For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 11, 2006
Press Gaggle by Tony Snow
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Andrews Air Force Base
1:58 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: We're just going low-tech here. I don't have any statements, so -- questions.
Q -- interactions with families at the two sites?
MR. SNOW: Mostly, at the first site with first responders, with firemen and EMS, what the President did is he went table to table, and also posed for photos with each of the tables, and spent a lot of time not only talking about what they've been through in the last five years, but many also had messages that they wanted to pass on to him.
When we got to Shanksville, I don't know -- were you guys out there? Did you get to see it? So you had a large semi-circle in which family --
Q -- started his way around and then --
MR. SNOW: Yes, he and the First Lady started at opposite ends and both of them worked all the way around. In some ways, because you had a lot more family members, these were more emotional. There were some people who were still clearly grieving about what happened five years ago. And he just chatted with them, took his time, listened to what people had to say, had condolences.
Also, with regard to Shanksville, a number of the families had been to the White House to see the United 93 movie, so in a number of cases, the President and some of us who had been at the movie, as well, had seen family members at least for the second time.
Q -- expecting the benediction in Shanksville? Did you know that was going to happen?
MR. SNOW: You know what, I did not study the schedule.
Q Can you give us any hints of what's to come in the speech tonight, and whether or not the President will say anything at the Pentagon, or will we have sort of a wordless day from the President until the speech?
MR. SNOW: You will have, effectively, to use your phrase, a wordless day until the speech. A wreath-laying -- the President will be meeting with the Defense Secretary and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. There will be some family members also and he will meet with them at the Pentagon. But there will be no formal remarks until the Oval Office tonight.
As I said before, really it's a reflective speech, what we have learned since September 11th, where we're going. But it is, as I've been at some pains to say in the last few days, it's not a political speech, it's not trying to draw political distinctions or issue calls to action. I think this is a time to try to talk in a way that unifies the American people.
Q Can you talk about the unscripted stop, the unscheduled stop last night to the firehouse and the memorial site? When was it planned, and just tell us a little about the specifics behind that?
MR. SNOW: Honestly, I don't know. I mean, I knew it had been in the works. This is a site that formally opened today and had just been previewed yesterday morning by some of the family members. This had been organized in part by family members of September 11th.
Q Why was it not on the schedule? Why was it a surprise?
MR. SNOW: Because we wanted to add some spice and zest to your life.
Q Was the President surprised by anything, or was this day basically what he expected? Or has he talked about anything striking him as unexpected at either of the stops?
MR. SNOW: I don't think there has been. My conversations have been cursory at this point. He's now -- he knew going in that this was going to be emotional, and it has been. You see people directly affected when we were at the firehouse. It's interesting because you sit around a table with people who mention -- matter-of-factly, but not casually -- the memorial services for people who died, how long it took to find bodies. For them, it's an incredible reality -- what's gone on with the family members, the ways in which, since September 11th, they've chosen to put together memorials, whether they be at hospitals or schools or neighborhoods. There have been people handing out pictures and cards and commemorations. It's very personal.
And again, with Shanksville, you have family members who were weeping and recalling what had happened. There's an interesting little detail which I got at both sites. The people in New York said, the weather has been exactly the same every September 11th since September 11th, 2001; and the people at Shanksville said the same thing, the same kind of weather conditions have prevailed each year since. I don't know what you make of it, but it's one thing that people took pains to mention.
So, again, going in, he knew this was going to be emotional, and it will be emotional at the Pentagon. We'll be talking -- for those of us who live in Washington, we have a lot more direct experience because we know a lot of the people, including survivors, as well as people who died.
Surprises -- I don't know if you go in with fixed expectations to a day like this. You go in knowing that you're going to be commemorating, you're going to be reaching out to people. I don't think it's the kind of day where you're surprised so much as you've just got to be ready for whatever you encounter.
Q -- one thing that maybe moved the President more than anything else? Just something that really sits with him from this day or last night?
MR. SNOW: I'd hesitate to characterize it just because, again, I haven't asked him that specific a question and I wouldn't want to try to make a guess at what stands out more. I'll try to find out, but I don't know.
Q Has the President expressed any frustration with the pace of reconstruction at Ground Zero? Have you heard him say, why is it taking so long?
MR. SNOW: I think the President realizes what's going on at Ground Zero is a byproduct of New York politics and it will have to get worked out.
Q -- sort of temporary nature of some of these memorials? I mean, the families set up this Visitors Center. I mean, it doesn't seem, after five years, like the best we could do.
MR. SNOW: Well, I think what you're asking for, Richard, is a federal program right now. I think it's astounding, you not only had that memorial, but I don't know if you guys saw the little area where we were observing as they walked down to lay the wreath yesterday. But it's still crowded with pictures and with badges and hats and uniform fragments. I think people, in various ways, know that they're not going to forget. And for that bit of remembrance, they don't need federal help. What they do need is for other people to remember and other people to pitch in and say, absolutely, we're going to do everything we can to prevent this from happening again.
Again, with the peculiar nature of what's going on in New York, we hope that authorities will work it out and they'll get going.
Q -- on the speech on the flights today on the chopper, on the plane?
MR. SNOW: The speech is pretty much wrapped up. It's now really down to very small touches, a word here, a word there. And it's been in that condition probably for -- well, certainly for the last 24 hours.
Q -- leave some space to kind of talk about for a few minutes what he saw today in the text?
MR. SNOW: Yes, there's a little bit. Again, it will be a short speech, reflective, but also talking about our commitment to winning the war on terror. I think what's probably going to happen is we're going to go back after the Pentagon, everybody is going to catch their breath. We'll probably do a run-through or two before the Oval Office address tonight.
All right, thanks.
END 2:06 P.M. EDT