For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 11, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:50 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: I have two announcements, and then I'll take questions. It has been 65 days since the President requested emergency funding for our troops. Our military leaders have said they need this funding by mid-April to avoid significant disruptions and hardships. Yet the Senate's Majority Leader insists that they will be fine until June, and yesterday said the urgency is only in the President's head.
As the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote to Congress last week, without approval of the supplemental funds in April the Armed Services will be forced to take increasingly disruptive measures in order to sustain combat operations. The impacts on readiness and quality of life could be profound.
Senator Reid should explain why he disagrees with our nation's commanding officers about when they need the funding, or he should stop delaying it.
Also, today the Senate -- we talked a little bit about it yesterday -- is considering two pieces of legislation that support -- that propose to support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The first bill, S5, is very similar to the legislation that the President vetoed last year. This legislation crosses a moral line that would use taxpayer dollars to destroy human embryos. And that's a moral line the President said he would not cross, and for those reasons he would veto this bill, as well.
In addition, there's a second bill, S30; it supports the use and further development of stem cell research, but without harming or destroying embryos. This is a bill that the President strongly supports and he would sign it should it make it to his desk.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q Has the President directed Secretary Gonzales to comply with the -- or Attorney General Gonzales to comply with the congressional subpoena for more documents, or has he told him to compromise, say no? Where does that stand?
MS. PERINO: I have not -- I haven't talked to the President about the subpoena issue. I know that the President, early on, at the beginning of this, asked the Justice Department to be fully responsive to the Congress in terms of its specific requests that it had. But as far as yesterday's subpoena, I have not spoken to the President about that.
I do believe the Justice Department has released, I think, 3,400 pages of documents, and that the Justice Department has endeavored to be as helpful as they possibly can. There were some concerns, given privacy issues, with some of the documents that were requested yesterday -- concerns expressed by the Justice Department.
Q So does that -- where does it stand? I mean, there's a subpoena out there.
MS. PERINO: I'd have to refer you to the Department of Justice. I don't know what they've decided.
Q Is the White House -- anyone in the White House helping Gonzales prepare for his testimony next week?
MS. PERINO: Not the I'm aware. You mean somebody being over there at the department?
Q Yes. Sure.
MS. PERINO: Of course, we're in close contact with the Justice Department, but I don't know of any White House official who's been at the Justice Department in preparation for testimony.
Q No White House involvement?
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of.
Q There have been all these stories about the so-called "murder boards" that he's undergone in preparation for the testimony --
MS. PERINO: That's not unusual.
Q I know, of course not. But has the White House taken no part in this?
MS. PERINO: I know that we are aware of it. I'm just saying that I don't know of any one person, individually, at the White House who has attended any of those. It's not unusual for an agency to set up sessions like that prior to a hearing.
Q I know, but I'm curious --
MS. PERINO: But the White House doesn't always send somebody to handle those. Maybe one thing that you're thinking about is when we're heading for a confirmation for an individual, we often hold those here at the White House in order to prepare, but that's because that person is not yet at an agency where they have a staff.
Q So there has been no White House involvement?
MS. PERINO: Well, again, we're working closely -- I'm just aware of no individual who is there helping prepare for the testimony.
Q Has direction been given to the Attorney General to prepare for this?
MS. PERINO: Not specifically, that I know of. I know that it's an important hearing. I think that they have been as responsive as possible, leading up to next Tuesday. And, of course, the Attorney General is a person of incredible integrity, and as long as he can go up there and have his day and talk to the members of Congress -- and he asked for this day to come earlier; that wasn't able to work out, so we'll wait until Tuesday.
Q So he still has his job?
MS. PERINO: He certainly does.
Q Does the President believe that someone of a significant public stature needs to come to this administration to assist in overseeing how the war is managed?
MS. PERINO: You're referring to a story in The Washington Post that talked about a possible reorganization within the National Security Council. That is something that is under consideration. It would be a little bit like putting the cart before the horse if we were to say that that is a done deal, because no one has been offered the job. We've been consulting widely to find out what people think about the possibility of having somebody of a higher caliber -- I'm sorry, of a higher profile come in and have that position. We are talking to people; there have been no decisions made.
And so I think that now that we're in this implementation phase, after the two major reviews were done for Iraq and Afghanistan -- and led very ably by Meghan O'Sullivan, who has been Deputy National Security Advisor for Stephen Hadley -- that now is an appropriate time, since she has told us that she's going to be moving on, after six years of public service -- that any organization would take a moment to figure out, since Iraq and Afghanistan are such -- is the number one priority for this administration and for this nation, since we have over 150,000 service members over there, that it's an appropriate time to consider whether or not we need to think about restructuring the office and seeing how we can make it be the most effective and efficient.
Q Was this an idea generated by the Secretary of Defense? Did it come from the President, himself?
MS. PERINO: I'm not sure exactly where it came from, because I think that there have been -- as we've talked with people outside of the administration, both in civilian life and in the military, have considered this to be an option that we might want to pursue. I don't know where it generated initially for the original idea, but it's one that we are considering. And we're weighing the options to see about whether or not we would explore restructuring the office to make sure it is working well to implement the policies that we have for this administration.
At the National Security Council, they have the responsibility of coordinating with the agencies to make sure that the policies are being implemented. With this being the number one priority, it's only natural that at this time we would make those considerations. But I have to stress to you that no decisions have been made, no one has been offered the job. It's still very much in its nascent stages.
Go ahead, Martha.
Q Dana, have people turned down the job?
MS. PERINO: I am going to decline from here to talk about any personnel actions, whether that be interviews or offers. I can tell you no one has been offered the job.
Q You say nobody has offered the job, but people you have approached --
MS. PERINO: No one has been offered the job.
Q -- told you they don't want it?
MS. PERINO: I have a policy that I have followed for years that I do not talk about whether or not anyone had been interviewed, or offered a job, or considered for a job. It's just not something that I think is good for anybody that's involved in the process.
Q Can you talk about whether this job would be in addition to the job that Meghan O'Sullivan is leaving? Would this be an added position that you're thinking about?
MS. PERINO: That would be possible.
Q -- not say higher profile, but that -- but would Meghan O'Sullivan be replaced, as well, and this person would be an addition?
MS. PERINO: That's still a little bit too hypothetical, because there's no --
Q Why is it hypothetical? I mean, what do you talk to people about?
MS. PERINO: Because there's no decision -- well, it could, or it could not. Because there's been no decisions yet on how the restructuring would be, then I can't give you a concrete answer as to whether or not that person would replace Meghan or whether it would be an additional person.
Q But you're looking at several possibilities, and one of them being that there would be a person in addition to the position Meghan O'Sullivan --
MS. PERINO: I think it's fair to say that that would be a consideration.
Q And why do you want someone higher profile?
MS. PERINO: Well, again, I'm not saying that we want somebody. I think that we are considering whether or not that would be a good thing for the office at this time as we implement the policies.
We have many hundreds of -- well, tens of thousands of our military men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have a significant commitment in the region, and we have a significant amount of work to do at the National Security Council to make sure that the policies are being implemented across the national security agencies, of which there are many. And so given the importance of this matter and the priority that the President places on it, one consideration is to place someone of just a slightly higher profile that can help cut through bureaucracy and make sure that these policies are being implemented to their best possible ability.
Go ahead, Suzanne.
Q Dana, if I could follow. Representative Rahm Emanuel has put out a statement about this, saying, "The Washington Post reports that the White House wants to appoint a war czar to run the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they can't find anyone to do it -- someone needs to tell Steve Hadley that position is filled -- it's the Commander-in-Chief, unless the decider has become the delegator." Do you see his point?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think it's really interesting coming from somebody who works with 217 other members of Congress who think that they are Commanders-in-Chief. The President is the Commander-in-Chief. He has had no trouble attracting very high caliber talent to positions across the administration, even late in the administration. And I think that it is a responsible thing to consider whether or not a restructuring is needed. I think it behooves us to consider a wide variety of opinions and to consult widely to see how we move forward, to make sure that these policies are implemented for the benefit of our men and women who are on the ground fighting for us, as well as the innocent Iraqis and Afghanis who are working to make their democracies work in the heart of the Middle East.
Q I think the point he's making, and some other Democrats, is four years after the war, why is the White House now considering a position to put somebody in power, in place that would be able to coordinate between the agencies and have the power to implement the policies?
MS. PERINO: I think that's unfair, Suzanne, because I think that there's a lack of understanding of what Meghan O'Sullivan and Stephen Hadley and J.D. Crouch and other members of the National Security Council have been doing. They have been doing this work -- this idea for a restructuring is one that comes at a time that, after six years, when Meghan O'Sullivan has said that it's time for her to move on from public service, that it's natural that we would consider how best to make sure that that office is most effective. And I think that anybody who misunderstands exactly what we are trying to do in this position is only trying to -- I think that it might be a clever sound bite, but I think it was quite a cheap political shot.
Q From the Democrats?
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the bombing in Algiers. Does this suggest that al Qaeda is resurging?
MS. PERINO: I have not heard that report. We certainly condemn the attacks in Morocco, and we are working with the Moroccan and Algerian authorities. We stand with them as they try to find out the cause -- or the impetus for the attacks. I haven't heard that it's al Qaeda. I guess it wouldn't surprise me.
Let's do Les since I missed you yesterday.
Q Thank you very much. Two questions. Rutgers University President Richard McCormick, described the Don Imus on-air words as "despicable, unconscionable, and deeply hurtful to the team players, the students and their parents." And my question: Does the President of the United States disagree with the President of Rutgers on this?
MS. PERINO: The President believes that the comments made by Don Imus were inappropriate. He can understand why people's feelings were hurt. He knows that Don Imus apologized and he thinks that that was the right thing to do.
Q One-and-a-half on this one. Since the President earned a graduate degree from Harvard, he does not believe that Harvard students should have to pay $43,000 a year without requiring that all Harvard faculty teach at least 20 hours a week, that vacations of three weeks, rather than four months, does he?
MS. PERINO: I'll have to consult him and see if he's read his alumni magazine.
Q One other. Does he, as a Harvard alum, believe that all of the income from Harvard's $26-billion endowment should be used to reduce tuition, or not?
MS. PERINO: I'll decline comment and let --
Q And you'll check and let me know?
MS. PERINO: Maybe. (Laughter.)
Roger, go ahead.
Q Back to the coordinator -- the fact that the administration is considering a coordinator, or czar, or whatever it's going to be called, and the fact that it might augment Meghan O'Sullivan's job, or maybe a higher-profile thing, suggests that there's something broken in the whole system. Is there something broken that you're trying to repair or --
MS. PERINO: No, I think what's broken is trying to put the cart in front of the horse and try to speculate on a bunch of hypotheticals that I'm not in a position to be able to answer. As I said, the priorities of this administration, given the war on terror and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, while we have troops in harm's way, is priority number one. And so if there are things that we can do to improve upon any processes going forward, we will do that.
But I will tell you, I have not heard anybody say that the system is broken, or that Meghan O'Sullivan did not perform with the -- to the best of her abilities. She is somebody who is held in the highest regard, not just by this President, but by the Iraqis and the Afghanis. She's a wonderful colleague. She has got a tremendous intellect, and we are really going to miss her. I think that we -- I just want to make sure it's really clear that we're undertaking this based on it being the right thing to do at this time, since she said she's going to be moving on, that when you go to replace somebody of that caliber, that you want to make sure that you're replacing her with somebody as good or better.
Q I understand that. But you used the phrase a moment ago, somebody to cut through the bureaucracy, in addition to the spring offensive in Afghanistan coming up. Is that part of the mix of why we're considering this?
MS. PERINO: I think what you have to remember is that Meghan O'Sullivan, as the Deputy National Security Advisor, and Steve Hadley's right-hand person in leading those two reviews, those two large policy reviews, that once that process was finished, she had decided at the end of that, as they moved into the implementation phase, that she would be moving on. So that's the natural time for us to consider it.
Q What does it say about the strain in relations between the White House and the Senate Democratic leader that the two can't even agree on what meeting has been called next week, and whether the Majority Leader is going to come?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'm a little bit perplexed. Yesterday afternoon, following the President's speech, our Legislative Affairs staff, around 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon, called with requests for the leadership -- bipartisan, bicameral leadership -- to come the White House next week to talk about, explicitly said, the Iraq war supplemental. And we got confirmation from Senator Reid's office that he would be attending. So I can't square the public comments with the private comments, but we would hope that he would take the President up on the invitation to come down and talk with him. We have RSVPs from other members.
Q Is this a leadership meeting, and does it cover a broader agenda? Senator Reid is under the impression it's just one of the regular weekly bipartisan leadership meetings.
MS. PERINO: As I understand it, our Legislative Affairs staff was very explicit in saying that this would be an Iraq war supplemental meeting. But let me remind you, though, anytime members of Congress are here and they have the ear of the President, it's not unlikely that they would bring up other issues that are important to them.
Q And is the President willing to discuss with them -- you said he won't negotiate, but will he discuss with them the options on the war supplemental? They are under the impression all they will get is a lecture from him on how he wants the supplemental --
MS. PERINO: The President invited them down to discuss how we could get to a clean bill, because one of the things that we know to be a fact is that they do not have the votes to override the President's veto. We also know that it's a fact the President said that if the bills pass in their current form that he would veto them. So, given that the Democrats have said that they do want to fund the troops, that they're not going to cut funds for the troops, at some point the Democrats are going to have to come together and figure out a way to get the President a clean bill that he can sign in order for the troops to get the money that they need. And that is the point of the meeting.
Let me go -- let me go to Alexis, and then we'll --
Q Dana, related to that, is it the President's concern that the longer this goes out, the greater the chances are that there might be the votes to override his veto? Is he concerned about that?
MS. PERINO: No, I think the President's concern is based on what the Joint Chiefs of Staff have said, which is that the financial hardships that come from not having this money right away, on time and without strings attached, is going to cause problems for the troops and for their families. That's his motivation.
Q And I wanted to ask another question about Mr. Hadley or Dr. Crouch. For those who aren't really sophisticated in understanding exactly how the organization at NSC is set up, could you explain why, when you talk about Iraq as being the President's number one priority, that the two assistants to the President, Mr. Hadley and Dr. Crouch, are not sufficient to be the coordinators for the President's number one foreign policy?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think you have to remember that Dr. Crouch and Mr. Hadley oversee all the world in foreign policy -- the world's events in foreign policy, and so they have a much more global view. And you want to make sure that you have somebody that's in charge of Iraq and Afghanistan, that can focus on that, just like we have somebody who focuses on Africa or Asia.
Q Well, I mean, just give us -- is there an idea that you could explain what Meghan was doing, that would make people understand why there's a subset of things that person needs to pay attention --
MS. PERINO: I don't know if I could give -- I could see if I can give you specifics later. From what I know, Meghan O'Sullivan and her team had a wide variety of responsibilities. They would make sure -- everything from doing the policy reviews for the President, as I mentioned, those in-depth policy reviews, to talking with the Iraqis. I know that she had many conversations with members of the government in Iraq to talk them through things that were going on here at home. That was one of the things that she did, which -- our actions here in Washington, D.C. are spread around the world for people to hear, and they might not quite understand exactly what's going on here in America, especially when we have debates about whether or not to stay in Iraq. And I remember her talking with them and assuring them that the President stood firm with the Iraqis and that he was going to be there.
Everything from helping respond to members of Congress, to talking to the Iraqis, to the nitty-gritty of getting ready for policy time for the President -- it was a wide range in responsibilities.
Q She coordinated also with State and --
MS. PERINO: Absolutely. That's one of the things the National Security Council does, which is coordinate with the national security agencies. It's not just the State Department and Defense Department, but at any given time you can be working with the Treasury Department, Department of Energy, or other agencies -- USAID, which would be part of State Department, but if there was a specific need there.
Q Dana, a major oil producer today, or yesterday, joined the bandwagon of industry leaders who are calling for a national emissions cap on greenhouse gases. The United States, or administration is making an argument it would not be in the economic interest to have a national standard. Is there a disconnect here between those who would be regulated and want regulation?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think what's fair to say is there is a lot of discussion going on right now about climate change, and that's not a bad thing. The President has legislation in front of Congress right now that would halt the growth of greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles by the year 2010 -- that's the 20-in-10 program that he announced in the State of the Union.
Whether or not there is a cap in trade or whether or not there is a mandatory, economy-wide cap, or whether or not there are other mechanisms that you can use -- what the President has said is that one thing that we know that we have to have is we have to have a strong and growing economy in order to have the resources, the money to pay for the technologies that we know we're going to need in order to help solve this problem.
In addition to that, when we talk about the economic disadvantages, it's regarding two basic things. Right now technology does not exist in order to strip carbon out of power plants. And that is something that we are working towards, the Department of Energy towards that. And, most encouragingly, the private sector is looking towards what possible new technologies that they can create. And I know that out in Silicon Valley they're really thinking through a lot of these different ideas.
But we also have to remember that the developing nations are going to be emitting a lot of pollution and a lot of carbon and other greenhouse gases, and we have to take that into consideration, because since this is a global issue and all the emissions go up into the atmosphere, that if you only solve one part of the problem over here, and more emissions come up over here, you haven't solved the environmental problem and what you've possibly done is transferred jobs and pollution and the greenhouse gases to another part of the world.
So it's complex, but the President believes that technology is the answer, number one. And as Congress debates other issues, we'll have to see how that goes.
Q Thank you. It sounds like a Les question, but it's an important racial question, too. Does the President have any views on the charges apparently being dropped against the Duke lacrosse players? And does he believe something ought to be done to help these three young players regain their lives and recoup the money that they've lost in legal fees?
MS. PERINO: I haven't talked to him about it, but I'll decline to comment on a legal matter.
Q But it's settled.
Q It's a social matter --
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on it.
Kelly, did you have one?
Q Fred Thompson, former senator and potential presidential candidate, has disclosed that he has cancer. And there's been a lot of high profile cancer, with Tony Snow, Elizabeth Edwards, that is reflecting on the whole presidential race. Was the President notified about this? Does he have any view about how the intersection of these two things, this -- cancer is affecting the race and becoming so much more of a public --
MS. PERINO: I haven't had a chance to talk to the President since I saw the reports about Fred Thompson's announcement. Obviously, we have our hearts and prayers with Fred Thompson. And, as he said, it's treatable, and so that's encouraging.
And I did talk to Tony Snow this morning. He is really doing well. He is so optimistic, but not only that, he has recovered almost fully from the surgery, and he's really optimistic about his choices for treatment -- that he's not ready to announce yet, but it sounds very encouraging.
So I think that because you have individuals like Mr. Thompson, Tony Snow and Elizabeth Edwards all highlighting the issue of cancer, hopefully it will help people who are either going through it now, or encourage them to get screenings so that they can get early treatment, because I think that they have all been a good inspiration for us.
Mr. Lambros, go ahead.
Q Yes, Ms. Perino, according to the White House press release, President Bush has authorized, "furnishing defense articles and defense services" to both Montenegro and Serbia. Since is it not clear, do you know if "furnishing" implies sale of arms, or a grant of arms to Serbia and Montenegro?
MS. PERINO: I do not know, sir, but I'll ask the National Security Council to get back in touch with you.
Q Thank you.
Q Dana, real quick.
MS. PERINO: Okay, Suzanne.
Q The CEO of Ford Motors was here at the White House last week, introducing a hybrid car. He made a joke yesterday about the President nearly blowing himself up, and that he saved his life or something. Is there any reaction -- I mean, it was a story that the blogs took seriously for about 24, 48 hours. Any reaction or response from the White House? Has the President or the CEO of Ford reached out to the President to explain himself?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't know about any sort of outreach to us. I'll just -- the story wasn't accurate, and I'll just decline to comment further.
Q Was there any concern at all that that was taken seriously? Because obviously there was a lot of press --
MS. PERINO: If I was concerned about all the things that were on the blogs every day, I wouldn't get -- I wouldn't do anything else.
Go ahead, Sarah.
Q Thank you. Dana, to follow up to the questions asked before --
MS. PERINO: About Ford Motor Company?
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q Why not promote an active duty general to the generals of the Army's five stars and let him run the wars, like General Eisenhower did, and MacArthur? Can the President do that?
MS. PERINO: Sarah, I'm going to decline to comment on that. I think that we have a good structure in place, and great personnel in Secretary Gates.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you, Dana. New Mexico Governor Richardson has been to North Korea. Would you tell us if there is any accomplishment toward normalization of relationship between U.S. and North Korea?
MS. PERINO: Well, Secretary Principi and Governor Richardson have had a trip to North Korea in which to retrieve remains of U.S. soldiers, and that was the mission that they were on. We are pleased that they accomplished that. And beyond that, I would just refer you to the fact that we are continuing to work within the context of the six-party talks and that those are having some signs of progress.
Q Did he meet the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if he did or not. I haven't heard that, no.
Q Thank you.
MS. PERINO: Thank you.
END 1:15 P.M. EDT