For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 14, 2007
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:46 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: All right, a couple of notes up front. Is Chris here?
Q He's in the building.
MR. SNOW: Remind me when he comes here, and I'll make proper comments about him at the time.
The President today met with, as you know, with General Martin Dempsey, where they talked about ongoing efforts in Iraq. We are a little bit concerned about some reports on the Internet that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a conversation with liberal bloggers, had referred to General Pete Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, as incompetent, and apparently, again according to the reports, had said disparaging things also about General David Petraeus. We certainly hope it's not true, because in a time of war, for a leader of a party that says it supports the military, it seems outrageous to be issuing slanders toward the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and also the man who is responsible for the bulk of military operations in Iraq.
Indeed, Senator Reid has, at some point, declared the war lost, and also has declared the surge a failure, even though it has not yet been fully enacted. I don't know if it's true or not. If it is true, I certainly hope he does apologize.
Q How come you didn't wait to find out? Why the preemptive strike?
MR. SNOW: Well, I just think it's appropriate to comment on it.
Q Whether or not it's true?
Q That things are outrageous, but you don't know whether they are or not they are true.
MR. SNOW: Well, do you trust the Politico? I don't know. We'll give a call, but --
Q You never like to comment on things that we hear --
Q -- but you say are hypothetical.
MR. SNOW: You got me.
Q The President said in his speech that -- to expect many more casualties. How many more Americans is he willing to sacrifice to keep this war going?
MR. SNOW: You know, what's interesting, Helen, is if you ask the people who are -- if you take a look at what's going on in recruitment right now, the people who are most likely to sign up are the people who are involved in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. And if you talk to a number of them, they feel that they are part of something very special, which is something that is certainly a difficult mission, but it also reflects the finest traditions of the United States of America, which is what people are fighting for -- to liberate others and to extend the boundaries of liberty, and to create the possibility for allies who are going to be not only allies in the war on terror, but examples of exactly the power of freedom.
The President wishes that nobody had to die. This is something that is deeply personal. He quite often meets with families of those who have been wounded and killed. On the other hand, the real question is, what happens if the United States walks away? And the answer is that many, many more people will be washed away in needless bloodshed as forces of terror draw confidence and encouragement from the fact that we will not have finished the job.
Q I have one follow-up. Are there any members of the Bush family or this administration in this war?
MR. SNOW: Yes, the President. The President is in the war every day.
Q Come on. That isn't my question.
MR. SNOW: If you ask any President who is a Commander-in-Chief --
Q On the front lines --
MR. SNOW: The President.
Q Tony, you say that you're outraged by Senator Reid's comments, whatever they were, about --
MR. SNOW: Let's say, if it's true.
Q -- about General Pace, but yet the President chose not to stand up for General Pace in the face of senators who said they didn't want to go through a hearing, that would be tough on Iraq and he would be an easy target. So how can you --
MR. SNOW: No, that would be your characterization. In fact, what the President did is he accepted the recommendation of the Secretary of Defense, who thought at the time that the nation's interests would not best be served by a spectacle like that. And, instead, what he ended up doing, after conversations with General Pace, decided to make some changes.
Q But isn't that what Secretary Gates recommended, is that -- not to stick up for General Pace, even --
MR. SNOW: I don't think that's -- I don't think General Pace or Secretary Gates would put it that way. What they decided to do was to spare the General, and also the American public, the kind of spectacle that I think in some ways explains the low esteem with which people regard the entire political class in Washington, especially Congress. So if you want to get the proper characterization of motives, I would direct you to Secretary Gates.
Q I'm just saying it seems like you're having it both ways. You call these comments outrageous, but, yet, you didn't stand up for General Pace.
MR. SNOW: No, I think the President has constantly stood up for General Pace and has also made it clear that he values his 40 years of service to this country. I don't think that is at all the case.
Q You went ahead with the hearing for General Casey, and that was a difficult hearing. Why not General Pace?
MR. SNOW: Again, I will direct you to -- number one --
Q What kind of spectacle are you talking about? What did you expect?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I was not privy to the conversations. I'm repeating to you what Secretary Gates has said, and if you want further detail on that, I'd direct you to him.
Q I'm sorry, I interrupted my own questioning here. What about General Casey? He stood up for General Casey, he went ahead with that hearing. That was a difficult hearing -- why not General Pace?
MR. SNOW: Again, I would direct you to Secretary Gates, but at least based on the characterizations I've seen, I think he was talking about something that would be far nastier than what we saw with General Casey.
Q Since you're dealing with the issue of "ifs" today --
MR. SNOW: I'm sorry, what?
Q Since you're dealing with the issue of "ifs" today, what would be the reason for Lewis "Scooter" Libby to get a pardon?
MR. SNOW: Look, at this point, the President has said -- not "at this point" -- what the President has said is let the legal process work itself out. We're just not engaging in that right now.
Q Is he worthy of a pardon? He was not convicted. He was not convicted on leaking, but other issues. Is he worthy --
MR. SNOW: I understand. That is an interesting "if," and it's not something that's appropriate to discuss.
Q Tony, two questions. One, FBI Director Robert Mueller was speaking at the global nuclear conference in Miami, Florida. And as far as FBI is concerned, so far they have done a good job -- not any major terrorism. But he was concerned -- he said that it's not a matter of time but when the terrorism attacks the U.S. again, but also he said that there is enough loose nuclear material around the globe which al Qaeda and others who hate the U.S. might get it. My question is what he said, that we need a unity among global law enforcement and also global friends. What President is doing about this -- any further attack or nuclear material by the terrorism?
MR. SNOW: Well, Goyal, surely you know that there's been extensive cooperation, continues to be, between police agencies and intelligence organizations throughout the world. The administration also has been pushing for non-proliferation. The entire GNEP program is designed also to say to nations, those of you who want to have civilian nuclear power, we want to do it, but we don't want you to have the capability of developing nuclear weapons. So there are vigorous efforts, either on the law enforcement side or also the diplomatic side to try to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
What Mr. Mueller was really talking about, Director Mueller, is the obvious thing, which is that if al Qaeda could get a nuke, it would love to get its hands on one. Well, everybody knows that. And what we want to do is to make sure that they can't.
Q Second, if I may. There's a disturbing report, as far as illegal immigrants are concerned in this country, but many of them are living like slaves, captive by their captors, like taken advantage or they have been like slaves in this country, many of them.
MR. SNOW: Well, I don't know about that, but two things. Number one, the President obviously has made clear on a number of occasions his own opposition to this kind of treatment to anybody anywhere. Number two, one of the key items in comprehensive immigration reform is to make sure that everybody gets a tamper-proof ID. Why? Not only can you get an accounting of who's here, but you can also hold accountable all employers. We have said that one of the problems in the present law is that it absolutely lacks any kind of credible mechanism for punishing employers who knowingly hire illegals or exploit them.
Under the new law, if you have a requirement for a tamper-proof ID -- an employee verification system, then employers cannot say, oh, you know, how do I know if it's a fake Social Security card, or how do I know if it's a fake driver's license? Here you know because it's got a biometric marker. They no longer have excuses, and the full force of the law will be applied to them. And unlike the 1986 statute, we're talking about very serious sanctions against employers who knowingly break the law. This serves not only as a protection in terms of trying to make sure that we know who's here legally and illegally, but also it serves as a protection for the workers themselves for precisely the reasons you've cited.
Q Tony, the situation in Gaza, Ban Ki-moon says that in separate phone calls with Olmert and Abbas there's a possibility of an international force. Is that -- what does the President think of the possibility of --
MR. SNOW: We're aware of some of the conversations, but the most important thing right now is, number one, Hamas has to stop terrorizing the Palestinian people. And, number two, we want to get back to the situation where the Palestinians can get something that they've been robbed of too many times, which is peace in their streets, democracy in their government, and the ability to move toward what everybody in the region ought to hope for, which is two nations, sovereign, living peacefully and side by side.
Q On immigration, because we were on that subject, could you talk to us a little bit about what the President is endorsing today? This $4.4 billion measure --
MR. SNOW: Yes, thank you. Let me walk you --
Q Right, give us some clarification.
MR. SNOW: Sure, that's a good question, because I was a little fuzzy on it this morning.
What we're talking about is an immediate appropriation out of the general fund of $4.4 billion. The CBO estimates that the thousand dollar fines for heads of household and the $500 fines for dependents will yield over two years $4.4 billion, at a minimum. Now what is going to happen is -- so you would appropriate that money, and then as the fine money comes through you would basically repay the account.
Now, all of this money would be spent on the trigger mechanisms in the legislation. So just to give you a sense -- and there would still be some money left over for additional border enforcement activities. Just looking at what OMB has put together for us, what you have -- I'll just give you a sense; and what I'll give you is the most expensive proposal right now, which is the so-called Gregg amendment. The Gregg amendment would call for 200,000 increase in Border Patrol agents*, 300 additional miles of vehicle barriers, 105 radar and camera towers, an increase in detention beds to 31,500. You put all those factors together and you get about $2 billion. Now, that does not include the cost of establishing the employee verification system or adjudicating the temporary worker program applications in a timely manner. We've got some, sort of, back-of-the-envelope calculations there, too, but it's less than $2 billion.
So that's what we're talking about here. We are talking about an immediate -- think of it, a direct deposit right now on border security, a surge toward the border of people and technology, because we understand a lot of people are skeptical about whether the government can actually provide security.
Now, as the President also pointed out in his remarks today, Operation Jump Start has demonstrated that when you put people and technology on the border you can have quick results. And with a fraction of what we're talking about by the end of the next calendar year, by the end of 2008, we've already seen -- I think it's 1.15 million apprehensions and returns of people at the border; you have seen greatly stepped-up enforcement, in terms of illegals -- and you all know a lot of the stories about employers, where you've had big actions, fines against employers; and end of catch and release, so that people who are now caught are returned; you have an increase in the ability to detain folks right now. You put all those pieces together, there are estimates that the attempts to cross the border have declined by as much as 25 percent just in the last year.
So we think that we have already established a basis for understanding that a real commitment does make a difference. And, furthermore, if you go ahead and meet the benchmarks that are incorporated in the Senate bill, that you're going to have a basis, really, for demonstrating to the public that you're absolutely serious, and not only serious, but effective in achieving that goal of border security.
Q Tony, do you think that the President endorsing this amendment, though, will be enough to persuade reluctant Republicans to vote for it?
MR. SNOW: I've said this many times, we think we've got enough votes to get cloture and passage.
Q How do you get to the $4.4 billion when the administration isn't sure how many illegal immigrants are in the country, really has no idea how many would come forward with the means to pay the fines and fees that would add up to it?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, this is a CBO estimate, so it's not something that we have done. CBO is estimating that you get about 60 percent compliance, and furthermore, the way the program works, as you know, is that in some cases, what you end up doing is paying it on the installment plan, where you essentially have something where funds are automatically transferred so that people pay off, again, $1,000 for head of household, $500 for others.
Some people actually think -- some of our folks think that that may be too modest, or certainly a conservative estimate, but that's probably the proper way to do it -- go ahead with a conservative estimate on revenues so that you make sure that you're going to be able to recapture those revenues over time.
And by the way, nobody knows exactly how much taxes you're going to collect next year, but on the other hand, as you know, what we try to do is to put together the best estimates we can based on the information available. Keep in mind that there are very powerful incentives under this bill to declare yourself. If you're caught and you don't have that tamper-proof ID, you get sent away. But on the way out, you get fingerprinted; that's gets entered into a system that is far more comprehensive in terms of the communication between law enforcement agencies, federal, state and local. And therefore, the possibility of getting apprehended when you try to cross the border are far higher and the punishments are far more significant. So there are a lot of encouragements and inducements for people to bring themselves forward.
Again, you're absolutely right, no hundred percent guarantee here, but it is based on the best estimates that people have been able to come forward with.
Q On this issue, the President has been very confident. I mean, he predicted the bill signing when he was overseas. And the other day he was confident. But yet, the polls show that there's unanimity on the other side on opposition and that there are Republicans who really weren't persuaded the other day. Are you seeing something, or is the President seeing something different than what we're seeing?
MR. SNOW: Well, first, when you say unanimity on the other side, I'm looking at the LA Times poll the other day, and it says 65 percent of Republicans back it. As a matter of fact, if you ask, do you think there ought to be a path to citizenship for people who pay a fine, that's 65, 75 percent; do you think there ought to be a temporary worker program, that enjoys widespread support. If you say, do you think people ought to be required to learn English, that's wildly popular. If you say, should we have a significant commitment to border security, people agree with that.
So I disagree with the contention that, in fact, among the public at large, that you've got unanimity against it, and as a matter of fact, when you start laying out what the provisions are and ask people what they think about it, they're for it. Nevertheless, we think that there -- it's pretty obvious that there is enormous skepticism in the public because they've seen this before. I mean, we went through a 1986 immigration reform that promised a lot and it didn't deliver. So what people want are deliverables.
Now, what I'm saying is that we've already demonstrated in the last year with Operation Jump Start that we've had some significant changes in the way things are going, and people are going to be able to see it and judge it as they see things going up on the border over the next 15 or 16 months.
When it comes to the vote counting, look, we understand that there are going to be some Republicans -- and Democrats -- let's keep in mind that a lot of Democrats have been opposed to this for different reasons. But the fact is that we believe that there are enough votes, again, to get cloture, Democrats and Republicans, and to pass the bill. And furthermore, we believe that you start explaining what the bill tries to do -- border security, make the rule of law mean something, have a law that punishes people who came here illegally in the first place, punishes employers who are knowingly hiring them, and has real punishment for people who, going forward, break the law -- that's something that the previous law didn't have. If you crossed the border, it was a misdemeanor that wasn't punishable by any fine or penalty.
Furthermore, if you stayed here, if you were an overstay on a visa, that wasn't even a misdemeanor, that was a civil infraction, like dropping gum on the sidewalk. So the point is -- and when you tried to go with employer sanctions, those were toothless, as well. There's no reason for anybody -- it basically said, break the law, who cares.
Now what you have is you restore the rule of law by having real and enforceable sanctions. And finally, when it comes to citizenship, we set up a system where those who wish to become American citizens have to admit they broke the law, they have to pay fines, they have to pay taxes, they have to stay employed, they cannot break the law in the future, they have to learn English, they have to pass the citizenship test, they have to wait a long time in order to do all these things -- in other words, they will have worked harder, stayed longer, and demonstrated good behavior and love the culture far more thoroughly than any other generation of immigrants has been required to do.
And that's the kind of thing that will build confidence that citizenship is not simply a give-away, but in fact, is an earned privilege.
Q Tony, why do you think you have enough votes for passage? Why do you think that now? And is there a new --
MR. SNOW: We've thought it all along. We thought -- no, no, we thought it all along. Again -- it's the same old nose count. But you keep confusing last week's vote as rejection of the bill. There were a number of people last week who voted against cutting off debate because they didn't want to cut off debate. And that includes -- so you had some people who supported the bill saying, you know, now, wait a minute, we have measures here that we think are certainly worthy of enactment, or at least consideration; we think you ought to have the full debate.
We went through an almost identical exercise last year, where you had failure to gain cloture because people wanted more debates. Later on Bill Frist brought it up, you had the debates, you had the amendments, and you finally got passage. And we see the same sort of pattern prevailing this year.
Q Have you gotten any confirmation on the North Korea money transfer?
MR. SNOW: No, we haven't. We have -- we continue to check on that. We know that -- we, again, are grateful to the Russian government for trying to help with this. We do not have any confirmation that the transfers have yet been made.
Q The Russians seem to be saying that the U.S. gave some sort of sanctions guarantee.
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to go into details until -- let's make sure we've got everything done before we start characterizing. And, at this juncture, again, right before we came here we tried to get confirmation. We don't have it yet.
Q On immigration --
MR. SNOW: Okay, one more.
Q One more, just clarification.
MR. SNOW: All right.
Q So, you listed these improvements, the border security improvements, as totaling $2 billion. What would go out initially under the Graham amendment that the President supports, would be $4.4 million. So do you envision it --
MR. SNOW: Billion.
Q Billion, excuse me -- billion in both cases. So do you envision it covering the expenses for two years, and then at that point, everything else being generated by the fines, that that would kick in?
MR. SNOW: Well, let's -- what also -- what happens also is that there are provisions where fines and other collections go in -- go to the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor for related activities. So that's also set up in the law. So what we're really talking about is setting aside this $4.4 billion -- this is kind of the one time for this surge -- so that you meet all the benchmarks in the law. And once you get to $4.4 billion, if there are extra monies, then they go into those DHS and DOL funds.
Q Tony, back on General Pace, how do you reconcile the administration's tenacity and persistence in supporting General Gonzales -- Attorney General Gonzales in the face of contentious, and some are saying politically motivated hearings, and the unwillingness to do the same for General Pace? Is there a difference in confidence level?
MR. SNOW: No, I don't -- no. And, again, this is -- the recommendation was made by the Secretary of Defense. And I don't know what all went into it, but I know that, as he said, he went in intending and wanting to renominate General Pace and also Ambassador [sic] Giambastiani. And he thought that what he was hearing from the Hill would have led to a spectacle that he did not think was going to be useful to the country. I really can't add much to that, Ken.
But there is no -- there is no lack of confidence or affection or respect for General Pace. I mean, this is a guy who has served the country for 40 years. And we all would have liked to have seen him able to serve another term as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. I can't really go any further than the Secretary of Defense, because it was his recommendation.
Q It sounds like the President uncharacteristically stepping away from a fight.
MR. SNOW: No. No, it's just -- no. What the President has done quite often is he also abides by the recommendations of Cabinet secretaries on such matters.
Q Thank you, Tony. Two questions. The New York Post has noted with concern that New York's Senator Clinton has named as co-chairman of her Florida presidential campaign Congressman Alcee Hastings. And my question: As the leader of the Republican Party, what is the President's reaction to Hillary's appointment of this same man that House leaders Pelosi, Hoyer, Conyers and Rangel and 409 more members of the House voted to impeach, and the Senate voted to remove from a judgeship for bribery and perjury?
MR. SNOW: The President does not spend a lot of time reviewing personnel decisions by the junior senator from New York, nor any others who are running for the Democratic presidential nomination. He will let them make their own choices.
Q This morning, The Washington Post bitterly attacked in an editorial Dr. Holsinger, the President's nominee for Surgeon General. My question, is there still no defense of Dr. Holsinger from the press secretary of the President who nominated him?
MR. SNOW: We understand the controversy about Dr. Holsinger. We also know that, for instance, two major papers in Kentucky have -- both of which are pretty liberal papers, the Louisville Courier Journal and The Lexington Herald Leader -- both have been supportive of him, as have a number of other people. So there's a record. And, obviously, he is going to be talking to members of the Senate and hoping to get a fair hearing and a vote.
Q Thank you. You have answered some of my question.
MR. SNOW: Go ahead, Sarah.
Q Thank you. A Pentagon report says violence has increased in Iraq in spite of the surge. Does the President intend to send more U.S. troops to Iraq?
MR. SNOW: Actually, the 90-10 report says that the overall levels have been high, but if you take a look at some of the metrics which have been taking place in Baghdad, you have a seen a decrease in sectarian violence, and you've also seen a number of other metrics, for instance, 34 percent decrease in violence in Anbar. Nevertheless, we've seen al Qaeda moving to other places and also using more deadly means, such as explosively formed projectiles.
So what the President does is he looks at the 90-10, and you look at it in terms of what's going on not merely throughout the nation, but keep in mind that the Baghdad security plan understands that the first thing you've got to do is secure the capital. There have been some encouraging signs, but, again, we will reiterate, the surge is not complete, forces are just now, this next couple of weeks flowing in so that you've have the full complement of forces, and it's going to be another month or two before they're completely up and running at full speed.
The 90-10 report also cuts off right in the middle of May, which was the bloodiest month. But, nevertheless, these are useful reports and it's very interesting, if you go through and take a look -- for instance, you take a look at the sectarian violence chart in there, and you see very high levels last year -- it's dipped down considerably, it's a little bit up the last couple of months. Those are important signals. But it also notes, for instance, that it is very important for the Iraqis to step forward and go ahead and complete a lot of the important political benchmarks: oil law, redistribution of income, political reform, constitutional reform and so on.
So the report is what it is, but it is not a blanket condemnation of what's going on.
Q Thank you.
MR. SNOW: Oh, wait a second. Everybody stop, stop, stop -- one more piece of business, ladies and gentlemen, I apologize. A quick round of applause for Chris Edwards, please. (Applause.) Tomorrow marks his last day on the job. He's been with the administration since 2002, and the White House since 2003, volunteered on the 2000 campaign and, I daresay, has played an important role in the lives of each and every one of us at some juncture in this room, and we're going to miss you. And you're going to go goof off for some months, is that correct?
Of each and every one of us at some juncture in this room. And we're going to miss you. And you're going to go goof off for some months, is that correct?
MR. EDWARDS: Yes, for a few months, and then family business.
MR. SNOW: Wouldn't we all like the option of doing that. Okay --
MR. EDWARDS: Everybody eat chocolate. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: All right. (Applause.)
END 1:11 P.M. EDT
* The Gregg amendment, which was adopted by the U.S. Senate, would increase the number of Border Patrol agents to a total of 20,000.