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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
July 20, 2006

Press Briefing by Tony Snow
James S. Brady Briefing Room

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12:35 P.M. EDT

MR. SNOW: All right, hello and welcome. Let me run through some events subsequent to this morning's gaggle. The President met with Vice President Kiir of the government of South Sudan. They talked about a comprehensive peace agreement in Sudan; the President also encouraging Vice President Kiir to promote a government of national unity. The President, as you know, is deeply concerned about what is going on in Darfur, and also encouraged the transition from African Union forces to United Nations blue hats. He encouraged the Vice President to work with rebels to bring the rest of the rebel factions to the table. As you know, there has been an agreement. They talked about the Lord's Resistance Army. And that is generally what they did.

Also, the Iranian event I talked about in the gaggle actually is taking place today. So that takes care of any questions.

Q Might the President be involved in that?

MR. SNOW: No, no. It's not on his schedule.

In addition, a couple of questions that arose this morning. No, there have not been any contacts through the U.N. with the Iranians, but there's a little coda to that that I'll add in a couple of minutes.

Also, President Bush this morning dropped by briefly at a meeting between China's Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, General Guo, who was meeting with National Security Advisor Steve Hadley. The President spent 10 minutes with the General. President Bush noted the very positive working relationship that he's developed with Chinese President Hu Jintao was demonstrated by the unanimous vote at the United Nations last Saturday on a North Korean resolution. The President also noted that the deepening of the relationship between the two militaries was in the interest of peace and stability in East Asia and the world, and that he was pleased to hear General Guo meeting at the Pentagon had advanced the goal.

A further readout of this morning's conversation on the phone with Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey. Now, the Prime Minister did, in fact, initiate the call. They discussed the importance of addressing the humanitarian situation in Lebanon and also supporting the Siniora government. They discussed the fact that Secretary Rice would be traveling to the region to work on a diplomatic path forward. The President condemned Hezbollah for provoking the crisis and thrusting Lebanon into a conflict that neither the government nor the people wanted, and expressed his concern about Iranian and Syrian support for Hezbollah. They also discussed recent PKK attacks against Turkey and the need to work jointly to address that terrorist threat.

In addition, today, the House of Representatives will be taking up the Oman Free Trade Agreement, and we hope the House will take the opportunity to pass it. It's going to send the message that the United States remains committed to opening markets and contributing to global economic growth and development. The free trade agreement with Oman would be our fourth such agreement with an Arab country.

And now I'm open for questions. Jim.

Q President Bush is condemning Hezbollah.

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq is condemning Israel.

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q Is this a sharp break with the President?

MR. SNOW: No, it's an expression of opinion on the part of -- the Prime Minister about his views.

Q Is the opinion troubling the President?

MR. SNOW: No. The President -- you've got to understand that Prime Minister Maliki is running a unity government and he is going to express the opinions of that government. The President is conversant with those opinions, and he is -- you know, he respects it and he looks forward to talking with Prime Minister Maliki about it when Prime Minister Maliki comes to Washington next week.

You know, it's interesting because it is a democracy and they are permitted to disagree with us. That happens. And we have a number of allies who has disagreed with us on a lot of other matters.

Q This could be the most significant issue facing the President right now. It's a heck of a thing to be disagreeing about, isn't it?

MR. SNOW: No, because the primary point of emphasis in the relations between the United States and Iraq right now is guaranteeing the security of Baghdad, and also making sure that Iraqi democracy works, and works effectively.

That's what they spend the bulk of their time working on, and that the Prime Minister would express a contrary view is hardly new. The President speaks quite often with people and works quite often with people who disagree with him.

Q Last question on this.

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q Is the administration at all concerned that the Prime Minister either has any ties with Hezbollah, himself, or his party has ties with Hezbollah?

MR. SNOW: No, I doubt it. I'm not aware of that, but, no, I don't think so.

Q Tony, Kofi Annan called again for an immediate cease-fire. He criticized both parties. He criticized Hezbollah for destabilizing the region and making it hard to achieve peace, but he said Israel had created a humanitarian crisis in Lebanon by what it's done. Does the administration view it as a humanitarian crisis? And is it important to move more quickly, rather than more slowly --

MR. SNOW: Well, nobody -- first, Tom, nobody is dragging their feet. There is considerable activity on that front. If anybody is -- if there is a humanitarian crisis, it's the responsibility of Hezbollah, which not only began this by crossing over into Israeli soil and kidnapping soldiers and also firing rockets into Israel -- Israel does have a right to defend itself -- but, furthermore, using the people of south Lebanon, as I said this morning, as human shields, putting rockets in their houses and radars on their barns, saying, in effect, if you're going to fight against us, you're going to have to go after civilians. And we are deeply, deeply concerned about the loss of civilian life. And the President, as you gather from the conversation with Prime Minister Erdogan, was talking about that. And the United States has also said repeatedly to Israel, practice restraint.

So we certainly are aware of what's going on, in humanitarian terms. And as I've said also, we'd love to have a cease-fire. But Hezbollah has to be part of it. And at this point, there's no indication that Hezbollah intends to lay down arms.

Q Is there a time frame here, or are we just willing to let the string kind of play out?

MR. SNOW: Don't know. One thing is -- people want time frames for wars? The fact is, human events are constantly shifting and changing according to a variety of factors, internal and external. And the idea of trying to impose a calendar on something like that is very difficult.

We want there to be peace and stability in Lebanon at the earliest possible date. And as a consequence, we've been engaged diplomatically with parties throughout the region and also around the world, trying to get everybody to exercise what leverage they may, especially on Hezbollah and its sponsors, Syria and Iran, to make sure that there can be a peaceful resolution that also preserves the government of Lebanon and creates the conditions in the long run to make sure that the Lebanese people have a prosperous and democratic way forward.

Q Is the U.S. conducting its own assessment of how -- to what degree Hezbollah's assets are being debilitated by this assault? Or is it leaving that up to Israel?

MR. SNOW: I think we're looking at whatever intelligence we can on it. But our people will conduct -- they obviously will be sharing intelligence with a number of people in the region trying to get a gauge on it. So it's kind of the standard exercise-gathering mission in that sense. We're not relying solely on any single source.

Q And does the President have an opinion today about whether or not he would be willing to contribute military resources to a stabilizing force?

MR. SNOW: Again, that's something that's premature. As I've been saying all week, and it's still true, people are trying to figure out the proper way to do it. First thing you've got to do is to have a cessation of hostilities so that you can bring forces into the region in such a way as to allow the government of Lebanon to assert effective control. And that is a key consideration.

Helen.

Q What is all this diplomacy? Does Secretary Rice have a proposal she's taking when she goes on this trip?

MR. SNOW: Don't know yet. Secretary Rice is still working out what may or may not be on her schedule. And I'm going to let State not merely announce her travel plans, but also the intentions. I think they're still working on it. And Secretary Rice, as you know, has been very actively involved in talking with regional leaders, and not only getting their views, but also expressing our concerns.

And again, they're pretty simple: We want the government of Lebanon, we want the Siniora government to survive and thrive; we want an end to hostilities; we want Hezbollah to take that first step of returning the prisoners and stop firing the rockets.

Q You know, there is a perception that this is so one-sided for Israel, and that we really are not trying to get a cease-fire. That's the perception in the world.

MR. SNOW: Understood. And unfortunately, sometimes whatever the perceptions may be -- whatever the perceptions may be, there are times when you conduct diplomacy that you do it in a confidential manner for a reason, you want it to succeed. And I am sure there are many temptations for diplomats to go out and thump their chests and talk about the wonderful things they're doing, but in the process, they may unravel coalitions that may be forming and agreements that may be in the offing. And therefore, just not going to say.

Q Can you say something is happening?

MR. SNOW: I'm saying that the United States has been expressing its concerns to the government of Israel, and also been talking to our friends and allies in the region.

Q But not very out loud.

MR. SNOW: Well, again, the thing is, do they want to make you happy, or do they want to get something done? And that sometimes in the choice.

Q I think it's a question of making the world happy, of stopping the killing on all sides.

MR. SNOW: You know what, you're absolutely right, absolutely agreed. To get the killing to stop would make the world happy, and we've also indicated who we think needs to take the first step.

Ann.

Q NAACP -- the President has been President for five years now, and he told them that he regretted the fact that many African Americans distrust the Republican Party. What has he done for five years to change that?

MR. SNOW: Well, for one thing, the President has done consistent outreach with African Americans. Look, this is a President, you take a look at his political career, what has George W. Bush done, he's tried to do outreach. He understands that there was a history in which the Republican Party was seen as the active enemy of black voters in this country. It's one of the reasons why you have such lopsided Democratic majorities.

As governor of Texas, between his first and second elections he doubled the percentage of black voters. He considers that important, not because he views black voters as a constituency*, but because he believes that for an America to be whole and fulfill the American Dream you can't be divided along racial lines. And so as a consequence, it's important.

Now, the other thing is you need to realize that in trying to move down the road of opportunity, a lot of the programs, a lot of the things you do are common sense. For instance, he made the point today on schools: a lot of minority kids, a lot of poor kids in this country are stuck in second rate schools, and he considers that an absolute shame. He's got No Child Left Behind, he's put together a number of programs. That is not a program specifically aimed at African Americans.

Similarly, he put together an economic program that's designed to create jobs for Americans. You also aim tax breaks at those in the lower income levels. But the point is, a lot of these things are necessary for all Americans, but they also help advance the original civil rights agenda, which is equal opportunity for all.

Q What did the President think of his reception?

MR. SNOW: I haven't talked to him. I mean, he looked like he enjoyed it. It was interesting. I guess there was a LaRouche who disrupted things -- we were told that the disruptor was a member of Lyndon LaRouche's whatever. And Julian Bond expressed some unhappiness about that.

Q There were two of them.

MR. SNOW: There were two of them -- okay, the LaRouches. (Laughter.) But in any event --

Q Could you characterize the reception?

MR. SNOW: I wasn't there. I'll leave it to people who were there to characterize it. I was back here getting ready to deal with you.

Q Tony, I can just follow on that real quick?

MR. SNOW: Yes. Oh, by the way, happy birthday.

Q Oh, thank you, sir.

Q Did you want to have your picture taken? (Laughter.)

Q Anybody else have a birthday? (Laughter.)

Q You just said that the majority of the President's tax cuts have actually been geared towards lowering --

MR. SNOW: The President's tax cuts, if you take a look at what the President has been doing -- and this has been going on for a while here -- is shifting the tax burden. And, as a matter of fact, if you take a look at it, again, the upper brackets are carrying more of the burden and he's been reducing taxes. And you take it as a proportion of overall income, it is larger at the lower ends of the income scale.

Q Can I ask you about Iraq? A Republican Congressman, Gil Gutknecht from Minnesota came back from a trip last week to Iraq, an official trip, and came back and said he believes the conditions on the ground are worse than the administration has been telling the public. And he's also now calling for troops to start coming home. What's the White House reaction to that?

MR. SNOW: The White House reaction is that, number one, we understand that there is a real attempt, especially in and around Baghdad, to create violence, create havoc, and weaken the government. And the response to that is not to run away, but to figure out how best to deal with the terror elements so that the Maliki government is going to be able to operate effectively.

And I guarantee you, that's going to be one of the key things that the President and the Prime Minister talk about next week.

Q But when John Murtha and other Democrats called for troops to come home, Karl Rove and others have said that this is cutting and running. Here you have a Republican Congressman in a tight re-election. He's saying troops should come home, and that the conditions on the ground are not as you're saying.

MR. SNOW: Well, we also disagree with him.

Q Is he waving the white flag of surrender?

MR. SNOW: No. He's expressing his opinion.

John.

Q Thank you, Tony. Two questions. First, following up on the question of --

MR. SNOW: Actually, Mark, you'll have to ask him. Ask him. That's the best way to get the good answer.

Go ahead.

Q Following up on the NAACP speech, while it is significant the President addressed the group, and it is the oldest civil rights group, it's also been a group that's been very critical of the President for a lot of things. Has he ever considered addressing other groups, notably the Congress of Racial Equality, headed by Roy Innis?

MR. SNOW: Well, he's spoken to the Urban League, and he will speak to other groups. I'm not going to go through and now start trying to tick off groups that may or may not be visited by the President. But look, let's face it, this is a large and serious civil rights organization, the oldest in the country. And he thought it was important to address them.

Q But it's also been a group that's critical of him. CORE has not been.

MR. SNOW: Yes, well, that's understood.

Q The other thing I wanted to ask, this morning you mentioned the President was going to talk with Chairman Lugar, following Senator Voinovich's decision to support --

MR. SNOW: Actually, the talks predate that. They've been talking about this for some time, but go ahead.

Q Do we have any kind of a time frame when the President will make a permanent appointment, if he'll make a permanent appointment of Ambassador Bolton?

MR. SNOW: Well, he's already -- the nomination of Ambassador Bolton is still before the United States Senate. He was renominated right after the recess appointment. So that is a nomination that is pending before the United States Senate, and the question now is whether you move through the committee and have another set of hearings, or you go to the floor. So it's a technical question. So he's already done that.

Wendell.

Q The President has said that it's important to address the root cause of the violence in the Middle East, which he describes as terrorism, and the support by Iran and Syrian. Secretary General Kofi Annan today said, you're right, you should address the root cause, the absence of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Why is the Secretary General wrong?

MR. SNOW: The Secretary General is not wrong, but the Secretary General has taken a smaller bite at the apple. The point I made earlier today is that you've got a lot of things going on right now. We want Israel to practice restraint to achieve whatever it needs to do in the way of national self defense, realizing that we also have a couple of other goals that are important to achieve: one, the integrity of the Siniora government, the elected government in Lebanon; number two, the future prospects of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. And it's important to get all parties in the neighborhood working in the same direction. So those are considerations.

And I think what's happened is that Secretary General Annan has taken a view that deals strictly with Israel and Palestine. I would maintain that the war on terror is a little bit broader and actually does jeopardize people throughout the region, and is an appropriate target for everybody to gather around. I also think that there's probably more agreement in the region about going after the war on terror and Hezbollah than there is about the precise way to proceed on some of the other problems.

Q Also, if I could, the President often talks about the need for the international community to speak with one voice in matters such as this. And Secretary General Annan agreed, though he says, the one voice now should be, stop the violence. He is not hearing that so much from the United States.

MR. SNOW: No, au contraire. What we have said --

Q Mr. Intercontinental.

MR. SNOW: Oui, oui. (Laughter.) No, what Secretary Annan -- Secretary Annan wants the same thing we want which is a cessation of violence. And what we've done is we've said the people principally responsible are Hezbollah, who started this. I don't think there is any disagreement about the fact. So, no, I don't think there is a disagreement on that. We agree.

Q Well, he agrees the people principally responsible are Hezbollah.

MR. SNOW: Right.

Q But he says there are two parties involved in this now.

MR. SNOW: We agree with that. But there's one party that started it, and one party that has also said that it is willing to wage "total war" on the other party. That's not Israel, that's Hezbollah. And if Hezbollah is willing to stop firing rockets and to return the soldiers, then you've got a way forward. And you've got to keep your eye on the ball here. We've been making that point, and we'll continue to. And I think a lot of people certainly have agreed that was the position of the G8.

Goyal.

Q Tony, two quick questions. One, there is already big tension between India and Pakistan. Also there is the arms race between the two countries, and I feel that they might go into war again. And today the House is discussing -- the House International Relations Committee -- F-16 sale to Pakistan. Do you think the President favors or supports that sale?

MR. SNOW: I'll have to double-check. I don't want to get off my brief on this. I'll get you an answer.

Q And second, as far as terrorism in the Middle East is concerned, first it was Hamas and Hezbollah and Syria, Iran, all these people are supporting terrorism against Israel, against also India and many of the countries and against the West. My question, why the Muslim countries -- and these people are all Muslims, unfortunately. But Muslim dictators and Arab leaders have not come out to speak against terrorism or against terrorists. Why they have not come out, and why we are not pushing? Why they are quiet on this issue?

MR. SNOW: Well, you've had a number of Arab and Muslim leaders speaking out against terror at various times. And you certainly see this with the Arab League shouting out Hezbollah last week. So I don't think the premise is right.

Richard.

Q Tony, much of the reporting on the President's decision to go to the NAACP convention has said in it one of the reasons why he's going is because he wants to help Republicans running in November present a friendlier face to the African American voters.

MR. SNOW: That was never part of the conversation. I mean, the President -- he wanted to go to the NAACP and deliver a speech. I mean, this is a President who really does believe that there has been too much partisan acrimony when it comes to civil rights, and that a lot of the important work ahead is intensely practical. It is things like guaranteeing equal opportunity so that every child -- not just rich kids -- get access to the best educations. It is taking a look, making sure that the road to employment opportunity is open. It is trying to make sure that the economy grows and creates opportunities for everybody. And also, as the President indicated, there are still some -- there's some racial tension in this country. And there are things that are not always addressed by a government program but simply by setting the right example. And I think you need to put all of those pieces together. And that is kind of the commitment the President has made.

April is waving her hand. Yes, April.

Q Yes, Tony. Congresspeople like Charlie Rangel are saying that it is an election year ploy, mid-term election year ploy. But wouldn't it indeed help the Republican Party whose African American numbers have dropped since the last election?

MR. SNOW: Look, we've always said good policy is good politics. And what the President was -- the point the President was making is that if you take a look at the unfinished civil rights agenda, the laws have taken care of discrimination in the sense of saying, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race -- a lot of things that were not illegal in the '60s. I mean, Jim Crow was still legal in many parts of this country for a long time. Those, at least on the statute books have been taken care of.

But there are still lingering problems that have to deal with such things as unemployment, poor education, single family households,** families that have been splintered -- all problems that each and every -- that affect Americans of all income brackets, but have a special importance in the African American community.

And so the point he was making is that all of these things, all of these obstacles to opportunity, are things that we can work together on trying to accomplish and trying to eliminate.

Q And a follow-up. Bruce Gordon just gave the President a "B" for his speech. But he says at issue, really, is the follow-up. What's next? What happens next?

MR. SNOW: Well, you'll be hearing more. I mean, there will be some speeches --

Q Hearing or seeing?

MR. SNOW: Well -- but the thing is, you have been seeing. And that's one of the points the President was trying to make today. A lot of times, what you have is -- when a President signs an education bill, nobody says, well, who is this going to help the most? The way No Child Left Behind works is that the people who for a long time have been left behind by an education system that has betrayed poor Americans by giving them second-rate educations -- and education, as you know, is the first step out of poverty -- that is one of the things that the -- that was one of the first agenda items for this President.

Trying to create an economy that grows rapidly enough to provide employment opportunities, both at the starting end and also throughout the income scale, is important. So not only to people who are in their first jobs, they got an opportunity, but people also have the opportunity to move up the income scale, as many people do, taking job after job in the course of their lives and careers. Those are important things.

Now, that seems to me to fit into the traditional civil rights agenda of building a basis of prosperity and hope. When you talk about family policy -- there is a story today, I believe it was in The New York Times, that talked about the fact that policies designed to hold families together in New Orleans seemed to be bearing fruit. That reflects all of the research we have seen, which is that intact families simply have a better record when it comes to a lot of the basics.

And so all of those things seem to fit the agenda. So part of it is the President has been walking the walk, and that was one of the points and the centerpieces of his speech today.

Q Tony, after the speech people said that the President said what he needed to say about the Voting Rights Act and they were very appreciative of that, but that the speech fell flat when he spoke about education, jobs and other issues. And they felt very passionately that on jobs, housing, education, affirmative action, this administration has not put forth policies that have improved their lives. How do you respond to that?

MR. SNOW: Two things. First, take a look at the economic data. You have seen growing -- I guess I could put it this way -- income equality has a better record in this administration than in previous. There was this widening gap. It's not widening anymore.

The second thing is, when it comes to things like school choice, it's an interesting -- a lot of times you'll find that if you go and poll people who are in these lousy schools, guess what they want? They want school choice. They want another option.

So I think the President may not have resonated with some of the people who were speaking with you or others. It was certainly resonating for people who live in this city. And it was certainly resonating with people who live in a lot of cities -- Cleveland, Ohio, where I think several years ago, thousands lined up for a school choice program because they wanted a better option, they wanted their kids to have the opportunity.

So again, I would argue that the President's policies have, in fact, been pursuing it, and would encourage everybody to take a fair look at the real record.

Q Just a follow up. Many African Americans have family members, sons and daughters, or wives, husbands, serving in Iraq, and some after the speech, including Congressman John Lewis, were surprised and disappointed that the President did not mention the war. Why didn't he make any mention of the war in Iraq?

MR. SNOW: I think he had a pretty full plate just walking through domestic policy. There may be another time to address it. But I'll tell you what, the President has mentioned the war many times, and not only has he mentioned the war, but he's been out among those servicemen and women, and he's thanked them personally. And you've seen the emotion that overcomes the President when he's looking out there. I mean, he's got a very deep commitment and attachment to the men and women in the uniformed services. And I think Congressman Lewis understands that.

You start getting into the game of, why didn't he address X, when you have a 40-minute speech that addressed a whole lot of things. What you have is the recipe for a three-hour speech. This is one where the President was making some very clear points on the domestic policy side, which is that there is plenty of room for us to work together. And maybe this is a time for people with goodwill to start doing that.

This was not an attempt to curry votes for the Republican Party. This was a reflection of a longstanding personal commitment to try to lower the temperature when it comes to race relations so people really can get along and work together, understanding that the same basic goals really do unite us.

Q Tony, Israel --

MR. SNOW: Well, let's finish on the NAACP speech, and then we'll move on. Is that all for the -- okay, so we go to foreign policy.

Q NAACP.

MR. SNOW: Okay, NAACP, okay. Good to see you, Ellen.

Q Thank you.

MR. SNOW: You colored your hair.

Q It's darker. It's Fox News channel. (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: It looks good. That's all right, I mean well.

Q Yes, those stem cells -- (Laughter.)

Q There has just been a study that came out last week on private schools, showing that students do not necessarily do better in private schools. Yet you're talking about the equivalent of vouchers, et cetera, related to the President's speech today. How do you justify that?

MR. SNOW: A lot of times it's public schools. There are some pretty good public schools where the doors are still closed to people who just happen, by accident, to live in the wrong places. And there is no prohibition when you're talking about school choice to move around to public schools, as well. Again, the concept is real simple, and parents are pretty smart shoppers about these things. If you want to find out where your kid is going to get a good education so he or she may be able to go to college, may be able to build a career, may be able to do better than mom and dad did, they care about this. Attend any PTA meeting in the United States and you'll get a feel for it.

So I think the notion behind school choice is not get every kid into a private school, it's create not only the opportunity to go to a better school, but also create pressure on the school your kids go to. Because, let's face it, most people want the choice to go to the real good school that's closest to their house. They don't want to travel a long way. And so this also helps create healthy pressure on schools to perform.

Q Related question. Does the President, perhaps with an eye back to the ads that were run against him in 2000, view the NAACP as a partisan political organization?

MR. SNOW: No, at this point -- as you know, that was an NAACP legal defense fund, which is a separate but related entity. It's not the same thing as the NAACP. And the President looks at the NAACP as a venerable organization that he wants to do business with.

Q Related --

MR. SNOW: Yes, related?

Q Yes. Does the President think that he can keep diverse points of view in his mind if his senior staff -- that means, assistant to the President or the equivalent -- are more than 80 percent men, all white, one Hispanic, four women, no blacks?

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q Why?

MR. SNOW: He talks to his Cabinet, which is more diverse than any --

Q He's talking to Caucasian Americans.

MR. SNOW: Yes, and he's also got Secretary Gutierrez, he has Secretary Rice -- perhaps you've noticed. Look, I think it's insulting to believe --

Q Jackson.

MR. SNOW: Thank you. Alphonso Jackson.

Q (Inaudible.)

MR. SNOW: Let me just make the following point. Skin color, in fact -- one of the central insights of the civil rights movement is skin color shouldn't matter. And when it comes to -- the President understands people's discomfort about race. That's something you probably share. You've probably walked in a room with a large minority population and you think, you know, there's something in the air here. What is this? It's something that every American has experienced, whether we like to or not. We love to be color blind, but it's still one of those things that we need to overcome, and I think we all need to set an example.

But the one thing that does unite us is the same basic needs, desires, and aspirations. And that's the point the President was making today. You don't give a black speech because black folks have the same needs and desires and wants as white folks, that we've taken legal discrimination off the statute books, but we have to be honest about the task that lies ahead, and that is intensely practical work that involves government activity, but it also involves personal example, and the President was trying to set that today.

Q If he's proud of the diversity in his Cabinet, could you expect him to improve diversity amongst the White House staff?

MR. SNOW: What the President does is he looks for the best available people.

Q And they're all white?

MR. SNOW: I don't know, why don't you tell me? (Laughter.) You can come aboard and do personnel. You want to?

Q I'm asking you a question.

MR. SNOW: I know you are, but it's an argumentative question that also applied to other previous administrations. Would we like more blacks and Hispanics on? Yes, sure.

Q Any Asians?

MR. SNOW: Asians, too, yes, thank you.

Q Tony --

MR. SNOW: Let me leave no one behind. Every -- just every group, raise your hand. We want you.

Q Can I ask one on stem cells?

MR. SNOW: Okay.

Q Thank you. Has the White House received much reaction to the stem cell veto? And do you see a day when the President would believe that embryonic stem cell research, which is private, becomes illegal?

MR. SNOW: The answer to the second is, no, and the answer to the first is, what? I forgot the first.

Q Has he had much reaction to the veto?

MR. SNOW: I don't know. I haven't checked the switchboard. You know, he said what he believed. It's not the sort of thing that we're -- if you get a tide of phone calls or emails in one direction, then he's going to say, oh, changed my mind. There was a campaign pledge, and it's also doing what he thinks is the right thing to do.

Q Also on Iran and North Korea, there was testimony today that Iranians were observing the missile test. Does the U.S. have proof that the North Koreans were selling --

MR. SNOW: I believe this was a statement that, I think they might have, or something. It is not something we can nail down.

Q Tony, following up Connie's first question. Yesterday in the East Room, where no questions were allowed, the President said -- and this is a quote -- "Each of these human embryos is a unique human life with inherent dignity and matchless value. We all begin our lives as a small collection of cells." My question: This means that the President believes that all miscarriages should have both death certificates and funerals, doesn't it?

MR. SNOW: The question hasn't come up. I know the parents grieve them, if that's good enough for you, Lester.

Q This means also that the President believes that one's actual age is determined not by birth date, but by estimated conception date, isn't it?

MR. SNOW: No.

Q Thank you. Two questions, like Lester. How long will the President allow international opinion to turn against Israel and the United States before stepping in? Isn't it time now for active U.S. diplomacy?

MR. SNOW: You've got to stop getting those questions. No, I mean, the United States has been engaged in active diplomacy -- and I think I've made this point every -- the President has called a number of heads of state. The Secretary of State has been in touch with just about everybody in the region. We've been in contact with Middle Eastern allies, with Eastern allies, with European allies, with parties on the scene. We've probably been more active diplomatically. We've been active at the U.N., the State Department, the Department of Defense, the White House, itself.

I don't know how you could be more diplomatically active. The fact that you weren't invited to the meetings or given the notes doesn't mean that there wasn't activity, Sarah.

Q I have one more question on immigration. A poll last month shows Hispanic support for the President and Republicans fading because of failed attempts to get a new immigration policy. With the November elections three months away, what can the President do to win back Hispanics?

MR. SNOW: Look, the President on this and other issues is not sitting around saying "What can I do to pander?" His position on immigration is pretty clear. He's made it clear to the House of Representatives. I wouldn't say there's a failure when he has pushed both Houses of Congress to pass immigration bills. Now he's going to try to figure out a way to get both sides to get along. I mean, that is a challenge that the President is taking on. So I think he's got a perfectly defensible record.

Q Can you state categorically that you're not holding back on calling for an immediate cease-fire or on sending Condoleezza Rice to the Middle East so that the Israelis will have time to "defang Hezbollah" as a senior administration official said?

MR. SNOW: I don't know who the senior administration official was, but it certainly doesn't reflect any of the conversations I've been involved in, and it's not the position of the President.

Q So that's a no?

MR. SNOW: That is a no.

Q Thank you.

END 1:10 P.M. EDT

*just a constituency

**single-parent households