James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:37 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Hello, everybody. Welcome to the second-to-last briefing of this presidency. The last briefing will be tomorrow; I hope you’ll be here. We have a little fun planned. So I won’t give you any more than that little bit of a teaser.
Obviously, tonight is the President’s farewell address to the nation. And I have been fortunate to have roped Ed Gillespie into coming down to the briefing with me. He doesn’t have a ton of time, but he’s going to have enough to give you a little bit of a preview and then take a few of your questions. Then he’ll have to scoot and I’ll finish up.
Just so that you know, the speech is running about 13 minutes long. And if that changes, we’ll certainly let you know, but I don’t anticipate that it will.
So, I’ll turn it over to Ed, and then I’ll come back up afterwards.
MR. GILLESPIE: Thanks, Dana. Thanks to everyone for letting me have a little time. As Dana mentioned, the President’s speech will be about 13 minutes in length. In that time, he will obviously reflect on his time in office, the eight years here, and some of the experiences that he and the American people have been through together in that time. It is a presidency, obviously, at a time of great consequence, and a lot of major events.
He will express his gratitude and appreciation to the American people for the opportunity to serve, and thank them for the countless examples of grace and courage and compassion that he witnesses — witnessed during his time as President.
He will talk about the challenges that we face as a country going forward, and about our future, and obviously talk about why he is optimistic and has faith in our ability to meet those challenges, given the character of the American people.
And he will highlight some of those people who have — who he’s met along the way. They’ll be people who have been greeters from the Freedom Corps, who have demonstrated great acts of courage and compassion, in the audience; he will highlight some of those folks, not all of them. And there will be a small audience. It will be in the East Room, as you know. And this is a little bit of a break from the tradition of the Oval Office address. The President, I think, wanted to be with people for his farewell address. It’s about those people and about the American people, and so it is a little different in that regard. While it’s customary to give a parting address, this will be a little different to have an audience there.
And so that’s a general overview. He will highlight some of the things that this President, his administration, and the people have done to help to keep us safe, to help to improve test scores, to help to make health care more — prescription drugs more affordable. But it’s really not a litany or a looking back. It is mostly — talk about, like I said, his experiences, and the American people, and expression of his gratitude, and obviously an expression of our best wishes for President-Elect Obama and his administration.
So with that, happy to take some questions. Jen.
Q: Thank you. Could you talk a little bit about why it’s important personally for the President to do this tonight? He has this series of speeches where he talks about different aspects of his record and different challenges that he has faced over the years. Why is it important to do this tonight? Some Presidents do, some don’t.
MR. GILLESPIE: Yes. I think that the President wanted to thank the American people and express his appreciation. And while he’s done a lot of interviews, as you noted, in those instances you’re taking questions. He has given speeches on policy and that kind of thing. But this is less about policy. This is more about, I think, about, like I say, the people that he has seen and the experiences that we’ve had together.
And I think he wanted to, like I say, just express a little bit of his gratitude. And it’s brief, like I say. And it’s also kind of a little bit of an endpoint, a punctuation mark on some of these interviews and speeches, because as you know he will not be making any further public appearances until he greets President-Elect Obama on Inauguration Day on the North Portico.
Q: Will we hear from them, from either President on the North Portico that day?
MR. GILLESPIE: I don’t think that’s the custom. No, I think it’s just a greeting.
Q: Can you tell us who is going to be in the audience, give us a sense of which people have been selected to participate?
MR. GILLESPIE: I think we’re putting that out later on today with bios and everything. So I’ll hold that for just a little bit longer, if that’s okay.
Q: Are they friends or military? Can you describe in general terms?
MR. GILLESPIE: There are — there will be friends there. But the folks that are highlighted are people who have provided great examples as citizens of this country, and reflected a spirit of this country and are compassionate, and are caring, and are courage. Some of whom are — some of those folks have become friends. But it’s — he will highlight people that he has met along the way.
Q: So these are people who already know him and met him?
MR. GILLESPIE: Yes, he has already met them. And it’s similar to what is done often in the State of the Union speech, when you, you know, have guests in the President’s box.
Q: This morning, when the President spoke at the State Department, he said that Secretary Rice had been optimistic even in the darkest days or the darkest hours. What was he talking about when he was saying “the darkest hours”? What was he referring —
MR. GILLESPIE: I’m not sure, Toby, in that instance. I just wasn’t there, so I apologize. I was not at that event so I don’t want to speak for that.
Q: And would you characterize the farewell address that he’s going to give as optimistic, hopeful —
MR. GILLESPIE: I think it is, like I said, is reflective of the experiences and shared experiences with the American people. It is — in terms of talking about the challenges for the future, it is optimistic based on what he has seen in the character and the strength of the American people, and obviously talks about his hopes for our country and the next President and for the American people. So I’d say, yes, optimistic and future-oriented.
Q: Ed, in preparing for this address, I wonder if you’ve talked to the President about how he would like to be remembered by the American people. And how would he like to be remembered?
MR. GILLESPIE: Sheryl, I think he would like to be remembered as someone who has stood by his principles, someone who made decisions based on the best interest of the American people and what their — with his care for them at heart; understanding that in making tough decisions not everyone is going to agree with the tough decisions that he’s made, but I think hopeful that people will acknowledge that he’s been willing to make tough decisions as President and not, you know, not kick the can down the road.
Q: How involved have you been in writing this speech or conceptualizing it? Is it more than what would be the garden variety speech since it’s his last opportunity to address the public.
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, the truth is, the President is very involved in all of his speeches from — he is a very careful editor, he has a very clear sense of what it is he wants to convey in a speech. And in this case he wasn’t sure he was going to do a farewell address. As I think Jen noted, it’s not — you know, some do, some don’t. And President Reagan, President Clinton both did. President Carter I think gave a last State of the Union address, and former President Bush did not do either a form of State of the Union address or a farewell address.
So the President was weighing that, determined that he did want to have — you know, seek some time and have a brief set of remarks to share with the American people. And he was very involved from the outset, laying out what he wanted to convey and then in the — you know, in the back and forth in the editing process, as is often the case.
Q: Does he spend any time tonight defending the more controversial aspects of his record, or is he happy to leave that to the judgment of history at this point?
MR. GILLESPIE: I think, you know, that information is out there. We’ve obviously talked in different policy speeches about the decisions he’s made and the policies that were adopted. And, you know, I think we’ve — I like to think that we’ve put information out there that will guide or at least give historians accurate data from which to judge things.
Obviously we’ve highlighted some of the things I’ve talked about here — the prescription drug benefitting 40 million seniors and disabled Americans who — you know, 90 percent of whom say that they very much appreciate this benefit; highlighting the increase in test scores for minority students and white students, but the gap being the lowest that it’s ever been in the NAPE scores; the 30 percent reduction in chronic homelessness; the 25 percent decrease in teenage drug use; the fact that — obviously we’re very concerned about our economy right now. The President has acted boldly. When he came into office, he inherited a recession. We had the attacks of September 11. But from that third quarter of 2001 through this most recent economic downturn, we had 52 months of uninterrupted job creation in this country. That’s the longest in the history of the United States of America. People saw their after-tax incomes go up by 12 percent, productivity higher than it was in the ’70s, ’80s, or ’90s.
So all that is out there, I think, for historians. They can judge. That’s what historians do. But this speech is not — that’s not the nature of this speech. That was just the nature of my little riff there. (Laughter.)
Q: We heard the President talk the other day at the press conference about the tone in Washington. Will there be a call for more peace in Washington for a new President and a new team coming in during a difficult time?
MR. GILLESPIE: Well, Mike, I can tell you that I think this President has led by example in this regard. I think that clearly the direction he has given everyone, from the Chief of Staff on down, in terms of this transition and making sure that — and this goes back to the summer that we started working on this, and it was clear that regardless of outcome of election, regardless of party of successor, that we would do all we could to make sure that the President-elect and his team would be able to grab the reins of the executive branch at noon on Tuesday.
And I think that — clearly the President has demonstrated his support for the President-elect, and we have all tried to do the same. I got a report yesterday from someone on the — talking to one our counterparts on the transition team, who said, you know, by the way, you should know that it’s not only here at the White House, but in every department and agency, we’ve had the same experience and we really appreciate it.
So, look, I — you know, having been through my time here and other places in government, none of us who have seen the kind of personal attacks against the President would want to see that against any President. And, you know, I can tell you, you know, as someone who may be out there talking about, in the future, talking about our successor’s policies — and some of those things may be areas where I wouldn’t agree — the fact is I believe that those who are conservative Republicans like I am or don’t share his point of view, I hope that they’ll be respectful of the President of the United States.
Q: And is there anything left of the President’s plate, or does the sprint to the finish end tonight?
MR. GILLESPIE: He’s got still things, you know, that he’ll be doing. But, as I said, there’s no public appearances. But the President will have the presidency until noon on Tuesday, and he will be having his briefings, he’ll be, you know, talking to folks. But I don’t — there won’t be a lot. I wouldn’t be expecting, you know — well, there won’t be a lot. But any responsibilities that fall to the President between now and noon will fall to George W. Bush.
Q: You mentioned specifically in tonight’s address we can expect reference to test scores, increased accessibility to prescription drugs as some examples of successes of the administration. But will the President address specifically Iraq and Afghanistan?
MR. GILLESPIE: He will of course talk about Iraq and Afghanistan and the broader war on terror, which they are two theaters in that war, and talk about how this country responded after the attacks of 9/11 to help keep us safer and also talk about other national security issues — like I say, Afghanistan and Iraq being among those. So there is — he will reference those.
Q: And as far as, like, the number of people there, do you know — do you have a count on that right now?
MR. GILLESPIE: I think it’s 45 —
MS. PERINO: Or 41 — I’ll go check.
MR. GILLESPIE: We’ll get that for you, Jon.
Q: And as far as — you mentioned President Carter going to the Hill for a State of the Union-style thing. Why did the President choose not to do that? I mean, because that would have been, as you said, he wanted to be with people — that would have been with some people.
MR. GILLESPIE: Yes, I don’t know — I don’t know the circumstances under which President Carter gave a last State of the Union address — obviously different times. It’s like 20-some — I’m not good at math; I was an English major. Twenty-nine years ago or something — (laughter.)
You know, I don’t — there was never much of a discussion of the President doing a State of the Union address, a final State of the Union address. So this seemed to be a very comfortable way by which to do this.
Q: Ed, you’re with him every day. What’s the President’s mood? Is he sentimental? Is he tired?
MR. GILLESPIE: You know, it’s — he’s not tired. I mean, he is — you know, he just has a ton of energy. But he is — you know, I would say that he’s gotten a little more winsome. I remember somebody asking me back in, like, September, you know, things must be — things must be getting winsome. And I thought, you know, those of us who work here wish it were a little more winsome sometimes.
It’s gotten a little more winsome. And I think that he is looking back as we’ve gone through these series of lasts. And it’s a — I wouldn’t say emotional time, but it’s obviously — it’s a moment — look, when you work here, you work with colleagues like, you know, my friends here. You go through a lot together. And the President, I think, is thinking of all that we’ve been through and all the people who have been through it with him. And there’s a great deal of a sense of appreciation for those people.
Q: Have all pardon decisions been made?
MR. GILLESPIE: I’m going to defer to Dana on questions that aren’t related to the address tonight.
So, one more.
Q: So, tonight’s speech, it sounds like, is more aimed at the American people themselves and not quite so much at, you know, historians as some of the previous speeches have been. Is that — that’s a fair –
MR. GILLESPIE: I think that’s a fair assessment, yes. I think this is something — some thoughts the President wanted to share with the American people after eight years of the privilege and honor as serving as President of the United States.
Q: Ed, the President’s farewell speech to the American people has a global audience, too. And this morning he said that he would ask the United — the American people to continue to engage the world, confident in the power of liberty. Is there any message at all to the global audience, as a new American President takes —
MR. GILLESPIE: I think, you know, one of the things that the President has made clear is that, as he said, in the Oval Office with the former Presidents, that this is an office that transcends any individual. And the fact is, while we are about to witness one of the things that I like to think that people around the world admire most about this country, this peaceful handoff of power of the presidency from one person to the next, from one party to the other, and the way that that’s being done, that we do have a responsibility to lead. That responsibility transcends any one President, and falls to the presidency of the United States, and is something that we as all Americans — that’s a reason to rally behind our President. So yes, I think he will touch on that a little bit here.
Thanks, all of you. Enjoyed working with you. If I don’t get the chance to see you before Tuesday, thanks for this opportunity to spend a little time.
MS. PERINO: All right, let me take a stab at your question that he had because — no, Toby’s. (Laughter.) But if you have another one, Mark, I’ll be happy to answer it. I did get a chance to go over, and it was wonderful. It was a surprise for Ryan Crocker, that he was getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom — a surprise, I think, for everybody. But we kept that a secret because he is a very humble person, Ambassador Crocker. And I can’t think of anybody more deserving.
And I think that it was a fitting tribute to the Foreign Service Officers that the President has put in posts that usually go to political appointees, that something as important as Iraq and Afghanistan, especially Iraq when it came to having leadership there, especially during those dark days, which I’ll get to in a moment, Ambassador Crocker was definitely one of the best leaders.
And for some of the younger people there, the younger career Foreign Service Officers, I think it was really good for them to see that hard work can be rewarded, and by a President who is very grateful for all that the Foreign Service has done under his watch and that they’ll continue to do there. They’re consummate professionals. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know a lot of them.
So when it comes to Secretary Rice, I think what the President was getting at is that — you all know, you’ve been writing about them — there have been some very tough days in the administration. And during 9/11, I think you can talk about that time period as being dark days. During that period when we were going through the process of developing the surge strategy, there were days when all of us could — if we didn’t have leaders who were pushing us to get to the right answer and being optimistic that if we got to the right policy answer we could actually achieve success, like we have done in Iraq since they — I’m not saying it’s over. I’m just saying that where we were a year ago, a year and a half ago in Iraq and where we are today, I don’t think anybody in this room would have believed it.
What Secretary Rice and President Bush bring to the table is an optimism that — it doesn’t mean that you can’t be optimistic and pragmatic at the same time; that’s a false choice. And I’ve seen some places reported, especially from columnists, suggesting that the President’s optimism is — has hindered America. And I just — I totally disagree.
I don’t think that you can believe — and I don’t think you can achieve the goals that you’ve laid out, like a two-state solution, if you don’t actually believe that you can get it done. I think there is something to be said about the power of positive thinking. But also there is a realism there, and we’ve tried to strike a balance.
I think that what he meant was that Secretary Rice shares his philosophy that to achieve the goals you have to believe that you can do it. And you have to then be able to get up every morning wanting to work really hard so that you can try to do it. And then you deal with the realities as it comes up.
Q: Ed was talking about — I believe when he was on that little winsome riff, he was talking about last September. Did he mention last September when he said, we all wished that the President was more winsome?
MS. PERINO: No, I think it was — we’ve just been dealing with a lot of these questions for awhile about how does the President feel. And last September — I think what Ed was referring to was during the election when the campaign was hot and heavy, and the President was not out campaigning, as you know. We were — we decided to take a back seat at his direction, which I think was the right thing to do.
And people at that point started asking us, “Well, is the President upset that he is not out on the campaign trail? Is the President disappointed? Is he sad? Is he reflective?” I think that’s what Ed meant.
I don’t think that means now that the President is — well, look, the President is being reflective at times. But he also — when he said, “sprint to the finish,” he absolutely meant it. And while he might not be tired, I think all of us are still — (laughter) — some of us are trying to — struggle to keep up with him.
But he is sad, in some ways. I think if you have worked in the environment that we have, under the extraordinary circumstances that we’ve had, that when you come to the end and you realize that you’re going to have to say good-bye, and you’re going to miss all the good things, and you’ll probably all miss — I think I’ll miss the adrenaline and all of that. In four to eight years from now, when the Obama team is answering the same questions, I think they’ll probably have the same feelings, just like the Clinton team I’m sure had in 2000.
Q: Can you talk just a little bit — nuts and bolts — about the next two days? I think you’ve said that the Press Office is going to get pared down to basically Stuart.
MS. PERINO: Yes, a little bit.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the whole apparatus that will be around the President, say Monday and Tuesday? It will be pretty pared down, right?
MS. PERINO: Yes. So we’ll have — the President will be fully staffed to the extent that he needs help. There will be those of us around to do it, there just might be fewer of us, because there is quite an elaborate checkout system. You have to turn in all of your equipment. There is the ethics debrief. You have to turn in any keys that you might have, your parking pass. You have to go through all of that process.
And so in order to make sure that that’s done in an orderly fashion, some people will have to start checking out. And that really started around Monday of this week. We’re going to say good-bye to three of our staffers tonight, although it’s not good-bye forever — they’re going to be tomorrow for the press briefing — but Carlton Carroll, being one of them, who has been fantastic, and he has really — rose to the occasion. A lot you knew him when he just started out as a press assistant, and now he is a fantastic on-the-record spokesperson. We couldn’t be more proud of him.
Q: Which one is he again? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: We needed Ken Herman to get us through that moment. But Anthony Warren and Matthew Drummond will also check out this afternoon, a few more tomorrow. Stuart Siciliano and I will be here through — and I think Gordon, because he checks out through NSC, will be here on Tuesday. Ben Chang, thankfully, will be here for you and help the Obama team transition, as previous deputy national spokesmen have done before. And so you’ll have some continuity. But we’ll be available, Tony Fratto and Stanzel and I, through the weekend.
So the President will do the farewell address tonight. Tomorrow he’ll leave for Camp David. It will be a small group at Camp David. I expect that he’ll have his daughters there. Secretary Rice usually heads up; the Hadleys; Chief of Staff Josh Bolten. But it won’t be a large affair. They had that at Christmas time. And we’re going to allow — I believe we’re going to allow that final departure and the final arrival on Sunday, when they come back from Camp David, to be taken live for those of you who care about that.
And he’ll have his radio address on Saturday; I think he’ll tape that in the morning. And then Monday — we’ll be here to provide you some information. I think there are some requests for some world leaders to be able to call and say good-bye to President Bush. We’ll let you know about that. So, Olivier, who — but only if you shave those things off by Monday. (Laughter.)
Q: No guarantees. I’m the decider. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: You can make that decision if you’d like.
Q: And the other offices in the White House that are going to be pared down, too, just like —
MS. PERINO: Yes. Everybody — everyone has to go through that same process. The Chief of Staff made sure that everything was done in a systematic fashion. We’re not going to be running around here like chickens with our heads cut off on Tuesday morning. We’re going to try to do this in a real good way. Then there will be some staff that goes out — as many staff as possible — go out to Andrews Air Force Base where they will be able to say good-bye to the President.
The President will probably make some closing remarks to them, but they will be not open to the press. It will just be a private moment. Then he’ll get on the plane and head to Midland, where he will give an — he’ll give remarks at an open press event in the town square there, and then head to Waco, and then on to Crawford. And that’ll be it.
Q: What do you mean by debriefing? You said for debriefing. Can you give us —
MS. PERINO: Oh, those are things that you have to do in terms of making sure that you sign off, that you haven’t — that you know you have to keep the secrets that you were told, and things like that.
MS. PERINO: No. (Laughter.)
Q: Dana, as you heard Mr. Gillespie say, you’re going to spill your guts about pardons. Where is that process?
MS. PERINO: I don’t know why he threw me under the bus on that. (Laughter.)
Q: Is there debate on that?
MS. PERINO: He doesn’t know that basically I just have you talk to the hand when it comes to pardons. But we have never talked about them from here in terms of what may or may not be coming. And I’m not going to start on five days to go.
Q: Let me try on one thing on that. There has been some push-back in this administration on how previous administrations did some of those at the last minute. Will that not happen next week or —
MS. PERINO: I don’t anticipate that you’ll have any, necessarily, on the 20th, but I can’t say that for sure because a President always holds that power and that right up until the time that they’re not — no longer President. So I’m not going to restrain him and that power in any way.
Q: Dana, it’s a tradition, I think, in the White House for outgoing staffers to leave something behind. I think you probably inherited a flak jacket that’s been passed down.
MS. PERINO: Yep.
Q: Does the President plan to leave anything for President-Elect Obama?
MS. PERINO: Yes, he’ll — he plans — it’s tradition for the President to leave a note for the President-elect, and then the President, in the desk of the drawer in the Oval Office, and President Bush plans to do that. I’ve — I will do the same for Robert Gibbs. When he was here last week I showed him the flak jacket, but told him that whenever he has a quiet moment then he can read through all the notes. They’re really special and it’s a private thing that Press Secretaries share and that’s a real privilege.
Q: Has the President written the note yet or —
MS. PERINO: I don’t think so. I don’t believe so. The last time we talked about this last week, he thought that he would probably wait until the 20th to compose it.
Q: Where do those presidential notes end up? I mean, do they all stack up in the drawer or —
MS. PERINO: No — no, I don’t think so. I’m not sure.
Q: Are they being subpoenaed? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: I’m sure if the special interests have their way, that they will subpoena them.
Q: For a record, though, I mean, perhaps some of the past ones are published? I don’t know.
MS. PERINO: I don’t know. I don’t know.
Q: Dana —
MS. PERINO: I’m going to go to Olivier first.
Q: You mentioned the world leader calls, and obviously, yes, I would appreciate some of that info. But also, any plans to call any overseas friends, whether it’s people like Koizumi or someone like that as a final farewell?
MS. PERINO: I’ll let you know. I don’t know. The schedule is — I’m just trying to get through tonight. But let me look and we’ll see.
Q: And do you mean — when you guys keep using the word winsome, do you mean wistful?
MS. PERINO: Maybe. (Laughter.) I didn’t use it. I didn’t use the word.
Q: He said he was an English major.
Q: Charming in a childlike way. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: I used the word “reflective.” Maybe wistful — I think wistful might have been the word.
Go ahead, Les.
Q: Thank you, Dana. Two questions. What was the President’s reaction to the article entitled “Bush’s achievements: Ten things the President got right,” by Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard?
MS. PERINO: I haven’t had a chance to talk to him about it, but I read it and commend it to everybody. (Laughter.)
Q: What was the President’s reaction to Texas Republican U.S. Senator and former judge Joan Cornyn’s call on the President to commute what he called the unjust sentences of Texans Ramos and Compean.
MS. PERINO: I think, first and foremost, we should correct the Senator’s name, because it’s John Cornyn — not Joan.
Q: John, I’m sorry.
MS. PERINO: As I said, we haven’t talked about that case from here. We don’t talk about pardons from the podium.
END 1:05 P.M. EST