James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:51 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Well, now we can have a press briefing.
Q: What are your plans?
MR. SNOW: What are my plans? A little vague at this point. I know I’ll be giving some speeches. I am going to try to work up some book proposals, probably first and foremost, on issues of how you deal with sickness. One of the things that I have found out is that at least getting out and talking about my own experience with cancer, it’s proved to be helpful to people, and that’s enormously gratifying. I’m sure I’ll do some political writing, as well. I’ll be involved in charitable work — still trying to figure out how all that fits together.
But short run, certainly start by doing some speeches. I will stay involved in politics. I’ll be going around the country and talking about things I care about. And as far as the other pieces of the puzzle, I don’t know. I’m sure I’ll do a little bit of radio, a little bit of TV, but I don’t anticipate full-time anchor duties, or the sort of things that I’ve done in the past.
Q: Why are you leaving?
MR. SNOW: Why am I — because I ran out of money. A lot of people at home are saying, well, what do you mean, you make all this money. Well, you know what, I made more money when I was in my previous career. And I made the decision not to say to my wife and kids, you know, we’ve finally saved up all this money and done these things, and you’re just going to have to give them away so Daddy can work at the White House. We took out a loan when I came to the White House, and that loan is now gone. So I’m going to have to pay the bills.
As far as my health, I’m doing fine. I know a lot of folks have been thinking, oh, come on, it’s really the cancer. No, cancer has nothing to do with this decision. I finished chemo two weeks ago today. We did CAT scans and MRIs in the last week and it indicates that the chemo did exactly what we hoped it would do, which is hold serve. The tumors that we’ve been tracking have not grown. There are no new tumors. And that’s what you want. I’m going to be speaking later today with my oncologist. We’ll be doing what’s called a maintenance dose of chemotherapy just to keep whacking this thing.
As I described I think upon returning from the cancer surgery, I’m in one of these positions now where we’re going to try to turn cancer into a chronic disease rather than a fatal disease. And fortunately, that’s one of the things you can do with modern medicine. We’ll be doing CAT scans and other scans every three months, just to stay on top of everything. And it certainly gives us the ability to respond quickly to any medical emergencies that may arise. But right now I’m feeling great. I’ve finally put weight back on. I feel strong. The hair will come back. The President was making fun of my hair before.
Q: What are you going to say about us in your book?
MR. SNOW: I think anybody who has watched knows how much I love working in this room, and especially love working with you, Helen. I have told people, when I’m your age, I want to be sitting in the front row making life a living hell for a press secretary. (Laughter.) You know, it’s just — you really are — people talk about inspiration, but you’re here working hard, and I just think it’s great. And I want to say that I’ve just got a lot of love and affection for people in this room, and it’s been a joy and an honor.
I know the word “honor” is maybe overused, but it’s really not. I’ve been in the business for 27 years, and do not regret a single moment of it, and have really enjoyed not only the thrill of working with the President, but also working with you. And I’ve got to tell you, I am sure I’m going to go through some serious withdrawals in two-and-a-half weeks. But on the other hand, this is a chance, for the first time in my life, where I’ll actually be able to decide what I want to do when I grow up. And I will spend a lot of time trying to speak out on things I care about, and looking at opportunities and trying to do some good.
Q: What is your lecture fee?
MR. SNOW: More than you can afford. (Laughter.)
Q: They never took your name off the door.
MR. SNOW: They never took my name off the door at FOX?
Q: Tony, was there a most challenging day during your tenure in this capacity?
MR. SNOW: I don’t think so. Well, the first day. The first briefing I was scared to death, because I didn’t know what to expect. So I think if you look for the challenging day, that was the real knee-knocker. I didn’t know what to expect from you guys, you barracudas, you. So I honestly didn’t know what to expect in terms of working. And early on, especially, when “I don’t know” became such a regular mantra that it became an object of some derision in some quarters and good humor elsewhere.
But really this is a job that is engrossing and it is really fun. Dana is going to have a great time doing this. And part of it is, you’ve got a great staff. I also feel blessed — I mean, you look, you’ve got Fratto and Stanzel, and you’ve got Josh Deckard and Gordon Johndroe, and I go through everybody who works on our staff. They are first rate, but they’re first-rate human beings. They’re fun to work with and fun to see every day.
And working with the President, as Dana was saying, there’s 18 months of real business to do in this White House, and a lot of big issues and a lot of big challenges. And I really do wish that I had the resources to be here till the final day, but I don’t. But I’m not going to go shrinking into the sunset, I’ll still be out speaking my mind.
Q: How do you react to the criticism from some quarters that despite your rhetorical abilities, the real object of this White House has been not to answer questions? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: I was just trying to figure out a coy way to answer it. The fact is, we do answer questions, and I think you’ve found that this is a White House where we try to be forward leaning and give a lot of information.
Now, if somebody wants to ask a question about classified information, you’re right, I’m a terrible source. And there will always be times where there are subjects that are of interest, of national interest to curious reporters and to people at home that we cannot discuss. And in those cases, you’re not going to get the kind of answer you would like because it would be inappropriate from the podium.
On the other hand, when it comes to giving you information — we’ve been through this today with Fratto, explaining a lot of what’s going on in terms of housing initiatives — we think it’s important to give more information out rather than less. Yes, there are going to be times when we butt heads over it. It has been ever thus and will be ever thus between government officials and people working in the press. And we expect you to keep pushing and prodding. You wouldn’t be doing your job if you didn’t, and we wouldn’t be doing our job if we spilled the beans on things that would be inappropriate for public discussion.
Mike, and then Goyal.
Q: Tony, have your views of the President or the press changed since you have been on the inside for the last year? Have you seen things differently than you might have when you were on the outside?
MR. SNOW: Well, I think that anybody who works closely with the President gets a much fuller appreciation of the person in the office. So, while I was naturally inclined to like the President, my admiration for him has grown by leaps and bounds.
Some of you have had the opportunity to see the President behind closed doors, talking with passion and in great detail about the job he does and the challenges he faces. And you find that, quite often, the public caricature of this man is a grotesque disservice to the man himself and to the job he does. And so there’s always a certain level of frustration when you see a man who is bright, who is engaged, who is passionate and who is principled being written off in kind of cartoonish terms by people who would rather appeal to stereotype than dig deep and figure out, in fact, he makes decisions.
But he’s a great guy to work for. And he’s somebody who manages to understand the real importance of the office, and also how important it is to conduct oneself in the office in a way that reflects honor upon it. And, at the same time, he’s somebody who has terrific historic insight. He’s not somebody who is going to allow himself to get whipsawed by passing controversies. He understands what his long-term obligations are to the country and to the office.
He has a wonderful sense of humor; he is generous; he is extremely kind. And he is somebody that I will be holding up to future friends, employees, and always to my children as a role model, not merely in terms of how he manages the office and conducts the responsibilities of the office, but the kind of person he is. He’s a good guy, a good human being.
Q: And how do you square that up-close view of him with kind of the unpopularity that the President has outside?
MR. SNOW: Well, number one, I would — I would parse your question a little more closely, because if you take a look at trust numbers and so on, people trust and admire the President. What they don’t like is the war. And so do not — if you want to take a look even beneath your own numbers, they ask two different kinds of batteries of questions. One is, do you approve of the war? One is, do you trust him, do you think he’s trustworthy, and that kind of thing. And you get different kinds of answers. But you would have to expect that in something as difficult as a war, that Presidents, in fact, are going to be the recipients of the public’s displeasure and also the public’s anxiety — rightful anxiety — about a nation at a time of conflict. It has happened to every wartime President and will happen to every wartime President.
When times are tough the anxieties of a nation are quite often visited in terms of their reflections on the job a President is doing. Having said that, you also now have I think a glimmer of what happens when a President is steadfast to his policy. We have begun to see out of Iraq a series of stories now about how the surge not only has affected the battleground, but also has affected the spirit and attitude of the Iraqi people, themselves.
And quite often we tend to think of approval as something that is unchanging, whereas it is constantly changing. And we tend to make too much of a number that’s taken over a weekend, rather than trying to put it into perspective in terms of trends and developments around the world.
Take a look at what’s gone on in Europe. We now have a friendly French President, we have a German Chancellor who is a key and valued ally. Some — and you see a number of governments in that region that previously had been less than completely warm toward the President where we now have closer relations. And it does seem that many of the things that may have registered as unpopular have been vindicated by subsequent events and by the challenges that the world faces.
Again, to give you one of the reasons I admire the President: He understands how important it is to bring the public along, but he also understands that 20 to 30 years from now, if this nation does not do what is necessary to fight effectively a war on terror and, in fact, we pulled our punches in order to gain five points in a Gallup Poll, nobody is going to ask about that Gallup Poll, they’re going to say, why didn’t you do your job.
And I love working for somebody who looks at the office that way, because it gives you a task to pursue. The task is not merely to try to get the policies right, but also to engage in a public dialogue so that the American people know what we’re thinking about, why we’re thinking about these things in these ways, and to engage in a debate that will sometimes stray beyond the poll data itself and into the facts on the ground. And I think that is, again, what — if you take a look at changes in polls in recent weeks, including whether people think we can win in Iraq — and those numbers have changed dramatically and positively — a lot of times that’s a reflection of debate about actual facts on the ground there.
In the past, much of the debate had been focused on domestic polls. Now we see a lot more raportage about what’s going on on the ground, and I think it makes an important difference.
Q: Tony, two questions. First of all, I wish you all the best and I pray for you, and God bless you, and I hope everything is fine with you. As far as this White House press corps is concerned, how do you compare others in the past with this now, after working with —
MR. SNOW: It’s hard for me to compare because I wasn’t Press Secretary before, you know, so I don’t even want to try to. All I know is — of course — let me put it this way. The last time I was here, Hunt and Plante were here. So I guess my sense is that the place never changes — and Helen.
Look, the thing you’ve got to understand about the White House press corps is that the job of the press corps is to figure out what’s going on in the White House. And I like and respect and admire the people who work in this room. You don’t get here by being a dummy. You don’t get — this is a job that has some of the most unusual constraints in any political job on Earth. You do not have the ability and freedom to walk the halls as you do when you’re covering Congress. You don’t have the kind of access that you have in other jobs. It’s a tougher job. And yet you generally pursue it with good cheer and hard work, and sometimes you’re thinking, wow, where did they get that? So I’ve got a lot of admiration for the people who work in here.
Q: Secondly, if I may change the subject. As far as terrorism is India is concerned, one, we have not seen for at least one and a half years or one year Osama bin Laden or any tape from him. And secondly, they — (inaudible) — India-U.S. relations, and they have bombed several bombings in Hyderabad, and now India will be the target as far as the bombing from al Qaeda is concerned. So what can you say now, this —
MR. SNOW: Well, I don’t think this in any way colors the President’s perceptions of the terror network. It gives you a sense of the MO, which is, to try wherever possible to use fear as a political weapon. It’s not going to work. The fact is that al Qaeda tried fear in Iraq, and what has happened is that the Iraqi people have risen up. As a matter of fact, I think maybe the most encouraging signal is what the President has talked about for a long time, which is the natural human desire for freedom and self-determination ultimately is going to crush those who believe that somehow they’ve got a better sell in saying that if you don’t do what we want, we will terrorize you, we will behead you.
That is not a very good sales pitch. And in the long run, an ideology and a philosophy and a governing philosophy that is built around hope and freedom and the capacity of individuals to affect their lives and to build a better future ultimately is going to win. It doesn’t mean that terrorists are simply going to give up; they’re not. They’re going to do their very best to try to scare people. But they have tried and they have failed.
Q: Tony, were you ever — do you feel that you were ever hung out to dry here? Did anyone on the inside ever mislead you, and because of that, you have a regret about anything that you conveyed to us?
MR. SNOW: No, I think there have been a couple of times where I think — and I can’t even remember — but there have been times where I didn’t know about something that I probably should have known about, and that could be my fault. I just — but are there any egregious things where somebody just woefully misled me? No.
Q: Like the things that happened to your predecessor.
MR. SNOW: No, I did not run into any of that.
Q: Tony, you serve the President, obviously, but you also serve the American people to a certain extent. Can you tell us how you struck that balance personally within yourself, and how well you think you did at it?
MR. SNOW: Look, I’ll let other people hand out scorecards. I simply don’t even want to try to get at that.
Look, the way you serve the American people, again, is you try to tell the truth and tell it straight. And there are going to be times — I mean, I’ve been pretty straight; when I want to stonewall you, I’ve not tried to hide the fact. There are just times when I’m not going to answer questions because it would be inappropriate for whatever reason. But on the other hand, the one thing that we have tried to do and will continue to try to do is to get information out. Ultimately the cause of this presidency in any democracy is going to be better served by getting facts into public distribution. And frankly, one of the things that we hope that we’re going to be able to do and continue to do better is to make sure that you get full information about the things that this administration is doing, how we pursue them, how we put the policies together.
When we come to points where you run into matters of privilege, and so on, we’re not going to be able to answer certain questions. But on the other hand, in trying to give you as full a picture of how this White House operates, it’s good for us, and I presume it would be good for you.
Q: You mentioned that when you leave you plan to talk about issues you care about.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q: I’m just wondering, what are some of those issues, and will your personal opinion be different than the administration’s position?
MR. SNOW: No, I think the administration probably thinks cancer is a really lousy thing and — look, I know I’m going to spend a lot of time on cancer activism. I can’t tell you exactly how it’s going to work, but I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been lucky I work at the White House, I’ve had the use of diagnostic care. I’d like to find ways to help those who, for whatever reason, don’t get the — don’t get diagnostic treatment, don’t take care of themselves, may not have the resources that I’ve had at my disposal. So I’ll look for ways to try to make it possible for people to get healthy. That does not mean that I’m going to be necessarily banging the tin cup for federal funding. It may be that I’ll go out, try and raise some money myself to try to help people directly.
As far as — look, I will be speaking my mind, but to tell you the truth, very little distance between me and the President on any significant issue. That’s been one of the great things about working at this White House. And I will be speaking out on behalf of this President and this White House on a number of issues, as well.
Q: Yesterday you said Alberto Gonzales has been the object of a “concerted series of personal attacks from Capitol Hill that yielded nothing in terms of in, in fact, evidence of any wrongdoing on his behalf.” Why then is the Justice Department’s own Inspector General now investigating whether or not he told Congress the truth?
MR. SNOW: Because those are things that have — it’s been requested that they take a look at it. The Inspector General is an independent operation within the Department of Justice. Just because — again, as I was trying to caution earlier today, Ed — just because somebody is asking a question doesn’t mean that somebody is guilty of a crime. It does mean that questions have been raised. Senator Leahy had some concerns that he raised. The IG is going to look at it. That’s the way it works within an IG’s office.
Q: He’s already looking at it.
Q: In the case of Senator — I’m sorry, go ahead.
MR. SNOW: I think he also wanted to take a look at an additional angle —
Q: In the case of Senator Craig, though, he did plead guilty to a crime. Why hasn’t the White House weighed in on whether he should resign then? Back when Trent Lott — in December of 2002, when Trent Lott made controversial comments, the President publicly weighed in, called it wrong and offensive, and those were just comments. Now somebody has pled guilty to a crime.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, we have said a number of things in this case — number one, that it’s a disappointment, and number two, it ought to be handled by the Senate. We have also not spoken out on a number of other members of — on the Democratic side who find themselves in legal difficulties. Those are issues that are properly handled by a separate and co-equal branch of government. We would expect them to do the requisite policing of their members and to uphold their own high standards. As I’ve said, we are not going to go any further than we have gone on the case of Senator Craig.
Q: Thank you, Tony. I will really miss you. And I have two —
MR. SNOW: I’ll miss you, too. I don’t know where I’ll get questions like this, but I’ll —
Q: Well, I have two questions. Teamsters President Hoffa has called the Bush administration’s test program to allow Mexican trucks unrestricted access to U.S. highways, in his words, “a disaster; all we’re asking is that Mexican trucks and truckers meet the same standards as American trucks and drivers.” My question: Why do the Teamsters have to go to court to try to make Mexican truck drivers meet the same drug screening, physical evaluations and hazmat certifications as U.S. truckers?
MR. SNOW: There are a number of things that the Department of Transportation is involved in, in trying to maintain and ascertain and guarantee the safety of any trucks that are on U.S. highways. I don’t think that I will buy lock, stock and barrel what the President of the Teamsters Union has to say about possibly competing trucking operations. Nonetheless, they have done a filing — I would direct you to take a look at what the Department of Transportation has had to say to respond to some of the factual allegations contained in your question.
Q: Did the President, on May the 30th of last year, promise completion of 70 miles of border fencing by this coming September the 30th, when less than 20 miles of this fencing have reportedly been completed?
MR. SNOW: Actually that’s wrong. More than 80 miles have been completed.
Q: More than 80 have?
MR. SNOW: Yes, yes. So —
Q: Thank you.
Q: Are you going to work for the next two weeks?
MR. SNOW: Yes, absolutely.
END 1:12 P.M. EDT