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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 20, 2007
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:09 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: A couple of items up at the top, and then I'll get to your questions. First, the President made some important remarks this morning in the Rose Garden, pointing out that Congress has an important obligation to step up and pass legislation to support our troops and their missions for the coming year.
He also noted that Operation Phantom Thunder, which began June 15th, that's the full military component of the surge, has produced some significant results and that it's absolutely vital to ensure the continuity of funding and support to troops engaged in the mission.
I'm going to give you a little context of what's happened in about the five weeks since Phantom Thunder began, which was June 15th. First, we have some of the things that have been discovered in the field. Coalition forces have found, cleared or dismantled nearly 600 weapons caches, more than 1,300 IEDs, more than 25 vehicle-borne IEDs, and eight factories for building IEDs -- again, since June 15th. These seizures have taken out of the mix weapons of significant destructive ability.
They also reflect two important developments. First, Iraqis have surged forces into Baghdad and surrounding areas and they've taken the lead in many operations. As our commanders have noted recently, the Iraqis are sustaining injuries and deaths at approximately three times the rate of U.S. forces. Meanwhile, U.S. military operations have picked up momentum significantly as well.
General Odierno noted yesterday that U.S. battalion level operations had increased significantly during the surge -- we've got a comparison up here -- from the June-July period of last year and this year. The number of battalion level operations jumped from approximately 55 last year to approximately 85 this year -- that's an increase of nearly 55 percent.
The cooperation of locals has also been very important. General Odierno noted yesterday that forces have killed or captured, again since June 15th, 175 high-value targets, including a suspected senior al Qaeda operative with possible ties to abductions of coalition forces in June of last year and May of this year, as well as a helicopter downing in April of last year -- Al Qaeda veteran Khalid al-Turki, who fought in Afghanistan after September 11th, and moved to Iraq as part of al Qaeda in Iraq; and also a suspected Shia extremist leader with ties to Jaish al Mahdi, the Mahdi Army, who likely facilitated lethal aid and directed attacks against coalition forces. The other day I also mentioned the killing earlier this week of Amir al-Jabouri who was a cell leader who facilitated VBIED attacks in Baghdad and also areas to the south.
The Iraqi people have also stepped up in a dramatic way in Anbar province, which was written off only nine months ago as having been occupied and dominated by al Qaeda. As recently as last October, our forces were facing an average of 40 attacks a day. After the President then announced the surge, and as the first U.S. troops were moving into the region in February, the daily attack number remained fairly high. As you can see, it was 30. Since then, tribal chiefs have turned against al Qaeda and embraced cooperation with Iraqi and coalition forces. Last year the number of attacks -- "last year," last month the number of attacks in Ramadi fell to approximately one a day.
Now, obviously, significant challenges remain, but it's also important to give some context to what's going on in the surge, and we'll continue to do so on a regular basis.
Let me change topics a little bit, with an announcement. The President will undergo a routine colonoscopy tomorrow while at Camp David. He last underwent colorectal cancer surveillance on June 29, 2002. As reported at the time, and in subsequent physical exams, absent any symptoms, the President's doctor recommended repeat surveillance in approximately five years. The President has had no symptoms. As before, the procedure will be supervised by Dr. Richard Tubb, and conducted by a multi-disciplinary team from the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda.
Because the President will be under the effects of anesthesia, he once again has elected to implement Section III of the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Once enacted, the Vice President will serve as acting President until such time as the President notifies the appropriate authorities that he is prepared to reassume the authority of the President. The exact time and duration will be determined by the findings of the exam, but it's expected to be similar to that in 2002.
The President had polyps discovered and removed during routine screening exams prior to his becoming President. Although no polyps were noted in the exam in 2002, age and history would suggest that there's a reasonable chance that polyps will be noted this time. If so, they'll be removed and evaluated microscopically. Results may be available after 48 to 72 hours, if not sooner. Results will be reported when available, but only after they have been discussed with the patient. We will have an additional statement available, obviously, after completion of the procedure.
Q This procedure will take place at Camp David?
MR. SNOW: Yes, it will.
Q So you're thinking the --
MR. SNOW: We will let you know after it's all done. It's during the day tomorrow.
Q And when you say that the transfer of power will last about as long as it did in 2002, could you refresh my memory? How long was that?
MR. SNOW: About two-and-a-half hours was the period in 2002, I believe. If memory serves from looking at the date, I believe it was from 7:07 a.m. until like 9:26 a.m. It was during the morning in 2002.
Q If memory serves?
MR. SNOW: I read the paper, but I don't have it in front of me. I think I got it roughly.
Q What was the date in '02 that he had it last time?
MR. SNOW: The date in '02, I believe, was June 29th. Yes, June 29, 2002.
Q Did you influence him on this at all?
MR. SNOW: No. This has been -- if you go back and look at all the physical exams over the last five years, each time it's been noted, you know, the President will get a colonoscopy in four years, three years, two years.
On the other hand, obviously, the President wants to encourage everybody to use surveillance. Look, I'm going in for chemo later today. People want to avoid chemo. The way you do that -- in my case, I did a colonoscopy every year and I had an unusual condition with a high likelihood of developing cancer. On the other hand, for most Americans, especially after the age of 50 -- and 90 percent of colorectal cancers afflict people over the age of 50 -- if you go in and do it, in most cases, colorectal cancers grow very slowly, they're very treatable, and furthermore you can avoid it if you have polyps removed at early stages.
Q Is he bleeding?
MR. SNOW: No. There are no symptoms.
Q How are you doing?
Q Where will the Vice President be?
MR. SNOW: He will be at his home on the Eastern Shore.
Q Tony, how are you doing? And how much longer is the chemo --
MR. SNOW: I've got three more chemos. So four weeks from today I'll finish up this chemo regimen. Then I will do follow-up chemo, which will involve smaller doses of one agent and less frequent chemo sessions of another.
Q God bless you. Tony, different question?
MR. SNOW: Let's stay on this, and then we'll go --
Q The procedure will be done tomorrow morning?
MR. SNOW: We're not telling you. We'll let you know after everything is done.
Q But if the Vice President is going to be acting President, shouldn't he need to be in Washington, just in case something happens during --
MR. SNOW: I believe he has full capability of responding to anything from the Eastern Shore.
Q Why keep it secret, the timing? Why shouldn't we know?
MR. SNOW: You'll know after the fact.
MR. SNOW: Well, thank you. I appreciate the concern. But we think that there --
Q I think we should know when the power is transferred.
MR. SNOW: I see, okay. Well, thank you.
Q I give the President all the best.
MR. SNOW: Thank you for that, too.
Q Are members of Congress being told?
MR. SNOW: There is a standard notification procedure that has taken place, where the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro-Temp not only are advised in advance, but also after the procedure is done and the President has resumed authority as President, they receive notification as well.
Q On a different question, please. Tony, how are we -- how close are we, as far as the 1-2-3 votes are concerned between India and the United States over civil nuclear agreement? Also, if you have any readout from Mr. Hadley and Vice President meeting with Indian delegation here yesterday?
MR. SNOW: Well, let me put it this way. There are continued negotiations. Congress has expressed support for the President's strategic partnership with India to work for the full civil nuclear energy cooperation that was part of the Hyde Act last December. So we're continuing our conversations in support of fulfilling that strategic partnership, and when completed it obviously will make available efforts both in terms of energy security and nonproliferation -- what this will do, of course, is bring India into the nonproliferation regime.
I'm not going to get into telling you the particulars, but obviously we are working with the government of India on something that is of intense mutual concern to us. We want to get it done.
Q Second, Tony, as far as the report was concerned, yesterday Pakistan had blasted the Bush administration that they needed proof from the administration as far as all those allegations they are saying --
MR. SNOW: I think the most important thing to note is that the Pakistani government clearly has evidence of things going on in the tribal areas because there has been an increased military tempo in there and it has been reported.
Q You've got General Odierno, General Lynch, General Gaskin, and now the President all saying in different ways that it's going to take a lot more time than they previously thought to achieve results in Iraq. Is this an effort by the administration to change the timetable to convince the public that more time is needed --
MR. SNOW: No.
Q -- past this September?
MR. SNOW: No. And if you -- General Odierno has issued clarifying remarks today --
Q We know that he didn't ask to change the September reporting date. That isn't the point. He said that he wouldn't have any --
MR. SNOW: No, what he said is that he would have a more robust ability to measure things in November. Look, you've got somebody, the commander on the battlefield who obviously, as things go on, feels that he'll accumulate more data. But on the other hand, we understand that there's a reporting requirement -- this is not an attempt to buy more time.
Q We're not arguing about the reporting requirement, but here you've got General Lynch saying that if the troop build-up is reversed before the summer of 2008, there's a risk of giving up security gains. General Gaskin today: "It takes time to gain experience. I don't see it happening overnight; I believe it's another couple of years."
MR. SNOW: Okay, these are separate issues. For instance, General Lynch is talking about border security, which, in fact, is something everybody is agreed upon. It's part of the over-the-horizon efforts that you're talking about with regard to Baker-Hamilton.
Again, we're not trying to change -- we're not trying to sort of change the ball game. We understand what the reporting requirements are. But I think as we've also demonstrated, there have been significant results in the first month of Operation Phantom Thunder, and it is worth people taking a measure of what's going on. The generals obviously are interested in continuing because they think that they've got successful and important operations, but they also realize that there are challenges. And a number of cases which you've seen are people talking about still working on building up operational capability on the part of the Iraqis. The Iraqis have stepped up. They're also joining up at very robust rates. But you still have the issues of training and equipping and those are formidable and they remain unfinished.
Q Look, the bottom line politically is that you're looking at polls which show you that the American public is overwhelmingly dissatisfied and wants to pull the troops out. And you appear, as the President did this morning, to be mounting a campaign to gain more time.
MR. SNOW: No, what we're doing is mounting a campaign for people actually to find out what's going on, on the ground. Quite often the only narrative they get are pictures of exploding VBIEDs. I think it's important also -- and what we're trying to do is to lay out the fact that there are significant successes that could have real ramifications for creating conditions for peace and stability in Iraq. That not only includes military efforts in Baghdad and the environs, but also what we've been referring to as bottom-up operations -- basically, the people, themselves, are rising up and becoming part of the overall coalition.
That's an important thing and it involves not only Sunni, but Shia within Iraq. Those are important efforts and those also answer some of the questions that Americans have had, which is
how committed are Iraqis? You've heard a lot of conversations about the Iraqi legislature, and clearly it's important to see progress there; but also are the Iraqi people invested in this. You also, if you take a look at polls and you say, you know, would Americans like to see victory or success in Iraq? Surely they would. The generals seem to be indicating that there is forward progress on this and it's important to take a look at it.
Q It sounds like you're --
Q The last couple of days it (inaudible) briefing in here. You highlight military progress. And yet the President has said, you have said, that it has to be political progress from the Iraqis.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q I didn't see any of that up here today (inaudible).
MR. SNOW: You've (inaudible) seen of that. There has been a significant amount of legislative activity and we are working on compiling some of that information. But it is not as if the legislature has been completely inert, as well. They've been pretty active, as well. And it's a good question, we'll have some data on it for you.
Q Can we also talk a little bit about Anbar? I know you put the charts up. In October, there were 40 attacks and went down and down. I mean, since you always bring this up, I remember doing stories last summer that they were making progress. Anbar seems more like a place where it's classic counterinsurgency measures, that it really doesn't have a whole lot to do with the surge; and it took them a long time, that they did this over a period of time, carefully approaching the tribes. And it doesn't seem like you can really translate that to other areas.
MR. SNOW: No, because the surge, in fact -- who is a responsible for the surge? David Petraeus. What is David Petraeus' specialty? Counterinsurgency. We are talking about a period last November where, in fact, none of these things had been accomplished. If you take a look also at Diyala, you are seeing classic counterinsurgency --
MR. SNOW: And what you're seeing is -- there was a Marine report last November that said that Anbar was lost, which many people reported straight up as evidence of failure. So in point of fact, this has been something that has been going -- yes, the efforts have been going on, but it seems -- are you trying to --
Q Are the Sunnis and Shiites reconciling? All the measures for success haven't really happened there, particularly that you're laying out, that there has to be reconciliation. I mean, that may be a success story in Anbar, but it seems like a very different story (inaudible).
MR. SNOW: Well, that's why you talk about Diyala; you also talk about some of the merged neighborhoods in places like Baghdad. Have we completed the -- has the business of reconciliation been completed? Of course not. But is there now a stronger basis for building the kind of confidence in legal authorities and also the ability to protect rights that would make reconciliation possible? It is better, but it is not where it needs to be.
So it's very important -- you're absolutely right; what you're saying is, it's better, but it's not perfect. Well, that's absolutely true, Martha. But on the other hand, again, let me state --
Q Don't quote me.
MR. SNOW: Okay, I'm not going to quote you and I'm not going to paraphrase you. But if you take a look at Anbar, yes, there's classic counterinsurgency -- because one of the key elements was also surging 4,000 U.S. troops into the area, starting in February. And that's where the first surge began. You take a look at the slide -- in March, you still had 30 attacks a day; by June it's down to one. Now, that indicates that a combination of having worked with tribal chieftains and also developing the faith and confidence of the locals on the basis of U.S. and Iraqi force projection worked.
In Diyala, you're starting to see similar results, and you're seeing them elsewhere in Iraq. But I think it's -- and again, I don't want to put words in your mouth, but in fact, it's not strictly about military action. There's political action -- counterinsurgency has to be a huge part of it because, in the end, what is this all about? It is about building capacity on the part of the Iraqis, not merely on the part of the government, but the people, themselves. And that is the most interesting and perhaps momentous development that we have seen in recent months.
Q (Inaudible) long-term issue, when you talk about counterinsurgency --
MR. SNOW: Of course, it's a -- it's a long-term issue.
Q -- which is exactly what Anbar was, it's a nine-ten-year mission.
MR. SNOW: Well, it is a long-term mission. And if you listen to what a number of members of Congress said, they understand that there's a long-term mission, but what they don't want is U.S. forces on the front line over the long-term.
Q Minority Leader Senator McConnell asked about Odierno's comment on November, and he said, no, I'm sorry, my membership is focused on September. Do you have the political time to carry --
MR. SNOW: Say what?
Q Do you have the political time -- is the Washington clock going to give you --
MR. SNOW: Well, I think what's recognized now is people are waiting for a September report. That's all we're asking for.
Q So you're going to ask -- you're going to report in September. How significant do you think that report is going be, when Odierno says he's going to -- it's going to require until November before he can make a (inaudible)?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, General Petraeus has already said that he is going to be making recommendations in September, he's going to be in a position to do it. He is the commander of the forces there; we expect him to be able to do it, and he will do it. The fact is there's a legislative deadline there and it is -- it's one where, by September 15th, he needs to have a report and he will have it ready.
Q So you think that that's going to be a significant reporting date?
MR. SNOW: Of course, it's a significant reporting date. But on the other hand, what are we trying to do? We're trying to measure whether there is success, is the surge working. That is the key question here. And it is certainly the question members of Congress are going to want answered. And as we've noted, you're not only going to get the benchmarks, but as I've mentioned, one of the things that's not in the benchmarks is what's happened with the Iraqi people, the bottom up -- the fact is the Iraqis are rising up against al Qaeda, and in significant measures.
You don't get 175 kills or captures of key targets unless you're getting intelligence from the locals. And I think what you're starting to see is much more robust participation from the locals because they do have faith that we're there.
Q So you'll be able to tell in September if the surge is working?
MR. SNOW: You know what, I'm not going to try to prejudge. It is the business of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to provide a full report to Congress. It is -- those are their -- it is their call to make in terms of trying to measure against the metrics that are outlined in the benchmarks, as well as providing other supporting data. I do not -- I don't think it's their business to prejudge; what they're supposed to do is to provide a full and factual report.
Q But meanwhile, you and the President and the generals are all setting the table for the fact that we won't have sufficient progress in November to begin withdrawing troops.
MR. SNOW: Well, we'll see.
Q You mentioned that you're going to have some data on legislative progress. Can you explain what that is?
MR. SNOW: At some point -- look, the fact is, that is something that I think probably needs to be accumulated elsewhere. But I know that people are taking a look at the overall legislative record.
Q Tony, you don't expect the benchmarks to be met, right?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to make any projections about whether they are or not.
Q That's in the statement about the benchmarks the other day that you sent to Congress. It's almost like you're redefining what you expect, because it was -- you'd like more progress on the satisfactory benchmarks and some progress on those that are unsatisfactory.
MR. SNOW: Of course you do.
Q That doesn't sound like you care or expect them to be met.
MR. SNOW: Well, we do care and expect them to be met. But on the other hand, what you want to do is to -- what you want is a demonstration that the surge is working. You want a demonstration that politically things are taking place, that militarily -- if you are looking, Martha, for complete peace and tranquility in Iraq by mid-September, it's not going to happen.
Q What does "working" mean, the surge has worked? How would you define that it's working?
MR. SNOW: If you take a look, take a look at the benchmarks, you have a series of measurements, whether it turns out in terms of Iraqi military capability or attempts to provide reconciliation, I think it's important to take a look at safety of neighborhoods in places like Baghdad, to take a look at what's going on around the countryside, in terms of levels of violence.
All of those things that are incorporated within the benchmarks give you a sense. Whether it's working is whether you are moving closer to full achievement of the goals that you set out.
Q So just some measure of progress, not necessarily (inaudible)?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I think it's humanly impossible to have full meeting of all benchmarks, and I don't think members of Congress expect each and every benchmark to be met in full. But what they do expect to see is real progress that is going to demonstrate the most capable military on the face of the earth is, in fact, enjoying success, and furthermore that the Iraqi people have embraced the mission, and that the Iraqi political class is also working toward having a democracy that stands up and succeeds.
Q Are you postponing the day of reckoning, because most people set September, or thought September was going to be the D-date, really, in terms of --
MR. SNOW: It has always been listed as a time for a report. I will let others decide how they want to judge it in cosmic terms.
Q And your early preface of all of these remarks is that we're killing many more Iraqis. Is that the criteria?
MR. SNOW: I don't believe I --
Q Yes, you said (inaudible) killing many more than we're being killed. That's what you --
MR. SNOW: No, what I said is more Iraqi soldiers are dying in battle, working side by side with us, than U.S. forces. We have given you some numbers of kills and captures, but we have not laid it out in that way.
Q When are we going to stop this killing?
MR. SNOW: The question is when are the terrorists going to stop killing. I know that's of less interest, perhaps, to you, but the fact is people who go in and slaughter innocents in their neighborhoods, we need to stop them. Those who use violence as a method of advancing their goals need to be stopped.
Q Don't we use violence?
MR. SNOW: We use violence to go after people who are in the process of killing others.
Q Do you expect any further legislative progress by September 15th? Can you predict any?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to try to -- that is a matter for Congress. We would like to see Congress have a lot of legislative progress, in terms of passing appropriations bills and doing --
Q No, I meant --
MR. SNOW: Oh, in Iraq. Again, we'll have to see. I don't want to -- as you can tell, I can't even predict the U.S. Congress.
Q Do you think of it as a race, like, which one is going to win?
MR. SNOW: That's an interesting question. Wendell.
Q The issue we've been trying to get at, whether there will be -- whether there is the expectation of results on the political benchmarks by September, and whether --
MR. SNOW: I think it's a legitimate --
Q -- the agreement, from the White House and Congress, the agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, whether that requires results on the political benchmarks?
MR. SNOW: Well, why don't we see if there are results? That's absolutely -- I'm not going to sit here and put on the genie hat, and pretend that I've got the answer. The fact is, you've asked the perfect question, and it will be answered in due course.
Q I don't think it's a matter of putting on the genie hat, it's a matter of trying to understand whether this agreement that you have with Congress requires results on the political side by September to suggest that the surge is working?
MR. SNOW: I think people want to see political progress. That's uncontested. You got it, free (inaudible). It's there.
Q So it sounds, Tony, like if they make real progress, however you define that, that's good enough?
MR. SNOW: Ultimately, I don't even -- you guys keep looking through a political prism trying to figure out what it's going to take politically. That's a judgment that members of Congress are going to have to make when they take a good, hard look at what's going on in Iraq. Obviously, the state of affairs we want is one in which Iraqi forces are fully stood up and capable of handling their security, their economy, their political system, and we can move U.S. forces out. That's where we want to be.
Q But the President will decide whether the surge continues based on the information he gets from (inaudible).
MR. SNOW: The President will make recommendations, and he will decide what he thinks is appropriate. But on the other hand, I'm certainly not going to make pre-announcements on the part of the Commander-in-Chief. He is perfectly competent to make whatever decisions he wishes to make. And he's waiting to hear from commanders on the ground, and they have not completed their reporting.
Q Tony, quick question on immigration. As far as immigration is concerned, many counties and states and local, they are acting on their own. And what illegals are asking, really, from the President, what the President has message for the local police, how to deal with the illegals, because many in Virginia are different in --
MR. SNOW: Well, you're talking about one county in Virginia. All I can tell you is that the President does not control local police forces. There's the principle of federalism, they're responsible for what they want.
The President does believe, as he made clear yesterday, that comprehensive immigration reform was an effective and sensible way of going after the problem. Now members of Congress have expressed concern about border security, they've expressed some concern about labor flows. There are still things they can do, in terms of -- we offered a proposal that would have provided $4.4 billion right away for use on the border, and Congress decided not to take that up, so that money is not available at this juncture. But if there are proposals, certainly we will consider them. But the President still believes that immigration reform is an important priority; it's a big issue, it's one that's not going to go away. And therefore, as people do have constructive proposals, we'll be happy to take a look at them.
Q Thank you, Tony. My question is related to what (inaudible) how do we stay (inaudible) --
MR. SNOW: Go ahead. She was just out of the periphery of the field of vision. She was very unhappy about being called upon. I wanted to provide reassurance. Go ahead.
Q Thank you.
MR. SNOW: (Inaudible) reminded Terry about it.
Q The United States is arming the Sunnis to fight al Qaeda. Is the President concerned that this may enhance the civil war in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: What the President takes heart from is the fact that Iraqi citizens, themselves, in places that previously had been overrun by al Qaeda and terrorized by them have reached the sensible conclusion that they'd much rather have al Qaeda out of Iraq, rather than al Qaeda inside Iraq. What you've seen, also, in the last week is a charade about al Qaeda in Iraq, which is all senior leadership is not Iraqi. As a matter of fact, they found themselves in the position of creating something called the Islamic State of Iraq, headed by a fellow named al-Baghdadi, who in fact was a fictional character portrayed by an Iraqi actor. So it's important to realize that the Iraqis, in many senses, have said, no, we want control of our country and destiny.
Q Do you have the numbers from the attacks in other parts of the country that are covered by the surge?
MR. SNOW: No, but we'll try to pull that together, because I think what you've seen is a declining level in the overall pace of attacks. But I'll contact MNFI on it.
Q You mentioned that al Qaeda is just one small part of the problem there, though?
MR. SNOW: No, al Qaeda is still a central part of the problem, mainly because they have been involved in some of the high-devastation attacks that have been responsible for setting off acts of sectarian violence. So al Qaeda in Iraq remains a problem. But you also have some of the Iranian-backed forces -- or forces that certainly have Iranian funding and equipment. And we mentioned some of those operations in the briefing a couple of days ago. That remains an ongoing concern. There remains some insurgent groups that remain a concern.
But the fact is, it is a problem that has multiple layers. But nevertheless, the chief threat right now remains al Qaeda in Iraq, mainly because of its ability and its determination to try to create acts of violence that set Iraqis against one another and undermine the prospects for a political reconciliation and social reconciliation.
Q Don't you think if al Qaeda was crushed that the sectarian violence would stop?
MR. SNOW: Well, let's put it this way: One of the chief fomenters of sectarian violence certainly would be out of the picture. Nevertheless, it's important to take a look at others who have been in the process of trying to foment that violence. Whether it would stop, who knows. But what you will have done is removed one of the chief contributors to the problem.
Q Tony. Tony.
MR. SNOW: Yes, Les. Wait, wait. One last announcement. Scott Sforza, in the back of the room -- many of you have known Scott. I had the good fortune to work with him in the first Bush administration. In fact, I'm not sure that there's been a day at the White House where I did not have the opportunity to work with Scott. But today will be the last day in which I can say it. It's his last day on the job. Just an extraordinary guy. One of the nicest and most capable colleagues anybody will ever know. Scott, we'll miss you. (Applause.)
END 12:37 P.M. EDT