David Gregory Says Bush Started Iraq Offensive to Help Poll Numbers

During yesterday's White House briefing, NBC White House correspondent David Gregory, believing Howard Kurtz's recent article that he is the Sam Donaldson of the Bush administration, asked whether the president launched an offensive in Iraq to help his poll numbers.

"Support for the President is at rock bottom; support for this war is at rock bottom in this country. Does the President think it's important as a show of U.S. and Iraqi force to mount these kinds of operations, to try to change public opinion in this country?"

Press secretary Scott McClellan said the decision to launch the largest air offensive since 2003 was not made by the president.

"I can't accept the premise of your question because this was a decision made by our commanders. And it's important that the commanders have the flexibility to make these type of tactical decisions in order to prevail."

At the end of the tussle, Gregory wanted to know:

"Scott, just one more. There's been a lot of rumor, as you know, so let me ask you the question straight. Does the President think he needs new blood on his staff, given his political standing?"

"I went through this yesterday; I don't think anything has changed in terms of what I said yesterday."

"I'm sorry, I wasn't here yesterday. Do you mind just filling me in?"

"Look back at the transcripts."

(Watch the video exchange at 5:53 mark)

Q Scott, can I ask you a question about this operation underway in Iraq? Does the President think that an offensive like this, high profile, is necessary, in part to turn public opinion around in this country about the war?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, our commanders in the theater have the authorization to make tactical decisions about the operations that they undertake. And there have been a number of operations that have been undertaken over the course of the last several months to really go after the terrorists and the Saddam loyalists who want to return to the past of oppression and tyranny. So this operation is part of our ongoing efforts to help move forward on the security front. And this includes --
Q Are you saying the President specifically did not sign off --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- I think the military said that this includes American and Iraqi forces. So what we're continuing to do is train and equip those Iraqi security forces, and also focusing our efforts on the enemy, going after those who are seeking to derail the transition to democracy.
Just today, this morning, less than three years after the decision to go in and remove Saddam Hussein from power and liberate the Iraqi people was made, the parliament of a fully constitutional, elected government of Iraq met to begin the process of moving forward on putting in place a national unity government. And the discussions have been going before today, and those discussions continue, but it's important that we continue to act on all fronts that the President outlined for our strategy for victory.
Q You raise the point -- are you saying that the President did not specifically authorize this?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, he knows about the operation, he's been briefed on it, but this is a decision that is made by commanders who are in the best position to make the tactical decisions about the operations that are undertaken.
Q Therefore he didn't have to give the go-ahead order, he was just told after the fact.
MR. McCLELLAN: We want to see a successful operation, and we look forward to a successful operation.
Q Can you just clarify that point?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q He was told after the decision had been made to do it, or did he have to say, yes, let's do this?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, this was not something that he needed to authorize.
Q But my question -- I'm sorry, but you aren't done with my question, which is, beyond the merits of this particular operation, we are coming to the three-year anniversary of the war. Support for the President is at rock bottom; support for this war is at rock bottom in this country. Does the President think it's important as a show of U.S. and Iraqi force to mount these kinds of operations, to try to change public opinion in this country?
MR. McCLELLAN: I can't accept the premise of your question because this was a decision made by our commanders. And it's important that the commanders have the flexibility to make these type of tactical decisions in order to prevail -- Q But does the President have an opinion on it?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and we're making a lot of important progress on the ground in Iraq. But this is a difficult time period. We have seen recent violence and some sectarian strife, sectarian reprisal attacks that have taken place, and what's important is that we continue to move forward on training and equipping the Iraqi security forces. They were the ones who took the lead in the aftermath of the attack on the Golden Mosque and helped to bring about calm and order in much of Iraq.
But what we are going to do is continue to move forward on that strategy for victory, because success in Iraq is critical to our overall efforts.
Q Scott, just one more. There's been a lot of rumor, as you know, so let me ask you the question straight. Does the President think he needs new blood on his staff, given his political standing?
MR. McCLELLAN: I went through this yesterday; I don't think anything has changed in terms of what I said yesterday.
Q I'm sorry, I wasn't here yesterday. Do you mind just filling me in?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look back at the transcripts.