James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:38 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Good afternoon. A couple of preliminary notes, and then I’ll take your questions. First, the President had a call today with Canadian Prime Minister Harper. They talked for 20 minutes. The two leaders, along with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, will meet on August 20 and 21st, in Montebello, Canada. It will be the third time that the three North American leaders have met during this administration.
The meeting agenda will include security and prosperity partnership. The leaders also will have time to discuss bilateral hemisphere and global issues. It will mark the President’s fourth trip to Canada.
During today’s conversation, they shared initial thoughts about the summit. They also reviewed a range of bilateral issues including the situation with softwood lumber and implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. They briefly touched upon other issues related to the Western Hemisphere, including the importance of supporting President Uribe of Colombia with approval of the free trade agreement with Colombia. Furthermore, the President thanked the Prime Minister for Canada’s steadfast support for the people of Afghanistan.
As for some issues that arose this morning, let me do some clarifications on security arrangements and security negotiations. There was talk about arms agreements with the Saudis and others. No such agreements have yet been reached. Let’s march you through what we have so far. The announcement yesterday that there will be a recommendation of new aid packages for Israel and Egypt over 10 years — $30 million for Israel, removing economic supports because those are no longer necessary — and $13 billion for Egypt, also over 10 years.
There have been conversations with other regional partners. They have been informal, for the most part. As Nick Burns noted yesterday, they’ve been taking place over the last nine to 12 months. However, there will be an attempt to formalize not only conversations, but agreements by the middle of the month. Mr. Burns will be traveling to the region. These will not be grants, but in fact, the offer of arms sales to allies within the region. So I hope that clears that up.
Also, with regard to the health records and the situation with the Chief Justice, Chief Justice Roberts had made known his history of a seizure to those who were doing the vetting. As a matter of fact, there were press reports at the time. And Senator Specter had mentioned it, I know, in at least one press report, as we go back and look at it. He also had physical exams which were forwarded to members of Congress, and full medical records. So for those wondering what people knew, he was very open about it, and he had mentioned it to the people doing the vetting here at the White House and it was taken into consideration. I don’t have any further details beyond that, but that is the situation.
Finally, just a few notes again about what’s been going on in Iraq. There has been increasing reporting about changing conditions on the ground. Mark Fox gave a pretty good briefing the other day and I want to share just some of the major findings, again, that our force has been coming up with in recent days, especially in terms of interdicting arms and getting at some of the sources of weaponry that could have created an enormous amount of violence in Iraq.
First, the number of weapons caches captured — last year, in all of 2006, the number is 2,726. Already to this point in the year it’s nearly 3,700 — 3,698. As you can see, General Petraeus referred to this as staggering, the improvement in the seizures. Just a couple of examples from recent weeks. First, a coalition raid on July 23rd found 21 rifles and pistols in multiple locations, 28 grenades, 252 rockets, 391 mortar rounds, 475 gallons of nitric acid, and 5,000 pounds of fertilizer. Those who have studied Oklahoma City know how devastating the last two can be. And in an Iraqi raid in An Nasiriyah on the 24th, they found 11 heavy machine guns; 42 IEDs; 70 mortar rounds; and approximately 400 rockets of various calibers.
One of the reasons that we are having more success — the coalition and U.S. forces — has to do with tips. The number of tips received by Iraqis each month has nearly quadrupled from the spring of 2006 to the spring of 2007, from 6,000 to 23,000. It gives you a sense I think of what happens when there is increased confidence not only in the commitment, but also the competence of the forces involved.
So there is just a little more granularity and it’s one of the reasons why there is increasing talk of success certainly on the defense front, but also there remains work on the political front.
Q: Were any outside medical experts consulted in 2005 about the seizure that John Roberts suffered?
MR. SNOW: I’m not aware of that, but on the other hand, you may want to check also with those who did the vetting in the Senate. This was — keep in mind that the reports were that this was something of indeterminate origin. They did not see that there were larger problems. I don’t want to try to pose as a medical expert. But it obviously was not something that was seen as an issue of overwhelming concern, but it was something that people did take a look at, and it is something that he made a point of mentioning up front to those who were doing the vetting.
Q: And President Bush was aware of this?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know if the President got into the details of his medical history, but certainly the people doing the vetting — and there are a number of those, in Counsel’s Office and elsewhere were aware of it and they did take it into consideration.
Q: So how much of a question mark was raised about it?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know. Obviously people had taken a look at it, but I don’t want to try to get into trying to disclose confidential medical accounts. But obviously — again, look, Terry, it’s something that you will take seriously, but obviously, upon examining it, they also believed that he would be competent to continue and still do believe so.
Q: What did the President say to the Chief Justice this morning on the phone?
MR. SNOW: He was basically inquiring about his health and how is he doing, and the Chief Justice said, I’m doing fine, thank you for calling. It was a brief conversation, but one where the Chief Justice reassured the President that, in fact, he was doing fine.
Q: Tony, following up on some of the statistics that you’re presenting, and there’s been a number of accounts about the improved security situation — in terms of its interfacing with the political reconciliation, what is the — the purpose of the surge being to give breathing space to the Iraqi government to get its business done — what’s the linkage going to be? In other words, how does stopping suicide bombers get an oil — how does that help get an oil law?
MR. SNOW: Well, I think what you’re trying — something interesting is going on, Jim, and this is something that I don’t know that we had fully anticipated, but it is maybe the most welcome development, which is, if you take a look at what’s been going on on the ground, in many ways what has been going on among the Iraqi people has been outpacing progress within the political realm in the sense that the Iraqis, themselves, are turning aggressively against al Qaeda in a number of areas throughout Iraq now. It’s not merely Anbar anymore, but it seems to be spreading. And what you see are the people, themselves, creating conditions for getting to where we want to be in terms of peace and stability throughout the country.
Now, what does have to happen is that members of the political class also have to sit down and they have to reach accommodation on a number of these goals. What is happening is that the approximate security concerns certainly in some of the provinces and in areas of Baghdad — although Baghdad, itself, is not fully secure — ought to be creating conditions now where people are going to be able to sort of step back — you’ve seen a reduction of sectarian violence and violence against civilians, and those are conditions that we trust are going to lead to political progress. I can’t give you a time line on it.
Q: What signs have you’ve seen of the political class changing the way it does business?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I don’t want to try to get into — there have been some conversations, but, frankly, at this point, I’m not in a position to disclose. Let’s simply say that there’s certainly a recognition on the part of Iraqi leaders, and also Iraqi parliamentarians, that they need to get these things done, and on the part of the Iraqi people.
Q: Well, what’s the message to Congress about the need to — should calls for withdrawal and let’s not go past September, should they be back-burnered —
MR. SNOW: Members of Congress are going to have to make their own decisions. If you heard Representative Clyburn, the House Majority Whip, yesterday, he said that, in fact, reports based on security might change the minds of a number of people within Congress. I think the most important thing is for members of Congress to assess the facts on the ground. We also have noted that the first product of the surge ought to be increased security. And that seems to be the case.
Having said that, as General Petraeus cautioned, there’s always the possibility that somebody is going to succeed with a suicide or an act of mass violence that will be designed to try to trigger larger tensions. I would note that the most recent bombing in Samarra at the Golden Mosque did not achieve that goal.
So I think you take in measure of several different things here: Number one, what’s going on in terms of security? Number two, what’s going on in terms not only of the attitude of the Iraqi people, but also the actions of the Iraqi people in support of U.S. forces when it comes to achieving a mission? And finally, again, the political question — I don’t have a clear answer for you, other than it is important that the members — and they do understand this — that it’s important to see progress on the political accommodation front.
Q: Tony, has a letter gone to the Hill, specifically to Senator Specter, concerning Alberto Gonzales?
MR. SNOW: No, there will be something going up to the Hill and it will be a little bit later. It’s not quite meeting the noon deadline, but he, in fact, will get a response today. And we do — first, we thank Senator Specter. He agreed to get himself read into the program yesterday and received a briefing and he had some questions. And those questions are going to be answered; they’ll be answered in the course of the day, but they have not yet been provided. We expect within the next few hours that he’ll have a full response.
Q: Tony, following on that, Senator Specter put out a statement saying that the letter would be available to news media and it would address the questions about the Attorney General testifying accurately. You had an interesting time trying to parse the different language the other day when we pressed about it. How will this letter —
MR. SNOW: I will let the documents speak for themselves, and he’ll have an opportunity.
Q: Who put it together?
MR. SNOW: Again, at this point — it’s not coming out of the White House.
Q: Tony, you used to anchor Fox News Sunday. Were you surprised this past Sunday when the person who now hosts it said, “We invited White House officials and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee to defend Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. We had no takers.”?
MR. SNOW: No. I must confess I didn’t watch it, either.
Q: Is the White House pulling back, though?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q: I mean, why wouldn’t you put somebody on a Sunday show, why wouldn’t you put them out there to defend our Attorney General?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, a lot of times a number of considerations go into whether you’re going to put somebody on a Sunday show. Do not read into the fact that somebody did not appear on my old program, Fox News Sunday, as a sign that we’re backing away from the Attorney General. We are not.
Q: What do you think about — some Democrats have started talking about impeaching Alberto Gonzales. You’ve had strong comments before about Democrats launching investigations. What about impeachment?
MR. SNOW: Well, permit me to be strong again. This is another — what you have in American politics today — and it’s something that I think people are increasingly getting fed up with — is kind of a race to be most toxic. How can you try to elevate the stakes in what ought to be common, reasoned debate, and do it also in an atmosphere in which Congress, itself, has had a very difficult time getting its own work done? In this particular case, the Attorney General has testified truthfully, and this is the kind of thing that is designed to turn up the temperature rather than to turn on the light.
Q: But if he would give complete answers, in their estimation, wouldn’t that help? I mean, doesn’t he play some role in this? You make it —
MR. SNOW: Well, the Attorney General — again, as we pointed out, there have been attempts to try in open session to get the Attorney General to comment on things that are classified, and to do that would be irresponsible from the standpoint of national security. Therefore, it is pretty easy, if you want to game it, to ask a question you know somebody cannot answer in open session, and then point out that they didn’t answer it the way you would like them to do so.
Again, the Attorney — so we support the Attorney General. Let there be no question about it — we support the Attorney General, and, furthermore, as members have an opportunity to examine fully what’s going on, they’ll be able to — we hope that they will sit around and make reasoned judgments rather than leaping to theatrics.
Q: But if there was a disagreement about the classified portion of the NSA program, shouldn’t the Attorney General have just said, there was disagreement; I can’t get into what the disagreement was, because it was classified? But instead, he said there was no disagreement.
MR. SNOW: He was asked about the TSP, and there was no disagreement about it.
Q: Tony, to clarify this letter, you say it’s not coming from the White House —
MR. SNOW: That is correct.
Q: — it’s coming from the Justice Department?
MR. SNOW: They will hear from the — he will hear from the Justice Department.
Q: Second question, following up on the slide presentation that you had earlier, where are most of these weapons coming from? And what does it tell you about the nature of the Iraqi border and the current and future ability of Iraqi forces to control that border and keep weapons out?
MR. SNOW: Well, a couple of things, a couple of things. First, we mentioned at least one of the seizures — and you get seizures throughout the country. The July 24th raid was in An Nasiriyah. There were multiple locations on the 23rd of July. What you know is that throughout Iraq, there have been insurgent forces and also al Qaeda that have tried to hide caches of weapons so that they can use them for attacks on coalition forces and on the Iraqi people. What is significant is that with increasing regularity, people who are in the know about these things have, in fact, been turning them in, talking about locations and also, frankly, talking about the whereabouts of al Qaeda members and others, so that coalition forces and Iraqi forces operating independently are in a position either to go ahead and seize these weapons caches or try to do interdictions and confrontations with forces that, in fact, have been trying to make life miserable for the Iraqi people.
The most significant factor here is that the Iraqi people are sick of folks who are coming in to kill them. Their view is that those people are not their friends, no matter what they preach. And in point of fact, those who are busy trying to save Iraqi lives — and that would include the U.S., the Brits, other coalition forces and the Iraqis who are now increasingly standing up — those are the people that they want to deal with because they are now seen as providing credible protection.
There was a period, Peter, where there were real questions about whether that protection was credible, and so people would turn to other individuals. They would turn to militias, they would turn to al Qaeda. And now you’re seeing, with some increasing regularity, greater faith in the coalition and the Americans. And, furthermore, getting to the gist of Jim’s question, as you build a greater sense of credibility within the government forces, it also makes it a lot — it increases the likelihood of making the kind of political accommodations that are going to be vital.
Q: If a record number of weapons are being confiscated, doesn’t that indicate that a record number of weapons are still coming into the country?
MR. SNOW: No, it doesn’t necessarily mean so. It means that we’re being more effective at finding things that have been there. Certainly we are concerned with weapons coming into the country, and we’ve mentioned that specifically with regard to weapons, especially EFPs that have been making their way in from Iran. And there was also a seizure disclosure, discovery a couple of weeks ago of 34 separate missile batteries that had been arrayed in the desert, also apparently of Iranian provenance.
So there is certainly a problem of weapons coming in through Iran. We continue to make that a point of emphasis. But on the other hand, I’m not sure that you can conclude just because you’re finding more weapons that more are coming in. I think what you can conclude is that you’re getting more support from the local populous.
Q: Tony, you pointed out the tips, the number of tips going from 6,000 to 23,000. What percentage of those are good tips?
MR. SNOW: Don’t know.
Q: You have no idea?
MR. SNOW: No, but my guess is that the people are not flooding the hotline with prank calls, but in fact —
Q: They have in the past.
MR. SNOW: Well, perhaps. But on the other hand, what you do see is a marked change, as you know, in terms of security situations in a number of places on the ground and in terms not only of confronting and exposing the enemy, but also the arms caches. I will — well, I won’t try to characterize because I don’t know how many were good tips.
Q: But can you — just following up on Jim’s question, as well — so what you’re saying is the lack of political progress is because the people haven’t had the security.
MR. SNOW: No. I’m not sure that I — number one, there has been a considerable amount of activity on the part of the legislature. What we have not seen, though, are some of these bellwether items that we’ve talked about for a long time, principally the oil law —
Q: None of the major political —
MR. SNOW: But those also remain areas in which, certainly in the conversations the President has had with the Council of Presidents and the Prime Minister, everybody understands not only the importance of it, they do, too, and they continue to try to work the problem. I think that rather than —
Q: What is the problem? Why is there no political progress on all the major benchmarks?
MR. SNOW: I think because it’s a political system and as you see here in the United States — I hate to continue to make this analogy, but here you have a new democracy in a country that does not have democratic traditions, that has traditions in many cases of people having longstanding enmity at the tribal or the religious or sectarian level that go back centuries, and they are trying to do something extraordinary, which is to knit together a democracy that operates not merely on the principle of majority, but consensus.
Q: Why didn’t the President say that in January, though? What the President said in January is, it has to happen now, the time for this to happen is now. What’s happened now that now you’re saying —
MR. SNOW: The President would love for all this stuff to happen now. But the fact is you also have to acknowledge in a democracy — to continue the point I was making before — is that it is a difficult process where people have to work through a lot of their different conflicts and positions as they’re trying to iron out something. And what they’ve done is basically set an even higher benchmark than we do, because we go by majority rule. They’re looking for consensus in a new democracy because they think that’s the best way to build long-term confidence.
It’s tough. I mean, I don’t want to — but I also don’t think that this is a reflection of intransigence or a lack of desire on the part of the Iraqis. It’s a reflection of the difficulties for this young democracy in working through these issues.
Q: But do you think anything can possibly happen between now and General Petraeus’ report, given that they’re on vacation?
MR. SNOW: We’ll find out. It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to have people in communication with one another and still continuing to work the problems.
Q: Tony, you spoke of proposed arm sales to our allies. Is there any kind of quid pro quo that these countries would be expected to help stabilize Iraq? If not, if there is no such quid pro quo, why not?
MR. SNOW: I think rather than having me try to fake inside knowledge of negotiations that have yet to begin, it’s better to wait for Nick Burns to go to the region and to conclude what he does and then we’ll be able to find out.
Q: But the U.S. is a major supplier of weapons to the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia included. Would it not make sense that there be some kind of an expectation made clear to them that they should be helping to stabilize Iraq?
MR. SNOW: The President made clear in his recent speech about the Middle East and also — and continues to make clear through the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, that everybody is expected to play a role in contributing to regional peace and stability. So that’s not new. That is part of the deal in the sense that everybody in the region understands that it is very important not only to have a stable and democratic Iraq, but also to play a constructive role in trying to move to a position so that the Israelis and the Palestinians can negotiate according to Quartet conditions; that the Lebanese are going to be able to enjoy democracy without the fear of outside forces; that you’re not going to have suiciders and others moving over the Syrian border into Iraq, and so on.
So the President did make clear — as you recall, he said the Israelis have responsibilities, the Palestinians have responsibilities, and players in the region have responsibilities. So he has made that clear in public forums.
Q: Can I follow up on that, Tony?
MR. SNOW: Okay. Sure, Connie.
Q: When you have the negotiations can you try to get some assurance from the countries that they won’t turn these weapons against the United States or against Israel?
MR. SNOW: Well, I’m assuming that that would be a given, Connie. But, again, I’m not going to — it is not my role to get up here and play junior negotiator for you. We have people who — no, I would be very junior, I would be a lousy negotiator and I think it’s good to leave it in the hands of professionals.
Q: On Specter, why was he the only one to get that briefing yesterday —
MR. SNOW: Well, we offered it to Senator Leahy and we hope he’ll take up on it, but he — but it was important and we thought it was important to read in the key members of the Judiciary Committee if they chose to be read in because this is an area of concern to them. So it was offered to both of them; we don’t know if Senator Leahy at some later date will take up the opportunity.
Q: He said no yesterday and —
MR. SNOW: He has not taken advantage of it, so he’s —
Q: He’s the only other one to be offered that at this point?
MR. SNOW: At this juncture.
Q: The political status in Iraq obviously isn’t happening in a vacuum. It’s not that the politicians are somewhere and sort of devoid of what’s happening in their own country. And what they’re seeing is that as the U.S. provides weaponry, training, assistance to Sunni tribal forces in Anbar, Diyala, et cetera, you have the arming of forces that exist outside the Iraqi security structure who made clear in all their public remarks that they consider the Shia government in Baghdad to be stooges, basically, of Iran. And they made clear as well that they don’t trust the government in Baghdad. So you have, on the one hand, the U.S. strengthening the central government; on the other hand, the U.S. strengthening tribal militias that made clear they see the central government as an enemy. How do you square that?
MR. SNOW: Well, for one thing what you’ve done is taken a fairly provocative view that may be true in some cases, but certainly not all. What you are seeing in fact is a commitment to the so-called center of government in terms of working with Iraqi and coalition forces and going after al Qaeda, which is a key aim.
Furthermore, as I mentioned before, there are long-held sectarian divisions that create political difficulties, and those are things that you’ve got to continue to iron through. You have also seen within Shia areas within Iraq the same sort of reaction to those who have been operating against the government.
So I think what you’re — as you begin to build security, and also begin to build confidence in the Iraqi security forces — which include in some cases Shia units within Sunni areas — what you end up creating is a greater confidence in the government as a whole in the ability to realize that security is something that does have to be provided by the government, not by militias, not by outsiders, it’s not done on a sectarian basis, but is going to be most effectively done on a national basis so that everybody realizes that you’ve got a government that will protect your security and your rights, regardless of who you are. Understand that it’s a tough challenge, but it’s also a vital one.
Q: But that’s not the dynamic you’re seeing. You’re not seeing that in Anbar or Diyala that they want to have influx of national forces. You’re seeing that individual tribes who control individual areas within Anbar want to have weapons and uniforms so they can control their own little piece of Iraq.
MR. SNOW: Well, as we have discussed, the conditions there are — General Petraeus has mentioned this, and this also showed up in his earlier report to Congress — is that while there are requests of this sort, the condition has to be that you will be working in conjunction with and in support of the government.
Q: You said earlier that reports of friction between Petraeus and the Prime Minister of Iraq, that it’s a bad story.
MR. SNOW: Correct.
Q: There is no friction? They aren’t shouting at each other?
MR. SNOW: Correct.
Q: Okay. I have a question on another subject. I’ve read that the reason for the multi-multi-billion dollar taxpayer-paid arms package for the Middle East is because they are under threat from Iran. Is that —
MR. SNOW: Once again you’ve mischaracterized what’s going on here, which is in a case of — you’ve got an aid package to Israel and Egypt. Those, of course, have been in place for many years.
Q: And others.
MR. SNOW: No, the others are going to be arm sales. These are not going to be aid packages, these are not going to be grants. These are going to be arm sales. So these individual countries will have an opportunity to buy with their own taxpayers’ money.
Q: Well, are we trying to help the poverty stricken — welfare to the military industrial complex and —
MR. SNOW: No, what we’re trying to do is to protect people in the region from killers.
Q: — getting so poor.
Q: What’s the state of the discussion with the Hill on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act revisions that you guys want by the end of the week, right?
MR. SNOW: Well, yes, we consider it a matter of real importance. And we’re making it clear you’ve got — the Director of National Intelligence is speaking, he is going to be available for the whole Senate today. I believe he will also be available for the House tomorrow. So I think there are going to be important opportunities for him to express a feeling of urgency.
It is our belief that this is not something you can hold over. This is a top priority, it is urgent. You’ve got to streamline the system so that people can operate quickly on the basis of information, so they can protect American lives. So we’ve got a proposal forth and we are hopeful that this thing is going to get acted on before Congress leaves.
Q: And is it true that the administration has narrowed some of the proposals to sort of, core, got to have, got to have soon?
MR. SNOW: The DNI has made it clear that there are certain things that are absolutely — absolutely — essential. And he’s made that clear.
Q: Tony, two questions. One, last week Under Secretary Nick Burns was on the Hill before senators, and senators were not satisfied really after almost between $10 billion and $12 billion U.S. taxpayers’ dollars have gone to Pakistan as far as fighting terrorism. But what they were asking, the U.S. still has no access to A.Q. Khan because of those weapons may already have — may fall in the hands of al Qaeda because of situation now in Pakistan. Where do we go from here now, with —
MR. SNOW: Well, wait a minute here. You’re saying that the U.S. does not have direct access to A.Q. Khan —
Q: — because the those weapons, because of situation now in Pakistan may fall in the hands of al Qaeda who are in Pakistan.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, look, first, I don’t want to try to give — I don’t want to try to fake an answer on what’s going on with the A.Q. Khan network. Let me just — it is important, number one, that he has been apprehended. Number two, again, we continue to support the government of Pakistan. And what we have seen, Goyal, is that there has been a real commitment, especially going into the tribal areas and trying to take care of the trouble spots — al Qaeda and Taliban — and to go after them. And that is something that is absolutely critical and we’ll continue to support them in doing it.
Q: And second, if I may, quickly — this was the first time also last week that so many Chinese — hundreds of them — were demonstrating downtown Washington. And what they were demanding really that freedom of the press, freedom of — their religious freedom and also for human rights situation in China, and also basically what they’re asking President to call on China to have more access —
MR. SNOW: Well, the President has talked with the Chinese openly and publicly about the importance of democracy.
Q: On the congressional breakfast tomorrow, Tony, appropriations is going to be one of the items on the agenda.
MR. SNOW: It’s going to be one of the items, but it’s not the — it is not the focal point.
Q: OMB has got veto threats on the majority of the House appropriations right now —
MR. SNOW: That’s correct.
Q: Democrats on the Hill say that the difference, their excess is less than one percent of the entire federal budget. Is there any compromise going to be talked about tomorrow?
MR. SNOW: Well, what the President is going to make clear is that there’s a top line of $933 billion. And when members say, well, it’s only one percent difference, we’re only asking for $22 billion more, well, guess what happens? Here in Washington, what happens is, you start with a little bit more and it rapidly escalates. In fact, over five years, that $22 billion grows to $205 billion. And that’s one of the reasons why you have to maintain fiscal discipline. The President has made it clear that he’s got a top line for the budget, and furthermore, there are a number of other, depending on the bill, there are other provisions that he finds objectionable.
The real question is, will Congress show flexibility, and also will it show responsibility in the way it handles taxpayer dollars. The simple fact is that $22 billion ain’t pocket change, I don’t care who you are. And you’ve got to ask yourself, is this money that is absolutely vital, each and every penny? Or do we have pork, do we have stuff that’s political grandstanding? How does this fit into the overall picture?
What the President believes is that for $933 billion, you can probably handle your non-defense discretionary spending, and you can put together the programs that you need — and actually it includes defense spending, so let me correct that before we have to add an asterisk — but $933 billion for your top line on these, on non-mandatory spending. And it gives you an opportunity, for members of Congress to debate priorities, to take a careful look, and to do something that maybe isn’t done often enough, which is to say, do we need to spend every penny on these programs, or can we be a little more responsible with the taxpayers’ money?
Q: There’s about 30 legislative days left. Are we looking at a CR in the future?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know. Again, we have made it clear that we think that it’s incumbent upon Congress to present the President with the appropriations bills. Gotten one out of the — I guess the Senate has only passed one; the House has done almost all of it. It should finish up its business by the end of the week.
Q: None are in conference, though —
MR. SNOW: None are in conference, and that is a real challenge for Democrats who promised that they, in fact, would move all these bills. So the first priority is to get all these bills done. Get them done separately and get them done clean, and get them to us.
Q: On that, there’s still an anonymous hold on Jim Nussle’s nomination in the Senate. And Senator Conrad said, depending on how that meeting goes tomorrow will depend — will determine the future of Jim Nussle’s nomination.
MR. SNOW: Well, we think — look, Jim Nussle is somebody who is qualified to be budget director. And at a time when people are saying, well, we want to talk about appropriations — then you’re going to need a budget director to deal with. Rob Portman is leaving. That’s it. And so the fact is that Jim Nussle is qualified and we think the Senate ought to remove the anonymous hold, give him a vote.
Q: Is there a fear that there is like this effort to hold this nomination hostage until some of these veto threats are pulled?
MR. SNOW: I don’t know, I don’t want to try — for one thing, you’re talking about an anonymous hold, so I think it would irresponsible to try to ascribe motives to an individual whose identity we don’t know.
Q: Is today Portman’s last day?
MR. SNOW: No. No, Friday is his last day.
Q: Tony, the opposition in Japan is saying it’s going to try to tie Prime Minister Abe’s hands on things like extending the mission in Afghanistan. What’s your message to the opposition in Japan?
MR. SNOW: Well, I — look, far be it from us to get ourselves involved in internal Japanese politics. We obviously think that Prime Minister Abe is an important and valued ally. But we make it a practice not to get ourselves involved in partisan disputes.
Q: Thank you, Tony. The Republican National Committee is meeting in Minneapolis later in the week and will consider a resolution that would strongly condemn measures such as that the administration backed in the Senate for a comprehensive immigration plan. Now, at the winter meeting the RNC had in ’06, the White House made some pretty overt efforts to stop a similar resolution successfully. Is it working to stop passage of this resolution?
MR. SNOW: No, this is a resolution that, as I gather, has 47 sponsors, which is less than a third of the membership of the RNC. There is some question about whether it is directly at odds with administration policy. The President defends his belief that comprehensive reform is the way to go, and furthermore, that the immigration problem is not going to go away. He certainly would — we’ve talked about the importance of dealing with border security — I don’t think the people who write the resolution disagree with that — of trying to identify those who are here illegally, of trying to find ways of making employers accountable, and also coming up with a reasonable list of who’s here and who’s not; to find more aggressive ways to kick out those who have broken the laws. All of those are things on which people agree. So I think what our message is, is let’s work constructively and get stuff done.
Q: So you’re opposed to the measure?
MR. SNOW: I’m not going to comment on the measure. I think at this point what you’re talking about is a measure that has minority sponsorship, but on the other hand, look, it’s a sign of health in a political party when people do disagree. They’re going to be able to hash it out.
Q: Thank you.
END 1:14 P.M. EDT