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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 5, 2006
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:36 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Hello, everybody; a couple of quick notes. President Bush this morning had a 19-minute conversation with President Putin of Russia. The topics included Russian accession to the World Trade Organization. They talked about the upcoming G8 summit in St. Petersburg. Also the President expressed his concern about four Russian diplomats who were kidnapped over the weekend in Iraq.
Also in response to questions this morning, you were talking about the question of interpretations of the marriage amendment. Here is the amendment in full, that is, the article: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any state or federal law shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidence there will be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups." In other words, to answer your question, it does both things -- it defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman and also attempts to prevent the forced interstate recognition of same-sex marriage through judicial fiat in any place.
As to Victoria's question -- I don't see her here, but she had asked if there were any gay participants in the meeting with the President and the answer is, no.
Let's see, anything else? No, no question-and-answer after that event. Also -- oh, yes, I speculated about whether Condoleezza Rice or anybody here had spoken with Prime Minister Maliki, and the answer is, no, the people on the ground, Ambassador Khalilzad and General Casey, have spoken with him.
And with that we begin. Terry.
Q There is some criticism that the President's remarks today are merely intended to energize conservative supporters since there is little likelihood this is going to pass in the Senate. What's your response to that?
MR. SNOW: Well, the response is, the President -- again, and we went through this last week, this is driven in many ways by the legislative calendar. The President is making his views known. Whether it passes or not, as you know, Terry, there have been a number of cases where civil rights matters have arisen on a number of occasions and they've been brought up for repeated consideration by the United States Senate and other legislative bodies. So as far as a SOP, I mean, I've also had people say, well, wait a minute, you take a look at a constitutional amendments that's only a 45 percent to 50 percent proposition.
You can cut this both ways when you take a look at polls, but the fact is, A, the President is restating a long-held position, and, B, he's also made it clear that he wishes it didn't have to come to this -- this is in response to a number of states where either through their own constitutions or through laws or even initiatives or referenda, people have chosen to define marriage as being between a man and a woman and the courts have over-ridden them.
Q You present this as something that he's talking about because the occasion of the Senate vote. Once this week is over, do you expect him to be silent on this?
MR. SNOW: Don't know. I mean, I don't think -- look, in many ways, again, the debate is hot right -- the question is, will you be asking about it in five weeks? And the answer is, probably no. Quite often, a President will make statements -- and we went through this ripeness criterion the other day -- when it is, in fact, in the public eye, and there is action that may be imminent or pending, and that is the time one would expect a President to speak out on it.
Q You mentioned civil rights. Are you comparing this to various civil rights measures which have come to the Congress over the years? Is this a civil right?
MR. SNOW: Marriage? It actually -- what we're really talking about here is an attempt to try to maintain the traditional meaning of an institution that has maintained one meaning for a period of centuries, and for --
Q Do you equate that with civil rights?
MR. SNOW: No, I'm just saying, I think -- well, I don't know. How do you define civil rights?
Q It's not up to me; up to you.
MR. SNOW: Well, no, it's your question. So I need to get a more precise definition.
Q Can you stand there and say with a straight face that there is not a political dimension to this?
MR. SNOW: Of course there's a political dimension to it. There's going to be a Senate vote on it, for heaven's sake. There's naturally -- there are political dimensions on both sides. This is an issue -- and we talked about this, this morning -- that I think is of keen interest to a lot of people. And one of the interesting aspects is that there -- it's still -- the amendment still permits states to consider arrangements and institutions for same-sex couples that would not be called marriage. The President feels strongly that marriage is an institution, has a fixed meaning that ought to be honored in American law.
Q In January, 2005, the President was asked about his support for this, and he said, well, there's a kind of a mind set in the Senate right now that it's unnecessary to push for this amendment because there is something -- a law that's been passed, the Defense of Marriage Act, and that's, frankly, good enough. So what's changed?
MR. SNOW: The Defense of Marriage Act now also is, itself, subject to legal challenge in a number of places. And that changes the dynamics a bit. And the question, also, ought to be asked of the Senate because the dynamics apparently have changed in the Senate in the sense that the leadership has seen fit to bring this up for a vote.
Q In an election year. And of course, the last time this came up for a vote was in 2004, another election year.
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not sure that this is a big driver, to tell you the truth, of voters. This is an issue that is of concern, that the President is making his views known on. But I think we ought to be clear that the President is speaking out about a piece of legislation because he believes in it.
Q Isn't this why people hate politics, this kind of political posturing?
MR. SNOW: I don't think so. I don't think it's posturing. Many of us in this room are married, and we have strong feelings about the importance of marriage in our lives. And I think having the ability to define marriage is something that's important to a great many people in the United States of America. Whether the proper forum is a constitutional amendment or dealing with it state by state, that is something that the people are going to have to decide.
Q One follow up on DOMA. What has changed about the potential legal challenge since January of last year that makes this riper?
MR. SNOW: Again, David, you're going to have to ask --
Q Something has happened.
MR. SNOW: -- the people who brought it up for a vote in the Senate.
Q The Republican leadership works in concert with the White House, as you know.
MR. SNOW: But I'm not aware that the White House had any particular hand in scheduling this. But, you know what, I'll check it out, because I don't have the answer.
Q Tony, can I follow that up?
MR. SNOW: I'll get to you, Lester.
MR. SNOW: Go ahead, Helen.
Q Just as the war in Iraq is escalating, and there are so many issues on the table, the President spent two days on this gay marriage. Isn't that a bit frivolous?
MR. SNOW: You're assuming, Helen, that he's spent each and every moment. Today he's met with two heads of state, he's had a half-hour phone conversation with another head of state, he's meeting with a delegation from China.
Q Well, there are real issues that affect every American, and that isn't one of them, but war is. And why isn't the President dealing with this at all? Who's problem is --
MR. SNOW: Are you assuming that the President is not dealing with -- again, the President, believe it or not, he can deal with more than one issue at a time, and I've tried to make it the point --
Q Is he concerned about the escalation of the war in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: The President is concerned about the successful conclusion of military action in Iraq, so that the people of Iraq, who are right now, as you know Helen, they're just now going back and unearthing a mass grave from the time of Saddam Hussein. They're concerned about building a democracy that is free and stable. So the President is committed to that task and seeing it through.
Q You don't do it was a barrel of a gun.
Q There are more than 8,000 same-sex couples that have been married in Massachusetts. What threat do they pose? And what is the President's message to them?
MR. SNOW: They don't -- this is not a response to a threat. This is merely a matter of trying to clarify what marriage ought to mean under the law. As you know, the people of Massachusetts also by referendum define marriage as being between a man and a woman. And the supreme judicial court decided to throw it out, and it remains a matter of contention.
I don't think people look at this as a threat. It is trying to clarify what is an important and contentious cultural and legal issue.
Q Would this -- let me just follow up. Would this to become a constitutional amendment, what legally then happens to those 8,000-plus same-sex couples? Are their marriages annulled?
MR. SNOW: That would have to require keener legal expertise than mine. I don't want to try to --
Q So the President doesn't know what would happen to them?
MR. SNOW: No, the press secretary doesn't know. (Laughter.)
Q You mentioned the President was actually concerned about other issues besides this one.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Oil prices are continuing to go up on the statements by Ayatollah Khamenei about cutting off oil supplies if the U.S. made a wrong move. He wasn't talking about, as you said earlier, a theoretical U.S. intelligence -- any wrong move is what he's speaking of. What's the reaction to that?
MR. SNOW: The interpretation I saw -- well, let's -- okay, what would constitute a wrong move. It appears that the United States -- and what's interesting I think is, as I've said a number of times, and I think as diplomats recognize, there are going to be any number of statements coming out of Iran. I would caution against leaping to conclusions until the leadership in Iran has actually had an opportunity to look over the packages of incentives and disincentives offered by the EU3 with the support of the United States. It's easy to make comments into a vacuum. And my sense is that, again, the Iranians are going to realize that this is a serious offer. And it's an offer that offers great promise for them, and offers great promise for the region. But it's going to take some time.
There are also lots of different political undercurrents in Iraq -- in Iran. We know that any politician is going to have to deal with those, as well. But I would say what I said at this morning's gaggle, which is counsel patience, let people look at it. I understand why commodities markets may be unsettled by a comment like that, but over time if this succeeds, the commodities markets are going to be very happy, and so should we all be.
Q Tony, I just want -- on gay marriage again, you are almost portraying the President as being a passive participant in this, that the Senate is acting, so he's speaking out.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q At the gaggle you suggested the media is over-hyping this issue. Conservatives like Tony Perkins are saying it was the President who brought this up a lot during the 2004 campaign. Wasn't he hyping it then? Why now is he so passive?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to characterize -- I don't think it's passive. Again, the President has made clear what his views are. But this is one where -- I'm trying to figure out exactly how one decides when one is active and one is passive. Here what you're saying is, wait a minute -- Helen just hit me with, he gave a radio address, he's talking to these people, how can he spend so much time on it. You're saying, how can he spend so little energy on it.
Q That was her question, not --
MR. SNOW: I mean, the fact is that the President is making a position clear on an issue of concern.
Q All in a point of view. (Laughter.)
Q But you were saying before, as well, you know, it depends on the public interest. On Social Security reform he gave speech after speech; he decided, this is what I'm going to do, I'm using my political capital on this. In 2004 he let conservatives believe he would use political capital on this issue. Instead, it looks like he's going to do a radio address on Saturday, he's going to speak today, and move on.
MR. SNOW: Well, we'll let them draw their appropriate conclusions based on their interaction with the President.
Q But then why is he not -- bottom line question, why is he not using political capital on this, then?
MR. SNOW: Why is he not using political --
Q Yes. I mean, if he's made this a big issue in 2004, why is he not using political capital? Why is it not that important to him? Is he scared?
MR. SNOW: Again --
Q Why isn't he doing more on this?
MR. SNOW: Why is -- exactly. It's a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation, Ed. (Laughter.)
Q So what are you doing here? (Laughter.)
Q It's not up to us. As the President said over and over -- the President said over and over, on Social Security --
MR. SNOW: A schwing.
Q Over and over on Social Security, the President said it's not up to the Democrats, it's not up to the media -- it matters to me.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q So at what point is -- that's what I'm trying to -- why on gay marriage is it not that important?
MR. SNOW: You mean, why on traditional marriage?
Q On the issue of gay marriage, yes.
MR. SNOW: It's the issue of traditional marriage. This is the Family Marriage Amendment. And the President has made clear what his views are. I think you look at the whip counts, we look at the whip counts. You've got to find out what you think is possible in this political environment.
Q Following that --
Q My turn.
MR. SNOW: I promise I'll get to you, Lester. I can't wait. But to get -- is this just going to be one part, or is this like two or three?
Q Tony, on Iraq. Does the President think this horrible factional violence would abate in Iraq if the U.S. and the foreign forces were asked to leave? And if so, would the country split into three, and if it does, can the President accept that?
MR. SNOW: Well, this is a bunch of "ifs." I think you've got the question turned around. The United States would not leave, one assumes, until the situation had been taken care of and the Iraqis are able to go ahead and assume full responsibility for their safety and security.
The President has also made it clear that he's not just going to pack up and leave.
Q But if the leadership of Iraq asks the foreign forces to leave?
MR. SNOW: Well, this is a big "if," and it's an "if" that's completely inconsistent with the readout I've gotten of the meeting with Prime Minister Maliki and Ambassador Khalilzad and General Casey the other day, where he said he wants them to stay.
Q Thank you. Are you saying that the President believes that marriage is under attack?
MR. SNOW: No, I think what the President is saying is that courts around the country have decided to overturn decisions made by voters in their states based on their viewer interpretation of the Constitution. And if it comes to the point where you have to figure out what the Constitution says on such an issue, where there are big and important divides in American culture, as this proceeds it may be necessary to clarify what the Constitution says by amending it.
Q Russia and the WTO. Russia is not an easy place to invest, they really have no rule of law. Some big American investment firms have closed their offices, and said, the hell with this place -- excuse me.
Q Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
MR. SNOW: That's all right, I'm already getting hammered. Go ahead.
Q What is the President telling --
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to engage in -- because the President and President Putin are talking about conditions under which it would be appropriate for the accession to the WTO. I'm not going to get into any further detail than that.
Q These conditions have -- it sounds like negotiations with Iran, are these carrots and sticks? Can you generalize it?
MR. SNOW: No, I can't.
Q It sounds pretty serious. Is this a change? Are we --
MR. SNOW: No, no, this is a continuation of prior discussions.
Q Tony, you talked on the issue of civil rights as it relates to this marriage amendment. Will there be a civil rights violation for gays if the amendment does go through? Was that reflected --
MR. SNOW: A civil rights violation for gays? No, the President has made it clear, he wants people to be able to live their private lives as they see fit.
Q Wouldn't that --
MR. SNOW: What do you mean, a "civil rights violation"? Do you mean that it would be a violation of civil rights to be gay?
Q No, no, no, but it would -- would gays be able to file civil rights lawsuits because they are not allowed to marry? Civil rights issues -- you tried to get into the definition of civil rights, and wrongs against -- knowing wrongs against a group, okay, that group would be, indeed, wronged, they feel, if they are not allowed to marry in this country.
MR. SNOW: April, as you know, that's a very contentious legal issue which I cannot decide up here. Obviously, anything that would happen would be heavily litigated, and we would have to see how the courts came out on it.
Q And also, on immigration -- I tried to bring this up last week -- your first day, I asked you a question about people of color being pitted against black Americans in the President's temporary worker program. And you said something to affect that -- well, you said something to do with -- many of your critics are saying, how could you say that?
MR. SNOW: I'm glad you clarified it, because I didn't know what you were talking about the other day. A, I don't know who the critics are, but, B, let me give a response. The temporary worker program is designed in such a way that employers would have to certify that they were offering to immigrants jobs that were not being taken by Americans. I don't see how that pits anybody against anybody. If you have nobody lined up to take these jobs, it means that there is no necessary conflict between African Americans and immigrants, or any other group of Americans and immigrants. In fact, that is supposed to be one of the key points of the temporary worker program, precisely to avoid such conflicts.
Q But the major issue is also that it drives down wages. And many of the immigrants are not allowed to negotiate. Those are the standard issues the critics are throwing at this administration, when you say about the fact that it drives down wages --
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure it drives down -- you mean it drives down wages?
Q Yes, it drives down wages.
MR. SNOW: Look, there's wage competition throughout the economy. That typically happens. What you will always find, as a matter of fact, when people are embarked upon any form of economic enterprise, there are going to be attempts to hold down costs, to provide services to consumers for less money. And that's true whether you're talking about an immigrant population or Microsoft.
Q Tony, two questions.
MR. SNOW: I knew it couldn't just be one. Go ahead.
Q There's a news release on the Internet today from Exodus International, which is the organization of former homosexuals with 135 member groups. And they're reporting that they are guests of the President today at the White House. And my question: You said there are no homosexual groups here today. Were any invited?
MR. SNOW: Not that I'm aware of, Lester. I don't think so.
Q Second, The New York Times has just reported, "This White House, like all White Houses, is obsessed with the press." My question, will you admit to this alleged obsession, or is this just one more New York Times exaggeration?
MR. SNOW: It's more a love affair than an obsession, Lester. (Laughter.)
Q Very good, Tony. Good. (Laughter.)
Q I salute you. (Laughter.)
Q On the immigration trip tomorrow, has the President got any new tack to help bridge some differences between the House and the Senate?
MR. SNOW: I think one of the messages the President is going to want to convey is that when you take a look at sort of the priorities and interests of members of both parties and in the House and the Senate, you're going to find that there are quite a few issues on which they agree. And I've ticked them off before. But I think one of the points of emphasis may be to highlight some of those. Everybody agrees on the importance of border security. Everybody agrees on the importance of identifying people who are here illegally. There is widespread agreement that if you cannot move out all 11 million or 12 million or 15 million or whatever the number is, how do you make it so that they pay an appropriate debt to society? There is a question -- most people agree with a temporary worker program.
In other words, there are vast areas of agreement. And I think quite often what happens here is many people developed opinions about the President's program before the President announced his program. And I think this is an opportunity not only to remind people of what he has said, but also to remind them that there's a fair amount of common ground, not only between different factions in the Republican Party, but between both parties.
Q If I could follow up on that, what is the significance of his visit to the facility in Omaha on Wednesday?
MR. SNOW: It's a Catholic Charities event, and the theme there is going to be assimilation.
Q Tony, could you describe what he's going to see in Artesia?
MR. SNOW: I probably could, but I have actually not looked at the trip notes. I know that we're going to be swearing in a new head -- is it the new head of the Border Patrol -- he'll be swearing a head of the Border Patrol. And we're also going to be taking a look at Border Patrol activities in Artesia.
Q One more thing on the immigration trip, if I may. It sounds like you talk about these vast areas of shared priorities -- this is still a huge, heavy lift, isn't it, to try to get these two wildly different pieces of legislation --
MR. SNOW: It's going to be a considerable amount of work, yes.
Q On that topic, Tony?
MR. SNOW: Go ahead.
Q To that end, I'm interested that the President is, in essence, taking his show on the road, but the real work I think is back here in the Capitol, in bringing the House and the Senate together. Lawmakers have said the President will have to take a very active role. What is he planning on doing specifically to --
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to tell you specifically what he does. Quite often, a President is most effective when he is working behind the scenes and not broadcasting through you or me. But I guarantee you that the President is actively involved. And part of also going around the country, there are a couple of things, a lot of times immigration is discussed almost in a vacuum. People have perceptions about immigration. They don't know what border stations look like. They don't know what a lot of these different situations may look like. And it gives the President an opportunity to illustrate and dramatize what is going on. And also, as you know, members of Congress keep coming back saying, man, I'm getting an earful from the people back home. Well, this gives the President an opportunity also to converse with the people back home.
Q Is there a point where the President or the Representatives dealing with the House and Senate might ask the Speaker to suspend this one time, his doctrine, as it's called, of moving for a majority of the majority? Because that in essence now will be the ultimate road block in moving the President's --
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to prejudge at this point. There are no plans at this juncture to ask the Speaker to suspend the majority of majority. But I can't speak for what may happen. Just don't know.
Q Is that recognized as a significant hurdle to preparing this --
MR. SNOW: The Speaker feels very strongly about it. It doesn't seem he's going to change.
Q Thank you. In Hanoi today, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is calling for expanded military exchanges between Vietnam and the U.S. Experts say the reasons are to establish a key location in the (inaudible) war against terror and to set up a buffer against China and its expanding military. Is that true?
MR. SNOW: I'm unfamiliar with the Secretary's comments, so I would refer you back to DOD, because they know what he said and I just haven't had time to track that today.
Q An immigration politics question. There's a special election, congressional election in California tomorrow. Immigration is playing a huge role. First of all, is the President going to make a -- is he doing a recorded call, or is he going to have any influence in that race? And also, the Democrat candidate, Francine Busby, had the statement, "You don't need papers for voting." Last week, she made that statement. Any reaction to that?
MR. SNOW: No, it obviously is a huge issue right now because she -- I guess it was in response to a question somebody was asking about voting, and she said, "You don't need papers for voting." She later said that what she really meant was, you don't need papers to help with the campaign. But in any event, it's obviously been a very hot topic out there in California.
Q Two things on marriage. First, logistical. The remarks are in 450. Where is the meeting taking place?
MR. SNOW: Roosevelt Room.
Q Second, the President is generally a state's rights kind of guy on issues. Why not on this issue?
MR. SNOW: He is. I mean, that's exactly what he is, and I'll tell you why. And I'm glad you asked, Ken, because state's rights -- here you have, in a number of states, including Massachusetts where the voters said, we want marriage to be defined as a man and a woman. The courts said, no. The people you ought to be asking about the sovereign rights of states may be state and federal courts which had been overturning what the states either legislatively -- or through ballot initiative -- have gone ahead and tried to inscribe into their own state laws. So I would argue that the President is trying to preserve the state's rights in this particular case.
Q But he was trying to prevent -- if there is a state out there where the people want this, he does want to allow that to happen?
MR. SNOW: Well, that is a hypothetical in this particular case, because I'm not aware of any state where that has achieved majority status.
Q But why not allow a state to do what it wants? What's different about this issue, than, say, death penalty? Why not have a federal amendment dictating how you do death penalty?
MR. SNOW: Because marriage is a unique institution in the history of American society --
Q The death penalty --
MR. SNOW: You can name a whole lot of issues that are important, but --
Q And he usually does, in supporting letting states make their decisions.
MR. SNOW: And again, I'm telling you that in this particular case -- we're talking past each other. What you're saying is that by coming up with a uniform definition of marriage you're getting in the way of states. It could be -- it is pretty obvious at this point that there are a number of judges around the country who are reading into the Constitution something the President does not believe is there. And furthermore, they are doing it despite the expressed opinions of people living in those states.
So what is he trying to do? He is acknowledging, more in sorrow than anything else, that this may in fact require a constitutional amendment, which is the point. As you know, the Court has been all over the place when it comes to the death penalty. The reason why is the Court has sort of had its say now on the death penalty, and it has said everybody can decide.
Q What is the U.S. reaction to the foiled Canada terror plot?
MR. SNOW: Relief. We're very happy that there has been successful cooperation. It's an international effort, and the Canadian government -- not only relief, but we congratulate Canadian authorities on intercepting such a plot.
Q Does the administration share in the concern of Republican Chairman Peter King of the House Homeland Security Committee? He said that there's a disproportionate number of al Qaeda members in Canada because of liberal immigration and refugee asylum policies. Do you share that concern?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to get into characterizing al Qaeda penetration and alleged al Qaeda penetration in Canada. I think it's worth saying that U.S. and Canadian authorities have been pretty vigorous in working the intelligence on this. And as you know, this has become a hot political issue in Canada. But far be it for me to try to get involved in internal Canadian politics.
Q How much of a role did the FBI play in this foiled --
MR. SNOW: This was primarily a Royal Canadian Mounted Police operation, and they kept us in the loop.
Q Just a follow up to that, Tony. Was there any communication between Ottawa and Washington during this? Has the President spoken to the Canadian authorities at all?
MR. SNOW: I don't believe he has spoken directly to Canadian authorities. I think that's probably been done through Homeland Security and the Justice Department.
Q Canadians are also saying that they're going to send down emissaries in the next couple of weeks to dispel myths in this country about how bad Canada is. (Laughter.) As far as you know, is anything planned with the White House, any officials in the White House getting involved in that?
MR. SNOW: As you know, typically we don't get ahead on the schedule, but, furthermore, let me tell you I know nothing about it. I just don't know.
Q In Michigan, the Lansing State Journal said that U.S. Senators Stabenow and Levin "voted in favor of illegality, in favor of border insecurity." And my question, does the President believe that the Lansing --
MR. SNOW: Lester, last time you asked a question like this, there was this big splashy thing on WorldNetDaily about what I did or did not believe. I'm not going to bite on an editorial in the Lansing state paper.
Q Thank you.
MR. SNOW: Thank you.
END 1:05 P.M. EDT