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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 22, 2007
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
10:20 A.M. EST
MR. SNOW: Good morning, hope you all had a good weekend. Here is a quick run-through on the President's schedule. He is at Camp David right now; he's had normal briefings through the morning. At 12:05 p.m. there will be a phone call to the March for Life participants. At about 1:15 p.m. he will return to the White House and he will continue speech preparation and do some practicing today at the White House, in anticipation and preparation for State of the Union.
Q So it's all done?
MR. SNOW: No, still working on it. I know that he's done some edits this morning, and still working through it. My guess is that there will be some revisions today and probably some tomorrow. But at this point, it's more in the form of polishing up.
MR. SNOW: Better wait until we finish doing the tweaks.
MR. SNOW: Forty-plus.
Q Have you seen it?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Is it any good?
MR. SNOW: Yes, of course it's good. (Laughter.)
Q Does it have anything new in it?
MR. SNOW: Yes, it does.
Q What's the best part?
Q Really? I mean --
MR. SNOW: You know, it's difficult to say. It's like looking in a drawer full of diamonds. (Laughter.)
Q Has anything changed drastically in the version that you saw before the weekend, or after the weekend?
MR. SNOW: "Drastically"? No.
Q In terms of emphasis? I mean, is there --
MR. SNOW: No.
Q -- increased emphasis on Iraq? Is there --
MR. SNOW: No, it's really, kind of, the portions -- the way in which the subject matter is laid out has been pretty consistent through the drafts.
Q There's a number of CEOs who are in town pushing for mandatory caps on carbon emissions. Is the President willing to talk to them? Does he feel out of step with this prevailing opinion?
MR. SNOW: No, I think it's important to let the President go ahead and have his say at the State of the Union. As we have said, there are no -- there has been some talk about, sort of, binding economy-wide carbon caps in the speech, but they are not part of the President's proposal. I'm not going to go and announce to you what the President's proposal is, but it's worth saying that the President has always believed, when it comes to climate change, that the best way to achieve reductions is through innovation and to figure out ways to come up with energy sources that are going to meet our economy's constant demand for energy, and at the same time, do it in a way that's going to be friendly for the environment.
Q With the President's approval ratings as low as they are, with so much attention focused on Iraq, how concerned are you that most of the other stuff will be background noise, white noise, nobody is really going to pay much attention?
MR. SNOW: Well, if you take a look at what Americans care about -- things like health care -- they care about it. Americans want a system that's going to be more patient-friendly and that's going to meet their needs. The President will talk about that. When you ask about health care, that's clearly important. You ask about education, always important -- you're a parent and you know. Immigration has been an issue of considerable concern within this country.
In other words, the President is going to address the areas that are foremost concern for Americans -- energy and energy security.
Q I don't doubt that he's going to address them and I don't doubt that they're important to Americans. What I'm wondering about is, is he compromised at this point to an extent to which he can do anything about them?
MR. SNOW: What's interesting is the President is going to offer some bold proposals that Congress could, in fact, enact, and in the process make itself look good and, more importantly, do the people 's business. So George W. Bush as a President is not somebody who is going to cease to be bold because there has been -- because right now people are concerned about the progress of the war. Instead he understands his obligation as Commander-in-Chief is to go ahead forthrightly big problems and come up with solutions that not only are going to have political appeal, but they're also going to be effective in making life better for Americans.
When you have a Democratic Congress that came in two weeks ago saying, we want to get things done, we've got some offers that they're going to be pretty good for them.
Q Over the weekend we just had the third worst day in the war in terms of U.S. casualties, and then today I think there were 70 people killed in Baghdad. Is the President going to talk about the extent, the increase in violence and what can be done about it?
MR. SNOW: Well, he has talked about it. And the President also noted the other day that what's really going on is that you can expect as there is push-back that there is going to be some increase in violence. But on the other hand, what's been going on, on the ground -- and you've seen the Prime Minister being more assertive when it comes to dealing with militias; you've seen the Prime Minister being more assertive when it comes to political reconciliation -- the benchmarks and the kinds of things that people have identified as absolutely necessary to the long-term progress of democracy in Iraq the Maliki government has been addressing.
We do not yet have the Iraqi brigades into Baghdad, but they are on the move. We do not have the U.S. battalions deployed, but they will be ready to support when the Iraqis get there. So I think what you're seeing is a clear signal that the Maliki government is very serious about addressing, on a non-sectarian basis, the problem of those who are trying to operate outside the law.
You also understand, Terry, that they know that the media will focus on body counts and will focus on large acts of violence because that for the terrorists is a victory. But what is a defeat are some of the things going on behind the scenes right now in terms of the political reconciliation efforts, in terms of you saw Muqtada al Sadr saying to the members of his party and the council representatives, get back to doing business. It's one of the reasons why they had a quorum yesterday in the meeting of council representatives.
So we're at the beginning stages now of this new way forward. And, certainly, what we have seen on the part of the Iraqi government are affirmative actions in terms of security and in terms of political reconciliation that I think satisfy conditions that members of both parties wanted to see.
Q Will he urge Congress to support the troop increase and his policies, rather than vote against him, as is being --
MR. SNOW: I think I'll let -- we'll let the President have his say tomorrow night.
Q Tony, is Iraq the most important issue facing the U.S.?
MR. SNOW: Bret, it's hard to say. Iraq certainly is the central front in the war on terror. If you take a look at the country that's bracketed by Iran and Syria, a nation where a successful democracy would send a very powerful signal, including to people in Iran and Syria who would love to see democracies in their own countries, that's -- it's a vital concern. But Americans also have a lot of other domestic concerns. And as a President one tries, or the President is trying to go ahead and to take a good, thoughtful, tough look at problems that aren't going to go away, no matter who is President, and say, as President, it is the obligation of the Chief Executive to take a look at all the business before the American people and address it.
Q So after the speech on Iraq, will the President -- talking about the balance that Jim mentioned -- spend less time dealing with this major issue of Iraq and more time on domestic issues?
MR. SNOW: There will be a significant amount of time -- again, you guys can get out the stopwatches tomorrow night. There will be a significant amount of time devoted not just to Iraq, but to the war on terror and to the way in which we plan to move forward in addressing it.
Q Change of topic real quick. Any comment on the Chinese situation with the shoot-down of that satellite? And what's the latest as far as hearing from China about that?
MR. SNOW: No, nothing. Nothing more than what we've had.
Q What does the President think of Hillary Clinton's announcing that she's running for President?
MR. SNOW: He's not commenting on it. We'll let Democrats go ahead and proceed with their business.
Q Do you think that -- you know, she may be the first one to say that she'll go through both the general and primary season without using federal funding. Is it time for, perhaps, the government to end federal financing of campaigns?
MR. SNOW: Well, that's not something that will be addressed in the State of the Union address. If members of Congress wish to take it up, they may.
Q On State of the Union, then, a lot of what you're talking about, bold proposals, all of these are issues that the President has talked about many, many times before. Is he coming up with ideas that he's never thought of before?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, you'll have to wait and see. We've already shown you a bit of what we're talking about with health care. And I think -- that is a proposal that is really bold and offers an opportunity to open up the health care system in a way that it's never had before to Americans to have programs that are going to meet their individual needs, and also to people who are not presently insured, to get them access to the system.
Q At its final day of meeting, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution denouncing the campaign, the bipartisan campaign, the Finance Reform Act, and called on Congress to completely deregulate the funding of political campaigns. Is the President aware of the resolution? And what does he --
MR. SNOW: I don't know if he's aware of it, and I've had no conversation with it, and I don't even want to fake it. Again, that's something that is not going to appear in the State of the Union address, and if members want to be taking it up on both parties, they can do so.
Q One other question, Tony. Yesterday, Serbia had its election and it appears as though the radical party was the top vote-getter and may well be in the government. This, of course, is the party, the nationalist, headed by followers of the late Slobodan Milosevic, its leader is awaiting the War Crimes Tribunal right now. How does the U.S. feel about this party being in the government of Serbia?
MR. SNOW: Well, that's a very good question. That now becomes the -- that is asterisk material because, believe it or not, I had not prepared for the Serbian election today. So we'll put it -- we'll attach an answer as an asterisk to the transcript.(*)
Q In her announcement on Saturday, Senator Clinton talked about finding the right end, as she called it, to the war in Iraq. Does the administration feel like it knows what she thinks the right end is?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to comment -- we're just not going to engage on Senator Clinton's discussions of a potential campaign.
Q Are we building the largest embassy in the world in Baghdad, and also permanent military bases?
MR. SNOW: "The largest embassy"? Again, Gordon --
Q In the world.
MR. SNOW: -- I'm unaware of embassy construction plans, so I'm afraid you've got me totally off balance on that one. I'll try to find out. And as we've always said when it comes to military, we will work with the Iraqis and respond to their requests.
Q Tony, on the attacks over the weekend, what --
Q Have they asked us to have a --
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to get into that. Go ahead.
Q What? That's a nonsense answer.
MR. SNOW: Well, it's -- I won't characterize the question. Go ahead.
Q On the attacks over the weekend, the attack in Karbala, which was complex, killed five American soldiers, wounded three, and they attacked one of these outposts, which is exactly the kind of thing you're trying to set more up. Are you concerned about that, because it seems the forces are far more vulnerable in places like that? Are you concerned about the force protection since that's the major part of your plan?
MR. SNOW: I think if you want to talk about specifics on force protection and that kind of thing, if you want a technical answer --
Q I don't want a technical answer. I don't want a technical answer. Is there concern because what happened over the weekend was directed at something that's very much central to the plan?
MR. SNOW: As the President has said all along, first, you know you're going to engaging people and there's going to be violence because they're not going to go quietly into the night. Secondly, force protection is a key element, as he has described -- he described in the speech to the nation a week ago, so absolutely right. We want to do everything we can to -- number one, to develop the capability of the Iraqis so they take the lead; number two, to provide proper and appropriate support to hasten the time when the Iraqis can stand on their own; third, to make sure that we have adequate protection for our forces and continue to do what we can to provide for force protection; and number four, send a very clear signal to those trying to act outside the law, you're not going to win.
And therefore in many cases -- and we're seeing some evidence of this, people will have to make the calculation -- it would be better for me to operate within the political process rather than to operate violently on the margins.
Q Tony, on the State of the Union, you said the President is breaking tradition in doing themes more so than following the budget. Is he going to break tradition in other aspects as it relates to tomorrow's night's speech? And, also, what traditionally will he hold onto?
MR. SNOW: My goodness. Let me -- rather than -- that is one of those where it's vague enough where I'm not sure exactly what boxes you want me to check. Let me just put it this way --
Q Let's talk about celebrities in the box. Will he have celebrities in the box, people in the box --
MR. SNOW: Just sit back and wait and you will see the speech. What he will be doing is concentrating primarily on key issue areas. We've outlined those before. And he will go in depth, and there will be other opportunities at other dates to talk about other elements within the President's budget that are going to be of interest to people.
But it is important, when you have these big issues -- health care is a big issue, energy is a big issue, education is a big issue, immigration is a big issue -- all of which are kind of top of mind for Americans, it's worth spending a little more time to walk through how the President analyzes the problem and how he proposes to try to address them, and to reach out to members of Congress and say, we can do this. We can work together on these things. So there's going to be a lot of that. And of course, he will be talking about Iraq and the war on terror.
Q Tony, do you honestly think now that with the bickering back and forth, and Friday, the word "poisonous" used, do you think that there is now an air of unity in this -- inside the Beltway?
MR. SNOW: I think what we're having is a period of adjustment where a party that has been in opposition for a dozen years now finds itself in a position of leadership and the responsibilities are different. And we are offering an opportunity for leaders on the Democratic side, as well as on the Republican side, to step up to the plate and to deal responsibly and creatively with real problems that Americans care about. So we'll have to see how people respond. Again, as you know, we're still in the early stages, and I think it is -- we continue to reach out to Democrats because we think it's good policy and good politics.
Q The President, in the State of the Union -- I mean, in the radio address, mentioned health care. He did it in the context of tax reform. So does that mean his proposal will be revenue-neutral?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q And if that's the case, how does that differ in any way to the congressional approach to pay-as-you-go, where any additional revenue cost --
MR. SNOW: Well, this is not -- it fits within pay-go guidelines.
Q Really? If there is no --
MR. SNOW: Yes, if it's revenue-neutral.
Q So there is -- so it's tax increase to pay for the revenue increase for the other --
MR. SNOW: Well, again, we will let you analyze how this whole thing works, but it is revenue-neutral.
Q One other question. On this event later today, with respect to CEOs and global warming, one of the arguments being made by them is that unless you have a mandatory cap that everyone follows and there's a level playing field, then it would be difficult to achieve greenhouse gas emissions, and it would basically put them at a competitive disadvantage.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, we will certainly be here to see what they have to say and to propose. And at the same time, the President's proposals, I think, address in a comprehensive and realistic way concerns about greenhouse emissions, and also their primary sources.
Q Tony, thank you. Two questions. Section 220 of the Senate Bill 1 would require grassroots causes, even bloggers, who communicate to 500 or more members of the public on policy matters to register and report quarterly to Congress, as lobbyists are required, with an amendment to require one year in jail if someone knowingly or willingly fails to file a report. And my question: Since Republican Senators McConnell, Kyl, Cornyn and Bennett have co-sponsored a bill to remove this section, will the President veto this if their amendment is defeated?
MR. SNOW: Well, Les, why don't we wait and see what comes before the President. We will issue veto threats when bills become ripe enough. There's a vigorous debate about this. And there are some reports also that that language has been mooted.
So I think let's wait and see what Congress has to propose, and then we'll get back to you with a statement of administration policy.
Q Thank you. With regard to today's March for Life, does the President believe that the positions of Catholic Senators Kennedy, Collins, Dodd, Biden, Kerry, Mikulski and Leahy and Speaker Pelosi on this issue, and their not being ex-communicated, means that Catholic Church opposition to all but partial-birth abortion is now as absent as the one-time voluble church opposition to contraception? (Laughter.) Do you want me to repeat it?
MR. SNOW: No. The President is not going to sit around and engage in the chin-pulling exercise of trying to determine how people may, in fact, interpret Catholic dogma. His belief on the sanctity of life is well known.
Q Does he think that the senators, though -- I mean, all of these Catholic senators have refused to support this right-to-life thing.
MR. SNOW: Les, I will permit you to stand in judgment of their Catholicism. The President has already made his views known.
Q Tony, you say that the health care plan is revenue-neutral, but he is proposing raising taxes on some Americans. And isn't that what he blasted Democrats for wanting to do all during the mid-term election campaign?
MR. SNOW: Take a look at the proposal. Once you've been fully briefed on the proposal, we'll be happy to talk about the characterizations.
Q Maybe you can explain this to me. If you tax company-provided health insurance as taxable income, even with the standard deduction, isn't that going to raise more than just 20 percent of people's taxes?
MR. SNOW: Again, there's the prospect that under the President's plan, more than 100 million people are going to pay less for health insurance, and millions more who are not presently insured will have access to it. So as we march through this, we feel pretty confident. And, frankly, we've taken a very conservative approach to the impacts of this.
You also have to keep in mind that when you get market forces at work, you get surprises -- and they're pleasant surprises. For instance, with the prescription drug benefit, I believe the original projections were fairly high. I think the Democrats were talking about -- I may be wrong on this, I mean, precisely -- but a $37-a-month premium. And now it's down in the low $20s.
MR. SNOW: What's now happening is that there's vigorous competition. You have major retailers talking about how they can provide prescriptions for less. You have suddenly a concern about what patients want. People are saying, hey, my pharmacy is more friendly than your old pharmacy, come here.
You're seeing a patient-oriented system that is less costly, more responsive and more effective than the old one, and cheaper -- cheaper than people had anticipated. Once you get market forces at work, you always have this -- think about consumer electronics, when is the last time a new generation of consumer electronics was more expensive and of worse quality, or was able to do less? The answer is, they always get better. They also provide more and people assume that that is going to be the case.
Why not have the same incentives at work when it comes to making us healthier?
Q Tony, I believe it's been estimated that this proposal could increase coverage for approximately 5 million people. But there are 47 million uninsured people, so the argument is that --
MR. SNOW: Again, Paula, we will --
Q -- (inaudible) 42 million others still uninsured?
MR. SNOW: It's addressed in there, and I'll wait until we get the full speech out.
Q Does the President believe in this day and age that a woman can be elected President of the United States?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Tony, Iran decided to block IAEA inspectors from entering the country. How concerned are you about this? And does this require further action from the U.N. Security Council?
MR. SNOW: Well, we have seen the press reports. We still don't have confirmation. We're taking a look at the reports. We've made it very clear what we think the Iranians need to do. And, furthermore, we're not only -- there's a Chapter 7 Resolution that's been adopted by the U.N. Security Council, but more importantly, what the United States has said to the Iranians is we can do a lot of things that are really going to make life better for your people. And we continue also to offer that as something that if the Iranians want peaceful civil nuclear power, we are perfectly happy to be able to provide it and in the process also to provide some of the other things that the Iranian people want and deserve in terms of economic, cultural and other cooperation.
Q Tony, can you just scratch just below the surface of this health care thing and just lay it out just a little bit? The tax deduction --
MR. SNOW: Rather than trying to do that -- we're going to get you briefings on this. And we're going to get you detailed briefings if not later today, early tomorrow. Rather than getting into the weeds, I'm giving you a general prospectus on it. But you'll get all the details.
Q But, Tony, your early fact sheet says health insurance would be considered taxable income.
MR. SNOW: That is correct.
Q And that means some people who are over the line would be paying more taxes for their health insurance.
MR. SNOW: They might be -- some people would be paying more for health insurance.
Q And that's a raise in income tax.
MR. SNOW: Well, on the other hand, what you also have -- that's a static way of looking at a situation where you're going to have dynamic effects. So people will be able to make choices. You will have the opportunity to make choices about what you get in terms of health care. There will be market forces for people to provide, within certain barriers, programs that are tailored to individual needs. So, again, I would suggest taking a look at it. But, yes, some people would pay more.
Q Tony, I'm going to ask you to step outside of your Republican boundaries for a moment and give your guesstimation or estimation as to why there's so much hype right now for these Democratic presidential candidates.
MR. SNOW: Well, I'll tell you, April, you and I can have that as a private conversation. But as the President's spokesman, I'm not going to get into it.
Q No, no, no, but it comes at a time when the nation showed -- the midterm elections, they were voting against the war in Iraq, against -- changing the course. And now you have people who are talking about changing the course, and I just wanted to get your understanding --
MR. SNOW: It's the early stages of a presidential campaign -- that's all. If you take -- go back again, April, and look at the things that were top of mind, and it was things like corruption and domestic issues that still ranked higher. The war was clearly a concern, but there were other matters that were of co-equal concern to voters. And now we're approaching that time where people in both parties are trying to assemble their organizations, raise money and get some press. And some are being quite effective at it.
Q Does the President think that -- to follow up this brilliant question over here -- does the President think a woman may be elected within the next 22 years?
MR. SNOW: I don't think the President is the type to pull out the crystal ball. I was asked a question, do we think a woman could be elected President: the answer is, yes.
Q Do you have any comment from the White House regarding the extradition of about 15 drug smugglers from Mexico (inaudible), and could you tell us if you expect any more extraditions?
MR. SNOW: No, I can't. That I would send over to the Department of Justice. That's the appropriate venue for asking about that.
Q Is Katrina going to be mentioned at all, Katrina recovery in the State of the Union?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'll fend off questions about particular items. We've given you large, general areas the President will discuss.
Q Is he satisfied with the pace of the rebuilding?
MR. SNOW: The President, I think is -- look, we want all of the areas struck by Katrina to be rebuilt as quickly and effectively as possible, and we continue to do what we can to assist local officials as they pursue that goal.
Q So briefings -- the briefings you said, we might have one today, might have one tomorrow, about the content --
MR. SNOW: We're working out a briefing schedule. We'll get back to you later today.
Q Would there be a couple, or on a couple different topics, or will there be --
MR. SNOW: Well, we're working on a health care one specifically, but there will be others.
Q Travel Wednesday?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q News conference Thursday?
MR. SNOW: No. There will be one soon, but not Thursday.
Q Where he is going?
MR. SNOW: Where is he going? Have we announced for Thursday?
MR. SNOW: Yes, I think Delaware.
Q Delaware, and Missouri on Thursday.
MR. SNOW: Yes, thank you. Delaware Wednesday, Missouri Thursday.
Q You were asked what draft number?
MR. SNOW: Let me just say we're in double digits.
Q That's a pretty wide range.
MR. SNOW: That gives you --
MR. SNOW: It's not high double-digits.
Q Thank you.
MR. SNOW: Thank you.
END 10:47 A.M. EST
* We congratulate the people of Serbia on a well-run democratic election. The preliminary outcome reflects the fact that the parties dedicated to democratic reform and a modern European future for Serbia outpolled the so-called ultranationalist party. Obviously, results have to be finalized and then the various Serbian political parties need to form a governing coalition. So we're hopeful and we'll see what the political landscape looks like over the next several weeks.