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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 2, 2007

Press Gaggle by Dana Perino

10:12 A.M. EST

MS. PERINO: Sorry I'm late. A few announcements, actually. First of all, the President continues to monitor the results in the aftermath of the terrible storms which struck throughout the south yesterday. The President has been receiving updates. He spoke last evening to Governors Riley and Blunt, from Air Force One. He got additional updates from his homeland security staff this morning, as well as Joe Hagin.

Update to the schedule, the President will travel to the region tomorrow, two stops, details to come. Departure from the South Lawn will be at 7:00 a.m. Carlton and folks in our office will be working to put together a pool, so that you can travel with us; assume that we'll be back around late afternoon, 5:00 p.m. or 6:00 p.m.

Q Do you know where he's going?

MS. PERINO: Details to come. Let us figure --

Q Would it be both Missouri and Alabama, though?

MS. PERINO: Not necessarily. So if you can just give us a little bit of time, we've got to contact the states and confirm for you all where we're going to be. I will just let you know that FEMA has activated its regional response coordination center in Atlanta. They will be coordinating any requests for assistance. And preliminary damage assessment teams are on the ground, working with state and local authorities to evaluate the destruction, and they have liaisons in each of the states' emergency operation centers.

Another announcement regarding the radio address. The President will announce a bipartisan presidential commission to conduct a comprehensive review of care that America is providing our wounded servicemen and women. The review will examine their treatment from the time they leave the battlefield through their return to civilian life as veterans, so that we can assure that we're meeting their physical and mental health needs. And in the coming days, the President will announce members of the commission and set a deadline for a report back to him with recommendations.

Typically, as you know, we embargo the radio address, we usually get it to you around 3:30 p.m. or 4:00 p.m. on a Friday; goal today is to release it for your use today, and earlier than the 3:30 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. usual time frame. But if I could --

Q The tape, as well as the transcript, or --

MS. PERINO: That's one of the things I was trying to find out. It might not be possible for me to do both, as they work on the editing. But I don't how all that works for the radio address to get out. So if we can get the sound, as well as the transcript, we will do that. If not, we'll be able to do the transcript, and you'll have the sound in the morning.

I would -- just if I -- if you would like, let me just give you a few -- a couple of excerpts from the radio address so that you have them. And if you don't want to write furiously, I told Carlton we will release this transcript, since we're not briefing today because of the trip to Indiana.

The President will say the following -- this is in his words: "One of my most solemn experiences as President is visiting men and women recovering from wounds they suffered in defense of our country. Spending time with these wounded warriors is also inspiring, because so many of them bring the same courage they showed on the battlefield to their battle for recovery.

"On hearing the reports about Walter Reed, I asked Secretary of Defense Bob Gates to assess the situation firsthand and report back to me. He confirmed that there are real problems at Walter Reed, and he has taken action to hold people accountable, including relieving the General in charge of the facility.

"As we work to improve conditions at Walter Reed, we are also taking steps to find out whether similar problems have occurred at other military and veteran hospitals. We will use the commission's recommendations as part of our ongoing effort to improve our service to our nation's veterans. Since 2001, we have brought more than 1 million veterans into the VA health care system, and with my 2008 budget proposal, we will have increased the V.A.'s health care budget by 83 percent over the past six years.

"Overall, I am asking Congress for more than $86 billion for veterans' services this year. If Congress approves my request, this would amount to a 77 percent increase since I took office, and the highest level of support for veterans in America's history."

And then he has a little bit of an anecdote there. That's just a couple of excerpts for you, and then I'll try to get you the rest earlier, than later.

And wait, let me go through the rest of the schedule, sorry. He had his normal briefings at 8:00 a.m. That's also where he got the briefing on the -- updated on the hurricane -- I'm sorry, tornado. At 11:00 a.m. he's meeting with bipartisan members of the Senate. That will be in the Yellow Oval, no coverage. And at 12:05 p.m. he departs the White House via Marine One. He will visit Silver Street Elementary School. He'll be talking about No Child Left Behind at 2:45 p.m., where he gives remarks, and at 3:55 p.m. he will meet with students from the McConnell Center in Louisville, Kentucky, and then he will make remarks at the McConnell for Senate and NRSC -- that's National Republican Senatorial Committee -- dinner.

I think the week ahead you guys pretty much already have it. On Monday, March 5th, he will make remarks on Western Hemisphere policy. That is the speech prior to the President's trip to South America. I talked to Gordon Johndroe. I believe that Hadley will do the pre-trip gaggle on Monday morning. I don't have a time for you yet, so stand by.

Q It's not a gaggle, but a briefing, correct?

MS. PERINO: I think a gaggle. You'll have the President on camera that day.

On Tuesday, March 6th, the President makes remarks to the American Legion.

Q What's the subject there?

MS. PERINO: Global war on terror.

And on Wednesday, the President makes remarks to the political appointees and senior executive service employees at Constitution Hall.

And on Thursday, the President and Mrs. Bush depart for Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Q What time for departure, do you know?

MS. PERINO: I don't. Questions? I just confirmed that the President will make a statement to the pool upon departure today. It will be about the tornados.

Q Statement to the pool, or is the departure open?

MS. PERINO: Sorry, it's open. I'm not as good on logistics as --

Q What time do we think that statement will be, like 12:05 p.m.-ish?

MS. PERINO: He's supposed to depart at 12:05 p.m., so 12:03 p.m.

Q The bipartisan meeting with the senators, what's that about?

MS. PERINO: I believe it's energy.

Q Energy? Will that be leadership or, sort of, energy --

MS. PERINO: Let's see if I can get you a list. I don't have it with me.

Q Do you have any idea if they'll come to the stakeout?

MS. PERINO: We never prevent it, it's always welcome. If they do, it's their decision.

Q And back to the wounded vets, I just want to make sure I heard you right, that the names of the people who will be on the commission and the deadline, that's not going to be --

MS. PERINO: It will be announced in the coming days.

Q Sometime in the future, okay.

Q Dana, why does the President feel it's necessary to have this, considering the Pentagon just yesterday formed their own independent panel looking into the care veterans are receiving? Is this just to have more eyes on the problem, or is there a concern the Pentagon probe may not be far reaching enough?

MS. PERINO: I don't know enough about the DoD commission that they set up. I know that this one is to look forward -- to look at the range of health care and mental health care and other needs, in terms of helping the whole person for veteran care when they return. Let me see what the distinctions are, specifically.* I know that there is a desire to really focus on the global war on terror veterans.

Q Dana, the problems at Walter Reed have been festering, according to the reports, for several years. Yet, the General who was relieved yesterday arrived at Walter Reed only six months ago. The President, again, you say is confident this was the right move in removing General Weightman?

MS. PERINO: The President has confidence in Secretary Gates, that he made the right decision. For the -- the temporary replacement that they have is General Kiley, and I would expect you would hear from DoD in the coming -- I don't know how soon they'll be able to announce somebody more permanent. But they did announce that that appointment is temporary.

Q Was the President unaware of the level of problems until the recent reports?

MS. PERINO: I think that that's true. I think that he read the reports, and when he and Secretary Gates talked, they realized that they -- there was a serious problem that needed to be handled quickly. And I think that Secretary Gates has moved forward to improve the situation dramatically and in as quick a time as possible, not only to improve the situation, but to also understand the scope of the problem and then to extend it and see beyond Walter Reed, if there are problems elsewhere.

Q How does he feel about having visited there so many times, and having this kind of thing going on at this very place that he's used as a symbol for his concern for the troops?

MS. PERINO: Well, I think regardless of whether he'd been there or not, if the veterans aren't getting the care that they need and deserve, and that we owe them, that he's unhappy about that, and he wants to make sure that action is being taken to rectify it. I don't know if he ever visited that particular building, but you're right, we go to Walter Reed often.

Q Some eyebrows were raised about General Kiley, because he figures prominently in these reports. And you mentioned just a moment ago, by name -- you expect it to be temporary.

MS. PERINO: DoD yesterday said it was temporary. The Army said it was temporary.

Q Right. I didn't bring him up, but you reiterated that. I mean, how long is temporary for you? When would you start --

MS. PERINO: It's up to the Army and DoD, not a decision -- we're not making a decision on timing that we had. I was just telling you that a decision was temporary. I thought that that was you -- I thought was where your question was going.

Q I guess -- I mean, are you a little taken aback, as many people are, that General Kiley is now running the hospital, even temporarily?

MS. PERINO: No, again, we have confidence in Secretary Gates. He said the appointment is temporary. They're working to rectify all of the situation. In regards to their permanent personnel announcement, I'd have to refer you over to DoD.

Q Has the President talked to anyone other than Gates about this, any, like, leaders of veterans organizations, any of the Senate or House members who are on some of the veterans affairs committees, anyone else?

MS. PERINO: It's possible. I don't know.


Q What's the speech next Wednesday to political and senior executive --

MS. PERINO: It's an annual speech that he gives. I don't know the subject of the remarks, but he -- every year, he speaks to the SES employees.

Q And it's just, thanks for doing a great job? Or what is --

MS. PERINO: Let's look at past remarks. There's a different topic this year. I don't think it's -- it's not global war on terror or the economy or anything like that. I haven't seen a copy of the remarks. It's a little too early for me to preview.

Q When is the President naming this commission, by the way?

MS. PERINO: In the coming days.

Q Is this going to be legislators, private citizens? Who is going to be on this?

MS. PERINO: Let me wait and get you some more details on that. I think that that's being worked out right now. And so in order to avoid putting the cart in front of the horse, I will refrain from commenting.

Q They'll produce some sort of report or --

MS. PERINO: The President will want -- he will want them to report back to him. What forum that report takes, I couldn't say. I don't know if it's a document or a briefing or something like that.

Q Dana, on tomorrow's trip, given the history with Hurricane Katrina, does the President feel that he needed to get down there and see this damage right away?

MS. PERINO: Well, I was with him last night when he was briefed on the tornado damage, and we were coming home from a Katrina trip. I don't think that that really entered into the -- it didn't come up in the discussion, it was just an automatic, help me reach out to the governor -- so we got them on the phone for him. He wanted to go down and be supportive. The extent of the damage is still -- the reports about the extent of the damage are still coming in, we don't have final tallies on fatalities or damage, but it's certainly extensive, and hit many states.

Q Where will he go, exactly?

MS. PERINO: Details to be announced, two stops.

Q You said two stops, so two states?

MS. PERINO: Yes. I can't tell you which ones, because I'm not positive yet myself.

Q Let's start with A --

Q And end with A. (Laughter.)

Q The comments before his departure today, can we cable those live?

MS. PERINO: Carlton, can they take those live?


MS. PERINO: Yes. I brought my trustee assistant, Carlton.

All set? John.

Q The speech on Monday, do you know who is going to be the audience for that?

MS. PERINO: I do. I know that it's members of the Diplomatic Corps, members of Congress -- I know just off the top of my head. I don't have the list in front of me, so let me try to get back to you on it.

Q Is it here, or is it another venue?

MS. PERINO: It is not here. Hold on just a moment. It is -- is it at the Reagan Building? It's at the Hispanic -- the audience is the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and then there's members of the Diplomatic Corps and members of Congress, but I don't have a list of who has RSVP'd. Stay tuned.

Thank you.

END 10:26 A.M. EST

* Secretary Gates established the Independent Review Group (IRG) to conduct an assessment of outpatient treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) and the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC). The group will provide recommendations regarding any critical shortcomings and opportunities to improve rehabilitative care, administrative processes and the quality of life of patients at those facilities. The scope of the Presidential Commission will be broader, including the transfer of discharged servicemen and women from DoD facilities into the Veterans Affairs system, and other military and veterans hospitals.

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