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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 20, 2007
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
1:05 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Just getting organized. Hello. Questions.
Q Tony, does the executive order allow researchers to do anything they couldn't do under current guidelines?
MR. SNOW: Well, what it does -- the stem cell guidelines expand the range of pluripotent cells. I think what it does is it acknowledges that there have been some changes within embryonic stem cell science. In the past, if you were looking for pluripotent cells, the one and only acknowledged source were human embryos, and that obviously raised ethical questions, which led the President to promulgate guidelines back in 2001.
More recently, there seem to be some indications, based on research, that one can derive these pluripotent cells -- that is a cell that can transform itself into any other kind of cell within the body -- not necessarily from embryos, but from other sources, including skin cells. What this does is provide a basis for trying to enhance the number of pluripotent cell lines available to researchers using the NIH.
Now, the NIH is going to have 90 days to put together requests for proposals and try to set up a -- establish a procedure where you have peer-reviewed science based on the likelihood of clinical benefit and running through sort of the normal -- so what this really does is acknowledge that there has been at least, based on the literature, some indication that we may be on the verge of some pretty extraordinary breakthroughs in medicine.
Obviously, at this early juncture, you cannot be definitive about it, but this at least creates the space for which there can be federal funding and also a competition for federal funding for such projects.
Q How much federal funding are we talking about?
MR. SNOW: What we're really talking about is money within the NIH right now. The NIH has the ability to distribute money based on grants that it considers worthy, and it will continue to distribute them.
Q Can we quantify it at all?
MR. SNOW: You have to look at the NIH budget.
Q Because there's no additional money, isn't the executive order a way to blunt criticism, because so many Americans favor stem cell research, after the President's veto?
MR. SNOW: Well, what's interesting is -- again, the imprecision of this debate about stem cell research -- the President supports stem cell research, let's be clear. The President is the first person to make embryonic stem cell lines anywhere. Furthermore, this government has spent more money on stem cell research. The President also has never declared it against the law to engage in embryonic stem cell research -- he simply thinks it involves, as do many other people, the taking of a human life, and, therefore, would require taxpayers to engage in a moral bargain that we don't think they should have to be involved in.
Now, what we have is a possibility for even more robust research when it comes to pluripotent stem cell lines, making use of stem cells that are not derived by human embryos, and also sparing people of having to make a very difficult moral choice of having to destroy a human life in order to move on with experimentation that may in the future not be necessary at all. That's a big breakthrough.
Q Is there any way to try to kind of counter critics --
MR. SNOW: No, because I think what happens is the critics quite often who make those complaints are, whether deliberately or not, misstating the nature of the President's commitment to stem cell research, and paying little or no heed or giving no credit to the President's unique and unprecedented role in supporting stem cell research.
Q Well, here's one of these critics today, Tony -- Senator Clinton said, "This is just one example of how the President puts ideology before science, politics before the needs of our families, just one more example of how out of touch with reality he and his party have become."
MR. SNOW: Boy, that sounds awfully general. You want to read that again for me?
Q "This is just one example of how the President puts ideology before science" --
MR. SNOW: Okay, stop right there. This actually is the President putting science before ideology. There are many people who believe that you have to force taxpayers into making a choice of destroying a human life -- destroying an embryo in order to proceed with embryonic stem cell research. That would be an ideological position.
What the President is taking is a scientific position that says, no, fortunately, if you've been looking at the literature, there appear to be a couple of recent papers that indicate that you don't have to make that very difficult moral choice. But, furthermore, to the extent that there is embryonic stem cell research, it's being done not because Bill Clinton made it possible, but because George W. Bush made it possible. So as for the first claim, it is factually untrue. But, please, proceed.
Q "Politics before the needs of our families."
MR. SNOW: "Politics before the needs of our families." Hmmm. Again, I find it hard to say that you are arguing against the needs for your families when you are looking at ways of expanding the universe of pluripotent stem cells, also knowing that embryonic stem cells have had some fairly unique problems and are very difficult to control. There is some indication that maybe pluripotent stem cells derived from skin cells or other -- may be somehow more controllable, but I don't want to overstate my expertise.
But in point of fact, when you build a regimen that says we're going to give you more options in terms of pluripotent stem cell lines, we are going to do it on a peer review basis, we are going to try to rank-order them in terms of clinical benefit -- it strikes me that that's a way of saying we want to help get the most bang for our buck in saving human lives.
Q "And just one more example of how out of touch with reality he and his party have become."
MR. SNOW: Again, I think you will find that the President's reverence for life is shared by a majority of the American public. And, furthermore, perhaps Senator Clinton -- I don't know, maybe she just got briefed badly, but the fact is all the embryonic stem cell lines that have been available originally began with George W. Bush in August of 2001. This administration continues to fund aggressively stem cell research involving blood cord adult stem cells and a lot of other lines, and now is encouraging people on the cutting edge of science to look for even new and exciting ways.
Rather than being mired in a debate that, itself, is caught up in the abortion debate in this country, the President is saying there is a way that we can move ahead without getting caught in this politically divisive debate and offer, we hope, in the long run, real hope for men and women who suffer from degenerative or other diseases. But the point of fact is, it does allow us to go ahead and look for more options that, in fact, would not be made available if we were mired in rehearsing the old political debate.
Q Last one. Can you just talk about the President's use of his veto? He's used it twice for stem cell legislation. He's used it once for the Iraq bill. But can you talk about the future use of the veto pen and perhaps is it going to be more prevalent soon?
MR. SNOW: It very well may be. I mean, we have issued a series of statements of administration policy and we've got others that we're considering, made it clear that we want to be holding the line on spending. And the President has laid out an overall level of spending for the year; he's serious about that. There are other bills in which people may try to put in amendments that the President would consider inappropriate, and he certainly will not hesitate to use the veto. My guess is it's kind of up to Congress about whether they want to go ahead and listen to the concerns the President has. But if, in fact, you have both houses going ahead and passing legislation that contains language that the President has said he will veto, he will follow through and he will veto it.
Q Tony, so are you suggesting there's a scientific basis for believing these alternatives might be more advantageous than the embryonic stem cell --
MR. SNOW: As I said, what you hear from scientists is it's -- they're not entirely sure. In fact, they're not even entirely sure about what the possible benefits of embryonic stem cells, because again, they're notoriously difficult to control. There has been some impressionistic notion that perhaps these others may be more -- easier to control, but they don't know yet. This really is a science at the very beginning of its development. What this does is, we hope, provide the basis for further pluripotent lines that can allow scientists to really, in a dispassionate way, to try to figure out what the difference is relevant to whatever differences there may be in terms of their effect and their ability to do what a lot of people hope these cells will do.
Q Even if it does -- and you say there's this grey area they don't know -- even if it does, it could take decades to find out.
MR. SNOW: That's -- yes, and as a matter of fact, you find that people are saying precisely the same thing with embryonic stem cells. What's fascinating, Martha, is the business of trying to predict scientific progress is something that -- go back to the human genome; some people thought it was going to take years and years and years and years, and all of a sudden, whamo, it happened with far more speed than people thought.
So you can assign any kind of time line you want, I'm sure it's perfectly credible. We just don't know. It's one of the mysteries of science; every once in a while you have somebody who has one of those moments where, in a flash of insight, they discover something that changes the world.
Q But essentially, there's no new money set aside, there's no change in policy on this, and this research was already going on, correct?
MR. SNOW: Well, no, what we're talking about is research that actually has been going on in private places elsewhere, it's the result of papers. What we're talking about is trying to encourage research along those lines. So, no, you don't have this booming industry. What we're really talking about are a couple of relatively recent scientific papers that indicate there may be some promise.
And so what you'll do is you'll try to use your peer review process to figure out the proper way to go ahead. Always, in a place like NIH, you end up rank-ordering, based on the promise and the potential therapeutic value of anything you may be looking at. I know that very well. And so it's in that sense. But at this moment, there is no special set-aside, but on the other hand, what we have is the ability now to take a look at a broader roster of potentially healing therapies.
Q And no policy change at all?
MR. SNOW: Well, no, the policy change -- again, the policy change is that when you're taking a look at pluripotent stem cell lines, it is no longer limited strictly to embryonic stem cell lines. So that is a change in the law. I mean, you can read -- in sort of a pretty obvious way, there are a number of changes. For instance, you've got 90 days to come up with a plan for a request for proposals that specify and reflect a determination to the extent to which specific techniques may require additional basic or animal research. It prioritized based on clinical benefit. They take into account techniques outlined by the Council on Bioethics. So there are a whole series of things here that really do provide policy nuggets. So I suppose to that extent, you would call it a change in policy.
Q Democrats say they're about one vote short in the Senate from being able to override the veto. They have much more of an uphill battle in the House, of course. How much confidence does the President have in being able to sustain his veto, and what does he think about some of the Republicans, some senior Republicans, in fact, who have abandoned him on this issue?
MR. SNOW: Well, it's going to be interesting, because in the past, we've had some senior Republicans arguing on the basis of pluripotency, thinking that the embryonic stem cell is the one and only place you can get it. Again, there seems to be some indication in the scientific research that that may be old wisdom, not new wisdom.
The President understands that this is an issue that is one where people very thoughtfully disagree. He also believes that it would be inappropriate to say to taxpayers, I know that you think this involves the killing of innocent human life, but I'm going to make you pay for it anyway -- especially since there are billions of dollars available in the private sector to make such research possible. And in that point of fact, that money is being spent anyway.
Let me reiterate, it's not illegal to do embryonic stem cell research. The President has simply determined that it would be morally inappropriate to use federal dollars for it. So what you end up doing is people can certainly go out and encourage as expensive, robust, aggressive embryonic stem cell research as they can. A number of states have set aside money for doing that. But at the same time, you can now concentrate also on stem cell therapies that have, in fact, already demonstrated proven results, especially adulthood blood cord. When you're looking at the areas where you've demonstrated therapeutic results, those are the areas that have produced results before.
But, again, none of us has the God-like ability to know exactly where this is going to turn out, but this is certainly not an attempt to muzzle science, but it is an attempt, I think, to respect people's conscience on such an issue.
Q And the confidence level for sustaining the veto?
MR. SNOW: Yes, it's going to get sustained.
Q Tony, can I go back to Bret's question about the use of vetoes? Is this part of a new strategy in the second term to push back against Democrats? And how does Rob Portman's departure sort of affect that strategy?
MR. SNOW: Second question first. Rob Portman's departure will not affect the strategy. Again, as I made it clear, Rob is an extraordinary guy and was terrific -- is terrific -- as the Budget Director. But Jim Nussle is hardly new to the vagaries of exploring the federal budget or understanding how it works, or, for that matter, understanding what it means when the President draws a line and says, beyond this we shall not go.
There is a great deal of work already in progress that Rob has initiated and that is being carried out by a large and very capable Office of Management and Budget staff. So Jim is going to step in and he's going to continue those efforts.
The first part -- what the President made clear a long time ago is that he was going to be insisting on fiscal discipline. We talked about earmarks also in the State of the Union address. It is something where Democrats made representations, backed off, and now House Republicans are holding their feet to the fire, as they should. And so -- again, if we went into a situation where Democrats say, you know what, we're going to try to hold this budget hostage, we're going to put a lot of great, big spending in important bills -- they're going to find out that the President is very serious about the spending lines.
And, furthermore, on other policy issues, such as stem cells, they're going to find out he's serious about it. So this is -- the ball really lies in the court of those in Congress who have to decide, is it better for them to have a confrontation and have a bill fail, or is it better for them to work through perhaps a slightly more expanded collegial process and have a bill that can be signed for which they can take credit? The question is what do they want as the hallmark of this Democratic Congress, because right now the hallmark is they passed nothing. If they want instead to be able to say they worked on a bipartisan basis and got big, important issues solved, they can take a little more credit for that. But that's their call.
Q Tony, back to the executive order -- I'm trying to figure out how much a departure it is. The non-embryonic research that you want to encourage was allowed before the order and will be allowed after the order.
MR. SNOW: I'm just not sure. The thing is, Mark, this is so new -- it may have been allowed, it just didn't exist.
Q It has been --
MR. SNOW: There have been some very preliminary pieces of research. So like I said, you don't have Skin Pluripotentcy, Inc. You don't have, you know, some little hot shop where they're doing this stuff right now.
Q Before the order, the NIH gets a proposal for such research, as it exists today they can approve it. The President is not going to allow --
MR. SNOW: I don't know. Well, there are a couple of things. I'm not sure that's the case. Certainly the order is available. I'll just run through -- because I think what we have is a new situation where you have new technologies in play and, therefore, you write an executive order that tends to accommodate those. So what is says is, "Secretary of Health and Human Services shall conduct and support research on the isolation, derivation, production and testing of stem cells that are capable of producing all or almost all of the cell types of the developing body. and may result in improved understanding of or treatments for diseases and other adverse health conditions. But it's derived without creating a human embryo for research purposes or destroying, discarding or subjecting to harm an human embryo or fetus." Now, that, in some ways, is an expression of what's going on.
Then it says that now you have to figure out a way, because you're dealing with a new branch of science, how do you evaluate what you're going to support and what you're not? And there follow a series of things -- "90-day period for setting up standards for requests for proposal; something that will specify and reflect a determination of the extent to which specific techniques may require additional basic or animal research" -- which means you may have to be funding other side research -- "to ensure that any research involving human cells using these techniques is clearly consistent with the standards established under the law."
Q Isn't he ordering NIH to do what it is already able and willing to do?
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure -- no. I think what he's trying to do -- keep in mind, when something new comes up -- and you've seen this happen many times -- if there is not a specific guideline, people are sometimes wary of doing anything for fear of second-guessing or exposure. So this is a matter of due diligence to say, okay, we have new technologies at our disposal and this is the way we're going to proceed.
Whether NIH coulda/woulda/shoulda done this under the status quo -- don't know. But this is a reiteration and, frankly, again, it not only -- it helps do something that I think is worth noting -- and it gets back to Kelly's original question -- the notion that we're against stem cell research is 100 percent wrong, period. We have made possible embryonic stem cell research. No previous administration did it. We have financed non-embryonic stem cell research at levels nobody else has. We are now encouraging research into pluripotent cells that may not require the destruction of human life, of fetuses.
All of those are important steps. There's been no administration that has been more aggressive in funding and doing outreach on the issue of stem cells. We do have before us a Senate bill that the President will veto. But we also have an executive order that says, in effect, we want to assure one and all that we do not want to shutoff pluripotent stem cell research, and also to let one and all know that pluripotent stem cells may not be limited to human embryos. I think it's an important point of clarification.
Q Tony, as you said twice, the President is not going to outlaw privately funded embryonic stem cell research. And some of his normal allies on this issue today are questioning, why not?
MR. SNOW: That's the position he's taken.
Q Why doesn't he want to take it a step further? Does he think it wouldn't pass legal muster?
MR. SNOW: No, I think in this particular case, as somebody who has sovereignty -- somebody who has -- not "sovereignty," but somebody who proposes a federal budget, it's perfectly appropriate to try to propose guidelines for use under the federal budget. But, on the other hand, to get in -- you cannot issue an executive order that is going to dictate the way in which people may conduct their private economic affairs. That may be something that states and others would want to consider. It does appear, for the most part, states have moved in the other direction in setting up funds for embryonic stem cell research.
Q Tony, two questions. One, can you update us as far as immigration debate is concerned? The other day when President was speaking to the Hispanic groups he told them that they should get into the immigration debate because there is -- there are forces from both sides, pro and against the immigration bill. And where do we stand now?
MR. SNOW: Well, we're in a position now of we will be having debates I guess next week on a series of amendments that have been agreed upon by Democratic and Republican leaders of the United States Senate. We will be studying those as soon as they become fully available. And my guess is that there's going to be a pretty vigorous fight over some, and there are going to be a coalescence around some of those amendments as things that people can support. Ultimately there will be a vote in the United States Senate in favor of a comprehensive package; we hope and expect it will pass.
And then you go over to the House of Representatives where we'll begin a long and traditional process, starting at the subcommittee level, the committee level, the floor level, and so on, where they debate thoroughly all aspects of comprehensive immigration reform. And there are some other, varying proposals being floated around, as well.
Q Do you think the President sees a light at the end of the dark tunnel for those illegals who are hoping that the President --
MR. SNOW: I'm sorry, what was that?
Q Do you think the President sees a light at the end of the dark tunnel for those illegals who are hoping the President and this Democratic Congress may --
MR. SNOW: No, I don't want -- look as you well know, immigration is the core of who we are as a people. It's how we constantly renew ourselves; we bring in people with talent and ambition, many of whom feel far stronger about the glories of America and the power of freedom because we take a lot of it for granted ourselves.
The President wants to make sure that we restore the rule of law, he wants to make sure that we protect the borders, and he wants to restore also that the notion of citizenship is something very special and precious. So his -- the way the President tends to look at these things is not to try to sort of draw some of how are various people going to feel about it; he thinks it's the right thing to do. And so you're now engaged in the practical exercise of getting the job done.
Q Terrorism -- now as far as support of Iran in Afghanistan and Iraq is concerned, now the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Gates also is saying now that there's a strong possibility that Iran is involved not only in expanding their nuclear program, but also supporting, arming and financing terrorism, terrorists in Afghanistan, because the reason I'm saying this -- now is saying that we are now getting more and more Talibans and they are terrorizing them. So where do we stand as far as now -- today?
MR. SNOW: Where do we stand? We continue fighting them. I mean, you can read the papers. There are ongoing efforts.
Q What does the President think should be done with embryos that are no longer -- that the families no longer want to keep? Is he opposed to the destruction of any embryos?
MR. SNOW: He is opposed to the use of federal funds to destroy embryos.
Q But he has no opinion on whether families who say they would like to donate those stem cells to --
MR. SNOW: Well, again, my understanding is that that is certainly something that is possible already at the private level. But his position is, on federal funding, we should not have federal funding for anything that would involve the destruction of a living embryo.
Q You talked a little bit about the meeting with Republicans this afternoon. Is that basically for veto material, or what's the nature of --
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm sure there will be some immigration, I'm sure there will be some spending strategy. We've got an energy bill, we've got defense approps coming up. There's a very busy legislative calendar not only before, but after the July 4th recess. All of that stuff is likely to come up. Also, the general way a meeting works is the President will have opening comments and members will speak their mind. So they tend to sort of be kind of free-flowing exchanges. It's not something that's going to follow a simple or set trajectory. It never works that way.
Q Tony, the President had a very strong statement yesterday on the Middle East. Are you trying to send a special signal to the Arabs and to terrorist groups? And what are the amounts of the economic and military aid that are being proposed?
MR. SNOW: Well, we're not going to tell you the amounts. Obviously we're in the process -- next year it's going to come time once again to re-up military aid in the 10-year package. And when people have figured out the numbers, I'm sure they'll be happy to announce them. What the President is really doing is once again reiterating support for Israel, which is a bulwark for democracy and an absolutely irreplaceable and valuable ally.
Q For 10 years?
Q Tony, when you were responding to Kelly the first time you said the President is making a unique and unprecedented -- taking a unique and unprecedented role. Well, the medical community -- scientists from the President's Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research says, "Again the President used the stroke of his veto pen deliberately to hamper the process of scientific and medical research, as well as endanger the future health and well-being of the American people. His executive order directing NIH to continue pursuing alternate forms of research is nothing new, since NIH has already been conducting this research for the past several years." Your response?
MR. SNOW: My response is -- you probably don't want to hear it. Look, you know what that is? That's press release language.
Q It might be press release --
MR. SNOW: That's somebody basically --
Q -- from the medical community.
MR. SNOW: No, it is for a PR spokesman. Here's the deal -- please disagree with any of the following propositions: But for George W. Bush, there would have been made available to researchers no embryonic stem cell lines; but for George W. Bush and his proposals passed by Congress we now have the most vigorous program in looking at stem cell research at all levels of any country in the world; but for this President, it is also now possible for states and individuals or private entities to engage in examination of embryonic stem cells.
So what you end up having is from a much greater variety of sources, and income sources, the ability to engage in wide-ranging research, rather than as sometimes becomes the case, if you have one and only one source, people then become hostage to political considerations. What you have now is a situation in which those who want to pursue embryonic stem cell research, they know where to go. Meanwhile, what we're trying to do is to make the best use of taxpayer money on technologies that have demonstrated therapeutic value and have saved lives.
Q Tony, with all respect of what you're saying, throughout the medical community -- not just through this gentleman -- but throughout the medical community we've heard that the embryonic stem cells are more pliable than the other stem cells. And why not -- why not push to see if there are embryos that families don't want, that are going to be discarded anyway, why not continue to push forward for medical advancement to help people live and survive?
MR. SNOW: Two things. Number one, the President does not believe it's appropriate to put an end to human life for research purposes. It's a line he will not cross.
Q But what about embryos that are already getting ready to be discarded?
MR. SNOW: I understand. You know what? They're still human life, April.
Number two, the President also has made clear that there's a possibility of pluripotent stem cell research that, in fact, would give you the pluripotent cells that these scientists are talking about.
Number three, if there is a possibility to extract cells from embryos without killing the embryos, and still finding some way of reaching pluripotent stem cells, okay, that would certainly not fall under what the President had talked before. The bright line is, does it, in fact, put an end to a human life? It's a perfectly reasonable and, I think, moral and humane way to approach it, and it does not cutoff any kind of research. What it does is say if you want to do a kind of research that is forbidden by federal law or by federal regulation, find another place to get it paid.
Q But, Tony, if there is still a question -- like you're saying, we don't know -- isn't there a responsibility of the government to exhaust the possibility of finding out if, indeed, it does --
MR. SNOW: Well, let me ask you this, April. If you've got a series of technologies that are actually producing results and those who are not, where are you going to put your money?
Q But what about the other ones that are more pliable and useable than --
MR. SNOW: You have not been listening to me about the pluripotency --
Q I have listened to you. I've heard you.
MR. SNOW: The pluripotency you may be able to do without having to end human life. Now, if you've got a deal where it says you don't have to face the moral quandary of putting an end to human life and you can get pluripotency, I'm taking that every time, and so will the President.
Q Tony, two quick follows on stem cell. Has the President already vetoed the bill?
MR. SNOW: Stem? Yes.
Q And, secondly, I understand your argument that the point of the executive order is to encourage research and promising new lines, but in terms of timing, you could have done it last week, you could have done it next week. To Kelly's point earlier, why package it today with the veto if not to blunt criticism that the President is doing it --
MR. SNOW: I love the fact that the criticism is always seen as the valid point, as opposed to the advocacy, which I think is more powerful, which is it's another example of the President respecting the right to life, also respecting the importance of trying to advance science on the margins, rather than simply to bicker about things that have been bickered about a long period of time.
So I would argue that this is a good time to call attention to the President's progressive record, as opposed to those who say, he's still not doing embryonic stem cell research -- which he made available seven years -- without talking about what's in the literature right now, which are promising technologies that, in fact, may spare us a divisive national quandary, and give us even more weapons in the fight against these diseases. So I would argue that rather than "trying to blunt criticism," what the President is trying to do is to push forward the frontiers of technology.
Q A study shows that Iraq is the second-most unstable country in the world. Do we have anything to do with that?
MR. SNOW: Do we have anything to do with that? Yes, I saw the study --
Q -- the killing?
MR. SNOW: We don't -- I'm not sure I got the --
Q I'm talking about Petraeus, also, intensifying -- is he trying to build a kill record before September?
MR. SNOW: No. No. In point of fact, Helen, if you take a look at the record of the last two months, the people who have been trying to put together the kill record are al Qaeda. Go to the mosques --
Q Is everybody who resists our occupation a terrorist?
MR. SNOW: Do you think somebody who goes in and blows up 50 people in a mosque is resisting occupation?
Q What have we done for five years?
MR. SNOW: What we have been trying to do is to work with folks to deal with a highly volatile situation in Iraq in the wake of a murderous regime --
Q We've killed thousands of people, tens of thousands --
MR. SNOW: Many have died, and hundreds of thousands died under the previous regime. This is a place that has too long been wracked by violence. And the fact that in fighting --
Q We're not supposed to be comparing, are we?
MR. SNOW: Unfortunately, if we fought evil guys who simply would say, you caught us, we're evil, we give up, we'll be good -- that would be great, that would be wonderful.
Q Everybody isn't evil who fights for his land.
MR. SNOW: A lot of the people we're talking about, Helen, aren't fighting for their land, because it's not their land. They don't even come from Iraq.
Q Are we fighting Iraqis, inherently, in their own country?
MR. SNOW: Are we fighting Iraqis inherently? I think if you take a look at what General Petraeus is saying, is that increasingly Iraqis are joining with us to defend their country from the onslaught of outside fighters, whether they be from al Qaeda or Iran.
Q Good, but we have to admit we're killing a lot of Iraqis who are against our presence.
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure. I mean, that requires the kind of canvas of those who have died that I'm not capable of doing.
Q Does the White House have an opinion about a prominent Republican like Michael Bloomberg leaving the party?
MR. SNOW: No. I mean, at this point -- I mean, I've seen the reports. Has he made it official yet? I saw some stuff on line. It's interesting. I don't have a response.
Q Do you view him as a Republican?
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way; he ran as a Republican, I believe he took Republican money.
Q Tony, two questions; thank you very much. The AP in Dublin has just quoted President Jimmy Carter as saying to Ireland's 8th Annual Forum on Human Rights, "The Bush administration's refusal to accept the 2006 election victory of Hamas was criminal." Any my question, surely President Bush has some disagreement with this Carter crime association accusation, and Carter's support of terrorists?
MR. SNOW: The President has made it a graceful point of his administration not to respond to critiques from ex-Presidents. And I think I will continue to try to maintain that sense of decorum.
Q No matter what the ex-President says? I mean -- I have one other --
MR. SNOW: You know, Les, you're a priest, you understand -- you're a former priest, and you understand that sometimes social graces are something worth demonstrating in public.
Q I have to admit, that is a wonderfully circuitous response, and admirable.
MR. SNOW: Thank you.
Q You're welcome.
Q Is the White House pushing for Tony Blair to be the Middle East Quartet Envoy?
MR. SNOW: No. But on the other hand -- look, we looked at reports. Right now Tony Blair is Prime Minister. What we're also doing, frankly, is we're engaged in our -- we've got Nick Burns going to the region, we've got a lot of stuff going on. But at this particular point, we're not in the business of designating envoys.
Q That was my question -- has President Bush talked to Prime Minister Blair about being a Quartet envoy?
MR. SNOW: I don't think he has. I don't have any knowledge of it. My guess is I'd know, but I don't know anything.
Q Thank you.
MR. SNOW: Thank you.
END 1:30 P.M. EDT
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