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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 6, 2006
Press Gaggle by Tony Snow
Aboard Air Force One
En route Artesia, New Mexico
10:43 A.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: All right. Well, I think you guys know the order of battle today will be Artesia first, and then on to Laredo. So rather than going through that, let's just open it up for questions.
Q Larijani, the Iranian chief nuclear negotiator, said that the incentives package has positive things in it, but some ambiguities. Is this a good step?
MR. SNOW: We are not commenting at this point on any of the characterizations of the incentives or the disincentives. I'll repeat the central point, which is if the Iranians agree to suspend enrichment related and reprocessing activities, then we'll be able to discuss more openly what the incentives are, and we certainly hope that that's the case.
Q All these words are saying it means really nothing until they say, okay, we're suspending, we're ready to talk.
MR. SNOW: That's correct. I think at this point the Iranians are now just beginning to have a glance at the offers -- "offer" is the wrong term -- at the incentives and disincentives packages that have been offered them. And I would expect there to be a series of comments and characterizations over the next few days. It's obvious, and I think it is heartening that they will be taking them seriously.
Q Without characterizing the incentives that are already on the table, can you say whether the United States would be willing to put more on the table?
MR. SNOW: No, I'm not going to negotiate, even from Air Force One.
Q Can you talk about the message today? Is there anything particularly new or different that he's trying to emphasize in this visit?
MR. SNOW: Yes. One of the things the President is going to be pointing out is that there is widespread agreement on a lot of the basics when it comes to immigration reform. And also it's been interesting to see -- you take a look at the polling data and the response around the country -- most Americans agree with the vast majority of the points in the comprehensive plan. So one of the things he is going to do is to stress the points of agreement, both across parties and within the parties.
Q When you say Americans agree with many things in the comprehensive agreement, are you referring to the Senate bill?
MR. SNOW: No, I'm referring to the basic points that the President laid out in his speech. When you ask people, "Do you want border enforcement? Yes. Do you want to go after employers who knowingly hire illegals? Yes. Do you want a guest worker program? Yes. Do you think that there ought to be some way of dealing with people who have stayed lawfully within the country, after they have paid a penalty, after they've paid a fine, after they've accepted punishment for coming in illegally?" All of those things enjoy widespread support and I think the President, as we get ready to get into a negotiating session, wants to remind both sides that they really do have a lot in common.
Q In the most recent events that he's been holding on immigration -- whether it's in Washington or outside Washington -- he's really been stressing the enforcement side, obviously, to send a message to Republicans and conservatives that, you know, he sees their point and he's serious about enforcement. Is this broader than that? I mean, for example, why are we going to Omaha; what's that about; what's that supposed to say?
MR. SNOW: It's a Catholic charity. Again, it's comprehensive reform, so it's not all going to be enforcement events and, in this case, you're going to be going to a center where one of the themes is going to be assimilation. So that's what you're going to be seeing tomorrow in Omaha.*
Q What members are on board?
MR. SNOW: I'll come back and give you a list. I think there are a few members on board. I'll find out; I'll have Deckard grab me the list.
Q Explain "assimilation." What are you talking about there, Tony?
MR. SNOW: Well, to tell you the truth, Steve, I'll tell you later in the day, because I've got to look at the briefing notes on it. I know it's a Catholic center and I just -- I don't want to --
Q Since the House is back and the Senate came back yesterday, has he started to make phone calls up to the Hill on compromise at all?
MR. SNOW: On what?
Q On compromise -- is he reaching out to members now that they're back?
MR. SNOW: Oh, on immigration, you mean?
MR. SNOW: They haven't even appointed conferees. It's going to take a little bit of time. Wait until you have people that are directly involved in negotiations. The President certainly has spoken, as you know, in recent weeks with the House leadership and he's had other conversations with members of both parties about it.
Q Can you say how likely you think it is that you can reach some kind of agreement before the election, on immigration?
MR. SNOW: No, because I don't know. (Laughter.)
Q You know how likely you think it is. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: No. "Likely" means to assign a probability, which gets you into "more likely," "less likely," "is it 60 percent likely" -- I really don't know.
Q What does the President mean by "assimilation"?
MR. SNOW: Assimilation means understanding the laws and cultural pathways of the United States, gaining a mastery of the English language. Those are some of the basics. I mean, one of the things that has been stressed is becoming fluent in English -- that also is something that obviously a lot of Americans support and has always been a key determinate in how successful somebody is going to be in the long run.
Q Yesterday, did the President end up reaching out to any members in the Senate about the gay marriage amendment?
MR. SNOW: Not that I'm aware of.
Q On immigration again. One of the things that was interesting about the Chamber of Commerce speech last week was sort of a gentle message to conservatives that they couldn't, you know, stick on their side, everybody is going to have to compromise. And, also, stressing businesses, the idea of increased fees and penalties and that sort of thing. Are we going to hear more, sort of, rhetorical messages like we heard last week to conservatives to try to bring them around, a little bit tougher than he's been in the past?
MR. SNOW: No, I think what you're going to see -- this is a message, as I pointed out, you're really dealing with both parties, and you're dealing within the Republican Party, as well. And there had been some polarization on the issue that probably was unnecessary. And I think what the President is going to do is to say, wait a minute, look what we agree on. So I don't see this as sort of trying to send a message to conservatives.
I think it really is more important at this point to begin to illustrate what he's talking about when he talks about comprehensive reform. Because you're right, the first message was enforcement. It was one of the things that had been a matter of contention between the House and the Senate, and it was important for the President to point out that he not only had a program, but that it was an assertive program and that it met the stated needs of Border Patrol agents and people who are responsible for apprehension and detention along the border.
But there are other things -- once you get away from the border, people talk about the importance of making sure that employers are not hiring illegally and improperly, that you're getting jobs that American workers are not going to take; that you're going to have cultural assimilation, so that people really do become fully part of the American Dream and the American experience.
So as the President travels around the country, look for different angles and nuances about what comprehensive reform actually means, because you're absolutely right, Jennifer, it started with enforcement because it had been an issue I think on which there had been some confusion about where he stood. And now I think this is helping people grasp the much larger dimensions of the reform proposal.
Q Do you think that he sees his audience more as Congress or the public? I mean, does he want to sort of influence Congress and sort of influence their thinking? Or influence the public, so that they will go back to their members and tell them what they would like for them to do?
MR. SNOW: I think it's both. Every time the President of the United States speaks, obviously people are going to listen. And it's a message to everybody -- absolutely to members of Congress, but absolutely to the public, as well.
A lot of people have passions on immigration. And I also think, as I've said many times from the podium -- people have locked into place perceptions about the President's plan before he even addressed the nation on it. And this is part of an educational effort to let people know what he's really talking about.
Q So is he going to be doing a lot more of these --
MR. SNOW: Is that sort of like, are we more or less likely? There will be other events. There will be other events.
Q That's a factual question, actually. (Laughter.)
Q -- yes, it's a lot like that. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: Depending on the meaning of "a lot." There are a lot of issues of concern, as well. It's certainly not going to be the sole focus, but it is going to be something the President will be talking about.
Q Who briefed the President on the offer made to the Iranians? Was he briefed directly by anybody after that happens?
MR. SNOW: Well, I know he's done his daily brief with Hadley. I did not sit in on the briefing with Hadley.
Q No phone calls this morning or anything like that?
MR. SNOW: I'll check, but I don't think so. I don't think we've had any phone calls. Since I don't know, let me try to get a factual and we'll attach an asterisk.**
Q The 6,000 National Guard troops are well on their way toward deploying, is that correct?
MR. SNOW: Within 60 days all 6,000 will have the full deployment, so by the first of August.
Q And so some of them will be going to Laredo, where we're going today or --
MR. SNOW: Well, this is Border Patrol station -- I'm not going to prejudge. My guess is a busy, urban corridor like this may have -- it's a question worth posing when we get there.
Q And I guess this will be a question for there, too: How active is this crossing for illegals?
MR. SNOW: Yes, it's worth asking.
Q Is there something unique or extraordinary about this particular area that causes him to go there?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, it's a very active crossing area. I mean, I don't know if you've seen the coverage in the past, but that bridge gets an enormous amount of traffic every day. Again, it's worth taking a look at different areas of the border. Where we were in Yuma -- were you on the Yuma trip?
MR. SNOW: You know, you saw the three fence area, the two-fence on the way to becoming three-fence, and then within a few miles we had this mountainous stretch where the Border Patrol guys were saying, no, it'd be insane to put a fence here. So I think -- you've got a 2,000 mile border, and I think -- it's interesting to me and I think it will be interesting to a lot of people to see the different dimensions and the different kinds of looks you get at different places along that border. I think it helps emphasize once again that it is not a one-approach-works-everywhere, not one-size-fits-all, but you're going to need different approaches in different places.
Q One other thing, Tony. Yesterday there was some -- Bernanke made some comments about inflation. Does the President share his concerns about inflation?
MR. SNOW: The President knows that Ben Bernanke is head of an independent agency and has his independence and the President does not wish to question his independence and, therefore, I will have nothing to say on the topic.
Q That was a clean dodge. (Laughter.)
Q Anything on the referendum that Abbas is proposing to hold --
MR. SNOW: Well, once again, Prime Minister Abbas has demonstrated that he's somebody who wants to work toward a two-state solution. And that was one of the things, as you know, that came up in the conversation with Prime Minister Olmert earlier with the President. Prime Minister Olmert said that he was going to be holding talks at some point with the Prime Minister, and we're just going to have to wait and see what happens -- whether he's able to have a referendum and what happens.
But I think it's important for Palestinians to wrestle with the issue of whether they want to have a two state solution.
Q Do you want to talk about whether it's likely that the referendum will actually happen or not?
MR. SNOW: No, I don't. (Laughter.)
Q Just checking.
Q Any Q&A at the end of his remarks today?
MR. SNOW: I'll find out. I'll find out.***
All right, the names of members on board: We have Congressman Steve Pearce and Congressman Tom Udall, and that's it, so two members of Congress on board.
Q Thank you.
END 10:56 A.M. EDT
* In Omaha, the President will visit a classroom at Juan Diego Center that teaches English as a second language and civics.
** No phone calls were made.
*** No Q&A