Rare August White House Briefing: Cindy Sheehan, the Pope, and Lance Armstrong

By: E&P Staff

Full White House briefings featuring Scott McClellan as chief spokesman (or punching bag) seem like nothing but a fond memory as the dog days of August continue to unfold at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas.

However, a “press gaggle” was held this morning at the Crawford Middle School with official White House spokesperson Dana Perino presiding. The topics covered fairly wide ground with questions popping up about everyone from protest leader Cindy Sheehan (with reference to locals running over crosses that marked Americans killed in Iraq) to Bush pal Lance Armstrong. Actually, there were three questions about Armstrong and only one about Sheehan.

Here are a few excerpts:

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Q Does the President have any plans at all to meet with Cindy Sheehan? And what did you think about the latest, you know, thing where the crosses were destroyed along the road?

MS. PERINO: The President said in his — last Thursday, when he spoke to you all after the defense meeting, that he sympathizes with her, he has met with her before. He said that one of the most cherished rights in America is the right to free speech and that she has a right to express her views. He does not agree with her views, but he says he respects her right to peacefully protest. But, other than that, I have nothing more to add.

Q Will there be any press opportunity or photo opportunity on Saturday when the President is going to bike ride with Lance Armstrong?

MS. PERINO: I’ll need to get back to you in terms of the press component, if there is any. But the President does look forward to Lance Armstrong coming to the ranch. He’s a great friend of the President, has been a friend of his for many years. The President has said that Lance is an incredible inspiration to people from all walks of life, that he’s a true American champion. So I think they’ll enjoy their visit on Saturday.

Q It will be the President and Lance Armstrong, or other people involved? How is it going to be organized?

MS. PERINO: Right now, I believe it’s just the President and Lance Armstrong, but I will have to see if there’s any more I can get. I have a request in.

Q Do you expect them to race or just ride leisurely together?

MS. PERINO: I don’t know. I think they do a little bit of different types of riding.

Q. Dana, beyond the words of his written statement last evening, was the President disappointed that the Iraqis did not meet the deadline for drafting a constitution?

MS. PERINO: No. The President said he is encouraged by the fact that all of the members that are working on the constitution are still at the table. He’s encouraged by their commitment to finishing the process. You have the President’s statement last night, as you said, and the transcript from Secretary Rice’s briefing. It’s only been a few hours since then, so the members that are writing the constitution continue to do that. And their shared commitment to getting this completed is very encouraging.

Q Dana, this just came in — lawyers for the Pope have asked President Bush to grant him immunity as a head of state concerning a church sex abuse lawsuit in Texas in which the Pope is named as a defendant. Reitzinger is named as an individual in the lawsuit, not as a cardinal or Pope, and was successfully served with the lawsuit earlier this year. Is President Bush inclined to grant him the immunity in that?

MS. PERINO: As you know, I’ve been sitting here. That breaking news just happened, so I’ll have to get back to you.

Q Is there any White House response to reports over the weekend that unnamed senior officials are willing to accept less from Iraq than the President had said publicly?

MS. PERINO: I believe that people spoke to that over the weekend, and I’ll see if there’s anything else I can get you.

Q What was the response over the weekend, do you remember?

MS. PERINO: Ambassador Khalilzad was out, and others.

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