James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:22 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Hello, welcome everybody. One quick note about the Middle East peace process. The Israelis and the Palestinians have said that they will return to talks, and we are encouraged by this development. We know there’s a lot more work that needs to be done, but the President is pleased that Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas are not going to be deterred from the potential to achieve peace and security by establishing a framework for what a Palestinian state would look like before the end of his term.
And then while you — I know a lot of you are here for the other event we have coming up in less than an hour from now, when the President and Senator McCain will be in the Rose Garden. Last night Senator McCain scored decisive victories in primaries across the country, and Republican voters have responded to his conservative agenda of protecting this nation from terrorist threats, enacting pro-growth policies and making sure leaders in Washington are wise stewards of the people’s money.
Senator McCain is a leader who cares first and foremost about the safety and future prosperity of America, and that’s why Republican voters have rallied around his candidacy. And the two leaders are having lunch right now in the private dining room, which is just off of the Oval Office, and then will be in the Rose Garden in about 45 minutes.
Q What’s the President’s analysis of how he helps and hurts the McCain candidacy?
MS. PERINO: Well, as the President has said before when it comes to helping Republican candidates he will campaign for them or against them, if they think that that will help. (Laughter.)
But President Bush, as the head of the party, can do some campaigning —
Q When he’s going to be against them?
MS. PERINO: — we’ve done a lot of — the President has done a lot of fundraising. In fact, the supply cannot keep up with demand, but we’re trying to do as much as we possibly can when it comes to raising money to support our Republican candidates across the board.
One thing the President can do is try to help make sure that we are trying to take back the House and the Senate for Republican majorities, come the fall. In addition to that, the President obviously is very popular within the Republican Party. And so the President fully expects that Republicans across the board are going to rally around John McCain’s candidacy.
Q And what — is there a downside?
MS. PERINO: A downside to being here?
Q To the President’s endorsement, the President campaigning with him.
MS. PERINO: I think that across the board the Republicans are going to support this President and John McCain. We are going to do what we think will be helpful. But remember, this is not President Bush’s campaign; this is Senator McCain’s campaign and he is going to run it how he sees fit. We will be there to be supportive in a variety of ways. Some of those ways we don’t even — we might not even know yet; I think it’s pretty early in the process, we don’t have dates worked out all the way into the future and a lot of specifics.
But one of the things that’s happening right now is part of the President’s team is meeting with Senator McCain’s team separately, having lunch this afternoon while the President and Senator McCain have lunch, to talk about some of those very things, to see how best we can fit into their operation and help.
Q On that, Dana, yes, in his endorsement of Senator McCain for President, President Bush does not mean that he agrees with all of McCain’s positions, does it?
MS. PERINO: As I said this morning, we have many things that we agree with Senator McCain on. First and foremost, the two most important priorities President Bush thinks are the commitment to making sure the country remains safe, and that we have pro-growth policies and low taxes. But there are differences that we have with Senator McCain. There’s no doubt about that. That’s plain for everybody to see.
But one of the things that’s most attractive about Senator McCain’s candidacy for Republicans across the country is that he has blazed his own trail. And he is a wonderful leader, and President Bush is very pleased to have him here today.
Q Could you just give us two places where they disagree?
MS. PERINO: No. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Go ahead, Holly.
Q Dana, can you discuss the parameters for separating political events from White House business? I mean, is it appropriate for politicking to be going on from the White House podium, from the White House Rose Garden?
MS. PERINO: Well, as I reminded you, that the President is the head of the Republican Party, and the President was pleased today to invite Senator John McCain to his home, and invited him in through the front door. And they’re having lunch now, and then they’ll meet in the Rose Garden. And I can tell you that, in checking with the Counsel’s Office, all of these events and activities were thoroughly evaluated and approved.
Q Dana, will they — (inaudible) — but will they talk about a Vice Presidential choice? Does the President —
MS. PERINO: I don’t know. It’s just the two of them.
Q — will offer to do that?
MS. PERINO: It’s just the two of them in there —
Q No agenda?
MS. PERINO: Well, obviously, they’ll be talking about some of the critical issues. And the President has a lot of experience to share about this final stretch once you’re the clear nominee, and I think that he’ll be able to share some of that with Senator McCain. I would expect that they would do some strategizing. Whether or not they bat around names for a possible Vice Presidential choice, I don’t know. It might be a little bit early for Senator McCain’s team to be thinking that, anyway.
Q Dana, you said that the President called a number of the Republican candidates. Can you give us some more insight into what he said? Was he rallying them to support McCain? Can you share a little bit more?
MS. PERINO: President Bush did try to reach a number of the candidates today that had run for the Republican — on the Republican ticket. He called all of them to thank them for their runs. He said that they were courageous, that they had added a lot to the debate, that they had raised interest in the election; the President thinks that’s a good thing. He also said it was good that they gave the ultimate winner a run for his money, because he thinks that a tough primary challenge makes for a better candidate, and he knew that from personal experience.
So he just took a little bit of time today to call each of them and thank them for contributing to the overall effort for helping the party, making it a stronger party, and that he looked — he also said that he looked forward to working with them as we work to elect a Republican President in ’08.
Q Dana, you said on McCain and the coordination — is there someone at the White House, either Gillespie or Barry Jackson, who’s going to be, sort of, the point person for coordination? Who is at the lunch today from your side? And thirdly, are there any limitations on what the White House can do, according to what the Counsel’s Office has told you?
MS. PERINO: Well, the law is called the Hatch Act, and it’s pretty clear what the Hatch Act is, and everyone has been briefed on what the Hatch Act is.
In the lunch today is Josh Bolten, Joe Hagin, Joel Kaplan, Ed Gillespie, and Barry Jackson. How they split up those responsibilities for coordination with the campaign, I’m not exactly sure, but that might be one of the things they’re talking about today.
Obviously, Barry Jackson, as head of the President’s political office, will be key, as will Ed Gillespie. And obviously Barry and Ed and, in fact, all of them — Josh, Joel and Joe — they all — a lot of these people know each other from — going a ways back.
Q Dana —
MS. PERINO: Let me go up here first. Go ahead, Matt.
Q I’m sorry, Dana, on an international subject —
MS. PERINO: Can we finish out — anybody else?
MS. PERINO: Anybody else on McCain? Okay, last one on McCain. Okay, Goyal.
Q Last week, both candidates, Senator Obama and Clinton, both were talking about the President’s seven-year record in the White House, and they were criticizing some of it. Can you just give a little detail that — what the President has achieved in the seven years? And also, what he could not do, he wanted to do?
MS. PERINO: Well, Goyal, I could be here all day, if we’re going to list all that, but I’ll spare people and say that obviously the President has kept this country safe. He’s had good economic policies. We had 52 consecutive months of job growth. We are in a current slowdown and the President is taking action to mitigate against that. And there are significant achievements across the board, both domestic and foreign policy oriented.
Q Does the Hatch Act mean he can’t campaign from the White House?
MS. PERINO: Sorry?
Q Does the Hatch Act mean that he cannot campaign from this pedestal?
MS. PERINO: No, this event — the event today was thoroughly evaluated by the Counsel’s Office and approved.
Q Dana, would you just tick off the Republican candidates that he called this morning?
MS. PERINO: I know that he reached — I said it this morning — Thompson, Romney, Huckabee. And then he was able to reach Giuliani a little bit later; he was in the mountain time zone and we didn’t think it was appropriate to call him before the sun came up. He’s been able to reach Duncan Hunter, as well.
Q But not Ron Paul?
MS. PERINO: Well, I don’t believe Ron Paul has dropped out of the race yet. (Laughter.) But obviously, the President and Ron Paul have known each other for many years, from their time in Texas, and I’m sure they’ll speak at some point in the future.
Q Venezuela is saying today that it’s deploying tank battalions and air and sea forces toward the Colombian border and its crisis there. What’s the level of U.S. concern on that? And is there any chance that the U.S. would be offering military assistance to it’s ally, Colombia?
MS. PERINO: I think that’s a little bit premature. I don’t — we do not have independent confirmation of that claim of the troop movements down in that area. So I’m not able to say. I think it’s premature to say that there would be any need for military help. We do believe that Colombia and Ecuador should be able to work this out between themselves. We don’t see any need for a country that wasn’t involved to be a part of it. We do think it’s curious that a country such as Venezuela would be raising the specter of military action against a country who was defending itself against terrorism. I think that says a lot about Venezuela.
And what President Bush said to President Uribe yesterday is that we are going to stand strong with our ally; that we support their democracy; and their move to free enterprise. And when the President asked President Uribe, what’s the most important thing that we can do for you right now, President Uribe said that it is to work with the Congress to pass the free trade agreement, because that will show that there is a different path from the drug trade that Colombia had been mired in, in the past. They’ve have made tremendous strides. They have reduced their poverty rate by 20 percent. It used to be the murder capital of the world; it no longer is.
There are many different things that President Uribe has done in order to help the situation in Colombia. And now he says that one of the most important things that we can do is help pass the free trade agreement, which would not only help our businesses, but also improve — make sure that our national security is secure.
If we have more on it later, I’ll let you know.
Q Dana, there — I know you haven’t read this, but if you’ll trust me to quote from — there is an article in Esquire Magazine about Admiral William Fallon. It says this: “Because of Fallon’s caution on Iran, Fallon may soon be unemployed because he is doing what a generation of young officers in the U.S. military are now openly complaining that their leadership didn’t do on their behalf in the run-up to the war in Iraq. He’s standing up to the Commander-in-Chief, who he thinks is contemplating a strategically unsound war.” Is that an accurate portrayal of the relationship?
MS. PERINO: You’re right, before I came here I told you I haven’t seen the article. I don’t know who wrote it. I’ve never heard anything of that sort, except for in rumor mills that don’t turn out to be true. So I’ll check it out, but I don’t think there’s anything to it.
Q Do they have opposing views on Iran?
MS. PERINO: I don’t know. Well, I mean, the President —
Q Fallon is also quoted as saying that he’s been in hot water with the White House because — even meeting with Mubarak.
MS. PERINO: President Bush’s position on Iran is very clear. That doesn’t mean that other people can’t have other thoughts or positions, but I’m not going to characterize Admiral Fallon. And let me take a look at the article and then we’ll try to get back to you.
Q OPEC today declined to raise oil production. The oil ministers said a couple of things. One, they said the U.S. economy is being mismanaged and that is part of the problem. And two, they said the rising price of oil is due less to a shortage and more to the declining value of the dollar. I would like you to address both of those things if you could.
MS. PERINO: Well, as the President said yesterday, he would have liked OPEC to have made a different decision. He is disappointed that they decided not to increase production. He does not think it’s a good idea for their biggest customers, such as the United States, to have an economic slowdown, in part contributable to — because of high gas prices. We know that there is high global demand and there is tighter supply. So what we would like is to see an increase in supply from OPEC.
Obviously they decided not to do that this time. In the meantime what we need to continue to do is have more domestic exploration and production here, in environmentally friendly ways, and to do what the President just said two hours ago, which is to constantly look for alternatives in renewable energies that can help power our economy in a way that would help take the pressure off of prices.
And as to the economy being — their suggestion that our economy is being mismanaged: The United States economy is fundamentally sound with good structure. We are in a little bit of a slowdown right now. We have taken measures to mitigate against that, and we believe that we will see us pull out of this before the end of the year.
Q And their assertion that the falling value of the dollar is more responsible for the rise of oil prices?
MS. PERINO: I have seen that assertion, but as you know I don’t talk about the dollar from here.
Q Dana, can you confirm that there’s another round of U.S.-Iran security talks on Iraq this Thursday, as the Iraqis and Iranians are saying?
MS. PERINO: Within the U.N.?
Q I’m sorry, within — inside Iraq — between the United States and Iran on security issues in Iraq.
MS. PERINO: I’ll check. I know they have periodic conversations, but I don’t know of anything specific right now.
Q And can you explain why the United States is dropping security guarantees from the long-term strategic relationship between the United States and Iraq?
MS. PERINO: I don’t know the details of it. The strategic framework agreement is something that we said we would start working on in late February, and so if there is word coming out about that now on March 5th, I guess I wouldn’t be surprised. But I’m not a party to those conversations. And I don’t know if it’s a good idea for us to negotiate it from this podium, since Ambassador Crocker is heading up those efforts for us over in Iraq. But we’ll check on it.
Q Thank you.
END 12:36 P.M. ESTList your legal jobs on the LawFuel Network