|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 3, 2007
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:53 P.M. EST
MR. SNOW: All right, happy New Year, everybody. Happy to take questions.
Q Prime Minister Maliki says that he wishes he could leave office before his term is over and that he wouldn't run again. Does the President still think that he's the right man for the job?
MR. SNOW: Yes, he's the duly elected leader of the Iraqi people.
Q Yes, but here is a man that says he wishes he could get out of there.
MR. SNOW: Again, I've read the stories; I don't have any further context on that. So no further comment on it.
Q Does the President think that Saddam Hussein's execution was handled appropriately?
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way -- our officials have said they would -- and you have heard General Caldwell say -- they would have done it differently. The Iraqi government apparently has some qualms about some of the behavior of people within and they are taking a look, as well.
Q Do you have qualms?
MR. SNOW: I think the most important thing to realize is that Saddam Hussein was executed after a long trial, long and public trial that met international standards, an appeal that met international standards, under American -- he was in American custody for the vast majority of the time. He apparently, according to General Caldwell, thanked the jailers for their treatment of him. He was handed over to the Iraqi government. There were some -- the embassy expressed some concerns; the Iraqis listened to those concerns, they've carried it forward. And I think -- it's interesting because there seems to be a lot of concern about the last two minutes of Saddam Hussein's life and less about the first 69 in which he murdered hundreds of thousands of people. That's why he was executed.
Q Has the President seen the videotape of the execution?
MR. SNOW: I don't think so.
Q Is there anything to the school of thought, following up on this two minutes versus 69 years thing, that it's not so much about Saddam Hussein as it is about the government that we're doing business with right now?
MR. SNOW: No, I don't think so. Look, again, you had a long process where people were very careful about having a legal process where he had the right to self-defense, where he had the right to counsel, where he had the right to make his best case. And the government is investigating the conduct of some people within the chamber, and I think we'll leave it at that. But the one thing you've got to keep in mind is he got justice. This is a man who killed hundreds of thousands and was executed for it, according to the laws of the country and in accordance with legal traditions that have met international scrutiny.
Q Tony, keeping all that in mind, that he's got justice, that he did terrible things for many years, this was also about -- what you have to have happen now is national reconciliation. And isn't that the most important thing right now?
MR. SNOW: I don't know if it's the most important thing, but it is absolutely critical, Martha. And you're right. And it's one of the comments that General Caldwell made today in Baghdad, and Prime Minister Maliki made, as well, and has been making. National reconciliation is absolutely vital to building the democracy that can sustain, govern and defend itself.
Q And yet you have the Iraqi government who the United States supports, turn this into a spectacle, or allow a spectacle to occur.
MR. SNOW: Again, you seem to be a lot more confident about everything that occurred in that chamber than I am. I think why don't you let the Iraqis take a look at it and see how they handle it.
Q But can you characterize what you saw what the President thought of this?
MR. SNOW: No. I think, as we've said -- the comments have already been made -- General Caldwell said that we would have done it differently. The Iraqi government apparently thinks they should have done it differently. Let's see how it goes out. The most important thing to keep an eye on, this is a guy who killed hundreds of thousands of people and received justice.
Q So if you want to move forward right, what you have to move forward to do is national reconciliation. And the message that the Iraqi government has for allowing that --
MR. SNOW: It allowed what?
Q A spectacle.
MR. SNOW: Describe the spectacle.
Q Well, there was a cell phone video in there; there were people shouting "Moqtada, Moqtada." I mean, that's about as far from national reconciliation as you can get.
MR. SNOW: I think the government has made it clear that they understand that reconciliation is going to be a critical piece.
Q You don't think that shows that there's somebody in that government with connections to al-Sadr?
MR. SNOW: It's hard to say. Let them do -- they're doing an investigation here. I think it's worth taking a look at.
Q Can I just follow up on this --
MR. SNOW: Yes, sure.
Q -- because everybody is trying to parse a little bit what that image is, and --
MR. SNOW: I think -- well, go ahead, David.
Q Well, I just -- the larger point about reconciliation that Martha brings up, which is this threshold question for this administration, as well, is, do they want it more than we do? And if you watch this and you watch the violence, do you not come to the conclusion that Iraqis appear to be more interested in killing each other, settling scores, the politics of division, than they are in forming a democratic government that we wish for them to have?
MR. SNOW: I think that's a perfectly appropriate question, David, and the Iraqis have demonstrated through incredible sacrifice that they do, in fact, believe in democracy -- not merely in elections, but you still have people signing up for the military, signing up for police forces, trying to create businesses, demanding equal rights. What you have are people arguing for the conditions that we think they deserve and ought to have, which is security, political freedom, the ability to build a secure economic future. All of those are parts of the long-term puzzle.
But what is -- yes, you have people who have engaged in sectarian violence, you do have some people in criminal gangs, and you do have some people who have been outside inciters. All of those are factors. But you still also have the fact that throughout much of Iraq, and even in the most violent areas, people are standing up and saying, no, we want better, we demand better. And they certainly deserve better.
Q The only question, though, to press a little bit, is the view that the President has been determined, he's been resolved, and nobody questions that, but does he get it? I mean, is he fundamentally out of touch with what the reality is on the ground in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: No, I think what happens is, we may be out of touch with reality because we sit around and we look at fractional pictures on the screen. This is a President who gets exhaustive briefings on a daily basis about the situation. He knows more than anybody in this room about what's going on there. And as Commander-in-Chief, he also has solemn and important obligations to deal with the situation properly, as the Commander-in-Chief, and as somebody who is committed to a way forward that's going to create the independent and free and democratic Iraq.
So the President does get it. One of the reasons why he has demanded options on a better way forward is that he understands -- getting back to your earlier questions about sectarian strife -- the Baghdad security plan didn't produce. You need to find a way to have an effective Baghdad security plan. You need to have proposals that not only deal with sectarian strife, but also some things that may be contributors, such as economic growth.
I've mentioned the fact that one of the briefings he's received is from these provincial reconstruction teams. Do not underestimate the importance of those groups, because these are people who not only engage in exercises involving civic institutions, but also businesses. So you have to have the rule of law that's credible; you have to have police forces that are trustworthy; you have to have economic opportunity; you have to have a government that's firmly committed to treating all equally. All of those things are important; they all are part of any way forward and they are certainly things that the President keeps in mind.
In point of fact, when he looks at the situation he not only looks at the military challenges, but the others, as well, including the challenge of the fact that the Iranians have been playing a role, that the Syrians have not been helpful, that you have regional issues that are involved, as well. So there are a whole series of things that certainly contribute to the situation; those are challenges. But the President also -- let me make this absolutely clear -- is committed to winning, and winning then is creating an Iraq that can sustain itself, govern itself and defend itself.
Q I just want to ask one thing. Are you suggesting that "we may be out of touch with reality," do you mean "we" the press corps, "we" the American people -- I mean, in other words, is the picture that's emerging out of Iraq through reporting of the press corps there, does it not represent reality?
MR. SNOW: I'm saying it's absolutely impossible for any reporting to capture fully the complexity of the situation like that. It's humanly impossible. I mean, you -- I've been a journalist, you're a journalist, you know that you make choices about what goes in and what goes out of any story. And this is no reflection on the people doing the business -- everybody in here knows, especially those of you in TV, when you've got a certain amount of time, you've got to figure out what goes in and what goes out. And the President has more time and has -- gets far more information than what is going to be able to shove into even the best and most thoughtfully produced news story or television report.
Q Tony, one of the criticisms of the Iraq Study Group was that you weren't reporting all the attacks out there, that you had all that information. Is that something you're choosing not to --
MR. SNOW: No. As a matter of fact, if you take a look at the 9010s, they're reported -- every three months, you get a comprehensive assessment. What they were saying is that they didn't think that there was the proper tabulation, I believe, of civilian casualties. And as I've explained, what's happened is that the Iraqis have been trying to handle the civilian casualties by tallying up what they get from morgues and hospitals. I will make no bones about it, that is imprecise. It is very difficult, as you know, Martha, to get absolutely precise numbers on it. But the one thing that we can say for certain is, the level of violence is too high.
Q Can I just go -- one more? Sorry. And to follow --
MR. SNOW: Let me spread it around. We've got a lot of others.
Q -- to follow up on David, but the Baghdad security plan that you keep talking about, and what you really need to do is reconstruction, economic growth -- that was part of the Baghdad security plan. Isn't one of the major reasons that Baghdad security plan didn't work is because the Iraqis didn't do their part, didn't send the brigades they needed to send in, didn't free up money?
MR. SNOW: I think what happened is -- well, again, I'm going to let the President give his -- I will leave it to the President to give his analysis of what he thinks didn't work. I think it is safe to say that there needs -- that there needs to be more in the way of forces within Baghdad -- Iraqi forces in Baghdad -- trained and equipped and ready. And this is what the Prime Minister has said. He's asked not only for larger forces and more responsibility, but also more equipment to get the job done. Let me put it this way -- it is clear that there was insufficient force to get the job done in terms of clearing, holding, and rebuilding, to allow all the three of those --
Q -- Iraqi and U.S. force?
MR. SNOW: Yes, insufficient total force to get it done.
Q How far along is the President in developing his new plan for Iraq? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: It's one of those things -- you know, one of these sort of hot and cold questions, Steve. I think he's fairly far along. Obviously, everybody is eager to find out when the speech is going to be, and at the earliest proper date, we will let you know. It's not done yet. The policy is not done. He is still talking to people. He's going to be engaging in consultations. He made this point in Crawford last week. But on the other hand, we're getting closer to the date. I just -- there has been a lot of speculation, and as I was telling a number of you yesterday, don't bet the mortgage on any particular -- don't do an office pool on this. Just wait until the job is done properly. The President understands that this is important and it needs to be done right. And when he's confident it's done right, then he will present it to the American people.
Q In his op-ed piece, he said he wanted to get the security situation in Baghdad under control. Does that mean he's leaning toward this surge in troops that we keep hearing about?
MR. SNOW: That means he is moving toward what he thinks is going to be the appropriate complex of policies to get that done. How's that for a dodge? It's not very good, but it's the best I can come up with.
Q Does the administration have a policy for open-door immigration for the collaborationists in Iraq who have been helping us who might have to leave now or when we finally leave?
MR. SNOW: Boy, that is -- Helen, that is such a -- I don't even know how to think about the question. You've asked me a question that is three "ifs."
Q I'm asking you now.
MR. SNOW: I know, but let me tell you --
Q Are we taking care of any Iraqis whose life might be in jeopardy and getting them out of the country?
MR. SNOW: What we're trying to do is to make sure that innocent Iraqis no longer have to live under conditions when their lives are in jeopardy. But as far as --
Q So we have no policy to bring them here like we did the South Vietnamese?
MR. SNOW: I am not going to -- I honestly don't know and I doubt I'd be --
Q Can you find out?
MR. SNOW: Well, I might, but I don't know if I'd be at liberty to tell you.
Q Tony, the Iraq Study Group, in its final report, called for moving the funding process for the war in Iraq from the emergency supplementals to regular budgeting. Now the incoming Democratic Chairmen of the House and Senate Budget Committee say they're going to push for the same thing. Will the administration consider that? And if not, why not?
MR. SNOW: Well, as we've noted, we have already been providing larger and larger set-asides within the budget for doing that. And I think you'll find in the State of the Union that we will move toward making expenditures in Iraq and in the war on terror, generally, including Afghanistan, as transparent as possible.
Q So will it become a part of the regular budget, or will it remain as a supplemental?
MR. SNOW: As I said, let's wait until we get it all put together. The President will make that part of the State of the Union address. And it also will be, obviously, part of the budget. Also, let me just caution everybody: Precise questions about the budget I'm going to be pushing off. The budget will be released, as has been announced, on February 5th. So for detailed budget questions, for obvious reasons, I'm going to have to withhold.
Q Well, before we go down that road, the President said he'll submit a five-year budget proposal that will balance, or try to balance the budget by 2012. Does Iraq and spending for Iraq factor in?
MR. SNOW: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Ongoing military obligations are included in that.
Q So is there a thought that the spending for Iraq will be less as we go into --
MR. SNOW: Well, let me put it this way: The determination is that the spending and the policies will be adequate and will be adequate to meet the challenge.
Q Okay, last one. Will the President consult with congressional leaders before he lays out his new way forward in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Yes, I think there probably will be some consultations. The other thing is, as a matter of courtesy, before any final address is made to the nation it's likely also that we will do some notifications on Capitol Hill.
Q And the President said "in coming days" in The Wall Street Journal. How do we read that?
MR. SNOW: Well, let's see, today is Wednesday? (Laughter.) You can just -- I mean, soon. I think as he gets closer to the address to the nation, again, we'll let you know.
Q May be prime-time, we don't know yet?
MR. SNOW: We'll let you know all the key details. Trust me, we want you all to cover it. We want you to cover it, we want everybody to see it. But we'll let you know the details.
Q -- seen as a mandate of the Iraqis?
Q Can we get excerpts right now? (Laughter.)
Q Are we ready to get off Iraq?
Q No, one more --
MR. SNOW: We'll do a few more on Iraq. Martha, let me run around the room, and then I'll come back to you.
Q Two questions. You talked about reconciliation being the ultimate goal. Is the President concerned that the troubling images that have come out of the Saddam execution are undermining that goal?
MR. SNOW: I think it's -- the key concern is that the Iraqi government I think understands the challenges before it. And reconciliation is something that the Prime Minister has made a key, a pivotal part of his running the government and will continue to be a key and necessary part of what he does. It's not the only part. But, obviously, you not only need reconciliation, you need conditions that are going to be conducive in the long run to the kind of reconciliation that says to all Iraqi people, you've got a real interest.
Q But you don't worry, though, that this incident undermines that goal and makes it more difficult to achieve?
MR. SNOW: The President is determined to make sure that we get to the point where we have an Iraq that can sustain, govern and defend itself. And he certainly understands difficulties that may arise and he also understands the even more vital importance of addressing them and moving forward.
Q And then, separately, to what extent was the President and also his advisors informed of the efforts by Americans in Baghdad to delay the execution? How much was he kept apprised of the events in the hours leading up to the execution?
MR. SNOW: Well, as you know, the President had been briefed fully on it. The American government made known to the Iraqi government its thoughts on it. The Iraqi government took that into account and proceeded as it saw fit. The President knew about that and knew what the plans of the Iraqi government were on the day the execution took place.
Q Did the President personally approve the decision to hand Saddam over to the Iraqis?
MR. SNOW: I mean, it was something -- I don't know if the President called up and said, okay, you may do it now. It was one of these things that had always been part of the process, that had been part of the agreement, that the United States would maintain custody until shortly before the execution. Again, it was the Iraqi government, itself, that was responsible for the timing and would be making the appropriate request.
Q Our officials had to say, okay, we've decided, the Iraqi government is not going to accede to our request to delay, we're going to hand him over -- did Mr. Bush sign off on that?
MR. SNOW: I think what you're doing is you're framing it the wrong way. The Iraqi government makes a request: It is now -- we would now like you to hand over the prisoner. It has been our approach to say, okay, and to cooperate with them. That's how it worked. The concerns had been expressed; they had been taken into account by the Iraqi government; they did as they saw fit. They made a request and we complied.
Q What were these concerns?
MR. SNOW: Those are the ones that you're going to have to look -- I believe Sheryl's paper had some.
Q But all I'm asking is did the President sign off on that? Did he say --
MR. SNOW: Well, again, you already -- you had a process agreed to in advance where when they would request custody, they would get it. I'm not sure that that required a separate stroke of the pen by the President. Those policies had already been in place.
Q -- administration's concerns on what happens in Iraq? I'm confused. You just said --
MR. SNOW: No, no, I was just referring to -- somebody was saying what are the concerns that Prime Minister Maliki had. And those were things that were reported. So I think it actually speaks for the government of Iraq, in this particular case.
Q What concerns did the Americans have?
MR. SNOW: I'm sorry, what?
Q What were the concerns the Americans had about the timing of the execution and so forth?
MR. SNOW: Again, it had been -- I'll tell you what. I know what's been reported. It's been confirmed to me, and I can tell you nothing more than has been in the papers on it. I have not had an opportunity to speak to Ambassador Zal Khalilzad on it, but --
Q But Ambassador Khalilzad was expressing those concerns at the behest of the administration, which includes the President.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q You made it sound like -- the President knew all along that he was going to request --
MR. SNOW: The President is going to know what the Ambassador is doing, yes, sure.
Q Why should we rely on press reports? Why can't you tell us what the concerns were?
MR. SNOW: Because I honestly don't know any further than that. I'll try to get you more detail.
Q The President gave the green light, didn't he?
Q -- reconciliation, was it --
MR. SNOW: Again, there was concern about timing. I can get you no more. I know nothing -- I'm afraid I don't know beyond that. This is going to create a whole new spate of things, but for those who keep tracks of "I don't know," we will also try to provide asterisks which are not accounted for in subsequent reporting.
Q Tony, in all of the many times that the President has enumerated what he hopes to accomplish with this new Democratic-controlled Congress, it's been noteworthy that he hasn't mentioned any of the issues that are really important to his political base, in terms of the social agenda: abortion issues, abortion rights issues, stem cell, some of the other things --
MR. SNOW: I'm not aware that there has been any active discussion of issues on abortion. There's some change in abortion policy that I wasn't aware of?
Q I'm saying all of the social issues that --
MR. SNOW: I mean, the President has made it clear, for instance, on stem cell, he doesn't believe that -- he believes in stem cell research so much -- the fact that this administration has done more to finance stem cell research, embryonic and otherwise, than any administration in history, and also does not believe that this kind of research necessitates the taking of a human life and believes in spending -- believes in encouraging, through federal largesse and otherwise, investigation into promising technologies. The position hasn't changed.
Q The question I'm getting at is, what does the administration feel the prospects are for this conservative social agenda now that there are big changes taking place on the Hill?
MR. SNOW: Well, you know, it's interesting -- I think the way to look at it, Peter, is now you're going to have a Democratic Congress and they will have to go through the process of drafting bills, marking them up, debating them -- well, maybe in the Senate anyway -- and then having a process where people have to engage in proper compromise and debate, and when we start seeing the product of those legislative deliberations then we'll be in the position to tell you where the President will stand on certain things.
You've got to keep in mind, our legislative system is, by design, inefficient. The founders wanted a situation in which it took time to draft legislation, it required people to have debate about legislation. The President would have his own opportunity, if he is opposed to legislation, to send it back. So all of these things may come into play in the months ahead, but the important thing now is the President has made it clear he's reaching out to Democrats on a whole series of issues where we know that there is substantial agreement. I'm talking about energy innovation and energy independence. You talk about education, which was -- No Child Left Behind was the product of bipartisan work. He's talked about the minimum wage -- the President has talked about increasing the minimum wage, while also providing the kind of relief to small businesses. There has been a discussion on a whole series of other things that I think provide a basis for this Congress, which says it wants to work together in a bipartisan fashion, wants to get stuff done, there's a pretty significant agenda that stretches before us where the two sides can get stuff done.
Q What signal on cooperation does it send when right off the bat the Justice Department refuses to give Senator Leahy what he wants on prisoner interrogation --
MR. SNOW: Well, number one, if you take a look -- Senator Leahy has made requests that -- I don't know if you've seen the exchange with the Department of Justice -- Senator Leahy has made similar requests before. He has asked for some classified information that is inappropriate and is not, as a matter of course, released to the Judiciary Committee. It is released -- we do keep the Intelligence Committees informed, as a matter of course.
He also had asked for internal deliberative documents, the sort of which no administration has ever turned over, and will not. On the other hand, if you also take a look, what it says is that we continue to be looking for ways to cooperate with Senator Leahy. For instance, in the letter, the Department of Justice remains "willing to share our views on many of the legal issues addressed in your letter, either on a formal or informal basis."
So what you have is -- and I would direct you to the letter that has been sent to Patrick Leahy by James Clinger, who is the Acting Assistant Attorney General, where he goes through and he cites specific statutes in terms of especially the maintenance and handling of classified information for which the President has a right to maintain classification. And there are only, by tradition, certain people within Congress who appropriately have access to that sort of information.
So this is not a sign of intransigence. I think it's a sign that on the Hill Democrats are going to push for some things, and you expect that. And there are going to be some areas in which we're going to be able to accommodate, and there are going to be some areas where we're going to try to find other ways to cooperate and to address their concerns and get to them the information that's appropriate.
Q Thank you, Tony. In the briefings before the Christmas holiday, I asked you about the possibility of a tax increase either through raising income tax rates or increasing the -- lifting the cap on payroll taxes. And on two occasions you said you're not ruling it in, you're not ruling it out.
MR. SNOW: But I told you, also, that the President's position is that he doesn't believe in raising taxes and that he believes that investment accounts are an important part of a Social Security system and retirement system that not only meets the retirement needs of people who are now working, but also doesn't bankrupt future generations, because you do have a Social Security system right now that is financially unsustainable over the long haul, and you need to come up with something that's sustainable.
Now, I understand that there are a lot of people running around waving arms saying, he's going to raise taxes. What the President has said is that if you've got good ideas, if you think you've got better ideas about how to address this, put it on the table and we'll debate. And so, John, if somebody comes up with a proposal to raise taxes on Social Security, please get back to me, and I will give you a direct answer to the question.
Q Well, just tell me, have you talked to the President about it since you said you weren't ruling it in or ruling it out?
MR. SNOW: I've been in conversations where the President has brought it up. And as I said, let's see what other people propose. What you're trying to do is to get me to negotiate from the podium. The President has made it clear he doesn't want tax increases and he wants savings accounts. I don't know -- I mean, you know the position. It hasn't changed.
Q The President -- emphasizing earmarks. He's talked generally about reducing earmarks in the last -- over the last few years. But why today now, with the Democrats in control, does he seem to be upping the urgency of it and actually delivering a specific proposal on earmarks?
MR. SNOW: Democrats have been talking about it. I mean, it's one of the things we encourage. The Democrats have been talking about it. Now, you do understand that in a continuing resolution, you don't have earmarks anyway. So the real key is, let's figure out when you get to a real budget process, how do you create a sense of discipline and accountability about a system that has exploded? And, yes, there were Republican Congresses under which this took place. And the explosion in earmarks is something that's just -- it's wrong.
And so it's now -- the President has said that working with Democrats -- the Democrats have raised it, and so have Republicans, by the way. As John Boehner pointed out today, Republicans started talking about ways of going after earmarks, making them transparent. And here's the baseline: You don't want a system in which people are able to cut political deals, sometimes staffers, that involve the use of millions -- hundreds of millions, billions of taxpayer dollars, without ever having been reviewed by Congress, without ever having been voted for by Congress, just stuck in.
What the President says, come up with a system where, when there is an earmark -- and by the way, they're good earmarks, I'll explain in a moment -- you ought to know who requested the earmarks, who gets the money, how much money, and why. It's perfectly reasonable. Those are the things that people deserve to know.
So in that particular case -- for instance, a lot of times, an earmark is, we need to build a vital defense system here. Maybe there's only one. That would be called an earmark, but it would be something in the national interest and one in which there may not be any wide-ranging disagreement within Congress. On the other hand, you may have somebody who is putting something into the budget that, in fact, goes into the Defense budget or Medicare budget that does not contribute to the case of national defense or national health, that is simply there to sort of pay off a political debt -- those are not the kinds of things you want in budgets.
The President also followed up by reiterating his call for something that 43 governors have had for a long time, which is a line-item veto. And what we've done is we've gone back and come up with a line-item veto process that we think meets constitutional muster and, therefore, gives the President the ability from time to time, when we find something outrageous in a budget, to say, did you really want to vote on this?
So we welcome the attention on transparency and accountability in spending. We think it's a great idea. And it is pretty clear that there seems to be impetus both on the Democratic and Republican sides here. So this is a time to make sure that we're going to get the kind of reform that the American people want -- which is, no more deals behind our backs, let's see what you're spending, let's see who's getting it, let's find out why, let's find out what the sums are. All of those are very important questions and it's a good thing for people to be able to see. It's good government.
Q Okay, but the bad earmarks that you talk about are often viewed by some members as kind of tickets to reelection. Is there anything cynical about the President proposing this -- now that Democrats are running Congress, proposing eliminating something that helps incumbents?
MR. SNOW: Are Democrats being cynical by proposing earmark reform? I don't think so. I think what's happened is that there is skepticism about this kind of spending. Keep in mind it was Republican -- a lot of Republicans last year who were saying, we can't do this anymore. I think there really is -- I think both parties realize that this kind of spending is the kind of thing that creates, in some cases, distrust of government. And it's not good for them, and it's not good for the country.
Q And will he veto appropriations bills that have too many earmarks? In the past, budget officials -- and I guess the President said that as long as the number conforms to his overall number, that that's fine. Is that no longer the case?
MR. SNOW: Well, let's just see what happens when we get appropriations bills. As I said, there seems to be a movement toward fewer earmarks. Maybe that issue never comes up.
Q Tony, the President has issued hundreds of signing statements where he's told Congress, basically, don't butt in and tell me how the executive branch should run its business. Why is it then appropriate for him now to tell Congress how it should be running its own processes?
MR. SNOW: Now, wait a minute. Peter, what he said is that there are some times that he believes that the implementation language does not meet constitutional muster. And rather than getting into Congress's business, those signing statements have been looking for constitutional ways to fulfill the will of Congress and get them done effectively.
Now, this is an issue where the President is willing to make a proposal on spending. Keep in mind, the President does have a veto; the President does present the budget, but Congress goes through the process of working these up. I think in the nature of consultation it is not only appropriate, but standard operating procedure. If memory doesn't fail me, every President, Democratic or a Republican, has had something to say about the way in which Congress handles spending. And that is a normal part of American politics.
Q -- they should have disclosure, they should do this, they should not do it in the middle of the night -- isn't that telling them how they should have their process in a way that the President has resisted them imposing on his prerogatives to run the executive branch?
MR. SNOW: No, I don't think so. Members of Congress are already talking about doing this, Peter.
Q That's members of Congress; that's their process. Why does the President --
MR. SNOW: But on the other hand -- because the President is somebody who -- the President has a unique role, which is he is the Chief Executive of the United States. And as head of an executive department, sometimes if people pass on things and say, spend this money, even though we have not engaged in the kind of proper and full review, we're still going to demand that -- you and your executive agencies do this -- the President has a fiduciary responsibility to the American people, because, ultimately, it's not Congress that spends the money -- it's agencies that are under the purview of the President of the United States. That's why they call it the executive agency -- he executes the laws -- executive branch -- he executes the laws that Congress has passed.
Q Tony, first of all, happy New Year -- and also to my colleagues. My question is, Tony, that as far as execution of Saddam Hussein is concerned, you think President thinks that this is a message for rest of the dictators around the globe, including especially toward those who are protecting Saddam Hussein?
MR. SNOW: Again, Goyal, I'm not going to comment any more on that than I have done already.
Q The President had an op-ed piece today in The Wall Street Journal. He didn't mention this in his Rose Garden statement, but he did say he urged Congress not to pass deals that he would consider political statements. I wondered, among those, since he didn't mention them, the minimum wage bill -- even though you mentioned them --
MR. SNOW: The President has already said he is for increasing the minimum wage by the amount of money the Democrats have recommended, and that he thinks an important part of that is to make sure that you protect the small businesses that are, in fact, the source of most of those minimum wage jobs, so that you want to make sure that that sector of the economy remains healthy so you can provide jobs for people entering the work force.
Q He also didn't mention pay-go rules, which would include the option of raising taxes as a way of even balancing the budget.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, the President is going to present a budget that will be in balance by the year 2012 and will, in fact, demonstrate that without raising taxes, you set priorities and you spend and you come up with a complex of policies that are going to be good for the American people.
You've also got to understand, Paula, that there is going to be need for reform. For instance, on entitlements. We've talked about this. Everybody knows that Medicare and Social Security are simply, in the long run, unsustainable. You've got to address issues like that.
The one thing you don't want to do is to create rules that, if you're an American worker it means get paid less. The American workers want the opportunity -- you quite often talk about those at the lower end of the income ladder -- the last thing you want to do is to be pulling that ladder away and denying responsibilities for people by either making life more difficult for the people who create those jobs or, in fact, creating a tax structure that's going to be unfavorable to them.
Q May I follow up, though?
MR. SNOW: Please.
Q The Democrats have said very clearly that they want a clean minimum wage bill that, in a sense, some have argued it's a political statement on the part of the President to be conditioning an increase in the minimum wage on proposals that he knows the Democrats will oppose. So does that cut both ways --
MR. SNOW: No, I don't think so, Paula. The President has a responsibility for trying to make sure that a minimum wage bill helps workers, and also is going to help the businesses that create the jobs for them. Furthermore, I believe Democrats had been promising -- there's a Washington Post editorial about this today -- deferring to The Washington Post editorial page -- that talked about the importance of having free and open debate about these issues.
And I think it is important when you're taking a look at something like minimum wage to ask yourself the question, what's the most effective way to do this, not merely to make sure that a certain number of people in the labor force today get paid more, but how are you going to continue the kinds of economic policies that have allowed us to create more jobs than ever before, and to continue to have a growing economy, despite incredible obstacles over the last five years, plus wrenching economic restructuring in parts of our various sectors of the American business community -- how do you do that in a way that creates a healthy economy that's going to continue to make it possible for more and more Americans to have jobs and to move up over time into better jobs?
Q I have two on Iraq. Is it true that the central theme of the President's speech on the new strategy for Iraq will be sacrifice?
MR. SNOW: The speech isn't written, so get to me when we're closer to having a speech.
Q The themes could exist, even if the speech --
MR. SNOW: No, the President is still working through the policy. What the theme is -- you know what the theme is? Victory. Winning.
Q So the BBC is incorrect when it says that the theme --
MR. SNOW: The BBC appears to have found a phantom draft.
Q Let me just ask my second one. What's your reaction to the reports of more prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay that's appearing in these FBI documents?
MR. SNOW: Actually, it's an old story. These are not new documents. I'd refer you to the Pentagon. But the fact is, you remember a couple of years ago, there were stories about FBI reports? This is that story. They've all been thoroughly investigated, and in cases where there were abuses, those responsible have been prosecuted.
So I'm afraid it's a really old story, and it was irresponsible to get dredged up as something new.
Q Thank you, Tony. Is it possible to have a deployment or a surge, a short surge of troops in Iraq if the Democrats take action -- budgetary action or other action to stop it?
MR. SNOW: I'm just not playing the hypothetical game. I'm not going there.
Q Do they have enough control, enough power at this juncture to stop a surge?
MR. SNOW: As I said, you are making all sorts of presumptions about policy with regard to Iraq, about what Democrats may do, and frankly, it really -- Connie, that really is a parlor game question that at this point has no basis in reality. Let's wait to see what the President has to propose, and let's see how Democrats respond.
Q I guess I'm just asking, are there enough troops in the pipeline, enough money in the pipeline to send another 20,000 troops?
MR. SNOW: I understand all that. And as I said, when the President announces a way forward, he will provide answers to a lot of questions that I'm not going to do -- I'm going to resist the temptation to jump into it right now. As you can see, I'm chomping at the bit a little bit.
Q The White House has said that the President wants to consult with Prime Minister Maliki and the Iraqi government before the speech. Can you just clarify, does Prime Minister Maliki or the sovereign government of Iraq get to veto what he's proposing as the new way forward?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I think the way this has always worked, it's been collaborative, and the President -- we've kept you apprised of this. Every couple of weeks, he talks to the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister talks on an almost daily basis, if not a daily basis, with the Ambassador. He talks with the combatant commanders.
So, look, the Iraqis certainly have been apprised all along about thinking -- and they've got the same goal. They want to make sure that you have a secure Baghdad. They want a secure Anbar Province. They want the ability, as people are running a government, not to have to worry about not only their own safety and security, but that of others, and the economic prosperity. So I don't think -- this is not something where suddenly there's something shocking and new and it's -- they say, oh my goodness, no, we can't do this.
Q Well, just to elaborate, when the American people hear the speech, they should be confident that the Iraqis themselves have total buying into what the President --
MR. SNOW: The Iraqis will have been consulted and they will know and they will agree to work with us on it, because this is something -- again, we're there helping the Iraqi government. We are not -- there seems to be a construct where people think, you know what, we go in and we tell the Iraqis what we want to do, they say yes. It doesn't work that way. It is a sovereign government, we respect it as such, and we work with them on the common goal of that independent, freestanding Iraq.
Q While Speaker-to-be Pelosi has taken the issue of impeachment off the table, if you listen to the C-SPAN call-in to Debbie Wasserman Schultz today, one out of three calls were calling for impeachment from these Democratic people calling in. Is the President concerned that there might be a groundswell, in spite of whatever promises may have been made, and in the light of all the investigations that will be going on, that the issue of impeachment still hangs over the President and --
MR. SNOW: The President is going to be doing his job. As somebody who used to be a talk show host, you learn never try to take the pulse of a nation on the basis of people who call in. Victoria is shaking her head knowledgeably sitting right in front of you. I would hesitate to draw vast conclusions about the American populace based on folks who choose to call in to a single television program.
The President is concentrating on winning in Iraq and working with Democrats to demonstrate that this government can function, it can do what the people want it to do, which is to spend their money wisely, to deal with priorities they care about, and to get the people's business done, while you're in a vigorous debate, a minimum of rancor.
Q Tony, as a talk show host, could I have two questions?
MR. SNOW: I don't see that I have a choice.
Q This concerns the President's oath to support and defend the Constitution that's freedom of religion. Does the President believe that national religious leaders should be able to confiscate all the property of local churches who vote to leave their denomination because they agree with the President's expressed conviction, and now the Massachusetts legislature's two votes that marriage is between one man and one woman?
MR. SNOW: The President is not going to comment, nor am I, on ecclesiastical disputes. And by the way, what Massachusetts has voted on is voting on it.
Q There is a report that in the fall of 2000, when he was first running for President, Mr. Bush received standing ovations from thousands in Washington and elsewhere by promising that on January 20, 2001, he would order the U.S. embassy be transferred from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in which he was supported by the 90 percent vote of both houses of Congress in 1995. And my question: Since the Zionist Organization of America has declared that, "the President has completely violated his repeated and public presidential campaign promise," what do you say, Tony, as his spokesman?
MR. SNOW: I think you would be hard pressed to find any President who has been more faithful in his defense and support of Israel than this one.
Q I understand that, but what about his promise to move on Inauguration Day?
MR. SNOW: I'm just -- I believe that they have said that temporarily the -- I believe that the announcement that came out is that the embassy is going to remain temporarily in Tel Aviv. I will repeat to you, because the implication is that somehow the President has not been true to his word when it comes to supporting Israel, that no President has been more supportive, and that's all I'm going to say on it.
Q The President's announcement today that he will submit a budget that will --
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q -- you say that's based on actual assumptions including what he assumes will be the military posture by then.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q How about some transparency on how we got to those assumptions?
MR. SNOW: I think that -- as you know, the economic report of the President, which will come out the week of the 5th, always goes through those in considerable detail and those --
Q But he's making the claim now --
MR. SNOW: I understand.
Q -- you claim now and transparency later? You're asking -- the incoming House budget committee is asking for details.
MR. SNOW: -- and will get it.
Q And you're asking for transparency from --
MR. SNOW: And they'll get it. Again, you have transparency when you submit, and when the budget is submitted, they'll get the details.
Q You make the claim now, and transparency later?
MR. SNOW: Well, you can't because, Ann, as you know, I'm not releasing the budget. You have transparency in a budget. And you can judge for yourself and they can judge for themselves whether the documentation and the analysis that goes into it they think meets the standard of transparency. We're confident it will.
END 1:37 P.M. EST