Press Briefing by Tony Snow
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 13, 2006
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EST
MR. SNOW: Good afternoon. Questions. Tom.
Q Tony, South Korea turned us down, turned down a request that they do more to help intercept ships that are headed for North Korea with possible arms on them, or nuclear supplies. What's our reaction to that?
MR. SNOW: Well, I don't think we have a -- the reaction is we are working with all parties in the six-party talks. The real impetus in this case ought to be on North Korea to go ahead and abide by the will of the international community. There has been some expression of willingness to return to the six-party talks. If, in fact, they abide by its provisions, this will be a moot article.
Q Is South Korea doing enough?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to sit here and second-guess the South Koreans. They're valued allies and they have been stepping up -- as you have probably noticed, they have taken some steps that they've never taken before with regard to North Korea and, obviously, they're serious partners in the six-party talks.
Q Tony, I guess sometime last month we were talking about what might be on the table as far as solutions in Iraq, and you had ruled out a phased withdrawal and a partition. I was wondering, A, if either of those came up this morning? And, B, are they still off the table as a possibility?
MR. SNOW: Number one, I can't tell you any further what went on, other than what the President has said. But this was not a time -- this was not proposal shopping by the Iraq Study Group. They're going to have their proposals; we don't know what they are. It was a conversation, a general conversation about the situation there. They asked the President questions, he asked them questions. But there was care taken not to sort of try to prejudge or also to get a jump on what they're going to do.
As far as phased withdrawal, the President has always said, look, this is dependent upon the conditions on the ground. And that remains our position. The President believes that as Commander-in-Chief it is his obligation to make sure that our forces get the job done so that people don't die in vain, have not died in vain. And, furthermore, that we have the ability, when this is all over, to be able to say to moderate Arab states, we have been here, we have defended your interests; to say to the Iraqi people, we have kept the faith with you; and to say to terrorists, you failed.
Q So when Carl Levin says "four to six months," I'd like to see troops start coming home?
MR. SNOW: I think what you need to do is to ask Democratic leaders who are now grappling with the fact that they're going to have real responsibilities. The New York Times said over the weekend, its slogans. Now what you have to do is to have firm proposals for dealing with what's going on. Senator Levin and others have made comments, but at this point, I don't think anything has gotten to the proposal stage. We are happy to take a look at anything that will achieve the goal that we've talked about, which is an Iraq that can defend itself, sustain itself and govern itself, to be an ally in the war on terror.
It is also our view that, on the military -- from the military front, all those decisions ought to be made based on the conditions on the ground.
Q Next question for you. I saw a Newsweek cover story -- you see it all over the place -- that somehow all these veterans of Bush 41 are coming in and rescuing Bush 43.
MR. SNOW: As a veteran of Bush 41, I don't think that's the proper way to look at this. I mean, look, I know that it's one of these things where people think that the President -- let me just -- rather than trying even to get into characterizing it, no.
Q Has he directly or indirectly -- President Bush 41 --
Q What's "no"? What do you mean, "no"?
MR. SNOW: No, this is not a -- this is not bringing in people willy-nilly from the President's administration "to save him." Wrong.
Q And has the President -- 41 -- either directly or indirectly offered his advice to his son that perhaps people like Eagleburger or Secretary Baker or anybody else be involved and should be listened to?
MR. SNOW: I have absolutely no idea. But keep in mind, you just mentioned Secretary Baker and Secretary Eagleburger -- they are part of a congressionally-appointed committee.
Q Gates -- Dr. Gates?
MR. SNOW: The President picked Bob Gates because he figured that he would be an effective Secretary of Defense, a sentiment that's been echoed by people at the Pentagon and in both parties on Capitol Hill. He picked a guy that he thought would be able to do the job.
Q Tony, when you talk about different strategies in Iraq, and listening to the Iraq Study Group, would you change your goal? And I know the goal is to win, or victory -- but can you see yourself changing the definition of what victory might be?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q Can you talk again about the timetable then? And would the timetable idea achieve your definition of victory?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, let's -- we're in an area of high speculation here where you've had various people floating things without putting anything on paper, or for that matter, giving us any details about what they're talking about.
The President made it clear today in his comments after meeting with Prime Minister Olmert that any decisions made on troop levels, and any decisions made are going to be based on the conditions on the ground. He also mentioned that General Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is also conducting a thorough-going study to take a look at all options for achieving our objectives. But the objectives are the same -- an Iraq that can sustain, govern and defend itself and be an ally in the war on terror.
Q But back to the four to six months that Senator Levin --
MR. SNOW: Well, let's just wait --
Q But these are ideas that aren't just being floated. These are ideas that they seem to feel pretty strongly about.
MR. SNOW: Well, let's wait until the new session. If somebody has a concrete proposal -- I tell you, there seems to be this notion that somehow this is like a board game, where you just sort of neatly sweep all the pieces off, and then it's all done. And in point of fact, this is a highly complex situation. It is the central front in the war on terror, and you do have to win. You not only -- you have to win for reasons that have to do with our national security, that have to do with the stability of the region, and that have to do with the overall -- sending the overall message to terrorists: you lose.
So the President understands the stakes, globally. And there are global stakes for the outcome in Iraq. And, again, we are eager for any kind of constructive input. But the ultimate goal still has to be an Iraq that can sustain, govern and defend itself. And when conditions permit, that's when you start talking about troop withdrawals.
Q One final one. You talk about -- the President has said, we're winning in Iraq. You have laid out a strategy for victory. He has said no to timetables. Why would you now think the strategy for victory would change? What's changed besides the midterms?
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure that we've said that that would -- you've said that we would change. We would say that, as we have been all along, we're interested in ideas. And I've been making that point. The President made it -- the point two weeks ago at a press conference. The fact is, constantly you sit around and you try to figure out what's the situation on the ground, how do you adjust to changing situations. But the goal hasn't changed.
Q But you still think your strategy for victory is working?
MR. SNOW: The strategy for victory is working, but the strategy for victory also, as the President said and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, we're not -- it's not getting better fast enough. And so you need to find ways, militarily and otherwise, to try to improve the situation.
Q I just want to try to clarify this point. Are you saying that the President is, as we sit here today, opposed to the idea of a phased troop withdrawal that has behind it the intention of pressuring the Iraqi government on the idea that U.S. troops are not there for good? For or against that proposition?
MR. SNOW: Well, why don't we wait until somebody actually proposes it, other than a couple of sentences --
Q Well, actually, it's more than a couple of sentences. I mean, the campaign is over --
MR. SNOW: No, it's -- the campaign, that's right, the campaign -- well, the campaign is over. But Democrats now have to put meat on the bones. And so all I'm saying, David, is that if there is a proposal that would succeed in laying out the proper ways of an Iraq that can sustain, govern, and defend itself -- but the President has also said, and I'll reiterate --
Q -- this is not a new idea.
MR. SNOW: It's an idea that still doesn't have any detail in it. It isn't fleshed out. It is not something that allows you to have any metric by which somebody does this. And, furthermore, David, there are more than -- there are a whole series of Democratic proposals. I think before you start getting into the position of trying to get me to respond, you probably need to get the Democrats, those doing the speaking, to fix on what they think the proper counterproposal, if there is one.
Our view is let's figure out how to work together on this. But I'm just not going to get into the position of going in and responding to things that, again -- if you can show me --
Q Tony, wait a second. You're casting this off as slogans, quoting The New York Times. There's a serious idea on the table. It's not just Carl Levin's, it is others within the Democratic Party. It is a serious idea. It's one that presumably the Iraq Study Group is studying, and that is the notion of a phased withdrawal with some benchmarks. Is the President opposed to that, or supportive of that?
MR. SNOW: Like I said, as I said -- what are the benchmarks?
Q I'm asking you a question --
MR. SNOW: No, no, no, I just made the point that what you have is something that's nonspecific. So what are the benchmarks? If you -- see, this is why I'm not going to answer the question as you framed it.
Q I'm asking you a direct question, which is --
MR. SNOW: No, I'm giving you a direct -- let me do it and then you can come back at me, okay?
Q No, Tony, because you're interrupting the thought. You're asking me questions. I'm asking a direct question: There is an idea on the table that is not willy-nilly, that is not opaque, it is specific. It is the idea of phased troop withdrawal that Republicans and Democrats have referred to, that has behind it the notion of pressuring the Iraqi government. Yes, there are details to be worked out, but it is still a proposition that is a serious -- oh, you can laugh. I mean, I don't know how many people in the public think that's a funny idea. The point is this is a serious point, and you either have a position, or you don't. Is the position of the President that he has no position on it?
MR. SNOW: No, the position is -- as I think I succeeded in making the point when I asked you what the benchmarks were and you said you didn't know. You give me a proposal that's got something to react to. If the conditions on the ground do not merit withdrawal, the answer is, no.
Furthermore, the Iraqis have plenty of incentive. The idea that somehow you have added incentive -- these are people who are dying in large numbers. They understand what the incentives are. And they are the ones going out and risking their lives to vote, and they are the ones who are committing blood and treasure to this. They are the ones who have spent every day and night worrying about it because their very existence depends upon it, David.
So as far as trying to get me to, again, respond to something that is an idea -- but it's a caricature of a plan because it doesn't have any meat and bones on it. When somebody comes back and has benchmarks and that sort of thing, then we'll be happy to talk.
Q Can I just follow on one separate area, Tony?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q We hear a lot about the fact that the President believes we're not succeeding quickly enough. He has replaced the Defense Secretary, he is now awaiting not only ideas from Democrats, but from an Iraq Study Group, he's chosen a new Defense Secretary from this group. Is this not an acknowledgment -- and some straight talk here -- that the policy in Iraq is broken?
MR. SNOW: No, it's an acknowledgment that you've got a tough situation. What you've just -- what's interesting is that you tried to insinuate that Bob Gates was brought in by virtue of his membership in the Iraq Study Group, which isn't true. Furthermore, as we have -- furthermore --
Q But it is true that he was part of it.
MR. SNOW: He was part of it.
Q That's all I said. So I wasn't insinuating anything.
MR. SNOW: Well, it was -- go back and read the question. It seems to --
Q There are facts on the table I think anybody could look at and make some judgments --
MR. SNOW: The facts -- the facts are on the table --
Q -- and all we hear is that we're not succeeding quickly enough. The question is, the American people spoke on this point about the war. Isn't, in fact, the policy broken? Is that not the concession?
MR. SNOW: You know what's interesting -- no. I think what it is -- no. What it is a concession of is, the war is hard. The war is very hard. And that the people who spend morning, noon, and night thinking about this, constantly do what they can to adjust and to get it right. The policy is to create an Iraq where the Iraqis have the ability to sustain, govern, and defend themselves so that they can stand up, so that they will have a democracy that can stand on its own two legs, can defend itself, will have the support of its public, will have an economy that offers opportunity, will have security, will have the ability to demonstrate to terrorists once and for all that despite all their best shots, it just wasn't going to work.
Q You concede that we didn't go into Iraq for those reasons, don't you? And do you think the election had anything to do with us wanting to get out?
MR. SNOW: You know, it's interesting, Helen, if -- there are some polls that I've seen referred to, but I haven't seen today. I think -- well, let me back up. If you ask Americans, do you want to win, my guess is, the answer is going to be yes.
Q No, it isn't the point.
MR. SNOW: No, it is the point.
Q We went in for weapons --
MR. SNOW: No, you just asked -- you just asked if we want to get out. The answer is yes, we want to get out when we win. That's when we want to get out.
Q When we win -- but what do we win? I mean, you're going to have to --
MR. SNOW: What we win -- well, I'll tell you --
Q And how much slaughter? Every day we have slaughter.
MR. SNOW: Are you trying to place us in a morally equivalent position to the al Qaeda terrorists who deliberately are --
Q That's not an argument.
MR. SNOW: Sure it is. No --
Q I'm not saying --
MR. SNOW: No, you're accusing -- are you accusing the Americans of slaughter? Who are you accusing of slaughter?
Q I'm not accusing -- the best defense is offense. We understand your tactic here.
MR. SNOW: No, I'm just asking the question because you talked about slaughter, and it gave the impression that we're engaged in slaughter.
Q Well, how many people are dying every day?
MR. SNOW: It depends on what the -- does it not depend on -- well, let me put it this way, Helen, when people are dying because of car bombs it illustrates the difficulty of the situation and the nature of the people we are fighting.
Q But isn't our presence the cause of that?
MR. SNOW: No, no. As the President has pointed out many times, this stuff began long before September 11th. And, furthermore, it had been practiced throughout the Middle East long before September 11th. But these tactics --
Q In Iran?
MR. SNOW: And furthermore -- no, in Iraq. That's right. They're trying -- in Iraq you had a situation where you had a dictator who was contributing to the terror network, and who in the process was murdering hundreds of thousands of his own people.
Q But the President said there was no tie-in with the terrorists.
MR. SNOW: No, he said there was no tie-in with September 11th. There's a difference.
Q When the President mentioned that Syria needs to get out of Lebanon, is that a pre-condition for the U.S. to have talks with them?
MR. SNOW: The United States -- I don't know how many times we have to explain, but we do have diplomatic negotiations with Syria. But we also say to the Syrians, you have real obligations, you need to respect the Siniora government. At this point, I don't believe Syria even has an embassy there.
Q We have diplomatic relations, but not ongoing conversations about Iraq.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, the Syrians -- look, the Syrians know what we think, and we're trying to make it clear to them what they need to do.
Q Tony, could you take us inside the President's meeting with the Iraq Study Group? Exactly who --
MR. SNOW: No, actually, I can't.
Q No, exactly who was in the room -- okay, who was in the room? Were all 10 members of the Iraq Study Group present? Did Hamilton, did Baker do most of the questioning? How long did it last?
MR. SNOW: Okay, first, let me step back. You guys keep treating this like a deposition. It's not. You had the President, the Chief of Staff, the National Security Advisor, and the Vice President in the room with the entire Iraq Study Group. And they -- the only readout I've gotten -- and for understandable reasons, neither side is telling us a whole lot -- is that they both asked questions, and they had a conversation, and it was a good discussion. And that's all you're going to get because it's all I've got.
Q How long did it last?
MR. SNOW: About an hour and fifteen minutes was the scheduled time. I think they held pretty much to schedule.
Q And you said "good discussion." Is that all you can give us as far as the level of satisfaction on both sides?
MR. SNOW: That's literally all I can -- unfortunately, I can give you no more.
Q This morning in the spirit of what I thought was going to be in the spirit of bipartisanship, the White House put out a one sheet essentially saying that negotiations with the drug companies was not going to yield any real results. Even if you got a half of 1 percent, that would be a lot of money for the American taxpayers. Why would the White House put out something like that?
MR. SNOW: No, I think, Ellen, what's going on is that there has been this notion that if you set up one-to-one negotiations with drug companies, somehow it would be more effective than market competition. As you may recall when the Medicare prescription drug benefit was first passed, there were attempts on the other side of the aisle to create a drug benefit premium of something north of $30 per month. It's now down to $24. The point we're making is that competition has been incredibly effective in dropping prices far below what people had expected in the first place, and it continues to be the most effective. If you create market discipline, and also market incentives, you're going to find the price going down.
What you may be interested in knowing is that the price is now down 35 percent below what was originally projected. That's even better than a half percent.
Q Thank you. The new Congress doesn't seem to put a high priority on immigration reform. Does the President intend to do anything to get an immigration bill passed early next year?
MR. SNOW: Well, two points, Sarah. I think it's -- one should not prejudge the incoming Congress. At this point, we've been having lots of conversations. And I say the same thing, which is give people a chance to make proposals.
Now, the President wants comprehensive immigration reform, and he certainly wants to work with both Houses and both parties in doing it. But the election was last Tuesday night. They haven't even had leadership elections for either House or either party, let alone an opportunity for people to set down legislative strategies and priorities for the next congressional session. So I would hesitate to -- I think it's unfair to the incoming Congress to try to do prejudgments based on that.
Did you have a second one, or was that --
Q According to the President and the incoming Speaker of the House, the name of the game is bipartisanship. Is the President willing to jeopardize by using a device to keep John Bolton at the U.N.?
MR. SNOW: You know, I think it works both ways. Again, John Bolton has been incredibly successful as the U.N. Ambassador. Bipartisanship works in two directions, and it might be worthwhile also for Democrats who previously had expressed opposition to Mr. Bolton to take a look at his record, and to take a look at the things he's accomplished, because he's been extraordinarily accomplished.
George Voinovich, you may recall, at first opposed him, and now supports him. I think John Bolton's -- who cares what I think. The President thinks that John Bolton's record is certainly one that amply demonstrates his fitness for the job, and it's very important to keep him there, and we continue to support it. That need not be something that opposes bipartisanship. As a matter of fact, it might provide an opportunity for both sides to do a little reaching.
Q Tony, back on Iraq, a couple of questions. First, in an interview yesterday, Carl Levin said, "The point of this is to signal to the Iraqis that the open-ended commitment is over, and that they are going to have to solve their own problems." Does the President believe that the United States needs to send a signal to the Iraqi government that the open-ended commitment is over?
MR. SNOW: No, because we've never had an open-ended commitment.
Q Our commitment now is not open-ended?
MR. SNOW: No, our commitment is to get to the point where we achieve victory.
Q But if the conditions on the ground never change, then it is an open-ended commitment.
MR. SNOW: Well, that's an awfully dire prediction. Perhaps you -- well, no, but that's -- I'm just telling you. As far as the Iraqis, we constantly -- we've been working with Iraqis on security, we've been working with them on political reform, we've been working with them on economic reform. The fact is, the Iraqis know the importance of it. We've seen Prime Minister Maliki -- it's as if Prime Minister Maliki's statements in the last few weeks have gone completely unnoticed.
Here is a man who has been talking about the importance of Iraqis assuming a much greater role in the security of their country. He has gone -- he has talked about going after militias; he has talked about going after sectarian violence; he's talked about creating a nimbler and more able force not only in the military, but on the police side; he's talked about reconciliation and he's done a number of important steps on that front; they had a meeting a couple of weeks ago where he laid out positions on economic promise. And the fact is that the Iraqis are engaged in this and they want to make sure that America's commitment comes to an end because it's their country. They want the opportunity to assert full responsibility for security, for economics, for politics. And they've been taking steps to do that and we'll continue the encourage them.
Q So what you're saying is the President has made clear to them that we don't have an open-ended commitment?
MR. SNOW: The President has never said we did. Never.
Q Let me just follow up a little bit on that. The Democrats have gotten a lot of air time with their proposal for a phased redeployment. To what extent has the President or members of the administration been talking with Republicans over these past few days, to talk about what they want to do, how they'll react to that resolution, which Democrats are saying they're going to --
MR. SNOW: Well, again, as far as I know, there has not been much in the way of conversation about that with Republicans, but I'll find out. I'm not aware of any. Secondly, let's wait and see what gets proposed. Here we are, five days out, six days out from an election; we don't have any legislation drafted up -- going back to the conversation with David -- we don't have benchmarks. Let's find out what gets proposed before we start trying to figure out what people's reactions are going to be.
You know, there is still a lot of time, as Democrats begin to make their own sober assessments of what's required for success and victory in Iraq and they poll their own members, to find common ground where we work together toward the goals that we have mentioned many times here. Again, I think an Iraq that can sustain, govern, and defend itself, an Iraq that will be an ally in the war on terror, and an Iraq whose free existence as a democracy will serve as the ultimate refutation of the terrorists' goals, aspirations, and methods of al Qaeda and others I think is something that both parties share and we now have to figure out the best way to proceed.
Q Can I ask about tomorrow's automakers meeting? Does the President have anything in particular he wants to tell --
MR. SNOW: As I said the other day, he's certainly going to express his support for the American auto industry. And it's important that the auto industry has, in fact, been looking at innovative ways of coming up -- you know, hybrids and others -- it's important to have innovation. And he is also going to listen to their concerns.
Q Tony, is there going to be more readout we can get from this morning's meeting with Olmert? I think you were in the meeting --
MR. SNOW: No, actually, I wasn't. Once again I'm going to disappoint because it was just the two of them. They kicked us all out of the room and they had the meeting and they gave their own readout. So you had two heads of state who clearly trust one another, who clearly value each other's counsel, and they met together. Now, I know there was a working luncheon afterward that finished just a couple of minutes ago, but I did not attend that.
Q Because their comments afterward were very heavy on Iran. Do you know how much was spoken about in terms of the Palestinian situation --
MR. SNOW: Again, I can only refer to what they said. They were in the meeting, and I was not.
Q Two quick questions, thank you. One, macaca, or alleged racist remarks by Senator George Allen in Virginia still talk of the town around the country because that brought the victory for Democrats in the U.S. Senate. What do you think now President think about those remarks that brought him down --
MR. SNOW: The President has never commented on it, and you get a long Senate race, you can point to many things. But the fact is Jim Webb has been elected senator and we wish him luck.
Q Second, quickly, as far as (inaudible) is concerned, you know, New Delhi is the only capital on the Earth which is a capital and also a state. Now, the talk of the town in Washington --
MR. SNOW: Well, actually, Vatican City, I believe, is a capital and a state.
Q Now, Washington, D.C., you think, because that was also a dream of Martin Luther King -- today we had a ceremony for his memorial -- that D.C. should also get equal rights and all that? Do you think President will sign the --
MR. SNOW: There's no legislation yet. We'll get to it when it comes.
Q Tony, many of these proposals that are being put forward, both by Republicans and Democrats with regard to Iraq, includes the notion of the President calling for a regional conference, including all the countries in the region -- Syria and Iran -- in order to discuss the nature of the security, architecture, whatever, proposed in the region. Your position on this and the administration officials has been that we're already talking with Syria, and Iran, I think as you put it, already knows what they have to do. But calling such a conference and bringing them to the table would be similar to what they've done on the six-party talks with North Korea -- we don't really talk too much -- nevertheless involved in the process because they are a party in the region.
Would the position on Syria and Iran preclude the possibility of the President calling for such a conference if, for instance, the Baker group or the --
MR. SNOW: Let me first say that the President will not make judgments because the Baker group says something. He'll do things because he thinks that they are in the nation's best strategic and global interests. And I will let him make any announcements about how he intends to proceed.
Q Last week the President said he directed Secretary Paulson to look into entitlement solutions. So I wondered, since he did mention tax reform, does that mean entitlement (inaudible) --
MR. SNOW: Well, first, we've got two pieces on taxes. Obviously we would like it -- I don't know if it trumps; both are important. But the President also has made the point that you've got to deal with entitlements. And he was perfectly happy to do it, because he understands that politically it has been a lightning rod over the years. And if it means that he can use these last two years in office as a way of addressing the long-term structural problems in Social Security and Medicare, then he'd be happy to do it, because it would be a long-term service, not only to the United States, but to whomever becomes the next President to the United States because they won't have to deal with it.
He has also made clear, first -- as a first priority, let's extend the tax cuts, many of which are destined to expire in the year 2010 or earlier. Let's go ahead and extend those tax cuts. Obviously, he would like a simpler tax system, but you've got to set your priorities.
Q May I ask a follow up?
MR. SNOW: Please.
Q The President has sought Secretary Paulson's counsel on this issue. But as you know, Secretary Paulson is -- also has a very strong environmental record. So will the President also seek his counsel on the economic impact of climate change, particularly in light of (inaudible)?
MR. SNOW: Well, first, rather than getting into assessing the Stern Report, the President has made dealing with climate change a priority for this administration -- we'll continue to. He's perfectly happy to listen to Hank Paulson and others on environmental matters.
Q But he's not discussing the Stern Report at all or --
MR. SNOW: He is not, but CEQ members are.
Q Thank you, Tony. In the primary election in Connecticut, the Democratic Party, as you know, repudiated Senator Lieberman who went on to be the winner as an independent. And the Democratic Party did not even have a nominee for the U.S. Senate in Vermont. Yet, they are claiming these two winners helped them constitute a majority in the Senate. And my question, doesn't the -- doesn't the President believe this Democrat's claim everybody theory should and could be tested in court?
MR. SNOW: Lester, as you know, when it comes to the organization of Congress, people get to decide with whom they will caucus. And the indications are that Bernard Sanders and Joe Lieberman would caucus with Democrats. This is not something subject to court order, it is their personal choice.
Q Yes, but they were not Democrats. They did not win as Democrats, did they? How can the Democrats claim that they've got a majority if two of them were not elected as Democrats?
Q You're a very funny man.
Q Is that Geneva Convention? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: No, that's April's. April carries that. I just -- I don't see anything here that has to do with party composition and the proper selection.
Q Is that Mao's Little Red Book? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: Oh, watch it. This is the Constitution -- with a flag on it. That was --
Q One follow up. The New York Post quoted the Democrats' potential House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel as having claimed that "the Vice President is both nuts" and a phrase indicating male offspring of a female canine. (Laughter.) Will the President have no reaction if this kind of insulting of his Vice President continues on Ways and Means?
You don't want to -- it's so horrifying what he said that you don't want to respond?
MR. SNOW: No, the story is so old I was trying to remember what I'd said about it originally. It's about a week and a half old, Les.
Q No, no, no, that was another insult that Rangel --
MR. SNOW: No, these -- in any event, no, I'm not going to comment, but thank you.
Q So there's been a lot of talk about a conflict of interest between the President and Democrats getting some votes in Congress. How much concern is there at the White House that Republicans in Congress may have very little interest in getting stuff done because it may not, at least politically, benefit them to have successes --
MR. SNOW: I don't think so. I think -- look, Republicans have obviously an interest in working with the President on a whole series of issues. There are going to be issues on which some Republicans and some Democrats are going to disagree. But on the other hand, I do think that there are powerful motives for the Democrats to demonstrate that they can govern in a constructive manner. And certainly, as the leader of the Republican Party, the President also is going to be working with Republicans to get action on those items.
Q I understand he'll be working with them, but what's their incentive to work with him?
MR. SNOW: I don't think you gain a lot, especially on the Republican side when you've got a President in power, by not working to get things accomplished.
Q On the automakers' meeting tomorrow, you talked about a discussion about the interest of American automakers. How do you define American automakers these days? Is it just the big three?
MR. SNOW: That's a very good question. We will have the big three, but as you know, Daimler also has a big role in Chrysler.
Q But beyond that you have Japanese-based companies who, frankly, are the growth part of the industry here. They have tens of thousands of jobs in the United States. They've made tens of thousands of vehicles here, largely in the South. Are they now the American auto industry?
MR. SNOW: I believe when we're talking about American auto companies, we're talking about those that are headquartered here and for many years have played a vital role in our economy.
Q Is there something about the free market that's not working for them anymore?
MR. SNOW: You're going to have to ask somebody else.
Q Tony, after the President met with the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, did he say anything to the extent that since you have thoughts about a reduction of troops in Iraq, bring me something back in such and such a time? Did he give the times?
MR. SNOW: No, and I don't think it would be appropriate for the President to try issue timetables to Democratic leaders.
Q But (inaudible) expect this now --
MR. SNOW: They understand. And, look, they're going to need some time, April, to sort through these things, as well. It's a new world for them because they have criticized the President's policies. But now is a time for them to develop, if they think so, detailed alternatives of their own, or to try to reach out and work with the President.
The President has put together goals that I think are very difficult to disagree with -- an Iraq that can sustain, govern and defend itself, that can be an ally in the war on terror, that can send a signal not only to terrorists, but also to people in the region that the United States will be steadfast and finish the job with the Iraqi people and help the Iraqi people to stand up. All of those are important things. And I just -- I think that they are probably goals that most Democratic leaders, if not all, would share. And we'll just have to see how the conversations develop.
Q Another question. What did the President have to say about the fact that he has Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi in his office, and now Nancy Pelosi is backing Murtha?
MR. SNOW: I don't think he had anything to say about it.
Q Does he find it curious at all?
MR. SNOW: Again, it just -- if he didn't say anything about it, I'm not going to sit around and try to do the mind meld. It's not going to work.
Q Tony, a question, again, on Iraq, and then a housekeeping matter. Given that the President has a lot of very smart people thinking about Iraq, trying to figure out what the best course of action is there, how hopeful is he that the Baker group can come up with a plausible and workable way forward?
MR. SNOW: Again, the Baker group, they're going to come up with ideas. I think people are way overstating not only the nature of the meetings today, but it's as if you're saying the President wants to outsource this problem to the Baker commission. It's not how it works. He's the Commander-in-Chief. And he certainly will evaluate any ideas they have. And as we've said, the President has been very aggressive in seeking out opinion throughout. I know that we don't always have it brought up, and we don't talk about it maybe as much as you'd like, but the President has had a number of people in, very smart people who have devoted their lives to the study of the region and to various groups and to sects within Iraq and throughout the region.
So I think -- the President still understands that it is his job to be Commander-in-Chief and to make the best decisions he can on the basis of the best information and ideas available.
Q I guess what I'm saying is, so he's had all these people in to consult, and we're still where we are in a situation where he, himself, says, we're not making enough progress there fast enough. So --
MR. SNOW: Right, so you --
Q -- does he think the Baker report is going to change anything?
MR. SNOW: Don't know. We're going to have to see. Do you? I mean, there's -- no, I mean, I know it's a rhetorical question fired back, but we don't know what they're going to say. I mean, it's very difficult to try to assess a report that we haven't seen, and for good reason, the members of the commission have not shared with the President or anyone else.
Q And then a really quick housekeeping matter?
MR. SNOW: Okay, then we've got to -- okay, yes.
Q You said earlier, "This is not bringing in people willy-nilly" from his present administration to save him. I think you meant his father's.
MR. SNOW: From his father's administration. Thank you very much, yes.
Q Tony, is the President willing to entertain proposals on Iraq that would involve sort of downgrading the centrality of his democracy agenda in order to bring about equal results?
MR. SNOW: No. In other words -- in other words --
Q If he thought that it could speed up the process that he said is taking too long, of bringing order and stability to Iraq --
MR. SNOW: No. Again, I don't -- you're assuming that there's order and stability without a democracy that can sustain --
Q I'm not assuming anything. I'm just asking --
MR. SNOW: Well, no, you have to be assuming that. And so I don't quite know where the question leads. I mean, what --
Q I'm just asking if there's a proposal on the table that involves --
MR. SNOW: Well, what would that be? If you can give me something more specific I can be more helpful. And I apologize. I just -- I don't know exactly what that means.
Q I'm not trying to get you to weigh in on the specific proposal. I'm just asking if that is something that --
MR. SNOW: But, again, if I don't have a specific proposal and a characterization to respond to, those are treacherous waters. I'd much rather have something specific to respond to because then I can give you an accurate answer.
Q Does the emergence of the Baker group indicate that Condoleezza Rice's influence has been diminished?
MR. SNOW: No. Keep in mind the Baker-Hamilton commission was formed by an act of Congress. This is simply carrying out the provisions of an act of Congress. No, it has no effect at all on the influence, responsibilities, or the valued advice of the Secretary of State.
Q Would Alcee Hastings strike you as an appropriate chairman of the House Intelligence Committee?
MR. SNOW: We're going to let House members select their own chairmen.
Q Tony, with all the changes going on right now, and the President admitting that he's not happy with the situation in Iraq, can this White House still stand by the statement that we are winning in Iraq?
MR. SNOW: The fact is, April, we would like progress to be moving more quickly. That's obvious. But on the other hand, when you see what has been going on with the Prime Minister stepping up and assuming more responsibility, working now, shaking up the government, because he also wants to get better results, the fact is, yes, you're moving forward on this. And in the failure narrative that quite often gets written is one that, as you know, has been deeply distressing to many of the men and women who are fighting over there because they at least have a different picture. Some of it has been portrayed in recent days in press reports.
But this is hard. It's a war. And there are going to be time when you have a great deal of motion in the direction of victory, and there are going to be times when you have setbacks. And there's just no way to get around it.
Q You're not saying victory just for the sake of keeping morale up? You're saying victory because we are winning?
MR. SNOW: We're saying victory because we are -- we are winning, but on the other hand, we have not won.
Q Is it still the President's policy, though, that a democratic outcome in Iraq is the only acceptable outcome? Is that correct?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Are you briefing tomorrow?
MR. SNOW: Oh, no -- thank you, Helen. We will not be gaggling or briefing tomorrow because of everybody shipping off -- I know, you're -- it's disappointing. But we will see you on the other side of the world on whatever day it will be.
END 1:48 P.M. EST
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