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Stakeout following closed briefing for White House GOP members with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Copyright 2004 The Federal News Service, Inc.
Federal News Service

HEADLINE: STAKEOUT WITH REPRESENTATIVE DEBORAH PRYCE (R-OH); REPRESENTATIVE ROY BLUNT (R-MO); REPRESENTATIVE JACK KINGSTON (R-GA); AND REPRESENTATIVE PORTER GOSS (R-FL) FOLLOWING CLOSED BRIEFING FOR HOUSE GOP MEMBERS WITH NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER CONDOLEEZZA RICE

LOCATION: THE CAPITOL, WASHINGTON, D.C.

BODY:

REP. PRYCE: All right. Good morning.

We had our second conference of the week. We were briefed by Dr. Rice on activities in Iraq. She was very forthcoming with our members. She just left to hurry over to the Senate to try to meet with the conference there.

The bottom line is that this conference is four-square behind the administration, their efforts in Iraq. She answered question after question after question, and the members of the House Republican Conference to the last one who were present were very appreciative of her work with the 9/11 commission, were very appreciative of her steadfast resolution in light of much adversity over in Iraq. And we're on the right page, and we're standing fully behind her.

Mr. Blunt.

REP. BLUNT: Well, I think the other thing that might be added to what the chairman said, which is that we are-our conference is fully supportive of what the president's trying to do. We're very appreciative of the great job that both he and Dr. Rice and others have done in communicating that over the last few weeks. I think it's clear that the American people appreciate that as well.

I think they're-I also am supportive, as I think most of us are, of the concept of a hard deadline for turning over some high level of civil control, getting ready for elections in Iraq in the future. And at the same time, we understand that we need to be there to assist in security and transitional issues as that occurs.

But if you don't have that kind of deadline, you never get there in this kind of environment. It's very important to move forward toward that. I think it's been very helpful that the Iraqis have been so involved in the negotiations in Fallujah. And our conference appreciates the positions that the administration is taking and their firm commitment to stay the course. And we share that commitment with them.

Jack?

REP. KINGSTON: And I think what we saw is a leader who's on the international scale who's not blinking in the face of adversity, either problems in Iraq or partisan politics with groups who support or watch the 9/11 committee as if it's some kind of a team sport football game. Here's a woman who has gone through that gauntlet, if you will. The members of Congress are solidly behind her and very appreciative of her efforts. But more importantly, looking at the vision of creating a new democracy in the Middle East which will absolutely revolutionize the world and give us all kinds of great opportunities in other areas.

The president spoke at his press conference about the future president of the United States and the future president of Iraq sitting down and negotiating trade agreements, and so forth. It's ironic that for me, as a member of the Ag Subcommittee, one of our issues with Vietnam right now is catfish imports. And you know, that's a great thing that here we are in Vietnam arguing over catfish imports. It's exciting that one day we will be sitting down with leaders of Iraq talking about issues of trade and health and cooperation, and so forth. And I think with people like Condoleezza Rice, who are looking at that vision, that we're going to get there. It's not going to be easy. There's no glossing over anything here, but she's moving us to the next stage, which is turning over this government.

Q Mr. Blunt, do you think June 30th is the right date for that deadline, or do you think that has to be changed?

REP. BLUNT: That will be made by-decision will be made by somebody other than me. But I think having a date is a good thing and it forces people in Iraq, the Iraqis, to begin to take more responsibility, to make the decisions that you need to make to move toward a country founded on freedom instead of tyranny. And there may be some reason to change that date. I doubt it. I think that June 30th date is a date that we can certainly make work, and a date that moves us toward free elections in the future and greater levels of what that nation will look like for a generation to come.

Q Mr. Blunt?

Q Ms. Pryce, I know national security is Dr. Rice's area, but was there any discussion of funding levels, a supplemental coming up here? And is the administration going to send it up, and when?

REP. PRYCE: There wasn't this morning. We'll probably be talking to the administration about that. This is just surfacing, and there-but there was no question there or discussion about it this morning.

Q Mr. Blunt, if it is so important that this be seen as bipartisan or as apolitical as possible, why is it that Democrats aren't involved in these briefings?

REP. BLUNT: Well, I think there are numbers-there have been numbers of briefings that involve the Democrats in the House and the Senate; there'll continue to be. Just because you have those kind of briefings doesn't mean that we can't occasionally have a family discussion in our own conference where, frankly, our members are probably willing to ask more challenging questions than they would be in the larger meeting. It doesn't mean we don't have those, it doesn't mean that both things aren't very appropriate and very helpful.

Q Mr. Blunt, did anyone ask-suggest to Dr. Rice that members are concerned about the course of the war at this point, it's not going well?

REP. BLUNT: I think that the comments we've made about the full support of the conference-there were specific questions that were fairly wide-ranging, mostly targeted on Iraq, and virtually all related in one way or another to the war terrorism, whether it's in this hemisphere or the Middle East or in Europe. And I didn't get any sense at all that there's any wavering in our commitment. The reason they have these meetings is so you can seek information, and that's exactly what the members did.

Okay.

Q Mr. Blunt, you said-implied the administration is doing everything-everything it can to keep American troops secure and Iraqi citizens secure. And if so, are you satisfied with that? If not, what can Dr. Rice or the administration do to secure American troops more? Did she address that at all?

REP. BLUNT: We-we did talk about that, and the administration is moving constantly to deal with Iraq as it is-is at the moment rather than is it-might have been or might be. And I think we've got to be aware of the fact that Iraq is still coming out of the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, a very volatile environment. It can-it can change from block to block, it can change from moment to moment, it can change from week to week.

And the administration is responding to those changes, at the same time responding to those changes in a way that involves the Iraqis as much as possible and in the continually increasing way, both in terms of defense forces and just simply things negotiating Fallujah. I don't think we can overestimate how important it is that that decision was made to really involve the Iraqis in that negotiation, rather than decide to use some-just to use overwhelming military force, which is clearly an option that would have been available to us and not the option that was taken.

Thank you all.

REP. PRYCE (?): Thank you.

Q One last question. Was there any discussion at all of rotation of the troops and any reinstitution of the draft?

REP. : No.

REP. BLUNT: No. No.

Q Nope? Nothing?

REP. BLUNT: Nothing.

Q Mr. Goss, Mr. Goss, you want to come take a couple questions, sir? Come on!

Q Come on, Mr. Goss!

Q Come on! We see you back there.

Q Come on! (Laughs.)

Q (Inaudible) -- ready to answer questions -- (inaudible).

REP. GOSS: Absolutely. What can I do for you?

Q What-in your assessment, what is the current terrorist threat against the United States? What is the expectation that the president talks about potentially happening in the United States, in your opinion?

REP. GOSS: In my view, the United States is probably better prepared to deal with the terrorist threat, obviously because of the awareness of the citizens. And folks read the papers and see the TV and see the scenes from overseas, such as we were confronted with this morning in Riyadh, other places where the terrorists are doing their violence and their mischief. I believe we are better protected, we are more aware and therefore safer.

Equally, I would say that by taking the war against terrorism to the terrorists on foreign soil, that we have enhanced our ability to get the job done sooner and better, with a minimum impact on U.S. soil. And I think that speaks well for the decision to deal with terrorism.

I think that was a calculated decision that had to be taken, not just a piece of terrorism, but all of the terrorist mischief that's going on. It's a bold decision. It's going to take a lot of energy, a lot of effort.

I am completely satisfied that Dr. Rice has a full grasp of what's at stake. Certainly the president does. And she has a full understanding, I think, of our resources. She's been very helpful in talking on the intelligence scene, for example, on how we apply capabilities to fit the threats that are out there today.

So when you add it all up, I would suggest that even though, because of what we learned in Spain, we are going to face the likelihood of more terrorist threats coming our way-and by threats, I mean noise and chatter, probably not very specific-as we get closer to the election. I think that's inevitable. Certainly the obvious targets that are out there this summer, the Olympics and so forth that we've all talked about. We're going to be on our guard. It's going to make it harder for the terrorists. But wherever they stick their heads up, they know we're going to be ready to come and get them.

But the problem will be being prepared everywhere we need to be prepared because, as we know with terrorists, the targets they want to hit, sometimes they'll switch off if we defend them too well. And so we're caught in this enigma of when we do our job well, then perhaps they'll go blow up innocent people elsewhere. And that's why you have to take them all out at the root, so that can't happen.

That's not going to happen between now and the end of the year, but it's the first round and we're doing it very well. If I had to say are we climbing out, I'd say we're climbing out very well indeed --

Q Mr. Chairman, you've been --

REP. GOSS: -- from the trough we were in and our capabilities to deal with it. I think we're way, way far ahead of where we were, and I don't think we could have done much more than we have done, frankly.

Q Have you been following the 9/11 commission hearings? Have you learned anything? And have they become too politicized to do any good?

REP. GOSS: I've been following the hearings. I've learned a few things because the purpose of the 9/11, from my perspective-if you'll recall, our committee, as a follow-on to the joint inquiry, set that up. We wanted them to go to the areas we didn't go outside the intelligence community and talk to Customs and the FAA and people like that. And we also wanted them to add on any new information since we did our report because our report was a snapshot in time, as it were, because we finished it about a year ago. So what's happened since then should be in there, and I think they've done a pretty faithful job of focusing on all of that.

I haven't read the report yet. I saw all the questioning. I think they're doing well. I hope they will do congressional oversight before they get through. I think that's something that ought to be part of their report, certainly.

And on the last question, is it becoming too political, yes I think it is and I'm worried about that. This is not a matter of partisan politics, and it's perfectly obvious that there's partisan politics in some of these public hearings. That's not helpful. We want truth and answers. We want solutions for the future. That's the purpose. I know their leadership, of course. I know Governor Kean and Lee Hamilton are trying to do that, and I hope that the other commissioners will heed their advice to tone down, as I think Tom Kean said the other day, their public statements and their public appearances because I think trying to pre-spin the results of that is not going to be useful.

Q How do you think it's been too political? Are there specific examples you can point to where you can say this is really partisan?

REP. GOSS: I would say that any observer, any fair-minded observer would have suggested, in watching some of the questions at the Clarke hearings and some of the other hearings, the questions were somewhat loaded on a partisan level.

Q If I could just follow. Isn't it their job to ask those kinds of tough --

REP. GOSS: I don't mind tough questions. I'm talking about partisan questions. There's a difference.

Q Mr. Chairman, with regard to the continuing violence, the escalating violence in Iraq, can we expect that it would get worse before it gets better, as we run up to June 30th?

REP. GOSS: I think that that's a fair expectation that there will be attempts to increase the violence because I think the degree of desperation is greater. I think that's a fair comment. Are we ready for it? I think so. Will we get it all? There will probably be some things that we're not 100 percent alert to. It always is the way with the war on terrorism. But I think we're very definitely in a strong position for the handover, and I think it will happen.

Q Mr. Goss, do you think that Jamie Gorelick should step down from the 9/11 commission?

REP. GOSS: I have no comment on that publicly to make. We set this commission up in a way that we hoped it would be at least bipartisan-we hoped it would be nonpartisan, but at least we would like it to be able to do its job. In this town, to try and appoint people to a commission like that that are knowledgeable on the one hand, but don't have some kind of context where they've been involved with it, it's very, very hard.

My view is that the issue has been raised. I don't know the particulars of it. And I am very comfortable in the decisions that will be made by the commission chairman and the vice chairman of that commission.

Q Mr. Chairman, you point out the difference between nonpartisan and bipartisan. Do you think the commission should have been named trying to find people who weren't partisan?

I mean, you've got former senators, former congressmen.

REP. GOSS: Right. It's perfectly obvious that you're going to have Republicans and Democrats. And I don't know if there are any independents on the commission. I don't think there are. But the issue of nonpartisanship, to me, the way I define that word means take partisan politics out of this. The way you keep partisan politics out of things is you make things bipartisan, theoretically. Sometimes when you make things bipartisan, you get accentuated partisanship. Sometimes you get true compromise and nonpartisanship. We hope for nonpartisanship by setting up a bipartisan commission. Is that clear?

Q As an example, today we have the national security adviser giving congressmen a briefing on the continuing operations in Iraq, but only for Republican members --

REP. GOSS: Oh, I don't think what Dr. Rice had to say is only for Republicans. I think that from time to time, as Roy Blunt said, we have in-house family meetings. And I'm sure that Dr. Rice would be very happy to say what she said to us to the Democratic caucus. I don't think there's any question about that. And I would point out the administration has, I think, leaned over very heavily to try and keep Congress involved as an aware and informed partner, because Congress is part of the solution for our national security. And I think that's very definitely been their effort, and I think it's been proven.

Q Thank you.

REP. GOSS: Thank you.

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