James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:09 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Hello, good afternoon. I’ve got a fairly lengthy opening here. I’ll apologize, but it’s packed with information so I’m sure you’ll be grateful.
First, the President had a secure video teleconference this morning with Prime Minister Maliki. It lasted approximately 45 minutes. The President began by congratulating the Prime Minister and the Iraqi people on Iraq’s soccer victory in the Asia Cup. Both leaders noted that the victory demonstrated to the world what Iraqis can do when they work together. After all, when you’re kicking a goal in you’re not asking about their sectarian affiliation, you’re asking about whether they’re part of your country, or not.
Both leaders also welcomed Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it is going to consider upgrading diplomatic ties with Iraq and to open an embassy in Baghdad. As a matter of fact, there’s a quote from Foreign Minister Saud — he did a joint press conference today with Secretary of State Rice and Secretary Gates. The Foreign Minister said, “We just had a mission from Iraq in Saudi Arabia where we talked about security and where we decided that we will send a mission to Iraq to see how we can start our embassy in Iraq.” Later he continued, “We expressed the hope that we can work as closely with the Iraqi government on security measures, especially dealing with terrorist activities, as we have achieved with the United States and other friendly governments.”
It underscores part of what we’ve been talking about in terms of the mission of Secretaries Rice and Gates, which is to talk about matters of security and also America’s continued engagement in the region.
The leaders also — that is, now we’re getting back to the SVTS — the President and the Prime Minister also discussed other diplomatic initiatives in the region. They discussed the political situation in Iraq and ongoing negotiations between the leaders of all major party blocs, which, as I mentioned earlier, will continue through the month of August. The President emphasized that the Iraqi people and the American people need to see action — not just words, but need to see action on the political front. The Prime Minister agreed and said that he will continue working with other leaders to address common concerns and move the political process forward.
Regarding the announcement that some Sunni ministers will leave the government, the Prime Minister explained that he’s actively working to address their concerns and find a resolution acceptable to all party blocs. To explain, the Sunni members of parliament have not left parliament. You’ve had six ministers leaving the government; in addition — but as I noted also, Mr. Hashimi remains Vice President, and at the same time, the Minister of Defense, who is part of the Sunni bloc, will remain in the government.
As per the meeting this morning with members of Congress, the President made clear a number of priorities, which I will stress to you one more time. Prior to recess, probably the most important short-term goal for Congress and requirement really is to reform the FISA law. He said the American people certainly expect representatives in Washington to do what they can to make the country safer.
The Director of National Intelligence has stressed that it’s essential for national security that we reform FISA now. Not only at a time when we have a heightened threat environment, but also at a time where, because of the law, we are not, in fact, being able to collect and act on as much intelligence as we need to.
In addition, there was discussion of appropriations bills. It seems we have a picture up here — oh, I’m sorry, it’s the Maliki SVTS picture. I will note that that was approximately 30 seconds before your Press Secretary hot-footed into the room, being the last in. (Laughter.) They started early. They started two minutes early, and I got there on time.
As for appropriations bills, there’s a lot of talk about top lines, and let me just try to deal with some of those issues right up front. As I mentioned this morning, what we’re talking about, even though Congress — members of Congress will tell you, well, it’s .7 percent, just .7 percent divides the two of us — it’s $22 billion this year. For most Americans, $22 billion is a pretty considerable chunk of change. Over five years you’re talking about $205 billion, which is a significant figure and it’s one that we don’t think is necessary in terms of additional spending. Because what Congress is talking about is not only raising spending, but also, at the same time, raising taxes on the American people.
We figured out, okay, what does this work out to? We did a little math, got our calculators, and there you can see the results when you try to figure out what $205 billion means over five years, it’s $41 billion a year. That’s pretty easy. Now, it gets a little more complex if you’re trying to do it every day — $113 million per day, which works out to $4.7 million in additional spending each and every hour. That is not an inconsiderable sum.
As for action on Jim Nussle, I am pleased to note that there is going to be a vote for him tomorrow. And we want to thank members of the Senate not only for moving him out of committee, but agreeing to a vote. And what we have are a number of quotes from people who have been involved and who attest to Jim Nussle’s characteristics. First, Ken Conrad, who says, “I always felt I got along well with you, Jim Nussle. I like you and I always thought we had a very constructive working relationship.”
Senator Ben Cardin also, talking about his relationships in the past with former Representative Nussle, and we hope soon to be budget director: “Some of our colleagues have already mentioned the committee that you chaired and I co-chaired on budget reform, and it’s true, we did work in a very bipartisan manner on that committee.”
And finally, John Spratt: “Some of our colleagues have already mentioned to the committee”
— I think we probably skipped a word there — “that you chaired and I co-chaired on budget reform, and it’s true we did work in a very bipartisan manner — whoops, I’m sorry, I just skipped — let’s try that one more time. “Given our history on the Budget Committee, I consider Jim Nussle a worthy adversary, able, knowledgeable and fair. I’m pleased to share with you just a few of my experiences with him and to recommend his confirmation of his appointment for director of OMB.”
And again, he is going to get a vote, and we think that that is a very positive development and we’re very happy about it. He’s a distinguished public servant who clearly has extensive experience on the budget and extensive experience on Capitol Hill — we think that that is going to be important as we continue to work through a lot of these budget issues that I’ve been mentioning — and obviously knows how to reach across the aisle. And that’s also important in this day and age. We know that while there is a lot of tough partisanship in Washington, there’s also a lot of business that needs to get done. And Jim Nussle, like Rob Portman before him, is somebody who is going to be able to work with Congress and I think enjoy the goodwill and respect of his colleagues.
Q: On the Pat Tillman case, now that the Army has reported what it said — it called a failure of leadership in the case, is the White House disappointed in how the developments were carried out? And also, can the White House make the same assurance that Secretary Rumsfeld did, that there was zero cover-up within the administration on —
MR. SNOW: Well, again — I’m certainly not going to contradict Secretary Rumsfeld. There was an investigation into it that said there was no deliberate malfeasance, but there were plenty of mistakes. And certainly there have been remedial steps taken on the part of the Department of Defense. It is deeply regrettable that this sort of thing happened, and you try to make sure that it doesn’t happen at any time.
Q: Does the White House think that the General’s rank should be reduced, that some punishment like that might be warranted?
MR. SNOW: That is a Pentagon decision and it’s certainly one we stand by the Pentagon.
Q: Tony, you just said a moment ago that $22 billion is a significant chunk of change, you said, for the American people.
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q: What then do you make of the Congressional Budget Office report yesterday saying that the war in Iraq is likely to cost over $1 trillion?
MR. SNOW: Well, if you take a look at what happened on September 11th, 2001, it’s estimated that the aftershocks of that could have cost up to $1 trillion. We understand that there’s a real commitment in the war on terror, but also you have to think of what the countervailing costs are, Ed. And if you look at what al Qaeda has been trying to do not only in the United States, but around the world, you have an organization that is committed to high mass casualty attacks that are designed to inflect maximum economic damage, that are designed to terrorize and frighten populations and to create dislocations that can be harmful to markets and everybody else. So the real question is, do you make an investment in trying to secure your nation’s future safety —
Q: But the National Intelligence Estimate has suggested that the war in Iraq could actually be helping al Qaeda in terms of recruiting —
MR. SNOW: No, it didn’t say that.
Q: — in terms of in recruiting?
MR. SNOW: No, it said — no, what it said is that al Qaeda tries to use the war as a recruiting tool. It also says that you have significant degradation of al Qaeda, while you have had some buildups in the tribal areas in Pakistan, and obviously the Pakistanis are dealing with it.
But you have — it’s an interesting phenomenon. Al Qaeda is a global movement that has a different organizational structure than it had on September 11th, 2001. Nevertheless, it has people who are dedicated to killing innocents, and they continue to do so. It’s why we do have a high-threat environment.
Q: But how can you claim the President is drawing a line in the sand and is a fiscal conservative by saying he doesn’t want to spend another $22 billion, but the report is saying that the war in Iraq could cost over $1 trillion? And that’s the lower figure —
MR. SNOW: No, I’ll tell you why, because —
Q: — and if it takes longer, it could be $1.5 trillion.
MR. SNOW: Perhaps you recall that the President’s first obligation is the safety and security of the American people. National security is always the first and indivisible responsibility of a President. If it is expensive, then we will bear the price.
Q: But doesn’t he owe the American people some sort of a reasonable estimate about how much the war is going to cost? You remember Larry Lindsey, early in the war, predicted it would cost up to $200 billion — he got fired.
MR. SNOW: I don’t know how you come up with — number one, I would not try to draw such a causal link. I know that some people have tried to do so. Number two —
Q: Well, he no longer is the administration —
MR. SNOW: Right. Well, there are a lot of people that are no longer in the administration.
Q: But rather quickly after that statement he left.
MR. SNOW: Yes, but in any event, the point is, I don’t know how you come up with a “reasonable estimate.” What you try to do is to assess what your needs are. And obviously, the generals on the ground do it. But you’re assuming that wars move in neat, tidy and predictable arcs, and unfortunately, they’re not activities that lend themselves to the normal ebb and flow of a budget process. It’s one of the reasons why you have supplemental budget requests. Obviously the generals make their very best guesstimates at the beginning of the year, and quite often those fall short, and you come back and ask for more.
Q: White House officials suggested it would be a neat, tidy flow when the Vice President said the insurgency was in its last throes, for example.
MR. SNOW: Well, and he also admitted that he was wrong. It once again points to the fact that wars are unpredictable — every war in American history. So go back and march through — we’ve done the examples before; I don’t think I’ll belabor the point now.
Q: Tony, how can you say, obviously the Pakistanis are taking care of the tribal areas? It seems that it’s obvious they weren’t taking care of the tribal areas.
MR. SNOW: Well, Prime Minister — I’m sorry, President Musharraf tried to make a deal with tribal chiefs, and it did not work. And so what has happened now is that the Pakistanis are mounting significant efforts on the security front. They’ve moved 100,000 troops into the tribal areas, and they’re confronting them. Have they solved the problem? No. Are they confronting the problem? Yes.
Q: But you’re satisfied with what the Pakistanis are doing in those tribal areas, even though the National Intelligence Estimate said there’s a buildup and regeneration?
MR. SNOW: Well, obviously, neither we’re happy — we’re not happy with that and the Pakistanis are not happy with that.
Q: You said, obviously they’re taking care of it, meaning they are taking care of the problem.
MR. SNOW: Well, first, you’re talking about a National Intelligence Estimate that was written as this buildup was taking place and the Pakistanis have taken matters — taken it on seriously. Look, what they are doing is that they’re putting lives on the line and resources into the fight. We have made it clear that we will support them as they request. We realize it’s a sovereign government. But they’re putting people on the front lines, they’re taking casualties, they’re taking injuries, people are dying. So they’re fighting it.
Q: So you trust that they’re going to take care of this? I mean, they also entered into this deal with the tribes up in Waziristan. The administration probably wasn’t too happy about that. And yet you trusted that it would end up okay.
MR. SNOW: Well, what you do is, you’ve got somebody who is looking for a peaceful way to deal with the problem. I believe that most people say, okay, if you can find a way that doesn’t involve bloodshed to solve the problem, go for it. And that often happens in our policy. You got to diplomacy first. If that fails, then you have to deal with — you have to move to sterner measures. That’s what the government of Pakistan is doing. Now, it is perfectly possible for all of us, armed with hindsight, to say, well, it didn’t work. Well, it didn’t work. But on the other hand, it’s also clear —
Q: But you’re confident it will work this time?
MR. SNOW: Well, look, Martha, you’re asking for predictions. What we’re saying is that they’re giving it their best and they’re fighting hard here. Keep in mind, President Musharraf — let me just —
Q: I’m not asking for predictions. This is very serious stuff.
MR. SNOW: Of course it’s very —
Q: It said in your National Intelligence Estimate that you would trust the Pakistanis —
MR. SNOW: Well, we work with them. And also, you’ve got to keep — General Musharraf, President Musharraf, is somebody who clearly has chips in the game here. This is a guy who has been himself the object of multiple assassination attempts on the part of al Qaeda. He understands the kind of threat it poses, and he is now moving in there in force. That seems to be a reasonable way to proceed, and we will provide whatever assistance we can.
Q: It seems, going back to Iraq, that the best spin you can put on what’s happening with the Sunni pullout of the unity government is that there’s still several prominent Sunni politicians on the job. But given that the whole purpose of the surge is to allow the government to work, given that you have a deputy prime minister saying the situation is grave, what could the President possibly be hearing from Prime Minister Maliki on the SVTS today that gives anybody any hope that anything’s going to get done there?
MR. SNOW: Okay, first, I’m not putting spin on it, Jim. So let’s —
Q: Wait, wait, that’s the read on what happened.
MR. SNOW: Okay, well, thank you. That’s a much more neutral way of framing it. The read is simple. There have been a series of negotiations between the Sunni party and the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister made some moves yesterday; the Sunni party said, we don’t like them, so we’re going to pull our ministers from your government. Now it’s going to be up to the Prime Minister
Q: That’s not an insignificant thing.
MR. SNOW: No, but it’s also a part of an ongoing conversation. And what I would recommend is, rather — let’s see how this develops, because there are continuing conversations and there are continuing negotiations between the parties. Let me also remind you that the head of the Sunni party remains in negotiations with the head of the other parties, in terms of dealing with political accommodation. And again, it’s up to the Prime Minister to decide whether he will accept or reject the resignations from the cabinet. The party itself remains in the parliament and in a position to conduct votes.
So what you’re seeing is sort of some internal politicking going on in Iraq. See how this develops. What the Prime Minister explained is that he continues to work with Sunni party politicians. He understands their concerns; he’s working with them on it and they’re going to try to deal with it.
Q: Do you view this as a step back?
MR. SNOW: No, I think it’s a reflection, again, as I said this morning, of some of the difficulties in politics within Iraq, but on the other hand, we often — look, three days ago, people where wondering whether Jim Nussle is going to get a vote; he gets a vote. The fact is that people do conduct negotiations, they do work in good faith, and we will see what happens here.
Q: Are you comparing how — the domestic politics on Capitol Hill with what’s happening with the unity government in Baghdad —
MR. SNOW: Well, the unity government —
Q: — in terms of the possibility of achievement?
MR. SNOW: No, what I’m trying to tell you is that there’s political wrangling in Baghdad as there is in Washington. I mean, that’s — you’ve got to understand, you’ve got a new political system in a nation that doesn’t have extensive experience with democracy. People are working through it. But I remind you that they are staying engaged in the business of trying to do accommodation.
I know it’s hard to understand, because it doesn’t quite fit our framework for these things, but the Prime Minister has made it clear that he remains determined to try to pull the coalition together and to try to pull all parties together to work constructively. And furthermore, he offered insurances to the President that they are continuing to work hard on the legislative front. As the President said, we need to see action, not words. The Prime Minister said, understood, and we are working to act.
Q: The President said back on January 10th, almost verbatim to the Prime Minister — I guess here’s the question, you know, as Americans are looking at what’s happened on the security front, where there have been advances in Anbar and other places, there are not — and the whole point of that is to provide breathing space for the Iraqi government to get its work done —
MR. SNOW: Right.
Q: — and all you see from the Iraqi government are — I guess it’s arguable, but it probably seems to a number of reasonable reads — steps back, when are people going to start to see some linkage?
MR. SNOW: Well, look, again, the President has made it clear we want to see political progress. There’s a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes, a lot of these guys are talking to each other. I’m not going to be able to give you the full and definitive readout of when, but, look, it’s a fair question to ask. Americans are going to be asking themselves, when are we going to see political progress? We think it’s every bit as important as your question implies. And the President made it absolutely clear that that has to be a priority for the government. And the Prime Minister said, yes, I agree.
Q: I gather, Tony, from your answer to Martha that you don’t think very much of Barack Obama’s suggestion, he’d send U.S. troops into Pakistan to take care of those safe havens.
MR. SNOW: Well, let me just say we think that our approach to Pakistan is one that not only respects the sovereignty of Pakistan as a sovereign government, but is also designed to work in a way where we are working in cooperation with the local government. So we think that our policy and our approach is the right one.
Q: Would he not be respecting the sovereignty of —
MR. SNOW: I’m not going to comment on Barack Obama’s campaign statements. I’m going to tell you about ours.
Q: Tony, is there any difference between what Obama says and Frances Townsend’s assertion that if we had actionable intelligence we’d do the same thing?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I’ll let you decide whether one is an assertion of simply going across a border — saying we’re going across a border, whether there’s actionable intelligence or not, and our view that we keep all options open if there’s actionable intelligence, which says that we keep the options open. It does not mean that — it does not preclude working with the local government. As a matter of fact, there have been a number of very important cases — look at Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I mean, that is a case where you had a joint operation with the Pakistanis that yielded a very important result, and there have been a number of those.
Q: On FISA, do you think you’re fairly close to an agreement? And was any progress at all made this morning
MR. SNOW: There’s been — there are a lot of conversations going on right now with Capitol Hill. I’ll just repeat what I said earlier today, which is that it’s absolutely vital, at a time of a heightened threat environment, to realize that the present system simply is not as responsive as it needs to be in terms of providing the flexibility and speed in acting on actionable intelligence. And so we are making it clear to members of Congress that we expect them to try to get something done.
What we did is we went in with a fairly extensive proposal — 65, 66 pages — we pared it down to bare minimum — 11 pages — and we’re now in the process of having conversations with the Hill. We certainly hope and trust that the measure will be, in fact, concluded by the time Congress goes on recess.
Q: I know that you want them to do it before they go on recess, but do you think — were you hopeful this morning —
MR. SNOW: Again, there are talks going on. You don’t have talks going on unless you have some hope and expectation that you’re going to succeed.
Q: Was any progress made on the budget this morning in the breakfast?
MR. SNOW: I think the two sides expressed their differences. Look, the most important step right now is for Congress to move through and approve individual appropriations bills. The House has approved most of them; the Senate has moved on — I think on one. It’s important now to get those bills done so that we can move forward. The President has also made it clear, for reasons that I think were pretty abundant there, he’s got a top line that is consistent with sound fiscal policy and still represents a 7 percent increase in domestic discretionary spending — that’s well above the inflation rate — over last year. And it includes considerable money for a number of priorities that both parties share.
We think it’s possible for us to do the nation’s business without going beyond that $933 billion top line, and the President made it clear that that remains important to him not only now, but in the future, and also that he opposes the idea of sort of sneaking tax increases upon the American people by letting tax cuts expire.
Q: Let me ask something on that, if I may, that I was trying to get to before — the President has threatened to veto nine of those appropriations bills and signal his opposition to where they’re headed on defense. So I would ask why the Democrats in control the House should hurry for this when the bills are simply going to come back to them?
MR. SNOW: Well, why shouldn’t they?
Q: Well, what’s in it for them, I guess is the question.
MR. SNOW: Well, look, the fact is, what’s in it for the American people is Congress to act. If you’re sitting around saying, well, we’re not going to act because the President is going to veto, that’s a really peculiar way to think about legislation. I think members of a legislature still have their obligation to go ahead and pass appropriations bills and move them up. And if they don’t think that they have enough votes to overcome a veto, then the responsible thing to do is to work toward a legislation that, in fact, will not fall prey to a veto and can get passed.
If the purpose of a legislature is to pass laws, then you have to make realistic assumptions, just as we make realistic assumptions based on what we think is possible within the legislature. So the President has certainly laid out what his policies are.
Q: Do you think that the President has persuaded the Democratic leaders that his continuation of wiretapping without a warrant is warranted?
MR. SNOW: I think if you take a look at the Terror Surveillance Program you will find that that enjoyed widespread support among both parties, especially those briefed on the Intelligence Committees.
Q: Speaker Pelosi suggested that one way to get within the President’s top line would be to cut some of the President’s priorities. What do you think of that? Is that something you’re willing to consider?
MR. SNOW: Well, let’s take a look — members of Congress certainly have some discretion within the lines. We think our — but, look, I’m not going to get into bidding up here on the podium. The fact is we’ll fight for our priorities as members of Congress will theirs. One of the priorities is to be good with the American people’s money and to be wise stewards of it. Again, let me point out, we’re talking about a nearly 7 percent increase — I think the exact number is 6.9 percent — in domestic discretionary spending over last year. This certainly provides an opportunity for Congress to meet the requirements of the American people and to do so in a way that doesn’t break the bank in the future, doesn’t impose an extra $205 billion burden over five years, doesn’t require tax increases. I think that’s the kind of stuff that the American people expect.
Q: What about the general proposition, though? Is the President willing to share some of the burden of cutting programs, some of his priorities, as well, in order to get the number down?
MR. SNOW: Well, let’s find out — the fact is, in negotiations you have give-and-take. We have given a top line. But on the other hand, are we going to give up priorities? I mean, that’s an awfully vague — if you want to ask about specifics — of course, if you do I’m going to punt it, I’m not going to tell you. But the fact is that in any negotiation you’re going to take a look at where either side has some give and you’re going to try to make a deal that’s going to be good for the American people. That’s how the legislative process works.
Q: Just one more, quickly. You said $22 billion works out to $205 billion over five years —
MR. SNOW: Well, what happens is, if you trace what — a lot of times you’ll lay in expenditures, and in the out-years those expenditures increase significantly. I think everybody is aware of that phenomenon. So what this does is it takes into account not only the first-year investment — we’re not saying that 22 times 5 is $205 billion; what we’re telling you is that these programs grow more expensive over time, surprise, surprise, which happens all the time in Washington.
Q: Going back to the time line for Tillman, what did the President know about Corporal Tillman’s death and when did he —
MR. SNOW: I can’t answer that. I don’t know.
Q: Well, can we go switch over to the Justice Department again?
MR. SNOW: Sure.
Q: So this letter — are you basically saying that your FBI Director didn’t know the definition of the Terror Surveillance Program?
MR. SNOW: No. What we’re saying is — there’s been a lot of confusion on the Terror Surveillance Program. As you recall, we have defined this very narrowly, and it has to do with surveillance of al Qaeda or known al Qaeda affiliates, somebody abroad having a communication with somebody in the United States. That was it. Now, there are a whole series, very complex series of intelligence programs that we use and we don’t discuss any of the others.
And so we have been very precise about the Terror Surveillance Program, and we think that the Attorney General testified truthfully about it. Now, what has happened I think this has become a shorthand in some people’s mind, and I don’t want to try to read the FBI Director’s mind on this. I think it’s possible to square the two sets of comments because, in some cases, a lot of people use Terror Surveillance Program, which was a label attached to a program — there was never anything called the Terror Surveillance Program. That was a label attached after the original stories appeared about the program. And it has become kind of a shorthand I think in a lot of people’s minds for a whole wide swath of intelligence efforts.
Going back to the testimony of the DNI, for instance, in his letter to Arlen Specter, one of the things he said is that there were — the President made an authorization for intelligence and he says, “The details of the activities change in certain respects over time, and I understand from the Department of Justice, these activities rested on different legal bases.” In other words, you had different programs of different legal bases. The Attorney General has testified in public about only one and will do so in public only about one, and that’s the Terror Surveillance Program.
Q: Tony, the administration has been continually saying to wait until September, and to wait until the testimony of General Petraeus and saying that his testimony will be the clearest sense of how well the surge militarily is working and what should happen going forward. General Petraeus has also made, in the past, assessments about the quality of the Iraqi security forces, in Mosul specifically, and in the country generally, that proved to be overly optimistic by a considerable margin. Given that come September he’s basically going to be asked to grade a plan that he, himself, crafted and has implemented, what confidence should the American people have that his assessment of his own work will be objective and honest?
MR. SNOW: You’re impugning General Petraeus’s ability to measure what’s going on?
Q: I’m asking how he can give an objective assessment of his own work.
MR. SNOW: Well, I think the first thing you ought to do is take a look again at the report that was filed to Congress, the interim reported July 15th — no sugarcoating there. You take a look — and they try to use real metrics on it. General Petraeus is a serious guy who sees his mission not as a political mission, but, in fact, as somebody who reports facts.
Now, let us keep in mind that the full burden of this report does not fall on his shoulders. A lot of the key judgments, especially about politics, will fall on Ambassador Crocker. So this is — although I know a lot of people talk about “the Petraeus report,” in fact, you have a report that is a joint report by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. And so we trust him.
Q: The reason people talk about the Petraeus report isn’t because his name is more alliterative and nice-sounding, it’s because the administration, when it talks about Iraq, mentioned Petraeus’s name dozens and dozens and dozens of times, and mentions Crocker’s name many fewer.
MR. SNOW: Well, actually, if you go back and look at the transcripts from this podium for the last month, you will find that they’ve been mentioned in tandem when it comes to these reports. General Petraeus, I think, as Jim was just saying, as your newspaper reports, there have been successes, and there have been successes in the way forward as a result of the surge. And these are things that are certainly consistent with counterinsurgency theory that he has been doing. And furthermore, I’ll let you do your characterizations of what he said on Mosul, but in fact, there were considerable successes there, and that’s one of the reasons why he was given the job.
Q: Two questions, Tony. To what extent was the Vice President pre-writing the Petraeus report or setting expectations when he said he thinks it’s going to show progress?
MR. SNOW: No, I don’t think he’s pre-writing it. Look, again, the one thing — if you talk to military guys, the last thing they want to do is get themselves embroiled in politics. What they try to do is to play it straight and to do it straight. And obviously the Vice President has his impressions based on what he’s seen, but we’re going to have to wait to see what General Petraeus has to report.
Q: And on one other issue, yesterday you indicated that the letter was coming from the Justice Department. When was it decided that what some view as a political fight was going to be weighed in on by the DNI?
MR. SNOW: Well, no, I think what was happening there is there was simply a clarification testimony. There was a request that the DNI Director write a letter, and he wrote a letter. Now, when it comes to the Justice Department, as you probably know, Senator Leahy, last week, had a request that’s, in many ways, similar to the one that Senator Specter has put together about clarification of testimony, and he’s given the Department of Justice until Friday to complete it. But for answers on when letters are going to be delivered and so on, I’d refer you to Justice. They’re going to have the answers on that.
Q: Tony, you said that Nussle is getting a vote tomorrow.
MR. SNOW: The vote is Thursday. He’s getting a vote out of the Budget Committee tomorrow.
Q: On the Budget, or Homeland Security?
MR. SNOW: Homeland Security today, Budget tomorrow. But we feel — we feel good about his prospects of getting a vote.
Q: Two questions, Tony. One, going back to Senator Obama’s comments, is the U.S. in touch with General Musharraf, as far as all of these reports are going on that options are open for military action if things are not in the right direction?
MR. SNOW: You know what our policy is, Goyal. We communicate regularly with him.
Q: And second, if, in recent days, President has spoken with the Prime Minister Singh on the situation in the region —
MR. SNOW: Not since we gave you the last readout.
Q: Tony, two topics. First, did today’s SVTS happen directly in response to the Sunni withdrawal?
MR. SNOW: No, this is — these are long-scheduled. The SVTSes are on a fairly regular schedule.
Q: Second, will Karl Rove testify tomorrow at the Senate Judiciary Committee?
MR. SNOW: Well, we will let Fred Fielding’s note get up to the Hill, and you’ll find out then.
Q: Do you expect that today?
MR. SNOW: I think so, yes.
Q: Would you be releasing that today?
MR. SNOW: I think you might want to call the committee.
Q: Tony, on the issue of FEMA, how much input did the President have in the trailers that have formaldehyde and how to fix that problem?
MR. SNOW: I’m not aware that the President was directly involved in trying to deal with remediation. What’s happened is that FEMA, as you probably know, has released a statement — I’ll give you some of the highlights — it’s temporarily suspending the deployment and sale of travel trailers used in emergency housing while the agency works with health and environmental experts to assess health-related concerns raised by occupants, and they are using a number of different vendors to look at it.
They’re using industrial hygienists, epidemiologists, medical toxicologists, environmental health scientists from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and Homeland Security’s Office of Health Affairs — they’re in Louisiana and Mississippi to gather data. While the initial reviews are underway, FEMA will temporarily suspend the installation, sale, transfer or donation of travel trailers or park-model recreational vehicles currently in the inventory.
They’re going to continue to move residents out of temporary housing and into long-term housing solutions as rapidly as possible, and they want everybody to understand that they maintain a long-term commitment to ensuring that disaster victims have a safe and healthy place to reside during their recovery.
Q: Does the President still have daily updates on Katrina, on the Katrina-related —
MR. SNOW: No, we don’t do daily updates. But we do regular updates.
Q: Wait a minute, let me ask you this. Was he concerned — when did he find out about this formaldehyde issue? What was his concern? What did he —
MR. SNOW: I honestly don’t know, April.
Q: Thank you. Tony, do you —
MR. SNOW: Let me just back up. One thing — look, I don’t want you to use that as a way of saying, well, the President clearly didn’t care. Obviously he does care. He’s been to the region a number of times, as has the First Lady. And it is vital to try to go ahead to address a lot of the problems there. Obviously, as this became known, FEMA has decided to be forward-leaning and try to deal with it and try to figure out what the problem is and to do remediations as quickly as possible.
Q: Do you know how many Katrina updates does he get — you say he doesn’t get them daily like he used to, but what’s the updates on the progress —
MR. SNOW: We do regular meetings on Katrina and the follow-up.
Go ahead, Sarah.
Q: Thank you, Tony. In his testimony, Admiral Mullen said, we may not be winning Iraq because of political — (inaudible) — there. Is the President pleased with his testimony?
MR. SNOW: Look, the President doesn’t sit around and grade people on their testimony. We bring people into the administration because we think they’re capable, and we think Admiral Mullen is capable.
Furthermore, it is pretty clear that there is a consensus that we want to see more in the way of political progress. We have seen an amazing change in Iraq where the people of Iraq themselves, at grassroots level, are beginning to take matters into their own hands in a very significant way that reflects not only faith in themselves, but also support for the American mission. And it’s important that Iraqi politicians, for reasons — because for many people — it doesn’t matter if you get peace and prosperity in a lot of places, but one measuring stick a lot of people are using, for whatever reason, is what happens with those laws. Well, fine. It’s important to take a look at what they’re going to do in terms of political progress. It is important also that the Iraqi people get a sense that they’re going to have a government that represents all their — respects their rights and represents their interests.
Q: Thank you. During their conversation this morning, did Prime Minister Maliki promise President Bush that there would be political action by the government now that the parliament is gone for August, that there would be action —
MR. SNOW: The Prime Minister reiterated his commitment to continue working with all parties toward political achievements and toward political reconciliation.
Q: Thank you.
END 1:44 P.M. EDT