Notes from a briefing room press insider…
Advisors, Legislators, Americans, Oh My!: Afghanistan remained the lead issue at the WH today as Press Secretary Robert Gibbs previewed POTUS’s Part II of V Af-Pak meeting tomorrow, characterizing it as almost exclusively focused on Pakistan. Largely the same class of advisors will convene, and RG says they had some homework since the last meeting. On a second front of the review, POTUS meets with Hill bigwigs this afternoon for a briefing and Q&A; RG says there is an “extremely important role” for Congress through its appropriation of resources for the war but said it was “hard for me to grade” whether the Bush WH sufficiently solicited the opinions of the legislative branch. RG maintains that the politics of the Hill will not drive POTUS’s decision and that “we spent three hours last week and troop levels didn’t come up.” Finally, RG was asked again about the influence of public opinion, to which he conceded that while not driving the ultimate decision, “obviously the president sees where different opinions are based on polling that you guys do” — a slight diversion from the age-old WH line about setting aside the polling data. In response to a question about CBS’s extended coverage of Afghan war strategy (not posed by CBS) RG said, “Dare I say I watch the news every night,” but that he couldn’t confirm whether POTUS had seen the series or similar features on other networks.
Quotable: RG, reacting to columnists charging that POTUS “doesn’t get it” on a number of issues: “Isn’t America great where everyone can have an opinion?” “Sure is,” Helen Thomas butted in. “‘Often wrong but never in doubt’ is a great slogan,” RG concluded.
Pencil It In: A close second in the spotlight today was the continuing focus on the circumstances surrounding the postponement of a WH meeting with the Dalai Lama — widely understood to be a concession to Chinese leaders, who will host POTUS later next month. RG emphasized that “a better relationship with China benefits Tibet,” and when challenged on how, offered that strong dialogue with China ensures that Tibetan issues may be voiced through the U.S. and that human rights has been brought up in meetings with the Chinese. He said both sides agreed to the delay. In a more combative segment of the questioning, RG charged that “you all are assuming that if you meet with one first or one later, that that sets up some sort of sequencing that believes you can’t meet with both on a certain timeline or something that has–” “You said that!” reporters interrupted. Asked if the meeting was actually moved due to a full schedule, RG replied that “it is, based on your questioning, yes.” No word yet on the date of the Dalai Lama meeting.
That Would Be Interesting Testimony…: Responding to Sen. Russ Feingold’s hearing today investigating the role of executive czars, RG quipped: “I don’t know if Senator Feingold’s calling Franklin Roosevelt to be a witness” and that he would “assume that Congress and Senator Feingold have more weighty topics to grapple with than something like this.”