For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 8, 2006
Press Gaggle by Tony Snow
Crawford Middle School
12:07 P.M. CDT
MR. SNOW: All right, welcome. Let me just start with a couple of little items of business here, and then we'll go to questions. Those of you who are eating, you may proceed through the line and shout out whatever you want.
First, the Department of Commerce has released the latest numbers on wages. Productivity growth continues to be strong. It's 2.4 percent over the past four quarters. Hourly compensation is averaging 5.7 percent over the last four quarters.
Today the President got up, had his normal intelligence briefing. He also had briefings from the National Security Advisor and the Homeland Security Advisor. And I believe they're working on a dock today. There will also be other adventures in the afternoon.
Q They're working on a dock?
MR. SNOW: They're working on a dock.
Q They have a lake?
MR. SNOW: I believe that there is no waterway directly to the ocean, so I think a lake or a pond would be a more likely option. (Laughter.)
Q Tony, what do you think about this Lebanese proposal to deploy 15,000 troops into southern Lebanon? The Israelis called it an interesting step.
MR. SNOW: Steve was asking about a reported proposal by the Lebanese to deploy 15,000 troops. I think also with the UNIFIL troops. Obviously, interested in taking a look at it. As you know, there are three Arab diplomats have shown up in New York, the foreign ministers of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, along with Amr Moussa the head of the Arab League. And there will be discussions today in the Security Council; the U.S. and the French also have been talking about ways forward.
We certainly welcome any help in trying to figure out how to supplement the Lebanese armed forces and get us to one of the key goals in Lebanon, which is to permit the government of Lebanon to assert full control over the south, and also to prevent Hezbollah from asserting independent control. So those are all items that are going to be under discussion in the next day, and who knows how long it's going to go. But, obviously, it's a topic of conversation in the U.N. and will continue to be.
Q Tony, I assume that if the Lebanese army was strong enough to have taken control without any multinational help, anytime in the last however many years, they would have done so. So is it fair to say that the administration would be skeptical of this idea?
MR. SNOW: I think it would be safe to say that the administration understands that the Lebanese armed forces is going to need some help, and we're working with allies to try to figure out the proper way to do it, and also with the Lebanese government, which clearly has the strongest interest not only in making sure it's done effectively, but it's done in a way they see fit and proper.
Q Does the administration view this latest proposal by Lebanon as a setback to getting this resolution moving along?
MR. SNOW: No, no. We do not view it as a setback. As the President said yesterday in the hanger, and he's said on a number of occasions, diplomacy takes time. And you've got a lot of interested parties here who have their own views on how to proceed. And the real challenge now is to work forward in a manner consistent with the principles that not only the President laid out on the 12th of last month, but that were reiterated by the G8 and in Rome and in the draft resolution put together by the U.S. and the French.
So I think everybody is really still pulling in the same direction. There are a lot of ideas about how best to get there.
Q One of our reports got from an administration source this line, "It is a line in the stand for the United States that there has to be an international force deployed alongside the Lebanese in the south." Is that inaccurate?
MR. SNOW: I think we've always said that there is going to be a force to supplement the Lebanese armed forces. I'm not going to react to blind quotes from unnamed administration officials about lines in the sand; I don't think that's particularly helpful. I think the whole point is to try to find out a way for forces to be able to supplement the Lebanese armed forces, so that they can, in fact, be effective in the southern part of Lebanon.
I think there's a recognition that they will require some supplemental forces, and the question is, under what auspices that is done.
Q Can I ask you, on a different topic, last week the Senate rejected the nomination of Richard Stickler at the Mine Safety and Health Administration. What's the White House's plan going from here? Is the President planning to do a recess appointment?
MR. SNOW: You have to let know earlier on ones like that, Nedra. I'll go back and work the phones. I have no earthly clue.
Q Tony, Russia says that if there's a stalemate on this U.N. resolution for any meaningful length of time they'd like to see an immediate resolution calling for a humanitarian truce, kind of give everyone a breather while the negotiations go on.
MR. SNOW: Again, I --
Q The United States has made it very clear that it wants a comprehensive solution, not some immediate --
MR. SNOW: I think the Russians have been generally supportive of the draft we've put together with the French, and I'm just not going to get into assessing public statements at this point, especially about a hypothetical situation. There's a lot of very active diplomacy going on right now, and the Russians are among those involved.
Q Can you address the report yesterday by AP about the new draft immigration rules for Cuba that the administration is putting together?
MR. SNOW: Yes, basically, you know, we don't comment on ongoing -- let me confirm this, that there are drafts, and people are trying to think about what is going to happen should there be a change in the political situation in Cuba. But there is no change in policy, and that's the most important thing to keep in mind.
The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State and other portions of the government are taking a clear look and monitoring closely the situation ongoing in Cuba. But as the President also has said, and Secretary Rice, right now we're encouraging everybody not only to stay put, but urging Cubans to stay on the island, and work toward democracy. Beyond that, no specific comment about particulars mentioned in that story.
Q Why is there a need for a change in policy at all?
MR. SNOW: The only -- again, you're talking about a contemplated change that, in turn, would be in response to a change that has not yet taken place. I think you can all agree that if there is a change, a dramatic change in the political situation in Cuba, there may be adjustments in U.S. policy. Helms-Burton and other things are going to be revisited -- you would think that -- but, on the other hand, there is no change in policy to date.
But it is typical, traditional and important for a government to start thinking, okay, if various changes take place, what sort of adjustments should we make, and people present ideas. And the fact that somebody has presented an idea does not mean that there has been a change in policy, it means that you have an obligation constantly to think ahead domestically and internationally, and I daresay that if there were changes in Cuba and we had not thought ahead, the question would be, why didn't you think about changes that might be taking place.
Q Tony, Kofi Annan released a letter today saying that there were grounds for an inquiry into whether Israeli air strikes constituted a pattern in violating international law. Does the President think there are grounds for such inquiry?
MR. SNOW: I'm really not going to respond to that. I mean, the Secretary General was speaking for himself. At this point, the real work at the United Nations is to try to figure out how to have a cessation of hostilities in a way that's going to lead to peace and democracy in Lebanon, and we welcome General Secretary Annan's help in achieving that goal.
Q Tony, to what extent has the President gotten involved in this Alaska oil pipeline stoppage, and how concerned are you about the impact on people who are already hard-pressed by what they're already paying for gasoline?
MR. SNOW: A couple of points. Sam Bodman did a press conference on this not too long ago, and apparently, at this point, the supplies are -- we're actually in a pretty good supply situation, but he has also said that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would be made available if necessary. But it looks like we're running some, like, 5 million barrels a day, in terms of supplies, better than we were at this point last year.
Having said that, what's going on, really, is the result of some actions the administration took a while ago. And I'll give you a little bit of a timetable that helps you put this in context. There was a leak discovered by a BP crew in March, on March 2nd. That's the first leak of the pipeline that we know of. Shortly after that, the pipeline and hazardous materials safety administration issued an enforcement action directing BP to improve corrosion management on some of those pipelines. Later on it followed up with a series of other guidelines, including trying to make sure that there was what they called pipeline inspection gauges -- PIGs, in the parlance -- to try to figure out the integrity of those pipelines. That led to the discovery a few days ago of weakness in some of the pipelines, which has led to the interruption.
Now, our first priority is to make sure that there is continued safe operation of the pipelines coming out of the North Slope. The Department of Transportation has a team of investigators onsite, right now, to assess the situation. They're going to have an evaluation. They are issuing new compliance orders -- statutorily you can do that -- and they've already issued two compliance orders, I just mentioned that, the one in March and a follow-on in July. They're going to outline steps that the company has to take to make sure that the pipelines are safe to be carrying oil.
We're happy that BP finally is making progress in addressing concerns which have been discussed with it in the past. And we're also in the process of accelerating the rule-making process that would enable the creation of a robust regulatory regime over those pipelines. As you probably know, the low-pressure pipelines -- and that's what these are, these are relatively low-volume pipelines -- have not had the kind of federal oversight that the high-volume pipelines have had. And the administration is working quickly to get that into place.
At this point, obviously -- we've also been working with -- we've had contact with the governments of Saudi Arabia and Mexico. If there are supply shortages, they have agreed to help us in trying to address those. At this point, no refineries have reported shortages in petroleum, but, obviously, if those become a factor, we will address it and address it vigorously and in a timely manner.
Q And how concerned are you about the impact on prices?
MR. SNOW: Well, I think any time you have a price increase, you want to try to address the root cause, and the root cause here is trying to go at it and deal with the pipeline integrity. On the other hand, I think what you're going to see -- well, you know what, I don't want to interpret what's going to go on with the prices. The important thing is that there does not seem to be a significant supply interruption at this point. We obviously want to get those pipelines up and running effectively as quickly as possible. But, again, they have to be operating in a way that is safe and also environmentally sound.
Q Just to follow up, Tony, when were these conversations with Saudi Arabia and Mexico?
MR. SNOW: I don't know precisely when, but they've obviously been in the last couple of days.
Q They have promised to help out if we have --
MR. SNOW: Well, that's according to Secretary Bodman, yes.
Q Is the President concerned that these oil companies who are enjoying record profits right now are not doing enough to invest in sustaining their infrastructure to avoid situations like this?
MR. SNOW: I don't think the President -- I'm not sure that the President is -- let's take a couple of looks. First, most of the oil companies working on the North Slope have had a pretty vigorous and regular regime of inspecting the pipelines and looking at it. The pipelines we're talking about have not been -- apparently have not had one of these pipeline inspection gauges run through it in 16 years. The normal course is to do it every other week. So, certainly, there is concern about making sure that that is the case.
Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission, as you know, is taking a constant look at the oil companies to make sure not only that there's no price gouging at the corporate level, but also down to the gas station level, and we will continue those regular efforts to make sure.
Q But what does the federal government do to ensure, though, that these PIGs are going through as they should be, not every 16 years?
MR. SNOW: Well, that's -- again, this was an unregulated pipeline, as I mentioned before. We're in the process now of doing a rule-making that would, in fact, make those pipelines that are not presently subject to that kind of a regulatory regime subject to it.
Q Tony, there's a new Washington Post poll out today as to which political party people would trust to do a better job handling the U.S. campaign against terrorism? And Democrats got 46 percent, Republicans got 38 percent. Are you concerned that in this particular category, in which Republicans have always done better than Democrats, here, as well as in other categories, Republicans are falling behind?
MR. SNOW: For the umpteenth time, I will remind you that the President is not trying to conduct foreign policy in the war on terror in response to public opinion polls, but to the realities on the ground, and I am sure that that is going to be an important consideration voters are going to have to make this November: Who really does take seriously the threat of the war on terror; do they acknowledge or not that terrorists are still trying to hurt Americans and American interests around the globe; and who has the most credible way of addressing it. And that is a debate we look forward to having.
Q Could you just be a little bit more specific about what it is that Saudi Arabia and Mexico have agreed to do? I just want to make sure we have --
MR. SNOW: I've told you everything I know. The best thing to do is to -- I'd direct you to the Department of Energy, which has had these conversations. Again, there has been an offer of assistance if we have some shortages, petroleum shortages, that they apparently have offered to help But I don't want to get ahead of myself. I'd recommend calling DOE.
Q So you don't know the specifics of whether there's a trigger, in terms of the number of lost barrels or whatever?
MR. SNOW: I know nothing beyond what I've told you.
Q Does that indicate that they're not really, then, supplying stuff at capacity? I mean, we were under the impression everybody was pretty much tapped out, that's why oil prices were so high to begin with.
MR. SNOW: No, oil prices were high for a couple of reasons. Obviously, there is vigorous global competition, and also there are jitters about what's going on in the Middle East, Wendell. But, in terms of the vagaries of how much excess capacity, again, talk to the experts, not the White House Press Secretary.
Q Demand is not the reason?
MR. SNOW: No, demand is a serious reason, I just said that. There is not only demand here, but demand around the globe. I just am not competent to give you an assessment of what sort of swing capacity may still be available with the Saudis, the Mexicans or others.
Q Does the President plan to have any meetings with congressional leaders on immigration between now and Labor Day, or any calls?
MR. SNOW: Don't know. All I'm doing is tracking what we're doing this week. The President has had a number of meetings with congressional leaders. And I suspect -- well, I don't even want to try to guess, because if I try to speculate, I could say something that later turned out not to be true, and we wouldn't want that.
Q What about this afternoon? You said there will be something more this afternoon?
MR. SNOW: I believe there will be hundred degree club activities later in the afternoon.
Q I see, not some presidential appearance that we're going to be summoned to?
MR. SNOW: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Will you report back to us --
MR. SNOW: If you are summoned, we will make sure that you are duly informed.
Q We'll expect a full report on the hundred degree club.
MR. SNOW: Anything else?
Q Has the President had any conversations lately with President Fox about the situation in Mexico?
MR. SNOW: I'm not aware of any. I do not think that he has had -- there are no foreign leader calls today. I think his last conversation with President Fox was a few weeks ago. I think it was right after the original announcement of election results.
Q And Tony, one more thing, the Joe Lieberman election, the primary is today. How closely is the President watching that race. And is he concerned at all that if Lieberman loses the primary, he would lose a supporter of the Iraq war in the Senate?
MR. SNOW: I think the President is going to stay out of the business of trying to characterize what goes on in a Democratic primary. But I think it's safe to say that there are several Democratic primaries that are of interest around the country, and people are keeping a close eye on, and the President is one of them.
All right? Thanks, guys.
END 12:25 P.M. CDT