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The Gift That Keeps On Giving: Conditions For Negotiation

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What conditions must exist before President Bush agrees to acknowledge the legislative branch to hammer out agreements on the issues of the day? Speaking to the array of budget bills the President haughtily expects on his desk, tout-suite, Dana Perino lays it out simply: everybody has got to come together on a single point of view before negotiations can take place. Then, and only then, will the President promise his attention:

Q So you're saying the president is sort of set in stone on both the numbers and on his unwillingness to engage in negotiations?

MS. PERINO: No, I said that -- what I'm saying is we are encouraging the Democrats to get together around one position so that we can actually have a negotiation.

Q But you can't have a negotiation until you're willing to talk.

MS. PERINO: We are willing to talk. We have an open dialogue. And we have Director Nussle, who is speaking for the president, acting on behalf of the president, working with them. But who do you talk to? Do you decide to talk to Congressman Obey or Speaker Pelosi or Congressman Hoyer or Senator Reid? Once all of them come together on one position, then we can have a negotiation. I can't imagine that any of you would want to negotiate with four different executives at the network.

Q I'll bet! (Laughter.)

Q He could talk to anybody he wanted. I'm available to talk to anyone. (Laughter.) But I mean, I'm sure that the president could pick up the phone and just talk to anybody and they'd take the call.

MS. PERINO: Right, but they have to have a united position for us to react to. It's unreasonable for us to try to react to four different positions.

And the President means it! He'll talk! And Perino gladly provides an example:

PERINO: But what I will say is that the president met with the four bicameral GOP leaders yesterday. We have had a united front on this. And the Democrats know what they're dealing with when they're dealing with the Republicans, but we don't know what we're dealing with when you have four different negotiating -- at least four different negotiating positions on behalf of the Democrats.

Q Are you saying Republicans are monolithically together on every point up there?

MS. PERINO: No, I said on the bottom line on the budget, we have been -- had a united front in terms of having a negotiating position. We absolutely have.

Instructive! So, once everyone has come together on a single point of view, the President is happy to open a dialogue, even if it's the opposition party. Just present a united, rather than disparate front, and President will be ready to address those concerns.

But what happens when the issue is not budget bills, but...say, the missing CIA torture tapes?

Q First of all, up on the Hill where General Hayden was testifying today before the House Intelligence Committee, the bipartisan leaders came out afterwards and they were very concerned about not having been informed about the videotaping of the interrogations, about the destruction of the tapes. Chairman Silvestre Reyes says, "Our committee was not informed, not been kept informed, we're very frustrated about the issue." I know you can't comment on the case specifically, but is the White House in general hopeful that the CIA will be more forthcoming in the future, more aggressive in meeting its obligations to inform Congress in matters like this?

MS. PERINO: This is like the fourth day in a row I've gone through this. But I -- I'm not going to comment on that. Part of the gathering of the facts is gathering who knew what when, and who then told who what. And I think that I have to allow that process to work itself out. The president thinks that General Hayden is committed to making sure that it is a thorough review, and that people get the answers that they are requesting.

Q But in the way of the CIA meeting its obligation to inform Congress of matters like this, has the White House made it clear it does not want to see this sort of thing happening --

MS. PERINO: I don't think it would be appropriate for me to say that they weren't because I don't know the answer to whether or not -- who was informed when. And I'm not saying that the senators or the congressmen are wrong in their recollections; I'm just saying that there is a process in place to gather those facts, and I have to let that play out.

Sheesh! Who's intransigent now?