James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:47 A.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Welcome, everyone, to the last press briefing of the Bush administration. It’s hard to believe that this is my 145th and final press briefing behind this podium. Over 1,000 briefings have been given by press secretaries and deputy press secretaries, at this podium, since the beginning of the administration — starting, of course, with our very good friend, Ari Fleischer.
I’ve been honored to have been able to speak on President Bush’s behalf and it’s been a privilege to take your questions.
We’ve prepared a tribute to you today, but before we get to that, let me first thank my amazing press staff. They’ve seen me at my worst — usually at 6:30 a.m. — but they always help me to present my best. I think you’ll all agree that this is the most professional, experienced and fun press staff that we’ve ever had. Thank you all.
So much history has happened at the White House, and much of it occurred right here in this room. Many of you were here to witness it. There’s Helen Thomas; Bill Plante working on a crossword puzzle — (laughter) — and Terry Hunt — wait a second, is that a mustache on Terry Hunt? (Laughter.) Kind of. (Laughter.)
We have come a long way since the old briefing room. Take a look at this photo — and please remember that this is now a non-smoking facility. (Laughter.) Looking back over the past eight years we’ve had a lot of fun; we’ve shared a lot of laughs — (laughter) — and we have found ways to weather the storms.
It has been challenging on occasion, and there may have even been a day or two when the President wanted to switch jobs with you — oops, we’re a little bit behind, but we’re going to let it catch up. There we go — that’s weathering the storm, that’s the challenge — (laughter) — challenging on occasion, and that there may have even been a day or two when the President wanted to switch jobs with you. (Laughter.)
But I think it’s safe to say that some of you may have been eyeing his job on occasion, as well. (Laughter.) I have a lot of respect for the White House press corps — don’t look so surprised. (Laughter.) It’s true I respect you, because you never once complained about your work space. (Laughter.) Even though sometimes it could be a little cramped. I respect you because you are always at the top of your game, you never miss a beat. (Laughter.) Even when on some days you felt like lying down on the job. (Laughter.)
I respect you because no matter the distraction, you always reported on the most critical news facing the nation. (Laughter.) And I hope that that respect is mutual, because I believe this administration has done our best to cater to the press corps’ every need. (Laughter.)
People always ask me, what is one myth you wish you could clear up about the President? I think it’s that he doesn’t appreciate the role of the press. Well, I am here to tell you that he really does. As he said in his press conference earlier this week, he wishes you all nothing but the very best. (Laughter.)
Like you all, he is a man of peace. (Laughter.) I know that sometimes when he looks at you, he is simply in awe. (Laughter.) And I’ve seen that same look of admiration from some of you. Helen. (Laughter.) Bill is looking for a five-letter word for “uninterested.” (Laughter.) And, Terry Moran, eyes on your own paper, please. (Laughter.) But at least he’s awake — unlike Peter Baker. (Laughter.) And don’t forget Mark Smith back there with a real mustache. (Laughter.)
The President is somebody who never wanted to hold any of you down. And you’ve done an admirable job. The reporters in this room stand head and shoulders above all others in the business. And all of the crew members stand tall day in and day out. (Laughter.)
We all have difficult jobs; we all work long and tough hours. And it’s been an exciting challenge. I know I had some big shoes to fill when I got here, and I still only wear a size 6. And I just want to say a few words about our friend, Tony Snow.
Tony was a man who loved his job. Tony loved President Bush. He lived life to the fullest. And when Tony lost his valiant battle against cancer last summer, we all lost a world champion.
Through these turbulent years, I’ve been honored to be a part of your lives. I want to thank the President, and his senior staff, for the confidence and the support that they’ve given me. I want to thank my husband, Peter, who made all of this possible. I think he’s here somewhere. Back in the back — there he is.
And as we move on, I want you to know that I think America needs more reporters, not fewer. So let’s hope someone figures out a business model that will keep you in your seats for a long time to come.
I wish my successor, Robert Gibbs, all the very best. Please go easy on him — for a week. (Laughter.)
And before I say goodbye, I will take your questions one last time. (Laughter and applause.)
Q: Thanks, Dana, that was great. Can you talk about whether the President is getting involved in the stimulus debate at all? Is he talking to lawmakers about how to shape that bill? And then, on a totally different topic, on Gaza. Can you talk about the agreement?
MS. PERINO: I’m going to let Secretary Rice talk about that, since she’ll be meeting with Foreign Minister Livni today. Obviously we have shown our solidarity with Israel. We have called for a two-state solution that we think would help the Israelis and the Palestinians. So until she has that meeting and is able to talk about it, I’ll refer it to the State Department. And of course, the President has been kept in the loop by Steve Hadley. I don’t think he’s had a chance to talk to Secretary Rice since sort of mid-morning.
Q: Given that this is such a big deal, do you think we would hear from the President at all —
MS. PERINO: I don’t believe you will, no. The President had his last public appearance last night. And I don’t — barring some other major circumstance, I can’t imagine that that would change. So the next time you will see him is Tuesday on the 20th.
And your other question on the stimulus — he’s kept in — I think the President’s last act on the stimulus was to fulfill the request that the President-elect asked of him, which was to ask for the funds. But he has been kept in the loop by the Treasury Secretary on actions that they needed to take last night in order to continue to help get us on a path back to recovery.
Q: What is the message that you are leaving for your successor?
MS. PERINO: For Robert? Well, he doesn’t need a lot of advice from me. This is a fabulous job. It is a great opportunity to work with all of you. And I will certainly miss the back-and-forth, as I hope you will, too. But it’s really good to have — get new energy and new blood in here. And I think that they’ve shown that they’re a good, professional organization, and he’ll have, I think, absolutely no problems. He won’t miss a beat when he gets up here.
Q: Dana, speaking on behalf of the President, is there anything that you feel that perhaps the American people or the press corps has misunderstood about the administration, or about his goals, or something that you would hope would have been clearer in conveying from where you sit?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think we’ve done — you know, over the past couple of months we’ve had a strategy to try to get the President out there and talk to the American people on a range of issues, all the consequential decisions he’s made and the progress that we think that we’ve made, accomplishments that we’ve made. And last night was the President’s farewell address and a chance for him to talk to the American people.
I don’t know whether this is lost on people or not, but let me just repeat it; that one of the things that I’ve always admired about President Bush is that no matter what anyone says about him, he lets all of the negativity roll off his back, and he cares deeply about every single American, no matter what they believe, if they support him or not. And he has made decisions based on the best interests of the country.
Q: Do you have any regrets or anything that — or things you’re particularly proud of or —
MS. PERINO: I’m sure that that I’ll have — I’m going to go on a six-week trip with my husband, and I’m sure there will be long enough flights for me to think about all the things we could have done better. Any press secretary always wants to be more proactive, but news happens all over the world. And now with the 24/7 news cycle, in many ways sometimes you feel like you’re just trying to keep up with that. And so it’s not a regret or a disappointment, it’s just a fact of life.
I told someone earlier today that on Friday, I had finally cleaned out my in-box, got it down to 997 emails. And when I got here on Monday morning, over the weekend — and I had been working over the weekend — I had then 2,172 emails. So it’s a brutal pace and a lot of information coming at you. And that was just on a weekend where we didn’t have a lot of news. So I think it’s time for me to exit stage left.
MS. PERINO: Right — thank you.
Q: What about — what are your thoughts about us, in terms of — (laughter.) What are your thoughts about the coverage President Bush got? Do you think — I’m just interested from your perspective, do you perceive a bias? Do you think he was treated fairly? Do you think that other Presidents have gotten an easier deal? I was just wondering what your thoughts are.
MS. PERINO: Well, the tribute today was all in fun, so I hope that no one took it the wrong way.
Q: Give us something to take the wrong way. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Here’s the thing. I don’t think that I would always be asked about my feelings about liberal bias in the media if there wasn’t any liberal bias in the media. If it was a moot question, then we wouldn’t always have the discussion. But I will say this about the reporters —
Q: For the record, I just asked about bias. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: For everybody that’s in this room, I think that — and I was on a panel with Mike McCurry about a month ago and we both had the same feeling — that in this room, and the reporters who show up every morning and are here late at night and work the weekends, that the people that are covering the President out of here, and the presidency, strive so hard to be fair. And you have to fight for us with your other bureaus and with your other reporters, and I really think that everybody in this room, on a scale of one to ten, I give you a nine in terms of fairness and — in fairness in working with us and then listening to us.
I do think that outside of the White House briefing room, think the — but I think the increase in the amount of commentary, I just think it’s quite remarkable that everyone says they want to add more commentary to their news pages. In some ways, I think, well, how is that even possible? It seems sometimes that that’s all that there is.
But I do think that in this room I think that that’s true, and Mike McCurry said the same thing. So I think by comparing Presidents and presidencies, I think it’s probably similar.
But there’s no doubt that your industry is going through a change and a transition and a transformation, and I really do think for the sake of democracy and the sake of our country we need to have more of you. And good, tough reporting takes a lot of money and it takes investment, it takes time, and it takes the willingness from your editors to be willing to go off on assignment and to really hold your elected leaders to account. I don’t think that journalism is dead, but I think that we all have a responsibility to make sure that it survives.
Q: Dana, you mentioned Ari and Tony, but I don’t think I heard you mention Scott. Was that a slight or was that — was anything deliberate —
MS. PERINO: No harm meant, I just didn’t mention him.
Q: What did you think of his comments last night?
MS. PERINO: I didn’t bother watching them.
Q: Dana, you mentioned — well, you’ve had to deal with a lot of difficult issues, and I just wondered, what was your least favorite and perhaps your most favorite at the podium?
MS. PERINO: Issues? Oh, gosh, I’ve loved getting to know all of the issues. Some of the issues I had to really dig in and learn more about — obviously energy and environment issues are the ones that you and I would tussle back and forth on, and those are always good. But I think that the priorities of this President were the ones that I enjoyed talking about the most, and that was making sure that our country remained safe and that we had the tools to pass on to the next President and the President after that so that they can — he could continue to do the same thing.
Q: Dana, I’m wondering your thoughts about the U.S. Air incident in New York yesterday, and if there are any plans to call the pilot after a miraculous landing.
MS. PERINO: I think we’re going to let him catch his breath and get through the call but — and I’ll keep you updated on whether there is a phone call. There’s no doubt that — I think all of us were in awe that there any survivors, but the fact that everybody survived shows that this pilot was a remarkable hero and that everybody, it sounds like, for the most part kept a cool head — literally, since it was so cold there in the water — and that everybody survived is just a really great tribute to America and how far we’ve come in terms of safety and rescuing people.
Q: You are one of the youngest people who has had this job. Would you do it again?
MS. PERINO: Do I still look it? (Laughter.)
Q: You know, Presidents age and so do press secretaries. (Laughter.) Would you do this job again?
MS. PERINO: Oh, gosh, absolutely. I would. I would. But I wouldn’t do it for anybody else. I wouldn’t do it for anybody but President Bush. If given a chance to do it over again, would I? Yes. But would I ever come back and do this? No. No. (Laughter.)
Q: You just told us how much you loved it.
MS. PERINO: I know, but there is — I think it’s good to get off the stage.
Q: I’m sure some future Republican may call you, you know.
MS. PERINO: Well, that would have to be a really — it is a tough sell. You’ll have to talk to Peter.
Q: Dana, this administration has been really big on lessons learned, and you’re saying, no, that you won’t come back. Is that because of a lesson learned, a tough lesson learned? And what were some of your lessons learned in this job?
MS. PERINO: Oh, there’s so many, and I do think that that’s one of the things I’m going to spend some time thinking about. Up to now, I’ve just been thinking about how to get the excerpts out on time before you guys got mad at me last night.
So I’ve learned so much. You know what I’ve learned a lot about in this job is about grace and dignity, and I learned that from President Bush. And to follow his example has, I believe, made me a better person, and I hope that I can continue to be this way and be forgiving like he has shown me how to do as I move, and I don’t get a chance to see him every day — but I plan to keep in close contact with him.
Q: I don’t like to interrupt this swan song —
MS. PERINO: That’s okay. You’ve got a real question?
Q: Yes, I do. I wanted to know, considering the President’s undiluted support of Israel, what does he think of Israel bombing the U.N. buildings that became sanctuaries for Palestinians?
MS. PERINO: Well, obviously — while the President has had support of Israel, he has also shown unending support for Palestinians, and especially because he is the first President ever to promote a two-state solution. And I believe that that is not a policy that will be rolled back. I do believe that eventually we will be able to see a two-state solution, and so that the people of the Palestinian Territories can live in their own state and be safe from being used as human shields by Hamas.
Now, on that particular incident, I’ll let the Israelis speak to it, but obviously they had to take great care to make sure that civilians are protected.
Q: How can these bombs discriminate between people in such a highly —
MS. PERINO: One of the problems is that —
Q: — populated area? That’s a false statement.
MS. PERINO: — Hamas, which is a terrorist organization, hides amongst innocent people and uses them as human shields.
Q: Well, how does he feel about bombing U.N. buildings?
MS. PERINO: I think I just — I think I answered the best I could, Helen.
Les, last time, for you.
Q: Thank you, Dana. Just one —
MS. PERINO: One question. (Laughter.)
Q: In the realm of nostalgia, in all of the 145 White House press briefings you have conducted, what is it that you remember as the most difficult question you were ever asked?
Q: Maybe that one. (Laughter.)
Q: That one. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: I’ll go up here. Jon.
Q: Do you have more details on who will be on the plane with the President when he goes back to —
MS. PERINO: No, I think I’ll be able to get you that over the weekend, but I think it’s mainly going to be — I think his parents will be on the flight with them, then a lot of long-time staffers. So let us see if we can get that for you. Some people who are headed back to Texas will be able to go back with him. And Josh Bolten will be on the flight, and Joel Kaplan.
Q: Do you have any plans to write a book about your experiences here?
MS. PERINO: I don’t — you know, I don’t know. No. Well, I don’t know. (Laughter.) I’ll take suggestions. But I really haven’t had a lot of time to think about what I’m going to do. I hope to be able to get out and give some speeches about my experiences here.
But my husband and I are going to go and volunteer at a PEPFAR site that’s south of Cape Town for a couple of weeks in February, and I want to be able to talk about that experience in some way when I get back, if any of you will listen, because I wanted to go — you know, I talk about the statistics all the time and how only 50,000 people were being helped in Sub-Saharan Africa when the President took office, and now it’s over 2.2 million.
I use those — I say those statistics a lot to make the case for why that program is so good, but I want to go and experience it personally, firsthand, and to see how American taxpayer dollars are being put to good use, and hopefully come back and be able to tell you guys about it.
Q: Just some business. Is the radio address — and anything else you can tell us about what the President is doing between now and Tuesday, you know, Camp David —
MS. PERINO: Yes, he did tape his radio address today. It is similar to a farewell, so you’ll have that today on an embargoed basis, as you usually do. And then your other question was —
Q: Is there anything more you can tell us about who’s going to be at Camp David over the weekend, foreign leader calls?
MS. PERINO: Oh, it’s just a small group of people. I think that his daughters will be there, and then Secretary Rice is headed up, and Steve Hadley and Josh Bolten are the ones that I know of. But it’s not going to be a big crowd. I think it’ll be just them, and it’s supposed to be really cold.
Q: What about Monday, Dana? He’s coming back here. It’s a federal holiday —
MS. PERINO: He’ll be back on Sunday.
Q: He’s coming back on Sunday, that’s right. And in his proclamation on Martin Luther King Day, he talked about Americans, you know, honoring Dr. King for service, et cetera. Does the President have any plans on Monday?
MS. PERINO: No, nothing public. I’ll try to let you know that day — but I do expect we’ll have some foreign leader calls that we can update you on, on Monday.
MS. PERINO: Yes, Goyal, go ahead.
Q: Thank you so much, Dana, for everything, first of all. And the President and you are excellent. The press staff really have been very helpful. And a farewell is always a very, very emotional and difficult, too, and I can write a book on that, like last night the President —
MS. PERINO: What’s your question? (Laughter.)
Q: The question is that at the last minute did President make any phone calls or receive any phone calls from anybody in India, or Pakistan, from South Asia?
MS. PERINO: Not that I’m aware of now, but we’ll keep you updated through the weekend.
Q: Dana, thanks for keeping us updated on the world leader calls — any friends, as well, any private — now-private citizens, as well. The British Foreign Secretary says that Pakistanis should do more to combat extremism. And the CIA Director says that the area along Afghanistan and Pakistan is no longer a safe haven for extremists. Are these reconcilable notions, and do you agree with — does the President agree with the CIA Director?
MS. PERINO: Well, I haven’t seen either of those comments in context, but I could see that yes, both could be true. I’ll defer to the CIA Director to make judgments about that area, but when it comes to everyone should be able to — should be doing more to combat terrorism, absolutely. And that includes ourselves.
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q: About foreign leaders and foreign travel. What are the highlights that stick in your memory from all the — I guess, like, thousands of miles that you’ve traveled around the world —
MS. PERINO: All of the trips have been great.
Q: — with the President. And also, in the conversation that you had I think with Mr. McCurry that you referred to, you made an offer to the Georgian President to be a guest at the President’s institute, and some people in Georgia took this as an opening for him to leave his current position. Was that meant?
MS. PERINO: No, no, no, no, no. (Laughter.) I was asked a question about the President’s plans for his freedom institute, and one of the examples he has used is that leaders like Mikheil Saakashvili would be somebody who would maybe come and provide a lecture to the students at Southern Methodist University at some point. But it certainly wasn’t an invitation to leave the country or his leadership position.
Q: Thank you.
MS. PERINO: Thanks, everybody. (Applause.)
END 11:09 A.M. EST