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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 5, 2006
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:47 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: All right, welcome. Quickly through the President's schedule for the remainder of the day. He is basically -- the only thing remaining is a meeting with the National Commander of the American Legion at 1:45 p.m. and a policy time at 2:30 p.m.
I know a lot of you are going to want to hear all sorts of comments about what's going on on Capitol Hill. I will tell you what we have to say, and then you can ask whatever questions you want, and I will be maddeningly but consistently non-responsive beyond what you are about to hear, which is that the President has made it absolutely clear that the behavior that has been reported on the part of former Representative Mark Foley is disgusting and unacceptable; he supports House Speaker Dennis Hastert's calls for a full and thorough investigation; he believes that you need to get all the facts, you need to find out what the problem is, you need to fix it.
As far as speculating about what people on the House ought to do to accomplish those ends, that's up to members of the House, we're not going to get into it. As far as what speculation we may have about other members of Congress, we're not getting into that either. Speaker Hastert apparently is going to be going before microphones in a very few minutes, and we'll let him have his say.
So I know that that sort of blunts it, but feel free to fire questions anyway, and off we go.
Q The President has a big stake in the outcome of the election in five weeks. Is he satisfied with the way that the leadership of Congress is dealing with this?
MR. SNOW: There are a couple of things. Number one, I don't think you should hold every member of Congress responsible for what happened in the case of Mark Foley. But again, we're just not getting into speculating on it. As far as the election, come election day the question is whether people are going to be voting on the basis of disgusting IMs between a grown man and a young man, or something that's probably more important to everybody, which is safety, security and prosperity.
And those are the issues we're going to be talking about. They're important issues. Today the President did a No Child Left Behind event. And we're going to continue talking about those issues. I'll let you guys speculate on -- do the chin pulling about what's going to happen in four-plus weeks.
Q Well, what about the question about whether or not the President thinks that this issue has been handled properly?
MR. SNOW: Again, we're not getting into telling the House how to do its business. The most important thing to do right now, from our standpoint, is to talk about the important issues, and that's what the President is doing.
Q The President, he's the leader of the Republican Party --
MR. SNOW: I believe you were there for the briefing on separate but co-equal branches of government. The President understands --
Q I don't --
MR. SNOW: Well, it was sixth grade, maybe you skipped that day. (Laughter.) But in any event -- you know, it's where they did the "how laws are made," and all that kind of stuff.
Q Was that a backgrounder?
MR. SNOW: That's a backgrounder. We could bring in a senior administration official to help out at some future date. Look, Speaker Hastert is going to be addressing these issues and let's hear what he has to say.
Q Tony, is there a risk that the President's terrorism message is going to be drowned out by Foley scandal?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. If you guys write about the Foley scandal morning, noon, and night -- it seems to me the President is talking about things that matter. I mean, here we are, we've got news on North Korea and Iran and other places, and the President is involved in the business of being a head of state, a commander-in-chief, and somebody who runs the executive branch of government and is deeply concerned, again, about national security, the war on terror, the economy -- good news on the economy again today.
Q How about the election?
MR. SNOW: Of course, he cares about the election, but his view on the election is, do your job right.
Q Tony, you said that the President is talking about things that matter --
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Does it matter how Republican leaders handle this issue with Mark Foley?
MR. SNOW: I think this thing has to -- as we've said, you've got to find out what happened. This is disgusting and I don't think any sane person in any way condones what happened. The Speaker -- I'm sure the Speaker doesn't condone what happened. But they're going to have to -- they're dealing with the problem, and we'll just -- the President's concern is get the facts out. There are already hearings before the Senate -- I mean, the House Ethics Committee; there's also an investigation going on at the Justice Department. You need to find out what it is, you need to fix it.
Q Well, my question was, does it matter how Republican leaders handled this information --
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I think -- yes. And I think it's -- let me put it this way -- it is important for all members of Congress to make sure -- and this is an opportunity for people to figure out whether they've got a systemic problem -- to make sure that when pages or other -- when people come to Washington, that they don't have to worry about this kind of behavior on the part of any member of Congress, or any member of congressional staff, or anybody working for the government. That's important because there's a public trust, and people around the country have not been all that happy with politics in recent months, at least if you look at the polls in the general way in which they look at it. And it's important for people to realize that we do take matters like this seriously.
Q Okay, but I feel like you're ducking this a little bit -- what's an important question to me is, is this not a test of Republican leadership?
MR. SNOW: Is it not a test of Republican leadership? In what sense?
Q The original question was, does it matter how Republican leaders handle this issue?
MR. SNOW: Okay, and I will dodge it and I will tell you exactly why I'm going to dodge it. Because this is a question that requires knowledge of a lot of details that are not in evidence, certainly not to me, at this point. So for somebody to try to --
Q It isn't a trial, Tony.
MR. SNOW: Well, it is. Have you been reading the press? Of course, it's a trial. They've got a hanging jury out there and everything. But I think the most important thing to realize, David, is, if you're going to answer that question, if you're going to try to assess Republican leadership or Person X's leadership, you have to find out who knew what and all those sorts of details. And I don't know them. It's one of the reasons why there's an investigation. I think it's absolutely vital to make sure that people have trust in government.
But your question -- I understand what the question is, because if I say, yes, it's ah-ha, they're going after Hastert; if, no, ah-ha, they don't care about kids.
No. I'm not going to jump into that vat of boiling oil, as inviting as it may look.
Q Well, no. But wait, Tony -- you said the President is talking about things that matter --
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q -- national security, the war on terrorism. What I'm asking you is does the leadership of the House of Representatives, the Republican leadership and how they responded to this, does that matter?
MR. SNOW: Well, people will have to make up their minds --
Q Should that matter to voters?
MR. SNOW: -- people are going to have to make up their minds. I'll let you do the -- you can do the value of the judgment on that. But, also, what should matter -- you know what really matters? The kids. That's what matters. And I think you understand that -- I know that; you're a good dad. I suspect you and I, if we were faced with that, would probably want to punch somebody lights out. I think it's very important to figure out what the problems are, what the facts are, and fix them. I'm not going to go any further than that.
Q If the principal of the school of your kids -- if this were happening in the school of your kids, would you want to know what the principal knew and when they knew it?
MR. SNOW: As I said, I'm not going to play the hypothetical game, but I do think that you've got to find out the full truth. I think that answers your question. You need to know what all the facts are.
Q Tony, has the President talked to Speaker Hastert since this whole thing started?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q Has he asked to talk with him?
MR. SNOW: No. No.
Q Why not?
MR. SNOW: Just hasn't.
Q He's not curious about his explanation or how he's handled it so far?
MR. SNOW: No. You've got to understand, again, in separate and co-equal branches of government, everybody here wants the President to come in and tell the House how to do its business. We don't know what happened. You don't know what happened. I mean, we know that there was some grotesque IMs and there were some inappropriate emails, and there is something that sickens anybody who has read even part of those. And that should never happen, ever. And that is something that people have a right to find out what happened and they've got to figure out how to fix it.
But the President is running the executive branch of government and members of the House are going to have to deal with it.
Q Are you trying to avoid ABC?
MR. SNOW: Well, I skipped you one time, I just felt so bad. Go ahead.
Q You've said that this is a trial and the President wants all the facts out. So does the President --
MR. SNOW: I said you guys are conducting a trial. So that's really the way I was putting it. Go ahead.
Q That's what you meant to say.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Okay. Does the President agree that the leaders should be under oath, to say everything that they knew?
MR. SNOW: The President is not flyspecking. I'll tell you, you can decide whether you think people need to be put under oath. What I've said is, you need to find out all the facts. So you figure out the appropriate way to do it. But we're just not going to get into procedural stuff like that. It's not appropriate.
Q The President is very aggressive in calling for thorough investigations of things like leaks or --
MR. SNOW: And that's what we've called on.
Q But when it comes to something that affected actual people's lives in a demonstrable way, he won't get into the details of how it should be pursued?
MR. SNOW: Now, wait a minute. Number one, I don't believe that the President has ever gotten into saying, well, we need to get to the bottom of this, and we need to have people testifying under oath -- I don't believe he's ever gotten into that level of detail, walking through these things. What the President says, you've got to find the truth. The Justice Department is conducting an investigation. Presumably, they will do what they think is necessary to get the truth. The Ethics Committee is committing an investigation. Presumably they're going to do what they think is necessary
Q So from the podium, on the President's behalf, would you call for all the leadership to say everything that they know, come forward --
MR. SNOW: I would -- what we say is, you've got to get the facts out. And that's it. So you can figure out exactly --
MR. SNOW: I just said it -- I believe -- yes, we're public.
Q Let's just assume for a second that the President's message to his base is getting out, through Republican communication apparatus, talk radio, Internet. So the base is hearing very loudly what the President is saying in terms of the war on terror. But the base is, perhaps, a little irritated by immigration, or spending, or perhaps Iraq. So maybe the Foley thing is putting the base over the edge, and it doesn't matter what the President says, that these people are going to stay home during the midterms. Does the administration at all worry about this scenario?
MR. SNOW: Oh my goodness, Jim. No. The fact is that as people get ready for an election, they're going to ask themselves what's important to them -- safety, security, the economy. They're going to ask those questions.
Q Or maybe they are going to say, you know what, it's not worth --
MR. SNOW: Well, I'll tell you what --
Q -- not that they're going to vote Democrat --
MR. SNOW: Well, let's have this conversation after the election.
Q Is this a reasonable concern for any Republican that's worried about what's going to happen in November?
MR. SNOW: What you're saying is, is turnout important? Yes. Is passion important? Yes. That's important for both parties.
Q And is Foley going to affect turnout?
MR. SNOW: I don't know.
Q What do you think?
MR. SNOW: I don't know, I don't know. I think that anybody who gets up here and tries to make grand predictions about what an event is going to mean in an election that is more than a month away is absolutely certain to be wrong, and also going to be guilty of committing folly from the podium. I've done that in other ways, but I'm not going to pursue that particular course today.
Q Not to change the subject, but I want to pick up on two headlines.
MR. SNOW: Okay.
Q What did our envoy mean when he said that a nuclear-armed North Korea is unacceptable, and what did the President mean the Iraqi war is only a comma?
MR. SNOW: Okay. Thank you for both of those. First, the position has always been that you can't have a nuclear Korean Peninsula. That has been the reason for the six-party talks. And the President and our diplomats continue consulting because it's important that North Korea not develop and try to deploy nuclear weapons. That's enormously important.
As for the comma --
Q Is this a threat, a lethal threat against --
MR. SNOW: No. It's a state of --
MR. SNOW: No, it's not a lethal threat.
Q Well, how do you say it's not a threat when it's unacceptable?
MR. SNOW: Have you noticed that the President has, in fact, been leading diplomatic activity through the United Nations Security Council, trying to get the nations all around North Korea -- the nations that have the greatest vested interest -- to work together to put pressure on that government not to collapse, but, in fact, to return to a table where there are many positive inducements? If they come back there's a possibility -- and they renounce weaponry and cease to pursue weaponry, then what do they get? First, they have the possibility of a formal end to the Korean War. They have a possibility of economic aid, of stronger diplomatic ties, of talking with the United States. All those things are possible if they simply do it. I mean, what we're trying to do here -- this is a time when the international community, the United States in the lead, is offering carrots. It's no secret that we're opposed --
Q To stop --
MR. SNOW: Well, I'm just telling you what the policy is, and it has been.
Now, as for the comma --
Q It sounded like an ultimatum to North Korea.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, it's a statement of our policy, which is we don't think they should have nuclear weapons. And I think the Chinese agree, and the South Koreans agree, and the Russians agree, and the Japanese agree. So all the parties to it, with one possible exception in the six-party talks, and that would be the North Koreans -- agree. And we hope that they will agree, to.
As for the comma. This has been brewed around; Peter had a word or two to say about it today. The comma refers to the period of time between last year's election and today. We're talking about -- well, the President is making the point is, when you look at a history book, a 10-month period is a comma. Now, some people have tried to say, how dare the President refer to this as a comma; he's being glib about the deaths of Americans. That's outrageous, and the people who say that know it. What they're trying to is, willingly or not, wrench a statement out of context and try to use that as an opportunity to accuse a President who is deeply aware of the human cost of war of being calloused about those costs. It's just not true.
And I've talked to him about this a number of times. It was simply -- what he means is that in the grand sweep of history, 10 months is not an epic. Now, there is -- if there is a chasm in here it has to do with what the President said and the way it's been twisted by people who know what the context was.
Q The war is three-and-a-half years old.
MR. SNOW: I know, but notice that "comma" reference was simply referring to the time since -- what he really is referring to is the short lifetime so far of the government. Everybody trying to say, ah-ha, and trying to draw conclusions, is it working, isn't it working; do you have confidence in the Prime Minister, do you not? It's 10 months old. It's a government that is still in its infancy and trying to deal with a host of complex and very important issues. So when you take it in the broad sweep of history, and as we look back -- you and I probably -- well, you may, centuries from now, but I don't think I'm going to last as long as you will, Helen -- but the facts is --
Q Tough. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: Yes, probably. But if you look in the broad sweep of history, that will be seen as a comma. That small beginning of a new government -- that's what he's referring to. He's not talking about the war as a comma.
Q But isn't that 10-month period significant only because, in fact, the violence has been so terrible? I mean, the reason we're talking about that time period is the trauma that's going on in Iraq.
MR. SNOW: No, it's significant, Peter, because it is the dawning of a new government. And if you take a look, the violence is a factor. We've been saying for some time that we expected it to spike up, but also you have a number of things that are going on that are very important. You probably saw yesterday they demobilized a police unit in Iraq because of suspicion that they've been working with militias in committing acts of terror. That was one of the things that we have talked about, the importance of getting control of the police, having assertiveness on the part of a national government to make sure that you had all the institutions working toward the benefit of the people.
So there are a number of things that have been going on that you would expect at the beginning of a government. It's being tested, and furthermore, as the 90-10 document -- that is the Pentagon's quarterly paper -- noted back in May -- this was the one that Bob Woodward cites -- that the bulk of the violence right now, you have some sectarian violence and you also have a fair amount, although it's a small wedge of people, of al Qaeda and other terrorists who are trying to inflict maximum damage. That's to be expected.
But on the other hand, what you also see are concerted efforts to create a sense of national reconciliation so that especially those who are involved -- the so-called rejectionists, people who have so far rejected an invitation into government, will, in fact, decide that it's in their interest to be part of a political approach to putting together a unified and peaceful Iraq.
Q The President's statement was open to misinterpretation, let's say. Why did he use it a couple more times after he first did and people reacted --
MR. SNOW: Because he didn't think he had --
Q Why wouldn't he want to avoid any misunderstanding on something so obviously --
MR. SNOW: Maybe he didn't think that people were going to be -- were going to spend so much time trying to twist it out of context. But I'm pleased to have been able to place it in context.
Q Back for a minute on the Mark Foley matter. The President has supported Speaker Hastert's call for an investigation and has said the facts need to come out. Just to be clear, does the President also believe that the conduct of House leaders and how they handled these allegations --
MR. SNOW: David tried to sort of pick at that thread --
Q -- pardon me, I came in a little bit late, so I didn't hear David --
MR. SNOW: Okay, you missed my disclaimer that I'd be politely but --
Q That you were ducking.
MR. SNOW: yes -- but I didn't --
Q "Dodge" is the word.
MR. SNOW: Did I use "dodge" or "duck"?
Q You used "dodge."
MR. SNOW: It was "dodge." Okay. Because I'm just not going to get in the business of evaluating what the House has done, and nor is the President.
Q The President then has no view on whether or not the conduct of the House leaders should be looked at in this matter?
MR. SNOW: I believe it's being looked at each and every day.
Q Tony, on the North Korea issue, intelligence officials are confirming they've seen movement at North Korean nuclear sites. North Koreans have said a nuclear test is imminent. And now U.S. officials say other assets, surveillance assets are headed to the peninsula. How serious is the administration taking this, should the American people take it, or do you think it's more saber rattling from North Korea to get more aid?
MR. SNOW: I can't answer that. I mean, you know that, Brett.
Q I understand. But in the six-party talks -- you always answer about six-party talks -- during that framework, we've seen the North Koreans try to launch a long-range ballistic missile. Now they're saying a nuclear test is imminent. So is it possible to say that the six-party talks and the pressure just isn't working?
MR. SNOW: Well, I think what you've also seen is since then you've had a U.N. resolution where the Chinese, for the first time, got themselves diplomatically on board, saying, you shouldn't go nuclear -- you shouldn't have a nuclear peninsula. You've had the South Koreans, for the first time, putting on some economic pressure. So I would dispute the notion that it hasn't had any effect. We're just going to have to wait and see what happens. I don't want to be speculating from the podium, not do I want to be talking about what may or may not be going on.
Q And without the hypothetical, what would you say would happen if a nuclear test went off?
MR. SNOW: If that happened, I would have an answer.
Q Just to go back, a couple of things on the Foley matter to clarify. You were asked if he'd spoken to Hastert. Has he spoken to any of the leadership about this?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q Is this a separation of powers issue, Tony, or is this a determined effort to insulate the White House from this whole thing?
MR. SNOW: No, I don't think -- look, this is an issue that everybody cares about, but it's also an issue that -- the House has to figure out what happened; the House is the proper place for investigating the behavior of its members, although the Justice Department does now have an investigation ongoing. But let me also clarify, in case anybody wondered, this is not a White House that orders up investigations, and so we have nothing to do formally or informally with that investigation. Look, this is a horrible thing. People do deserve to know what happened, and they do deserve to know how to fix it, and there's going to be a lot of conversation about that. We understand that.
Q And to follow up on another comment you made a couple of minutes ago, you said there's a "hanging jury" out there.
MR. SNOW: I was talking about you guys.
Q What about the Republicans who are finger-pointing and --
MR. SNOW: Well, we'll see. I mean, look, we're going to see how all this plays out.
Q If it turned out that Representative Foley could not be prosecuted under federal law for the emails and the IM's that we're aware of now --
MR. SNOW: John, A, I'm not a lawyer; B, as I've made pretty clear, we don't know the facts. To answer all of your basic concern, you need to figure out what the facts are. I think that is important. At that juncture you can get sage lawyers or other commentators to figure out what the legal status is.
I think without looking at the legal status, it's hideous, it's unacceptable, period.
Q If it turned out that it was not prosecutable under federal law, could you see the White House supporting some change in federal law?
MR. SNOW: Again, let's figure out what happened.
Q Tony, has the President made any calls to any partners in the six-party talks, or elsewhere, on North Korea?
MR. SNOW: I don't think so. I mean, in the last couple of days, no -- if that's what you mean.
Q That is right.
MR. SNOW: In the last couple of days, no.
Q And you said something like, now is a time when we were offering carrots --
MR. SNOW: I mean, that's been part of the six-party talk formula.
Q I just want to make sure -- you're not saying that the purpose of the U.N. consultations now is to beef up the incentives package, right? I mean, that is --
MR. SNOW: No, I mean, our position --
Q Yes, but a punitive structure, not an awards structure.
MR. SNOW: It's talking about what the options are.
Q You said the President supports Speaker Hastert's call for an investigation. Does he support Speaker Hastert continuing as Speaker of the House?
MR. SNOW: As the Vice President said yesterday, he didn't think the Speaker should resign. He supports the Speaker.
Q Does the President? The President feels --
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Back to Iraq. I just wanted to clarify what you were saying about the demobilization. I just wanted to clarify, are you suggesting that the President fully extracted that the unit would have to be demobilized --
MR. SNOW: No, no, no. No, it's --
Q -- turning into death squads? I'm not sure I --
MR. SNOW: No. What's happened is -- we've said this a number of times, General Casey has made it clear that this would be -- they looked at police. You have had a situation in Iraq where the military that has been trained up has behaved in a pretty professional matter, but this has not always consistently been the case with police. This has been a concern, and the Iraqi government has also shared that concern. And I think you saw it most vividly yesterday -- and this is the first time I know of -- where they've taken such assertive action to make sure that the police are protecting the people, and not serving as predators against them.
And in order to build public faith in the institution of the police, you do need to have a professionalized police force that serves as peace officers, and not as warriors.
Q Can I just follow on one point, Tony? It strikes me that you're trying to have something here both ways. The President does not believe that Speaker Hastert should resign, this is his position. Is that to say that he is satisfied with the conduct of Speaker Hastert and other Republican leaders on this matter?
MR. SNOW: I understand the question, but I'm just not -- as I said at the outset, I'm not going to get into discussing, evaluating, reviewing, rehearsing what members of the House have done.
Q But in making the judgment that he shouldn't resign, you're not saying the President is making a judgment?
MR. SNOW: No. I'm just saying he's supporting the --
Q How do you explain that?
MR. SNOW: -- he's saying at this point that the Speaker should not resign.
Q We should not take from that -- that view that he should not resign -- that the President is satisfied with his conduct in this matter?
MR. SNOW: I'm just saying -- I know it's maddening, and I apologize, but we're just --
Q That's a straightforward question.
MR. SNOW: No, it is a straightforward question and I'm given you -- going back to the caveat I issued at the top. As interesting and as inviting as it may be for us to try to stand and render judgment on the House's pursuance of this issue, I'm just not going to do it; including talking about whether we support or defend -- the President, again, has said that he supports the Speaker and doesn't think he should resign.
Q But, Tony, how would the world change for this White House if the Democrats were to take control of a chamber or two on the Hill? And is the White House doing anything staffing or strategy-wise in preparation for that possibility?
MR. SNOW: The answer to the first is chin-pulling, hypothetical. The answer to the second is, no.
Q There have been reports that there has been staffing up on attorneys preparing to defend against possible investigations. Is that not true?
MR. SNOW: Not true, at least not true in my experience, I don't think so. No.
Q You said the White House is not worried about people staying home during the midterms. But in addition to the Foley scandal, and the senior Republicans forming a sort of circular firing squad -- you've got the war in Iraq going badly and you've got the Woodward book. Why would you not be worried?
MR. SNOW: Well, a couple of things. First, the Woodward book is going to be interesting, in the sense that it's fascinating to everybody here in beltway. But there are also a lot of single-sourcing problems. And, you know, there is going to be a lot of back and forth. I talked to Andy Card today, for instance, who says he was quoted accurately, but out of context. I talked with the aide to General Abizaid, who said that although General Abizaid is quoted a couple of times, he was never contacted, they never ran quotes by them, they didn't talk to him. They didn't talk to Kissinger -- he's quoted in the book. They didn't talk to Brent Scowcroft -- he's quoted. David Boren has issued some denials, as well.
Furthermore, on one of the central charges that there is a discrepancy between a couple of documents from the Pentagon -- there is none. And so you can get into the nit-picky on that, but the point is, of course -- I think what I said is voter intensity does matter and turnout matters.
And our view is that the best way to serve voters on this is talk ultimately about what you're going to do in the future; what plan do you have for winning the war on terror and winning in Iraq? Everybody says, you've got to win in Iraq; how are you going to do it? How are you going to win the larger war on terror? What are your next steps? How are you going to deal with the tough issues of Social Security and Medicaid? How are you going to deal with trying to keep an economy going? How are you going to handle issues of public safety? Those things matter to people, and those usually form the crux of an election.
So, certainly, we're going to address the issues as they arise, but, on the other hand, you can assemble a whole series of scenarios about how things may play out. The American people make pretty sage decisions come election time, and we'll have to see what they decide this time.
Q But there are reports coming in from the stump of situations where the only questions that are coming up are about the Foley issue. And as much as the candidates might want to talk about those important issues, they can't.
MR. SNOW: Well, it's also important to realize that individual members should not be held responsible for what Mark Foley did. It was absolutely inappropriate. I think the people who are doing the electing or doing the voting understand that.
As far as your trend, if I have it right, Victoria, you're talking about a trend that would now be five-and-a-half days old, so that -- I'm not sure that constitutes a "trend," but it certainly has been an issue of intense press coverage and some curiosity on the stump. And I suspect when people get asked questions, they answer them.
Q Tony, the Christian right is chiming in on this. They're saying that Hastert should, indeed, resign, and the Republican Party has dug several holes for themselves, to include the Foley issue. Can you at least comment on their comment?
MR. SNOW: No. Let me put it this way. People are going to have their -- let me go back to my fundamental issue, which is, it's disgusting and this sort of thing should never happen, period. Upon that issue, everybody agrees.
I'm not getting into, by trying to sort of interpret what the so-called Christian right -- which, I have a feeling there are a lot of religious conservatives who may or may not fit into the scenario that you've laid out, but there have been a couple who have spoken out. And, you know, I'll let them just stand by their comments. I'm not going to evaluate.
Q From this podium you have said that this is the party of ethical standards.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q And that is what this source from the Christian right said, that Hastert should have, at the time of hearing upon these overly friendly emails, he should have at least contacted authorities. And because of failed leadership, he should step down.
MR. SNOW: I understand all that and, as I said, all of these are things I'm not going to play -- I'm just not going to grade performance and I'm also not going to assume that I know all the facts that come to bear on making such judgments.
Q Does the administration understand the Christian right's thought? As you say, you are the party of ethical standards. Do you understand --
MR. SNOW: We understand people's real concern about this. I mean, people ought to be concerned. It's a hideous thing.
Q Failed leadership, and possible issues --
MR. SNOW: Again, April, perhaps you know each and every fact here. You know, I think it's incumbent on members of both parties to make sure that they behave properly when it comes to any individual or constituent. As I said before, there's a systemic problem they've got to deal with, but they certainly have a particular problem that they've got to get to the bottom of, they've got to find the truth, and they've got to deal with it.
Q You said earlier that this is not a White House that calls for investigations. Can I just ask you to reconsider that in light of the President's comments after the terrorist surveillance program was disclosed, and then after the prison program was disclosed. Didn't the President make it clear that he believes that it's necessary to get to the bottom of these leaks?
MR. SNOW: Did we make a formal call for an investigation?
Q Did the President say from the podium --
MR. SNOW: Yes, okay. Yes. What I'm saying -- what I'm saying is, that when you deal with an ongoing criminal matter like -- okay, got me. You're right. I revise and extend my remarks. (Laughter.)
Q I have an unrelated question on a different topic. Next week, the President is going to -- has called for a conference on the school shootings, and the Brady gun violence organization has asked -- has sent a letter to the White House asking that they be included in that meeting. Will you include, or will the President include gun safety experts?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. We haven't finalized it, and we'll let you know what the set up is when it comes.
Q Is that something the White House is open to?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not involved in the -- I understand.
Q Does the President believe the issue of gun safety is at play in the problem of school shootings?
MR. SNOW: The President believes the issue of school safety is at play, and we need to figure out how to make it possible.
Q Can I just get you to quickly react? Likely -- you likely did not hear the House Minority Leader's speech today on the Democratic plan for the economy at Georgetown.
MR. SNOW: Give me a day to --
Q But, would you hit these point -- she said, roll back tax cuts to the wealthy, boost minimum wage, tax breaks for college education, and get out of Iraq.
MR. SNOW: Okay, well, we will again, in fairness to the Minority Leader, as I've often said, you need to look at what people say, rather than trying to do a judgment. And although that provides a tantalizing list of things to which one might respond, I think out of fairness to her, I need to find out exactly what she said so I can do it contextually.
Q Will he respond to that tomorrow in his speech?
MR. SNOW: Will he be?
Q He's got an economy speech tomorrow.
MR. SNOW: I don't know. It might. Look, every --
Q Tony --
MR. SNOW: Les, please, please. I'll do Sarah first, then I'll get to you.
Look, every time we talk about the economy, there's -- when Democrats say they want to roll back taxes on the rich -- and I don't know, again, what precisely Representative Pelosi has in mind, which is why I don't want to be specific about it -- but it's pretty clear that quite often a so-called tax cut to the rich applies to just about anybody who is able to collect a paycheck. The question is, do you make the economy better by taking money out of people's hands at a time when they're trying to pay their bills and meet their obligations? And our answer is, no.
As a matter of fact, if you take a look at what's happened since the tax cuts were enacted, the United States has absorbed a recession, September 11th, Katrina, a corporate scandal. I mean, these are a series of shocks that at any other time would have, in fact, brought an economy to its knees, but instead, because Americans have been working, have been putting the economy on their back, we've had an amazing run.
And one of the key questions on which Americans are going to have to choose is, do you want the run to continue? My guess is that answer would be, yes. And then the follow up question is, okay, what's the best way to do it? And that certainly is a substantive issue that we welcome. So every time the President does it implicitly or not, that's certainly contained in his comments.
Sarah, I promised you next.
Q Thank you. Tony, about North Korea. Is it now time for the President to change his policy and engage in direct talks with North Korea Kim Jong-il?
MR. SNOW: No. It was a simple question, and the answer is, no.
Q All right, two questions. U.S. Senate Democrat nominee Jim Webb has repeatedly apologized for his 7,000-word article headlined "Women Can't Fight." My question: Does the Commander-in-Chief believe women should be in ground combat units, and that the U.S. Olympic teams should end all that gender segregation in teams for women?
MR. SNOW: The President supports -- he allows the operational details to be conducted by the military commanders and he supports their efforts and operations.
Q Tony, in the President's undeniable hope that his Republican Party will not lose its majorities in Congress, does he believe that Senator George Allen has been treated fairly by 30 news stories which discuss "macaca," plus 10 editorials and 4 Style Section features that did the same thing in The Washington Post?
MR. SNOW: The President not only does not do book reviews, he doesn't do newspaper reviews.
Q Tony, does the White House have some sort of assessment on the support or lack of support in this country for possible military action against Iran or North Korea should it come to that?
MR. SNOW: Again, you're just -- that's just not a conversation we're having right now.
Q Tony, can you try to explain or clarify, why is the White House supporting Hastert in staying in the speakership job when you don't have all the facts? You've been saying over and over, we don't have all the facts. So why are you supporting his staying in the job --
MR. SNOW: Well, based on what we know -- again, if you have a situation where you say support or don't support, in absence of full information, we're sticking with what we've got.
Q Well, why not say, we don't know -- we don't know whether or not he should stay in that leadership role because we don't have all the facts?
MR. SNOW: Because we don't think that Denny Hastert is the kind of guy who says, man, that's great stuff, I'm really glad Foley was doing that on the sly. We think that everybody who is -- that decent people were just absolutely sickened by this and we hope that people are going to work together on Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans, to fix it.
Q So you are saying that you believe that Hastert has handled the situation appropriately?
MR. SNOW: As I told you -- I knew this would happen and I'm going to be firm, consistent, and non-responsive.
Q Tony, were you blaming the media?
MR. SNOW: No, I was being duly glib, Helen.
END 1:22 P.M. EDT
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