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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 15, 2006

Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room

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11:52 A.M. EST

MR. SNOW: Just a quick preliminary note, and then I'll be happy to take questions.

Prime Minister Maliki tomorrow is convening another national reconciliation conference for political leaders from across Iraq. As we've said many times, reconciliation is obviously one of the key challenges the government faces, so the Prime Minister has invited political leaders from inside and outside the government from throughout the country, to work on a plan to unite all Iraqis of all ethnic and sectarian groups, and to work together not only to denounce violence and terror, but to work toward those goals.

The conference is going to provide a forum for leaders to discuss issues central to the reconciliation initiative, which first was announced by the Prime Minister earlier this year. It will build on initiatives by religious and tribal leaders who have called on Iraqis to unite and isolate extremists who continue to kill and harm innocents. It also provides a forum for those who stand opposed to violence and murder, and asks them to stand up and make their voices heard.

And the U.S., of course, stands with the Prime Minister and all leaders in Iraq who move towards those goals.

Helen.

Q I have two questions. Since the President knows how many Iraqis were killed in the two months period, how many were killed in the four years of war?

MR. SNOW: Two things; I know you asked the question in the gaggle. What you had was the President had a briefing on how many people were killed in combat activities. The Iraqi government, itself, compiles its own statistics on those who have died in the violence. I am sure that there is a briefing paper that has that exact number on it, or at least their best guesses on it.

Maybe the one important number is the nearly 27 million Iraqis no longer have to live under the terror and despotism of Saddam Hussein. They have an elected government, which many of them risked their lives to vote for. It's a unity government. And one of the chief aims, as we've just pointed out, is to get rid of the violence that is claiming lives unnecessarily and to allow that democracy to move forward peacefully.

Q That isn't an answer.

MR. SNOW: Yes, it is.

Q Why? Why can't you count the number who were killed in four years?

MR. SNOW: Well, apparently it's a difficult task, and I would refer you to the government of Iraq.

Q How do you know 5,900 were killed in two months?

MR. SNOW: I'm telling you, those are the confirmed kills on the battlefield as passed on by commanders.

Q And what about going after ACLU, when you didn't go after the Hadley memo --

MR. SNOW: We do not talk about any ongoing court activities. You know that, Helen.

Q But you are going after the ACLU, aren't you?

MR. SNOW: As I said, we don't -- you could chase me around the table as many times as you want on it, but we do not comment on ongoing court activities.

Q That's not fair.

MR. SNOW: It may not be fair, but it's the policy of any administration not to talk about ongoing court activities.

Q As a former newsman --

MR. SNOW: As a former newsman, I know when to stop chasing somebody around the podium. This is a case where it has always been the standard of administrations, Democratic and Republican, that you do not talk about ongoing court issues.

Q Tony, in an interview with People Magazine, the President was asked about Mary Cheney's pregnancy, and said he's confident -- he believes she'll be a loving soul to her child. In the past, he said that he believes the ideal is that a child be raised in a married family with a man and a woman. Does he still believe that's the ideal?

MR. SNOW: Yes, he does, but he also believes that every human life is sacred and that every child that comes into the world deserves love. And he believes that Mary Cheney's child will, in fact, have loving parents.

Q Does he believe that children who are raised by gay and lesbian parents are at a disadvantage?

MR. SNOW: He does not make comments on that, and nor will I.

Q Tony, in answer to Helen's question, were you confirming that there is an investigation of the leak of the Hadley memo?

MR. SNOW: No, I wasn't. I was saying that you don't -- we don't confirm.

Q Would you?

MR. SNOW: No.

Q Can I chase you around the podium? (Laughter.)

Q Tony, as far as this Iraq war is concerned, now there is a new chief at the United Nations, South Korean foreign minister, and also now we will have a new chief at the Pentagon. Do you think the strategy will change as far as United Nations is concerned, and how you think the President will work with the United Nations now? He has still (inaudible) in the United Nations.

MR. SNOW: Well, we have expressed our desire that the United Nations work vigorously and actively to support the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to serve as a cause for democracy and peace and to work constructively in those areas. We also have a series of ongoing diplomatic efforts with the United Nations, including in the Security Council, working o the issue of Iran and the importance of getting the Iranians to suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.

So the United Nations can be an effective forum. The real challenge now is to make it more effective in dealing with the issues of trying to free people who are living under despotism, or to address situations like genocide in Darfur, and work together in the causes that, again, are reflected in the charter that first gave the United Nations life and purpose.

Wendell.

Q Does the President's decision that it was time for a change at the Pentagon mean it's time for a change in direction, or just time for a change of the figurehead?

MR. SNOW: I think anybody who was a Secretary of Defense will tell you that they are not figureheads; they run a large and very complex operation. With Bob Gates, you get somebody who provides, as the President said, a fresh set of eyes. And Bob will bring his talents and experiences to bear. He is somebody who has long experience in the intelligence community and also as an analyst. He's somebody who certainly has had an opportunity to study some of these issues -- he was, earlier, on the Baker-Hamilton commission.

And he is somebody who understands, after having had experience in prior administrations, that what you do for your President is you offer your best advice and make the best use of your knowledge and talents knowing that the President, ultimately, makes the decisions. You work in a subordinate, but always supportive, role. And anybody who works for a President understands the importance of giving it your best. And I am absolutely sure Bob will do that.

Q In his testimony on Capitol Hill, he has suggested strongly that he would offer some different advice than Donald Rumsfeld did. So should we expect a change in direction at the Pentagon?

MR. SNOW: What the President has said is we need a new way forward. Donald Rumsfeld, as you recall, had been putting together ideas about taking a fresh look at the situation in Iraq. And he has said -- in fact, I believe today he said his chief regret was we didn't do well enough fast enough.

So it is clear that there is going to be some change; but I will leave it to the President to announce whatever changes may be in the offing. On the other hand, Bob Gates certainly is going to be part of that process. He has been in all the meetings, he's been getting briefed, he is drilling down as rapidly as he can on these issues. And it's very important that he not only be fully read in on the options, but that he have his opportunity to do his own analysis and provide his own advice to the President as this process continues.

Bill.

Q So where is the President in the process of determining the new way forward? Are consultations continuing?

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q With whom?

MR. SNOW: Well, with whomever he wishes to speak with. I mean, the point is there is not -- this is not something -- the President now has got a lot of people doing a lot of work. He's going to ask them to report back to him on a number of tasks that have been assigned. This would include people at the State Department, it will include people at the Department of Defense, it will include those gathering information at the National Security Council.

There are also ongoing consultations with foreign heads of state and foreign governments. So it is not -- I cannot tell you exactly who he's going to be talking about on which day, because, frankly, that will evolve in terms of the information he thinks he needs and the people he needs to speak to.

Q Has he given them deadlines?

MR. SNOW: Not that I'm aware of.

Q And do you have anything further on when he, himself, is likely to make an announcement?

MR. SNOW: No.

Q How much of the policy will reflect Donald Rumsfeld and how much Robert Gates? Will we still see the fingerprints of Rumsfeld on this?

MR. SNOW: You've got to understand that the President is the person responsible for making the decision, so it will be the President's decision. And there will be many people who have input, so I think the most important thing is the President does, of course, accept responsibility for crafting a new way forward. And there are a lot of people who are going to be involved in the process, but, ultimately, he is the one who has to make the important decisions.

Q Has the President reached out to -- changing topic -- Senator Johnson's family at all? Is he going to --

MR. SNOW: I know as of yesterday -- and I've not checked today -- there have been a number of attempts to contact Mrs. Johnson. I do not know if they have spoken. She, obviously, has been at her husband's side for quite a while. We're very concerned. Tim Johnson is a wonderful guy -- that's my personal opinion; I know him, he lives not far from us -- and we hope and pray for his full recovery.

Q On a similar note, has the President or anyone else from the White House had contact with Governor Rounds?

MR. SNOW: No.

Q No?

MR. SNOW: No. This is a time to pray for Tim Johnson's health, and I'll leave it to others to start doing political calculations.

Q Beyond the Iraq speech, what is going to be the agenda for the administration going into the new Congress? What kind of things are you all going to propose? And will the relationship be conciliatory --

MR. SNOW: You want me to give the State of the Union right now?

Q Yes, pretty much. (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: No. We will --

Q You have some idea, though.

MR. SNOW: Yes, I do. But, again, there are appropriate times, and the press secretary, as I've said on a number of occasions, will not get the jump on the President. We are looking at a lot of things. One of the things the President did talk about today is earmark reform. Democrats have talked about that. And it's certainly something where you've seen a profusion of earmarks in recent years. There has been some trimming back this year.

But it's important that when you have a budget process, that things are not tucked in without consideration by members of Congress. So this whole issue of so-called non-transparent earmarks, things that are put in without consultation or review by other members of Congress, there ought to be a concerted effort to cut down on those and to allow people to have full confidence that everything that's in the budget, that their money is being spent in a way that reflects deliberation by members of Congress.

So there are going to be some of the issues, and we will discuss them -- you're absolutely right -- in advance of the State of the Union, but I will follow rather than to precede the President in doing so.

Q How optimistic are you the two parties will be able to get along?

MR. SNOW: That's a good question. I think it's important to give everybody the benefit of the doubt on this one, because there are a number of issues where -- go back to the first term, what did you have? You had bipartisan cooperation on No Child Left Behind, you had bipartisan cooperation on a number of initiatives, and both parties have talked about the importance of energy innovation and independence. You've had both parties talking about fiscal responsibility and discipline.

And I think now Democrats also have an opportunity to step up in developing ways of supporting efforts to create an Iraq that can defend, sustain, and govern itself. So there are a number of opportunities. Also, you've heard a number of Democrats say, this is a testing time for us; this is our chance to show that we can come through, that we can produce.

So all of that provides an opportunity for the two parties to work together, and we'll see what happens. I am not predicting that every moment is going to be rosy; I suspect we'll have some moments of partisan dispute. But on the other hand, it could be a very fruitful and productive two years, and we hope it will be.

Q Tony, the Army Chief of Staff's testimony yesterday, essentially appealing for more troops, is that a repudiation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's approach of trying to do more with less?

MR. SNOW: No, if you go back and you look at General Odierno's testimony, what he was saying is, if you have larger -- if you have greater responsibilities you're going to need more resources -- okay, that seems pretty obvious. But at this point, he is giving his testimony and I think -- I'm not going to try to counterpose it for or against anything Secretary Rumsfeld said. There's a lot of discussion now about the way forward, and the General is responding honestly to questions posed by members of Congress.

Q But when these top military officials are essentially saying the military has been stretched thin under Defense Secretary Rumsfeld --

MR. SNOW: What he was saying is in the context of if you are going to have -- I believe there was talk of surges and other things, and if you were going to be demanding more troops, you're going to need more troops. And if you're going to have expanded missions, you may need more equipment, which seems to me to reflect the way things work.

Q Since we're out of Schlitz now --

MR. SNOW: "Out of Schlitz"?

Q "Out of Schlitz" was the line.

MR. SNOW: "Out of Schlitz"? I wasn't aware that that was part of the rations, but it's a good phrase. I'm going to have to remember it.

Q (Inaudible.)

MR. SNOW: Yes, it got by one of those big conglomerates, so it's not the same. (Laughter.)

I'm sorry, what?

Q Does he have any more specific proposals for earmark reform, or is he just complaining about it?

MR. SNOW: I think what the President is doing is laying down some benchmarks that both parties can work together to pursue.

Q Tony, many of those arguments that you just made against earmarks have also been made about the way the administration handles war spending. The Iraq Study Group was critical, said it was time for more honest questioning. Any thoughts of --

MR. SNOW: Yes, and as you've seen in the last -- on a couple of occasions this year, including most recently the Mid-Session review, we did, in fact, put in fairly sizable, what they call plug-ins, to try to create within the budget accounts. Now, we're in a complex situation here where the President is contemplating a new way forward, but we believe in transparency and it's important to have transparency in those expenditures.

Q So will we see any changes in this next budget cycle?

MR. SNOW: Well, as I said, we'll take a look at the budget, but we've certainly -- you've seen the direction in the last couple of cycles of trying to move away from emergency appropriations, but on the other hand, now we're in a situation where we're thinking about a way forward, and I don't want to prejudge exactly how that's going to work in the budget process. But I will repeat what I said: It's important that the expenditures be transparent, that people know what we're asking for and what we're going to try to use the money for.

Paula.

Q One of the agenda items next year you said is reauthorizing the leave no child behind act. Well, there is a fairly controversial report that came out today headed by former Education Secretary under this administration. Among the recommendations, it calls for mandatory college entrance exams to all public schools and universities. It also would eliminate local funding and control of public schools.

One of the criticisms of this report, as well as leave no child behind, has been that the ultimate goal of both of these would be to end federal funding of public schools and ultimately move them over to private institutions. And I'd like to get your --

MR. SNOW: Well, I haven't seen the report, so I'm not even going to comment on it. But this is an administration that has devoted unprecedented federal resources to the job of trying to improve public education. I can't go any further because -- you've at least read a precede of the report. This is the first I've heard of it. It is certainly nothing on our desk.

Q But it's also been argued that the way leave no child behind act is structured -- you have standardized testing, one size fits all testing, and as a result, children that don't happen to test or don't happen to, perhaps, learn the way this testing measures, that you end up with children failing.

MR. SNOW: There are a couple of things. First, No Child Left Behind is designed to make sure that there are education standards, those are still set by states and they craft exams. You'll have to speak to states about their particular ways of doing it. They are certainly aware of differences in learning habits. On the other hand, they also understand the importance of educational rigor, and they do not want children to be left behind under the excuse that having received inferior educations, they can rely on other explanations for why they didn't test well.

The important thing to do is to figure out the best way to teach kids so that they will have the intellectual tools, and also the educational background, that will allow them to succeed in a society where many people have a variety of careers during their lifetime. They have to have the capacity to learn over that lifetime. And so you not only have to have a body of knowledge, but also the ability to continue learning through the rest of your life, because many of us in this room have had multiple careers, and many people around the country have a series of careers during their lifetimes, and you have to have the ability to be able to adapt to that kind of an economy.

Olivier.

Q Tony, are there any plans for Governor Richardson to share the content, findings, results of the talks today with the North Koreans? And I have a separate question, as well.

MR. SNOW: I don't know that. But certainly Governor Richardson can play a very constructive role in reminding the North Koreans that they ought to return to the six-party talks and be serious about what they agreed to in the September accord, which is to go about the business of taking down their nuclear programs in exchange for a series of considerations that are very important to that government -- but even more significantly, to the North Korean people, that offer them the opportunity to have some of the basic necessities in life that they do not now enjoy.

Q And in the conversation, the telephone conversation this morning with Prime Minister Abdullah, did the President and the Prime Minister discuss the Prime Minister's warning that Christian relations -- Muslim/Christian relations are in trouble? Did that come up at all?

MR. SNOW: I do not have a readout on that. I'll have to get a readout -- Gordon, can I just -- he'll let you know what we can say about it. And if the answer is nothing, Gordon will tell you that, as well.

Q Tony, two questions. Does the President believe that Israel, which has Arab Muslims as elected members of the Knesset, is guilty of apartheid, as charged in the title of a new book by President Carter?

MR. SNOW: No.

Q WorldNet --

MR. SNOW: I finally found one I can answer. This is great. (Laughter.)

Q WorldNetDaily notes that in previous years the President has been criticized for sending out generic holiday cards at this time of the year, and thus downplaying the celebration of Christmas, a holy day celebrated by a majority of Americans. And my question: Does the President believe that the majority of America's Jews, Muslims or Hindus would be offended if the card sent by this practicing Christian President were to mention Christmas, instead of just the season, unspecified?

MR. SNOW: I don't know, Les. The thing is the President celebrates Christian -- he's made no secret of his Christian faith. He also believes in religious tolerance. And --

Q Doesn't he think that they would be tolerant of him? I mean, as a Christian President sending out a Christmas card --

MR. SNOW: Again, here's the -- you're always asking me, does the President believe, on wonderfully provocative questions that no sensible press secretary would waste time asking the President about. So the fact is that I don't have the opportunity to ask him about Christmas cards. (Laughter.)

Q Do you think that Christmas cards are a waste?

MR. SNOW: I think that on the priority list today, it's kind of far down. And I've got to ration my time in front of the President. So it's -- what the President believes is that Jesus Christ is his Lord and Savior. He also believes that in this time and age it is important to welcome the freedom of all people to worship in accordance with their faith.

Ann.

Q When the President was at the Pentagon on Wednesday, did the Army Chief of Staff tell him that the Army "will break" if they don't expand size?

MR. SNOW: That, unfortunately, I don't know because, as you know, we were not in the meeting.

Q Has the President ever been told that the Army "will break" if it isn't expanded?

MR. SNOW: No, and I'm not sure, again, that the testimony -- I'll have to go back and read the testimony again, but it sounds to me like that was in response to a change in status and change in mission. But I don't know what he's been told in all the briefings.

Q Is the size of the overall American military force part of his review in looking --

MR. SNOW: All such issues are a part of the review. I mean, there have been proposals to expand and contract, and obviously -- if you take a look, Ann, at the conversation, there have been all -- we now have a wide range from expanding to contracting the mission and the military and everything else. So all those things are certainly going to come across the desk.

Q But changing the size of the overall of the current standing Army --

MR. SNOW: As I said, I'm not going to tell you exactly what the roster of options before him may look like, but those certainly -- again, the range of discussion now is pretty broad, so I suspect each and every one of those things at some place has been reviewed.

Q Tony, can you give us, please, a little more on the President is going to sign the U.S.-India (inaudible) nuclear agreement on Monday (inaudible). Is that a big thing as far as U.S.-India relations are concerned, after signing this --

MR. SNOW: Of course it is. It's hugely important. I think it reflects not only the growing importance of India as a partner and ally with the United States, but I think we hope the growing importance of the United States also as an ally with India. You've got an expanding economy; you've got the largest democracy on the face of the Earth. It is a nation that has a democracy that accommodates a wide variety of religions and cultural groups and racial groups. And so it's very important to us that we continue to deepen our relationship with India.

Q What's the difference between what Bill Richardson is doing in North Korea and what Senator Nelson did in Damascus?

MR. SNOW: Well, number one, you have -- Bill Richardson is not acting in any official capacity and he's talking to visitors. The second thing is -- and you'll have to ask Governor Richardson about this, because, again, he's not doing official work for us -- but if you take a look at his record, it would be likely that he would be encouraging the North Koreans to abide by the six-party -- by the agreements at the six-party talks and to return in good faith. And if so, that would be in accordance with U.S. policy.

You see, the six-party talks resume Monday, and it's important that the North Koreans hear loud and clear what their responsibilities are.

Q Thank you.

MR. SNOW: All right, thanks.

END 12:16 P.M. EST