to Department of Homeland Security for questions about that particular contract.
Q Dana, any update to the federal response to the Midwest flooding? And is the President getting regular updates on it?
MS. PERINO: Yes, the President has been getting updates on the weather situation that's affecting so many different states. Yesterday morning we received a request from Missouri for a disaster declaration. We expedited the process, and we were able to release that last night at about 11:15 p.m., which then allows for federal funds to start flowing and also assets.
I know that the Corps of Engineers is helping in terms of sandbags and pumps and other things -- boats, things like that that people will need. And so Department of Homeland Security and FEMA have much more on the details. But the President has been getting updated, and he'll continue to be.
Q Is there a week ahead available?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't have it with me. That's a good question. But we'll try to get it out early tomorrow morning, if not tonight. Okay?
Last one, Goyal.
Q As far as Osama bin Laden and our national security is concerned, he has issued another tape and warning Europe and it may affect the United States. And also, yesterday Senator Obama called on the President to bring Osama bin Laden, who is in Pakistan. Does he think he's still alive, Osama bin Laden?
MS. PERINO: I would put it this way. The intelligence community analyzed the tape. They do believe that that was his voice. So that would mean that for all things -- for all that we know, that he is still alive. And the President has a very aggressive hunt on for Osama bin Laden. And I think in the tape, what Osama bin Laden was trying to do is to suggest that he stands for all Muslims, and I think that if you look at the facts across the board, especially what's happening in Al-Anbar province and across Iraq, that Arabs are starting to turn against them, and that is of huge strategic significance in the global war on terror.
Q Thank you.
END 12:25 P.M. EDT