The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 4, 2006

Press Gaggle by Tony Snow
Crawford Elementary School
Crawford, Texas

2:25 P.M. CDT

MR. SNOW: Let me begin with a couple of points. The President's day today: he got up early, he received his national security briefing, recorded the radio address -- which is about border security and immigration. Then he went out and did some brush-cutting and trail-clearing, followed by a bike ride, and will be doing other vacation relaxation sort of things for the rest of the day.

The week ahead has more of the same, through Wednesday. On Thursday, the President will participate in a tour of the Fox Valley Metal-Tech -- let me try that again, Fox Valley Metal-Tech, in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He'll also make a statement on the economy at Fox Valley Metal-Tech. and will attend a Gard for Congress reception in Oneida, Wisconsin. Then return to Crawford for the rest of the vacation, such as it is.

On the 11th, he'll attend a Republican National Committee reception at the Broken Spoke Ranch in Crawford. Then he'll spend Saturday in Crawford and return to the White House at a time to be determined on Sunday, the 13th.

One other thing, as you know, the Senate yesterday failed once again to pass death tax reform. So the President is disappointed that senators once again used procedural tactics to block legislation that not only would have brought important tax relief to Americans and to small businesses and farms, but also to enjoy significant support in both Houses of Congress; that also would have extended important tax provisions, including the research and development credit, which are important for continued economic growth. In blocking the tax provision, senators also defeated a responsible increase in the minimum wage.

There we have it. Questions.

Q Two things. First, serious, then less so. What can you tell us about Secretary Rice's plans and National Security Advisor Hadley's plans when they come here, beyond the standard they're-going-to-brief-the-President on --

MR. SNOW: Well, they're not only going to brief the President. Sean McCormack, in his briefing yesterday, also pointed out that if there not a completed U.N. resolution -- and I won't make any predictions; I know people are working through the afternoon -- she will continue working the phones from Crawford. National Security Advisor Hadley will do the same. And, obviously, they will keep apprised of other situations of considerable moment, in terms of foreign policy.

She has instructed her staff to work through the weekend, if necessary. So I think it's going to be pretty busy. That said, it's very difficult to sort of parcel that down to a precise schedule, because they're going to be dealing with breaking diplomatic developments, but they do intend to be busy on that front.

Q Will we see them?

MR. SNOW: Maybe not over the weekend. We are thinking that at some point you probably will.

Q Okay. And then, with respect to the President's abbreviated stay here, does he -- is he frustrated that he can't spend more time here; this is a place he likes to be.

MR. SNOW: I get to first crack on Fletcher -- I was going to call you anyway.

The fact is, you've got -- the realities are that you've got a very busy political year and there's going to be -- you're seeing the first of, sort of, campaign stops will be next Thursday. And this really is not one of these things where he's responding to Katrina or anything else -- there's a lot to do. There is a lot going on right now, and, unfortunately, it does not provide enough time or space for an extended vacation.

I would also point out that the number of nights in Crawford will probably be exactly the same as in 2004, also a campaign year.

The difference between this and 2002 -- for those trying to draw parallels between midterms -- a lot more Republican seats sort of in play this time. And also the President wants to make sure that he has a Republican Congress for the last two years. As he said, he does not intend to move -- he intends to sprint right to the finish with this presidency and he's got a lot he wants to do.

Q Secretary Rice is going to be addressing TV Marti, Radio Marti in Cuba. Can you talk a little bit about what she's doing or what the administration is doing to help illegal migrants who want to come to the United States, or in terms of democratic reforms, is there any kind of change of what --

MR. SNOW: Well, what's going on is, obviously, we want to be encouraging democratic reform in Cuba, and that has long been the policy. I keep pointing you back to the committee for -- I'm sorry, the Commission for Assistance for a Free Cuba. And that is something that remains important. Obviously, when it comes to migration policies, the policies of this government have not changed. We clearly do -- at some point I'm sure that there is always going to be a concern to try to make sure that you have ways of transit that are safe and orderly and legal. So that remains a concern of the government.

Go ahead, Suzanne, you look like you want to follow.

Q Is that something -- I mean, is there a change afoot? Or that you're speaking with Congress about trying to ease some of the restrictions -- whether it's travel --

MR. SNOW: Again, it's premature to talk about anything. We're still trying to assess the situation in Cuba. There are no changes in overall policy or in details of policy at this point.

Q To follow up on that, we understand there are some discussions about trying to reunify families, between the United States and Cuba. Can you talk about that?

MR. SNOW: It's something under consideration; premature for me to comment.

Q We couldn't hear her question.

MR. SNOW: She was saying that there is some talk about attempts to reunify families and such. And I think any of these things are pretty premature, for the simple reason that we really are trying to assess the situation and what's going on.

Q On the same subject. While the policy hasn't changed, the situation certainly has, with all the questions about Castro's health and the whereabouts of his brother. What was the timing behind the release of that statement that you all put out late yesterday, by the President?

MR. SNOW: The timing really was there was keen interest on the part of a lot of people and they wanted a statement of policy. This is as much a response to calls from the press, "what does the President thing about it?"

There was no overarching strategic point, in terms of the release or the timing of the release.

Q Just the press? What about the Cuban --

MR. SNOW: Well, obviously, you've got lots of audiences here. But, again, Peter, to get to your basic point, there was no major, overarching strategic consideration.

Q What's the audience for Condi's address today? I mean, Radio Marti, as I understand it, is pretty much blocked in Cuba, no? Is this for domestic consumption, as well?

MR. SNOW: No, it's Radio Marti, and as you know, foreign broadcasts -- at least, if I still have my law right -- are not permitted to be distributed within the United States. Do I have that -- Olivier is shaking his head, so I will take that as support.

Q But we'll certainly report on it?

MR. SNOW: I don't know. I mean, again, you don't release text when you do those sorts of things, I don't think. I'm sort of vamping here because I think it's being recorded as we speak. I've had calls into State and I know that the people who are going to brief me on it, at this point, you know, are still with the Secretary.

Probably the proper thing to do, if you want real elucidation on this, is to call Sean McCormack and the guys at State, because they're just going to give you a lot better answers.

Q Tony, Senator Clinton is calling on Secretary Rumsfeld to resign. Is there any change in the President's position that he's the best man for that job?


Q What do you make of her issuing this call now, after kind of resisting all the other Democrats?

MR. SNOW: I'll let her explain why she made the call. I'm not going to try to interpret it.

Q What's your assessment of the march in Iraq, in favor of Hezbollah? Does it complicate things there? Have you been following it? Do you --

MR. SNOW: Yes, certainly I've been following it, and it is what it is. It was a march in Sadr City, in support of Hezbollah. I don't want to -- I really don't want to go too far in trying to divine exactly what it means. It's clearly something that -- you know, you've got one of the largest Shia enclaves within Baghdad proper, and you also have support for a Shia outfit, Hezbollah.

Q With the Israeli strikes in Beirut, and the Hezbollah missile strikes deeper into Israel, is this moving beyond a Southern Lebanon conflict into, you know -- are you worried that it's getting wider?

MR. SNOW: Hard to say. Those are good points. I think, Steve, what you've seen -- and I hesitate to comment too much on these, because these are really more properly strategic questions pointed to the government of Israel. Based on what we've been able to see, Israel, at least the northern strikes were designed to try to block supply routes from Syria into Lebanon. In terms of the Hezbollah trying to fire further into Israel, they've been making similar threats for some time.

Beyond that, I just think it's impossible for me to characterize it accurately. It would only be impressions.

Q Can I ask, separately, on the U.S. economy, the report today, I think only 113,000 jobs. Are you worried that the economy is now slowing down?

MR. SNOW: No. It's a very good question. You've got some very interesting economic numbers. You have 113,000 -- and by the way, as you know, when you take a look at subsequent revisions, there's a fair amount of play. The standard deviation on those is as much as 90,000. And you saw an up tick in the unemployment rate. On the other hand, you also saw very healthy wage growth, four-tenths of a percent.

Part of what's going on -- and the two are related in this sense -- when you see wage growth, you will see people entering the workforce. And part of the reason you can have increased employment and at the same time a higher rate of unemployment is that the wage picture is improving to the extent that some people who had stayed on the sidelines are now going out and seeking jobs. And if you see continued wage growth, you might expect in months to come another burst of unemployment, and perhaps that unemployment number to go down. But it's probably crazy for anybody to make -- it's like predicting the weather, when it comes to the economy.

But the interesting factor here is that more people are being drawn into the workforce, perhaps in part by the promise of higher wages. We've had two straight months where the reported wage increase -- average wage increase has been four-tenths of one percent. We find that very encouraging.

Q I had another question, but doesn't what you're saying then also suggest that we don't really have an accurate picture of the number of people who are out of the wage force? There are a lot of people who say that the 4.8 percent unemployment rate really doesn't accurately reflect the quite large number of people who have simply stopped looking.

MR. SNOW: Well, on the other hand, we have more people working than at any point in American history. Rather -- it's true, Wendell. I have not -- the argument you have just posed is one that I have not heard a lot of right now, because you've had employers looking very hard for employees, a lot of folks with help wanted signs out. And I have not heard that there are vast numbers of people not seeking work. But you know what, I think rather than have me comment on it again, that may be something that you need to get a trained economist to give you a better answer for.

Q Let me ask you what I really meant to, about the negotiations going on at the U.N. Secretary Rice said on "Larry King" something that suggested the U.S. might now be willing to accept the kind of two-stage resolution process, one to implement the cease-fire and then a second phase in a period of time afterwards that actually implements the multinational force. Does that reflect the influence of the French in trying to get a quicker end to the fighting than --

MR. SNOW: No, and I'm not sure that's an accurate -- I did not read the transcript, so I don't want to comment directly. But to get to your question, there are a whole series of -- the issues right now really do have to do with sequencing and staging. Both sides are working off the same drafts. And what we've heard not only from U.S. officials, but French officials is that they are relatively optimistic about getting this thing done sooner rather than later. Again, it's pure folly to try to figure out when.

We're also going to -- David Welch is being dispatched back to the region. I think he should be arriving there today. He's going to be making trips. Meanwhile, you have Nick Burns, who is on the phone doing negotiations, you've got John Bolton and his team up at the United Nations working this, and obviously Secretary Rice is working it, and if necessary will continue to do so.

What's interesting is, and I pointed this out before, everybody agrees on wanting to do the same things. They want to make sure that you've got an end to offensive operations. They want to make sure that you lay in the ability for a durable cease-fire and a lasting peace, which means Hezbollah has to stop operating independently -- you've got to have it abide by the terms of United Nations Security Council resolution 1559; you've got to provide real support for the government of Prime Minister Siniora, and that clearly is going to involve a significant economic component, both in terms of rebuilding and humanitarian aid.

So all of those -- and, finally, and certainly very important, is the fact that the Lebanese armed forces are going to need some support, and that is going to be drawn from the international community. And those talks are going to be very important along the way, as well.

So everybody has agreed on all of those ingredients, and now they're talking about exactly how you do it. And I don't want to lean too far forward, but, again, both sides seem pretty confident that they kind of -- they see something coming around -- if it's not today, it's within a matter of a very few days.

Q Back on the minimum wage. It seems that the poison pill in this one was that Democrats couldn't get behind a minimum wage increase that was tied to the estate tax reform. Is the President committed to responsible -- in your words, a responsible minimum wage increase? And, if so, will he throw his weight behind a bill that does not tie minimum wage increase to estate tax?

MR. SNOW: I'm not going to judge the legislative strategy. Let me throw it to you a different way. Democrats -- the poison pill for Democrats is something that -- estate tax or death tax repeal that was very important for small businesses in this country, and people who for the first time in their lives have created enough personal wealth -- perhaps in the form of a house that's appreciated -- that they'd like to pass on to their kids. It's a very real and practical consideration around this country, and the President -- actually it was the Senate that bundled the three, and the President is disappointed that they didn't pass the bill. I'm restating what I said earlier. I don't want to go any further, because I'm not going to get into the point of prejudging.

Also, Senator Frist voted against yesterday, which gives him the option to have a motion to recommit, which very well may happen in September. This may not be the end of this particular attempt.

Q But are you saying the President wouldn't support a bill that addresses the minimum wage -- federal minimum wage --

MR. SNOW: I'm saying I'm not going to answer your question, because it involves legislative tactics that, frankly, I'm not at liberty to discuss, and therefore am not going to.

Q Cindy Sheehan is coming back to Crawford on Sunday. She says she's going to recreate her march of August 6, 2005, to the Bush ranch, and try to present the President with a plan for peace in Iraq. Last summer he sent some advisors, I believe, to meet with her. What are the plans for either meeting or not meeting with Ms. Sheehan?

MR. SNOW: So far there are no plans at all, but I would advise her to bring water, Gatorade, or both.

Q Are you going to send anybody out to see her, any surrogates?

MR. SNOW: You know what, honestly, when you're talking about the kind of issues we've been talking about, Cindy Sheehan just has not risen to the level of staff meetings at this point.

Q The Cuban government has responded to the President's statement yesterday by putting out official combat alerts on official media, notifying reservists that they might be called to help, et cetera. Is their read correct? I mean, are they right to worry about a U.S. intervention or a call for an uprising or something like that?

MR. SNOW: It's absurd. The U.S. has absolutely no designs on invading Cuba. Cubans are going to have to chart their destiny. It's the one thing that they've been deprived during the dictatorship of Fidel Castro, and we hope that they're going to be able to enjoy the freedoms that they deserve and clearly want.

Q Coming back to this weekend's meeting with the Secretary of State, is it the administration's position still that any cease-fire should include disarmament -- disarming of Hezbollah?

MR. SNOW: Again, I would -- the point I made earlier in the week is that the term "disarming" is so squirrelly that I think it probably doesn't help, because as you know, in that part of the world you've got people with their own personal weapons, and that sort of thing. I think the condition the President has always said is they've got to stop firing rockets. He's been pretty specific. And he certainly hasn't changed that; they've got to stop firing rockets.

Q And a follow up, then. Given their history, what gives the President any confidence that they would abide by any cease-fire?

MR. SNOW: That's going to be up to them. What we're trying to do is to support a government of Lebanon so that it is going to have the military support to have full control of what's going on in the south. Hezbollah is going to have to make a choice. They're going to have to make a choice whether to go for a political path, where you win influence not by imported arms and imported money, but by going out and winning votes, or are they going to continue to operate as an independent force that is a menace not only to the people of Lebanon, but also to the neighborhood.

They're going to have to make that choice. What we're trying to do is to lay in conditions that are going to give the government of Lebanon the tools it needs to succeed in securing the south.

Q While we're touching all the bases here, with Cindy Sheehan and others, does the President have any reaction to the fact that his former domestic policy advisor, Claude Allen, has now pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft?

MR. SNOW: No, it's -- the answer is, no. He said what he said about it. But, no, he actually -- this is as far as I know. I have not talked to him about it, but I haven't heard him say anything about it, either.

Q Do you have any update on Fidel Castro's condition or the whereabouts of Raul?

MR. SNOW: No. Very good questions. We're all interested in that, and we don't know. I mean, I think at this point, it tells you something about a government that seems to be in hiding at a point like this. But everybody is trying to sort of figure out what the situation is. I don't have anything to offer you that way. I think members of the press and also in the international community are really trying their best to assess the situation.

Q Tony, earlier this year the President brought in some advisors to talk about the war in Iraq, some outsiders -- outside experts. Is he doing anything similar, or are any senior officials doing anything similar with respect to the Middle East? Are you bringing in any outside experts or --

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q -- perhaps Jewish or Christian or Muslim --

MR. SNOW: There have been meetings of that sort in recent days.

Q What can you tell us about them?

MR. SNOW: You know what, I'll see what I'm cleared to tell you about. At this point, we've been trying to keep these meetings private, for the simple reason that it leads to the ability of those involved to give free and open counsel about what they see going on in the situation. And that is maybe the most important thing. The President, quite frequently, will have scholars and experts in various areas in, and he'll get both sides if it's an issue where there are two competing sides, or on issues like the Middle East, try to get different perspectives so that he is in a better position to consider all points of view when he does it.

But it has been the practice, and I'm going to honor it here, to let that advice remain confidential for the simple reason that it does, in fact, give people the liberty to be completely candid with them.

Q Can you at least tell us what types of people have been in?

MR. SNOW: Again, at this point, I really don't want to do it. I think it's safe to say that you've got scholars with considerable expertise in the area, and there have been more than -- he has met on -- again, I don't want to go too far.

Q Religious leaders?

MR. SNOW: Again, I'm just not going to go any further.

Q Can we expect, Tony, Condi to depart, when, Monday?

MR. SNOW: You know, that's not fixed yet. We'll see. I can't give you full guidance on it.

Q Any guidance on when we'll see Bush?

MR. SNOW: On what?

Q On when we'll see Bush?

MR. SNOW: When we'll see the President?

Q Yes.

MR. SNOW: Again, probably -- no absolute guidance, but we're working on something. Obviously, as soon as we have it ready, we'll let you know.

Q How much brush did he clear?

MR. SNOW: He was doing more trails. So he was working trails this morning.

Q Did you clear some brush?

MR. SNOW: Enough to get this funny little thing on my leg. We knocked down a few trees, and that kind of thing.

Q Did he bike?

MR. SNOW: Yes, he did bike riding today, as well.

Q For how long?

MR. SNOW: More than an hour.

Q Did you go?

MR. SNOW: I don't comment on the people who ride with the President, not even myself.

Q Did you get hurt, really?

MR. SNOW: No, I just got nicked when I was dragging a tree limb. I don't think that quite qualifies as being hurt.

Q And does he have any good vacation books to read? What's he reading?

MR. SNOW: He always does. He's a very aggressive reader. I don't know exactly what he's --

Q What's he reading?

MR. SNOW: I know he's doing a book on Lincoln on Air Force One. It was the Braithway* book. But I don't know beyond that.

Thank you.

END 2:48 P.M. CDT

* the book the President is reading is by Richard Carwardine.

** U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the President on Friday, August 4, 2006 to discuss the situation in Lebanon.

The President expressed his concern about the continued violence in Lebanon and Israel. The two men also discussed developments in diplomatic negotiations on a U.N. Security Council resolution and diplomatic efforts to create a way forward.

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