James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:37 A.M. EST
MR. FRATTO: Good morning, everyone. This is actually my last press briefing here, so this will be good fun. It’s a week of lasts. This is my last.
I think just, before we start — I know I speak for Gordon and Scott in recognizing obviously the great privilege that we have to come and do this job and to stand in front of a podium with the White House seal behind us, and the great sense of thanks and appreciation we have for Dana, in particular, as our leader in the press office — we’ve learned a great deal about — a great deal of how to do this job, how to practice this job from Dana, working with her every day — and her incredible generosity in giving us the opportunity to do this. I think we all feel that way.
It is — those of you who have spent many, many years in the White House Press Briefing Room know that you have not seen deputies stand up here with the regularity that Dana has afforded us. And we are very appreciative of that. It’s been an incredible privilege, and always good fun to take all of your questions up here and to work at getting better at it, too.
I think you saw Josh Bolten this morning and Rahm Emanuel talking about the exercises and the transition efforts. You have their statements. And that exercise is ongoing, and they’re still working through the war gaming and planning. It’s part of the overall transition effort to make sure this transition is the best in history, as you heard the — you’ve heard the President say a number of times.
You have his comments from the Cabinet meeting this morning also, and his meeting with President Calderón. And then, of course, later this afternoon, he’ll award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Prime Minister Howard, and President Uribe from Colombia. So we look forward to that also.
And with that, I’ll take your questions.
Q: Tony, I actually wanted to pivot off the President’s comments at the Cabinet meeting earlier. He talked about his record, and obviously he did that in this room yesterday. Could you elaborate a bit about the farewell address and what he wants to accomplish within that 10-15 minute window? Specifically, do you think it will be — is his message to the nation also, here’s what I’ve done, here is my record? Or will it be less of that and more forward-looking?
MR. FRATTO: I think it will be a little bit of both. I don’t want to give too much on it. I know the President is still working on it, and I think when you get to Thursday, Dana will have more to say about it here and maybe a little bit more tomorrow.
But certainly a look at the past. And as Dana said in her statement yesterday announcing it, it’s customary for Presidents to look forward. If you go back, as I did actually, go back and read George Washington’s first farewell address, it was an incredible document. It certainly won’t be the length of George Washington’s farewell address.
But they are forward — they tend to be forward-looking, and I think that’s good. Presidents have the unique viewpoint on the nation and the world, and can offer their counsel and advice as they go on to do after they leave the presidency from time to time. So that will be the President’s opportunity to do that. And he discussed it a bit yesterday. I think that you got the flavor of where the President will be from the press conference yesterday.
Q: Two questions. The first one, yesterday when the President was talking about Hurricane Katrina, he mentioned that 30,000 people were rescued off of rooftops. Where did he get that number from? It seems a little inflated.
MR. FRATTO: I actually don’t know the correct number. I know Scott Stanzel was working on this today. I’m not sure, but you can check in with Scott, and he can help you with that number. I don’t know the correct number.
Q: And then moving on to today’s war games. How do you assess a success or a failure with the proceedings today? How do you sort of judge it, at the end?
MR. FRATTO: Well, the way these things work — and I’ve been able to participate in a number of them, especially when I was over at the Treasury Department and we started actually building out these war games and game planning, how you work. The most difficult thing in these exercises — mechanically and logistically moving things and reacting that way is really important. The most important thing, though, is communication, and how you — and have you considered how events could play out. It’s the opportunity to try to best anticipate the unexpected. And you do that with a roomful of people talking through what your actions would be.
And so we have the — a number of members of the incoming administration will be in the room and observing these exercises. It will give them an opportunity to see how we do it. War gaming out these kinds of things isn’t new, but doing it on a regular basis and with a regularity and sense of urgency and rigor that we’ve tried to do since 9/11 is new. And we hope that they can benefit from that.
Q: So they essentially are just watching you play this out to see how you guys do it?
MR. FRATTO: That’s right.
Q: Or do they actually participate and do some of it themselves?
MR. FRATTO: No, no, they’re watching. They are able to ask questions and interrupt if they need to. But it’s an opportunity for them to see how we do it, and how our team has been doing it.
Q: Tony, President — Prime Minister Olmert says that it was a phone call from him to President Bush that forced President Bush to ask Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to change the U.S. position on the resolution working its way through — on Gaza at the U.N. Security Council. Is that —
MR. FRATTO: Look, I think I’ve seen some of the reporting on this. I want to say that some of what we’ve seen is not accurate. I’m not going to get into discussing — I know the State Department has done that and Secretary Rice was asked about it last night. And I don’t really have more to add to it. But there is —
Q: When you say reporting on this, I mean, these are actually Olmert’s words. I mean, he actually said this.
MR. FRATTO: Yes, there are inaccuracies.
Q: In what Olmert said?
MR. FRATTO: Yes.
Q: Back to the war games. Can you give us a little sense of why it is that the scenario that’s being gamed out today is a hypothetical terrorist attack, as opposed to, say, a natural disaster or disease? Is there any reason to think —
MR. FRATTO: We’ve done — why do that today?
Q: Right — to think that’s the most — is that the most pressing threat, or is this just simply a decision that you guys came up with, aside from risk?
MR. FRATTO: No, I think it’s where they were in their rotation. They’ve done war games for pandemic flu, they’ve done them for natural — various kinds of natural disasters, and many examples of the hundreds of kinds of events that we have actually had to deal with and some that you might be able to anticipate. But there was nothing special about doing a terrorist attack this time. You shouldn’t read into that, that there’s something expected or —
Q: But the thinking — was the thinking not that that was probably the most important out of all the scenarios to game, the most important to share with the incoming administration?
MR. FRATTO: It is very, very important. But I don’t think that came into their thinking, in terms of why that hypothetical for this exercise. They’re all important and they all have unique aspects to the appropriate response. This one in particular I think includes reactions from all major departments, in fact, actually all departments, and many agencies and subagencies.
So it’s a very — it requires a very thorough response. And so I guess from that perspective, there’s an opportunity for the incoming administration, the officials there, to see the breadth of the response.
Q: Can you give us a list later of who was actually attending today?
MR. FRATTO: Sure, yes, absolutely. That’s something we can e-mail to you.
Q: Tony, the President-elect’s decision, impending decision, to close Guantanamo — the Vice President has just given an interview in which he says, “I think it’s a bad decision.” He says it’s a first-rate facility, it’s a good facility, there’s a reason why it’s there. I thought President Bush wanted to close Guantanamo.
MR. FRATTO: When you say — first, when you say “close Guantanamo,” Guantanamo is a base. You’re talking about the detention facility? It’s obviously our position, you’ve heard the President say this many times, that over time it’s a goal to close the Guantanamo facility also. I didn’t see the interview that you’re referring to. But I think what everyone has realized — I’ve seen it in a lot of the reporting, some of it today and in recent weeks — is the incredible complexity of actually closing Guantanamo, the legal and national security concerns that people are noticing now. It’s complicated. And it would take a great deal of time to do it, and you do have the problem of what do you do with known and hardened and experienced terrorists. Where do you put them? I would agree with the Vice President that, for now, Guantanamo is the place to keep them until we can find other solutions.
Q: The President doesn’t think it’s a bad decision to close Guantanamo. He wants to do that.
MR. FRATTO: Well, like I said, I don’t know the context of Vice President’s reaction with the — whether it was referencing a time frame or something else.
Q: Tony, does the President agree with his Fed Chair that Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package would provide a significant boost to the economy?
MR. FRATTO: Well, the views of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve are his views. He’s a — the Fed acts independently, and Fed chairmen are always expressing their own views on macroeconomic policy, and that’s appropriate. That’s what you’d like to see, is to see an independent voice there. I could tell you that if you were going to spend large amounts of money in any way and put it into an economy, it will have a stimulus impact, and the larger amount of money, the larger stimulus impact.
As for the policy mix, that will be for the next administration and next Congress to decide with the counsel and the advice of Chairman Bernanke, as he will still be here, heading up the Fed.
Q: Thank you, Tony, and best wishes.
MR. FRATTO: Thank you.
Q: Time magazine’s — two questions. Time magazine’s January the 12th edition has the following sentence: “The Bush administration’s peace plan based on a Palestinian state and Israel living side by side is moribund.” Does the Bush White House disagree with this?
MR. FRATTO: Yes.
Q: Okay. For two successive days, The Washington Post reported that the only overnight guest at Blair House is former Australian Prime Minister John Howard in those 119 rooms, from which the Barack Obamas have been barred until Thursday. So as The New York Times reported, the Obamas —
MR. FRATTO: Lester, no one —
Q: — had to spend thousands of dollars for that suite at the Hay-Adams.
MR. FRATTO: Lester, we’ve been through this many, many times.
Q: No, I just wondered, does the Bush White House believe it was wrong for the Post and the Times to report that?
MR. FRATTO: I’m not going to comment on their reporting. I think that we’ve explained the use of the Blair House a number of times. And I think we have a good understanding with the Obama family on that, and we look forward to them being here and being in the neighborhood.
Q: Just a clarification on the use of the word “war games.” My impression is that that’s always been used as sort of a —
MR. FRATTO: I have to tell you that’s my word, yes. They call them “exercises.” I’m sorry —
Q: Yes, usually that’s sort of an offensive thing where you’ve got troop movements out there. This is purely reactive and defensive today, correct?
MR. FRATTO: Yes, it is. They are exercises. They are — I think I’m the only one who’s called them “war games.” But I go back to early ’80s, Cold War movies, and so — (laughter.)
Q: I think I was warped by movies, as well.
MR. FRATTO: Yes.
Q: Did the country survive?
MR. FRATTO: Yes, they did — it did.
END 11:50 A.M. EST