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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 9, 2006
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:23 P.M. EST
MR. SNOW: All right, welcome. Bill Plante just passed on some sad news. We note with sadness the passing of Ed Bradley, who died earlier today. Our thoughts and prayers not only with Ed's family, but all of his colleagues at CBS. Sad news, and with that, I'll go to questions.
Q Dan Bartlett said today there's a natural attrition after an election. What do you expect in the way of other people leaving after Defense Secretary Rumsfeld?
MR. SNOW: Terry, I don't know of anybody who has announced or shared plans to go. I think Dan is making the obvious point: you've got six years, and it's been amazing, because you've got a lot of people who have been here six years, but I honestly don't know of anybody. I'm aware of no plans for departures. Not aware of any plans for changes in personnel. Obviously, as we do come aware of them or become aware of them, we'll let you know. But don't know anything.
Q Tony, can you give us a readout on this morning's meeting with the Republican leadership, the mood and what they focused on, and -- after Tuesday night?
MR. SNOW: Well, I think the mood was, they all wished that they held both houses. It was really pretty businesslike. I wasn't in the breakfast, but I did have an opportunity to meet with the four leaders -- actually, I met with -- who was in there -- I did not see Congressman Hastert, but I saw Senators Frist and McConnell, and I saw Congressmen Boehner and Blunt. They realize that they've got to roll up their sleeves and do some work.
On the other hand, the readout I got from the meeting is it was primarily focused on the lame-duck session. We have got a Vietnam free trade agreement that we want to get done, an Indian civil nuclear agreement that's of great importance, obviously the budget matters, the outer continental shelf, nominations of John Bolton, and also if possible Bob Gates, and the Terrorist Surveillance Act.
So those are kind of the items they discussed, and the President also made it clear that we do have opportunities now to work with Democrats on a lot of these issues. The important piece of business -- and he reiterated this in the Cabinet meeting a few minutes ago -- is let's work as aggressively as we can with Democrats and Democratic leadership to try to get important pieces of business done, but on the other hand, don't trim back on your principles.
Q Tony, on the Secretary Rumsfeld resignation, can you talk about the conversation the President had on November 1st, with various reporters. He told one of them, he was asked, "So you're expecting Rumsfeld -- Secretary Rumsfeld to stay on for the rest of your time here?" President Bush replied, "Yes, I am." Was that an honest statement?
MR. SNOW: Well, let me put it this way: At that point, although there had been conversations about how to proceed at the Pentagon, there had been no job offer to Bob Gates, there was no clear sense that there would be a resignation pending, and therefore, would you expect the President to say, don't know, let me get back to you, trying to think that one through. The fact is, at that point, that reflected his thinking. But on the other hand, there were conversations going on.
You need to understand that at a time of war, and also on the political -- I mean, it was a very good question for which there was not a simple and easy answer. And let me just continue, because the President made the determination that he simply was not going to let anybody get the impression that he was going to swap a decision for votes. And therefore, at that point, he had not talked with Bob Gates, he had not had a letter of resignation from Don Rumsfeld, had absolutely no confirmation about what was going to happen in the future. That is the answer he gave.
And in so doing, what he did is he made it impossible for people to try to turn that into a political football, and also the President simply is not going to allow his operation, his decisions as Commander-in-Chief, to be used in a political manner because it sends the wrong message, primarily to soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marine, National Guards, and Reserves, because they need to know that the Commander-in-Chief is doing his job, not on the basis of polls, but on the basis of what is best in terms of national security.
Q Yesterday he cited political concerns. He didn't want to inject that -- I understand all --
MR. SNOW: That's what I just said.
Q But you mentioned the troops on the ground. I don't think he mentioned the troops in the answer.
MR. SNOW: Well, he has mentioned it. And at least -- let me put it this way, Greg, because the conversations he's had with us is, it's an important signal to Capitol Hill, to the government of Iraq, to our military forces, and also to the terrorists, that you can't jerk the President around on the basis of politics, period.
Q Cut and dried answer -- I mean cut and dried question, Was it an honest statement?
MR. SNOW: It was an honest statement.
Q Tony, I know you're not given to getting on the couch about these things, but I've been watching the President --
MR. SNOW: But I would expect it.
Q I'm just wondering what's the President's mood in the last 36 hours? He's been given this -- what many people are interpreting as a rebuke. How is he handling this? What are you seeing?
MR. SNOW: Look, he's handling it the way he handles all these things. I mean, I was up watching election returns. The President is not a guy who's -- I'm afraid he doesn't get on the couch, Jim. What he does is -- the statement he's made many times is, "What it is is what it is." And what you have to do is now figure out how you're going to proceed.
Q But what it is is a rebuke.
MR. SNOW: No. What it is is it's an election return, Jim. And elections -- the President understands, especially in six terms [sic] of presidency. The message in the election return is you're going to have a Democratic House and we'll see what happens in the Senate. But the other things is that as President you figure out the best way to move forward with the things that are important to you. And, I've mentioned many times, the President is going to be absolutely aggressive on making sure that these last two years are years in which we do accomplish a lot of the people's business.
Q Tony, isn't the message -- is the message the people have spoken? This was largely a referendum on his policy in Iraq. We don't like the policy in Iraq comes the message back from the voters. So he's having to absorb this rejection.
MR. SNOW: Well, no. The President doesn't absorb a rejection. A couple of things: In ten of the races, you had members of the House of Representatives on the Republican side who have been tainted by scandal. I'm not sure Iraq played a big role in those races. The voters said, you know what, we expect you to come to Washington and do the people's business. And when people lose sight of that, voters tend to remind them of the priorities. That's 10 seats right there.
Q You're saying it's a lot closer than it looks --
MR. SNOW: No, I'm just telling you that there are a lot of different items at play. If you take a look at the exit polls, it was interesting, because Iraq ended up finishing third in the exits, in terms of people's stated concerns. As a matter of fact -- the first one was corruption, and the way in which people in Washington comported themselves. But no question that Iraq is part of it. But the President also is firmly committed to winning in Iraq, period. And you don't -- as he said many times, public opinion polls cannot be used as a gauge as Commander-in-Chief, because at some point, in future generations, if you allow that situation to become one in which you have created an unprecedented launching pad for a terrorist state, people are going to say, why didn't you act?
Now what's interesting, Jim, and this is going to be -- I think there's an opportunity for some really good and important bipartisan work here, because Democrats have been complaining about Iraq. Okay, now is the chance for both parties to work together, working toward victory. And victory would be an Iraq that can, in fact, stand up on its own as a prosperous democracy and an ally in the war on terror.
And so I'm not -- see, one of the questions that never showed up was, do you think we should leave short of victory. That's an interesting poll question, never really asked. The President has already said, as a matter of national security and in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief, you have to make sure that you finish the job.
Q Can I follow one more on that? Is there anything to be made of the fact that a member of the Iraq Study Group is now the nominee to be the Secretary of Defense?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q Any coordination there at all?
MR. SNOW: No, and I'm glad you asked it. No. That's an important thing to note, because -- and I am told -- I was not party to the discussions -- that there was no conversation about conclusions or what the Iraq Study Group was going to come up with, this in the conversations with Bob Gates. The members of the Iraq Study Group --
Q He's never asked Bob Gates, so, what have you all been talking about?
MR. SNOW: I don't think so, and I'll tell you why. He's been very clear about the importance that that -- those deliberations and that advice remain confidential and independent. We've had this conversation before with regard to Jim Baker.
The President, to repeat for the umpteenth time, wants to get fresh eyes on the problem, whether it be with the Secretary of Defense or with outsiders who come in, and the vast majority of outsiders who come in to talk about Iraq are people who disagree with him. You want to find new angles and new insights that enable you to prosecute not only the military side more effectively and vigorously, but also deal with the economic and the political realms.
So it would not be, actually, out of character. In fact it would be in character for the President to respect the independence of the Iraq Study Group, because the moment that gets drawn into question it compromises whatever they may be wanting to do. We want to make sure that, again, fresh eyes, fresh recommendations. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.
Q What is this -- these four principles that he'll never budge on?
MR. SNOW: Well, the President has made it pretty clear, for instance, that he believes in tax cuts. And there are a number of others. But what I don't want to be doing right now is sort of anticipating --
Q That's not a principle, per se. What are the principles that guide his --
MR. SNOW: Well, again, these things will become manifest in the fullness of time, Helen. As we begin to debate certain issues, you will find that there will be discussions of these things.
Q Also, why does he think this mandate from the voters doesn't mean to pull out?
MR. SNOW: Because I don't think that's a majority opinion. But furthermore --
Q You don't think so.
MR. SNOW: -- you know what, Helen, what he sees is, he was hired to be Commander-in-Chief, and it's his job to tend to national security. And he's willing -- and he's willing to take whatever political hits come if it means doing -- if he has to choose between doing his job properly and being popular, he's going to do the job properly to save American lives not only now, but for future generations, and also to make the Middle East a safer region and a more secure region, and one that is going to be more reliable, especially in terms of the ongoing battle and the conversation there about what is the proper way to proceed -- democracy or terror. And as you know --
Q Is every Iraqi a terrorist?
MR. SNOW: No, absolutely not. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of Iraqis are people who want to breathe free.
Q Who brought the terrorists in, so called, and why wouldn't the Iraqis protect themselves against terrorists?
MR. SNOW: Well, Iraqis -- there are a number of things going on, Helen, and some people are terrorists, and you also have sectarian factions within Iraq. But one thing is clear, al Qaeda had made it its known desire to try to foment friction between factions within Iraq, and Prime Minister Maliki is doing his very best to work on creating peace and shared interest, economic and otherwise, in the political system and economic system, between all different groups in Iraq. That is the challenge of democracy, and it's one we're going to meet.
Q Are there other decisions in government the President has put off until the -- after the elections so they wouldn't be considered political?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q And why isn't it less than straightforward to say a week before the election that Secretary Rumsfeld would stay through the remainder of the administration when the President knew that wasn't the case?
MR. SNOW: Well, he didn't know it was the case because he didn't have a suitable -- what he considered a suitable replacement and hadn't had the final conversations with Don Rumsfeld. You find yourself -- if you create an answer that leaves you in limbo, I'm not sure that you serve your national interest very well.
Q Are there other decisions that he's --
MR. SNOW: No. No.
Q The President said in the Rose Garden that he's open to any and all suggestions and ideas on Iraq. Does this mean that he's now willing to consider a change of strategy as well as tactics?
MR. SNOW: No. I mean, again, the strategy is clear. Any and all ideas that are going to lead us toward that independent, free-standing Iraq. In other words, if the idea is an Iraq run by al Qaeda, sorry. That's off the table, not interested. If you want an Iraq riven by violence with outsiders coming in, that's off the table. What the President is interested in is a free, democratic, and stable Iraq that is able to be an ally in the war on terror.
That's unchangeable. Ways to get there -- open for all suggestions.
Q But this is a wartime President who has lost his congressional majority. Now what message does he take from the voters on Iraq? He must take something.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, you guys have this as an election about one issue. I would encourage you to go back and look at the various campaigns. I mean, you have every -- you have a wide variety of issues that came into play. You know -- a statement by Senator Allen ended up being a key issue in that particular campaign as well as a campaign commercial. You had various things that people said on the stump.
In a lot of cases the determinative issue was not Iraq. But nevertheless I don't want to give the impression that we don't understand that there is not only concern about Iraq but a desire to get out of there as quickly as possible. We agree, but it has to be under circumstances that are going to leave America better off and the world better off.
And I think -- I think you're going to find the Democrats and the Republicans do agree on that. And it's going to be interesting because now Democrats are stakeholders in this. They have said -- and I think it's right, proper, and welcome -- that they want to work constructively with this White House on a wide range of issues. This is one of them, and that's why the President said he's open for any suggestions about how to get this done more effectively.
Q Tony, I know the President is trying to focus on bipartisanship now, and he was asked about Nancy Pelosi's comments yesterday, and he said it wasn't his first rodeo. But is he at all disappointed in the tone and tenure of some of these campaigns, taking a look back at how negative they were? He himself said, you know, Democrats, the party of FDR and Harry Truman have become "the party of cut and run." I mean is there -- does he feel like he bears some responsibility as head of his party?
MR. SNOW: No. The President understands politics. Perhaps you've noticed that this occurs during election cycles. But you know what, the partisan temperature has gotten too hot here in Washington over a period of time, and we do have an opportunity to return to a prior period where you still had big, vigorous disagreements, but at the end of the day, you could still acknowledge that the people with whom you're disagreeing are respectable, likeable, good people.
And part of democracy is fighting through and trying to get the best way to solve problems. And I think maybe changing the tone -- look, the parties are going to disagree. That's why they belong to different parties. But on the other hand, if you can restore a sense of mutual respect, that's a good thing. And I think it's overdue.
Q Tony, do you have -- this week there's been some back and forth about what the President said when and what happened -- is there any more detail you could offer in terms of the chronology of the Rumsfeld decision? I think the general message yesterday was there have been discussions for a couple of months with the Secretary, and then in the final weeks it started bearing down closer to the idea of a resignation. Gates appears at some point. Could we get some more specificity? Perhaps that would clear up some of the debate.
MR. SNOW: No.
No. I mean I just -- I've given you about all I know, and you've got a lot that falls within the realm of internal deliberations. I was --
Q That's all you know?
MR. SNOW: I don't know a whole lot more.
Q Can you clarify what is known then?
MR. SNOW: I think it's been said. You pretty much summarized it, which is the President and the Defense Secretary meet regularly, and they talk about how best to proceed in Iraq. And I'll go back to the comments that the President made yesterday, because it was summarizing an observation the Defense Secretary made. And I think this gives you, the sense, again, of the readout that I've gotten of the meetings.
Look, these are meetings where there are two people in the room -- the President and the Defense Secretary. So, he said, "I have been talking with Don Rumsfeld over a period of time about fresh perspective. He likes to call it fresh eyes. He, himself, understands that Iraq is not working well enough fast enough." And I'm told that that is a Rumsfeld formulation. So you engage in conversations about how to do this.
Let me say this: Don Rumsfeld is one of the most extraordinary Defense Secretaries in American history. He not only worked on the tough business of transformation within the Pentagon, he did so during a time of war, and did so with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was in that office for six years, which may be six of the most trying years that any Defense Secretary has ever faced. And he did an exemplary job, and the President respects him and thanks him for the service.
But there also came the conclusion that after six years, sometimes you can get so drawn in to the daily activities of what's going on that you do need to bring in somebody with a fresh perspective and a way of looking at it that allows you to turn the issue at an angle that may not have been seen before and that's why, again, we constantly invite new people in.
But the two of them had come to the conclusion -- again, this was a joint agreement, this was not -- well, it was a joint agreement. And it did, in fact, represent things that probably began as musings and became firmer as the regular consultations proceeded.
Q Last night, some of the networks showed some of the previous statements -- reminded us of previous statements the President made about the Secretary that were very firm, he's sticking through, we're hearing this from anyone we talk to --
MR. SNOW: Yes, look, he thinks --
Q What changed? What clicked, what changed? How did he get to this point from what seemed to be a very different point a couple months ago?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I think the President has great confidence in Don Rumsfeld, but also, again, it's Don Rumsfeld and the President talking about the need for fresh eyes. If you want me to give you interior deliberations, A, we don't do that, and, B, even if we did, I don't have the insights you want.
Q But even just -- we don't have to get into that, but just in terms of what changed, something changed.
MR. SNOW: Like I said, I don't know.
Q Well, when the President said he expected him to stay through the end to Terry and to Steve --
MR. SNOW: Well, again, this is a time when you do -- even though you've been talking about these things, you've not had talk of a resignation, and furthermore, you had not had the conversation with Bob Gates.
Q There was enough going on that he didn't expect him to be there at the end.
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure, look, I don't know. I just don't know, I can't help you.
Q What other statements did he make during the campaign that we should consider to be inoperative at this point because he didn't want to inject them in the middle of a campaign?
MR. SNOW: None.
Q None? They're all going to stay, they're all going to stand? They all stand up?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Because, I mean --
MR. SNOW: Let me ask you, Peter, again -- the answer is, I think what you're saying is, even though the President had made no decisions and even though there had been no conversation with Bob Gates, he should have said, I don't know, get back to me.
Q He wasn't asked if he made a decision. He was asked if he wanted him to stay until the end, and he said yes, which in fact he didn't, because he wanted to find a replacement.
MR. SNOW: No, you don't -- no, you don't know.
Q He was looking for a replacement, by his own account, at that point, and he could have answered the question, I don't do hypotheticals, which he says all the time. He could have said, I have great confidence in Don Rumsfeld, and every Cabinet Secretary serves at my pleasure.
MR. SNOW: Okay, well, we'll invite you to the next pre-brief.
Q -- this is not a very straightforward answer.
MR. SNOW: You know what? Thank you for the editorial.
Q Had he prepared for this question?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I mean --
Q I'm saying, was his answer one that he had thought about in advance, and --
MR. SNOW: You mean, for the one in the wire?
Q At the wire --
MR. SNOW: I don't think so, no.
Q Thank you. I have two questions, please. What will the President do with a new Congress, particularly with new Speaker, to get immigration reform?
MR. SNOW: I think the President believes in comprehensive immigration reform. He talked about it in the last Congress. They took a very important first step in working on border security not once but twice within the last year, and the President understands first and foremost that there are a lot of people who are concerned about having secure borders. We're going to have them.
But furthermore, the President also understands in the long run you want a system that's going to be more capable of finding out who is coming into the country, who's here illegally and who is not, who is taking jobs from American workers, which employers are improperly hiring workers, and also people who've been here for an extended period of time -- you're going to have to figure out how you -- the disposition of 11 to 12 million different cases.
All of those are unfinished business. They do not serve in lieu of or in competition with the need for border security, but in fact, in the long run, help supplement the cause of border security by giving us a firmer sense of who is here and what they are doing. And he looks forward to working with Republicans and Democrats on the issue.
Q What does the President plan to do, if anything, to ease the Mexican elect presidential position to the border fence between Mexico and the U.S.?
MR. SNOW: Well, they are meeting in just a few minutes. I'll be in there, and I'll give you a readout tomorrow.
Q Tony, to what extent is the Counsel's office or other advisors to the President preparing for the investigations that the Democrats are already discussing on any number of issues?
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure. You're going to have to ask Democrats what they intend to investigate. Then we'll tell you what -- no, I mean we don't have a war room set up where we're dialing the 800 numbers of law firms.
Q Tony, two quick questions. One, as far as this U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement is concerned, it was very important on the President's agenda in the last -- previous Congress, and how you think he will proceed now with this --
MR. SNOW: I just said, it's a priority for the lame-duck session.
Q Some of the resolutions passed in the previous Congress in the House, Indian government doesn't agree with them, so they want the new session to make some changes before they can --
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to get into that. The United States, I think we've been working closely with the Indian government, and I think the Indian government understands this is important for both countries, and we're working it through in the lame duck session.
Q Second, quickly. As far as death penalty for Saddam Hussein was concerned, Iran was praising. And the President of Iran also said this is a welcome --
MR. SNOW: Our view on the Saddam verdict is it represented a triumph in the sense that you have an independent judiciary that is applying the law firmly and fairly, and that you now have a rule of law in Iraq, rather than a rule of terror, and that it's important -- one of the impressive things is that the judges are publishing all of the evidence they used and making it clear to everybody how they arrived at that decision so that everybody in Iraq will have complete transparency -- something that we don't always have -- into the deliberations that led to the sentencing of Saddam Hussein.
Q Tony, two questions. Does the President believe that voter fraud on Election Day might be reduced by requiring each voter to produce a Social Security card, which could be quickly checked?
MR. SNOW: Les, that is not in our lane. That is a state responsibility, and the President believes in federalism.
Q Okay, all over the Internet is a photograph of U.S. college student Saad Seadi. He's wearing a plastic dynamite belt, a Palestinian Arab head dress and a toy machine gun, as he's standing right next to President Amy Gutmann, of the Ivy League's University of Pennsylvania, and she is smiling.
And my question, surely, the President, who earned two Ivy League degrees, is appalled by this behavior by President Guttman, and believes it's worse than anything done by Harvard's fired President Summers, doesn't he?
MR. SNOW: Les, sometimes you ask questions that are just unworthy of answering because a President does not engage in --
Q He went to two Ivy League colleges.
MR. SNOW: I'm aware of that.
Q Thank you.
MR. SNOW: Thank you.
Q She poses with this terrorist.
MR. SNOW: She posed with a student dressed as a terrorist.
END 12:47 P.M. EST