Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:48 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Ready for questions.
Q: Did anyone bring up Gonzales at the meeting with the Republican leaders today?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q: No one talked about it at all?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q: What did they talk about?
Q: What was the question?
MR. SNOW: Did the Attorney General come up in the conversations with the Republican leaders? As we said, it was pretty predictable, talking about the ongoing discussions of the budget supplemental, immigration reform, a number of other issues that are still on the docket for the next few weeks and months. People had lots of different concerns. But kind of the two major things were obviously the ones that are top of mind right now, which is the supp and immigration.
Q: When you say concerns, what do you mean?
MR. SNOW: I mean when you're talking about things that are topics of conversation. You've got a lot of action and negotiation going on in terms of the budget supplemental. At the same time, certainly among senators, there's been a bipartisan effort to put together legislation on the immigration front. And members of the House and Senate were both sharing their views on how to proceed.
Q: What did the President tell them?
MR. SNOW: For them to know and me to remain discrete about.
Q: Tony, in the past we've heard that some Cabinet members who have been in the midst of trouble, in the midst of controversy, have gone to the President and asked him, should they resign, and the President has declined.
MR. SNOW: April, you are so overplaying this.
Q: No, I'm not. Don't go there. (Laughter.) No, seriously. The AG --
MR. SNOW: Seriously, you are really overplaying this.
Q: No, I'm not. I'm asking, has the Attorney General -- this Attorney General gone to the President and asked him, should he resign?
MR. SNOW: I have no knowledge of that. I would doubt it.
Q: Why would you doubt it?
MR. SNOW: Because.
Q: We know Rumsfeld had asked the President --
MR. SNOW: There is no question of the President's support. You really are -- you're over --
Q: I am not.
MR. SNOW: No, you are. Trust me.
Q: I know of another Secretary who asked the President --
MR. SNOW: I understand, but you're overreaching. I'm trying to be helpful.
Q: Tony, two questions. One, this -- Senator Hillary Clinton, for President, she was speaking on Capitol Hill at the Holiday Inn, celebrating the Haitian Heritage Month. She said as far as illegal immigration is concerned, she's very much concerned about unity -- family unity -- because so many thousands of families are waiting outside the U.S. for to come here. And the President should focus on this, that unity for --
MR. SNOW: Well, I'll tell you what's happened. I mean, Senator Kennedy, who certainly is no slouch, and I suspect has those concerns -- and, frankly, Senator Kyl, and others all have concerns about family -- worked together very hard on pulling together a comprehensive immigration bill that was going to balance a whole series of highly complex needs and concerns, beginning with national security, then moving on to the issue of what do you do with 11 million or 12 million illegals; how do you create an orderly flow of people in and out of the United States, so that you do not invite problems in terms of lax security in the future; how do you also do it in a way that's consistent with the needs and dictates of economic growth; and how do you do it in a way that encourages people to act as good visitors, and in some cases, eventually to become good citizens.
So all those are conversations. And what's going to be interesting, I think, is as members of Congress have an opportunity to look through the legislation, they will have a whole series of specific comments. But I think that the most important thing -- and I do feel comfortable telling you this, Steve, about what the President said, which is, people do need time to study it. What has happened is that there were a lot of immediate reactions based on last year's legislation. This is considerably different than last year's legislation. And as a result, we're inviting everybody to take a good, hard look at it. The President thinks it's a good, strong piece of legislation. He understands how the process works. But it is really important to try to deal with all these issues, and seems to be a very thoughtful way to proceed.
Q: And the second question, if I may, please. There is also another question. The big problem is the trafficking, as far as the prostitutes and other trafficking from other countries to here and from here to other countries. There was a conference yesterday, I went at the Sheraton in Tysons Corner, sponsored by -- and most of the area police chiefs and CEOs were there. What they are saying is that we have to do more in the administration, as far as trafficking. There was a report by the State Department, also, calling that it's a serious problem.
MR. SNOW: The President has made it clear, and he's spoken often about human trafficking here and around the world, especially around the world. And I daresay he's been quite outspoken about it.
Q: Tony, I want to have one more question about the Attorney General here. Is there any thought inside the White House -- the President has showed enormous loyalty to the Attorney General -- is there any thought inside the White House that the Attorney General has not shown the same degree of loyalty to the President, because it should be apparent to him at this point that he is damaging the President and that he should go?
MR. SNOW: No. No, what you're saying is that if you have political opponents who say nasty things about a Cabinet member, that they ought to go. The fact is, Alberto Gonzales has been an effective Attorney General -- and I will point you back to what I mentioned earlier, Jim, which is when you get into the nuts and bolts of what the Department of Justice does, there are no specific critiques about what's going on. Instead, what you have is a controversy about removing six U.S. attorneys; all entirely proper, he did nothing improper. And so the President sees absolutely no need to proceed further.
Q: Let me just follow that. If you widen out -- however, it becomes very clear that the Attorney General has become a distraction. And so that, again, it is incumbent upon him to say, Mr. President, I don't want to be a distraction to you anymore.
MR. SNOW: I don't think he's a distraction. The President is perfectly loyal. I think it may be a distraction -- again, a lot of people have been trying very hard to turn this into a big story, to no avail. So the distraction I think is more on Capitol Hill and some who have to report the story, than it is with the President, who is confident in Alberto Gonzales and is concentrating on the other business at hand.
Q: But is it fair to say that for Cabinet members and those who have had long relationships with the President, that there is a degree of self-questioning that they must do? Isn't that part of their role, as well?
MR. SNOW: That happens in any administration. Obviously, anybody asks that question when you're serving the President.
Q: So it's fair that Mr. Gonzales should be going through that process, as well?
MR. SNOW: I don't want to say it's fair or not; it's natural. You ask yourself, am I doing everything I can for my boss. When you serve at the White House, you serve at the pleasure of the President, and it is an extraordinary honor. And it is -- certainly, anybody up here in the front row, and I do it, myself, all the time, which is, am I doing my best? Can I improve? What do I need to do to do the job more effectively? So that's sort of a standard piece precisely because of the nature and the honor of working for a President.
Q: Did the President, in the session today, do anything to try to further inhibit the no confidence vote by talking to Republican members --
MR. SNOW: No. No. It did not come up.
Q: Tony, on the war spending bill, indications are that it's going to move forward this week, before Memorial Day. In this White House, is that seen as a victory?
MR. SNOW: What will be seen as a victory is providing, through the end of the fiscal year, the funding and flexibility the forces need. That's what we've wanted all along. But in this particular case, rather than trying to sort of cast this in who wins and who loses on Capitol Hill terms, the President's determination is to follow through on his obligations as Commander-in-Chief to make sure that the men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also those who are serving in humanitarian efforts there, in conjunction with the government, that they get what they need.
Q: Do you think that this battle with Democrats over the supplemental has hurt the relations between this White House and the leadership?
MR. SNOW: What we understand is that you've got Democratic leadership in the House and Senate, and there are going to be times when we lock horns. On the other hand, there are going to be times, such as on the Senate side, working together on immigration reform. There was consensus; Democrats and Republicans all said they wanted to get the supplemental worked out before Memorial Day. So I think at a time like this, Bret, it sort of creates a notion that somehow you go through these big mood swings, and people are shocked that politics will erupt. Well, of course, it erupts. But the most important thing to do is try to move forward effectively and get people's business done. And we hope that's what happens here.
Q: One more thing, on another topic. This is not asking you for a book review, but Al Gore's new book is out, and he says that Saddam Hussein posed no threat and that President Bush, "forged evidence that Hussein was seeking to develop atomic bombs."
MR. SNOW: Well, the second is false, and the first is in contradiction to Senator Gore -- then Vice President Gore's prior statements. So I'll let him rectify those differences.
Q: To follow up with the supplemental, it seems like the White House is close to consensus, and at least there are Democratic aides who are telling our colleagues on the Hill that there are some points that the White House has agreed to -- first, of course, no time lines; second, some benchmarks that are tied to reconstruction aid; and also an increase in the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. Are these things that the White House --
MR. SNOW: We are not going to discuss any of those things. As I've said, one of the reasons why I think the talks have been able to proceed is that we are not floating trial balloons, nor are we responding to trial balloons. I think when both sides have worked out what they think is an acceptable agreement, I will let them do it. It is inappropriate to try to cherry-pick different items that somebody may have called you and asked about, because as you know, quite often people do that for their own reasons. I don't want to say yes or no to any of these things. I'm just going to say, "no comment."
Q: You're saying it's not not true?
MR. SNOW: I'm saying I'm not commenting on it, because that is -- we've been pretty consistent on that.
Q: You set the precedent, as you said earlier, that because you said you didn't want all the other extraneous items in the war supplemental, you're not going to accept the minimum wage?
MR. SNOW: I didn't say that. I said I'm not commenting on those reports.
Q: But you did say something -- paraphrasing what you said, you said, we already said that we weren't going to deal with it.
MR. SNOW: We've said that we resist attempts to try to put extraneous things on the bills.
Q: Tony, if the Alberto Gonzales situation is not a distraction to the President, is that because his advisors have not brought it to his attention?
MR. SNOW: Again, if you take a look at the -- the question is, has this changed the way in which the Department of Justice functions? Has it affected any core function? The answer is, no.
Q: So have his advisors brought it to his attention?
MR. SNOW: The President doesn't need advisors to draw to his attention the fact that the Attorney General has been called to Capitol Hill and other people who have worked for the Attorney General have been called to Capitol Hill. He understands these things.
Q: What was his response to the testimony last week of James Comey?
MR. SNOW: No response that I'm aware of.
Q: One more quick one on President Carter. Now that he's said that his remarks last week were maybe careless or misinterpreted, are you willing to say that he is maybe more relevant?
MR. SNOW: He's a former President of the United States, and he certainly makes his views known, and I think it's always important to treat the office with respect.
Q: On the Attorney General again. You've got Monica Goodling testifying, I think, tomorrow. What do you anticipate from her testimony --
MR. SNOW: Don't know.
Q: -- and what happens if you continue to lose support of Republican senators?
MR. SNOW: Again, those are all a bunch of "what ifs," none of which -- I'm just not going to play the "what if" game.
Q: Isn't there a point where the support for him -- for the Attorney General is so low --
MR. SNOW: Again, the question is, is he doing his job or not? And the answer is, he's doing his job, and he's doing it effectively.
Q: Tony, thank you. Two questions. In regard to what a Washington Post editorial hailed as breakthrough on immigration, which the President supports, the Chairman of the Republican Party in Texas, Tina Benkiser, said this: "It will be yet another colossal failure in dealing with the massive invasion of our country. It accomplishes nothing more than to compromise the security of the American people." And my question: Does the President believe this Texas Republican leader doesn't know what she's talking about?
MR. SNOW: Let me tell you what the President believes about the legislation, rather than trying to pick a personal fight, which is always more tangy, but less useful from my standpoint.
The legislation actually commits more resources to border safety and security than has ever been committed in the history of the United States, and far more than was originally contemplated by Republicans as recently as a year ago. The President is keenly aware of concern about border security, which is why, before the program can even proceed to the next step, it requires having 370 miles of fence built, 200 miles of vehicular barriers, and the ability to have electronic surveillance over more than a thousand miles -- UAVs, radars -- and also the ability to respond quickly.
The other fact is that the administration, already having taken steps to beef up the presence on the border, has, in fact, reduced the number of illegal crossing and, therefore, remains committed to it. We certainly understand the concern of many Republicans and Democrats about border security and think we have done a good job on it. And it's important to note also that in many cases, people have had reactions based on somebody else's paraphrase of the legislation, rather than a thorough and careful reading, which is why we invite people to take a look at it, because when they do, they are going to see that there is a serious commitment here.
I'll give you a classic example. Duncan Hunter thinks that only half of the fence that was proposed in a bill that he wrote is going to be built. No, all of it is going to be built. But the fact is, you can't move on to the next phase, the temporary worker program, until you've got 370 miles built. That's more than 200 miles getting constructed in the next 18 months.
So the point here is when you talk about invasions, when you talk about sort of a number of those characterizations, you have to keep in mind what the President has proposed. This is not the bill the was laid out before Congress last year. It is serious, it is substantive, and the President does support it because he thinks it's good for security and also because he believes -- and I think the chairman of the Texas Republican Party would probably agree -- it's important to know who is here illegally. This bill gives us the capacity to do that for the first time. It gives us the capacity to make sure whether people are working or not. It also allows those who are involved in legal work, in law enforcement, to be able to narrow down the focus not to 11 million people, but to those who really do present a clear and present threat, or a conceivable threat to American safety, so that we can go ahead and deal with those sorts of problems and get the people out of the country.
Q: Second, Tucson's Arizona Star reports that the governors of Arizona and New Mexico have written the President, protesting the State Department's recruiting 120 Border Patrol agents for $134,000 a year, to send to Iraq, which the governors say makes no sense because we should be focusing on supporting our nation's security efforts along the Mexican and Canadian borders. And my question: Why is the President allowing the State Department to do this?
MR. SNOW: What the President does is -- number one, you've got to keep in mind that these are not inconsistent. Sending people over to do work in Iraq is not inconsistent with sending people to the border. And --
Q: They're taken from the Border Patrol -- we need people at the border.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, have you been -- I don't know if you've noticed, Les, but what we're talking about is 18,000 people on the border. That is twice the size of the Border Patrol inherited by the President.
Q: They don't have them there yet.
MR. SNOW: They are building them up at a speed that is unprecedented in American history. You know that as well as I do.
Q: Could I ask you to clarify one thing about your sense of the situation involving the Attorney General and its effect on the Justice Department? Are you saying that the Justice Department has not been adversely affected by the recent events involving the Attorney General?
MR. SNOW: Jim, I don't know. It is a gigantic operation. Has it changed the ability to prosecute cases, to go after drug dealers, to try to take a look at antitrust, to investigate things on the civil right front? Has it done that? It is not clear --
Q: How about as far as federal prosecutors who feel a sense of --
MR. SNOW: Career federal prosecutors are completely untouched by this.
Q: How is that? You don't feel that morale --
MR. SNOW: Because they're civil service. As a matter of fact --
Q: You don't think this has affected morale in the Justice Department at all?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I don't know, but I think what, again, you have to ask yourself how prosecutions continue apace. What has happened is that you had some appointees who were replaced and they were replaced by career prosecutors, in some cases, on an interim bases.
Q: I'm just saying, do you think the people who do the heavy lifting, that there's been no adverse effect on morale?
MR. SNOW: I just don't know, Jim. I think, again, I think a lot of people are trying to fish and to make far more out of this because there is the prospect of congressional hearings. But again, if you take a look at something as large and vast -- you start calling out the U.S. attorneys office, does that mean you're not prosecuting cases? Does it mean that you're unable to make the normal sorts of judgments about how to prosecute or not?
The fact is that law enforcement is something where people spend a lot of time developing professional capability and they do their jobs. And especially after they get out of Washington, D.C., quite often they're spending their time thinking about what are the things on my desk today? And they think in very practical terms about how to proceed.
Q: When you say that the Iraq supplemental has to give the funding and flexibility to the troops, what in the supplemental provides that flexibility? What do you mean, "flexibility"?
MR. SNOW: We've always talked about the ability of generals or commanders on the ground to make decisions about how to deploy resources effectively in response to changing challenges on the ground.
Q: And when is the deadline to get this done? If the House stays in over the weekend --
MR. SNOW: I'm not -- the House and Senate have both sort of set informal deadlines. Speaker Pelosi says she wants it done before Memorial Day; Leader Reid wants it done before Memorial Day; we want it done before Memorial Day. I think at this point, everybody hopes to get it done in a timely basis, but those conversations have to continue.
Q: Is the President optimistic from what he hears from Josh Bolten on this?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to characterize, but all along he's thought we'd get -- he has said many times he's optimistic about getting to where we need to be.
Q: Do you have a preview of the Coast Guard address tomorrow?
MR. SNOW: He's going to talk about the war on terror and remind people about the kind of people that we've been fighting. He'll talk a bit about al Qaeda and some of the challenges that we continue to face.
Q: Tony, I have one more Al Gore book quote. (Laughter.) "The President deceived the public by suggesting that Iraq was involved in 9/11." He says, when the administration continued to "make bold and confident assertions that leave the impression with 70 percent of the country that Saddam Hussein was linked to al Qaeda and was primarily responsible for the 9/11 attack, this can only be labeled deception."
MR. SNOW: Unfortunately, the Vice President* probably has been listening to people who have deliberately misled him. The President has made it clear over and over and over that there was no relationship between Saddam Hussein and September 11th. And again, from my own personal experience, when we would go on the day of the State of the Union address -- the State of the Union address in 2002 I guess, or 2003, the question arose, "Do you think that Saddam is linked to September 11th?" The President said, no, we have no intelligence to link Saddam directly to September 11th. So he has never tried to make that tie.
And what the Vice President is doing -- it's been tried by a lot of other people -- which is to take something the President hasn't said, expose it as a "lie" and then beat him up for it. The President told the truth. So I don't know -- I don't know if they're going to do a reprinting of the book to try to get the facts straight; fact checkers may have to take a look at it. These are highly complex publishing issues, and I can't be an expert on them.
Q: Tony, you also realize Mr. Cheney had talked about an operational link, perhaps, between al Qaeda and Saddam, talked about Mohammed Atta having a meeting -- there's been a lot of --
MR. SNOW: Right, but that's an entirely separate issue from the quote that was read by Bret.
Q: Some people don't view it as a separate issue if it contributes to a view in the general public that there was some Iraq tie to 9/11.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, you had Abu Musab al Zarqawi on Iraqi soil; you had reports that there were, in fact, al Qaeda members on Iraqi soil before the war began. That's in the intel that you saw before the war.
So, again, I think what happens is that people are trying to -- you know, if at first you don't succeed, try to figure out another angle by which you can go after the President, where everybody saw the same intel -- at least in those early days after September 11th, they all basically agreed to what they had seen. The President has been straight about the intel.
Q: In the search for a successor to Paul Wolfowitz, are you looking for someone who will continue his anti-corruption drive?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to get into any general characterizations, other than to say that it is absolutely vital for the World Bank to be an effective vehicle for trying to alleviate poverty in the Third World. Obviously, any time you have corruption in a lending institution, that works against those goals. But you want to figure out how best to do it, and so that is going to remain the focal point.
Q: When do you expect to have a new --
MR. SNOW: Don't know.
Q: Don't know?
MR. SNOW: Don't know.
Q: Separately, is the United States seeking to gain the release of the American scholar being held in Iran and accused of fomenting a revolution?
MR. SNOW: We are not commenting on the case. We certainly know that the Iranians have leveled charges, but we're not commenting on the case.
Q: -- is reporting that the White House might be preparing a second surge in Iraq. Can you tell us something about this?
MR. SNOW: Right now, we're -- the question is, a second surge to Iraq. No, we're in the middle of the Iraq plan that General Petraeus put together. And what you have is the movement of forces in, trying to create conditions of greater security within Baghdad. And at the same time, there are also ongoing efforts, especially in Anbar, to try to create conditions of greater safety, and those have clearly enjoyed some success recently. So, no, the story is wrong.
Q: If this plan doesn't work, is there any way it can --
MR. SNOW: So far the indications are that things are moving forward in a positive direction. It seems to me that it's highly premature to be asking what happens if it fails, when you've got success in Anbar, when you do have continued efforts to build greater capability, going after bad actors wherever they may be within Baghdad. You're still moving forces in -- we're not going to get all the forces in for some time yet, to have a full buildup. So those are the kinds of questions that really don't make sense when you're in the process of carrying out your mission. What you do constantly is assess how you do a better job, and they do that each and every day.
Q: Regarding the violence in Lebanon, do you have any indication or evidence to link --
MR. SNOW: No, I mean, the most important thing is that the violence has got to end. And militia violence is something that was targeted by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559. It is noteworthy that Syrian officials recently did warn or at least threaten potential security problems in Lebanon as a result of the establishment of the Rafik Hariri tribunal. But I don't want to try to draw you a causal link there. The fact is that there is a situation now that is unacceptable violence, and we support the Siniora government, and so, for that matter, does the international community.
Q: When you say the timing was meant to disrupt the tribunal --
MR. SNOW: I didn't say that. I said that it recently threatened potential security problems. The tribunal is something, that you know, that the Syrians have resisted. They certainly have been involved in Lebanon before. And the Assad regime remains an organ of state terror. So all those are facts. But again, at this point, we're still studying exactly what's going on, as one would expect. But the most important thing for us is that the Siniora government be able to continue building itself effectively. Now, again, the Siniora government has been fighting back in the refugee camps, and it does continue to enjoy the support of its allies.
Q: To follow up on that, is the administration considering shipping materiel, equipment, or weapons to the Lebanese government?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not aware that there have been specific requests. On the other hand, we do, in fact, supply that kind of support to the government of Lebanon when it is necessary.
Q: I'm trying to understand your argument on Gonzales. You're basically saying that the Justice Department is so big, and that the machinations are already so much in place that it really doesn't matter who is leading or what's going on.
MR. SNOW: No, I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is that there's a controversy about six U.S. attorneys which, while it is splashy here in Washington, is a very tiny slice of the overall responsibilities and obligations of the U.S. Department of Justice. And the question is, has the Department of Justice been forced into a situation where it cannot function because people are calling former members of the Justice Department to the Hill, or that they're trying to look for Karl Rove emails. The fact is, the Justice Department is comprised of a lot of highly competent, dedicated, career civil servants who continue to do their jobs. And the President --
Q: The issue is Republican senators, even, saying that Gonzales is no longer an effective leader of that department. Is that not important?
MR. SNOW: The President disagrees with them -- six senators, and the President disagrees with them, respectfully.
Q: Any luck on finding out about the President's policy on wearing seatbelts?
MR. SNOW: Well, it's always important to wear seatbelts, especially when driving slowly on the ranch. (Laughter.) But I think it's, in point of fact, something that -- we encourage everybody to wear their seat belts.
Q: -- Secret Service person here at the White House ask the President and all occupants --
MR. SNOW: No, but I'll tell you what -- the Secret Service, I guarantee you, looks after the President and is absolutely determined to ensure his safety in every way possible.
Q: Thank you.
MR. SNOW: Thank you.
END 1:15 P.M. EDT
*former Vice President
Tony Snow, Press Briefing by Tony Snow Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/275172