NBC's David Gregory Dukes It Out With Scott McClellan
Give NBC's David Gregory credit. He tried. He put up a fight. He showed cahones. He did his job. And after an exhaustive back-and-forth, he actually got an answer from White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan today.
Gregory simply wanted to know if President Bush still has confidence in much-criticized FEMA Director Mike Brown, or "Brownie," as the president called him the other day when, in the midst of a federal response to Hurricane Katrina that even the president found lacking, Bush turned to Brown and said, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."
McClellan tried several times to deflect Gregory, using the new Bush spin that anyone who questions the federal response to Katrina is playing the "blame game" and that now is not the time to "finger point." After all, President Bush plans to investigate himself!
But Gregory stood up for himself, insisted that McClellan not "dodge" the question, and ultimately -- huzzah -- got an answer.
From today's White House press briefing:
Q Scott, does the President retain confidence in his FEMA Director and Secretary of Homeland Security?
MR. McCLELLAN: And again, David, see, this is where some people want to look at the blame game issue, and finger-point. We're focused on solving problems, and we're doing everything we can --
Q What about the question?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're doing everything we can in support --
Q We know all that.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA.
Q Does he retain complete confidence --
MR. McCLELLAN: We're going to continue. We appreciate the great effort that all of those at FEMA, including the head of FEMA, are doing to help the people in the region. And I'm just not going to engage in the blame game or finger-pointing that you're trying to get me to engage.
Q Okay, but that's not at all what I was asking.
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure it is. It's exactly what you're trying to play.
Q You have your same point you want to make about the blame game, which you've said enough now. I'm asking you a direct question, which you're dodging.
MR. McCLELLAN: No --
Q Does the President retain complete confidence in his Director of FEMA and Secretary of Homeland Security, yes or no?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just answered the question.
Q Is the answer "yes" on both?
MR. McCLELLAN: And what you're doing is trying to engage in a game of finger-pointing.
Q There's a lot of criticism. I'm just wondering if he still has confidence.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and blame-gaming. What we're trying to do is solve problems, David. And that's where we're going to keep our focus.
Q So you're not -- you won't answer that question directly?
McCLELLAN: I did. I just did.
Q No, you didn't. Yes or no? Does he have complete confidence or doesn't he?
McCLELLAN: No, if you want to continue to engage in finger-pointing and blame-gaming, that's fine --
Q Scott, that's ridiculous. I'm not engaging in any of that.
McCLELLAN: It's not ridiculous.
Q Don't try to accuse me of that. I'm asking you a direct question and you should answer it. Does he retain complete confidence in his FEMA Director and Secretary of Homeland Security, yes or no?
McCLELLAN: Like I said -- that's exactly what you're engaging in.
Q I'm not engaging in anything. I'm asking you a question about what the President's views are --
McCLELLAN: Absolutely -- absolutely --
Q -- under pretty substantial criticism of members of his administration. Okay? And you know that, and everybody watching knows that, as well.
McCLELLAN: No, everybody watching this knows, David, that you're trying to engage in a blame game.
Q I'm trying to engage?
Q I am trying to engage?
McCLELLAN: That's correct.
Q That's a dodge. I have a follow-up question since you dodged that one. Does the White House feel like it missed opportunities to alleviate or head off some of the damage in the New Orleans area, flood damage? Did it miss an opportunity to head any of that off?
McCLELLAN: In what way?
Q In responding to requests to make structural improvements, or other improvements to alleviate flood damage, and so forth?
McCLELLAN: Maybe you ought to look at what General Strock said, because General Strock briefed on this the other day and he talked about the design issues relating to the levees and how that was a design issue. And he talked about that. And we provided, I think it was some $300 million in additional funding over the course of the administration for flood control in the Southeast Louisiana area. But General Strock talked about that and he talked about some of those issues. And any suggestion that it would have prevented something, that there could have been action that would have prevented something, I think he dismissed because of those reasons.
Q So if the President still has confidence in the FEMA Director, how is it that the FEMA Director is suddenly invisible? No briefings, nowhere out front, it's all gone to Secretary Chertoff.
McCLELLAN: I think he's going to brief later today. I think he's briefing later today.
Q Brown is?
McCLELLAN: Yes. And, again, that's clearly now just an attempt to try to engage in this finger-pointing, and we're going to continue focusing on solving problems.
Q He's been the focus of an enormous amount of criticism. You know that, and yet, you choose not to respond.
McCLELLAN: I just talked about how there are over 75 -- no, that's not true. There are over 75,000 people that are involved in all the response and recovery and law enforcement when it comes to Katrina. And we appreciate the efforts of everyone. We appreciate the efforts of Secretary Chertoff and Undersecretary Brown and all those at FEMA who continue to work round-the-clock to get things done and to identify problems and fix those problems.