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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 9, 2007
Press Gaggle by Tony Snow
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Wichita, Kansas
9:14 A.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: I've brought Fran Townsend and Dave Paulison, as well, to answer any questions. The President will be in Greensburg today, as you know. On board, Congressman Jerry Moran, Senator Sam Brownback, Senator Pat Roberts. Obviously, we have the FEMA Director with us, as well.
What the President is going to be doing is a series of stops. We'll arrive at McConnell Air Force Base, and then helicopter to Greensburg. First, the President will -- there will be an aerial tour, and the President will be visiting Greensburg. We're leaving it a little flexible. We're going to go out and we're going to try to meet with a lot of people who have been affected and see what's going on.
There will also be a briefing with federal, state and local officials at the emergency operations center. And then we will return to the White House this evening.
Q Could I start the questioning to Director Paulison? Is the National Guard stretched too thin to deal with natural disasters in the country?
DIRECTOR PAULISON: No, not at all. We have not seen that at all. I talked to the Adjunct General in Kansas yesterday when I was down there. He said he has plenty of equipment for this disaster. I've asked probably at least 20 times, is there anything that you need you don't have; the answer is, no. And that's from the Governor, the General, the Mayor and the City Manager.
What he did say was if they had another disaster they might be short of equipment. I said, if you have another disaster you have my personal commitment that we can get equipment from other states -- like we always do; any state having two major disasters is going to run short of equipment. So we have what we call an emergency management disaster compact from all the states around the country where we share equipment from one state to another. That's a good system, it works well. It worked everything from Hurricane Andrew to Katrina to the tornadoes we had in Georgia and Alabama just recently.
MR. SNOW: It's also important with regard to this to get the facts straight, because I think there's been a narrative that equipment was not available. It was. The Governor has said so. She has said so on the record. It didn't make it into some newspapers this morning, but she said it yesterday.
Q -- available as quickly as they had --
MR. SNOW: It was immediately available. There were no shortages. This is not a case -- you've got to understand that this is not an either/or situation and that there are considerable assets on the ground. Again, Director Paulison can tell you, the National Guard has also assured the Governor and others that if -- now we're talking hypothetical situations -- but in these hypothetical situations they're going to get what they need.
But I'll tell you what; this is a situation where extraordinary measures -- FEMA was on the ground almost immediately. And to start asking questions about whether things were not available when FEMA people are literally pulling people out of the rubble is to --
Q -- a National Guard issue. And the Governor made very clear comments on this --
MR. SNOW: What you need to do is to ask the Governor, because the comments --
Q We had an interview with her.
MR. SNOW: Okay, then you better look at what she said yesterday. Because when she was asked, was there any shortage in this case, the answer was, no. What she was talking about was a -- she was talking about a buildup in the National Guard, which she has expressed concern about. The President has given the largest commitment to increasing National Guard strength in the history of this country.
So set that aside for now. Please resist the temptation to try to create a political fight because there is none. And furthermore, at least be open to taking a look at the facts on the ground and seeing the extraordinary efforts that people made to save lives. Because there is this attempt now to try to make a -- to turn it into a debate about Iraq, which is wholly separate and irrelevant to what happened in the rescue mission in this case. And as a matter of getting the reporting straight, you need to understand that these are separate issues and, therefore, this was not something -- this was not an either/or situation in which people were denied access to equipment.
Q -- in your view, in this case, was the response swift enough and complete enough, or do you see any cases where something could have been done better?
DIRECTOR PAULISON: No, the response in this particular case was absolutely phenomenal. I read a quote from the Mayor this morning who said that when he had to kick open his backdoor to get out of his house, the first person he saw was a rescue person from Wichita, helping him out the door, and the person standing behind him was somebody from FEMA. We were on the ground right away. We had a lot of homes destroyed; we started moving equipment before the Governor even asked for a declaration. I could see what they needed, so we started moving communications unit, moving staff, moving USAR people into that area before they even asked for any assistance.
MR. SNOW: I'm afraid the President wants to see you right now. So you all will have to suspend further questions for Director Paulison. The President has asked for him at the front of the cabin.
When you're done, come on back and join us.
Q Is the Governor going to be there?
MR. SNOW: She'll be with us.
Q How do you interpret her comments Monday? What do you think of them?
MR. SNOW: I suggest you take a look at the comments yesterday when she was asked directly, was there anything that you needed that you didn't get, and the answer is, no.
Q That's just this one case. What if there are four or five tornadoes that come across the Great Plains, and four or five Greensburgs -- you have to run these scenarios if you're FEMA and --
MR. SNOW: The Director just gave you the answer for that.
Q The Governor said -- that's fine, but this situation was handled -- but if we have -- it's tornado season now. What happens if there are more than one --
MR. SNOW: There are scenarios here, and they have been assured that they'll get what they need. Period.
Q Tony, what does the President get out of a trip like this?
MR. SNOW: You know what's important is -- again, you think about the situation like this; everybody woke up in Greensburg, Kansas last Friday having a town, and by Saturday morning, 95 percent of it was gone. It was a miracle, I suppose, that more people weren't killed, but it is awful that Greensburg lost 12 and had complete devastation.
And one of the things that is unique and special about the country -- this is something people have observed for centuries -- is that here in the United States we really do care. And for all the attempts to say could things have been done better, again, I would encourage you to find out what got done heroically and well, because this is an extraordinary good story.
The President is going to talk to people who are hurting, and he is there to comfort and he is there to listen, he is there to visit and he's there to assure people that they have the love and support of the American people, starting with the President.
Q Could I ask you a question about Wolfowitz? Why should we, when you defer comment to Treasury, not interpret this as the White House hanging him out to dry?
MR. SNOW: I'm glad you asked that, because what I was trying to do was make a technical point. Of course, we still fully support him. But when you start asking technical questions about what's going on with the World Bank, all I was
-- the point I was making is that Treasury runs the point on this, and that Hank Paulson, as the Treasury Secretary, is a member of the Board of Governors.
So, no, this is not hanging Paul Wolfowitz out to dry. We still support him fully, but when you want to get into the nuts and bolts, that's really where you need to go for the elucidation. So, thanks, it's an important question.
Q A quick question on Iraq. It seems like the House Democrats' plan is taking shape to fund the war in the short-term for a few months and then require a progress report before releasing more money. What's the administration's position on that?
MR. SNOW: The bill that was at least being whipped yesterday contains elements of the bill the President vetoed already, and if it were to come to his desk, it would be vetoed.
We continue to have conversations with members of the House and Senate, trying to put together something that's acceptable. But again, you take a look, there are a number of spending items, there are also some of the restrictions. Again, this is what we saw yesterday at the end of the day, at any rate. And certainly conditions that were a part of a veto message the first time are still going to be vetoed if they were to come back.
Q Make sure I'm clear on that. As you understand the bill as it's working through the process, the President would veto it?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q And what are the specific criteria that he finds objectionable?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, if you take a look, there are restrictions on funding, there are a series of -- there are restrictions on funding, and there are also some of the spending items that were mentioned in the first veto message that are still on the bill.
Q Is there anything that you would agree with in the latest bill?
MR. SNOW: At this point, we are still working to come up
-- our commitment is clear: We want the troops funded through the fiscal year. And we are working with members of both Houses and we have made our views known, and there have been very candid conversations -- and I'm not going into it -- and both sides have been respectful of one another in dealing with the content of those conversations. Josh Bolten will be meeting this morning with Senator Reid --
MR. SNOW: Yes. And he met yesterday -- or he spoke yesterday with David Obey. I don't know if it was a one-on-one. So we continue to have conversations. And what happens is ideas are going to get knocked around. But at this juncture, we are still working towards something that is going to provide funding for this fiscal year for the troops.
Q Are you surprised that the House is going ahead so quickly with another bill, given the fact that the President met last week with Pelosi, and all sides kind of pledged to kind of work together on a bill?
MR. SNOW: We think it's important to have all sides working together, and Josh is trying to work toward that end.
Q Cheney's visit to Baghdad today, what's the purpose of it?
MR. SNOW: Well -- what's the purpose of it? He's there -- he's meeting with General Petraeus, he's meeting with the Prime Minister, he's meeting with key officials in Baghdad. And one of the things he's doing is not only reiterating support, but also saying something that I think a lot of Americans realize, which is it really is time for action; we're here to help, let's get going.
Q Is there going to be kind of warnings about the political situation in the United States, how political support over here is waning?
MR. SNOW: You know, I think what you -- you've got to be careful what you try -- because you're dealing with a sovereign government that has it's own political concerns, but on the other hand, I'm sure the Vice President -- look, when the President talks to the Prime Minister, they're candid with each other. They're also practical. The point here is not to engage in stagecraft, it's to engage in statesmanship. It is to find ways to work with this government so they can do things that are going to build confidence with the Iraqi people in terms of developing national unity and national capability, and certainly also developing confidence with the American people, as well.
Q -- helping at all with the release of the scholar from the Wilson Center who's being held in Iran?
MR. SNOW: We are not making any comment on that.
Q Attorney General Gonzales on the Hill today; the testimony, the prepared testimony, the gist of it seemed to be, it's time to move on. Does the President think it's time to move on?
MR. SNOW: Well, look, this is certainly being vetted and members of Congress are taking a look at it, but he still supports the Attorney General fully and wholly.
Q Does the President think it's time to move on from this controversy, or does he think there's still some things need looking into?
MR. SNOW: I don't know, Mark. It's a contentious question that I'm -- it's just -- the fact is, what you're trying to do is to get me to respond to a quote. The President is -- supports the Attorney General. He also understands that members of Congress can ask whatever questions they want to ask. He's not going to try to get in the way of their prerogatives. The Attorney General thinks it's time to move on. But if members of Congress have questions, they'll ask it, and he'll make the point and presumably provide the data so they can draw the same conclusion.
Q Has the President talked to the Governor of Kansas in the last 24 hours about --
MR. SNOW: No. Fran Townsend has, and Fran, yesterday, as well as others -- I believe General Blunt of the National Guard has spoken with her, as well. So there have -- because again, I think there's ambiguity, but she has made it absolutely clear that she has always had everything she needed in this case. So then we get into hypotheticals. And when we get on the ground, you can talk to Director Paulison or Fran or others in greater detail about this. But these guys have really hustled to make sure that people are going to, in fact, get what they need in times of crisis.
Q Tony, a quick scheduling note. When do you expect the President to make his first comments? After he meets with some families, or right when we get --
MR. SNOW: I don't know. Again, this is not so structured that you go to point A and make a statement. I mean, I'm sure he's going to be making comments, but we don't have it rigidly structured.
Q Is the briefing first, and then --
MR. SNOW: The briefing is later. There's going to be some touring first, and briefing. But again, I would caution you, there's -- we're keeping a lot of flexibility in the schedule just because we do want to look around, we want to talk to people. The President wants to talk to people of Greensburg. And it means -- so we may be going around and seeing different stuff. So we're keeping a flexibility -- he wants to be talking to them.
Q Thank you.
MR. SNOW: Thank you.
END 9:28 A.M. EDT