Press Briefing by Tony Snow
James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:02 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Good afternoon. A few things up front. This afternoon we're going to give you the results of the President's physical exam. It's actually been conducted in a series of exams over the last couple of weeks. Doctors have determined that the President remains in superior fitness for a man his age -- anybody who has seen him on the bike or out and about certainly knows that -- and that he is fit for duty.
The President and Mrs. Bush are going to welcome French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Mrs. Sarkozy to the home of former President George H.W. Bush, for a private lunch on August 11th -- that will be Saturday. This is a result of an invitation extended during the G8 by Mrs. Bush to Mrs. Sarkozy.
Obviously, the U.S. and France share a deep historic friendship. They've worked together since the founding of the nation to protect freedom around the world. And the President looks forward to visiting with President Sarkozy during their time in Kennebunkport and also, obviously, looks forward to working with him in the months and years ahead.
The President also spoke Tuesday evening with Australian Prime Minister John Howard. The President told the Prime Minister that he looks forward to visiting Sydney in early September for bilateral meetings and for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders summit. President Bush and Prime Minister Howard discussed a range of issues, including the situation in Iraq, the international economic outlook, and climate change issues.
Q: Has the President called Barry Bonds yet?
MR. SNOW: Actually been reaching out to him, and there will be a conversation at some point today.
Q: Tony, in the President's statement about the economy, he didn't mention anything about the mortgage issue, which is currently creating a lot of anxiety in some sectors, and also nothing about the credit crunch. I'm wondering why not.
MR. SNOW: Well, number one, obviously people are concerned about the situation. Fortunately, at this juncture, the subprime market is something like 0.7 percent of the overall mortgage market, but it is a source of concern. The President really was speaking broadly of the fundamentals in the economy, and you've got an economy right now where we still have robust levels of growth, we have continued growth in employment, we have wage growth. But the President also thinks it's very important to continue to attend to fundamentals in terms of keeping taxes low, working on regulations, and also looking at trade, because exports, for instance, represent a very important and growing part of our economy.
Why the President didn't mention something, I don't know. But the fact is that you had a broad briefing about a lot of issues; he'll have opportunities to talk about other things later on.
Q: On the micro level, a lot of people -- individuals who are reading newspapers every day, aware of their own mortgage statements -- adjustable rate mortgages, for instance -- a lot of people sort of get a sense of how the economy is going through that very individualistic prism. And more and more people -- not just subprime -- are starting to feel some sort of pinch as regards their mortgages.
MR. SNOW: Well, what you're talking about is adjustable rate mortgages. Look, there obviously is some anxiety about mortgages in various parts of the economy. What the President thinks is important is that you have to make sure that you don't strangle the market for providing funds for people to continue to finance their homes. And that is -- that's obviously something that we'll continue to look at it.
Q: The President said he would use his veto pen to prevent tax increases, yet even some Republicans are suggesting some tax increases to repair the nation's infrastructure, such as the bridges. Would the President be open to something specific like that, to transportation needs?
MR. SNOW: Well, I think at this juncture, let's -- number one, I haven't heard any specific requests from Republicans for raising taxes on infrastructure. Number two, it's important to take a clear look -- you've got to keep in mind, the majority of funding for infrastructure is state and local. There is a significant federal role, but the majority is from state and local. And we've had a 30 percent increase during this administration in the funding for transportation and for infrastructure.
If this -- if members want to have a conversation about it when they come back, we'll certainly listen, but the President believes it's important to hold the line on taxes. A lot of times, when you are making -- you've got to make decisions about what your priorities are, and members of Congress, obviously, they'll have something to say. But what you're asking me to respond to basically are flyers at this juncture, rather than concrete proposals. Can't really do it in detail.
Q: Tony, President Musharraf bailing on this jirga, is that a setback for --
MR. SNOW: We're not -- we're not sure what his schedule is. The Prime Minister is there, and really the most important thing to do right now is to figure out what the jirga achieves. So you have a senior official -- the Prime Minister certainly counts as a senior official within the Pakistani government. I don't know and I'm not sure our people know for sure what President Musharraf's schedule is. But, no, this is obviously important. You've got Pashtun leaders from both sides of the border. They're talking about something that's very important, which is try to build greater confidence and security, and to try to avoid the problem not only of the gaining strength of radical forces within some of the tribal areas in Pakistan, but also stopping cross-border incursions, which has continued to be a source of concern for the Afghans.
Q: But is the White House and the President concerned, after Karzai seemed to be friendlier toward Pakistan the other day at Camp David --
MR. SNOW: Again, I think what you're trying to do is to create a personal fight here, and I don't think it exists.
Q: Tony, does FISA or any law affecting intelligence gathering need further revisions, or is the state of the law now exactly what the President thinks he needs?
MR. SNOW: There would be further revisions that we would like to see. As we told you before, DNI Director McConnell put together a 66-page bill originally; we pared it down to 11 pages, which were the absolute essentials. Now, we're going to have to see in the atmosphere when we get back what Congress is willing to consider.
What Congress has done now is passed a bill that will stay in effect until -- well, six months from now. In six months it's going to be debated again. It is important at all times to try to figure out how you can collect intelligence, how you can target -- how you can sort of surveil foreign targets who are not on American soil, do so in a way that is consistent with protecting the civil liberties of Americans, and at the same time guaranteeing their security.
I cannot tell you at this point, Ken, what kind of debate is going to be happening in the weeks to come. But certainly it's important to make sure that we realize that in the war on terror we're fighting an enemy that's constantly adapting, that is technologically sophisticated, that certainly is doing what it can to try to make full use of means of communication and means of destruction to go after American citizens, and we've got to be nimble in responding to them.
Q: As we sit here today, are there things the President would like to do that he thinks are crucial to defending the country that he thinks the law doesn't allow him to?
MR. SNOW: At this point I'll let the President say it. Right now what we're talking about is we have gotten what the DNI Director says he needs for this month, right now. We can continue the conversation about what other changes might be contemplated later.
Q: Why did the President need enhanced power to conduct surveillance involving American citizens, as well? I understand the target --
MR. SNOW: What do you mean?
Q: Well, because now the target is somebody overseas, but it could be somebody who is talking to an American citizen by phone or email.
MR. SNOW: Well, you've got to keep in mind that the original FISA statute said that you didn't need a warrant if you were, in fact, doing surveillance on a foreigner, period. What we've done is we have restored the original intent and design of FISA.
Again, the target in these conversations: a foreign individual not on U.S. soil. If that person is talking to a U.S. citizen, it does not mean that you're sitting around doing surveillance on the U.S. citizen. Furthermore, if it is a --
Q: But if you're surveilling a phone call, you're not just listening to the foreigner's side of the call, right?
MR. SNOW: Well, yes, but on the other hand, if -- you probably understand that if somebody is just calling in and asking how his socks are at the dry cleaners, all of that personal information is combed out and, in fact, the U.S. citizen basically -- you're not conducting surveillance.
If, on the other hand, they're talking about blowing up subways in New York, what happens is then our officials would go to the FISA court, seek a warrant and listen in. But the idea that somehow this is an attempt to sit around and listen in on American citizens -- I can think of nothing less efficient than sitting around and saying, I want to listen to Joe here, but I've got to wait until somebody abroad who belongs to al Qaeda gives him a phone call.
Q: But on that point about going to the FISA court, you're saying the administration will still go to the FISA court. But, in fact, the new law is going to give enhanced power to the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General to approve this, not the --
MR. SNOW: When you want a warrant to do surveillance on an American citizen, you have to go to the FISA court.
MR. SNOW: Yes, yes. But what we're talking about -- yes, absolutely.
Q: So the Attorney General can't just sign off on it, or the DNI, without the FISA court --
MR. SNOW: Well, what happens is that the Attorney General, the DNI, a number of other lawyers and others are going to put together procedures for figuring out who is eligible -- how you do eligibility -- in other words, that foreign target not on American soil. That is the focal point of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. And by the way, the vast majority of surveillance conducted on this is foreign to foreign; it has nothing to do with Americans.
So what they end up doing is coming up with the proper procedures and design for -- under which you can conduct surveillance consistent with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This actually is an expansion of the court's power; it did not have that power under the original statute.
Q: But if the vast majority do involve foreign to foreign, why did you need this new power to potentially --
MR. SNOW: It's not a new power. What happened is that the way the law was written, if you ended up having a foreign-to-foreign conversation that ended up traveling over a fiber-optic line in the United States, you'd have to go seek a warrant for it. Well, wait a minute. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was never designed to go seek warrants for foreigners doing conversation -- foreign targets doing conversations. It was technologically obsolete. So what we were trying to do was to craft a bill that would reflect not only modern-day technology, but also keep in mind that it's not merely terror targets but hostile foreign powers and others. So, again, it is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; foreign targets not on U.S. soil are, in fact, the primary concern.
Q: Tony, on two subjects, one on Barry Bonds. Was there ever a concern that the President would not call him because of the cloud over him about steroids?
MR. SNOW: No, the reason we -- the President was asleep when Barry Bonds hit his home run, and Barry Bonds was asleep when the President came to work today. I mean, it's one of those things where baseball players, especially after setting records, tend to stay up late -- and especially when you're three time zones away.
Q: The President talked about steroids in his State of the Union address in 2004. In the midst of this controversy, there's a question over it, and some people are saying that there will always be an asterisk next to his name. What is the President saying about the issue of steroids?
MR. SNOW: Number one, the President thinks that steroids are inappropriate; it's a lousy example to kids, and it's also a way to destroy your body if you're a professional athlete. He's made it clear that performance-enhancing drugs, in fact, are destructive not only to the athlete, but certainly set a lousy -- terrible example for kids. He supports Major League Baseball's efforts not only to go after performance-enhancing drugs, but Senator Mitchell also taking a look at the phenomenon within the sport, trying to get to the bottom of it.
As far as Barry Bonds, this is something that's properly -- Major League Baseball is taking its look. We're certainly not going to try to be the fact witness on that.
Q: Okay. And on China, it's happening again, apparently seafood is coming into the country that's not being inspected, that has carcinogens and antibiotics. What are you guys doing --
MR. SNOW: As you know, that is the Food and Drug Administration also, and Secretary Leavitt has put together a task force on food safety. Give them a call.
Q: A follow-up on China, Tony? There's a report out --
MR. SNOW: Okay. (Laughter.) Pat.
Q: Thank you -- a report out of London indicating that Chinese officials are sending word that they might be prepared to use their $1.3 trillion in foreign reserves to counter any pressure from the United States, economic pressure on their exports. Is there a concern here that China --
MR. SNOW: I know nothing about the report. I'm certainly not going to try to engage in global economic speculation on a report that I'm not familiar with.
Q: Tony, two quick questions. One, going back to Afghanistan. When these two great leaders met at Camp David, President Bush and President Karzai of Afghanistan, what message they had for the 25 million Afghans who were freed and had first freely elected government in Afghanistan, when they were trying for freedom from the Taliban and al Qaeda? But today, they're asking freedom for peace. How can they have peace in Afghanistan?
MR. SNOW: Well, peace is a challenge in Afghanistan. You've got the Taliban who are still trying once again to create its own reign of terror and oppression within Afghanistan. It's obviously important to fight back against them.
Goyal, the aim has always been the same, which is, again, to build a government that's able to stand on its own, that's able to expand the security perimeter beyond Kabul, and at the same time, building the strength among police and army forces. And as we pointed out last week or the week before, there has been significant improvement and increases in training. There are infrastructure problems, there are challenges on the drug front and building a firm economy. Again, when you are trying to build a stable nation, especially in a wreckage of the kind of oppression that -- and destruction that the Taliban wreaked, it takes a considerable amount of time to put all the pieces together.
Q: Also, just -- on Afghanistan, many peace workers and many countries and many U.N. workers are not willing to go to Afghanistan to work because now foundations are hostages and others feel the same thing may happen to them. What are we doing as far as security for those who want to work for --
MR. SNOW: Well, look, we -- this gives you an idea of the kind of people we're fighting. And we deplore it when they kidnap and they kill innocent humans -- innocent men and women and children. But the most important thing to do is, again, to continue to work with that Afghan government so that it has the capability and resources to defend itself. And we'll do everything we can to assist.
Q: Tony, Asia analysts say the upcoming summit between the two Koreas will actually do very little to get North Korea to start abandoning nuclear weapons, that it will take much more direct U.S. involvement. Does the administration see these talks as being hopeful towards --
MR. SNOW: Well, the administration supports the talks, and South Korea had notified us in advance. We certainly support them. But it is important -- you've got the six-party process and this falls within the six-party process, where you've got to have everybody working together to put pressure on the North Koreans not only to shut down Pyongyang, but also suspend any activities that can be used for uranium enrichment and reprocessing.
I mean, we've -- it's all laid out in the September 13th agreement, and the fact is that you've got to have all parties working together. And they have been. And the tough decisions have to be made by the North Koreans.
Q: Tony, Nouri al-Maliki is in Tehran again. Did he consult with the administration before going there? Does it worry the President or his aides that he's talking about -- economic and other cooperation agreements with a regime that the President has repeatedly called a force for instability?
MR. SNOW: Well, no, what the President has said is that the Iranians have to make a decision in that they should have an interest in stability, and to the extent that there has been the movement of weaponry and also fighters over the Iranian border, that is a contributor to instability. As you know, there have been conversations about just that topic between the U.S. Ambassador and Iranian counterparts.
On the other hand, Iran is the neighbor of Iraq, and it is certainly appropriate for the Prime Minister to travel to neighbors and try to make his case also for engaging in the kind of relationships that lead to stability rather than instability.
Q: You don't think that repeatedly attempting to negotiate agreements with Tehran is going to, for example, worry the Sunnis and further distance themselves from the so-called unity government?
MR. SNOW: Look, the Prime Minister -- you've got to keep in mind that Prime Minister Maliki is the Prime Minister of all Iraq, and he is obviously thinking about what's going to be important for the stability of Iraq. He's also made it clear that he does not consider himself, and nobody should, a proxy for Iran, or Shia as proxy for Iran. Shia within Iraq are working to get their own homeland, to get their freedoms, to get their economic independence. And, again, so -- I don't want to try to go any further than that, but it is perfectly consistent with his duties as a Prime Minister to reach out to a neighbor and to try to have good relations.
Q: Did he consult with us first?
MR. SNOW: I mean, we knew he was going, but he's a sovereign head of state.
Q: Tony, given the problems that we have in the economy with the credit on the corporate level and the mortgage market -- it's spilled over from mortgage to credit -- the President's speech today seemed way off target. I'm wondering, is that the speech that was intended, or did they change it at the last minute, because --
MR. SNOW: I think -- I don't want to try to pose here as the overall economic expert, but you've got an economy that's enormously strong. And there have been problems within the credit markets, and it is something that is a source of concern. But on the other hand, you've got inflation that's been moderated; you have continued growth in income and employment; you have very strong fundamentals. So I would -- he may not have said what you would have liked him to say, but, on the other hand, he was talking to some pretty capable economic analysts, in the persons of the Treasury Secretary, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, and so on, and he was trying to give an overall view. What you're saying is, he didn't pinpoint a problem.
Q: Well, he did pinpoint a problem. He said that the greatest threat to the economy are the Democrats.
MR. SNOW: But he also -- one of the things it said is that the -- market always prices in a risk premium, and that's one of the things that's been going on in the marketplace.
Q: But I mean, why did he bother to give that speech if it's not addressing --
MR. SNOW: Oh, I'm sorry, because it didn't address the bad news that you -- your perceived bad news, because it talks about underlying strengths?
Q: Why did he have this lunch? I mean, is this something --
MR. SNOW: He does it every year. This is the seventh year he's done it. He's done it in August of each of the years. Please consult calendar. This is a normal annual event to meet with economic advisors. And you know what, it's legitimate for a President to say, to raise taxes at a time like this is bad policy; to increase regulation at a time like this is bad policy; not to pursue free trade in an increasingly competitive world, where exports represent a growing part of our economy, is bad policy.
Q: You're giving a better speech than he did. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: I'm getting out of here.
Q: Tony, what is the President hoping to get out of this meeting with President Sarkozy? And why is he using Walker's Point, now the second time in just a matter of six weeks?
MR. SNOW: Well, the First Lady extended the invitation at the G8. You've got a new French President who is -- number one, he's vacationing -- he's been vacationing in New Hampshire; he's in the neighborhood. Number two, it looks like we're on the verge of a new era of relations with the French, which is a good thing, and the President believes in building personal relationships with other heads of state. This fits into that pattern. It's coming over -- I'm sure they'll talk about some international matters, but this is not a summit, this is not something with an agenda. The agenda is, come by and let's visit. And the main reason you're at Walker's Point is the First Lady extended the invitation and the French President is in the neighborhood.
Q: To follow up on that, this was extended two months ago at the G8, is that correct?
MR. SNOW: Correct.
Q: So did the Sarkozys already have plans to come to the United States to vacation?
MR. SNOW: I have not asked them or the French government, so I don't know.
Q: Well, is that why Mrs. Bush extended the invitation, because there were going to be in the neighborhood?
MR. SNOW: I honestly don't know, Ann.
Q: What do you think of a foreign head of state making his first vacation in the United States?
MR. SNOW: Well, he certainly picked a good country to visit, didn't he? (Laughter.)
Q: Can we quote you on that, Tony?
MR. SNOW: Yes, absolutely -- a great country to visit.
Q: A couple of questions not related. There's a feeling that McConnell stepped over -- crossed the line at being a propagandist for this spy legislation.
MR. SNOW: I think it's unfortunate because there may be some charges that really don't reflect the realities of Mike McConnell and who he is. He doesn't see himself as a political figure. The President asked a simple question: What do you need? Mike McConnell is the guy who is running DNI and, by the way, has received high marks from Democrats and Republicans, including in some of the reporting today.
So I would sort of steer away from the sort of personal reporting on this because, frankly, he's somebody who is serving as an honest broker and was dealing not only in good faith, but worked very hard with members of both parties and produced a piece of legislation that passed overwhelmingly.
Q: My other question is there a gate that the Petraeus report will come through?
MR. SNOW: Well, I'm sure there is, we just don't know what it is.
Q: In September?
MR. SNOW: Yes, well, look, there is a September 15th reporting date.
Okay, we'll catch up with you.
END 1:25 P.M. EDT
George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Tony Snow Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/276002