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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 28, 2006

Press Briefing by Tony Snow
James S. Brady Briefing Room

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10:30 A.M. EDT

MR. SNOW: Good morning. Let me begin with housekeeping items. First, the President's schedule today: He will be -- he has already met with the Secretary of Defense. He will travel to St. Louis later in the day, meet with military personnel who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. There will be remarks at a dinner for Jim Talent's Senate bid. Then he will return tonight to the White House.

Within the administration -- Energy Secretary Bodman is going to announce a $170-million solicitation over three years for cost shared public-private partnerships to advance solar energy technology. As you know, the President had talked often about the importance of innovation in ways -- as a way of trying to overcome the addiction to oil. As part of the President's Solar America Initiative, one of the ideas is to try to make the cost of solar energy systems, to make them competitive with conventional sources by 2015.

Also today, at the invitation of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the President will travel to Northeastern Germany in advance of participation in the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. Chancellor Merkel will host the President on July 13, 2006, in the towns of Stralsund and Trinwillershagen -- you'll have to read it. (Applause.) Thank you, thank you very much.

Q You have to spell it.

MR. SNOW: You'll be able to read the -- the visit, which will take place at what had been communist East Germany, will underscore our two nations' commitment to advancing freedom and prosperity, and to strengthening the transatlantic partnership. The two leaders look forward to discussing a wide range of global challenges, in particular, their consultations on Iran and preparing for the G8 summit.

Also today of note, stories overnight out of Iraq. First, President Maliki has made clear what a number of people had been wondering about, which is that those who have killed Americans and Iraqis will not be eligible for pardon. Meanwhile, the U.S. military says that, in fact, it will meet its training goal for Iraqi security forces by the end of the year.

And those are the preliminaries. Questions, please. Terry.

Q Does the United States support what Israel is doing in Gaza?

MR. SNOW: Let me be -- I'm going to be very precise on this, because, as you know, these things are reported carefully. The hostage-taking and the attacks by Hamas last weekend have precipitated the current events in Gaza. As we have said since the attack, Hamas should release and return the kidnapped Israeli soldier immediately. It's the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority to stop all acts of violence and terror. Hamas has done the opposite: It's been complicit in perpetrating violence, terror and hostage-taking. Israel has the right to defend itself and the lives of its citizens. In any actions the government of Israel may undertake, the United States urges that it ensures that innocent civilians are not harmed, and also that it avoid the unnecessary destruction of property and infrastructure. All parties ought to take every measure to restore the security situation in Gaza.

Q And do we think that the Israeli response has been appropriate and within the limits that you're talking about?

MR. SNOW: I'm not going to characterize further than what I've told you. There's your statement of position.

Q But, Tony, the Israelis have bombed a power plant -- that harms innocent civilians. Haven't they, like, clearly gone beyond what you've just described here?

MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to get into operational details here. Let's just point out once again, you have the Israeli -- the Israeli forces are trying to reclaim somebody who is kidnapped and is being held hostage in Gaza, and they are doing what they can to return him. It would be a lot easier if the Palestinian Authority and if Hamas simply returned the kidnapped soldier. I am not going to get into rendering judgment on any of the operational details of what's going on there.

Q Palestinian leaders have called this "collective punishment." Is it, or isn't it?

MR. SNOW: Again, I will just simply refer to it. I'm not going to get into the midst of the characterizations. I'll repeat, the Palestinian Authority could make this very simple -- they could return the kidnapped soldier. And the most important thing is to try to restore some semblance of security as rapidly as possible, and we hope both sides will cooperate in that.

Q Can you describe for us the way the U.S. government has received assurances that insurgents who may have been responsible for killing U.S. troops would not be in any way subjected to this sort of amnesty proposal, and how --

MR. SNOW: I'm sorry, clarify that again.

Q How will the U.S. receive assurances that those who may have been responsible for harming or killing U.S. troops would not in some way be given amnesty, and -- as the reconciliation program goes forward, how do you know that they won't be? And what assurances do you have that they're on track for this training program by the end of the year?

MR. SNOW: Okay. I'll have to refer you to General Dempsey, who was making the comments, about the fitness of Iraqi forces. Obviously, the people on the ground who are doing that have given us their assurances, and I'll take them at their word.

As far as the situation regarding amnesty, also, I'll take Prime Minister Maliki at his word, and we do. But keep in mind, again, we're still at a stage where the Iraqis are debating this. Prime Minister Maliki has now made clear what his position is. The Iraqi parliament now is going to take it up, and there will be vigorous debates about it. But he has made his position clear, but he is not somebody who, as the Prime Minister, has the ability to sort of write the law and issue decrees. Instead, it's a democracy now. And we'll have to see what happens. It's not the final word, but at least now he's clarified his position, which is, those who have participated in killings of Americans or Iraqis, coalition forces or Iraqis, will not, under his proposal, be eligible for amnesty.

Q Tony, what was the Secretary of Defense meeting with the President?

MR. SNOW: It's a regular meeting with the President. I mean, he comes in regularly and they discuss a wide range of issues. It's the Defense Secretary briefing. I do not have a specific agenda because, typically what happens is they'll cover a whole series of things, and the President will ask questions of things that are on his mind. Obviously, the Secretary will be talking about Iraq and Afghanistan and ongoing operations. But I don't have anything more specific in terms of guidance.

Q Tony, in terms of welfare reform, can I just ask you to flesh out a little bit of the administration's thinking behind the need to close loopholes in the welfare-to-work requirements? And this idea that there are people on sort of bed rest and that's not an appropriate use of the funds -- has the administration or anybody quantified how many people were talking about that -- and is there any time in which it's appropriate, a woman in her eighth or ninth month of pregnancy, that kind of thing?

MR. SNOW: I can't give you that kind of detail. I just don't know. I'll try to find answers for you. And rather than me trying to tap dance on it, Jim, I'll -- we'll give you an asterisk in the transcript.

Q Could you dial back and sort of give me a broad, philosophical underpinning of why --

MR. SNOW: Philosophically, what we're talking about, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program, the TANF Program is designed to do what we can to encourage two-parent families, because the research is awfully clear in terms of what happens when you have two-parent households, which is that the track record is better for children. Children have lower dropout rates, lower crime rates, lower rates of mental disorders later in life, lower levels of dysfunction, higher levels of graduation, higher levels of income, a greater likelihood of having intact families of their own. All those are important goals as policy goals. But in terms of drilling down into the specific kind of case you've cited, rather than, again, trying to tap dance around it, let me just get you as good an answer as I can. And we'll attach it to the transcript of the briefing.*

Q What's your reaction to the Supreme Court decision on Texas redistricting?

MR. SNOW: At this point we are still -- we haven't had a chance to review fully. The Supreme Court is coming out with a number of decisions, and I think rather than making a comment right now, we'll have an opportunity to give it a full look and consult with the lawyers. And probably tomorrow, we'll be able to give you a much fuller answer.

Q Separately on Iran --

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q -- the German Defense Minister has said that it should be okay for Iran to enrich uranium for civilian purposes. Is this comment at odds with the U.S. position?

MR. SNOW: The American position has always been that Iran ought to be able to have the right for civilian nuclear development. We have also said -- and this has been the position of the EU3, and I think you need to stick with the EU3 official consultations, as well as the P5 plus one -- that Iran must suspend uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities. That has not changed. So you may be able to match up the statements.

But our position is that Iran -- there have been a number of offers, for instance, to do enrichment out of country and also to take spent fuel out, as well. There are a number of options out there, but the key provision -- and this is the provision that would allow the Iranians to return to the table -- remains unchanged: They must suspend uranium enrichment-related or reprocessing activities, period.

Q So you're not willing to allow the same kind of possibility?

MR. SNOW: I'm not -- I'm simply repeating our position. And I think that remains the position of the EU3. And rather than reacting to comments from various players, I will stick with the stated position of the entire group.

Victoria.

Q What's the President's response to Senator Specter's plan to have something drawn up to enable the legislative branch to sue the executive branch?

MR. SNOW: The legislative branch to sue the executive branch -- I'm afraid I'm not familiar with that particular aspect of Senator Specter's plan.

Q That came up yesterday during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

MR. SNOW: Okay, well, that -- we have talked about many things dealing with Senator Specter, and let me simply say that, in general, the working relationship has all been constructive, but it's more been dealing with issues of the FISA court and so on. So I'll find out for you.

Q Thank you.

MR. SNOW: You're welcome.

Q Tony, I was at the briefing at the Pentagon yesterday by General Dempsey, and it was actually a very sobering briefing, because when he talked about the Iraqi troops, he talked about their lack of equipment, the problems with attrition, and in response to my question, the biggest problem, leadership, not being able to find good leaders to lead the Iraqi troops that we train. And when he talked about them being equipped and ready for the end of the year, wasn't ready to do anything independently -- he said independent is not a word that applies now or anytime soon to these Iraqi forces.

MR. SNOW: That is correct.

Q Is the President concerned about the lack of progress, even more than three years into this?

MR. SNOW: Well, you are defining it as a lack of progress. I think what you're talking about is basic training levels. But the President is perfectly aware of the need for developing leadership cadres. As you know, we have embedded teams working with training mid-level officers to, in fact, become capable of serving as unit commanders in Iraq.

Q How quickly is a case of progress --

MR. SNOW: Well, you do it as quickly as you can. And there is certainly no foot-dragging on the part of our guys, or I think of the Iraqis. And, again, I think you get an interesting new dynamic with the new government, because it becomes something more tangible also for Iraqi forces. They know that they've got a Minister of Defense to whom they answer. They know that they have a civilian chain of command that ends up with the Prime Minister. All those -- who knows what kind of impact they're going to have. The answer is, we are still determined to do everything as quickly, but as thoroughly and effectively as possible to enable Iraqi military forces to take full control of securing Iraq. This also includes the police forces, as you know, and that's also been part of the ongoing dialogue. But we are certainly --

Q So the President is satisfied with the current pace?

MR. SNOW: The President -- satisfied or dissatisfied, they're moving as quickly as they can. So the most important thing is our forces are doing everything they can to help Iraq get trained up as quickly as possible, period.

Q Thank you, Tony. Yesterday you said that reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act was a top priority of the administration -- correct?

MR. SNOW: Correct.

Q All right. Let me ask a follow-up question. Is it reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in its current form, or is it reauthorization with the amendments or some of the amendments that Republican leaders have proposed?

MR. SNOW: The President supports reauthorization in its current form. If Congress provides something else in its process of legislative deliberation, then we will examine what Congress sets before the President. I am not going to get into the position, at this point, of trying to give advice to either the House or Senate on particular measures -- or particular ways in which they may be reviewing the Voting Rights Act. But his position is, renew it as written, and obviously, he will consider whatever the two Houses put together.

Q Follow-up question. What is -- on a separate matter, rather, what is the reaction to the court decisions in Texas saying Tom DeLay cannot get off the ballot?

MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to get into the court decisions. I will allow Texas authorities to handle what is within their proper purview.

Goyal.

Q Tony, today and yesterday, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, is in Afghanistan -- Pakistan and Afghanistan. Two nations are at odds and they are blaming each other that Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan; Afghanistan is saying that he's not in Afghanistan, he's in Pakistan. And she's trying to get the rift between the two Muslim nations and neighbors. Is she carrying any special message from the President at this time? Because so much has been written about Afghanistan.

MR. SNOW: What Secretary Rice is doing is really talking about the fact that three nations have a common interest in that border area, which is to provide security, and also to try to get rid of Taliban or al Qaeda fighters who are there -- and all three have a common interest -- and to work with the Afghan and Pakistani governments, to cooperate more fully in that venture.

There were no -- I don't know if she had any specific direction. As Secretary of State, everything she does is at the direction of the President, and therefore, you can assume that her deliberations, as the representative of this government, will reflect the President's views. But what she's trying to do is to get them to work together through the common goal of trying to provide security in those border areas.

Q Just to follow up, yesterday, also, the United States Institute of Peace, they had a conference there on Afghanistan especially -- what they're talking about that today, Afghan people do not need anything from the U.S. but human security, which is not there, because what they are saying is international community promised them that they will be there whenever and how long they will be needed. Now, the international security people, they only turn up once a month, and Talibans are there. And now what they're saying is, today you are here, tomorrow you are not here.

MR. SNOW: Well, I can't respond to specific local questions about the presence of security forces. On the other hand, you've had reports that people think that there's been too much vigor in pursuing the Taliban and also killing Afghans who have become part of the Taliban who are terrorizing the populace. The fact is, you've got NATO forces taking over in the southern parts of Afghanistan, and you have coalition forces doing what they can to expand the effective jurisdiction of the democratic government of Afghanistan, and will continue to do that.

Q Thank you. Tony, it's still legal to burn the American flag. With Americans still in Iraq and Afghanistan, does the President plan to have the Senate leadership try again to make it illegal to burn the flag in protest?

MR. SNOW: Sarah, as you know, the administration has supported the flag burning amendment. And I don't think that you can accuse Senate leaders of not having tried. They got within one vote of passage yesterday. There was a very vigorous campaign within the Senate to secure the passage and it's the closest they've ever gotten in the Senate. So it is what it is.

Q Tony, how are the American people going to benefit from another interest rate increase this week?

MR. SNOW: Nice try. (Laughter.)

Q Well, can I follow up?

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q Can you say how much confidence the President has that the Fed Chairman won't raise interest rates too high and hurt the economy?

MR. SNOW: As you know, the Fed is an independent agency, and it does not answer to the President, nor does the President try to influence deliberations of the Fed. And we will permit the Federal Reserve Board of Governors to do its job as it sees fit.

Q Tony, two questions. Both the Associated Press and WorldNet Daily report that U.S. Immigration and Customs at Palm Beach International Airport detained Rush Limbaugh for three hours on Monday because they found in his searched luggage one bottle of Viagra, which fact was revealed to the world. And my question: Does the President believe this federal treatment of Limbaugh was fair, and did he believe Rush was wrong to make references to both Bob Dole and Bill Clinton and to announce, "I was worried about the next election," as quoted by The Washington Post?

MR. SNOW: I think the President has had very little to say about it, but it was an amusing question and I thank you for it. (Laughter.)

Q Does the President believe that New London, Connecticut homeowners should have to give up their homes because of a reported National Guard museum -- National Coast Guard museum -- to be erected nearby with fundraising co-chairmen Arnold Palmer and the honorable George H.W. Bush?

MR. SNOW: Again, you're getting into takings issues -- or positions on takings --

Q On what? I didn't understand.

MR. SNOW: Is this part of the New London-Kelo?

Q Yes.

MR. SNOW: Okay, and the positions on takings.

Q -- on immigration now, given these new public hearings, and is there realistic hope you can get something by the end of the year?

MR. SNOW: The last thing I want to do is to handicap, but, Dave, I'm glad you asked because it is important to realize that immigration not only is an important issue, but it's one on which we've received assurances from the House and Senate that they do intend to take it seriously and that there are going to be attempts to take up comprehensive reform. And now everything that we have seen -- you saw the Chris Cannon race yesterday, where he wins by a 56/44 margin against a well-financed challenger. That's only slightly smaller than his margin in a previous race.

Comprehensive reform is something that Americans want, and it's something that if you start running down the list, you can ask opponents, which do you not agree with. And the fact is, everybody is agreed -- you want border security; you want to be able to figure out who the illegal immigrants are; you also want to figure out how to punish employers who have improperly and knowingly hired illegal immigrants; you want to find ways of creating a temporary work program so that many of the people who are here can leave and have a reason for doing it; you also want to find some way of dealing with the 11 million to 12 million illegals, including those who do want to return home.

All of those things are issues that Americans want addressed, and the virtue of comprehensive reform is each one of those is addressed. And at the top of the roster is the issue of border enforcement, where, in the first year of the President's plan we've already put together $1.9 billion for not only getting National Guard forces to the border, but also starting to train more rapidly Border Patrol agents. I would remind you that that was originally the figure that the House of Representatives thought over the first five years of its plan. So the President is much more active and aggressive on those issues.

So I think that, as I've said before, we welcome a chance for the American people to start examining the virtues and also the impact of comprehensive reform. I think you're going to find -- these are probably -- we're going to find out if they're House hearings or whether they're site visits. I mean, there is still some discussion of what it's going to be. But there's going to be --

Q Will you have people there --

MR. SNOW: -- I'm sorry, what?

Q Will the administration have people there at those events whenever they --

MR. SNOW: I don't think so. It's the House of Representatives, members of the House are going to be convening them. I think that they want to do it themselves and they ought to be permitted to.

Q What are you all going to do to get the matter to the floor? I mean, is there any specific strategy?

MR. SNOW: On an issue like this we continue to have conversations with members of the House and the Senate. I would also point you back to the fact that Chairman Sensenbrenner and Chairman Specter have been having conversations, and we welcome those. Rather than having the White House -- we've got our hands busy with the executive branch. The legislative branch, I think, can conduct its business well, and we will certainly remain in communication with them.

Q But there does seem to be some sound coming off the Hill now that perhaps the Senate would be open to this idea of taking up the border security issue first, and then doubling back to some kind of temporary worker. How does that --

MR. SNOW: Well, let me put it this way: We already have. I mean, that's a statement, really, of reality, which is that the border security piece has begun. But also, Senator Specter has talked about -- publicly, about the need for addressing the issue comprehensively, so I'm not sure that there's a natural disjunction between the two. A number of senators have pointed out, for instance, that it takes longer to go ahead and do the biometric ID program and to get the temporary guest worker program up and running. We already have the border security piece first, it's underway. The President wants to make sure that you have comprehensive reform, period.

Q But if there was a situation where what came out and what passed was simply dealing -- and they were going to do it piecemeal -- and you first were going to deal with this border issue, would the President sign a bill that just had to do with security --

MR. SNOW: The President will not negotiate against himself, nor will I. The key here is, we've already done that. I mean, the first part of your premise, Jim, has already been taken care of, in the sense that the administration has moved more aggressively and more rapidly than either House in Congress had previously proposed in getting assets to the border to try to secure the border, and that the President remains determined to get all of the pieces addressed at once in legislation, and not to do it piecemeal, but do have comprehensive reform.

Q Thank you.

MR. SNOW: Thank you.

END 10:54 A.M. EDT

* Two of the President's key objectives for welfare reform are strengthening work requirements and promoting stable, two-parent families. Today, HHS is announcing interim final regulations that will implement the next phase of welfare reform and establish clearer definitions of eligible work activities than had existed previously.

The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which reauthorized TANF, reestablishes a 50 percent state work participation requirement and stipulates that HHS issue regulations that define and tighten the focus on work requirements.

These requirements are important because in FY 2004 - on average - adults in nearly 58% of families receiving TANF assistance did not report even one hour of work the previous month.

States are now required to engage 50 percent of their welfare caseloads in eligible work activities. This allows states flexibility in serving individuals who face multiple challenges to entering the workforce.