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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 19, 2006

Press Gaggle by Tony Snow
James S. Brady Briefing Room

9:18 A.M. EDT

MR. SNOW: All right, thank you. Welcome all. Since there will be no on-air briefing today, we will publish the gaggle a bit later so you can all consult.

Q Great. No bupkis list, then?

MR. SNOW: Well, if there's a bupkis list, we will attach the answers in the form of footnotes.

Let me just tell you a little bit about what's going on. You may not know about this, but the President is going to be meeting in a few minutes with the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud.

Also on the schedule today, which you do know about it, I believe, is the Thelma Drake for Congress Reception -- that's closed press; that's in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Then on to the greater Cincinnati area, remarks on the American Competitiveness Initiative at Northern Kentucky University, a congressional reception, and then back home.

And that's all I've got. Let's just do questions. Terry.

Q The U.N. Committee Against Torture says the United States should close its prison at Guantanamo and avoid using secret detention facilities. Does the administration have a response to that and the other criticism in this report?

MR. SNOW: Yes, a couple of notes here. First, the President said -- and I'm sure you're familiar with this, on May 8th, I'll just read out the quote. He expressed his preference that, in fact, we at some point be able to close down Guantanamo. He said, "We're at war with an enemy and we've got to protect ourselves, and obviously the Guantanamo issue is a sensitive issue for people. I very much would like to end Guantanamo. I very much would like to get people to a court." He also pointed to the Hamdan case, points out that, "We're waiting for our Supreme Court to give us a decision as to whether the people need to have a fair trial in a civilian court or a military court."

Further points on this, as you know, the United States government had on a number of occasions invited this U.N. panel to go down to Guantanamo. They chose not to do so. It is important to note that everything that is done in terms of questioning detainees is fully within the boundaries of American law.

And, furthermore, in terms of the privileges that are accorded to prisoners there is that you've got people who are obviously dangerous prisoners, but meanwhile, the United States has -- again, forgive me, I'm filtering through several pages of notes here in trying to make this coherent -- all detainees get the three meals today in accordance with Muslim law. With regard to diet, water, medical care, clothing, shoes, shelter, showers, soap and toilet articles, the opportunity to worship, Korans and prayer mats being handed out to all who need them. They get correspondence materials. They're allowed to send and receive mail. They can receive packages of food and clothing.

In short, we are according every consideration consistent with not only the law, but the needs of safety and security at Guantanamo to the people who are there.

Q I know you said the administration wouldn't take a position on every amendment related to the Senate's dealing with the immigration legislation, but do you have a view on its treatment of the English language amendment?

MR. SNOW: As you know, there were actually a couple of amendments that came up yesterday, an Inhofe amendment and also a Salazar amendment. And what has come out of that is a description of English as the national language. And I think -- and we have supported both of these. So the answer is the administration -- as the President has said, one of the things that you want to make sure is that when at the end of a path, people who wish to become American citizens are ready for that, that they have a command of the English language. And I think both of these amendments are consistent with that stated presidential desire.


Q Follow-up question. Thank you, Tony. Why is it, then, that given the President's support of English -- you all right?

MR. SNOW: No, I just hit somebody's tape recorder.

Q Oh, okay.

MR. SNOW: I have concern for the rights of everything, including people's tape recorders. (Laughter.)

Q Within the Geneva convention.

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q Within the context of what you've just said, and the President's support of English as a language, why is it that the President's address to the nation on Monday is featured in Spanish on the White House website? And why is it that no other languages -- Arabic, Polish, Italian -- are used as languages to put things on the President's website?

MR. SNOW: John, that goes on the bupkis list. I don't know. Oh, by the way, b-u-p-k-I-s. We have to correct that, too. (Laughter.)

Q The new Italian Prime Minister says that the President's invasion of Iraq was a grave error. As the new kid on the block, can you give me the latest rationale the U.S. has for invading Iraq?

MR. SNOW: There has only been one rationale, as you know, Helen, and this that Saddam Hussein had resisted -- what is the proper number, 17 United Nations resolutions -- and had refused repeatedly to permit weapons inspectors to do their work, and consistent with that. And also we had cited other concerns in terms of democracy and human rights. That case has never changed.

Also the case laid out and voted by the United States Senate --

Q He finds that as a justification to invade a country where we had choke-hold sanctions, satellite surveillance --

MR. SNOW: Helen, I'm not going to get in another argument about the -- this is a three-year-old argument and you're trying to re-argue the case. The President made his case back then. The United States Senate voted overwhelmingly.

Q He did not make the case.

MR. SNOW: Well, in your opinion he didn't make the case. He made the case. He laid out his reasons.

Q He made the case, in your opinion?

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q After the vote yesterday on the gay marriage amendment, does the President consider this a priority and would he urge the Hill to move forward on this?

MR. SNOW: He supports it; I don't know whether you want to get into priorities. You know, if I get into the business of prioritizing, I think what you'll let the Hill do, is that they schedule their votes, they schedule their debates, but the President does support the amendment.

Q Is he pretty confident about General Hayden's confirmation?

MR. SNOW: You know what, I don't want to jump the gun on this, I think General Hayden did very well yesterday, and if you listen to the comments of people who were involved in the hearings, both the open session and the classified hearings, they seemed to be pretty impressed and satisfied.

Q Sir, in view of the criticism, recent criticism leveled at Russia, I want to ask you about the record of the current administration here at home --

MR. SNOW: I'm going to apologize because I am simply not prepared to answer Russia questions today.

Q No, I'm not asking about Russia; I'm asking about the U.S.

MR. SNOW: Okay.

Q Would you say that the American people is better off now after these five years in terms of less government interference in their own lives?

MR. SNOW: Am I saying that the American people are better in terms of less government interference in their own lives? The world is a much different place, perhaps you've noticed, than it was five years ago.

September 11, 2001 changed things and the United States has tried to respond in a vigorous way, not only to defend the liberties of the American people but to extend the boundaries of liberty around the world. The President has argued consistently for trying to restrain federal spending. And as you know, a lot of the federal spending that has increased has been directly related to the business of keeping our country safe, and again, extending the boundaries of freedom.

We have a debate right now before the Senate, where there is a supplemental budget request, appropriation, and the President has been clear: If that is above $92.2 billion dollars, even with the immigration proposals that he outlined the other night, he's going to veto it. There's only one little carve out and there may be some additional spending for dealing with pandemics.

So to ask a question comparing a world that maybe a lot of us would like to return to, one in which we did not at least perceive the threat of terror, to one today is to ask a loaded question, rather than one in which -- you simply cannot draw a simplistic comparison between the two. But do I think -- if you want to take a look at what's going on with the economy right now, I think what you're seeing is an expansion of prosperity that the American people like and enjoy. And I think the American people also generally want to make sure that we win this war on terror.

Q Admittedly, it is a loaded question -- (laughter) -- but, still, the next question, along the same line, is do you feel that the American model of democracy, in this country, is now more attractive to the outside world, less attractive, same attractive? How would you describe it?

MR. SNOW: What we have always said is that we're not going to try to impose an American template on democracy around the world. What we are trying to do, perhaps you would realize it in your own country, you're struggling with how to deal with democracy, and every nation has to do that.

Here in the United States, it took a while for us to nail down our form of government. What we are doing is trying to support in every way possible the march toward freedom and democracy. And we will assist it to the best of our ability.


Q Tony, let me ask you another loaded question, which is how was it the President was able to find $1.9 billion in offsets in the supplemental -- which, presumably, was as economical as he could make it -- before he decided to ask for spending on the border that he hadn't anticipated when he sent it up to the Hill?

MR. SNOW: How is it possible? You have to make hard choices sometimes, Wendell. That's what it's all about.

Q Back on immigration. Can you explain why employer sanctions don't figure more prominently in the President's proposal?

MR. SNOW: What do you mean they figure more prominently? The President has talked about them at every turn.

Q But there's nothing -- there's no effort to make employers -- to have them actually pay a penalty or fine --

MR. SNOW: A lot of the nuts and bolts of immigration are going to be hammered out between the House and Senate. So do not assume that the -- the President has made it clear, he thinks that employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens ought to be punished. Now, the key -- and he pointed this out in the speech -- is that right now you've got a situation in which a lot of people can fake documentation, and employers have difficulty trying to sort whether this documentation is real or isn't. And that is the rationale behind coming up with tamper-proof biometric IDs, so that you can't fake it. I mean, you can't fake your fingerprints, or whatever biometric measure they may use.

So that is certainly -- I mean, it's clearly part of the address, and it's all put together. The nuts and bolts are going to be worked out as the House and Senate proceed along their way.

Q But he's in favor of slapping some kind of penalty on an employer who hires illegals?

MR. SNOW: Yes, who knowingly hires -- yes, absolutely.

Q Is the President concerned that the amendment about English as a national language might send a message to Latinos about concern about encroachment of the Spanish language?

MR. SNOW: Boy, that's about a three bumper shot. Let me just be real clear here. What the President has said all along is that he wants to make sure that people who become American citizens have a command of the English language. It's as simple as that. It's very straightforward.

Q But it didn't really answer my question, though.

MR. SNOW: Well, I'm not sure what the question -- it was, is the President concerned that it sends a message that people -- it's --

Q It's a pretty straightforward question.

MR. SNOW: No, it -- well, let's try it again.

Q Is he concerned --

MR. SNOW: Is he concerned --

Q -- that the amendment sends a message to Latinos that we are concerned about the encroachment of the Spanish language? In other words, are we scared that the Spanish language might start to take over?


Q Thank you.

MR. SNOW: Senator Salazar, after all, having -- interestingly, both of the people who proposed amendments, Senator Inhofe and Senator Salazar, are themselves fluent in Spanish.

Q Why does the President think it's important for immigrants to learn English?

MR. SNOW: Because it's part of assimilation. If you take a look at the data, people who learn English tend to be more prosperous, tend to do better at their jobs. And what you want to do as a condition of citizenship is to give somebody an opportunity to participate fully in the American Dream.

Q But as a market force guy, why wouldn't he support, just like market forces -- there are more and more jobs in America now, as Spanish becomes more prevalent, where you probably can make a living and never speak English. Why would he want to artificially affect the marketplace by demand --

MR. SNOW: That's a spurious argument. What do you mean, there are artificially -- I don't even know where to go with that.

Q Well, if he favors market forces, then maybe people will see that they will make more money if they learn English --

MR. SNOW: Well, as you understand, markets also play by rules. Again, let me just go back to what I said before. The research very clearly indicates that people who have command of the English language do better in the aforementioned marketplace. The marketplace has already spoken on this.

Q But the marketplace is a dynamic thing that changes, and as there are more and more people in it who speak only Spanish --

MR. SNOW: What you're doing is you're mixing up arguments here. What do you want me to say?

Q Why the President thinks it's important for everyone to learn English.

MR. SNOW: Because English is the predominant language in the United States of America and --

Q That might change. That might change.

Q Let me try some other form of this --

MR. SNOW: Yes, please.

Q Granted the President's position that people should learn English if they wish to take U.S. citizenship, but why is it not pretty hard to take away from both these amendments the suspicion that their intention is not that people learn English, but that a message gets sent that Spanish is not going to be an acceptable language --

MR. SNOW: Because have you ever heard -- here's a President who has delivered addresses --

Q There is nativist sentiment in these. There is nativist sentiment in both of these.

MR. SNOW: You're telling me -- you're telling me that Democratic Senator Salazar is guilty of nativism?

Q I don't care what his party is, his name or his fluency in languages.

MR. SNOW: Okay.

Q That's a nativist --

MR. SNOW: Well, that's -- I'm going to allege that's an argumentative question and I'm not acknowledging the premise.

Q Well, it's loaded.

MR. SNOW: Yes, it is loaded -- it's pretty good loaded. The President -- I think it's a very simple thing. You want to make sure that people are fluent in English because you want them to be able to enter the mainstream of society, and you want them to do well.


Q Is the President adding funding to help people become fluent in English?

MR. SNOW: I don't know that. I'm not aware that's in specific --

Q Is there a consideration that people need to get from there to here?

MR. SNOW: I think it's certainly -- that has something that has been debated, and I suspect will continue to be debated. We're going to have to let the legislative process work that out.

Q Would he be concerned if there's no support for people to get there?

MR. SNOW: You keep asking me state of mind questions about whether the President is concerned or not concerned about it, and I'm afraid we don't have the mind-meld going yet -- (laughter) -- you'll have to give me a little more time to get a mind-meld.

Q You are representing him. You are speaking for him, you know.

MR. SNOW: I am speaking for him, but, Helen, I still do not fully -- I cannot interpret each and every thought. When you ask a state of mind question, it's very difficult to do.

Go ahead.

Q Members of LaRaza said they were devastated over the amendment. Do you see that as politically motivated?

MR. SNOW: I don't want to get in the position of right now responding from the podium to LaRaza.

Q Later?

MR. SNOW: When I have something a little -- I'll tell you what, let's go -- yes.

Q Can you put it on bupkis?

MR. SNOW: Well, if there is -- if we've got an official position on LaRaza, we will add it to the bupkis list.

Q Following on the marriage amendment, when the President was running for reelection, at every stop he was talking about his commitment to family and to marriage, the sanctity of marriage.

MR. SNOW: Right.

Q Yet far and few between times since he's been reelected does he talk about it unprompted, except for occasions like at the RNC speech the other night, where it was a political speech. I'm just trying to gauge what the level of commitment the President has for this amendment?

MR. SNOW: Again, a question like level of commitment, or the President's concern, those try to -- I don't have a yardstick for that -- I can't say, six on a scale of 10. So it's in many ways an unanswerable question, except for this: The President has been consistent. He says he believes marriage is -- he wants to defend marriage as an institution and protect it, an institution that involves a man and a woman. I don't think he could be any more clear about that, and that he supported the measure before Congress. There are a lot of things going on, and he will talk about a lot of things.


Q Let me follow up on that. Some folks have asked about why he doesn't make it -- in Medicare he made calls, he pressured members of Congress. For immigration, he's had members over here to talk about it. With the vote in the Senate coming up, why doesn't he do that on the marriage amendment, to show that he's committed?

MR. SNOW: Are you saying that every time there's a piece of legislation before, the President ought to go barnstorming? You realize that with Medicare you had a deadline. And part of this was to go to the American people and say, look, you've got a deadline. You've got to meet this deadline.

Q No, no, I'm talking about passage, when it was the 2003 passage, he wanted something passed --

MR. SNOW: Right.

Q -- he called members of Congress and said, I want that passed --

MR. SNOW: Well, why don't we see how the debate proceeds. Sometimes you take a look at the votes. Sometimes you've got the votes; sometimes it's a dicey issue and you have to make a calculation on how hard you have to push.

Q I have a question on polls. Taking at face value your previous answer about how glad the Americans are with things that we are discussing -- how do you account for the polls?

MR. SNOW: How do I account for the polls?

Q Low polls, yes.

MR. SNOW: Well, the President answered that yesterday: in a time of war, people are going to have anxieties.

Q Week ahead?

MR. SNOW: Oh, thank you very much. Week ahead.

Q And agenda for the Saudi Foreign Minister meeting, if you know.

MR. SNOW: The agenda for the Saudi Foreign Minister meeting, I'll put that up here in just a second. Let me also find my week ahead and I will -- I apologize, I have many sheets of paper with me.

The agenda for the Saudi Foreign Minister meeting, as you'll recall, the President met with then Crown Prince Abdullah in Crawford several years ago, and they were talking about -- I want to get my term right here. Fred, what's the proper term?

MR. JONES: Strategic dialogue.

MR. SNOW: Strategic dialogue. So they're continuing to talk about areas of mutual concern, including counterterrorism, military affairs, energy, consular affairs, regional foreign policy. Those are going to be the agenda items.

Q How long, 10 minutes? (Laughter.)

Q What will his state of mind be? (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: Hopeful, optimistic and determined.

Okay, as for the week ahead: There will be remarks on the global war on terror in Chicago. That is on Monday. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Olmert of Israel will be in town. He and the President will be meeting. There will be a joint press availability, but there will also be a full on-camera briefing that day.

Wednesday, he will participate in a photo opportunity with the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. He will participate in a tour of the Limerick Generating Station in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, make remarks on energy. Afterward, he will attend a political event with the Pennsylvania Congressional Victory Committee.

No scheduled public events, at least yet, for Thursday and Friday. When those do become available, we will let you know. Also a commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on Saturday.

Q Radio address?

MR. SNOW: The radio address -- that's a very good question. What's on the radio address? Okay, that's on the bupkis list. We will certainly get that covered.**

Q Tony, would you mind amplifying a little bit about what he's doing in Chicago, where he's speaking, and what he wants to accomplish --

MR. SNOW: I believe he is speaking before the Restaurant Association, and he is going to make remarks on the global war on terror.

Q Do you have a time --

MR. SNOW: No, I don't. I know that the meetings begin in the afternoon. But I do not know.

Q Will he do a Q&A?

Q Wouldn't the Restaurant Association be more appropriate for immigration?

MR. SNOW: I'm not going to tell the President what to say, Wendell. I'm sorry, what?

Q Q&A on Monday after the war on terror?

MR. SNOW: Well, it's a press availability -- oh, Q&A after the war on terror.

MS. PERINO: It's always a possibility.

MR. SNOW: There you go. Dana has -- (laughter.)

MS. PERINO: It is.

Q Yes, lots of things are always a possibility. (Laughter.) There's an asteroid headed this way. (Laughter.)

END 9:39 A.M. EDT

* Spanish translation on the White House website is guided by OMB policies for federal public websites and an EO 13166 by President Clinton.

** The President's radio address tomorrow will be on immigration.